Software Report [Download This: Software That Just Works - 10/12/2005]



October 12th, 2005

Download This: Software That Just Works

Staff Editor Laura Blackwell

[Note: Last week's Software Report included an incorrect URL for
Adobe's patch for Acrobat and Reader. The correct link is as follows:

We apologize for the inconvenience. --Editors]

Substance trumps style every time. Some little-known programs skip the
razzle-dazzle and just get down to work, doing the job cheaper or
better--and sometimes both--than their glitzy peers. This month, we
look at a device-blocking security program, an open-source media
player, and a game you simply can't lose. Each offers a free trial or
is flat-out free.

Block the Bad Guys From Your Data

Here's an unsettling thought: All the software firewalls in the world
won't keep your data safe if someone else has physical access to your
PC. All it takes is a few minutes and something to store the data
on--a blank CD, a removable USB drive, even a lowly floppy disk--and
someone else can walk away with a copy of your files. With USB Lock
AP, you can avoid this nasty situation by controlling access to
various drives.

You can block one CD-ROM drive, one floppy drive, and all USB
removable drives with the program's simple interface. For CD and
floppy drives, you may need to restart your PC for the protection to
take effect. Locking down the CD drive protects the PC from more than
unauthorized CD burning: It also blocks CDs from auto-running, which
means that no one can install software from a CD while your back is
turned. When I tested the CD-drive lock, my computer wouldn't even
play a factory-made music CD that it normally handles just fine.

Locking out USB drives was even easier, since the program doesn't
require a restart for that function. USB Lock AP can tell the
difference between various USB devices, so you can still plug in a USB
camera, printer, and so on, while blocking the data flow to a USB
drive. In fact, when I tested the program it noticed the USB drive
already in a slot and threatened to shut down the PC if it wasn't

Another nice bonus is USB Lock AP's ability to lock folders on any
drive. You just drag a folder to the program interface and drop it
there. You'll know it worked when you see the folder's icon change to
a lock--or if you're unlocking, when it changes back to a folder.
Locking and unlocking can take several seconds, though, depending on
how much power your PC can spare. Go easy on the mouse button and let
the program work.

The USB Lock AP download provides a ten-day free trial. On day nine, I
recommend either unlocking everything or registering the program for
$15; you really don't want to have it quit on you while something's
locked up. I've found e-mail tech support from the vendor, Peru-based
Advanced Systems International, to be prompt and helpful.

If you'd like more control, you may want to check out SmartLine
Vision's DeviceLock, a more full-featured program that performs the
same basic functions on a network, plus some extras. But at $35, it's
also more expensive.

You can check out a screen shot here:

And download the program here:,fid,26085,tk,srx,00.asp

For more security programs, and advice on how to protect your PC,
visit PC World's Info Center on Spyware & Security:,ctrid,7,ic,SpywareandSecurity,tk,srx,00.asp

Here's Looking at the Right Codec

If you've ever downloaded a video file that just plain wouldn't play,
you're probably either using the wrong player or missing a video
codec. You can hunt down these codecs and install them--but let's be
frank, that's kind of a pain. Open-source media player VLC sidesteps
these problems by building in most video codecs. It supports most
audio formats, too.

VLC--which open-source aficionados might remember by its former name,
VideoLan Client--played almost every video with which I tested it. It
makes no claim to play Real files; for that, you need either Real
Networks' player or the third-party Real Alternative:,fid,23205,tk,srx,00.asp

VLC also choked on a WMA file with digital rights management built-in.
Everything else displayed well, even the mystery files that sat on my
desktop for months because I couldn't be bothered to find and install
the right codecs.

No slouch as a music player, VLC played every odd file I could
unearth. The blessedly basic control panel is a mere sliver that
doesn't automatically default to visualizations, advertisements, and
the other useless screen-munching items that are all too common. I
particularly liked one of the included skins, not so much for its
Mac-like brushed-aluminum look, but because the playlist and controls
could detach from one another--a nifty feature that few players

VLC is free of charge. If you like the program, feel free to toss a
few dollars to the good folks at

You can check out a screen shot here:

And download the program here:,fid,26092,tk,srx,00.asp

To learn more about open-source software, check out Matthew Newton's
"Free Agent" columns:,colid,8,tk,srx,00.asp

Everybody's a Winner

"Why play solitaire on a computer?" someone once asked me. "You can't
cheat. If I can't win at solitaire, I just won't play." Cheating isn't
much fun for us lawful types, but losing a game of Klondike isn't
exactly an ego boost. Red Mercury Software spares us the choice
between cheating and losing with AcidSolitaire, a game that deals
100,000 winnable hands.

The Klondike-style AcidSolitaire lets you play Deal 1 and Deal 3
hands. Laden with tips--including optional "sparkle" hints to show you
which cards to move--AcidSolitaire is easy to play and easy to win, at
least at first. As you progress through the different hands, they grow
more and more difficult. Even though each hand is guaranteed to be
winnable, some require sharp eyes and sound strategy.

Although the new version 1.0 is the first AcidSolitaire for Windows,
PDA puzzle-fiends may recognize the game from their Palm OS handhelds.
The Windows version looks a bit low-res, and takes up only a small
window. I haven't directly compared AcidSolitaire's interface with a
PDA display, but it looks to be about the same size. A small window
isn't necessarily a problem on today's crowded screens, though.
AcidSolitaire may not be the most aesthetic solitaire game out there,
but it's bright and colorful. And besides, you know better than to be
seduced by a pretty interface, right?

AcidSolitaire is free to try for 15 days. When the trial expires, it's
$20 to keep playing.

You can check out a screen shot here:

And download the program here:,fid,26093,tk,srx,00.asp

PC World Senior Associate Editor Andrew Brandt and Associate Editor
Danny Allen contributed to this story.

Have any thoughts on these programs? Want to make us aware of your
favorite software? URLs are welcome, but messages with attached files
will be deleted unread. Write to Laura Blackwell:
downloadthis at

Read Laura Blackwell's regularly published "Download This" columns:,colid,8,tk,sr,00.asp

"Under the guise of anonymity, whether it is on the internet, or on the roadway, a person's true nature will come forward."
-- Me

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