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April 3, 2001 - Vol. 1, No. 1

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Welcome Aboard!
  • Windows XP and IE 6.0 Public Betas
  • Product Beat: Netgear's Wireless and Firewall Products
  • Unwrapping Windows XP Beta 2
  • Some Good News About Product Activation
  • In the News: NorthPoint Goes Belly Up, Rhythms Next?
  • Review: Samsung 180T 18" LCD Display | Scot’s Top Pick
  • My Broadband Story
  • Link of the Week: Practically Networked
  • Why Winmag.com Shut Down
  • Subscribe to or Unsubscribe from this newsletter.


    Welcome Aboard!
    Welcome to the inaugural issue of this newsletter. I'd like to thank all of you who managed to track me down and braved Yahoo! Groups' inefficient and sometimes frustrating newsletter sign-up process. I am close to an agreement with a fee-based newsletter distributor that uses the tried-and-true Lyris system. Because I'll be paying them, they have to provide you with service that works, not a run-around. When that happens, existing subscribers will be migrated automatically—and I will of course provide new information about how to subscribe, unsubscribe, and change your email address. If you ever have questions about this newsletter, please visit its Web home page.

    What's It About?
    The odds are very high that you subscribed to Windows Insider, Broadband Report, or both. And if that's the case, you're going to feel right at home in this newsletter. My areas of expertise are desktop computing, Windows, broadband, networking, and the Internet. I'm interested in the needs of people using PCs and handhelds both at home and at work. For the time being, and probably for a while to come, my Windows and broadband topics will be merged back into one newsletter. If it makes sense, and if I have the personal bandwidth to do so, down the road I may split the newsletter in two — just as I did last year when the Broadband Report was born out of the Windows Insider.

    About Ownership
    The newsletter you're reading is owned exclusively by me. It doesn't represent CMP Media, Winmag.com, TechWeb.com, or anyone else but Scot Finnie. (I am still employed as a TechWeb.com editor by CMP Media.) Even though I was the sole author of the Windows Insider and Broadband Report newsletters, their lists are owned by CMP Media and Winmag.com. This newsletter is NOT being mailed to the Windows Insider and Broadband Report subscriber lists, which I no longer have access to. I'm being forced to start over from scratch.

    Some of you have written to me in some confusion about whether I sent this message that went out last Friday to all Winmag.com newsletter subscribers:

    Subject: Special Announcement
    Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2001

    To Winmag.com newsletter subscribers:

    Publication of the Broadband Report, MS Office Beat, Power Tools, Power Win2000, Tip of the Week, Windows Insider, Win Letter, and Winmag Preview newsletters has been suspended.

    But you can stay on top of developments in desktop technology by subscribing to the PlanetIT Desktop Newsletter. For late-breaking IT news, subscribe to TechWeb News Daily Update. And for the best of the Techwebsites, try TechWeb This Week.

    I did not send this. It was sent by CMP Media on behalf of the defunct Winmag.com to notify all Winmag newsletter subscribers that the newsletters have ceased. Just as what I write here bears no reflection on CMP Media, what CMP sends to the subscribers of Broadband Report and Windows Insider doesn't represent me. Yes, it's a bit complicated. But you now have the inside track. If you're subscribed to this newsletter, you get me. And now, only me.

    Some Announcements
    As much as I believe in lightweight HTML newsletters (because they're easier to read and navigate), for the moment Scot Finnie's Newsletter is text only. I will be examining the HTML option in the future.

    I have not yet decided on the frequency of this newsletter, but in the early going it will probably arrive every other week, and it will be no more frequent than weekly, and no less frequent than monthly. Tuesdays seem like the probable delivery day because I'll be writing the newsletter on my own time on the weekends.

    The name of this newsletter will probably change down the road. It's called "Scot Finnie's Newsletter" because colleagues and readers have advised me to use my name while I gather back subscribers. I can't use the names "Windows Insider" or "the Broadband Report" because I don't own them. So, for now, my own name is what's most recognizable to the tens of thousands of you who already decided that what I have to say is worth getting in your mailbox.

    Longtime reader Roger T. Imai sent me an excellent list of possible names for this newsletter. Thanks again, Roger. I would welcome your suggestions too.

    Finally, my lovely and talented wife Cyndy will hopefully be the new editor of this newsletter. I will be very grateful, and the newsletter will be notably better for it, if she's able to take on the editor's role.

    Back to the Top


    Windows XP and IE 6.0 Public Betas
    Microsoft is offering two public betas you should know about. The first is the Windows XP Public Preview. You give them $9.95 (U.S.) and you can download the two Windows XP Release Candidates "when they are available this summer." Note: This is a huge download. You can also get Windows XP Pro RC1 for $19.95 via CD in the mail. See the Win XP Preview website for details and limitations.

    Last time I was in Redmond, Microsoft's Internet Explorer team promised that IE 6.0 would be a better tested, less buggy version than recent predecessors.

    Even so, Microsoft looks upon IE as a piece of the operating system. For that reason, I strongly recommend against installing this beta version unless you're willing to accept the fact that you could very well wind up having to clean- install Windows later in order to get rid of it. If that's no big deal, go for it. If the thought scares you at all, or even seems inconvenient, do not install IE 6.0 public beta. Microsoft also says that the average download size is 25MB, but warns that it could go as high as 75MB. That's the largest download I've ever heard of for any version of IE. So beware, there's a lot of junk in it, and it's beta junk that's totally unsupported. Beta means buggy.

    What's more, there's really not all that much earthshakingly new in IE 6.0. I've seen it, I've tried it, and it's pretty boring. Don't get me wrong, I really like IE 6.0. But it's hard to perfect what's already pretty darn great.

    So what is new? IE 6.0 offers a similar functional presentation to MSN Explorer with its new "personal bar." Microsoft has added some privacy tweaks in both IE and Outlook Express. And ... that's about it.

    My friend Arie Slob at Windows-Help.net recently did a little IE 6.0 Beta guided tour. Check it out for a bit more detail. Because I know you want the IE 6.0 Beta download link anyway—despite my best advice to the contrary—here it is.

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    Product Beat: Netgear's Wireless and Firewall Products
    Netgear is on the eve of announcing a new line of WiFi (802.11b) wireless networking products consisting of the ME102 wireless access point, MA401 PC Card for notebooks, and MA301 internal PCI adapter for desktop PCs. Other details are sketchy today, so if you're as interested as I am, keep a weather eye on Netgear's press release page for early word.

    Just as importantly, Netgear and SonicWall teamed up to deliver Netgear's new FR314 Cable/DSL Firewall Router, which is available now. This product's firewall is ICSA certified. And considering that the latest PC Connection catalog offers it for just $250, I believe it's the cheapest ICSA-certified broadband router and true firewall you can buy.

    Like its predecessor, Netgear's RT314, which Broadband Report reviewed very favorably last year, the FR314 offers NAT, DHCP, is a four-port 10/100 switch, and has Web-based configuration screens. Netgear products excel at networking, too. Netgear has recently become my personal choice for Ethernet hubs, switches, and NICs. Watch for an upcoming test of the FR314 in a future edition of this newsletter. And check Netgear's FR314 page for more info.

    Netgear is also offering the new RP114 Cable/DSL Web Safe Router, a smaller one-port version of the RT314 with new content-filtering capabilities that help parents monitor and restrict their children's access to objectionable websites. I couldn't find this product listed yet on the Netgear site, but here's the press release.

    Linksys, SohoWare, and Ositis
    Not to be outdone, Linksys sent me an interesting version of its popular EtherFast Cable/DSL product line. This one, model BEFN2PS4, offers everything that the Winmag.com-WinListed Linksys BEFSR41 4-port 10/100 switch offers, plus it adds a Net2Phone broadband voice line for making low-cost Internet- based phone calls anywhere in the world.

    SohoWare sent me its new NetBlaster II Wireless Hub, PC Card, and PCI card. The last issue of the Broadband Report had an error on the suggested list pricing for those last two items. The PC Card is $150 and the PCI card is $200. This is the only dedicated PCI-card-with-external-antenna WiFi solution I'm aware of, but I hope it's discounted pretty heavily on the street.

    Ositis is very close to releasing a version of WinProxy optimized for StarBand as well as a significant point upgrade to WinProxy 4.0. I'll cover this as soon as it's available.

    ZoneAlarm 2.6
    ZoneLabs tells me that the new version of ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro will be available in April. ZoneAlarm v.2.6 and ZoneAlarm Pro v.2.6 will feature a Getting Started tutorial to introduce users to most important product features. The two products will also offer more informative alerts, as well as heightened security that will be especially useful to anyone using earlier versions of Windows 9x. Other improvements include automatic network detection, greater ease of use, and improved online help. Both products will be available from ZoneLabs.com when they're ready. ZoneAlarm continues to be free for personal and non-profit use, and ZoneAlarm Pro offers enhanced protection for $39.95 (U.S.). Watch for a review of ZoneAlarm 2.6 in an upcoming issue of Scot’s Newsletter.

    Does your company have a new computer product of interest to this newsletter's users? Submit it to Product Beat.

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    Unwrapping Windows XP Beta 2
    Windows XP Beta 2 (Build 2462) is installed in the Scot’s Newsletter Labs and running flawlessly. I have to say I'm impressed with the quality of this build of the new operating system. While I'm sure there are lots of bugs, this Beta 2 release is cleaner than many Beta 3 releases of past Windows versions. In fact, Microsoft isn't even talking about any official "Beta 3" release. They'll be going straight to an "RC" (release candidate) version. Traditionally RC is the moniker they use for builds that occur very close to the final "gold" code. They also seem supremely confident about hitting an early summer release-to-manufacturing date. Even though Windows XP slipped a few weeks recently, I believe Microsoft is still more or less on track.

    You may think the Winmag.com Windows Coverage Team is disbanded, but I'm proud to say that Dave Methvin, Serdar Yegulalp, Neil Randall and I are all working on a full-blown review of Windows XP Beta 2. I expect that feature article to appear in roughly two or three weeks. Remember, we're never first, we're just best with our Windows reviews. And nothing's changed except the distribution point. Watch this newsletter for a link to that story as soon as it appears. I think you're going to be surprised about *where* it appears.

    Because I'm working on full-blown coverage of Beta 2, I'm only going to summarize what's new in Windows XP. That starts with a significant update of the user interface including: a new Start Menu with several new ways to customize it, a cleaned-up desktop with downloadable themes and new customization settings, the Desktop Cleanup Wizard that periodically offers to move your clutter of desktop icons to a special storage folder, plus taskbar and notification area changes and new settings. Microsoft also paid a lot of attention to Explorer folder windows, which now have a new larger icon view called Tile as well as specific settings right in the folder for controlling Details view, such as "Attribute." There's also a huge long list of new and useful attributes you can opt to display.

    Also new to folder windows is the context-sensitive side- panels, which are sort of a souped-up "Web View." Side panels display Tasks and Other Places (links to frequently used Windows objects, such as My Documents and My Computer). The first Task is a good one: "Make a new folder." So now you can accomplish that without having to right click the background, choose New > Folder. I've been asking them for years to make "New Folder" an optional toolbar button for all folder windows. We still don't have that. And we're going to need it.

    Because the trouble with these side panels is that they're huge. Microsoft is so convinced everyone will want to use them, that you can only enable or disable them globally. Short of disabling Web View everywhere (under Folder Options), which would also kill off some neat stuff going in special folders like My Pictures, there's no way to turn off them off selectively in Beta 2. It's particularly annoying in "two-pane" Explorer window mode, where you now effectively have three panes. I also find that most of these added tasks and links aren't all that useful to me. One or two invariably are, of course. But mostly these side panels are taking up space in standard folder windows.

    The My Pictures improvements include the new Filmstrip view, several new context-menu options for individual picture files, a new subfolder-contents thumbnail feature, and of course a task-specific side panel with functions like "View as slide show" and "Print Pictures." The My Pictures' Filmstrip view also has a neat adjustable large-size image preview that many will find very useful.

    A brand new Search facility with the built-in ability to search for specific file types helps people find video clips, music files, sounds, and Word documents. Windows XP also offers Media Player 8.0 and Internet Explorer 6.0.

    Beyond Looks
    Broadband Report readers will be happy to know that Win XP has integrated WiFi (802.11b) wireless networking support, including improved convenience for installing WiFi endpoint cards (a built-in driver) and improved WiFi security. There's also the Personal Firewall feature, an option that can help protect any network connection.

    Better USB support, FireWire 1394 support, new backup and restore functions, an improved (over Windows Me) system restore facility, and system file protection are some of the other new features. Remote Assistance will let you remotely access and control the PC of the next family member who has a tech support crisis.

    The best new functionality is the extensive support for multiple users sharing a single PC. In that setting, Windows XP allows each user to fully customize everything from applications installed and documents stored to desktop themes and virtually every Windows setting. Even better, though, you can switch users without having to reboot. And applications and windows you leave open will be up and running the next time you login. Some of us are going to find this feature so powerfully convenient that we'll be compelled to grab to get this new version of Windows.

    When I was in Redmond recently, Microsoft showed me a huge database of applications it has tested and is in the process of certifying for Windows XP. In some cases it is changing the operating system, and in other cases it is working with the software makers. The new OS also has a good set of tools for fooling older apps into working properly under XP. The primary targets are games, entertainment software, personal productivity, and corporate legacy applications. Microsoft didn't do this for Windows 2000, and that bit a lot of people. I can't quite promise the same for device support, but I became a believer about application compatibility for Windows XP. Of course, only time will tell. "Compat," as it is known in the industry, is probably the last thing we ever really know about. It's not really possible to gauge until several months after an OS ships.

    Windows XP's Beta 2 system requirements are a Pentium II (or compatible) 300 MHz or higher CPU, 64MB (128MB recommended) of RAM, 2GB of free drive space, SVGA Plug and Play monitor, 12x or faster CD or DVD drive, with Internet access strongly recommended. Although I would just flatly tell you not to run it in less than 128MB, these minimum requirements seem reasonable to me.

    Windows 95 upgrades are not supported, but those from 98, SE, and ME are. Windows NT and Windows 2000 can only upgrade to the Pro version of Windows XP. The Pro version is a superset of the less expensive Home Edition. I'll be writing a lot more about the differences between the Pro and Home versions in upcoming Scot’s Newsletters and elsewhere. Suffice it to say, Win9x power users may find themselves wanting to shell out more money for this XP Pro because of some of the features it has— like Multiple Monitor support—that the Home Edition lacks. My best guess about pricing (which Microsoft hasn't set yet) is that the Home Edition will sell for what Win9x sells for, and the Pro edition will sell at the current Win2K Pro price.

    I'm finally starting to get excited about Windows XP. But the fly in the ointment is Product Activation. I'm still not happy about that aspect, but there is some good news there (see the next item in this newsletter).

    I know you'd like to see Windows XP for yourself, so here are some links to screenshots I've taken of Beta 2. Be warned, some of them are large, but they'll give you a good look at what's new:

  • Windows XP's New Start Menu
  • Windows XP's New Desktop
  • Windows XP's My Pictures Folder
  • Windows XP's New Search Facility
  • Media Player 8.0
  • Internet Explorer 6.0

    Back to the Top


    Some Good News About Product Activation
    The last two issues of Windows Insider gave you early information about Microsoft's new anti-piracy measure called Product Activation. The earlier of those two stories was picked up by Winmag.com's sister publication, Planet IT, so you can still read it there.

    Since that time, I've interviewed Microsoft's Product Activation czar, Allen Nieman, as well as the Office XP team. Almost everything I've learned since has fallen under the Good News category. On the other hand, I continue to believe that more experienced users will consider Product Activation to be a giant pain in the butt. Less experienced users are not going to care though. Whether you like, hate, or tolerate activation, most Windows users just aren't going to find it onerous. What's more, it will not affect most corporate, government, or institutional users of XP software. When you buy a new PC with Windows XP on it, more than likely the PC will come "pre- activated." The only people who will have to contend with it are retail buyers of Windows. Even then, the first-time experience is a breeze.

    According to Microsoft's Allen Nieman, the end-user license agreement (EULA) that retail Windows buyers receive is different from the one that new PC buyers get with an "OEM supplied" version of Windows. He says that if you buy a retail copy of Windows in a bricks or clicks store, you have more latitude about installing the operating system, so long as it's only installed on one PC at a time. In other words, the retail EULA allows you to uninstall Windows from one PC and then reinstall it on another PC. That's very different from the OEM PC Windows license agreement, which does not let you transfer that copy of Windows to another PC. And in fact, it's increasingly more difficult even to reinstall OEM Windows on the same PC.

    I'm no lawyer, but in a close reading of the retail EULA, I think Allen is right. You're only allowed "one copy" of Windows, but it never says anything about being tied to the first PC you install it on. Of course, none of this helps you if you want to install your retail copy of Windows on the three PCs in your house that you're the only person using— something Microsoft views as going against its license agreement. And Product Activation is about to make it much harder for you to do that.

    When I voiced this to Nieman, he said that a variation on Product Activation aimed at home users of multiple PCs was under consideration. He agreed that such power users would bear the brunt of Product Activation, and that Microsoft was sensitive to that scenario. In thinking about that, I can't imagine a way that Microsoft could accomplish leniency for power users while at the same time keeping small business of 10 people or so from sharing one copy of Windows on all their PCs.

    What's more, in some ways Product Activation targets power users. It's not at all aimed at serious software pirates. It's aimed at casual thieves, perhaps even people who don't think of themselves as software pirates. Have you ever loaned a Windows CD to a friend, neighbor, or family member to install on his or her machine? That's the kind of piracy that Microsoft is after with Product Activation. The software giant has every legal right to go after that kind of activity. But I'm incensed by the notion that one guy has to buy three copies of Windows for his three home PCs.

    There is one mitigating factor that you should be aware of. Ultimately, Microsoft has no way to keep you from installing the same copy of Windows on three PCs. If you call up the Product Activation toll-free number, Nieman suggests that anyone who calls up and says they're having trouble activating XP will likely be issued a new activation code number. Microsoft claims that it will fully staff the Activation support center and that it will be wholly separate from its tech support numbers.

    How Product Activation Works
    Between my Microsoft interviews and my hands-on work with Windows XP Beta 2, I have a much clearer picture now about the workings of Product Activation—although be advised that some of this could change with the final version of Windows.

    After you install Windows XP you'll see a screen asking you to activate Windows. You can click "No" at that point, and enter Windows without any problem. But 15 days later you'll see the Product Activation screen again, and this time you won't be able to do anything in Windows other than quit or "activate." You're going to wind up clicking "OK." Here's what happens when you do.

    During installation, Product Activation generates a hardware ID in the form of a long number derived from your computer's unique hardware configuration. Microsoft is vague about how the hardware ID is generated because it doesn't want to help would-be crackers. The hardware ID number is combined with the Product Key number (the 25-digit code found on the back of your retail Windows CD's jewel case). Those two numbers are combined to create a 50-digit number known as the Installation ID. This number must be communicated to Microsoft, which verifies the number and gives you back a 42-digit confirmation ID number. That last one is what unlocks Windows.

    There are two ways to deliver the Installation ID number to Microsoft. The easiest way is just to agree to activate your computer from the Product Activation screen mentioned earlier. That process sends the Installation ID via the Internet to Microsoft's servers, which in turn, send back a 42-digit activation ID that allows Windows XP to operate. Does that sound complicated? Perhaps. But the user part of the process took about 15 seconds on my PC. The actual turnaround time on the Internet was about five seconds. The process of activation is completely painless.

    If you have to call Microsoft's Product Activation center, you will have to read the activation rep the 50-digit Installation ID number and then write down the returning 42- digit Confirmation ID number. Microsoft says that it has gone to some pains to only use alphanumeric characters that are easy to speak on the telephone. (For example, the letters B, P, and T are probably excluded to avoid confusion.)

    Office XP users will find the process is very similar. The main difference is that instead of 15 days, Office XP users are given 50 launches of the combined Office applications to make up their minds before activation is required.

    The optional Product Registration, which is also offered on the Product Activation screen, is not the same thing as Product Activation. Registration allows Microsoft to collect your name and other personal details, and it really has no useful purpose to the end-user. If you buy a consumer device such as a microwave oven or an automobile child's seat, registration is a good idea. In the event of a product recall, you'll be notified. But software companies rarely recall their products; they just upgrade them. Activation really does not collect any personal information. Registration does.

    Reactivation and Hardware Issues
    I've also gotten clarification about changes to your PC that might trigger the need to reactivate your copy of Windows XP. This potential need for reactivation is a touchy point for many more experienced users. Previously I postulated that if you replaced the motherboard, or BIOS, or CPU in your PC that any one of those events would likely cause Windows XP you to reactivate your installed copy of Windows XP. In almost all cases, such a reactivation will probably require you to call Microsoft, by the way.

    Nieman says the upgrade of single piece of hardware, even a motherboard, will not necessarily require Windows XP reactivation. Activation has been keyed to watch for several changes from the original hardware ID. Unfortunately, it's not smart enough to separate three changes that happen over the course of a year from three changes that occur on the same day. In other words, the hardware changes are cumulative. That means that anyone who actively upgrades the hardware of his or her PCs will more than likely run into the need to reactivate.

    The only hardware change that would certainly cause the need to activate is if you upgraded your hard drive by replacing your existing drive—and you didn't first copy the contents of your old drive to your new drive. That's because the information about your hardware configuration is stored on your hard drive (presumably somewhere in your Windows installation). Without that info present, Windows XP will effectively be in first-time installation mode.

    If you have questions about Product Activation, send them my way and I will try to answer them in future editions.

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    In the News: NorthPoint Goes Belly Up, Rhythms Next?
    I'm sorry to report that many Broadband Report readers have lost their DSL broadband connections over the last few days because of NorthPoint's Chapter 11 bankruptcy and its inability to raise sufficient funds to continue operating. Last Wednesday NorthPoint announced to its customers it was pulling the plug.

    Unfortunately, AT&T opted quite understandably to pay $135 million for all of NorthPoint's assets *except* the wholesale DSL service NorthPoint delivered to broadband ISPs. AT&T is itself a broadband ISP, so the last thing it can afford to do is get into the business of supplying its competitors. AT&T has been seeking an established DSL network of its own to complement its AT&T Broadband cable-modem service. According to a story published in InformationWeek, the company hopes to roll out a consumer DSL service in 60 days.

    Unlike the Flashcom bankruptcy, virtually all NorthPoint's customers have had or will have their DSL service turned off, and for most that will be a permanent condition. NorthPoint ISP customers, such as Excite@Home, Microsoft, Verio, and Telocity, have no recourse and are forced to stand almost idly by while their customers lose access. And it might not be the last time we hear this refrain. The same could happen to Covad and other DSL high-fliers of the past. But let's hope not.

    In related news, CNET (and others) reported yesterday that Rhythms—another wholesale provider of DSL service to ISPs—is up for sale following news that it's been given a delisting notification from NASDAQ.

    I hate to say this, but if you're thinking about getting DSL right now, be sure to include your local telephone company among the list of those whose services you're weighing. One advantage the baby bells have is that they aren't in danger of going out of business. You should also consider all your options, including Covad if it's in your town, cable, and two- way satellite. A solid high-speed DSL connection is the best broadband alternative from a performance perspective, but such service is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to locate. Cable modem service is slowly but surely becoming easier to find in the U.S. And two-way satellite, which is nowhere near as desirable, will soon be much easier to order.

    DSL isn't dead, and it still has a hot future. But it's going to take longer for it to make significant inroads than we all hoped last year.

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    Review: Samsung 180T 18" LCD Display ***Scot’s Top Pick***
    If Winmag.com had stayed alive, the Samsung SyncMaster 180T 18.1-inch TFT LCD display would have earned a spot on the WinList. I was just wrapping up my testing of the eye-pleasing monitor when they announced Winmag's demise.

    Few of us have the luxury of spending almost $2,000 on a monitor. But most better 18" LCDs sell in the range of $1,500 to $2,500, so with a street price of about $1,850 (Computers4sure.com), the SyncMaster 180T isn't way out there.

    Unlike some of its competition in this price range, the 180T comes with both DVI digital and conventional analog inputs, and both analog and digital cables are included. There's also an A/B switch that lets you change between two connected PCs. The metallic silver/dark gray exterior has a 360-degree swivel and an excellent tilt feature. Dot pitch is .281mm, and the viewing angle is 160 degrees in both directions.

    The best thing about this LCD is that it's very bright with deep, rich colors, and great contrast at 350:1. It did very well in the DisplayMate test, showing only a tendency toward beat patterns (probably because of the extra brightness). While not as perfect, perhaps, as the best Eizo models, the 180T's picture quality is first rate. The included Colorific and True Internet Color software only make the picture better.

    Controls and settings are good, but not excellent. There's a one-touch automatic adjustment feature and adjustable focus with 24-step image enhancement. This monitor supports Windows, Mac, and Sun computers.

    The biggest shortcoming of the 180T is that switching out of its native 1280-by-1024-pixel resolution to 1024x768 or lower does not elicit excellent picture quality. Although it's usable at 1024x768, it's not what it should be. Other LCD makers, such as NEC and especially Eizo, do a better job at this. But before I worked with the 180T, I found I needed a 20- inch LCD to be comfortable at 1280x1024. This Samsung LCD is so bright and has such good contrast that I'm perfectly comfortable at 1280x1024 on 18.1 viewable inches. I don't see any need to ever switch out of the 180T's native resolution. If you know you will do that for any reason, get another display. But if you're apt to keep it at 1280x1024, this LCD analog/digital display is an excellent value.

  • $1842, SyncMaster 180T, Samsung Electronics, 800-SAMSUNG, Press Release, Lowest Price: Computers4Sure.com

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    My Broadband Story
    How are the Internet gods treating Scot these days? My two-way StarBand USB satellite service is doing quite well. I had one 15-hour outage recently, but other than that, StarBand is improving.

    One thing I had occasion to test last week was FTP with StarBand, and download performance was sub-par on a very large file download (over 500MB). StarBand service is even more variable than most cable modem services, so it's hard to generalize. But my 384kbps DSL service averages at least five times faster than StarBand on FTP downloads. (Neither, by the way, is what you might call "wicked" fast.)

    Speaking of my DSL connection, it has improved since my last report (in Broadband Report). SpeakEasy.net performed a major upgrade on a nearby regional point of presence. I had three or four days of shaky DSL service after that, with a lot of outages. But it's stabilized now, and the service is a bit better overall since the upgrade.

    Because some of you admit you especially like the bad news about my personal broadband situation, I've saved the best for last. You know how I've been counting the minutes and seconds until AT&T Broadband finally took over my cable system, installed the proper cables, anticipating the day when I could have a cable modem too? AT&T Broadband made a deal with my town last year to roll out cable service by the spring of this year. Now that AT&T literally owns this town, as well as every town in my metropolitan area, the company is changing its tune. AT&T Broadband just announced that it won't be offering cable modem service in my town until the spring of 2002. I think you can imagine just how pleased I am at that news.

    An article in my hometown paper quotes AT&T spokesperson Jenn Khoury as blaming the economy's downturn for the "delay." AT&T, she said, needs capital to finish the job. (You know, like the $135 million the company just spent on NorthPoint's DSL services?) Now that it has a monopoly around here, it's in no rush to finish building out because there's no broadly available alternative except satellite.

    Naturally, I intend to make some waves about this.

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    Link of the Week: PractiallyNetworked.com
    I'm pretty sure I awarded this site as Link of the Week honors early last year in Broadband Report. Now that I have a new newsletter, it gives me a chance to highlight the very best sites again. And PracticallyNetworked.com definitely fits that category.

    This Scot Finnie's Newsletter Link of the Week covers everything from Internet Connection Sharing to broadband router reviews. The truth is, it's really my competitor. But I don't care because this place rocks.

    Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows-oriented website that everyone should know about? Please send me the URL, and let me know why you liked it.

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    Why Winmag.com Shut Down
    Scot Finnie's Newsletter, April 3, 2001

    In case you missed it, Winmag.com, Windows Insider, and the Broadband Report are no more. Not only is no new content being added, but for reasons I can't fathom, you can no longer access most of its content. [Note: TechWeb and CMP Media remedied the issue about the availability of Winmag content in late April 2001. You can access much of the Winmag content from SFNL's Find Winmag Content page.]

    Literally hundreds of people have written to ask me why Winmag.com shut down. The short answer to that question is that the website wasn't financially successful. There's a reason why the print publication Windows Magazine was folded: It wasn't making money. Computer magazines have been losing advertisements for some time now. The latest issues of PC World and PC Magazine, both of which once fairly bristled with ads and editorial pages, have thinned considerably. Windows Sources, Byte, Computer Shopper, Windows Magazine, and several other computer publications have ceased printing to paper over the last few years.

    There are several reasons for this. Computers have gone mainstream in recent years. The rise of the Internet as the most compelling application for PCs meant that virtually any publishing entity could "cover PCs" simply by writing about the Internet, instead of writing about bits and bytes. And magazines from Popular Mechanics to Parenting did just that. Business publications like Fortune, Forbes, and Business Week also made serious inroads. Suddenly computer company advertisers had lots of choices.

    Meanwhile, the PC marketplace has been maturing. There are fewer players. Hardware companies like AST, Northgate, Packard Bell, NCR, and scores of others have disappeared from the ranks of potential magazine advertisers. The fall-out among software companies has been even more dire.

    Publishing on the Internet seemed like the thing to do in 1998 and 1999. The most expensive part of publishing, outside of the cost of employees, is printing, paper, and distribution—all expenses a Web magazine avoids. But there's a big problem: So far Internet advertising has been a flop. When you combine all these things, and especially that last one, you're approaching the heart of why Winmag.com folded.

    The irony is that Winmag's editors have a lot to be proud of. Just under two years after Windows Magazine disappeared, Winmag.com had held very close to the page-views, or traffic, that it had enjoyed when the print magazine was around to remind its 850,000 subscribers every month to visit the website. That's an accomplishment. What's more, the months of January and February saw record traffic weeks at Winmag.com and a notable rise in the unique visitors (individuals visiting the site). Editorially, we were just hitting our stride. We'd figured out how to do Web stories that lots of people liked, and the editors had also come together as a team. We were about to take it to the next level.

    But there were problems on the business side. We weren't getting ads! Companies like Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft weren't interested in Winmag.com. In fact, even while our traffic and visitor numbers were going up in January and February, the business numbers were going from bad to worse. The nearly out-of-control slide of the stock market and the general gloom and doom about the economy were the forces that put the last nail in Winmag.com's coffin. The powers-that-be called the entire Internet publishing division together on March 19th to announce a significant reorganization. Winmag.com's demise was a big part of that change. Even though Winmag.com got more traffic than any other single entity owned by CMP Media, page-views alone were no longer enough.

    The part that came next was the hardest for many of us to stomach: The company decided to reroute all Winmag.com traffic to TechWeb. The only Winmag.com content you can currently see are three or four recent stories and several dozens older stories republished on the Planet IT and TechReviews sites (you have to dig for the older stories). We're told that someday the company will make Winmag.com's content available through a search facility, but it's not even clear that's a definite outcome.

    No one ever questioned the loyalty or level of interest of Winmag.com's readers. In the parlance of the Internet, Winmag.com was incredibly "sticky." That means its audience came to the site and clicked lots of links and read lots of content. There was a love affair between Winmag.com and its readers, and believe me the feeling was mutual.

    The problem was that advertisers just didn't seem to think that was a valuable relationship. They may have believed the Winmag audience was too "consumer" for them—and too small if it was consumer. Many established computer companies have focused their advertising efforts on IT and enterprise-oriented corporate or at least business customers over the last few years. They make very little profit on sales of products to consumers. The recent slow down of PC purchases, and the overly negative cries that the PC is dead, only added fuel to that flame.

    As an editor, there's nothing more frustrating than being a part of an editorial success that's a business failure. There wasn't anything we could do about the business side of the equation. When Windows Magazine folded, and at the height of the Internet craze I turned down job after job to stay at Winmag.com, I knew it would probably come to this sooner or later. I think the reason I stayed was because of the special relationship with our reader community. And it was worth it.

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