Saturday, June 13, 2015

Free Cloud Storage

Big hard drives are dirt cheap and always getting cheaper.  But storing your info online has real advantages too.  You can access your data from anywhere, on multiple computers, even computers that are not yours.  It also makes sharing your files and collaboration with others much easier.


One of the most famous free services is Dropbox.  It allows you to store and share information with others online.  Personally, I'm not a big fan of Dropbox.  Many features require you to install the Dropbox program on your computer, rather than just using a browser.  Also, the free account provides a measly 2 GB of online storage.  That's fine for a few documents or an occasional stored file.  But if you've got lots of music or pictures, forget it.  There are better options.

Google Drive

My favorite storage location for years has been Google Drive.  With Drive, you get 15 GB of free storage space, although this space is shared with your email as well.  You can upload files, share them with specific people, or even make them public.  Everything can be done through your browser, although Google also has a program to let you sync your files with a PC or tablet.  Shared access is easy across Windows, Android, Apple, or pretty much any OS that will support a standard internet browser.

Most common file types can be viewed on the site, as well as downloaded.  You also have the ability to create files directly in Drive (which don't count toward your 15 GB limit) but since we're just talking about shared storage today, I won't get into Drive's many great online editing features.  For me, Drive is quick, clean, and easy to use.

Occasionally Google offers incentives that permit you to increase the limits on your free account.  Be alert for these and take advantage of them.  Try out a new product and get a permanent increase in your storage limit.  As a result of special deals, I have 25 GB of space on my fee account.

Google also has a separate site for photos, which tend to take up much of your online space.  Google Photos allows you to store and share your photos.  The great benefit of this is that you get unlimited free space for photos and video.

Some have criticized Google from limiting the size of photos that you can store there.  But the limit of 16 megapixels (and 1080 for HD video) is actually a higher quality than most people can take on their phones.  The limit really just prevents professionals from storing super high quality photos online at full size.  If you need that, try flickr which gives up 1 TB (about 1000 GB) of space which you can use for storing photos of any size.  But most of us will be happy with Google's unlimited storage for reasonably sized photos.

Microsoft Onedrive

Microsoft is starting to become a serious player in free online storage as well.  It's free Onedrive account (formerly known as Skydrive) provides you with 15 GB of online storage.  This quickly doubles to 30 GB if you install an App on your phone to upload photos.  Keep in mind you don't need to use that extra space for photos, just sign up for the app, and use the space however you like.  You can get another 5 GB by recommending other users to sign up, at 1/2 GB per user that signs up under your recommendation. Again, keep a lookout for other special deals that occasionally let you expand your free space permanently.

Another reason I like OneDrive is the ability to map a drive letter on your computer to your OneDrive account.  If you are interested in doing this, follow this link.  I find this to be a great convenience for many programs and utilities that required a drive letter, as opposed to some network connection without a letter.  It makes it easy to use LibreOffice directly with your online files.

There is also a way to add a drive letter to Google Drive, which you can find here, but it really is a little convoluted.  It's also not really mapping to the drive.  It syncs your data to your hard drive and maps to that.  The MS OneDrive option is much better, although it only works with Windows 7 and higher.

Expanding your space

I find the shared storage space more than adequate for my needs.  I don't want to store everything online anyway.  But there are ways to increase your space without paying.  First, as I already mentioned, stay alert for incentives that give you permanent increases in space.  As the MS-Google competition heats up, there may be more of these. Second, you can always create a second or third free account.  Upload your data in that account, then share it with your main account.  You have access to all those files from your main account, but they don't count toward your limit.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Antivirus & Malware

No matter how careful you are, you will inevitably need antivirus and malware protection. Threats from viruses, malware, ransomware, etc are just too common.  But I find that no one service provides perfect protection, and buying multiple packages can run into real money.  Fortunately there are some good free options.


For many years now I have been a fan of the free version of AVG Antivirus.  The free version provides most of the protection you need from virus and other attacks. AVG does have more comprehensive pay versions, but I find the free one meets my needs.  Another highly rated free one is Panda Antivirus.  Either of these will serve you well for basic protection.  They block most viruses and provide other basic protection, with minimal drain on your computer resources.

Getting cleanup help

What happens though when something gets through and infects your computer?  If your antivirus did not stop the infection, it's probably not going to be much help cleaning it.  You also have to be careful in where you go looking for help.  Some tricky malware makers have their own web sites that have free software, or even worse, sell you programs that only make your situation worse.  It may remove your existing infection but add others that you don't notice right away.   Be sure to trust the sites you are visiting to help with clean up.  Be wary of sites that just say download our product.  Sites that give more information on the infection and manual removal are more trustworthy, even if they also offer programs to help.

As a computer professional, I am constantly looking for new removal tips for the latest malware.  One of my favorite site for advice is  They have great tips from users and professionals to deal with the latest malware.  I find the site trustworthy and helpful.

Anti-Malware tools

 My go to program for clean ups in Malwarebytes.  This program is very helpful to scan for and remove most malware infections.  When you install it, just make sure to select the free version.  By default, it installs a free 30 day trial of the pay version.  If you select the free version, you can keep using it forever for future scans or clean up needs.

No program is perfect. Some malware can avoid Malwarebytes.  For a second opinion, I turn to Hitman Pro.  This can often find malware missed by Malwarebytes, including some tricky root kits.  Hitman Pro is trialware, meaning it is free for 30 days.  But you don't have to register it until it finds something and you need it cleaned.  You can use it free forever, as long as it does not have to clean anything.  To clean something, you need to register for the free 30 days.  After that time, you can still use it to check your computer, but will have to pay if you need to clean again.  Sometimes I cheat, using Hitman Pro to find things, then remove them manually rather than letting Hitman do it.

Some more aggressive viruses mess with your Internet connection and prevent you from going to certain web sites that give you the tools to kill it.  Some may also prevent you from installing programs to kill it.  In some cases, I have found Vipre Rescue to be helpful. Vipre Rescue is a free download that you can save to a flash drive, then run on the infected computer.  Don't confuse Vipre Rescue with Vipre's main program which is a good, but pay, anti malware program that runs resident on your computer.  Vipre Rescue is a separate stand-alone program for removing troublesome malware.

Good Luck!

Using a combination of these tools and manual efforts is sometimes needed for removal.  Sometimes ripping out this stuff can be a long and painful slog.  It's always good to have a backup of your system that you can restore.  But I know many don't do this until it is too late.  If you do get your system working again, consider it a wake up call and remember to make back ups from time to time.