Tools for Geeks

Steve Bass
PC World
Wednesday, August 30, 2006; 11:10 PM

In January my neighbors, Dave and Jane, bought a Dell. I'd recommended the desktop and promised to swing by to set it up. (I'm good at matching up the green cable with the green port, and the yellow with yellow. They're impressed, even if you're not.)

When I booted up their PC, I was appalled at all the junk loaded onto the system. The desktop was snowed under with icons, mostly for "lite" editions of software they had no use for. And the system tray was under attack from of all sorts of stuff.

The reason, if you think about it, is that Dell and other PC manufacturers aren't profiting from hardware. Instead, they're making their margins by picking up a few bucks when buyers renew or upgrade the trial versions, or use a recommended ISP.

Three bottles of Anchor Steam and half the afternoon later, I was finished removing, reconfiguring, and smoothing over the rough edges on my neighbors' PC.

Flash forward to early June. I read about the Dell De-Crapifier, a ingenious bit of scripting that promised to automatically zip through a new PC and remove things you don't need. Before the program runs, you have the important option of telling it what you want to keep.

I'm guessing the author, Jason York, got some crap from Dell, so the product's been renamed to The PC De-Crapifier. You can download it from his site .

Much to my dismay, Denny Arar, ourConsumer Watcheditor, scooped me on the De-Crapifier. (I was saving it for myHassle-Free PCcolumn.) She talks about it in detail in her latest column .

But let's say you're the DIY type. Then you'll love Andy Brandt's recent Step-by-Step , in which he tells you in excruciating detail how to remove all the useless gunk from a new system and set it up to your specifications.

Dig This: It's these simple little Flash games that drive me nuts. I spent an hour futzing with Fly the Copter and got about 700 feet past the start. Try it--I'll bet you don't do much better. [Bass, did you really do 700? I got to 342, but had to get some work done today. --Editor]

I could have mowed the lawn, but instead I spent most of last Saturday fiddling with many of the Internet settings on my PC. (I do this for you, whether you appreciate it or not.)

At times it was difficult to determine if my tweaking messed with Internet access or by some coincidence, the entire Internet was down. And I don't mean just a little depressed.

Here are two sites I used to see how the Net was doing: Alertra's free SpotCheck gives you a way to quickly check the status of a Web server by pinging any site from around the globe; BroadBand Reports has the most comprehensive package of Internet and connection testing tools found anywhere. (And I know someone's going to prove me wrong...) It also has a terrific bunch of forums where you can pick up information and opinions about the broadband supplier or ISP you love to hate.

And here are two more from a loyal reader: A free ITR Client for Windows allows you to monitor ITR and test your connection when problems occur; Bandwidth Vista helps you look for network problems or check your bandwidth speed. [Thanks, Steve C.!]

Dig This: I get a kick out of the photo manipulations on Worth1000. The site has contests letting you modify an image based on a specific theme. Some of the results are original--and quite funny. Take " Modern Renaissance 6 " for example, in which modern celebrities get Old Master treatment. (By the way, Worth1000 photos are the most reproduced images on the Net--and they're all copyrighted.)

And just because I have a little extra space, I thought I'd pass along a handful of utilities to RAR and un-RAR files. What, you don't know about RAR ? It's a little-known file compression format that's popular in Europe.

These tools will come in handy if you ever bump into a RAR file. ZipitFast , 7-Zip , UltimateZip , ICEOWS , and Quick Zip can all handle RAR files; most can also deal with an assortment of other formats including ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2, TAR, CAB, ARJ, LZH, CHM, Z, CPIO, RPM, and others.


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