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April 17, 2001 - Vol. 1, No. 2

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Windows XP and IE 6.0 Updates
  • The Death of DSL Greatly Exaggerated
  • Product Beat: Multi-Tech's Broadband Router
  • Review: SohoWare NetBlaster II WiFi Access Point
  • Microsoft Product Activation Exposed
  • Broadband Dreams and Nightmares
  • Windows and Broadband Q&A
  • My Broadband Story
  • Link of the Week: PCPitstop.com
  • Tip of the Week: FDISK /MBR
  • Newsletter News!
  • Subscribe to or Unsubscribe from this newsletter.


    Windows XP and IE 6.0 Updates
    The big news, if you can call it that, last week was that Microsoft decided to make some welcome cosmetic changes to Internet Explorer 6.0. In Beta 2, IE 6.0 shows the "Personal Bar," a column on the left side of the browser window. There's also a "Contacts" version of the same column, which shows your address book. As a result of customer feedback, Microsoft has decided to eliminate these features from IE 6.0. This image file shows the now vestigial Personal Bar in IE 6.0.
            A very real question arises from this decision. In the last issue of Scot Finnie's Newsletter (SFNL), I questioned whether Microsoft's context-sensitive side panels in Explorer windows, such as the My Pictures folder, are really worth the screen real estate they consume. Actually, My Pictures is the best example of the new side panels. Every standard folder window also has a side panel, and I don't find these panels all that useful. Check my comments on the point from last time.
            So here's the question. The Personal Bar in IE 6.0 was very similar to the side panels from the Explorer folders in Windows XP. It also drew heavily on a similar left-hand column in MSN Explorer (the customized version of IE for the MSN service). So, if customer feedback is negative about the Personal Bar, has Microsoft considered whether the same might be true of the side panels throughout Windows XP?
            They need to give this some more thought. I, for one, will be turning off Web View in Windows XP, which means I won't be seeing this junk.

    Windows XP System Requirements
    In various documents and presentations, Microsoft has projected different minimum system requirements for Windows XP. The most optimistic set of minimum system requirements they've communicated to date is a 233MHz Pentium or compatible processor with 64MB of RAM and 2GB of free disk space. But, take it from me, don't go there. In the real world, where the rest of us actually use our computers, you need at least a Pentium II class processor running at 400MHz with 128MB of RAM and at least 4GB of free disk space. If you don't have all those things already, don't waste your money on Windows XP. Instead, save up for a new PC. Trying to cut corners will only lead to a bad experience.
            Even if you meet all the system requirements, if your PC was built before January of 2000, I recommend you check with your PC maker or system board manufacturer for the latest BIOS upgrade -- especially any upgrade that has to do with ACPI or power management.

    Two XPs, Two Prices
    Even though Windows XP will be the only version of Windows when it arrives later this year, there will be two versions of Windows XP -- the Home Edition and the Professional Edition. The Pro version is a superset of the Home version. In other words, if you shell out for the Pro version, you get every possible feature. If you buy the Home edition, you get all the features Microsoft deems useful to home users.
            Microsoft hasn't set pricing yet, and probably won't announce it until shortly before it releases the product. Here's how to start figuring out what you'll likely have to pay for Windows XP. Currently, the standard upgrade version of Microsoft's "home oriented" operating system (Windows Me) sells for about $90 on the street. The street price for the company's business-class operating system, Windows 2000 Pro, is about $185. There's a problem though. The functional differences between the two XP versions are slight, and don't warrant a $100 leap in price. I'm really not sure what Microsoft will do, so I'll take a wild guess that the Home edition will continue to be $90 and the Pro edition will sell for $150 on the street. (Many of my colleagues believe that the XP Home Edition Upgrade could sell for $20-$30 more than the Windows Me Upgrade. I think Microsoft would be making a serious mistake to raise the price.)
            What if you buy the Home edition and later realize you want Pro instead? Microsoft's Kristian Gyorkos says there will be an upgrade path from the Windows XP Home edition to the Windows XP Pro version. That means you won't be stuck paying full price to upgrade from Home to Pro, but because this is really another pricing issue -- something Microsoft never comments on until the last minute -- no other details are available at this time.

    Home and Pro Differences
    I've asked this question of Microsoft several times and the best answer I've received comes from an XP reviewer's document dated February 2001. The features exclusive to the Pro version fall into these categories: Business-class security, corporate management (including features that support IntelliMirror), networking, file system, user interface, advanced and power-user features, and 64-bit architecture. The list of individual features is a long one. Suffice it to say, most Pro-only features fall into a category that home, small business, and even medium-size business users aren't going to give a hoot about. Large corporate sites, though, are almost certainly going to want at least some of the Pro features, and they will almost certainly opt for that version.
            Having said that, there's a small group of features exclusive to the Pro edition that power users are going to be steamed about. For example, you need the Pro version to use the Multiple Monitors (MultiMon) feature that lets you share a desktop between two or more monitors. Some network protocols and services are excluded from the Home edition, including Simple TCP/IP (the standard TCP/IP stack is included) and the Client Service for NetWare. Some of the high-end power features of the NTFS file system only appear in the Pro version, such as Automatic System Recovery, Backup, the new Encrypted File System, and content indexing. The default file system for the Home edition is NTFS, whereas the Pro version lets you choose to keep FAT32 or another file system. That seems odd to me.
            User interface differences are mostly minor. The assumption is that you're not running a client/server network with the Home edition, so a lot of the default settings and some of the available options would make it hard for you to do so.
            Some other features not supported by the Home version include Fax, Remote Desktop, support for multiple-language versions, Home Edition Web Server, and the Domain Wizard.
            Long and short, folks, if you're reading this newsletter, you're probably going to be unhappy with the Home edition. Maybe not at first, but sooner or later.

    When Will It Be Out?
    As I've written in previous installments of this and other newsletters, there will be no "Beta 3" of Windows XP. Instead, Microsoft expects to issue two "Release Candidates," called RC1 and RC2. As I wrote last time in SFNL, you can sign up to receive one or both of these late beta versions of Windows XP if you want. Find out more about that on Microsoft's Windows XP Preview Program site.
            Predicting software development cycles is tricky business, but I've spent a lot of my professional career doing just that. Here's what I think: Expect RC1 by early June and RC2 by early July. Microsoft is probably hoping to call the code "done" sometime in late July or early August. So if all goes according to plan, Windows XP could be on store shelves by around mid September. New PCs with pre-installed XP could begin shipping three to four weeks earlier.
            Of course, that prediction is based on Microsoft not hitting any major bumps along the way. They almost always hit some sort of bump (and they did have a delay of a few weeks right before Beta 2). Still, I've never seen them more confident about a version of Windows.

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    The Death of DSL Greatly Exaggerated
    It's just not possible these days to read industry reports about the state of DSL right now without tripping over a lot of excited doom and gloom gibberish. NorthPoint, Rhythms, Flashcom, and many others are out of play. Lots of DSL ISPs have fallen or are ailing. The ILECs (Telecommunications Act of 1996 vernacular for "local phone companies") have taken control in many regions of the U.S.
            So much so, in fact, that I recently got a press release about closed-door testimony from Dr. Alfred Kahn, a special consultant to global economics consulting firm NERA, and Verizon's John Thorne. In a nutshell Kahn and Thorne are pushing a very convoluted argument that deregulation is the cause of problems with DSL. Now that the downturn in the economy and the Internet backlash has CLECs (companies competing with the local phone companies) on the ropes, Verizon and others want to slam the door on competitors forever.
            According the press release, issued by Allan Ripp Public Relations, problems stem from the FCC's interpretation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The release states:

    "Dr. Kahn's remarks were aimed squarely at the Federal Communications Commission, which he says has stymied competition by inappropriately interpreting two critical provisions of the 1996 Telecom Act. His assertion is that the requirement to share lines with competitors, along with the prohibition from transmitting high-speed data between local access and transport areas 'are anticompetitive and actually disrupt competition by imposing rules to remedy a monopoly situation that does not exist in the market for broadband services.'"

    This is 180 degrees from the truth, folks. Ask anyone in Verizon territory, and it's not the only ILEC with monopolistic behavior. The reality is that I have DSL today precisely because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Verizon doesn't sell DSL in my town, even though the town is capable of supporting DSL. The argument Kahn makes is that if we just left the job of providing DSL to local phone companies, then they would be able to afford the cost of infrastructure preparation and maintenance to provide DSL to a broader range of customers.
            But that's malarkey. For years and years the ILECs charged us all exorbitant rates for an inferior service: ISDN. And they would have been only too happy to continue raking in huge profits on that shoddy level of Internet access, complete with message-unit (connect time) charges in many cases. If it hadn't been for the Telecommunications Act of 1996 forcing open the Central Offices of ILECs around this country, DSL wouldn't be anywhere near as far along as it is today.
            It's frustrating to be more than 13,000 feet from your Central Office. Or to be in a rural area where you are not only far away, but the central office isn't even wired for DSL, and the phone company has no plans to do so. Because of all the recent failures and the stories about nightmare installations, it's easy to suspect that DSL is a fad that'll disappear. But that isn't going to happen.
            Yes, the computer industry is in a recession. Yes, the broadband and even the telecommunications industries at large are in a recession. But don't believe the Chicken Little predictions we're hearing from a variety of quarters. DSL is not dead. What's more, there are technological advances, such as the ability to offer ADSL service 24,000-feet from the central office, that are in the offing. The problem now is the economic climate. It costs a lot to build out improvements and most technology companies are less able to shoulder the burden of expensive expansions right now.
            DSL will never be the world's only means of delivering broadband. It's a technology that is geographically bound, severely affected by distance -- a limitation that advances are unlikely to ever wholly overcome. But there are plans in the works. One of those is to create ADSL hubs throughout larger towns. The phone company would run high-speed fiber-optic lines to these specialized hub points, offering shorter copper-based ADSL runs to buildings in the area from those hubs. This isn't pie in the sky either, it's happening in many places around the U.S. and probably elsewhere.
            Not only isn't DSL dead, but it's the best solution in urban centers where population density means that the distance between customer points is short. DSL is also competitive wherever the main shortcoming of cable-modem broadband -- the fact that throughput is shared and thus collectively depleted by local clusters of users -- is readily apparent. In many suburban areas, cable modem access is the better choice right now. In rural areas, two-way satellite service is the current best hope.
            The biggest frustration we face is that not enough towns and regions are wired for either DSL or cable, nevermind both of them. But DSL is an important part of the array of broadband technologies, and it has a bright future.

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    Product Beat: Multi-Tech's Broadband Router, and More
  • Multi-Tech, a longtime maker of modems and other data communications products, is shipping a broadband DSL/Cable access router designed to provide shared Internet access for small to medium-sized networks. The RouteFinder RF500S connects between a DSL modem, cable modem, or leased line router and a LAN. It has a built-in 4-port 10/100Mbps switch, PPPoE support, network address translation, and DHCP server and client support. Advanced features include asynchronous dial-backup, dial-in remote access, and a built-in firewall. The suggested list price is $279.00.

  • Thanks to readers Jeffrey and Kathleen Scionti who wrote to point out that EarthLink is offering a two-way satellite service powered by DirecPC -- possibly in advance of Pegasus Express. The $69.95 monthly EarthLink service has the disadvantage of having steep upfront charges: $650 for the satellite dish plus $250 for installation, and a one-year contract commitment. On the plus side, you get 20 hours of analog-modem dial-up service per month so that, when you travel, you can use your same email address. The service uses DirecPC's twin modem system with USB. You can find out a lot more about it from the EarthLink website.
            I contacted EarthLink and learned that the service is not yet available, but the company plans to release it shortly. Of course, I asked them to let me evaluate their service and hopefully write about it in future issues. (Editor's Note: No More Satellite Dishes! --Cyndy)

  • Ositis Software's WinProxy Internet connection sharing software has recently been released in a special version optimized for StarBand users, who will also find information about this software on the StarBand tech support home page.

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

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    Review: SohoWare NetBlaster II WiFi Access Point
    As I mentioned in Product Beat last time, SOHOware recently released the NetBlaster II WiFi (802.11b) wireless access point product. There's a lot to like about this product, but there's one absolutely fatal flaw. The whole point of the 802.11b wireless specification is interoperability. SOHOware has really blown it on that front by manipulating its software such that you will most probably have to purchase its wireless PC Card or PCI Card wireless adapters, or "endpoints" as I call them, to properly configure the NetBlaster II. That's a WiFi no-no. Worse, SOHOware's wireless endpoints are more expensive than those of many of its competitors, so this is likely to cause a lot of customers grief.
            The number one question I get about WiFi from Broadband Report and SFNL readers is: Is it true that you can buy adapters from one company and access points from another company, and everything will work just fine? Until now, I could say "yes" to that question. SOHOware is the only company I know of that is potentially messing up the customer experience.
            You see, the NetBlaster II doesn't come with any software at all. In order for wireless adapters and access points to talk to each other, they need to be working on the same network. To do that, they all need to be configured with the same SSID (Service Set ID) name or number. To change the SSID, you need the configuration software. The only way to get that software for the NetBlaster II is by purchasing a SOHOware wireless adapter hardware product. Anyone who has an existing WiFi network would be especially frustrated with this product.
            And it gets worse. Because SOHOware sent me both its PC Card and PCI card wireless adapters, I was able to install the "Utility" software in question on a PC that was connected via a hub to the NetBlaster II. But that still didn't permit me a way to configure the NetBlaster II. Because I didn't install the SOHOware endpoint, or wireless adapter, hardware on the same PC, the configuration software aborted its launch with an OK box error message.
            When I brought these problems to SOHOware's attention, I received a long message that boiled down to one thing: If NetBlaster II customers purchase endpoint cards from other manufacturers, they will be able to use the software that comes with those cards to configure the NetBlaster II. Wrong! I wasn't able to get any of the utility programs from a couple of the popular wireless adapters or wireless access points to configure the NetBlaster II. The only way I was able to configure this unit properly is from a machine that has a SOHOware wireless adapter installed. What's more, if the only connection is a wireless one from that machine to the NetBlaster II, there's an additional step that could trip less experienced people.
            Other companies, such as Linksys, SMC, Lucent, and many others, provide direct USB-, Ethernet- or Web-based access to configuration dialogs for their wireless access points. For example, SMC's SMC2652W, which I reviewed very positively in Broadband Report a month or two back, comes with a utility diskette that installs a simple Web-based configuration screen. No wireless access point should ever be sold without its own configuration software included with the hardware.

    Workaround
    Having said all that, there was one way I was able to get the NetBlaster II working without its configuration software. Page 39 of the NetBlaster II user's guide notes in passing that the first time you use the NetBlaster II, you must use the MAC address (printed on the bottom of the unit). Because of that, I was able to learn that the default SSID for the unit was its MAC address. And while that bit of information would probably go over many first-time WiFi users' heads, it was enough to let me get the thing up and running.
             I changed a Linksys PC Card's SSID to the Mac address on the bottom of the NetBlaster II. There are several things wrong with this. The MAC address printed on the bottom of the NetBlaster II has a character space in the middle that will prevent the network from working if customers type it as its printed. The documentation doesn't spell out how to use the product with other cards or in an existing WiFi network. Without SOHOware's configuration software, you can't change the SSID, and broadcasting the unit's MAC address isn't the brightest idea. Bottom line: I'd be willing to bet that more than 50 percent of the people who buy the NetBlaster II and some other companies endpoint cards will not get their WiFi network running.

    The Good Points
    There are some. The first is size. This is the smallest wireless access point I've tested to date. It comes with twin antennae mounted on the sides, a circular upside-down dish shape on the top, and a short row of LEDs. The thing looks like a cross between a miniature portable mini-disc player and My Favorite Martian. There's a screw-head receiver on the back that would make wall-mounting a snap.
            The NetBlaster II comes with a single Ethernet port, a power port, and a reset button. It can be connected as the only networking device to your DSL or cable modem, or you can connect it to a network hub as an extension of a conventional network (this is what I recommend).
            The NetBlaster II provides up to 11Mbps performance and can share Internet and LAN resources with up to 128 computers. Functionally, it's the same as the other products tested for Broadband Report (although each of these products claims a different number of other computers it can connect to).
            Bottom line: This is a well designed and constructed product that might have earned "Scot’s Pick" status had its makers thought through the user experience on configuration and done the right thing. As it stands, I'd have to say give this one a miss. If you're looking for a top-flight simple wireless access point, I still prefer SMC's SMC2652W, now selling for $240 from JandR.com.

  • $220, NetBlaster II NCP600, SOHOware, 800-632-1118, Lowest Price: JandR.com

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    Microsoft Product Activation Exposed
    Lately I've been reading a lot of resigned, oh-it's-not-that-bad opinions about Product Activation from my colleagues who write for other publications. There's something SFNL readers should know about the people who review Windows XP. Product Activation isn't going to affect XP reviewers. Why? Because members of the press are sent different versions of Windows XP that have unlimited (or less limited) Product Activation implementations. For example, no one writing about Product Activation in Beta 2 has really experienced the business end of Activation (unless they are also official Windows beta testers). That's because the Beta 2 CDs permit up to 30 activations on a single CD.
            How does Microsoft do that? It's all in the Product Key number assigned to press CDs. The Product Key tells Microsoft's Product Activation servers how many simultaneous installations its CD can have. The retail version will be permitted only one installation. The final number for press CDs hasn't been determined, but it's likely to be between five and 15 installations. So people like me aren't really facing the same pain you are. It's time someone ratted out on the rest of the press. I guess I got elected.
            What I wrote last week about Product Activation was positive and good news. Microsoft explained some things that did ease my mind a little about how PA will be accepted in final form. But I don't think that news fully erases the negative aspects that more experienced users are apt to perceive about Product Activation. Microsoft seems to have forgotten its roots as the company that helped free us from Big Brother Computing ... the company that played an important role in the desktop PC revolution, which extended computer users everywhere personal freedom to use their own PCs as they pleased.

    Here are some Product Activation sentiments I've collected from Windows Insider and SFNL readers over the last few weeks:

    I was looking forward to upgrading my system to Windows XP but after all the nonsense about activation codes have decided to stick with Windows 98. I will be boycotting this product entirely. Microsoft is insulting its experienced users with its treatment of them with Product Activation. --Daryl Warkentin

    Either the original purchase should include additional computers owned by the consumer (minimum of 5?) or additional licenses should be inexpensive, i.e., five to 10 percent of the original software. --James Glatt

    Product Activation Sounds like a pain and I can't wait for the workarounds to be published. I'm a field tech who does a lot of upgrades, etc. Most of my clients don't understand this kind of registration and won't be happy that simple upgrades will take that much longer to do. --Chuck Sedano

    Well it looks to me like Microsoft is trying to gain full control of my computer. I guess I will just stay with ME as it has been running without a problem since Sept. when it came out. I have copies of win 95, 98, 98SE and ME. Also DOS 6.2 and win 3.1. My office 2000 does not have that one time load only key so I will keep using it for new machines. Sorry Microsoft, but no more new upgrades from you. --Paul Mckinnie

    I think Product Activation sucks, plain and simple. I think Microsoft is making a huge mistake. I hope that the average home user will be given a reasonable alternative and be made aware of what Microsoft is doing to restrict their rights so that they can choose not to use Microsoft products at all. I am now considering this very strongly myself. Microsoft is basically telling everyone that they can't [significantly] upgrade their computer or hardware without Microsoft's permission. It's absolutely ridiculous. --Mike Gustine

    Product Activation stinks to the max. Having three PC's in my house, I would go broke if I had to buy three of everything. At the very least, MS should have a per-household license or a per-user license for consumer software. --Al Jack

    Simply put, I think product activation stinks, and like others I will consider Linux a lot more seriously! --Jerry Still

    I am constantly upgrading my PC, either bigger hard drives, NICs, modems, CPU, or motherboard. I've done all recently, and I shortly intend on switching to yet another motherboard and upgrading to a PII from my current Pentium 200MHz system. Obviously this new idea to protect Microsoft from piracy will be a disadvantage to many who build homebrew PCs and who cannot afford multiple copies of an OS. --Andy Dickson

    Product Activation has finally pushed me over the edge. Having used Microsoft products and repeatedly recommended them to my clients for many years, I am finally driven to try Linux. I have contemplated this step for a long time, but until now I was content to leave things as-is. No more. Because I influence hundreds of PC users this will cost Microsoft a lot of money. And I don't think I'm alone. Product Activation is the last straw. --Richard L. LaFay

    I've been building and repairing personal computers since 1975. I carry every version of DOS and Windows with me to service calls, and I am wondering how "product activation" will hinder my repair of customers' computers. Every time I do a replacement hard drive, or have to repair damaged files from a virus or customer mistake I use my own purchased versions of Windows. Especially now that none of the PC manufacturers even supply customers with a true version of Windows, and the "restore discs" sent by these companies in many cases erase all of the customer's data before replacing one bad file, is it VERY important that Microsoft address this problem, possibly with a "repair tech version" of XP and future products. After all, repair technicians have to make a living too. As it is, everyone from Gateway, CompUSA, and thousands of Boca Raton residents use me and depend on me to solve their problems and if I have to call MSFT each and every time I have to restore a damaged file this will cost me too much time on the phone. Since you have a pipeline into MSFT perhaps you can address this for all of us professional technicians. --Dave Miga, CET

    Response: It's an excellent question, Dave. My guess is that Microsoft will provide field technicians with a "super" disc, but I have yet to hear that's the case from Microsoft (and I will endeavor to find out). Corporate XP discs will have unlimited activations, and similar arrangements will be made with governmental and academic distributions. --S.F.

    Correction
    Last time in SFNL I wrote that Product Activation kicks in after 15 in Windows XP and requires you to activate. The time period is correct for Beta 2, but not for the final version of Windows XP. Microsoft will give us 30 days before activation is required in the final version of the product.

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    Broadband Dreams and Nightmares
    A little good news goes a long way, as I learned this week from two readers who recently installed broadband:

    NorthPoint to Covad Successfully
    Last year I reported to you about the installation of an IDSL line to my office. It took my ISP at that time, UUNet, and NorthPoint, the DSL wholesaler, over 90 days to get the line up and running. They originally sent a bad router and didn't believe their own field tech on that point. Once it was up and running it worked well, though. I had some small outages that never lasted more than a few hours, but that was the worst of it.
            Then NorthPoint went bust. UUNet sent an email about the impending loss of service, which I received on Monday March 26th. By Friday March 30th the service was permanently gone.
            As soon as I heard about the service termination, I contacted AT&T Broadband about DSL service and signed up immediately for a new IDSL line through Covad. That new service activated on Tuesday, April 9th. I'm surprised by the speed with which we were able to get back online. --Bruce D. Perdue

    Response: Although AT&T did not take over NorthPoint's third-party ISP customers, it did welcome direct customers in certain markets. --S.F.

    Up and Running on Telocity
    I just wanted to let you know that I am up and running on Telocity. The DSL modem can be connected to a computer either through the USB port or through an Ethernet connection. I tried the USB port first on my Win2K system but was unable to connect to the Internet. I then called Telocity support and they told me that they have not had any Win2K users successfully use the DSL Modem via the USB port.
            I uninstalled the USB drivers for the modem and connected it to my computer via my Ethernet card. The card got an IP address via DHCP from the modem, but the modem would not connect to the Internet and the install software said that I did not have a network card. (Both the Power button and the Status button stayed amber; which according to the manual that came with the modem, is bad).
            Since I have a dual boot system, I booted to Win98 SE and the modem installation program saw that the DSL modem was connected to my Ethernet card and so the service installed and configured properly. I then booted up into Win2K and it was now connected to the Internet via the DSL modem as well. I guess the installation software is not needed for your Internet connection. --Raymond Erdey

    What's your broadband story? Whether it installed like a dream, or became an utter nightmare, tell SFNL readers about it.

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    Windows and Broadband Q&A

    Question: Hi Scot. Just read your new newsletter. Got a question regarding Windows XP. Of course I'm salivating for this OS. I'm a sucker for new MS OS's. One word for now: TweakUI. Have you installed this in BETA 2 and if so, does it work? Or perhaps XP has similar Tweak UI functionality built-in? --Val Lui

    Answer: Yes, I have installed Tweak UI and used it for some basic things. Windows XP is essentially Windows 2000 with improvements. Think of it as Windows 2001 with the Windows Me consumer-oriented features added. Because of that, Tweak UI 1.33 treats Windows XP as if it were Windows 2000. In Beta 2, there are issues with the Desktop area (and probably others I haven't come across). In Beta 2, there are issues with XP's Desktop controls area (right-click the desktop > choose Properties > select the Desktop tab > click the Customize Desktop button). This dialog box lets you control whether My Documents, My Network Places, My Computer, and Recycle Bin appear at all on your desktop. By default, only Recycle Bin appears.
            When Winmag.com was around, I had a website that helped you install Tweak UI 1.33, "Step-by-Step." I guess I'm going to have to build my own version of that site. In the meantime, if you install Tweak UI on your system, make sure it's Tweak UI 1.33. You can download that newest version from this Microsoft site. --S.F.


    Question: What do you do when you want to re-install Windows XP under Product Activation? Can you de-activate one PC and reinstall on another? As long as there's no phone-home of personal info then I don't have any real complaint with activation. I'll just make an image-backup of my first computer, de-activate it, install/activate my second computer, and restore the image on the first. Since Microsoft says they're only trying to disrupt casual thieves and not IT professionals (like me), I don't see how they can have any complaint. --Antony Tovar, Technology Manager

    Answer: Reinstalling on the same PC over an existing installation of Windows, no problems. If you wipe your hard drive and start over, you will have to activate again, but you probably won't be rejected since it's all the same hardware. There is no "de-activation" switch or button, however. To install it on that second PC you mentioned, you would have to call Microsoft to get permission to do so. My guess is that a cloned or disk-imaged installation would not work unless you were copying it back to the same computer it was on to begin with. Microsoft doesn't know whether you've killed off your first installation. It's not constantly checking your Windows installation from afar. The checking goes on locally as an operating system service. --S.F.


    Question: I tend to run a few self-built (and often rebuilt) PCs with one licensed copy of Windows each. I prefer to purchase OEM licenses for these as I don't see any reason to pay double the price for a pretty box and it is, um, my "Own Equipment Manufactured" by me. If the new OEM license does not allow the installation to be moved then the price rises from 120 pounds UK for the OEM license to 270 pounds for the full version (W2K prices), which seems a bit harsh when I wasn't cheating the system to begin with. --John O'Dea, Great Britain

    Answer: It's hard to say for sure what the different country flavors will be like. UK and US versions in past have sometimes been different, or marketed differently. The Win98 SE Updates version is a good example: people could buy it in stores over in your part of the world, but not back here in the States. Even so, my understanding is that Product Activation will work pretty much the same around the world.
            The OEM version of Windows (the one that comes with new PCs) is protected by an entirely different mechanism, BIOS locking, and that isn't just in the U.S. I've frequently heard from international readers who tell me that it's easy to buy the OEM Windows version in other countries. That BIOS locking began with some Windows 98 Second Edition sales and all Windows 2000 sales, and sales of all versions of Windows after April of 2000. As a result, I would think it would be tough for you to use the OEM version on PCs you build. But I've heard the same thing from others. Write me back and fill me in on this. --S.F.

    Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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    Link of the Week: PCPitstop.com
    Maybe it's because two of the principles behind PCPitstop.com are good friends of mine -- Dave Methvin and Martin Heller. (How does that make sense?) Maybe it's because I had reservations initially about the notion of online scans. For whatever mysterious reason, it's taken me an awful long time to name PCPitstop.com as an official Link of the Week. But the site easily deserves that sort of singling out because it really can help you out.
            SFNL subscriber Rusk Reeder wrote this recently about PCPitstop.com: "PCPitstop.com can diagnose problems your PC may have online. What's more, it's free and very fast. The site also led me to an interesting defragmentation utility (it actually does some other useful things) called Vopt. I sincerely recommend PCPitstop."
            Now that Winmag.com is gone, I can tell you that PCPitstop was developed by some of the same smart people behind WinTune. But the PCPitstop.com website adds a lot of benefits, including bandwidth tests, tips, new PC stats, antivirus help, discussions, and a lot more. PCPitstop is cool, and you should check it out.

    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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    Tip of the Week: FDISK /MBR
    This tip is for experienced FDISK users. FDISK is a DOS utility that partitions hard drives, creating and deleting partitions and logical drives. It's a tool you must use carefully because deleting a partition or logical drive deletes all the data on that drive.
            This week's tip is about an undocumented FDISK switch that that fixes the Master Boot Record, or MBR, on your drive. There are many reasons why the MBR can become damaged, but one common cause is what's left behind after you uninstall some other full-blown operating system, such as Linux or OS/2. The easiest route to removing Linux is often to erase it, reboot to a Windows startup disk, and type:

    FDISK /MBR

    If FDISK.EXE isn't on your Windows startup disk, you'll find it in your C:\Windows\Command\ folder.

    Do you have a Windows or broadband tip you think SFNL readers will like? Send it along to me, and if I test it and print it in the newsletter, I'll print your name with it.

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    My Broadband Story
    The performance and reliability of my 384kbps SDSL broadband connection went up a notch last week when my ISP, SpeakEasy.net, introduced a brand new point of presence (POP) a stone's throw away from me. Previously, my primary DNS and Gateway servers were geographically more distant than I'd like (over 100 miles). Even worse, though, the old POP was centered in a very populous area with a lot of SpeakEasy customers. The introduction of the new POP means I'm sharing bandwidth with a lot fewer people. Although the improvements haven't been dramatic, they are noticeable.
            I like SpeakEasy a lot. The company calmly sent me an email the week before this change occurred. This email gave me a specific day when the changeover would occur, and it gave me a new IP address, Gateway, and DNS servers. All I had to do was print out that message and pin it up on a bulletin board. The email that my service would go out while the changeover occurred. When that happened last Thursday, I was prepared. I didn't have to call them or wonder what was going on. I simply fired up the Web-configuration screen for the Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router I'm currently using, and plugged in the new IP addresses as directed. Two minutes later everything was working perfectly.
            SpeakEasy isn't perfect. It turns out that one of the two DNS addresses it sent was incorrect. A couple hours later I got an email notification about that, and it took less than two minutes to rectify that.
            Throughput tests consistently show a small increase in performance of around 40kbps. Even better, though, I've had no disconnects at all and reduced packet loss since the changeover.

    Two-Way Satellite Services
    I'm still getting a lot of mail from people interested in StarBand and DirecPC-based Pegasus Express. I still have every intention of continuing to test StarBand and to begin testing DirecPC's two-way satellite. Pegasus has still not contacted me to begin my evaluation service. There's also a lot going on at Hughes Electronics, the parent company of DirecPC. In fact, Hughes is on the selling block, and there was talk recently that Echostar (the company behind Dish Networks, the DirecTV competitor) might buy Hughes. That would definitely complicate things. It looks like that deal fell through, but I wouldn't be surprised if Hughes has had trouble rolling out the service.
            My StarBand service has been far more reliable and consistent over the last four to six weeks. About once every other week I see an outage lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours. I think I've had three of these mysterious hiccups now. I reported the first two to StarBand's tech support, and they confirmed that same other people in my neck of the woods were also having the problem. Last I heard StarBand was still working on it. It happened again for about an hour just a few days ago.

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    Newsletter News!
    As you might suspect, there's a lot going on behind-the-scenes at Scot Finnie's Newsletter. One thing that put a smile on my face at the end of last week is that Winmag parent CMP Media and I are talking about an arrangement that could let me send a one-time "opt in" mailing to all subscribers of the Windows Insider and Broadband Report newsletters.
            The term "opt in" means that people who receive the email message will not be automatically subscribed. Instead, they will have the option to click a link to sign up. I expect that, assuming the arrangement goes through, many of my past subscribers will do just that. It's very good news for Scot Finnie's Newsletter. It's important to the longevity of the newsletter for me to reach as many subscribers as possible.
            If I send out the message, subscribers of Broadband Report or Windows Insider will get a letter from me. If you subscribed to both newsletters, you will, I'm afraid, get two letters. That includes subscribers who've already signed up for this newsletter.
             Most SFNL subscribers have already received one or two mailings, and once is enough. So, please accept my apologies in advance if you get one or two more. I face an all-or-nothing choice with no in-between. I've thought about it, and this is important enough to risk the annoyance or I wouldn't be doing it. So long as you're already subscribed to Scot Finnie's Newsletter, just delete any further mailings you may get. For the record, that'll be the end of this mailing business. Also, please feel free to send me your strong feelings about this -- either way.

    Back Issues Before I forget, as the result of a clever idea submitted by a reader, I developed an almost complete list of back issue links for both Windows Insider and Broadband Report. You'll find them here:

  • Windows Insider Back Issues
  • Broadband Report Back Issues

    Some caveats apply. Many of the links (including the linked headlines at the top) don't work in these versions of the newsletters. But you can scroll through and read each entire newsletter. Any link that goes to a non-Winmag.com third-party site should work.
            In case you're interested, the trick that resurrected the newsletter back issues is based on Google's "cached pages." Do any search at Google, and you'll find the "cached" option after each hit. It shows a local version of the story (at the time that Google's spider logged the page on the Winmag.com site).

    Paid Subscription?
    Over the last three weeks I've received more than one hundred messages from well-wishing SFNL subscribers urging me to offer a paid-subscription version of this newsletter. My friend Fred Langa offers the $10-per-year LangaList Plus version of his newsletter that comes without advertising, with an HTML option, and with items that appear in the Plus version first. I am considering the same treatment for SFNL somewhere down the road.
            At this point the subscriber list isn't big enough to make a paid version feasible. But if SFNL gets ramped up and rolling, that might happen. One thing to keep in mind. There will always be a free version of SFNL, and it will be everything it's always been. I'm not going to do a limited version of the newsletter. I believe in free subscription.

    Advertising
    I mentioned the word "advertising" above. Scot Finnie's Newsletter will accept advertising, but probably not the way some other newsletter authors have done this. First, I am not going out looking for advertising. I'm only going to accept ads that come to me. The minute I open my mouth to try to sell ads, my editorial integrity would be affected. Eventually, I hope to find someone else to handle this for me. Secondly, despite the length of SFNL, I currently have no plans to publish any more than one ad per issue. That ad will appear at the top of the newsletter, and will simply replace the "house ad" that appears there now.

    New Newsletter Distributor
    Some of you have heard that I'm in the process of migrating the newsletter away from Yahoo! Groups. I've selected a paid newsletter distributor, and hope to make the changeover within three weeks. It might happen sooner if I can find enough evening and weekend time to accomplish everything that needs to be done.
            When list change occurs, it will be almost invisible to existing subscribers. All the names in the Yahoo! Groups list will be migrated to the new distributor's servers. Then I will manually delete every single name from the Yahoo! list, and close the group to new membership. New information about how to subscribe, unsubscribe, and change address information will be displayed in the newsletter itself, on the Yahoo! Groups site, and on the SFNL home page. There shouldn't be any problem since I will turn on subscription to the new list in advance of disabling the old list. But if for anyone reason you get confused or cannot subscribe, unsubscribe, or change your address, just send me an email and I'll take care of it.
            So why am I doing this you might wonder? I started the Yahoo! Groups list three days after the previous newsletters were killed because it was very quick and easy to set up. OneList was bought by eGroups, which was in turn bought by Yahoo! Groups. I'd used OneList before, and at that time it insert its own advertisements and the tools were simple and effective. Although it made sense to begin a list right away to catch the initial wave of frustrated BB Report and Insider subscribers, I wasn't aware that the Web-based sign-up for Yahoo! Groups asked more personal questions than a tax return, pushed people to sign-up for Yahoo! email addresses, or that the subscription-confirmation message could be triggered by other actions in ways that don't make sense. Worst of all, there is some question about how secure Yahoo! Groups lists are. While SFNL has had no such problems, I don't want to be a target.
            Moving the list to a paid newsletter distributor means something else too: I'm going to have to pay these guys out of my own pocket. So you know I'm committed to this thing. Money flowing out to pay for the distributor without any money coming in is one of the reasons I have to accept advertising over the transom. On the other hand, I'm betting on being successful. If I get a flood of new subscribers (as I hope to do), everyone on the list will continue to get the newsletter -- instead of my free newsletter distributor's server going down or something. It's a trade-off, but it's the best course.

    See you next time.

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    Contact
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