PC Apps

We are Not Aµsed

There are a lot of excellent Bittorrent clients to use, and choosing the right one can be a perplexing task. Unfortunately, my decision just got a little easier.

My torrent client of choice until today, µTorrent, (not “youTorrent”, but “myooTorrent”) is admittedly an absolutely brilliant bit of programming. The tiny client (about 300kB) doesn’t require installation, uses only about 6MB of RAM (vs. up to 150MB by competitor Azureus, and is totally packed with features. It would pretty much be the torrent client of my dreams if only it were open source.

And therein lies the uncertainty.

A story on Slyck reports that the sole programmer of µTorrent, Ludvig Strigeus, has recently been employed by PeerFactor, a company hired by such organization as the RIAA to pollute P2P networks with fake and damaging files, and which also rewarded residential volunteers with cash for turning in their neighbours. The PeerFactor website confirms this in some dialect of English I am unfamiliar with.

PeerFactor is reportedly not the unscrupulous company it used to be, but an offshoot formed by former employees of the old company, now RetSpan, who disagreed with the predecessor’s anti-P2P agenda. (what better way to distance yourself than to keep the infamous name?)Retspan went on to mount a huge attack on Suprnova, once the star atop the P2P xmas tree.

PeerFactor seems to deny their past, however:

““We do not distribute any fake file over P2P, but only useful content,” Frenchman Richard Rodrigues, head of PeerFactor told Slyck. “We have never distributed fakes file (unreadable) because no user would [Â…] want to distribute [them].”

Ludwig shakily pleads ignorance over the identity of the company he has agreed to assist for 6 months:

These seem to be (legally) two totally independent entities. I have a contract with the second, while the first one is clearly Anti-P2P.

The same people (at least one person) are behind both of them. They are probably confused mortals that realized that Anti-P2P isn’t the right way to go, so they made another company related to the positive effects of P2P.

When challenged on the correlation between his popular Bittorrent client and anti-P2P agencies, Ludwig spoke up, as he rarely does, on the Slyck forums:

It’s not like this will affect µTorrent. We did not sign a deal about µTorrent, we signed a deal that I will provide them with code that implements the Bittorrent protocol. This code will be used in an ad supported file distribution system webmasters can use to publish big content.

Apparently Peerfactor considers advertisements to be “useful content”. Regardless, web advertising plus Bittorrent equals bad news. Bittorrent is a protocol designed to spread files between average internet users to offload server uploads. This likely means that Ludwig’s contribution to Peerfactor will assist in forcing the average user’s desktop computer to upload ads appearing on web sites to other users. In my experience, such programs do not ask you nicely whether you’d like to trade your bandwidth for pay in order to make money for advertisers. Summation: this is very bad for the internet.

–edit– Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted Ludwig’s words. He may also be talking about writing a Bittorrent client that displays ads. In this case, he is guilty of affixing adware to a public protocol where ad-free alternatives are available. –edit–

Conspiracy theorists are running wild on this series of events, as well they ought to since it’s tough to believe that Ludwig didn’t even google Peerfactor before agreeing to work for them. Such a claim is akin to accusing Bungie Studios, developers of Halo and Microsoft’s poster child, of working for Macintosh. (Eh? Marathon? What’s that?)

In the end, however, whether or not there is any nefarious plot afoot regarding µTorrent is irrelevant to me. The summation of the facts is just too disturbing for me to ignore. The sole progammer renown for his rare but glib replies to user queries, takes a job at a (former?) P2P antagonist, claims not to know that this company is in conflict with his freeware endeavours, gives a shady interview in which he denies little, becomes uncharacteristically vocal on his project’s home page (click “read more” beside “µTorrent is not associated with any anti-P2P organization”), finally admits to writing some form of adware that utilizes the Bittorrent protocol, and all the while refuses to open the source of his software. These facts compounded are too much to ignore.

I’ve no proof, in the end, that Ludwig is guilty of anything more than association. But that’s enough. I have deleted µTorrent and will never use it again. I’ve been banned from the µTorrent discussion forum for saying so which won’t instill much faith in anyone.

I’ve switched back to Azureus and am very pleased with my decision. µTorrent is undoubtedly a very advanced and effective Windows client, but Azureus is better. The distributed hash table yields on average 30000 times more distributed tracker peers (nearly 1 million vs about 300), the client supports plugins including Safepeer which automatically downloads lists of corporate investigative agencies and blocks their IPs, and the client is open source and thus has been scrutinized by dozens of programmers.

When it comes to free software, pledging allegiance means nothing. If a piece of software doesn’t suit your needs, get another freeware alternative. µTorrent serves my needs quite well, but the programmer is an untrustworthy fellow who I’d no sooner invite into my home than onto my hard drive.

PC Apps

Norton Futilities 2006

Symantec Corp. began humbly in 1982 as the purveyor of the much celebrated Norton Utilities software suite. (edit – this product is listed online as belonging to Norton and as Symantec – I don’t know which is correct) The suite was popular for a reason – it provided a number of powerful, easy-to-use diagnostic and repair utilities for MS-DOS computers.

In the early 90’s the Norton software family expanded to include Norton Antivirus (largely made popular by the infamous Michelangelo virus fiasco) – a high quality preventive maintenance application backed by some of the cleverest security experts in the industry. Other products intended for the corporate sector, such as Norton Ghost, helped expand the brand by equating Norton with cost savings, automation, and security.

Fast forwarding to the days of Windows 95 – a renaissance of personal computing – Symantec made a big push for the prime real-estate on home PC users’ desktops. Their new annual utility suite, Norton SystemWorks, brought to light some of the behind-the-scenes operations and bottlenecks of Microsoft’s glorious new operating system. Unfortunately, the ironically titled SystemWorks was one of the first examples of bloatware; the various hard disk, CPU, and memory monitors had a huge clock cycle and memory footprint. Still, Symantec prevailed due to their tried-and-true marketing tactic: FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). The suite’s boxart proclaimed that within the plastic wrapping resided “Powerful tools to solve PC problems and protect data,” and “additional advanced problem-solving tools.” Translated, this can more or less declares, “You’re having computer problems. The most serious problems are the ones you don’t know about. You don’t only need tools, you need ADDITIONAL ADVANCED tools. Can you afford not to buy this software?”

In Symantec’s defense, despite their viral marketing schemes, the company did not rest on its laurels when it came to their signature products. Updates for Norton Antivirus became more comprehensive and frequent, and Ghost became more powerful and flexible. In the case of Antivirus, this increasing complexity came at a price – later iterations consumed upwards of 50MB of RAM while simply idling. The oblivious novice PC user paid little mind to this, largely unaware of the software’s huge tax on system resources, or of the existence of competitors’ products. To Symantec’s chagrin, this popularity made their Antivirus a prime target for virus authors who took on a crusade to break their security products and to punish consumers for subscribing to the mainstream, the growing corporation, and primarily, the FUD.

Release after release, bloat after bloat, Symantec snowballed into a publisher of software by other companies, acquiring recognized brands and\or diluting them. The corporation’s recent acquiry of Sygate Inc., the former makers of my favourite free firewall Sygate Personal Firewall, have resulted in the discontinuation of their products and obfuscation of legacy downloads. Other recent acquiries include tech companies Bindview and IMLogic who no doubt face similar fates.

Even competing not-for-profit companies face persecution and blackballing by the bludgeoning giant. Spybot Search & Destroy was falsely labeled as spyware by the Norton Internet Security suite, and was removed only when Patrick Kolla, Spybot’s sole programmer, threatened Symantec with legal recourse and bad publicity. Symantec pleaded with Mr. Kolla to keep the “oversight” quiet, and to handle the situation in an “honourable” fashion, even though the company did not question or inform him about the false positive. Since this incident in April 2005, Symantec has ostracized Spybot once again, claiming that the innocuous software is incompatible with their Ghost suite. After the mutually agreed-upon week’s leeway expired, Mr. Kolla made public his opinions of the recently rival company.

With the facts established, my editorial begins.

Symantec is not in the business of providing security. They are not interested in cleaning your inbox or making your system run smoothly. Not anymore.

Symantec are experts in marketing, in snake oil, and in FUD. They’ve even added the Symantec ThreatCon to their website, akin to the never-safe-to-go-for-a-walk American Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Note that neither system can possibly indicate a state of peace; the lowest point on Symantec’s scale is 25% danger, while the baseline of the DHS Advisory is “Low risk of terrorist attacks.”

Not only has the company’s marketing and corporate strategy become more aggressive, but their resources have seemingly (I speculate) been transferred largely to advertising and securing good press. For instance, it is curious that rates Norton Antivirus 2005 an excellent 4/5 stars, yet at the time of this article 314 users rate the product an average of 2.5/5 stars. I$ it po$$ible the average PC u$er i$ deprived of $ome point of con$ideration known only to the web$ite’$ profe$$ional reviewer$?

There are many freeware and low-cost third-party solutions to many issues Symantec falsely purports to resolve on home PCs, and they are far more deserving of your patronage. Don’t be dazzled by the company’s illustrious brand. As a PC repair technician I’ve had untold difficulties with Norton products; particularly Antivirus. Once you get a virus that targets NAV specifically, it’s all over. You can’t uninstall NAV and you can’t install anything else because most AV products don’t install if an existing one is detected. I urge all my clients and all my readers to uninstall ALL Norton products from your computer NOW, even if you’ve paid for an active subscription, and truly ensure the security of your data by downloading any of these free applications:

Avast Antivirus
Grisoft AVG
Kaspersky Antivirus

Sygate Personal Firewall (mirrors)
Zonelabs ZoneAlarm
Kerio Personal Firewall
Outpost Firewall

Spybot Search & Destroy
Lavasoft Ad-Aware

PC Apps

5 of my favourite Firefox extensions

Mozilla Firefox is my favourite web browser for a number of reasons; primarily, its extensibility. Extraneous functionalities can be added to the browser by installing “extensions.” I dedicate today’s entry to the brilliant, generous authors of free extensions who have made web browsing easier and more enjoyable for thousands.

You can find extensions “officially” supplied by Mozilla at, or by clicking Tools / Extensions / Get More Extensions from the Firefox pulldowns. This site lists extensions endorsed by Mozilla and is granted install permissions in Firefox by default, so installing software from the site couldn’t be easier.

To install an extension, click the installer link from a web page (“filename.xpi“), click the Install button that pops up, close all instances of Firefox, and launch Firefox once again. I’ll include a link to the latest version of each extension in addition to the homepage for convenience, but please note that these links may not work for long as hardworking programmers update their programs frequently.

Note: You may need to grant install access to some websites to install an extension. Watch for the yellow bar at the top of the browser window.

Adblock – homepagelatest version

This plugin blocks images and Flash animations on a user-supplied list from appearing on web pages. Images can be blocked one-by-one or with wildcards. This is a powerful extension so don’t be over ambitious by blocking entire domains or you might break your favourite website (until you delete the entry in your blocklist).

Adblock Filterset.G – homepagelatest version

Apprehensive about creating your own blocklist? This extension periodically downloads a huge list of known advertisers and advertisements and plugs it right into Adblock. Thanks to this extension you may never see another ad on the web again!

ForecastFox – homepagelatest version

Do you take internet breaks by going outside, instead of the inverse? If so, you’ll love this extension! ForecastFox displays a highly customizable weather forecast for specific locales with accurate data and detailed descriptions. Later versions even show AccuWeather satellite cloudcover imagery. Secure yourself against driptorrent!

Mouse Gestures – homepagelatest version

Extra mouse buttons are to navigation what the mouse wheel is for scrolling. If you’re stuck with a 2-button mouse you can increase its browsing functionality with this extension. Borrowing liberally from the gestures feature in the Opera web browser, holding the right-mouse button while dragging the mouse enables users to go forward or back, resize text, open or close windows or tabs, and a whole lot more. Gestures can be added or deleted very easily, and mouse trails can be added. Try it for 15 minutes and you’ll never know how you managed without it.

BugMeNot – homepagelatest version

Want to read content on a members-only page but don’t want to give them your vitals? You’re not the only one. This extension draws upon the resources from the BugMeNot webpage, allowing users to right-click a login form and choose a pre-made user-submitted account. A great way to improve your web browsing security and privacy.

Have I made any glaring omissions? Please leave me a comment and I’ll check out your favourite extensions!