Sunday, November 21, 2010

15+ Apps for Solving Computer Problems

Amplify’d from

15+ free Windows apps to help you tackle Thanksgiving tech support

The holiday season has always been a time for gathering -- but in recent years, it's also been a time when family and friends come bearing gifts of computer troubles. Their computer friends -- people like the Download Squad team and you, our readers -- get asked to do everything from installing RAM upgrades to the annual computer tune-up. We're happy to oblige, of course, because there's a decent chance someone will pay us in beer or baked goods. Cash is welcome too, but never seems to be offered quite as readily.

To make your holiday tech duties a bit easier, I've put together a list of some of my favorite troubleshooting apps for Windows.

Where download links for the files aren't on the application's main page, I've included a link to the appropriate download page. I've provided a handful of FileHippo links as well -- they're an excellent mirror site and they don't surround download links in advertisements or "recommendations."

Malwarebytes (MBAM)

My favorite malware removal tool gets the first spot on the list because, well, it's the first app I turn to when cleaning up troublesome computers. The free version of "target="_blank">MBAM works miracles, and it's definitely worth recommending the paid version -- which does automatic updating and scheduled scans -- to friends who can't seem to keep out of trouble.

If you can't get the updater to grab current definitions on your system, download Malwarebytes definitions manually. The file I've linked won't be as current as what MBAM would download, but it's better than no update at all.

[FileHippo download]


Another great, free tool for cleaning up malicious software is SUPER. I find that its scans take longer to complete than MBAM and that SUPER tends to not find as many malicious files -- but it does find files MBAM doesn't. Think of running MBAM + SUPER as the "double tap" for malware. [download page] [portable download]


Lately I've been dealing with an awful lot of the same infection, and TDSSiller from Kaspersky seems to be the secret sauce for getting rid of it. It's designed to eradicate a specific (and nasty) rootkit family, and scans complete in a hurry -- so I've made it a permanent part of my malware checking routine.


Once you've obliterated the malicious software on a computer, it's time to tackle the crapware. It's especially commonplace on new systems, where OEM PC manufacturers like to do us a favor by pre-installing trial versions of 30 apps we're never going to use. PCDecrapifier takes care of a lot of the heavy lifting here -- saving you the hassle of having to click through every uninstaller in add/remove programs.

[download page]

Revo Uninstaller

There are, of course, some apps which just don't want to leave without making a stink. Broken installers, missing .INI files, and botched registry entries can all make removal difficult. Revo is a great back-up tool in cases like these, and it's able to uproot even the most troublesome apps.

[download page] [portable download]


ccleaner This trusty app recently updated to version 3.0, and it's better than ever. CCleaner is a fantastically simple way to remove loads of un-needed files from a system -- everything from Windows temp files to bits cached by Web browsers and Flash.

[download page] [portable download]


If -- after running CCleaner -- you're looking for a way to free up even more space on a hard drive, give WinDirStat a go. It's a free app which will analyze the contents of a drive and show you which folders are hogging all those precious gigabytes.

[download page]

Easus Partition Master

easus partition master I see a lot of laptops with a totally full C: and a totally empty D: -- many people don't know that the manufacturer has split their drive in two to help preserve their data in case they run a system recover or reformat and re-install Windows. When I encounter this scenario, I'll fire up Partition Master, combine both partitions, and whammo! They've got loads of free space on the only drive they had any idea was usable.

Note: partitioning tools can, of course, be extremely dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. You can wipe out loads of important data with a single key press if you're not paying attention -- so always exercise great care when using any tool like Easeus!

[download page]


Not everyone who wants your help lives conveniently nearby. Some might not want to bring you your computer, and sometimes you just don't want to get out of your chair to go fix someone's busted homepage. TeamViewer lets you troubleshoot from the comfort of your home -- just have your friend run the host on their machine and provide you their ID and password, and you're in. It's available for Windows, Mac, and Linux -- so you can help out regardless of who's running which OS.

[download page] [portable download]


Another great way to help friends remotely is with Dropbox. Get them an account and add them to a group -- it makes for a pain-free way to deliver files like installers and manuals you wish they'd read to their system.

Secunia PSI

Sometimes people don't want to believe what you're telling them -- they need to see something "official." If you're having trouble getting someone to understand the importance of updating, let Secunia take a look at their system. The app looks for all kinds of vulnerabilities in both Windows and installed applications like Java, Adobe Reader, and iTunes.

Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast 5, Avira

Never walk away from a freshly-cleaned system without making sure it's got a good, up-to-date antivirus / anti-malware application installed. MSE, Avast 5, and Avira are all great options -- and they're all free for use on home computers.

[Microsoft Security Essentials]

[Avast 5 FileHippo download]

[Avira download page] Hosts File and Sunbelt ClearCloud Anti-malware DNS

Another great way to help ensure systems don't become repeat offenders is by blocking access to websites which are known to cause problems. The hosts file, of course, needs to be copied on to each machine you want to protect. Sunbelt's ClearCloud service can be configured either on a system or on a router -- which makes protecting a whole house full of computers a breeze.

[ Hosts File]

[Sunbelt ClearClouddownload page]

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