October 24, 2007

End the Button Confusion

Note: This tip does not work with the MS Office Suite 2007 programs that utilize ribbons in place of menus and toolbars.

Have you ever noticed that many of the custom MS Office toolbar buttons you've added have the exact same image?

I have! For example, I added a button that takes me to the New window you see when you use the File menu, New choice in MS Word.

Unfortunately, it's identical to the New button that opens a blank document from the Normal template.

So, what can you do?

Well, change the button image, of course!

Yes, you read it right. You can change the button image all by yourself!

To change a button image, you first need to open the Customize window. (Either right click over a toolbar and pick Customize from the bottom of the pop up menu or go to the Tools menu, Customize choice).

Now, go to the specific button you wish to change and right click.

From the pop up menu, go to the Change Button Image submenu.

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You should find a selection of images to choose from. Pick one and then click on it.

Finally, close the Customize window.

(If you decide you want the original image back, simply repeat the process and choose Reset Button Image from the menu).

So, there you have it. MS Office with your own "special touch." Happy redecorating!

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Windows automatically updating itself: Case closed?

October 22nd, 2007

Posted by Mary Jo Foley @ 12:52 pm

It’s time for the latest — and possibly final — installment of the seemingly never-ending saga of “Why is my copy of Windows automatically updating and rebooting itself?Windows automatically updating itself: Case closed?

In the last episode, the Windows Update Product team stated on its blog on October 12 that neither Automatic Update (AU) nor the bunch of patches that Microsoft rolled out on October 9, Patch Tuesday, were responsible for reports from Windows users earlier this month that their machines were automatically updating without their approval.

The Product Update team continued to investigate. At some point (I’m not sure exactly when, as the time stamp does not reflect the post update time/date) the team updated its blog again, suggesting a few possible causes for the reports by certain Windows users of their machines updating automatically. On the team’s list of possible reasons that AU settings can be (re)set or changed:

  • “During the installation of Windows Vista, the user chooses one of the first two recommended options in the “Out of Box Experience” and elects to get updates automatically from Windows
  • “The user goes to the Windows Update Control Panel and changes the AU setting manually
  • “The user goes to Security Center in Windows Vista and changes the AU setting
  • “The user chooses to opt in to Microsoft Update from the Microsoft Update web site
  • “The user chooses to opt in to Microsoft Update during the installation or the first run experience of another Microsoft application such as Office 2007.”

In short, Microsoft’s explanation was that users were knowingly or unknowingly changing their own Automatic Update settings and complaining about the results.

I went back and asked some of the many readers who complained in the comments on my blog post, as well as the additional ones who sent me e-mail, about both Vista and XP automatically updating even after they had indicated they did not want automatic updates to take effect automatically. I showed them Microsoft’s explanation. To put it politely, many did not feel Microsoft’s explanation was adequate. Here’s one reader response from a user who said that his XP machine rebooted itself this month, despite his AU settings being set to off:

“I’m not buying their explanation. I — for several years — have always shut off Windows update. I don’t want anything installed on my computer unless I know about it. If something is done on my computer, installations or whatever, I want to control it. I don’t allow any software vendor to update my software unless I’m aware of it. This includes Sun, Firefox, Thunderbird and others. I’m a computer tech and am keenly aware of how software changes can have adverse effects on a computer. I especially don’t trust Microsoft. Why and how Microsoft made changes to my computer very much concerns me and makes me more wary of MS than ever.”

Another reader astutely replied that he cialis daily generic thought that the users might be experiencing the problem noted my ZDNet blogging colleague David Berlind back in August. Berlind documented how Vista could force unwanted and immediate reboots on users. Microsoft’s explanation, at that time, was that users running in non-admin mode might be subject (knowingly or unknowingly) to the whims of their administrators. Microsoft’s explanation to Berlind:

“Because an administrative user had configured the machine to automatically stay up to date, the reboot is not postpone-able by a non-admin. Allowing a non-admin to override an admin’s wish is not the right default for security sake. This behavior is also controllable by policy to allow a non-admin user to interact with Windows Update. So yes, what [you] experienced is by design and justifiable as it does not allow a non-admin to go against the wishes of the administrative user. And again if running as a non-admin is his normal mode of operation, then there are policies which can be set to tweak behaviors more to his liking.”

I went back to the spokesperson for the Update team and asked whether it might be possible that this same policy decision was what was causing so many users to report that Vista and XP were automatically updating their machines against their wishes right after Patch Tuesday this month. The spokeswoman forwarded me the same response sent to Berlind, noting that it applied to Vista and XP.

The spokesperson said users who felt these settings were inappropriate should get their admins to change the policy setting in Windows Update so that a restart does not happen automatically after a scheduled install. (As Berlind noted back in August, changing this setting is not something many average users will be able to do easily.)

Microsoft is pointing users to this TechNet article explaining how to stop their machines from patching themselves without their approval, as well as this piece, which is specific to managing Windows Software Update Services settings.

There are still a number of unanswered questions, in my mind, regarding this matter. Why are reports of machines updating themselves automatically surfacing now, over the past several months, and not before now — especially in the case of five-year-old Windows XP? Are we going to start seeing these kinds of complaints flood in every month right around the time of Patch Tuesday? And are there other reasons beyond those Microsoft has suggested as the causes of Windows machines automatically patching and updating themselves which might be at fault here (as the reader I quoted is suggesting)?

Microsoft considers this Windows Update case closed. But is it? And should it be?

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Attack of the PDFs

October 23rd, 2007

Posted by Ryan Naraine @ 1:13 pm

Attack of the PDFsLess than 24 hours after Adobe shipped a fix for a gaping hole affecting its Reader and Acrobat software, PDF files rigged with malware are beginning to land in e-mail spam filters.

The discovery of the active attacks have underlined the need for Windows users to immediately scan machines for vulnerable software (I recommend the Secunia’s free software inspector) and immediately apply all necessary patches.

According to Erik Kamerling, an analyst in Symantec’s DeepSight Threat Management System team, the e-mail-borne attack is using the ‘mailto: option’ vulnerability discussed by Petko D. Petkov in September and confirmed earlier this month by Adobe.

[ SEE: Free utility looks for missing security patches ]

Symantec has tagged the threat as Trojan.Pidief.A, a malware file that’s being used to lower security settings and download more malicious executables on to the compromised computer.
The rigged document is delivered as a piece of spam with a filename such as ‘BILL.pdf’ or ‘INVOICE.pdf’.

When executed, Kamerling said the malicious code tries to disable the Windows Firewall with a ‘netsh firewall set opmode mode=disable’ command, and then downloads a remote file via FTP from (the remote file is ‘ldr.exe’ and is a Downloader trojan).

At 4:00 PM EST, the host is alive and still currently serving ‘ldr.exe’ over FTP. This server is known for hosting malicious software, Kamerling warned.

The DeepSight team is recommending that network administrators:

  • Block the delivery of PDF files in email.
  • Advise employees to not read or execute PDF files from unknown or untrusted sources.
  • Block access to the network and IP address involved in this attack.
  • Apply the patches outlined in Adobe Advisory APSB07-18 as soon as possible.

Ken Dunham, director of global response at iSIGHT Partners, said the attackers are using two rootkit files to sniff and steal financial and other valuable data from hijacked computers. The rootkits are installed in the Windows directory as 9129837.exe and new_drv.sys.

[SEE: ‘High risk’ zero-day flaw haunts Adobe Acrobat, Reader ]

“Anti-virus detection is extremely poor for the exploit files and payloads involved in this attack, averaging cialis daily 5mg only 26 percent out of 39 updated programs tested during the time of attack,” Dunham said, nothing that the two attack servers are linked to the notorious Russian Business Network (RBN).

Dunham has found linkages between this attack and the zero-day Vector Markup Language (VML) attacks from September 2006. “Servers in the attack are also linked back to other malicious attacks involving Animated Cursor exploitation and Snifula and CoolWebSearch installations of code,” he said.

* Ryan Naraine is a freelance writer specializing in Internet and computer security issues. He can be reached at naraine SHIFT 2 gmail.com. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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October 23, 2007

SolutionBase: ‘Konquering’ the desktop with KDE

Takeaway: If fear of a windowless environment has kept you from running Linux, KDE may be your answer. Jack Wallen explains what you'll find running a windowing environment such as KDE on your Linux workstation.

A task bar, a menu, clickable icons, a system tray, and a customizable look make up the standard operating system GUI. It's what you expect of an operating system's GUI; it's what you get with Windows, and exactly what you get with KDE running on Linux.

It's the same metaphor, layout, and methods; the biggest difference is the underlying system, which the average user never sees. Still, people seem to fear change. I'm going to alleviate those fears by showing you what you'll find running a windowing environment such as KDE on your Linux workstation.

Author's note

For the purposes of this article, I've installed a fresh version of Kubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn), The Gimp, and OpenOffice on my test workstation. I've also run full updates (using Synaptic), but that's it. Little configuration has been done outside of a few window behaviors that better suit my working style.

It doesn't matter what distribution of Linux you're running KDE on. KDE pretty much works the same no matter what version of Linux is underneath the surface.

The system I'm working on contains the following specs:

  • CPU: AMD 2800+
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Video: VIA Technology Integrated VT8378

It isn't spectacular and is somewhat out-of-date, but is up to par with what many businesses would still be running on a desktop.

A quick look around

You probably already know your way around Windows pretty well, so I won't do a side-by-side comparison to a Windows GUI. Instead, I will simply illustrate the components of the GUI that will immediately be familiar with users who are familiar with the Windows GUI. Here are the components I will deal with:

  1. Desktop
  2. Pager
  3. Panel
  4. System Tray
  5. Desktop Icons
  6. Mouse Menus

The KDE Desktop

By default, Linux doesn't boot into a graphical environment. Operating systems that do often boot into GNOME. However, if you log off of a GNOME session, you can switch into KDE by making a selection from the Session menu. When KDE starts, you'll see a desktop like the one shown in Figure A.

Figure A

The default KDE desktop with three minimized windows.

What you see is a standard desktop. It's very basic, clean, and very similar to those desktops of the Windows operating systems. At the bottom is the Panel, where you'll see these items:

  • The K Menu: Bottom left.
  • The System Menu: Second from bottom left.
  • The Show Desktop button: Third from bottom left.
  • The Quick Launcher: Fourth from bottom left.
  • Minimized windows: Labeled techrepublic_kde.doc, Layers, Channels, Paths…, and The Gimp, in our example.
  • The Pager: Labeled "1" and "2".
  • The System Tray: Marked with the Speaker icon, the Network icon, and the Klipper icon.
  • The Clock applet
  • The Trash Can

The Desktop is easily configured by pressing the right mouse button anywhere on the desktop above the panel. The resulting menu, shown in Figure B, will have an entry for Configure Desktop. This is very similar to pressing the right mouse button on the desktop in Windows and choosing Properties.

Figure B

From this menu you will also create clickable icons (more on that later.)

The resulting new window, shown in Figure C, is where you will configure the look and feel of your desktop.

Figure C

The biggest difference in the Background settings between KDE and Windows is that in KDE you can configure the background settings for one or more desktops.

You can add items and behaviors that can enhance the desktop experience by pressing the Behavior button. From this section, seen in Figure D, you can add a Menu Bar, edit the action of the mouse buttons, and configure Icons to show for various file types and device types.

Figure D

You can create your own mouse menu by selecting Custom 1 or Custom 2 from the Mouse Button Action cialis da 5 mg drop down lists and selecting Edit.

Suppose you want to configure the Desktop background; there are some interesting tricks for this. Go back to the Configure Desktop window and press the Background button. In the Change The Background window, you'll see a few things that vary from the Windows wallpaper configuration.

The first thing you'll see is the drop-down for which desktop you want your settings to apply to. If you click the drop down you will see that you can apply the settings to either All Desktops, Desktop 1, or Desktop 2. This setting refers to the Pager which we will discuss momentarily.

If you click on Advanced options you can configure KDE to use the kwebdesktop application to download various images from the web. If you select Get New Wallpapers, you can download various wallpapers from kde-look.org.


The pager is a desktop metaphor that has been with Linux for quite some time. Effectively, this system allows you to have far more screen real estate than you would normally have. Suppose in your office, you have two desks. On one desk, you do all of your bookkeeping chores; on another desk, you do all of your face-to-face chores. Having two desks keeps various paper work and jobs from getting confused with one another and it gives you far more space to work; that is how the pager works.

By default, the KDE desktop gives you two pagers: Desktop 1 and Desktop 2. You can have as many as twenty desktops.

To configure multiple desktops, you'll make changes in the Desktop properties screen. In the Desktop Properties window, press the Multiple Desktops button. You can take care of three configurations:

  • Number of Desktops: The number of desktops you want to use.
  • Desktop Names: The label you want to give each Desktop.
  • Mouse Wheel: By enabling this, you can change desktops by moving your mouse wheel.

Naming the desktops is actually quite helpful. Most times I will name each desktop with the work I will be undertaking on that desktop. So, I will often have a desktop named Writing, another named Network, one named Graphics, and still another named System.


Let's move on from the Desktop and head toward the item that will be most familiar to the Windows user: the Panel. Sometimes referred to as the Kicker, the Panel will be the place from where many of your applications will be launched as well as where they are minimized. The panel is, to many, the heart of the desktop.

The Panel is a simple bar that runs across the bottom of your screen; it can also be set up to run on the sides or the top. The Panel can be highly configured: You can add applets and icons to it and change the look and feel of it.

Configuring the Panel is simple: Right-click anywhere on the Panel that doesn't house an icon, tray, menu, or minimized application. When you right-click the Panel, you will see a menu appear, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Not only can you configure the existing panel, but you can add and remove panels as well.

Select Configure Panel from the menu. The Panel Configuration window, shown in Figure F, is very similar to the look and feel of the Desktop Configuration window.

Figure F

There are quite a few options to take care of here.

The first thing you will see is the placement and size of the Panel. My personal choice is to shorten the panel and center the placement, but this is outside of the norm, so we'll leave it as default. You can also change the size of the Panel.

As in Windows, you can set up your panel to auto-hide, consequently giving yourself even more screen real estate. One aspect of panel hiding that differs from Windows is the hiding buttons. If you enable the panel-hiding buttons, as shown in Figure G below, you will see a small arrow pointing in the direction the Panel will move. You can configure the Panel to hide to the left or right.

Figure G

You can enable both buttons to slide the panel either way.

Once you've hidden it, you can bring the Panel back by pressing the arrow once again. Of course, with the panel hidden, how do you get to your minimized applications? Simply press the middle mouse button (probably the mouse wheel). The resulting menu — the Window List — is shown in Figure H.

Figure H

This is a simple way to bring back your applications.

The window list is simply a clickable listing of the applications currently running. Even if an application is minimized, you can bring said application to the desktop by selecting it from the Window List.

You can also add more pagers to the desktop. There are five different types of panels you can add:

Dock Application Bar: This allows WindowMaker applications be docked.

External Taskbar: A bar that can take the place of the taskbar on the Panel so that there can be more room for minimized windows.

Kasbar: A replacement for the KDE panel with a totally different look and feel.

Panel: Add a second KDE Panel.

Universal Sidebar: This is a similar sidebar that used to belong to Konqueror. It holds clickable icons for applications, bookmarks, directories, and networks.

The Kasbar

The Kasbar is a very interesting tool that hearkens back to the look and feel of Next (or AfterStep). Take a look at Figure I; it illustrates one way the Kasbar is used. As you can see, I hovered over the minimized icon for OpenOffice, and a thumbnail of the window appeared.

Figure I

Click on the Kasbar minimized icon and the window will appear.

Although the Kasbar is a neat take on some old-school ways, it probably won't have much of a place with your users migrating from Windows.

System tray

The system tray, shown in Figure J, is exactly what you would think it to be. Here you will find tiny applets that offer up system information or tools. By default, KDE has the Sound Applet, the Klipper (the copy tool), and the KNetworkManager applet. These applets are the only available applets by default. There are certain applications (such as the personal time tracker KArm) which, when minimized, will go directly to the system tray.

Figure J

If you press the left mouse button on any of the three applets shown, a menu will appear.

The clock is not really a part of the system tray, but just an applet on its own. As with any of the panel applets, you can move the clock by hovering your mouse on the left edge of the clock until you see the vertical bar and arrow appear.

Desktop icons

Most users wouldn't know what to do without Desktop Icons. By default, KDE doesn't have any desktop icons. Creating icons is very simple: Right-click the desktop and select Create New. From the Create New menu select Link To Application. Once this entry is selected, a new window (Figure K) will appear that will allow you to create the necessary icon. The one possible drawback is that you will have to know the location of the command to run (or the name of the command, which must be in your user's $PATH.)

Figure K

Ensure you press the icon button (the button with the blue gear) in order to give the icon a unique graphic for the application icon.

There is, of course, another way to create a desktop icon. Select the System menu (located in the Panel to the right of the K Menu) and select Home Folder. The Konqueror browser will appear in the users home directory. Select the small red Root Folder icon to place the browser in the / directory. Navigate to /usr/bin and locate the application you want to add the icon for.

Click and drag the icon to the desktop and an icon will appear. The only change you will have to make is to right-click the icon, select Properties, and edit the icon button so you won't have a desktop full of blue gears. Once the icons are created, they will all be single-click icons.

Final thoughts

KDE shares so much familiarity to Windows. Some feel as if this was done intentionally because Microsoft just got the desktop metaphor right. Some, on the other hand, feel as if it was done because it was what users were accustomed to. At any rate, KDE did do many things correctly, and your users will feel right at home using the KDE GUI.

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October 22, 2007

Is Comcast Jamming Users’ BitTorent and Gnutella Traffic?

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Comcast is interfering with users' ability to run file-sharing applications over its network.

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We spoke to Comcast last month and understood them to deny that they are doing this, so we've been running our own tests.


On Friday, we posted about some experiments showing that Comcast is forging packets in order to interfere with its customers' use of BitTorrent. There have been reports of strange things happening with other protocols, and we've been running some tests on two other file transfers protocols in particular — HTTP (which is used by the World Wide Web) and Gnutella. Comcast has also been strenuous in telling us, "We don't target BitTorrent". Perhaps not.

Perhaps what they're doing is even worse.


Read the AP report:



Read what EFF's technologists discovered in the complete




For our previous post:


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