25 November 2007

#47. What Do You Call That Thingy?

Welcome again to my humble establishment, where patrons come to snack on their dedicated chef’s latest and greatest discoveries of delectable utility software and Web sites. Today, a solution to the eternal conundrum: How do you find out the name of something that you don’t know the name of?

Yeah, you know the doohickey I mean – the whatchamacallit on the thingamabob – what the heck is its name?

This is a job for the new Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary Online. This dictionary contains pictures, categorized by subject area, and names and defines the items depicted. So if you know what an object looks like or is a part of, you can find its name.

The M-W Visual Dictionary Online is logically structured by “themes” so you can drill down to specific items. “Bread crumbs” at the top of the page show where you are (see example below).

Now I know what a muntin is!

The M-W Visual Dictionary Online it is not comprehensive, so you might not find every term you’re looking for. But it’s a fine way to find the names and definitions of everyday objects and many more.

My thanks to regular reader Barnaby Capel-Dunn for bringing this Web site to my attention.

Comodo 3: Firewall Frustration

Despite the exciting new discovery of the Visual Dictionary, it’s been a dark weekend at the Tool Bar & Grill. It started with my thrill at the arrival of the long-awaited Comodo Firewall Pro version 3 (yeah, I know, I need a life). The previous version scored very high in protection tests (particularly in blocking outgoing traffic), and is my firewall of choice. The version 3 beta had received some favorable notices, and the feature list was tantalizing. Because Comodo itself had not yet published the news, I even wrote a breathless announcement of the new release in my occasional PC World blog.

The new Comodo Firewall Pro version 3, a major rewrite, supports Windows Vista. Among its new features, it boasts HIPS (host-based intrusion prevention system), which is designed to identify malware by its behavior before it can install itself or do harm. HIPS protection usually requires a separate program.

Comodo also boasts of its new “Clean PC” functionality for new computers: It registers all the programs on the new PC as safe, and requires you to allow all future software installations. It also claims a white list of nearly 1 million safe applications, which should help prevent installation of malware and reduce the number of questions the firewall pops up at you.

I downloaded version 3 right away, and set right to the installation. Alas, my joy was short-lived.

The download page is a bit confusing. You first have to choose between versions for 32-bit or 64-bit Windows XP and Vista, and then the download link isn’t very prominent. Maybe I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but it took me a little while to find the small red “Click here to download” link. Current Comodo Firewall users don’t need to worry about this, because you will be automatically prompted to update.

A clear and informative setup wizard took me through a variety of configuration decisions step by step. Exception: The descriptions of the Defense+ protection capabilities were a bit too vague (and nowhere did it clarify that “Defense+”: is the HIPS functionality). Copying the white list database took more than several minutes.

After installation and restarting my Windows XP computer, I was surprised to discover that the Comodo firewall did not start up automatically with Windows; you have to find a check box in the settings menu and mark it. This is unexpected behavior for essential security software.

I launched the firewall from its desktop shortcut. The interface is much improved, and appears to present information clearly and explain its purpose intelligibly. I was quite impressed with the new look and feel, until...

I saw no error message when launching the Comodo Firewall, but its main window reported that the network firewall was not functioning properly. I would not have been aware of this if I had not examined the window. The diagnostics routine said it found problems, but could not fix them all. It offered to save a log file, but that only contained cryptic lists of settings and of programs, unintelligible to ordinary users (and certainly to me) and without any suggestion of what the problem was or how to fix it.

I uninstalled Comodo Firewall 3, downloaded it again, and re-installed... and found the same problem again. So out it goes, replaced for an indefinite term with ZoneAlarm Firewall and Antispyware. I will report my problems to Comodo, and hope that this once-great firewall will be great again. Meanwhile, ZoneAlarm is working great so far (though I am skeptical, because performance and compatibility problems with a previous version drove me to Comodo some time ago).

Thank you for sharing my computing agony and ecstasy this week. I hope you’ll come back for more great utility reviews every week, and bring all your friends! Please feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below or writing to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.


  1. I’ve read the forums and it appears that some people are having problems. However I installed the update with no trouble at all. I’ve got three computers running on a network and unlike the previous version of the firewall it was no problem to get them talking to each other. At the moment I’m very happy with the results.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Tony. I just checked the forums too, and found the question but no answer. I'll check back there over the next few days.

  3. Why not go back to the previous version?

  4. Thank you for commenting, Anonymous whoever you are. Yes, I could have reinstalled Comodo Firewall 2.4, which I was happy with. But I wanted to try out the new ZoneAlarm antispyware and firewall anyway, so this was a good excuse. :-)

  5. I also upgraded from the earlier version - got all confused with 3.0 so uninstalled it and put back version 2.14 for the time being.

    However I found an article referring to a website that tests firewalls.


    The interesting point (to me) was that it rated a product that I had never heard of before. I cannot recall ever seeing this product on the few blogs I read. It's "Online Armor Personal Firewall Free"


    It seems interesting. Perhaps worthy of a review.

  6. Thank you very much for your note, Roger. In exploring the Comodo site, I also found the Matousec site and read it with great interest. I was surprised that another firewall actually narrowly beat Comodo, and intend to check it and a couple others out in the near future. Other testers also have rated Comodo very highly in leak tests (I don't have the URLs right now, though they include PC Magazine, I think), but these were all the previous version of Comodo. I will continue to follow this issue in my blog, and perhaps in my occasional PC World guest blogs as well.

    Meanwhile, the Comodo support forums have registered a number of complaints like mine, so I hope a solution will be found soon. Unfortunately, that forum thread has been moved and I can't seem to access it now. But I expect to be notified when the problem is solved, and I'll post the news.

  7. I downloaded and installed the latest version of Comodo Firewall specifically to pass Comodo's own leak test utility - but no matter how I configured the Comodo firewall, it failed its own test. I've also seen one report of the Defense+ module locking a user out of his own system once he had rebooted.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience, Anonymous. I noticed a post on a Comodo forum today about not passing its own leak test -- was that you?

    I can no longer find the forum thread about the problem I had ("network firewall is not functioning..."); it was moved, but I can't find to where. This smacks of evasion by Comodo, who meanwhile have not responded to my messages either. I am quite disappointed, and am rethinking my previous endorsement of Comodo Firwall 2.

    Anyone else here encounter problems?