Desktop: The devil's handiwork

If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then most PCs are the spawn of the devil! Trying to keep your computer free of the ever-increasing dregs of digital degeneration gracing the Internet today is an increasingly difficult and even hopeless task. Keeping "foreign objects" off your computer is a never ending battle. And a one-time clean-up, eliminating e-mailbox, viruses, trojans and the like, is never enough. Just like the housewife/husband who has to wash the floor five times because the kids keep tracking mud into the kitchen, your PC sterilization is endless, and often pointless; as soon as you download a new batch of messages from your mailbox or start surfing sites as you research a project, the cycle starts up again, and it's a matter of weeks, if not days, before garbage starts to pile up again. It's positively evil; where's The Exorcist when you need him, anyway? It's perhaps the biggest issue for computer users today; what good are all the advancements in broadband speed, allowing you to download sound and image in an instant - if all that power is being harnessed, not to mention monopolized, by spammers trying to sell you stuff? What good is instant e-mail if you have to wallow through two dozen silly, usually offensive, and often loaded with virus-type messages for every "real" message? Why bother with the Internet at all if all you're going to get for your surfing efforts are endless pop-ups, surreptitious installations of spyware and seemingly endless minutes of waiting for your page to load - because the sites you visit insist upon loading ads, warnings, windows, smileys and general nonsense as the "price" you have to pay in order to look at what you're really interested in? Vampire-like, these rogue "services" suck the lifeblood of your computer, leaving you with an empty, and sometimes useless, shell. It's not the way they promised things would be at the beginning of the Internet era. Nobody said that our computers would be compromised by crap, to the point where many of us would have to erase our hard drives - thereby wiping out months, and sometimes years, of effort - because some "bug" found its way onto the system, wrecking everything of value in order to plant a program that swipes personal data and ships it off to some hacker somewhere. Who do I sue? Well, the US Army, which used to be responsible for the Internet, has disclaimed ownership, probably to avoid the mountains of litigation that would result from an admission of supervision. I've got a team of crack attorneys working on a suit even as we speak, but we're not sure which court to file in; we've got to find a judge who knows the difference between spam e-mail and Spam-in-a-can lunchmeat. Meanwhile, though, the computer era marches on, and while the bad guys run things, we need some defense against the slime that threatens to bury our PCs permanently. Fortunately for us, though, the folks at SiteAdvisor have the same concerns - and they've come up with a system that may be among the most effective ways of ensuring that you can recognize when someone is trying to load your system with bad stuff - and stop them before they get a chance to. Just what is it specifically that makes it so hard to manage our computers in the wake of the on-line onslaught by spammers and hackers? Excessive pop-ups on Web sites; "phising" exploits where you are sent official-looking e-mails demanding financial or other information; illicit programs that get installed when you visit a Web site, click on a link or image in an e-mail, or install a program bundled with secret spyware, or worse. SiteAdvisor specializes in battling all these foes, making it easier for you to get past the garbage and get on to doing what you really opened your computer for. Essentially, the root of all evil is on the Web; surprisingly, the company says, it's a small minority of sites that are responsible for the vast majority of the misery. If you could somehow identify the sites that send out excessive spam, or try to install spyware or slow you down with pop-ups and flash presentations before clicking on a link, downloading a program, displaying an image or otherwise interacting with a site, you could avoid that site altogether - and avoid the problems associated with it. Identifying those baddies is what SiteAdvisor does. The company employs bot technology to scour the Web, looking for the negative criteria on its list. As a result, when you install the SiteAdvisor plug-in for Internet Explorer or Firefox (on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X), you get access to SiteAdvisor site ratings, based on the data garnered by the bots. When a site provides a sign-up offer, for example, the bots provide an e-mail address used only for that site/offer - in order to gage how much spam will be generated. Downloads are analyzed for secret bundled spyware, and sites are tested for "exploits" and other illicit activities. A "bad" site is labeled in red (what else?), and you are prevented from accessing it - while other ratings leave the decision up to you. Think of SiteAdvisor as a heaven-sent messenger, whose angelic qualities will do just battle with the forces of Web darkness! Download SiteAdvisor free from