New ways to access all Support Alert information

Brian livingston By Brian Livingston

The Support Alert Newsletter merges today with the Windows Secrets Newsletter, creating an e-mail publication with a combined circulation of more than 400,000.

For you, the best part is that all the great tips, reviews, and news items from the old Support Alert are now posted in one place at WindowsSecrets.com — and we’ve worked hard to make our entire library of content easy for you to browse and search.

Ian “Gizmo” Richards has licensed to Windows Secrets all of the articles that ever appeared in the 159 issues of the Support Alert Newsletter that he published. All of these articles — free and paid — are now part of the WindowsSecrets.com library of content.

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You can take advantage of our new information in three ways:

1. Find reviews of the best free software
2. Browse all past issues of the Support Alert Newsletter
3. Search for articles on any topic in our entire library

Find reviews of the best free software

The old Support Alert focused on reviews of free Windows software. This is a new focus of Windows Secrets, too. So we’ve added a “software sidebar” to our Web pages to help you find top products of every type. We’ve organized the most recent reviews into more than 100 categories.

Software sidebar The sidebar shown at right is an example. If clicked, it leads to the actual sidebar on the Windows Secrets home page.

To support our reviews of the best software, Windows Secrets has been adding new columnists who are experts in reviewing both freeware and commercial software.

Our newest contributing editors, Scott Spanbauer and Becky Waring, started writing reviews for us in May 2008. Gizmo, our new senior editor, is adding his own reviews twice a month, beginning in today’s paid content. Each of these reviewers has more than 20 years’ experience with the computer industry.

No, we’re not going to slack off on Windows Secrets’ long-standing coverage of Internet security threats and the problems Windows users are having with Microsoft patches. Adding software reviews to the mix is intended to be an added benefit of your subscription.

Our community of reviewers has already re-examined and updated about a dozen of our 100+ categories of software. By the end of 2008, we will have updated the reviews in at least half of the categories. Within one year, we’ll have updated them all.

I know the reviews will vary in tone until all of the updates are completed. Please forgive us if you find any glitches. For now, I hope you’ll try our links and give us feedback on any categories you’d like our testers to update.

Browse all past issues of Support Alert

Gizmo published thousands of helpful articles — some long, some very short — between Sept. 28, 1998, and July 17, 2008. All of this Support Alert Newsletter content, free and paid, is now posted and searchable at WindowsSecrets.com (see Figure 1).

Support alert articles
Figure 1. Every Support Alert Newsletter issue is now posted in the WindowsSecrets.com library, and you can use our specialized interface to see a breakdown of individual articles.

We’ve posted every newsletter from the past 10 years on its own lengthy Web page. And we’ve sorted onto separate pages every individual article from the most recent three years, back to January 2006. This makes it easy for you to jump to exactly the topic you need. (Within the next few days, we’ll finish indexing every individual article all the way back to 2002, when Gizmo promoted himself to editor of Support Alert.)

To browse through previously published articles in back issues of Support Alert, visit the WindowsSecrets.com library.

Search for articles on any topic

Our specialized search engine (see Figure 2) finds every article that closely matches your query. Our results page shows you links to individual articles in most cases. For Support Alert content that’s many years old, we link you at a minimum to the issue that contains the desired article.

Support alert search
Figure 2. You can now search in one place for any article that was ever published in Windows Secrets, Support Alert, or LangaList.

The second tab that’s shown in Figure 2, “All Windows-related sites,” enables you to search all PC tech sites Web-wide, not just the Windows Secrets library. This feature uses a search technology we developed by harnessing the Google API, which is explained in an Apr. 17, 2008, article.

Most of the credit for migrating 10 years of Support Alert content into our library and search index should go to Windows Secrets program director Tony Johnston and Web developer Damian Wadley. Wading through 159 back issues to mark where each article begins and ends were technical editor Dennis O’Reilly and editorial assistants Katy Chenoweth and Pat Milligan.

To use our search engine to find articles, visit the Windows Secrets search page.

All Support Alert paid content is now free

To celebrate the merging of Support Alert and Windows Secrets, we’ve made all of the previously published Support Alert content free to all subscribers. When you browse or search past issues, you’ll see both the free articles and the formerly paid-only articles. This makes the content easily accessible to everyone.

Gizmo himself has converted all of the material on his TechSupportAlert.com wiki to free content. He writes, in the “Support Alert and Windows Secrets are merging” FAQ on his site:
  • Will the Tech Support Alert Website Have Premium Content?
    No, all content on Tech Support Alert will now be free and that’s the way it will stay. Current premium subscribers to Support Alert Newsletter will have full access to their premium content from the Windows Secrets Web site.
You can read more about Gizmo’s plans for the merger of the two newsletters in his announcement on July 9, 2008.

Gizmo and our other writers are now working to bring you an all-new crop of timely information on Windows. Our best information, including Gizmo’s new columns, will appear in the paid section of future newsletters.

The paying supporters of Support Alert and Windows Secrets also have access to the paid content from all past Windows Secrets and LangaList articles. This body of work consists of some 2,000 stories we’ve published so far on every conceivable aspect of making Windows do what you want.

If you’re receiving only the free version of the e-mail newsletter, it’s easy to upgrade to the paid version. There’s no fixed fee! We accept any financial contribution of any amount, whatever it’s worth to you. How to upgrade

We’re looking forward to bringing you the best possible research in both our free section and our paid section.

Our software reviews now include relative scoring

The box at right shows a new feature we’re adding to our reviews of free and/or commercial software. When products are reviewed by our writers, you’ll see a relative score from 1 to 100 for each competing offering.

$20 version
85
Free version
75
More info
These scores are designed to give you a rough idea of how much better, for the average PC user, the reviewer considers one product over another.

The box at right is a sample. The “more info” link merely leads to the Windows Secrets home page. But the scoring boxes in full reviews will link to a download page or similar.

If a program comes in both a free version and a paid version, you’ll see two scores. If the registered version provides better features, it’ll earn a higher score than the free version. You can choose for yourself whether the additional functionality (which the writer will describe in the body of the review) is worth the price. You may decide that the free version is all you need.

No one expects these scores to be scientifically precise. They’re not benchmarks that we’ve measured to 1/100 of 1 second. They’re the subjective judgment of experts who’ve tested each program. Relative scores are plenty useful when you need a piece of software — quick!

If two programs are rated 80 and 81, you can assume they aren’t very different from each other. But if they’re rated 70 and 90, you’ll know that the reviewer found one to be clearly superior.

Our old friend, Fred Langa, is doing all right

I’ve mentioned the LangaList several times in this space. Fred Langa — the former editor of both the LangaList (1997–2006) and Windows Secrets (2006–2008) — has just sent us a message in a bottle. I’m pleased to report that he’s getting on just fine since he retired earlier this year. In fact, he’s contributed an update on his adventures in a new article today.

When I learned that Fred would write something for us about his new leisure status, he was on a beach in Hawaii. Rough life. I don’t think he rode there from his home in New Hampshire on his motorcycle, either.

I’ve heard from many subscribers who miss Fred’s unique voice. No one feels the loss more keenly than I do. I could always count on Fred to fill his columns with neat tricks and wry humor. But he’s earned the right to take it easy and smell the roses now. We can only hope that Gizmo and our other new columnists will somehow fill his shoes.

Brian Livingston is editorial director of WindowsSecrets.com and the co-author of Windows Vista Secrets and 10 other books.
= Paid content

All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2008-07-24: