Technology news and commentary by the staff

Archive for October, 2007

Preload your engines, the Orange Box has been launched

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You have to give it to Valve, the creators of Half-Life and the equally successful Half-Life 2 sequel, not only these guys develop great games, but their focus on detail and execution has really paid off.

It’s good being Valve, after all they have kept on capitalizing big on Counter Strike for the past few years despite of the fact it wasn’t their own creation. But hey, they did create the mod tools and put them out there for gamers to use and expand their game platform (at no cost). They later relaunched the original HL bundled with Counter Strike, since then other similar successful game bundles have followed up until now that they bring the Orange Box.

Steam screenshot

It’s a beautiful concept, really. Half-Life 2: Episode 2 took way too long to be finished, and Valve knew that. The episodic series momentum was gone for many, so now instead of launching a rather short good game for $30, they have packed it up with the long time coming vaporware-returning-from-the-dead Team Fortress 2, and guess what, it’s another great game. Not to be outdone with that, for the usual retail price of $50, they are giving away the original Half Life 2, the additional pack HL2 Lost Coast, HL2 Episode One, and a sneak peek next-generation FPS single player experience they call Portal.

The Orange Box was just released today through the Steam distribution system and should be available from retail stores as well.

Execution… have to give it to them. From the popularity observed during the Team Fortress 2 beta and the established base of Half Life fans, this looks to be yet another winner for Valve.

Written by Julio Franco

October 10th, 2007 at 5:41 am

Posted in gaming,software,the web

Add another one to the list of basic security apps you should be running, AVG’s Anti-rootkit Free

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For the past 3-4 years I have been recommending Windows XP users to install a small combo of basic applications that will grant a more secure and thus stable experience with the OS.

Nowadays SP2/Windows Defender should be a given and along with it you should install a good non-bloated anti-virus like AVG or AntiVir (both free), a good software firewall like ZoneAlarm, and a couple of trusted anti-spyware apps to run at least once a month. Everyone’s favorites seem to be the free Adaware and Spybot.

If you are familiar with all of those and you don’t rely on any untrusted sites, you should be in pretty good shape. Now I have another one to add to your list if you want to keep your system as secure as possible and rootkit-free. So, what are rootkits?

Rootkits are a specific type of malware which hide in other applications or a computer‘s operating system kernel. They allow malicious applications to collect passwords and sensitive data from the infected computer without the user’s knowledge, this can be used for personal information theft, spam relay and other criminal activities.

From the programs I just mentioned above, the anti-viruses should help a bit but none are specialized in detecting this kind of malware.

There used to be a pretty good free scanner from F-secure but the utility is no longer available. But don’t worry, AVG has got you covered with their Anti-rootkit Free utility, download that here and add it to your list of important programs.

Written by Julio Franco

October 8th, 2007 at 2:12 am

Maximum PC is back online plus a bit of TechSpot’s history

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Those of you living in the U.S. are probably familiar with Maximum PC magazine, which in my opinion is one of the few excellent print publications catering to PC enthusiasts. For a long time they had relegated their online presence which was poor decision making from its parent publishing company. The fact is, was very much alive until the dot com bust came and advertising dollars went dry. It took them until now to come back and while they are late to the online scene, they have still reopened doors offering full access to the magazine content. A lot of the articles are buried on PDF format so it’s not very easy to navigate but it’s still worth taking them a look as they have tons of information to offer.

Going to their new site also reminded me of the old days of TechSpot. New visitors may not know this but TechSpot was originally called 3D Spotlight (we mostly dealt with 3d graphics companies that at the time included 3dfx, S3, Nvidia, Rendition, Matrox, ATI, and a few others).

For a short period of time (before Maximum PC went down), 3D Spotlight was part of the exclusive “Maximum PC Network”, which gathered a select few quality technology sites; we got some extra exposure on their site and they hooked us up with A+ technology advertisers which at the time was hard to come by.

Thanks to I was able to recover an old Maximum PC frontpage where 3D Spotlight is listed as a network member and one of our articles is featured on that frontpage. Also here’s the network’s member list, and why not, an archived frontpage of 3D Spotlight that dates back to August 2000. How about this for a headline: “Nvidia announces the GeForce 2 Ultra” yay! Also 3D Spotlight’s forums are expanded to 4 sections!

Perhaps even more gratifying than tripping down the memory lane is that 3D Spotlight is still alive today in the form of TechSpot. Looking at the list of sites that used to be part of the Maximum PC network, a majority of them are gone with few exceptions like Ars Technica, Neoseeker, Storage Review and The Tech Zone.

Written by Julio Franco

October 7th, 2007 at 5:53 am

Prevent websites from resizing Firefox’s browser window

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Firefox is my browser of choice. Although we happen to have a rather large number of Opera followers at the TS forums, I have been left unconvinced and kept faithful to Firefox ever since version 1.5 came out. At that point the browser was more secure than ever, rock solid, very polished and popular enough that you had dozens of extensions to customize it to your liking. I haven’t looked back ever since.

Now, one of the most obvious tweaks you can apply to your Firefox installation is removing the annoyance of letting websites resize the browser window at their will. Despite of the more sophisticated pop-up blocker that comes in most recent versions of the browser, many websites still do away with popping those up and in many cases resizing either your main window or maximizing the pop-up window to get your full attention (just before you hit the X button).

You won’t even need an add-on to do this.

  1. Go to Tools > Options
  2. Click on the Content tab
  3. Next to where it says “Enable Javascript”, click on Advanced
  4. Uncheck the option “Move or resize existing windows”

You’re done! I will try to bring more of these basic, and other not so basic tips on a regular basis to the blog.

Also remember we have a complete Firefox tweak guide posted in the main site.

Written by Julio Franco

October 5th, 2007 at 10:24 am

Trouble connecting an external drive in Vista?

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Bashing Vista for whatever reason you can imagine seems to be the most hip thing to do nowadays, and while a post with my take on Vista is on its way, for now I wanted to share a tip with you for connecting external hard drives successfully to the OS.

I should note that not all external drives should be having this kind of problem, however when I upgraded from XP and wanted to get access to my Maxtor Shared Storage Plus external drive, the Maxtor utilities simply refused to communicate with the drive. As a side note, the drive I’m talking about is a networked drive a.k.a. Network-attached storage (not USB). Also Maxtor was acquired by Seagate last year, so my almost brand new 500gb drive receives limited support for the rest of its life span.

Now, the problem and its solution…

Windows Vista defaults to allow only NTLMv2 authentication on a network for increased security, and the Maxtor Shared Storage drives do not work with this type of authentication (that’s why only Public areas were accessible). The solution is to enable LM and NTLM authentications on the network to get full access back.

  1. Click on Start and on the command/search field, enter secpol.msc
  2. This will open the Local Security Policy app. Now on the left menu go to Local Policies > Security Options.
  3. On the right pane, scroll down to Network Security: LAN Manager authentication level and double click it.
  4. On the Local Security Setting tab you should see a drop down menu with options. Choose “Send LM & NTLM – use NTLMv2 session security if negotiated.” Accept all dialogs and restart.
  5. That should do the trick (on Vista Ultimate).

Because the Home editions of Vista do not include the Local Security Policy utility, on those machines you will need to edit a setting in the registry. If you follow my instructions exactly there should be nothing to be worried about:

  1. Click on Start and on the command/search field, enter regedit.
  2. This will open the Registry Editor. Now browse on the left pane to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SYSTEM > CurrentControlSet > Control > Lsa.
  3. That should show a bunch of settings on the right pane, select LmCompatibilityLevel (double-click it).
  4. Change the current setting, from 3 to 1.
  5. Accept all dialogs and restart.

Written by Julio Franco

October 4th, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Radiohead’s latest album, pay the price you want

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I missed this a couple of days ago (and that’s like months in Internet time), but I still thought I would contribute with the news since it’s not techie enough to go on the frontpage.

Radiohead will be taking the boldest move ever on Internet music distribution with their upcoming album “In Rainbows”. The band expects the release to hit store shelves next week while at the same time they will be making a downloadable DRM-free version available on their site which will set you back… X amount of pounds. The bold move is just that, the unimaginable, you can set the price you want to pay whether it is 2 cents or 10, or 100 dollars, it’s up to you.
They sure have got lots of online publicity so far, and we can only imagine the flood gates won’t fully open until the album is released next October 10th.

Written by Julio Franco

October 3rd, 2007 at 8:04 pm

Welcome to the social 2.0, new Zunes available

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This will be making it to the TechSpot frontpage in a matter of hours but until then, for those of you that simply refuse going the iPod’s way (not many of you I must add), Microsoft has revamped its line of Zune players with new smaller, flash-based players that are meant to compete with the iPod nano (similar pricing, too), plus a new flagship player called the Zune 80 which comes with an internal 80gb HDD (go figure!).

microsoft zune

The real good news… older Zune players will be upgradeable to the newest software and enjoy everything the newer models have to offer. Apple could learn from this by at least adding features such as search to the older iPods (I own one of the first batches of iPod Videos that don’t have this, although I’m sure the hardware is capable).

Written by Julio Franco

October 3rd, 2007 at 8:56 am

Posted in microsoft

Cleartype font smoothing using Remote Desktop Connection

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If you rely on a remote connection client to get access to your files at the office or from your home, chances are you have probably tried using the client built-in into Windows called Remote Desktop Connection (also Terminal Services Client).

Personally, I don’t like opening up my main PC to the Internet but only to those computers on my local LAN (which only I use). So I use RDC to access my desktop when I’m in bed or somewhere else around the house using my laptop. The biggest gripe of using RDC (which has been way improved since Windows 2000 days) was that I couldn’t use any font smoothing (Cleartype in Windows) so reading documents or browsing the web on an LCD screen was adequate at best.

Well, it just happens that with the latest update of the RDC client (6.0) for Windows XP and Server 2003 that dates back to November, you can now use font smoothing as long as the client PC is running Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008. I just noticed about the change over the last few weeks, so now I’m happily writing this from my laptop running the RDC client connected to my main PC…

Over a LAN it’s not any slower than with Cleartype off, plus it should save some battery on the laptop since I’m not accessing the hard drive or processing stuff on the laptop itself, and my desktop PC is much much faster in the first place.

If you don’t have the latest RDC client installed you can download it here, and enable font smoothing using these instructions:

To enable font smoothing, follow these steps:
1.    Click Start, click All Programs, click Accessories, click Communication, and then click Remote Desktop Connection.
2.    Click Options, click the Experience tab, and then click to select the Font smoothing check box.

A complete list of features on the latest version of Remote Desktop Connection can be found here.

Written by Julio Franco

October 1st, 2007 at 12:47 am