Minty Goodness?

Mint .

I love it, and I’m scared of it.

In case you haven’t heard of it yet, Mint is an online personal financial management service that has been available to Canadians since December 2010. You provide your login credentials to all of your bank accounts, credit cards, investments and mortgage accounts, and Mint aggregates your data and presents a consolidated view of your account activity. It categorizes transactions and provides budgeting tools.

Being able to aggregate all my financial information into one application on my computer, an application that will analyze my spending data, create a budget and many more things from the info, makes me want to use this service very much.

Providing the login information for all my online financial data, to a third party to do this aggregating, scares the hell out of me. Not to mention that giving your login credentials to a third party violates some providers account agreements, which could leave you on the hook for fraudulent transactions. Large holders of private financial info have been compromised before (ala Target  ) and if your login credentials to your complete financial world fell into the wrong hands, your whole identity could be at serious risk.

The fact that Mint is free to use brings out the cynic in me. They are using everyone’s anonymous spending information for marketing trends, etc etc which they no doubt sell.

I haven’t looked around for one yet, but I would love to have an app on my computer or smart phone that had the same functionality, but kept my data on my computer, and not some faceless third party’s server. What if that server resides in the United States, or falls under the American Patriot Act legislation in another way? That gives the US government carte blanche access to the data, if it resides within their borders. I don’t want that either.

Now, it is true that more and more financial institutions are offering this kind of service to their clients.  I suppose even a financial institution could be compromised, and its clients personal information spread to the multitudes of unsavoury characters lurking in the dark recesses of the internet, but at least you would have some recourse in that situation.

For myself, there are too many potential negatives to using Mint, or any other third party service like them.  I’ll wait until my financial institution brings this functionality to its internet banking product.

Your Essential Utility Kit

Every owner of a Windows computer should have an essential software utility kit.  These utilities will help keep your Windows computer running faster, and smoother, for longer.  Disk defrag, registry cleaning, unused or orphaned files removal, a trusty anti-virus, and at least two anti-malware scanners.  With so many choices in each category we can’t possibly go over them all here, but I’ll give you a run down of the ones that I am using at this time.

For disk defrag, I like to use Defraggler by Piriform software.  It’s a small download of around 3 MB, like the size of an MP3 music file.  It’s light on system resources, so you can continue to work with the machine while Defraggler works in the background, if need be.  I usually schedule mine to run weekly, late at night when I won’t be using the machine.

For registry maintenance and cleaning, I like to use Comodo System Utilities.  Cleaning and maintaining your Windows registry is very important.  The reliability and performance of your computer is directly related to the health of the registry.  This software also helps maintain your privacy by cleaning up your digital trail in browser histories, cookies, and your browser’s cache file.  In addition, it is a smart disk cleaner, looking for duplicates and other unneeded files.  I schedule a complete scan with this software once a week.

For Anti-Virus I am using Comodo Internet Security.  This is a very complete security suite, including Antivirus, Anti-Spyware, Anti-Rootkit, Bot Protection, Defense+, Auto Sandbox Technology, Memory Firewall, and Anti-Malware.  I schedule a complete scan with this software once a week.

Rounding out this essential kit is MalwareBytes Anti-Malware .  This has proven to be very effective software in cleaning out your computer of malicious software, well worth having.  Combined with the Anti-Malware in Comodo Internet Security we have a very good chance of remaining clean of these pests.

If you use these utilities, or others like them, on a weekly basis, your Windows computer’s health and performance will remain as close to “factory new” as possible, making your use of your computer far more enjoyable.  Oh, and I think I forgot to mention that all of these utilities are FREE for you to use.  Icing on the cake, what could be better?

Back it Up Jack

Backing up Your Data

If you are like most people, backing up your data is probably something you rarely do, and most likely you have never backed up your data from your computer’s hard drive. Burning multiple CD/DVD’s, labelling them, storing them somewhere safe, it’s a study in tedium at best. However, there is a day in every computer owner’s future where they will wish they had a backup of their essential data.

There are many reasons why you might not be able to access your hard drive where you store your data. Maybe you get hit by a virus, maybe you need to wipe your drive and re-install Windows, or, maybe your hard drive physically crashes and you require a replacement. In the case of an actual hard drive failure, you may never get your data back! The programs you use can easily be reinstalled from the original media, but your data was collected or created by you, likely from many different sources, and unless you have it backed up, it could be gone forever.

In the modern world there are many ways to back up your data, other than burning multiple CD/DVD’s, although for small amounts of data that is still a viable option. For larger amounts of data, or to have your data more seamlessly accessible, you can consider Cloud storage. Cloud storage is data storage provided by multiple vendors via the internet.

“justcloud.com” offers to store your data, and synchronize it between your computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The free account allots you 15mb of storage, which is practically useless even to the most humble computer user. If you whip out your credit card though, you can sign up for the Home account which provides 75GB of storage, and for one month you are looking at $8.95. If you pay up front for six months, one year, or two years, the monthly price drops considerably.

Apple, Inc. offers its own service, called iCloud, allotting you 5GB storage and file synchronization for free when you purchase a Macintosh computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. The service is slick and relatively seamless. It even works with Windows computers. 5GB may sound low, but that’s free, and storing your purchased movies, music, tv shows, apps,books, and even your photos that you upload, doesn’t count against your 5GB. Mail, documents, application data and settings, do. Why does Apple store all those apps, movies etc. for free? Other than your own photos, it’s all things you’ve purchased from them already via the iTunes Store or the App Store, so they already have it stored anyway. They just send you a new digital copy if you need it.

With convenient options like these, backing up is much less of a chore than ever before. Even if you want to burn those CD/DVD’s, or just throw some of your data onto a memory stick, some form of backup is still better than none. There will come a day when you will be glad you did.

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