Readers' Forum - November 2004

by Rob Zorn
from the November 2004 Newsletter

If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and answer your question by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).

Frank writes: Thanks for the very interesting article on anti-virus, firewalls and spyware. I seem to remember hearing that someone bought an up-to-date antivirus program and installed it without first deleting an older one and that the two programs went head to head. The computer wouldn't work afterwards and he had to call an expert to sort the problem out. Could this happen with these free downloads?

Hi Frank, Yes, this could be a possibility. Anti-virus programs seek to set themselves up between your mail program and the gateway for incoming mail. Without getting too technical, there could be a problem as the two jockey for this position. A lot would depend on the two programs involved and whether the later one was smart enough to remove the settings of the earlier one, or whether the earlier one tends to allow its settings to be removed.

As a rule, it is probably a good idea to uninstall the earlier program before installing the later one. Sometimes uninstalling can be easily done by clicking Start and then Programs. Click the program in the menu list and a box may pop up on the right containing an uninstall feature. If it doesn't, you will need to go to your Control Panel (Start/Settings Control Panel for Win 9X - Start/Control Panel for XP) and then select Add or Remove programs.

Jo writes: Just a quick question - When I disconnect from the internet/checking emails, my computer almost always gives me an error message (with a blue background on the screen) telling me to press any key to continue. Sometimes it even crashes and runs scan disk. Why does this happen? Cheers and thanks for taking the time to give us all that wonderful info in your newsletters.

Hi Jo, What you're referring to here is what is known as the "Blue Screen of Death." It is particularly common with Windows 98, though other versions of Windows offer it up from time to time as well. It's sort of like Windows' last resort. Something has gone terribly wrong and it really doesn't know what to do any more. The error messages it gives you are usually pretty unhelpful because, as stated, it results when Windows is really in a mess.

It's most common cause is disk errors and corrupted files. Windows often shuts down under these conditions to protect itself from doing any more damage, and also so that scandisk can be initiated, hopefully to find and fix the problem. Obviously, in your case, the problem is not able to be found and properly fixed.

The best solution for this problem can sometimes be to re-install Windows. This usually takes a while to do, but it is not as drastic as it might sound. I'll give you a few tips below.

Put your Windows CD in and it should auto-run. If it doesn't, explore to it (right-click on Start button and left-click on Explore) and click on install or setup or whatever. None of your existing files or programs will be altered or lost when you do a re-install, though a few settings may return to whatever the defaults were. It isn't usually a big drama. Re-installing Windows is not the same as a re-format.

During the re-install, you may often be asked whether you want to replace an existing more recent file with the earlier one on the CD. You can safely say No. The later files are the better ones.

After the re-install it would be a good idea to visit http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com to make sure your software is up-to-date again. In most cases you won't have to download any patches or security updates you've already downloaded.

Margaret writes: Dear Rob, Recently, after going out and inadvertently leaving the computer "online" we found, on our return five hours later, that a program had installed itself called Gain, or MyGain. Apparently nothing wrong with it, but we didn't need it. Why did it over- ride the "turn off after period of inactivity?" The tick was still there. We find your newsletters most interesting and helpful.
Many thanks.

Hi Margaret, Actually, GAIN is a program that many would lable as spyware. It used to be known as GATOR, but I think they changed its name after so much bad press. Apparently it will report your activity back to base so that you can be sent pop-up ads and stuff.

However, it should not have been able to install itself without you somehow clicking Okay. Windows won't allow that as long as you're up-to-date with patches. An article I wrote last year may help explain a few things about Spyware, GAIN etc. Have a look at Along Came a Spyware, if you're inclined.

Actrix connections are set to automatically disconnect after 20 minutes of inactivity, and you probably have your own system set to do the same as a backup. However, inactivity is the key word. These days many of the programs on your computer will be set to do things on the Internet that you're not aware of, even if it is just reporting back top their maker that they're being used. Then of course there's the e-mail program doing automatic sends and receives. Lastly, any spyware on your machine, including your new friend GAIN will be trying to call home via the Internet. All that amounts to activity. Neither your own system, nor the Actrix auto-cut-off is sophisticated enough to know what is useful activity and what isn't, so as long as something happens less than every 20 mins, you won't be dropped.

Alison writes: Hi Rob, I want to comment on PestPatrol which you featured in last month's newsletter. I am a bit paranoid about my computer's security as I have my Family History files on it. I use adaware, spybot, SpySweeper and PestPatrol as well as my anti-virus and firewall programs (AVG and ZA Pro). Each catches or finds things the other doesn't. I have been using PestPatrol now for just over a month, and find it excellent, if a little harder to use than the others. I have it running all the time in the background, and it stops almost everything at the 'door'. It also finds spies that resided in memory, which the other programss didn't I can recommend it. It was not toooo expensive, and I obtained it through the ZoneLabs site. It is not a very new program, there was a version of it around when I first became connected to the net over 4 years ago. I hope this is useful.

Thanks Alison, feedback is always good! And maybe others will benefit from your experiences.