NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2006
The New, the Best, and the Worst
Collected by Pim Borman,
SW Indiana PC Users Group, Inc.

swipcug@sigecom.net (click to email author)

It is a dark, dreary, drizzly day in mid-January as I write this, perfect for contesting a will (as they say in my native Holland) or protesting the peccability of PC peddlers.

Rant #1 concerns the software Dell installs on new computers, whether you want it or not. James Derk, computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service, wrote recently about the effort it required to remove all the extraneous junk from someone’s new Dell system: ”Dell is on the list this year for adding so much junk to their new PCs that it takes a trained technician to remove most of them. Their “starter” edition of QuickBooks is the most annoying...even popping up reminders to try the program long after you’ve deleted it. I know Dell sells 80 percent of its PCs to businesses but there’s no reason to have such an invasive product and selling tactic. Most large businesses don’t use QuickBooks, most small businesses already have it and consumers don’t want it. Editing the Windows Registry should not be needed to remove it. (Dell gets an honorable mention for charging $25 for a USB cable to connect their “free” printers to their computers.)” ( http://snipurl.com/derkcolumn2). Elsewhere he mentions the desirability of removing the pre-installed temporary version of McAfee anti-virus. He wrote: “If you have McAfee preinstalled on your new PC, I would uninstall it immediately and install a free product. It’s not just a bias...in my computer repair business I have seen dozens of PCs with McAfee installed that are riddled with viri. Something either about McAfee’s online-only product or the configuration just lets viruses pass through” (http://snipurl.com/derkcolumn).

As luck would have it, my neighbors asked me soon thereafter for help with the installation of their new Dell computer. The recently retired professional couple had been using a MacIntosh computer for the past eight years and were unfamiliar with MS Windows. Remembering Derk’s comment, I suggested we remove the McAfee program and install Norton Internet Security. Tough luck! As I attempted to remove McAfee via the Control Panel’s Add/Remove feature, I kept getting error messages that part of the program was running and could not be removed. I did everything I could think of to stop/disable McAfee, but nothing managed to kill it dead. I did a Google search later on and found that usually there is no simple way to get rid of it. A “help” page on the McAfee page provides pages of procedures to “try,” all of them obscure and non-intuitive. An unwanted program that can not simply be uninstalled is malware in my opinion. If Dell is unwilling to sell computers without all the junk, the best solution may be to reformat the hard drive and reinstall the desired programs only. Or choose another vendor. It is hardly an attractive option for new Windows users.

Rant #2
Sony BMG recently got caught using rootkits to provide copy protection on CDs they sold. Rootkits are programs that hide on your hard drive, out of sight of Windows. They are an open invitation for virus writers to invade your system and are hard to remove without damaging Windows. Sony was forced to apologize for its error, recalled the CDs involved, and published a patch to remove the rootkits from the customers’ computers.

According to an article in eweek.com, the rootkit trick is being used by other companies also (http://snipurl.com/lis7, thanks to Jim Geiser). Norton SystemWorks is specifically mentioned. Symantec explained that they used the rootkit to prevent users from accidentally removing the file, but offered to relocate it with a program update. According to eweek.com there are other instances of rootkits being used, but no specifics were mentioned.

My Norton Internet Security subscription is about to expire. I already had planned to try the ZoneAlarm Security Suite, based on a recommendation in PC Magazine (12/27/05) that included it in their list of Best of the Year Products (but that also included McAfee anti-virus!). But then Linda Gonse, editor/webmaster of the Orange County IBM PC Users' Group, wrote that the ZoneAlarm Security Suite interfered with her ftp program and mangled the files she uploaded to her Web site. She had a dickens of a time trying to uninstall the program. However she never had a problem with the plain, free ZoneAlarm firewall. I concluded that my best bet was to use free ZoneAlarm as the firewall.

I chose a separate anti-virus program, f-prot from Frisk software (http://www.f-prot.com/products/). I used that program years ago in the DOS days, and more recently I have been using it on my Linux computers. Their technical support is outstanding, as I mentioned in a previous column (P-See Urgent, December 2005). F-prot, based in Iceland, was one of the first to spot the rootkits and to provide an uninstallation patch. They update their database as soon as they add new data, usually several times a week. The Windows version costs $29 per year, but a trial version is available to make sure the product fills your needs. As expected, replacing Norton Internet Security with ZoneAlarm and f-prot was not without problems. I downloaded the trial version of f-prot without difficulty and stored it, ready for use. Getting the free version of ZoneAlarm was a different story.

Rant #3
If you make a free, limited version of your software available for download, don’t play silly games trying to hide the download button hoping that the prospective customer will finally give up, or make an error, and order your paid-for version. It may work sometimes, but you lose every last bit of goodwill you may have worked years to earn. Is that worth it? After struggling with ZoneAlarm for 20 minutes trying to download the free program, I simply copied an older setup version that was still on my other Windows computer and installed that. ZoneAlarm then promptly offered to update that version and I was in business. Installation of f-prot went without a hitch.

Although I had uninstalled Norton Internet Security with the Control Panel- Add/Remove route, it was evidently not quite dead yet. ZoneAlarm started telling me that Norton was still trying to access various parts of my computer, which I blocked. Soon thereafter everything froze and I got the Blue Screen of Death. It took two cold restarts to get everything back up and running, and my first action was to have ZoneAlarm block everything with the Norton label. That seems to work thus far.

As every successful business, from Wal-Mart to General Electric, knows, your most important asset is customer goodwill. A happy customer is a return customer. Over the years Dell has built up an excellent reputation for product quality, price, and service. They stand to lose all that for a few bucks they make as “partners” with the likes of McAfee and Quicken Books. It isn’t worth it. The same goes for Norton, known since DOS days for its reliability and excellence of technology. Avoid exasperating your customers and they’ll keep coming back.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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