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Cool Tech Stuff (Updated)
Posted by: Dale Franks on Saturday, February 24, 2007

A couple of techie items have caught my attention, and I thought that some of you might be interested.


Mozilla Firefox is my web browser of choice, and it has been for a couple of years, ever since I somehow got to a web site that used malicious code to hijack IE and trash my computer. I can't trust IE and the security vulnerabilities it became famous for, so I don't use it. This is not to say that Firefox is perfect, but it's certainly been...less problematic as far as security goes. One of the nice things about Firefox is the ability to download extensions from Mozilla. One extension I've found really useful is the CoolIris extension.

With CoolIris, when you roll your mouse over any hyperlink, a tiny little preview icon pops up. When you put your mouse on the icon, a preview window appears that shows you the linked web page. When you move your mouse off of the preview window, it disappears. It also has functions to email the link or go ahead and open it in a new tab. Very very useful, especially when you google something, and you want to just pop up an interesting search result to see if you actually want to navigate to it.


I've also switched over from Microsoft Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird for email. Microsoft's spam filtering just doesn't cut it. I need good spam filtering, because I get 300 emails a day. Also, because I do a lot of development work, any time anyone sends me certain types of file attachments, such as an access database, or a number of other files with attached code, Microsoft Outlook helpfully and permanently strips the attachment out of the email and prevents me from opening it. Apparently, the Redmond Boys think I'm too frickin' stupid to use email wisely.

Thunderbird has a better filtering system, although it takes time for it to learn what you consider junk and not junk. And it doesn't block attachments that you need from customers.

Also, T-Bird serves as a nifty newsreader. It grabs RSS feeds, and posts each entry like an email message. You can choose to grab the permalink web page itself, or just the text version of the blog post. It also supports enclosures for things like podcasts, which is kinda neat. I like the way it works.

The one drawback to T-Bird is that it doesn't do any calendaring (although Mozilla is working on it). There is, however, a nifty little extension that does. It's called ReminderFox. It's not a full scale calendar with pretty week and day views and whatnot, but it does do scheduling for one-time, recurring, or all-day appointments, task lists, reminders, etc. It's very simple, and it takes care of about 90% of what you use the calendaring features in Outlook for.


The big brain security boys at Thawte offer free digital security certificates for PKI encryption and digital signing of email. It's very easy to get, and the certificate is generated within minutes.

At first, you get a plain-vanilla Thawte Freemail User certificate. If you want, though, you can appear before a Thawte-certified notary—in person—present them with the ID you used to identify yourself for the generic certificate, and get "trust points". Once you have 35 trust points, you can join Thawte's "Web of Trust", and upgrade to a personalized certificate. The catch: you have to pay a fee to the Thawte-certified notary, usually about 5-10 bucks. Some notaries, however, can give you your 35 points right off the bat, because Thawte thinks they're such hoopy froods. Others can only give you 10 or 15 points, though, which means you have to physically track down 2 or three guys and have them notarize your ID, which seems like a pain in the butt.

For most people, the free generic certificate will probably work fine.

When you install your certificate, and digitally sign an email message, your certificate's public key is automatically saved by the recipient, and vice versa. Once the recipient has your public key, and vice versa, you can send 256-bit encrypted email messages. (Both T-Bird and Firefox now support 256-bit encryption.)


Anti-virus protection is must for everyone. I want and need virus protection for both browsing and email, and so do you.

What I don't want and need is to pay 30 bucks a year for it. Fortunately, I don't have to. Grisoft software offers free versions of both AVG anti-virus and AVG Anti-Spyware. Both of these programs offer very good protection, are updated regularly, and do full scanning of your computer.

The free versions don't give you much control over the scanning. You either scan everything or nothing. The paid versions have some extra bells and whistles, but for most people, the AVG stuff is tip-top, offers resident shield protection, scans incoming email, and does all the things that MacAfee and Norton do, for free.


So, there's few helpful hints for you tech addicts.

UPDATE: By the way, let me stress, once again, the importance of obtaining an encryption/digital signature certificate. I know it's a pain in the butt, and takes 30 minutes of your valuable time. But the way things are going in the tech world, it's getting to the point where you need to encrypt your email whenever possible.

The trouble is that, at the moment, the default mode for email is "unsecure". No encryption, no nothing. That means for you to be able to send secure email, the person you send it to needs to have a certificate, too, which almost no one does.

But to the extent that you can convince friends and family to go secure, you should do so. You never know who's watching, or who's hooked into one of the servers your email jumps through to get to your intended recipient.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I nodded my head with all of your recommendations, until the last one. I have found Avast to be superior, and it too is free for home users.
Written By: Gerry
URL: http://
I had problems with AVG. Perhaps my fault, but I’m not exactly a newbie.
I love Firefox... it is smooth and oh so extendable.
Written By: darohu
URL: http://
I also use and enjoy firefox but I never have to worry about or pay for virus protection... I have a Mac.
Written By: steven
URL: http://
I believe you can scan particular folders (at least in Win XP) with the free version of AVG. I right-click on the folder and it gives me an option to scan that item using AVG. I think you’re correct that you can’t do that from the AVG interface itself.

Written By: JMD
URL: http://
Just a second vote for Thawte email certificates. I work on three-letter-acronym-funded projects in the automated analysis of email, and believe me — you should be encrypting your email whenever possible.

Written By: Aaron Harnly
Regards CoolIris, and what it does...
I wonder how that will work with SNAP previews, which do pretty much the same as you describe, and are getting pretty popular among Bloggers... My own site has them, and they work well, without the extension.
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
Snap is OK if you’re a site owner. But coolIris works in the browser, so it doesn’t matter whether the site has Snap or not.
Written By: Dale Franks
And it’s a cool thing, don’t misunderstand. I just wonder if the two of them combined will cause a conflict, is all. Guess I’ll have to try it later. My firefox just updated, so maybe I’ll try it tonight..
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
They interoperate fine.

I don’t find Snap particularly useful, in any event. The preview window is too small, and it doesn’ anything. CoolIris actually pops up the web page, not a tiny image of it.
Written By: Dale Franks
Dale have you seen Outlook 2007? It has the RSS feed option and seems to be blocking SPAM better than ever before.

Totally agree with you on Firefox. I’m hooked.
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
Dale have you seen Outlook 2007? It has the RSS feed option and seems to be blocking SPAM better than ever before.
Unfortunately, that still leaves the deal-breaker of Microsoft deciding what email attachments they’ll allow me to accept.
Written By: Dale Franks
CaCert offers free client certificates and server certificates.

Learn more at

Written By: Steve
URL: http://
My husband set me up with Portable Thunderbird which is Thunderbird that runs on a thumb drive. So I can take my thumb drive to any computer and check my e-mail in Thunderbird. Cool, huh?
Written By: Wacky Hermit
Thunderbird has a great add-on, its a calendar called Lightning its pretty basic but I find it useful. I also have Thunderbird and Firefox set up on a password protected partition on a thumbdrive just in case I can only get to a public computer. Its all working fine at the moment.
Written By: shane
URL: http://

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