No program next week: Because of the Thanksgiving holiday (which was celebrated last month in Canada) I'll be taking next week off. TechByter Worldwide will return on 29 Nov 2009.

Bidding AVG Antivirus a (Not So Fond) Farewell

The TechByter Worldwide search function tells me that I have written about AVG Antivirus 42 times starting in 2002. Back then I wrote about the excessive use of system resources by Norton Antivirus. On November first, when I sent a message to AVG asking for a refund for the 2-year license I had renewed in October, I said that AVG "now uses so many system resources that I cannot use the computer. I have followed the instructions from your support staff and the problem has only become worse." In other words, it had become the problem it replaced. You'll want to know the entire story behind that.

This may seem unrelated, but bear with me for a moment: For the past year or so, Carrie Driscol and the QA and development staff at Carbonite, the on-line backup service, have been working with me to track down a problem with extremely high disk usage. I've sent Carbonite logs and screen shots and system information files all to no avail. They simply couldn't replicate the problem.

In October, I started noticing a problem with AVG. A process that's supposed to run once and catalog system files seemed to be running constantly. AVG's tech support people asked for logs. They had me delete files and reinstall parts of the application. Around Halloween, the AVG process started using so many system resources that I could do nothing on the computer. Literally. Nothing.

I was trying to compose an e-mail message and I could get 70 to 80 characters ahead of the display. I would type and type and type, but nothing would appear on the screen. Then, 30 seconds or a minute later, the text would appear. It took nearly 10 minutes to get the Windows 7 Resource Monitor open and, when it opened the problem was obvious.

No wonder I can't do anything!
No wonder I can't do anything! The image above shows that process "avgchsvx.exe" is reading and writing 57MB of data per second. I have never seen numbers this high and it's why I decided to remove AVG Antivirus from my computer.

AVG's run-once "low-resource" application had gone wild. I had never seen memory or disk usage so high for a single application. So I uninstalled AVG Antivirus and installed the free version of Avast Antivirus. System resource usage returned to normal, even when Carbonite was scanning directories. It turns out that I was blaming the wrong application for making my computer sluggish. The root cause of the problem appears to have been AVG Antivirus, but why it typically caused Carbonite's usage numbers to peak isn't clear.

What I know is this: Having removed AVG, I now find the system to be usable at all times—even if Avast is performing a full disk scan while Carbonite is searching for files to back up.

I'm not yet ready to endorse Avast Antivirus, but I can say that the system is much more usable with AVG Antivirus gone.

Carbonite: The Easy Way to Secure Your Data

Your computer is worthless. It's the data on the computer that has value. (See "Choir, preaching to the".) Losing data is like a collision at sea; it can ruin your whole day. I've lost data and I didn't like it. In the 1980s, I was working on a new desktop computer with two (count 'em, two) floppy disk drives. I was writing a program in a database language and I wanted to make sure I had a backup copy. So I copied the file from one floppy disk to another. The result was 2 corrupt floppies and no backup. It's easy to have data destroyed by a rogue program, hardware failure, or user error. That's what backup applications are for.

I have a "hot backup" disk drive that sits beside my computer. It's a USB drive and I use AlwaySync to back up all of my current working files to that device. The hot backup is handy when the desktop computer crashes because I can unplug it from the desktop machine and plug it into a notebook computer. I can be back in business in less than 5 minutes and yes, I have done this.

But that's not a backup. A fire or natural disaster could kill both the computer and the hot backup.

So I use Acronis True Image to back up the drives on my computer to an external hard drive that I store at the office. The Acronis backups are always at least a week out of date because I bring the drives home and run a backup only on Wednesday. When I remember to bring the drives home. If I'm not too busy.

The real safety net, and it's one that has saved me more times than I like to admit, is Carbonite. It's easy to make a dumb mistake that deletes files I need. I can get them back from my hot backup or from my Acronis backup. But more often than not, I've recovered them from my Carbonite backup.

Apparently a lot of people are turning to online backup. When I spoke with Carbonite CEO David Friend, he told me that business is booming ....
LISTEN David Friend 5:07

During our conversation, Friend told me about a relatively new remote access function that allows a user to access any file that's been backed up by logging in to your account from any computer with Internet access. The computer doesn't even need to have Carbonite installed ....
LISTEN David Friend 1:13

Backup Made Simple

Click for a larger view.Carbonite's goal was to make backup easy to use. By setting a single price for all users, regardless of how much data is backed up, to automatically backing up all internal hard drives, the company has succeeded. Once installed, Carbonite appears in the tray to show that it's running. Double-clicking the icon opens the control panel.

Click for a larger view.This screen shows how much data you've already backed up with Carbonite, how much remains to be backed up (number of files and number of bytes). You'll also see the name of any file that's currently being backed up.

Click for a larger view.The options screen has a spartan series of selections, but additional features have been added. Users now have a single-click option to make some changes in how Carbonite works.

Click for a larger view.And, if you want Carbonite to run just once a day or to avoid certain hours, the backup schedule screen allows this. When Carbonite is used to backup office computers, the users might want to schedule all backups during times when the office is closed.

Click for a larger view.The key to any backup program is how easy it is to restore files. Carbonite allows you to search for a specific file if you know its name, to browse the on-line directory of files, or to restore everything if your hard drive has suffered a catastrophic failure.

As David Friend says in our discussion, Carbonite doesn't back up the operating system or program files. This means that you need to keep all of your original installation CDs and DVD (which is a good idea anyway!) or you'll need to occasionally create a disk image with an application such as Acronis True Image to restore those components and then use Carbonite to restore the data.

Click for a larger view.A new feature that Friend described in the second part of the discussion is remote access. Simply visit the Carbonite website and provide your user ID and your password. You'll then have access to every file that Carbonite has backed up.

No special software is needed on the computer used to for remote access because the application is browser based. This means that you can download and print or work on any file that has been backed up. If you travel a lot, this feature could be extremely helpful.

4 CatsBottom Line: Carbonite is affordable, easy to use, and secure.

Initially I was suspicious of on-line backup. As a result, I still maintain local backups of critical files, but every time I've called on Carbonite to restore a needed file, I've recovered it in just a few minutes. The new remote access feature makes the application even more useful.
For more information, visit the Carbonite website.

Recording Industry Association of America

Over the years, I have been less than complementary about the RIAA. In fact, I think the final "A", rather than standing for "America" might better be represented by the name of an animal that is sometimes considered to be synonymous with "mule" or "burro". But then I'm not a musician. However, it seems that some musicians that I respect have the same opinion of the RIAA. Janis Ian is one of them.

Ian has had a few major hits and several minor hits since the 1960s. She is a hard worker who makes money from performing. She is not exactly a fan of the RIAA's position on "illegal" downloading of music.

"The Internet, and downloading, are here to stay.... Anyone who thinks otherwise should prepare themselves to end up on the slagheap of history." Those are the words of Janis Ian in a European radio interview on September 1, 1998. That was before the advent of Itunes.

But even worse than the RIAA is NARAS, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Science. NARAS told Ian that downloads were "destroying sales", "ruining the music industry", and "costing you money". Her response: "Costing me money? I don't pretend to be an expert on intellectual property law, but I do know one thing: If a music industry executive claims I should agree with their agenda because it will make me more money, I put my hand on my wallet ... and check it after they leave, just to make sure nothing's missing."

This is not to suggest that the recording industry has ever short-changed an artist. Who would ever think such a thing might occur!

Ian's view is different and she expresses it fully on her website. "The premise of all this ballyhoo is that the industry (and its artists) are being harmed by free downloading. Nonsense."

By way of explanation, Ian notes her own personal experience: "My site gets an average of 75,000 hits a year. Not bad for someone whose last hit record was in 1975. When Napster was running full-tilt, we received about 100 hits a month from people who'd downloaded Society's Child or At Seventeen for free, then decided they wanted more information. Of those 100 people (and these are only the ones who let us know how they'd found the site), 15 bought CDs. Not huge sales, right? No record company is interested in 180 extra sales a year. But that translates into $2700, which is a lot of money in my book. And that doesn't include the ones who bought the CDs in stores, or who came to my shows."

In other words, it's all about publicity. It was only 40 years ago that the recording industry got into a lot of trouble for paying disc jockeys to play records so that people could hear them (for free) on the radio. Somehow the industry has forgotten that publicity leads to concert ticket sales and to purchases. It's true that some people will take all the free downloads they can get and never buy anything. But others will take the free downloads, decide they want more, and buy either a CD or a download.

Ian again: "I've found that to be true myself; every time we make a few songs available on my website, sales of all the CDs go up. A lot. And I don't know about you, but as an artist with an in-print record catalogue that dates back to 1965, I'd be thrilled to see sales on my old catalogue rise."

As for the opinion of the RIAA and NARAS that downloads are destroying the industry, "Alas, the music industry needs no outside help to destroy itself. We're doing a very adequate job of that on our own, thank you."

Who gets hurt by free downloads? "Save a handful of super-successes like Celine Dion, none of us. We only get helped."

What's the new industry byword? "Encryption. They're going to make sure no one can copy CDs, even for themselves, or download them for free. Brilliant, except that it flouts previous court decisions about blank cassettes, blank videotapes, etc. And it pisses people off."

Ian no longer works for a major label. She records and markets her own materials. "There is zero evidence that material available for free online downloading is financially harming anyone," she says. "In fact, most of the hard evidence is to the contrary."

"[W]e put our money where my mouth is. We offer songs in mp3 format for free downloading ... and if we can ever afford the server space, we'll try to put a bunch of them up there at once! These are songs I own and control both the copyright and master to; you are welcome to share these files with your friends."

Janis Ian's article is long and thoughtful, as is a follow-up piece. I encourage you to read them both.

Short Circuits

Intel Sends Advanced Micro Devices $1.25 Billion to Settle Antitrust Suit

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Intel continues to maintain that it never used improper actions in competing with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Still, Intel has agreed to pay AMD $1.25 billion to settle antitrust and patent suits. Intel has about 80% of the CPU market for microprocessors. The much smaller AMD will withdraw a suit, filed in 2005, and several regulatory complaints filed in Europe. The European Union has already fined Intel $1.5 billion.

That doesn't end Intel's legal troubles, though. New York state authorities are considering a suit and the Federal Trade Commission is investigating.

In a prepared statement, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said that the company continues to believe that its discounts are lawful and in the best interest of consumers. In some cases, the "discounts" were available only if computer manufacturers refused to buy any AMD products. Otellini says that Intel will stop offering price discounts that are dependent on restricting the buyer's ability to purchase from AMD.

And the company denies that it ever did that.

New York state and European Union investigators, however, have previously released correspondence from executives at HP, Dell, and other manufacturers. In those messages, computer company executives said that Intel would raise prices if they did any business with AMD.

Intel says the messages were taken "out of context" and that the executives were mistaken in their beliefs.

Beware the Phone Scam

My cell phone rang. I was expecting a call, so I didn't glance at the caller ID. "This is a notice from your credit card," the message said. "There is no problem with your account, but you could qualify for a low interest rate, as low as 4.5%. But you must apply today. For more information, press 9 to talk with an operator." I was annoyed. I don't like phone spam and all of my numbers are listed on the federal Do Not Call list. So I pressed 9 to advise the caller of that fact.

"Are you calling to learn more about the low interest rate?" a woman asked. "No," I said, "I'm calling to advise you that this number is on the Federal Do Not ...." Click!

Then I looked at the caller ID: Area 305. That would put the caller in Florida. And the number? 000-4523. "But that's impossible," you might say. "There is no '000' exchange anywhere." And you would be right. So clearly it was a scam. But what's the game?

First, though, I have to wonder how can any cell phone provider can allow a call with a clearly forged caller ID pass through their system? This borders on criminal negligence in my mind. My provider happens to be T-Mobile, but I doubt that any other provider does a better job. The network must be able to read the caller ID and could be designed block calls with invalid numbers.

I've done some research on these calls. One sure way to get the caller to hang up is to ask what credit card they're calling about. They won't know.

They won't know your credit card number, either. They'll want you to tell them what it is. "For verification," of course. And "for your safety." They'll also probably want you to "confirm" your mailing address, your security question, the CCV number from the back of the card, and the expiration date.

Once they have all of that information, they have everything they need to use your credit card number to make on-line purchases.

Some cell phone companies apparently do offer to block calls from "unidentified callers", but this will only block calls that have no number associated with them. A bogus number would apparently still get through. The cell phone companies should do more to put an end to this kind of abuse.

In the meantime, you'll just need to be cautious. But that's a good idea anyway.