Beta Programs

Some Beta Programs Work Well. Others Not So Much.

It has been an exciting couple of weeks at Real Life Internet Solutions. Google released a new Beta version of Picasa2 which is very much fun. And I’ve been testing a new, free firewall that gave me a headache. Beta software (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_stage#Beta) is far from a final version, so you know there are going to be shortcomings. But some things are more trouble than others.

Picasa2: Now with Web Photo Album. Picasa2 is a free download from Google. It will help you find, organize, and even edit the photos on your computer. It’s been around for some time now, and I’ve recommended it before. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do it’s a very helpful tool. You can get the stable, non-Beta version here: http://picasa.google.com/

Now, the Picasa2 folks have released a Beta version and added a couple of really neat features, including the ability to upload your photos to an online photo album, much like Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/).

I downloaded and installed the Beta software. That went well. The new version recognized my photos and kept my settings from the previous version. And now there’s a new button that says Web Album. I selected the pictures to upload and clicked through a wizard that let me name and upload the photos to an online album. Cool! I made the album “Public” which means that anyone can view it. I’d send you there except…I don’t know how to do that yet. Hmmm. I can invite specific email addresses, but I don’t know how the public would stumble on that album. Oh, well. If you like the version of Picasa2 that you have and want to be able to put your photos online and invite friends and family, this is a good way to go.

You can get an invitation to the Picasa2 Beta from your gmail account. If you don’t have a gmail account and you want one without having to provide a cell phone number, send an email to [email protected] I still have some gmail invitations left.

But Wait! There’s More!

Besides the Web Photo Album feature, the Picasa2 Beta will let you link photos to Google Earth. So if you vacation somewhere exotic and you end up with digitized photos, you can create a file for Google Earth users that will pinpoint the location of your photos, and link to them. Apparently. I have ALMOST got that part figured out.

And speaking of Google Earth, someone has uploaded the route for the Tour de France, including all the waypoints. And someone else has uploaded a file that will show the live progress of each stage. The Google Earth Blog (http://www.gearthblog.com/blog/archives/2006/05/tour_de_france.html) has more information about this. (HINT: Turn off the live tracking when the race is over, or your Google Earth will continue to refresh itself every 20 seconds. That can be annoying.)

Beware the Beta Firewall - A couple of weeks ago I installed Comodo Personal Firewall, which is in Beta. I wanted to see if it’s as good as or better than ZoneAlarm Free (http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp), which currently has some issues with McAfee anti-virus. You can read more about Comodo here: http://www.personalfirewall.comodo.com/. I do not recommend it at this point. It’s still in Beta, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

CPF installed without incident, and immediately started asking me questions about programs I ran that were trying to access the internet. It passed the tests for inbound and outbound effectiveness, and it’s kind of pretty. That’s all good. Then the bad things happened.

It killed my email client, Mozilla Thunderbird (http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/). I checked the Comodo Personal Firewall discussion forums and found that this was a known problem and implemented the workaround. After that, the mail worked fine.

A few days later, after an update, it killed my internet connection. Windows reported the connection was fine, (it just didn’t work!) and eventually I narrowed this down to a problem with DNS. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_name_system)

I did all the geeky things you’re supposed to do, like shut down the computer and start over, make coffee, check that the DNS service was running and then flush the DNS cache, and none of it worked except the coffee. Finally, (ah ha!) I remembered that the firewall had updated itself, and I had a look at what it was doing. Somehow it had created (or had allowed me to create?) a rule where everything was being blocked from my wired network adaptor. Interesting. You have to love a firewall that will let you do that!

I fixed that, too, but over the next week the doggone thing just got stupider. It forgot rules. It kept asking me about the same programs I’d already authorized. It interfered with my AVG (http://free.grisoft.com/doc/1) anti-virus updates. It gave me an impressive headache.

I uninstalled it and put my ZoneAlarm Free back into service. It may not be pretty, but at least it remembers what I tell it! I hope Comodo Personal Firewall improves, because ZoneAlarm is trying to become a “Security Suite” instead of just a hard-working firewall. But I wouldn’t advise anyone who is prone to headaches to try Comodo right now. It’s not as hard-working as I was.

Thank you to everyone who emailed with questions, comments, and keyboard shortcuts. I’m through fighting with the firewall, and I promise I’ll pass on the information soon!

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About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

Computer Care Kelowna

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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