November 14, 2017

How to Make Your Computer Read Documents to You

Since the beginning of the computer age, people have always enjoyed making computers talk to them. These days, that functionality is built right into Windows and you can easily use it to have your PC read documents to you.
Using the text to speech functionality of your computer can save you a lot of time if you need to study for tests, read books, review reports, or if you are just feel like listening instead of reading. While the voice may sound computer generated, there is always the option of downloading new SAPI-compatible voice profiles from various sites on the Internet, though most of them aren’t free.
Most Windows PCs are equipped with at least two American English voices (one male, one female). Many computers also offer a variety of voices that are fluent in different languages. By accessing the settings through your control panel, which we will discuss later on, you can adjust the pitch, speed, and volume of your computer’s SAPI voice.
In this article, we’re going to cover how get your PC to interpret the two most common types of documents most people use—PDFs and Word documents—and speak their contents to you. We’ll also talk a bit about fine-tuning your PC’s voice.



Have Adobe Reader to Read PDF Documents to You

Adobe Reader is the default choice for many people for viewing PDF files. While it Adobe Reader became bloated over the years, recent versions are better and fairly pleasant to use. Adobe Reader can also read documents to you. If you don’t already have Reader installed, head to the Adobe Reader download page. Make sure to uncheck their optional McAffee downloads, and then click the “Install Now” button.

Note: Adobe Reader also installs browser plugins to integrate PDF tools into your browser. If you prefer not to use that, you can follow these steps for disabling plug-ins in your web browser of choice, disabling the “Adobe Acrobat” plug-in.
When you’ve installed Reader, open up a PDF file that you’d like the computer to read to you. Open the “View” menu, point to the “Read Out Loud” submenu, and then click the “Activate Read Out Loud” command. You can also hit Ctrl+Shift+Y to activate the feature.

With the Read Out Loud feature activated, you can click a single paragraph to have Windows read it aloud to you. A progress bar appears on screen to let you know how far through the selection you are.

You can also choose other options by returning to the View > Read Out Loud menu. There, you can have Reader read the current page, read from the current location to the end of the document, or pause, stop, and play the reading. You can also deactivate the Read Out Lout feature if you’re done with it.


Have Microsoft Word to Read Word Documents to You

If you have .doc, .docx, or .txt files that you want your computer to read to you instead, you can do that right in Microsoft Word.
It’s easiest to start by adding the Speak command right to the Quick Access toolbar at the top of the Word window. Click the small down arrow at the right of the Quick Access toolbar, and then click the “More Commands” option.

In the “Word Options” window, click the “Choose Commands From” dropdown, and then choose the “All Commands” option. On the list of commands, scroll down, and then select the “Speak” command. Click the “Add” button, and then click “OK” to close the window.

If you look at the Quick Access toolbar, you’ll see that the Speak command has been added (the small “message box” icon with a play symbol).

In your Word document, select some text. You can select a word, paragraph, entire page, or just hit Ctrl+A to select the whole document. Click the “Speak” button you added to have Word read your selection to you.



Adjust Voice Settings

If your computer’s speech sounds too computer generated, or if it speaks too quickly, you can adjust the settings. Hit Start, type “Narrator” into the search box, and then click the result.

Note: While you have the Narrator tool open, Windows will read out loud everything you do—every thing you click or type, window titles, everything. If it bugs you while you’re configuring settings, just mute your PC.
In the “Narrator” window, click the “Voice Settings” option.

On the “Voice” page, you can set the voice speed, volume, and pitch to your liking. You can also choose different voices you have installed.

When you’re done, close the Narrator tool (so that it’s not reading everything to you) and go test it out in your PDF or Word document.

You can also use Narrator to read other types of documents (like web pages) to you. It can be a bit clunky to work with, since it wants to read everything (including interface text) to you, but you might find it useful at times.

October 17, 2017

Chromium Theme WPA4 by wifajo for Windows 7

There is a rich catalog of Windows 7 themes at With the concerns over privacy using Windows 10, some users are sticking with Windows 7 SP1. But there is no use accepting the standard Windows 7 themes. So I have revisited the "chromium" WPA4 theme from wifajo. It is the closest thing to a Chromium OS desktop, while still using Windows. Sure there are other OSX or MAC themes available for Windows 7. But WPA4 offers a clean silver theme unique to the Windows experience. Below is a link where you can download it yourself. Enjoy.

You can download the WPA4 theme here:

How to Convert a PDF File Into an Editable Text Document

Adobe’s PDF standard is handy whenever you need to distribute some information and be sure that it’s seen the same way by all recipients. But PDF files are also infamously tough to edit.
Unless you’ve paid for Adobe Acrobat (the full version, not just the Reader), you’ll have to look for a specific tool to edit the text of PDFs. Many of these are available on various platforms, but for an easy and free method that works across all kinds of desktops and mobile devices, you can use Google Docs.
If you have your PDF file ready, open in any browser and log in with your Google account. It’s possible to go through this process on mobile with a phone browser, so long as you do it in “desktop view,” but it’s going to be somewhat difficult—get to a full laptop or desktop PC if you can.

Upload your PDF file from your local files by clicking the blue “NEW” button on the left, then “File upload.” Select your PDF and wait for it to upload to Google’s server.

Once the file is in your drive, right-click or long-tap the item in Drive’s main view. Select “Open Open with,” then click “Google Docs.” The PDF document will open in a new browser tab in the Google Docs interface.

From here you can edit any of the text in the PDF document as if it were a standard word processor file. some of the formatting may be a bit off thanks to Docs’ interpretation of the images and spacing in the PDF file, but all of the formatted text should be visible and editable—if it’s a larger file, Docs will even create an automatic outline separated into pages.

You can edit any of the text in this window and save your work online in Google Docs for later. If you’d rather have a standard document file for an offline word processor, click “File,” then “Download as.” Here you can choose from Docx, ODT, TXT, RTF, and other formats, so you can open them in Microsoft Office (or your word processor of choice).
Click on the one you want, and it will immediately be downloaded to your default desktop or phone folder. That’s it! You now have a saved, editable copy of your original PDF, compatible with any word processor.

Source: chrome-extension://ecabifbgmdmgdllomnfinbmaellmclnh/data/reader/index.html?id=15

October 11, 2017

How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets

Kaspersky Lab’s products require access to everything stored on a computer in order to scour it for viruses or other dangers.
Sergei Ilnitsky/European Pressphoto Agency
It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs.
What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool — antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, that is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen American government agencies.
The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers.
The Russian operation, described by multiple people who have been briefed on the matter, is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky’s antivirus software was installed. What additional American secrets the Russian hackers may have gleaned from multiple agencies, by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, is not yet publicly known.
The current and former government officials who described the episode spoke about it on condition of anonymity because of classification rules.
Like most security software, Kaspersky Lab’s products require access to everything stored on a computer in order to scour it for viruses or other dangers. Its popular antivirus software scans for signatures of malicious software, or malware, then removes or neuters it before sending a report back to Kaspersky. That procedure, routine for such software, provided a perfect tool for Russian intelligence to exploit to survey the contents of computers and retrieve whatever they found of interest.
The National Security Agency and the White House declined to comment for this article. The Israeli Embassy declined to comment, and the Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Russian hackers had stolen classified N.S.A. materials from a contractor using the Kaspersky software on his home computer. But the role of Israeli intelligence in uncovering that breach and the Russian hackers’ use of Kaspersky software in the broader search for American secrets have not previously been disclosed.
Kaspersky Lab denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, the Russian hacking. “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts,” the company said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. Kaspersky Lab also said it “respectfully requests any relevant, verifiable information that would enable the company to begin an investigation at the earliest opportunity.”
The Kaspersky-related breach is only the latest bad news for the security of American intelligence secrets. It does not appear to be related to a devastating leak of N.S.A. hacking tools last year to a group, still unidentified, calling itself the Shadow Brokers, which has placed many of them online. Nor is it evidently connected to a parallel leak of hacking data from the C.I.A. to WikiLeaks, which has posted classified C.I.A. documents regularly under the name Vault7.
For years, there has been speculation that Kaspersky’s popular antivirus software might provide a back door for Russian intelligence. More than 60 percent, or $374 million, of the company’s $633 million in annual sales come from customers in the United States and Western Europe. Among them have been nearly two dozen American government agencies — including the State Department, the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Justice Department, Treasury Department and the Army, Navy and Air Force.
The N.S.A. bans its analysts from using Kaspersky antivirus at the agency, in large part because the agency has exploited antivirus software for its own foreign hacking operations and knows the same technique is used by its adversaries.
“Antivirus is the ultimate back door,” Blake Darché, a former N.S.A. operator and co-founder of Area 1 Security. “It provides consistent, reliable and remote access that can be used for any purpose, from launching a destructive attack to conducting espionage on thousands or even millions of users.”
It is not clear whether, or to what degree, Eugene V. Kaspersky, the founder of Kaspersky Lab, and other company employees have been complicit in the hacking using their products. Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press
On Sept. 13, the Department of Homeland Security ordered all federal executive branch agencies to stop using Kaspersky products, giving agencies 90 days to remove the software. Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine C. Duke cited the “information security risks” presented by Kaspersky and said the company’s antivirus and other software “provide broad access to files” and “can be exploited by malicious cyber actors to compromise” federal computer systems.
That directive, which some officials thought was long overdue, was based, in large part, on intelligence gleaned from Israel’s 2014 intrusion into Kaspersky’s corporate systems. It followed months of discussions among intelligence officials, which included a study of how Kaspersky’s software works and the company’s suspected ties with the Kremlin.
“The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky,” D.H.S. said in its statement, “could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security.”
Kaspersky Lab did not discover the Israeli intrusion into its systems until mid-2015, when a Kaspersky engineer testing a new detection tool noticed unusual activity in the company’s network. The company investigated and detailed its findings in June 2015 in a public report.
The report did not name Israel as the intruder but noted that the breach bore striking similarities to a previous attack, known as “Duqu,” which researchers had attributed to the same nation states responsible for the infamous Stuxnet cyberweapon. Stuxnet was a joint American-Israeli operation that successfully infiltrated Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, and used malicious code to destroy a fifth of Iran’s uranium centrifuges in 2010.
Kaspersky reported that its attackers had used the same algorithm and some of the same code as Duqu, but noted that in many ways it was even more sophisticated. So the company researchers named the new attack Duqu 2.0, noting that other victims of the attack were prime Israeli targets.
Among the targets Kaspersky uncovered were hotels and conference venues used for closed-door meetings by members of the United Nations Security Council to negotiate the terms of the Iran nuclear deal — negotiations from which Israel was excluded. Several targets were in the United States, which suggested that the operation was Israel’s alone, not a joint American-Israeli operation like Stuxnet.
Kaspersky’s researchers noted that attackers had managed to burrow deep into the company’s computers and evade detection for months. Investigators later discovered that the Israeli hackers had implanted multiple back doors into Kaspersky’s systems, employing sophisticated tools to steal passwords, take screenshots, and vacuum up emails and documents.
In its June 2015 report, Kaspersky noted that its attackers seemed primarily interested in the company’s work on nation-state attacks, particularly Kaspersky’s work on the “Equation Group” — its private industry term for the N.S.A. — and the “Regin” campaign, another industry term for a hacking unit inside the United Kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.
Israeli intelligence officers informed the N.S.A. that in the course of their Kaspersky hack, they uncovered evidence that Russian government hackers were using Kaspersky’s access to aggressively scan for American government classified programs, and pulling any findings back to Russian intelligence systems. They provided their N.S.A. counterparts with solid evidence of the Kremlin campaign in the form of screenshots and other documentation, according to the people briefed on the events.
It is not clear whether, or to what degree, Eugene V. Kaspersky, the founder of Kaspersky Lab, and other company employees have been complicit in the hacking using their products. Technical experts say that at least in theory, Russian intelligence hackers could have exploited Kaspersky’s worldwide deployment of software and sensors without the company’s cooperation or knowledge. Another possibility is that Russian intelligence officers might have infiltrated the company without the knowledge of its executives.
But experts on Russia say that under President Vladimir V. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, businesses asked for assistance by Russian spy agencies may feel they have no choice but to give it. To refuse might well invite hostile action from the government against the business or its leaders. Mr. Kaspersky, who attended an intelligence institute and served in Russia’s Ministry of Defense, would have few illusions about the cost of refusing a Kremlin request.
Steven L. Hall, a former chief of Russian operations at the C.I.A., said his former agency never used Kaspersky software, but other federal agencies did. By 2013, he said, Kaspersky officials were “trying to do damage control and convince the U.S. government that it was just another security company.”
He didn’t buy it, Mr. Hall said. “I had the gravest concerns about Kaspersky, and anyone who worked on Russia or in counterintelligence shared those concerns,” he said.


September 20, 2017

How to Disable Your Webcam (and Why You Should)

Once a concern that was the province of the paranoid, years worth of reports and revelations have made it readily apparent that people really can spy on you through your webcam. Here’s why you should disable or cover yours.
TL;DR version: Script-kiddie hackers and teenagers can, and do, use easily accessible tools and phishing techniques to hijack webcams of unsuspecting people, often who they know, and watch them through their camera. They can store images and videos of people in compromising situations in their bedrooms, and many of these images and videos are uploaded to shady websites.
If you have kids, you should strongly consider reading the entirety of this article and implementing something to stop their webcams from being on all the time (or ever).

Is Webcam Spying Really a Threat?

Ten years ago the idea that people—be they government agents, hackers, or just law-breaking voyeurs—could actively spy on you through your computer’s webcam would be the considered the ramblings of a paranoid conspiracy theorist. A slew of news stories over the intervening years, however, have revealed that what was once considered paranoia is now an uncomfortable reality.
In 2009, a student sued his school when he discovered his school-provided laptop was secretly photographing him (the ensuing legal investigation revealed that the school had collected 56,000 photographs of students without their knowledge or consent). In 2013, researchers demonstrated that they could activate the webcam on MacBooks without the indicator light turning on, something previously considered impossible. A former FBI agent confirmed that not only was this possible but that they’d been doing it for years.
In 2013, courtesy of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, we learned that the NSA had successful programs they used to gain backdoor access to the cameras on iPhones and Blackberries. In 2014, again courtesy of the Snowden leaks, we learned that the NSA has a host of tools at its disposal to remotely monitor users like “Gumfish”: a malware tool that allows for remote video monitoring via your webcam. In early 2015, a group known as BlackShades was broken up after it was discovered that the software they sold for $40 a pop had been used to give millions of purchasers remote access (including webcam access) to victims computers; that’s hardly a new trick though as old programs like Back Orifice were used in the same fashion back in the 1990s.
It’s Not Just the NSA
We want to emphasize the whole “hardly a new trick” bit and the ease with which even marginally skilled malicious users can gain access to your computer. This article over at Ars Technica, Meet The Men Who Spy On Women Through Their Webcams, is an unsettling account. The majority of people doing the spying aren’t government agents, but low-tier hackers that use simple tools to catalog and monitor all the devices a computer may have access to.
So before you shrug your shoulders and say, “Well the NSA doesn’t care about my boring life, so it doesn’t matter,” understand that while we might all find allegations of government spying the most troubling on a global and intellectual level, the majority of actual webcam spying is carried out by creepy Peeping Toms.
So the short of it is: yes, webcam spying is a real threat. When everyone from the spooks at the NSA to the kid next door has access to tools that can turn a webcam against its owner then the threat is legitimate.

What Should I Do?

You should, no questions asked, disable or obscure your computer’s webcam. There is no good reason, especially in light of the numerous documented cases of webcam spying, to leave an insecure recording device permanently accessible on your computer. It’s so easy to do that there’s no reason not to. Here’s what you should consider.

Make Sure You’re Using Antivirus

While antivirus isn’t going to detect all of these things, and won’t detect many of the latest ones that are out there, it will at least help in dealing with the possibility of infection through a link or running the wrong executable. Here are the programs we recommend.
The problem is that if the threat is actually the college kid that offers to help people with their IT problems, they can easily whitelist a trojan so an antivirus won’t detect it. Or malware could do the same thing.
You can’t really trust that little icon that says you are secure. But it’s at least a help.

Unplug It

For desktop users with external webcams, the easiest solution is to simply unplug the USB webcam. No amount of hacking is going to magically plug an unplugged device back in.

This is the solution we use around the How-To Geek offices; we leave the webcams in their usual position atop their respective workstation monitors and then when we need to use them we plug the USB cable into an easily accessible front or top USB port on the said workstation.
It’s the most foolproof way to approach the problem if you have an external webcam, and works regardless of the hardware or operating system.

Disable It in the BIOS

If you have a laptop with an integrated webcam (or a rare all-in-one desktop model that also sports an integrated webcam), you have a few options. If your BIOS supports it, you can disable it at the BIOS level, which is ideal.
Reboot your computer and enter into the BIOS (follow the on-screen instructions to enter “SETUP”, typically by pressing the F2 key, the DEL key, or a function key combination of some sort). Look through the BIOS options for an entry labeled something like “webcam,” “integrated camera,” or “CMOS camera.” These entries will typically have a simple toggle, like enable/disable or lock/unlock. Disable or lock the hardware to turn off your webcam.
Unfortunately, the BIOS solution is relatively rare and typically found on computers from vendors with heavy institutional sales. Business Dell and Lenovo laptops, for example, commonly ship with this feature in the BIOS because their corporate buyers want the ability to disable the webcam. With other vendors (and even within computer lines from the aforementioned vendors) it’s hit or miss.
Be forewarned that disabling the webcam typically disables the microphone too, as in most laptops the camera and microphone module are on the same small expansion board. This is obviously a benefit (from a privacy standpoint) but you should be aware of it so you’re not left wondering why your mic is dead.

Disable It in the OS

This solution isn’t quite as secure or foolproof, but it’s a welcome next step. You can cripple your webcam by disabling it and removing driver support for it.

The technique for doing so varies from operating system to operating system, but the general premise is the same. In Windows, you just need to enter the Device Manager (click Start and search for “device manager” to find it). There, you can locate your webcam under the “Imaging Devices” category, right-click it, and choose “Disable” or “Uninstall”.
Obviously this isn’t a perfect solution. If someone has remote administrative access to your machine they can always, with a greater or lesser degree of hassle, install the missing drivers and enable the device again.
Barring that kind of focus and determination, however, it’s a simple and easy way to disable your webcam. It is, however, rather inconvenient if you actually use your integrated webcam with any regularity. This brings us to the next solution: obscuring the lens with a cover.

Cover It Up

A compromise between the hassle of disabling the the webcam in the BIOS or operating system and leaving it wide open all the time is applying a simple physical cover to your webcam lens. As elementary and simplistic as it seems, it’s actually a really effective technique. You get instant visual confirmation that the lens is disabled (you can see the cover every time you look at your laptop), it’s easy to remove, and we even tried out some dirt cheap DIY options that keep the cover-up option economical.
Presented below, for reference, is the laptop we’re using without any of the solutions (commercial or DIY) applied. The indicator light is on the left, the webcam lens is center, and the microphone is on the right.

Before you run off to grab a roll of duct tape, let’s run through some of the more convenient commercial options.

Eyebloc Cover (~$6)

The Eyebloc is the best selling and the most reviewed webcam cover on Amazon. The design is really simple: it’s a C-shaped plastic clamp that you slip onto your laptop (it can also be applied to tablets and smartphones in a similar fashion).

No doubt about it, it was easy to apply, easy to remove, and as advertised it had no adhesive to speak of (so there was no risk of residue). It also completely blocked the webcam lens on all devices we tested it on. That said, this thing is really, really, ugly and obvious. In terms of style we’d rank the Eyebloc right up there with the massive fit-over-sunglasses you’d see around a retirement community.

This is also the only device we tested that won’t work very well for smart TVs, game consoles, or any other larger device that has a webcam-like device built in. If you’re not attaching it to a slender object like a laptop lid or tablet, it won’t work.

C-Slide (~$5)

The C-Slide is a tiny (and we do mean tiny) plastic slider that you adhere onto your laptop or tablet. The entire device is the size of a very small mailing label (1.4″ x 0.5″ and a scant 1mm or so thick). It’s so tiny, in fact, that it was delivered stuck to a piece of cardstock in a common #10 business envelope and the outside of the envelope had “Your webcam cover order is inside!” in large highlighted print to, presumably, ensure we didn’t scrap it as junk mail.

Unlike the other solutions in this roundup the C-Slide is intended for permanent application to the device. You enable and disable the webcam by sliding the tiny little panel of plastic back and forth to open and close the webcam much like some larger external webcams have a physical slider that covers the lens when not in use.
Despite our misgivings about how tiny the C-Slide is, it worked quite well. It’s so slim that you can easily close the laptop without any noticeable gap between the lid and body. There were only two issues we found with the C-Slide.

First, if you have a laptop that has a curved bezel, it does not adhere very well and will likely fall off immediately (or shortly after application). Second, you’ll want to place it very carefully so that it doesn’t accidentally stick over the microphone hole on your laptop or cover the indicator light. Second, before you peel the double-sided tape off the back and slap it on, take a minute to experiment with placement. Our initial placement was less than ideal, as it blocked the indicator light and resulted in a blocked microphone when the slider was open. By offsetting the opening in the slider slightly from the webcam lens we were able to position the device such that the microphone wasn’t obscured or taped over and the only time the indicator light was blocked was when we had the slider open to use the webcam.
Those minor issues aside, the C-Slide will work on any camera embedded in a flat surface so long as the camera lens is smaller than the roughly square centimeter opening of the slider (approximately the size of the nail on your pinky finger). Overall this was our favorite solution. It’s easy to apply and it’s easy to use: no picking at a little sticky disk and no misplaced parts.

Creative Cam Covers (~$10 for 6)

The Creative Cam Covers feel and look very similar to cut vinyl decal clings like those you would order from a sign shop or purchase to peel out and stick on your car window. The pack comes with an alcohol wipe and six black circular clings roughly the size of a dime. They have no adhesive, but instead use static electricity to cling to smooth surfaces.

This is both a benefit (no sticky residue and they’re easy to remove) and a flaw (they work great on smooth surfaces but not so great on textured ones). As such, they work super well on laptops with glossy piano black bezels and tablets that have smooth glass bezels, but if your laptop is brushed aluminum (like a MacBook) or just has a rough texture on the bezel, you may find they readily fall off.

In light of that, we can only recommend the product for those situations: super smooth and flat laptop bezels or glass surfaces like those found on tablets. None of our laptops have a gloss case and the Cam Covers would not stick (even for a fraction of a second) to the bezel of the laptop we used for demonstration purposes in this article. They did, however, stick incredibly well to the perfectly smooth glass surface of our iPad mini, as seen in the photo above. If you’re looking for a non-adhesive solution for a tablet or laptop with a gloss bezel this is a great solution.

DIY Electrical Tape Covers (< $1)

While field testing all these solutions, it occurred to us that if you weren’t afraid of a tiny bit of adhesive then the cheapest solution would be to simply punch a hole in a piece of electrical tape with a hole punch and you’d have a perfectly round little dot you could place right over the lens of your integrated webcam.
A quick trip to the old supply closet for some tape, a hole punch, and FedEx label (to steal a bit of the non-stick paper backing) and we had the fixings for hundreds of webcam covers.

The only downside to this technique is that, yes, you’ll potentially have a little adhesive to deal with when removing the dot (although this is mostly a temperature-related issue, as electrical tape doesn’t have much residue when used in cooler temperatures). It would also be easy to lose or mangle the little dot of tape if you were using it while traveling about, but given how cheap they are to make you could easily stash a few in your laptop bag.

Armed with the tips we’ve shared on disabling or covering your webcam you can easily avoid the unfortunate reality of webcam snooping and reduce or outright eliminate webcam-based privacy breaches.


August 21, 2017

Why You Should Replace Windows’ Default Image Viewer With IrfanView

As its featureset expanded, Windows became something of an omnibus. It now includes not one, but two built-in browsers, a defragmentation tool, and even Candy Crush. But like most do-it-all tools, just because Windows can do almost everything doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do anything. So it is with the default photo viewer.

The Need For Speed(y Image Processing and Display)

An image viewer might seem like a somewhat mundane portion of your operating system to upgrade, and of course most people don’t think to do so. But in situations where you’re handling large image files in exotic formats, it can be a necessity. Third-party tools like IrfanView may not be as aesthetically pleasing as Windows’ photo viewer, but they’re more powerful, more flexible, and faster than the operating system’s default.
I first started looking for a more powerful option while working as a graphic designer in a sign shop way back in the aughts. On a Pentium 4 machine that chugged to run Photoshop and Illustrator, I made custom advertising banners and cutouts, sometimes thirty feet wide and a gigabyte or two thanks to hours and hours of work. Rasterizing the files for the printer would sometimes take half an hour. So using the default Windows XP image viewer, which sometimes couldn’t even open the file formats I had to save in, didn’t work well.

During my time in the printshop, I used an underpowered PC to make massive banners for retailers and events.
Even on medium-sized images with complex effects, trying to load them with the default Windows XP image viewer was painfully slow, sometimes only a few seconds faster than booting up the cumbersome Photoshop program from a cold start. It was clear I needed something with a little more under the hood.
You don’t need to be a graphic designer to get the benefit of a faster, more broadly-compatible image viewer. With DSLRs shooting thousands of images in RAW and even cell phone cameras eager to bust through new megapixel barriers, speed is of the essence, especially if you’re using it on a low-power laptop or tablet.

IrfanView Beats the Windows Default With a Stick

After a bit of searching for something better than the Windows default, I found IrfanView. The tiny, funny-sounding application is designed for two things: maximum file type support and ludicrous speed. (If you think the name sounds weird, it gets it from its Bosnian creator, Irfan Skiljan.) The program has been in continual development for over twenty years, and it’s free for personal use.

After installing it on that old office clunker, I was immediately able to load up huge images in a preview view almost instantly. What the program lacks in sartorial splendor it makes up in speed and flexibility, and I soon set it as the default image viewer for every format except full Photoshop and Illustrator files. The program allows for a few extra tools like permanent rotation, copying and pasting, and toolbar customization, and its already-extensive file support can be extended even further with plugins.

IrfanView opens this huge Game of Thrones infographic project in a fraction of a second.
Digging deeper into the program reveals some thoughtful extras, like an Optical Character Recognition tool (it can “read” text on an image and export it to an editable text format), and even basic video and audio playback plus some editing tools. It won’t replace Photoshop anytime soon, but if you need some cropping or to block something out, it’ll do. Those who want a minimal interface or custom zooming steps or even a slideshow mode that stretches across multiple monitors will find what they’re looking for.
Look at all those user-selectable options. Hubba hubba!
Even though I now only use my high-powered, home-built machine for graphic design, I’ve kept IrfanView installed up to Windows 10. Why use something slower with fewer features?


July 25, 2017

Top 7 Free MS Paint Alternatives You Can Use

MS Paint is a simple, basic image creator and manipulator that was originally introduced in 1985 with Windows 1.0, and has shipped with all subsequent versions of the operating system. It’s the first painting application of any sort that I personally used on a computer back in the 90s, and even though I’ve graduated to more robust image editing software over the years, it still felt a little odd when Microsoft added it to the growing list of Windows features that will be deprecated in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. Sure, it will still be available for download on the Windows Store, but you’ll have to do so manually, as it won’t available on your computer right out the box. So from now on, since you have to download an image editor manually while running Windows anyways, let’s take a look at the 7 best free MS Paint alternatives that you can download instead:

1. Paint.NET

Paint.NET is a free photo-editing software that comes with the simplicity of the built-in Microsoft program, but adds enough new features to make it not just a viable MS Paint alternative, but actually a more robust and feature-filled replacement for it. Unlike MS Paint, it comes with support for layers, blending, transparency, special effects, unlimited undo and many other useful tools, but the best thing about it is the wide array of effect, adjustment and file type plugins, not to mention all the tutorials that you’ll get on the official forums from an active and involved community of developers, users and enthusiasts.

While Paint.NET is one of the most popular image-editing programs on Windows, it is, unfortunately, not available on any other platform. So if you’re using a Mac or Linux, you’ll need to take a look at some of the following examples that are available on multiple desktop platforms.
Download: Free (Windows)

2. MyPaint

Unlike Paint.NET, MyPaint is a free and open source (FOSS) alternative to MS Paint that is available on Windows, Mac and Linux. The program focuses more on the painting aspect rather than image manipulation and, comes with a boatload of features that belies its simple user interface. It comes with dynamic brush library that simulate pencil, charcoal and ink, but advanced users can also create their own customized brushes to suit their needs.

MyPaint supports all the major file formats, has support for layer management, as well as an ‘unlimited canvas’, which means you won’t have to preset the image size before starting off on your painting. MyPaint is basically a free and relatively more basic alternative to Corel Paint, so as you’d expect, it comes with support for pressure sensitive graphics tablets like the ones from Wacom or Huion.
Download: Free (Windows, macOS, Linux)

3. IrfanView

Released in 1996 for Windows 95 by developer Irfan Skiljan, IrfanView is yet another feature-filled yet easy-to-use image editor that has gotten extremely popular over the past couple of decades. It is free for non-commercial use, and comes with a wide variety of third-party plugins for image, video and sound formats that can be added to the program to extend its already long list of functionality even further. Although it’s technically only available for Windows, it can also be run on Linux under Wine and on Mac using WineBottler.

While the program is chock-a-block with features, it is extremely lightweight, occupying barely about 2MB of disk space, and even the installation of the optional plugins only require about 17MB space overall. The program also offers full support for a bewildering array of file formats, including JPEG, JPEG2000, JP2, BMP, GIF, PNG, TIFF, RAW and many more.
Download: Free (Windows)

4. Pinta

Pinta is a free and open source image editor that is distributed under the MIT X11 license and is available on all three major desktop platforms – Windows, Mac and Linux. The software offers all the basic features you’d expect from an image editing software circa 2017, including annotations, drawing, color adjustment, unlimited undo and more. The program also offers advanced features like support for image layers, something that you’re unlikely to find in more basic image editors.

The original creator of Pinta, Jonathan Probst, has gone on record saying that his software was inspired by Paint.NET, which itself was intended to be an open source replacement for MS Paint. However, for the most part, Pinta comes with its own original code, with only the adjustments and effects code borrowed from Paint.NET. Pinta is hosted on Github and is under active development, although, Probst is no longer associated with the project.
Download: Free (Windows, macOS, Linux)

5. Paintbrush

So we’ve taken a look at quite a few free and open source software for Windows and Linux, but only a few of them are available for Mac. If that’s making all you Mac-owners feel a little left out, here’s one that you should try if you’re looking for a basic, free image editor and annotator for Macs. Paintbrush is a free and open source program that’s available only for Mac, and was originally intended to be a replacement for MacPaint – an archaic image manipulation software that was last released almost three decades ago back in the late ’80s. Like Paint, it is also a very basic software with a simple interface, and comes with freehand drawing, an eraser, a spray can and a few other simple annotation tools.

Paintbrush is probably one of the least powerful software on this list, and is only a simple 2D bitmap editor with no vector capabilities. However, you can still save edited and annotated images as PNG, JPG, BMP, GIF and TIFF.
Download: Free (macOS)

6. Greenshot

Greenshot is yet another free and open source editing and annotation software that is available for Windows under the GNU Public License. Greenshot is s great MS Paint alternative if you mostly used the built-in Windows program to save screenshots on your PC. That’s because Greenshot specializes in screenshots, and can be used to create, annotate and edit them. The program comes with several optional plugins for Office, Imgur, Dropbox, Flickr and Confluence, among others. The program allows its users to resize, rotate or crop images, and just like Paint, even annotate them with rectangles, ellipses, lines and arrows.

Greenshot is a very capable program that’s light on resources but heavy on features. It is extremely configurable, and unlike the default PrtScn tool, even gives you an option to capture the mouse cursor in your image. The program combines a great screenshot tool with a neat little image editor and extreme configurability.
Download: Free (Windows)

7. Paint 3D

Last, but definitely not the least, those looking to replace MS Paint on their Windows PCs should take a serious look at the more grown-up version of Microsoft’s age-old image editing software. Called Paint 3D, the all-new iteration of Microsoft’s iconic software is a part of the Windows 10 Creators Update, and is one of the many new 3D applications that are now available for download from the Windows store, including View 3D and 3D Builder. As you’d expect, Paint 3D is a lightweight app that draws heavily from its predecessor, but comes with support for 3D elements including humans, animals, geometric shapes, texts and doodles.

While Paint 3D is an enormous improvement over its predecessor, it still got ways to go before it catches up with some of the other programs mentioned on his list. In fact, while it brings many new features to the table, it also misses out on some absolute bare-basic features, like multi-window support. Overall, Paint 3D is a decent program that’s well worth a look, but there are also other, more powerful free MS paint alternatives.
Download: Free (Windows)

MS Paint Alternatives: The Best Free Photo Editing Software For Your Computer

While MS Paint will still be available for download from the Windows Store, it will cease to be the default photo editing application on Windows PCs like it has been for decades now. But nostalgia or not, we need to appreciate that the program has outlived its utility even circa 2017, and while it can still perform bare basic tasks, there are other options available that can do the same with much more panache, and much more efficacy, but without the steep learning curve that comes with programs like Photoshop or GIMP. So what do you use for your everyday image editing needs? Do leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


April 13, 2017

How To Download And Install Internet Explorer 11 For Windows 7

Internet Explorer 11 is a milestone in Microsoft’s evolution towards a fast and modern web browser that found its force again thanks to improvements in security, performance, privacy and standards support. Windows 8.1 users know it very well as it is the built-in browser of this operating system, but in this tutorial we will talk about the version built for Windows 7. Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 is an important Windows update and its installation is recommended for all users. But before we can see what this browser has to offer, let us, first, see how you can download and install it on your Windows 7 computer.
This tutorial will cover two methods of installing Internet Explorer 11 on your Windows 7 computer. The first one is based upon using Windows Update. The second one involves an old fashioned download from the official web-page of Internet Explorer 11.

How To Install Internet Explorer 11 Via Windows Update

It goes without saying that this is the easier method you can use to install Internet Explorer. First you have to go to Windows Update by using either this path "Control Panel - > System and Security - > Windows Update", or just by typing "windows update" in the Start Menu search box.

Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
Then do a check for the latest updates. In the list of Optional Updates you should see one that says Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7. Select it and then click OK.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
For the installation procedure to start, you have to click on the Install updates button. For more information about the installation procedure of updates, check out this article: Check for Windows Updates, Learn What They Do & Block Those You Don’t Need.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
After Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 and any other update you have selected are downloaded, the installation will start.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
This new streamlined installation will finish in a few minutes and shortly after, it will ask you to restart your computer to finish the whole process. The necessary file and services cannot be updated if the system is still using them. So just press the Restart now button from the Windows Update window and wait until the computer restarts.
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Once this is done, the Internet Explorer 11 shortcut will be placed in your Taskbar.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
Now meet your new browser…
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7

How To Install Internet Explorer 11 As A Standalone Download

It is also possible to download Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 yourself and install it manually on your computer. You first have to go to the official download page via Internet Explorer 9 or 10, or any other browser and you will receive an appropriate download link. Of course, it is also possible for you to choose the language of the browser.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
If you are using another browser, you need to select which Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 you want to download and install. This situation appears if you access the download page for the offline installer. Here, you will find an alphabetized list of languages where you will have to choose between the 32-bit or 64-bit versions, and then press the download button. This webpage has a little more complicated interface, but a more simple way to find your desired version and language.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
Take into account the fact that you can also use the first download link on a non-Microsoft browser, for the less complicated download procedure. You will receive a 53.3Mb.exe file, which is the actual offline installer and not a file downloader.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
Then, you just have to run the downloaded installer. You will receive a separate prompt, that asks you to confirm that you really want to install Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7. How Microsoft-ish is this, right? Click on Install.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
Wait for the installation process to finish, and then you will be asked to reboot your computer. Be sure to save all of you ongoing work and then, press the Restart now button.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7
After restarting Windows, Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 should be installed on your computer.
Internet Explorer, 11, install, get, Windows 7


As you can see from this tutorial, installing Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 is not exactly rocket science. It has a streamlined installation, but one that, unfortunately, still requires you to close your applications and restart your computer. If you have any problems or questions, do not hesitate to use the comments form below.