Windows Live OneCare Safety Scan

Based on the content I write, I imagine that most readers of this blog will be IT professionals. That generally means two things:

  • Your family don’t understand what you do (e.g. “Mark works in computers”).
  • Your family and friends think that because you “work in computers” that you can fix their PC.

I fell foul of this a couple of times over the last few days. The first time was no big deal – a few months back, I had given my parents an old laptop and now they are really getting into e-mail and the web; however it was booting very slowly because a well-intended friend of theirs had installed the popular (and free for non-commercial use) AVG Anti-Virus (along with a load of unnecessary applications) and it was performing a full scan on every boot (I had already installed Symantec AntiVirus which was working quite nicely in a far less obtrusive manner). Once I removed AVG, performance was back to normal… so much for well-intentioned friends.

The second instance was last night, when my brother said he’d applied some updates to his PC and now he couldn’t get into Excel. That was easy enough (Microsoft Office XP required the original media to complete installation of an update), but I decided to check out the general state of the PC and was a little alarmed. Because the PC is only connected to the Internet via a modem, downloading updates takes a long time – automatic updates will trickle feed and my brother had kept his anti-virus definitions up-to-date but it still needed a lot of attention. Microsoft Update told me that it would need most of the night to download it’s updates, so I took it home (disconnected everything else from my LAN as a precaution) and hooked it up to my ADSL line, before spending the next couple of hours downloading and applying 61 Microsoft updates (as well as updating AdAware SE Personal Edition, which was over 700-days out of date).

Having given the PC a clean bill of health with AdAware (luckily the dial-up connection had minimised the spyware threat and it just had 52 tracking cookies to remove), I decided to check out another tool that, ironically, an Apple support page had alerted me to the existence of – the Windows Live OneCare Safety Scan.

Other antivirus vendors have online scanners (e.g. McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro) but the advantage of the Microsoft version is that the full scan checks for viruses, spyware, disk fragmentation, temporary files, redundant registry data, and open network ports – what would appear to be a fairly thorough healthcheck, all through one ActiveX control.

Another feature is that you can run individual scans for protection, cleaning up or tuning the system (each effectively a component of the full scan described above). Finally, for Windows Vista users, the Windows Live OneCare site also provides a beta for a Vista-aware full service safety scan.

Windows Live Messenger Beta goes public

Windows Live Messenger

I’ve been using the Windows Live Messenger Beta for a few months now and since I originally wrote about my first impressions of the product, it’s changed quite a bit (although doesn’t seem to have overcome any of the issues which Alex criticised it for at the time).

Windows Live Messenger Beta - new interface

I still like the new user interface although I haven’t used any of the telephony or video-chat functions. The Windows Live Messenger beta was recently expanded and is well worth investigating for those who are currently using MSN Messenger. Alternatively for cross-network instant messaging without any telephony frills, switch to GAIM.

Meanwhile, corporate users should move away from using public IM services and switch to something like Live Communications Server 2005 and the Office Communicator client.

MSN Messenger/Windows Live Messenger tips

Windows Live Messenger

My first impressions of the Windows Live Messenger Beta provoked a lively discussion on various issues (some on-topic, and some off-topic) but I’ve spent way too much time on that now (and in any case, I’m meeting up with the author of most of those comments in less than 48 hours so it will be far easier to bore our wives than to spend all afternoon and evening writing comments on this blog…) .

Anyway, here are some tips I found today for MSN Messenger 7.5 and 8.0 beta (Windows Live Messenger).

Removing those annoying tabs
As was the case for MSN Messenger 7.5, there seems to be no option for deleting tabs, just for changing the order in which they are displayed but if you go to Tools, Options, Security and set the checkbox where it says “this is a shared computer so don’t display my tabs” they will go away.

Removing the ads
Matthijs van de Water has some advice for removing ads from MSN Messenger 7.5 but it involves directly editing the Messenger binaries. I’ll leave it for now because the instructions will probably need updating for the new version and it’s in beta – so I expect there will be a few more updates yet!

Mess with MSN Messenger have produced a program called Mess Patch for customising previous versions of MSN Messenger. There are other patches available, but Mess with MSN Messenger is generally considered to be a trustworthy download location.

(Be aware that patching Windows Messenger, MSN Messenger or Windows Live Messenger infringes Microsoft’s Terms of Use. To do so would be your own choice I’m not responsible in any way.)

In any case save your bandwidth by making sure the Video Carousel is not enabled under Tools, Options, General (mine is greyed out).

Product team blog
The Windows Live Messenger product team have a blog. It’s not that useful – mostly “look what we’ve done in the product – isn’t it cool”, but probably a good way to feed back any comments on the beta.

First impressions of the Windows Live Messenger Beta

Windows Live Messenger

Since last week, I’ve been using the new Windows Live Messenger Beta (formerly MSN Messenger 8) and I’m really impressed.

The main new feature is the integration of Windows Live Call VOIP technology, courtesy of Microsoft’s link up with MCI, combined with increased customisation and improved document sharing capabilities.

I particularly like the new interface (shown below); however the main improvement for me (after just a few days) is the ability to send messages to my contacts when they are offline (although one of my colleagues did wryly comment that’s what e-mail is for).

Windows Live Messenger Beta - new interface

Windows Live Messenger Beta - new interface

Meanwhile, I’ve also heard reports of an MSN Messenger 8 virus (Virkel-F). Along with various news sources (although I can’t find anything on the Symantec or Sophos sites) F-Secure is reporting that there is a new virus posing as an invitation to join the MSN Messenger 8 Working Beta.

The problem compounded by the fact that, as the screenshot below shows, the Windows Live Messenger Beta does include references to itself as Messenger 8.0 BETA. Furthermore, I was given the opportunity (through a link within the product) to invite five friends to join the beta and even though the e-mail invitation links to a Microsoft site to download the product, it’s still confusing to end users.

Windows Live Messenger Beta - still refers to MSN Messenger 8.0

One thing’s for sure. Microsoft’s Windows Live products need to be good. Google is launching new products almost by the day and as I’m writing this, Google’s plans for online dominance are even featuring on the BBC’s 10 O’Clock News, as the broadcaster refers to Google as “innovative and extremely focused” and commenting that “Google is challenging [Microsoft’s] dominance, and it shows”. Meanwhile, today’s Windows IT Pro magazine network WinInfo Daily Update quotes Bill Gates as seeing IBM as Microsoft’s most significant threat, stating that “IBM has always been our biggest competitor. The press just doesn’t like to write about IBM”. It’s true, Apple and Google are the media darlings of the moment, although as Google’s dominance continues to grow, one has to wonder if they too will fall foul of industry regulators as someone complains about their software bundling.

New features for the MSN toolbar

Last week, Paul Thurrott reported in the Windows IT Pro magazine network WinInfo Daily Update that MSN have begun beta testing of an add-on for the MSN toolbar called roaming favorites, allowing users to manage, search, and access Internet Explorer (IE) favorites whatever PC is in use, as long as it has the MSN toolbar installed (favorites are synchronised with to a central server, accessed from anywhere on the Internet using a Passport logon).

It sounds great (I’ve been thinking of writing a set of scripts to do this for me for some time now as I use at least 3 PCs and start.com didn’t really work out for me as a kind of web-based home page), but I do wish it didn’t rely on the MSN toolbar – why can’t it be a feature within IE7 (for once, one which Microsoft might have thought up themselves).

Meanwhile, in a separate update, Thurrott reports that another piece of new functionality that is intended for IE7 will also be available for IE6 users (again in the MSN Toolbar) – Microsoft’s phishing filter, a feature that helps protect users from scam websites.

Both features sound great, but I’d much rather them available as a download for all Windows XP users without needing the MSN toolbar. On the other hand, it’s only a matter of time before Google (my preferred toolbar) integrates a similar feature…

Microsoft’s sandbox

It’s probably well-known by many people, but I just stumbled across Microsoft’s MSN Sandbox. It’s a bit like Google Labs (Google’s “technology playground”), featuring what Microsoft calls “incubation experiments” which may or may not “represent any particular strategy or policy”.

Most of the tools in the MSN Sandbox are well-known – some were even purchased as part of a company acquisition and just haven’t found their way to a release product yet (e.g. the Lookout e-mail search tool). Strangely, the site that referred me to the MSN Sandbox doesn’t have a reciprocal link – that was start.com – Microsoft’s new experimental site for RSS aggregation via the web, which I think I will be giving a spin over the coming weeks and will blog about some more if it turns out to be useful.

Get ready to pay for your Hotmail

In a somewhat cynical (IMHO) move, Microsoft is hiding behind security to drop access to its free Hotmail service from Outlook, Outlook Express, and presumably from competing e-mail clients. The service (which uses web based distributed authoring and versioning – WebDAV) will still be available, but users will have to pay for it. To Microsoft’s credit, I believe that AOL and Yahoo! already restrict such access to paid subscribers.

According to the BBC, users who want to use Outlook to pick up their Hotmail messages will have to pay $19.95 (£11) for an annual subscription to Hotmail Plus or the $99.95 (£55) a year for MSN Premium. Users who are already using the technology to download their messages will be able to carry on using the service for free until April.

MSN say they have decided make the changes because spammers were exploiting the system (do they think spammers will be put off by a $19.95 annual charge?). They have already taken other steps to prevent spammers using Hotmail by limiting the number of outgoing messages on free accounts to 100 per day and introduced extra validation requirements when opening a new account.

The withdrawal of free WebDAV access began on September 27th for new users and will become effective for all users worldwide in 2005.

Links

Microsoft Nixes Outlook, Outlook Express Access to Free Hotmail Accounts
Hotmail fees for Outlook access

MSN Web Messenger

I often work on client site behind a firewall which doesn’t allow instant messaging (IM) traffic through and want to chat with my mates (of course, I really mean “discuss business with colleagues elsewhere on the ‘net!”).

Now Microsoft have come up with an answer in the shape of MSN Web Messenger. There are alternatives, that have been around for longer, like eMessenger and some of my colleagues have expressed concern that Microsoft will now take over the niche that eMessenger had found, but personally I prefer the MSN Web interface, which closely matches the full client interface.