A common question I get is, “Are those free system cleaners any good?”


My answer is, “Some are.”


Malware is as common as ever, perhaps more so, in spite of the constant efforts of companies and consortia to stifle the seemingly endless proliferation of worms, trojans, rootkits and other harmful invaders.


IT departments spend a great deal of their time protecting systems and networks from malware, and cleaning up after some has managed to get through. Like microbes adapting to develop resistance to antibiotics, new iterations of malware are harder to detect and repel.


“Home users” and people with small businesses need protection from computer attack, too, but lack full-fledged, and well funded IT departments. But there are some excellent free and almost free programs out there. To wit:


Microsoft Security Essentials is a good, straight-up antivirus program with some extras. Avast, Panda and Trend are deservedly popular, too.


Spyware is a bane, but one that can be kept out of your system. Malwarebytes is highly effective for that. The free version has to be run manually. The one that costs $25 has a real-time scanning function.


Combofix is excellent, but you have to disable your antivirus program before you use it. If your antivirus program happens to be AVG, you might need to uninstall it rather than just disable it temporarily. And you must download Combofix either from ForoSpyware or Bleeping_Computer.


ComboFix can find and eradicate the full panoply of nasties, including rootkits.


CCleaner is very good at neatening up the registry, and it scours your system clean of cached data from the Web. It comes with a tool for backing up the registry before cleaning it. By all means do this. It is amazing what a nice clean Registry does for Windows.


Clonezilla lets you do total backups and recoveries, or transplants. It is FOSS (Free Open Source Software), and comes in a small bootable version called Clonezilla Live, and a server edition called Clonezilla SE. With the former you can create a single complete system with its configuration and software, ready to be recreated on another system— and bootable.


Clonezilla SE needs a DRBL server. That way it can distribute the whole shebang, the entire software environment of one system, to multiple other machines, cloning on a grand scale, and it handles “bare metal” backups and restores.


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An Apple iPad 2, on March 2? That’s the rumor. But I won’t pop for one, even if a great project and generous advance come sailing over the transom.


$800, or maybe only $500, or in between, depending on the model? That’s too much, for what it is and what it does.


iPad 2 won’t be a real redesign. But iPad 3 will. iPad 2 will be slimmed down a little, will have the same nice display but not a better one. It will have a camera—what was Apple thinking of, not including one in the iPad from the get-go?


We have heard some hype about the new Retina display, but it isn’t going to make it into the product this time around.


The iPad 2 won’t have the Steve Jobs touch. For those who believe his uncanny grasp of what it is people want and need in electronics, right down to the look and feel and aesthetics, is the sine qua non for Apple’s product design—iPad 2 will suffer from lack of Jobs’ total design control.


If you are waiting for removable storage, it isn’t here this time around. There was talk that Apple would add an SD slot to the iPad. Most Apple watchers I have been reading are convinced that isn’t happening. What’s in there is what’s in there. With Apple’s propensity for making accessories proprietary, I would bet that when they do allow for storage expansion, it will be of a kind Apple will make or license, not something we already own or that is readily available from many makers.


I saw someone whip out an iPad recently, and begin using it. Of course he got the Wo! What is that! reaction. He could not resist making the stretch and shrink gestures.


Oooooh! It was so cool! One person, who sometimes exclaims that she hates computers, and resists anything that would move her toward becoming a power user, immediately declared that she wants one of those, whatever they are. So maybe the cool factor will trump everything else, including the excessive price—which is truly way high for what an iPad does, with or without a 2.


Do you lust for a slate? what brand?