Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Microsoft Chooses ODF Format

The sun shines this week on the OpenSource community. The huge corporate behemoth Micro$oft has finally recognized that truly free products like OpenOffice are legitimate contenders in the office productivity tools environment.

Okay, Steve Balmer (CEO Micro$oft) did not exactly come out and say it, but their recent announcement that they will bake into Office2007 full support for the ODF file format is good enough endorsement for me.

Time for a brief, but important history lesson...
ODF stands for OpenDocument Format. It is a free and open file format for electronic office documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents. It is an ISO/IEC International Standard, which means that its specifications are freely available and free to use. Most of the opensource office tools have implemented the ODF means for saving file data.

Up unitl Micro$oft Office 2007, Micro$oft's files were stored in a propriety format, that made it difficult for other software packages to read. Micro$oft started to get pressure from large customers (especially governments) about the fact that documents created by M$ Office 2000 or 2003 may be difficult to use years after those suites were no longer available. So, not to be outdone, Micro$oft developed its own "standard". Their standard, known as Office Open XML. M$ was able to bully its way into getting ISO certification so it could say it now had an open format.

Here and Now

More and more people are discovering the power and ease of use of, though corporate IT and governments in the United States have been reluctant to switch to it. Much of the reluctance has been due to "concerns" about compatibility with the M$ product. With the release of Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, that should no longer be a concern.

Back to the Future

The suite has developed to a very mature offering of word processor, spreadsheet, drawing and presentation tools. I would venture to say that it would meet virtually ALL the needs of 95 percent of people who currently use Microsoft Office. Only an extreme power user (most Access) would find a few features missing. So now that Microsoft will soon be offering full support for documents, we shoud start insisting that our government entities stop spending millions of dollars on commercial software when they could get just as effective tools for absolutely free.

They'll come back with the argument that support is lacking, and that the training costs of switching will be high. I don't buy it, and they hope you won't think with an open mind. They jump like lemmings at each new version of Microsoft Office that comes out, even though most of their users don't take advantage of even 5 percent of the features of the old one they abandoned. Users switching from any version of Microsoft Office to Office 2007 are in for a big surprise, and will require a lot of training.

have you ever called Microsoft for support on an MS Office product? It does not happen even in big IT environments. There is tons of free online support for, and it's much easier to learn.

Give it a whirl. Or at least take a look.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Anti-virus Recommendation

Problems with AVG?

Dan brought it to our attention that updates for AVG Antivirus version 7.5 are going away at the end of May, so users of this software will have to update to version 8.0. Dan mentioned that he did this, and the new version really slowed his computer down.

Other Good Choices Available
Our discussion about AVG prompted us to see if we could find other free Anti-virus software that we could recommend to listeners. The folks at did a review of three free antivirus software packages for Windows. They included Avast, AVG, and AntiVir. I was surprised to read that AVG rated lowest of the three offerings. While AntiVir rated the best overall, Avast rated best as a general purpose antivirus product. Read the article from for more details. (unfortunately, there is no date on this article, so I cannot tell how current it is.)

Having Difficulties with AVG, or need protection for Windows 98/ME? Chad recommends Avast
You can find the Avast website here. Windows 98 Users Only Avast supports the Windows 98 and ME operating systems. AVG and AntiVir do not.

Chad mentioned a product called ClamAV. It is an open source antivirus package that he uses on his Linux based computers. While there is a version of this software for Microsoft Windows, it lacks two important features:
  • on access scanning (on access scanning checks every file you open, and every disk/cd/usb flash drive that you attach to your computer)
  • email scanning (it only integrates with Outlook, not outlook express or other email clients)
Have you updated to AVG 8.0 or do you use Avast?
We'd like to hear from your if you have upgraded to AVG 8.0. Has it slowed down your computer, or have you not noticed much of a change. Post a comment, and give us your feedback. We'd like to know how it's working for you. Some folks have told me that they did not notice much change. Also let us know if you use Avast, and how you like it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May 1, 2008 Listener Questions

Okay--we had lots of calls this week, and some of these were stumpers...but we're working on answers. here's what we have found for you so far....

Helkern Worm
A user called indicating that he is getting a notice of Helkern worm attack. The Helkern worm (more popularly known as Slammer) attempts to gain access to your computer through Port 1434, but your firewall is probably blocking these attempts and notifying you. That is exactly why you have a firewall.

Even if Helkern / Slammer were to make it past your firewall, your computer could not be infected unless it was running Microsoft SQL Server 2000. The worm is designed to attack that special MS database server.

These attacks, which usually originate from China are so common that they are lumped-together with other common Internet crap under the term "internet noise". So, assuming you are getting the notice from your firewall, just relax, you have nothing to worry about and you are not being specifically singled out.

Landscape Software for the Mac
This one is turning out to be a real stumper! I can find landscape design software for the Mac OS X platform costing several hundreds of dollars, but literally nothing inexpensive. The closest I could find is EazyDraw ($95), and it does not look well adapted to landscape design.

I did discover a really cool free Google app called Google SketchUp. It is free, and allow you to design 3D objects, and has a library of objects that you can insert into a drawinng/model. It might work for you.

If you had a Windows box, there are lots of inexpensive yet very good landscape design software tools you could purchase or use for free. Most would run on Linux too, via wine, but I am not sure if you can get Windows apps to run on OS X. I'll defer that to the Mac Guy.

Windows Won't Keep Correct Time
Okay, this one turned out to be quite simple. I was making it harder than it really needed to be. To fix this problem, double click the clock in the system tray. This will open up the Date/Time settings dialog. If your time is off an hour, check your time zone, and see if it is set to Central America. if so, change it to "Central Time (US & Canada). Now you'll find a check box for adjusting for Daylight Savings Time. You can also set the dialog to keep Internet Time, and pick a time reference server, so your computer can update its time from an external source.


Here's what a facebook encounter would be like in real life.