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

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Review: New ZoneAlarm Pro 2.6  **Top Product!**
  • Microsoft Reserves WMP8 for Windows XP
  • In the News: Will Windows XP Be Late?
  • New and Notable: WildBlue Two-Way Satellite
  • The Latest on StarBand
  • Tracking DirecPC's Two-Way Satellite Service
  • Watch Lycos Computers for Big Windows XP Review
  • Good-Bye Yahoo Groups
  • Winmag.com Content Lives!
  • Windows and Broadband Q&A
  • Link of the Week: PCNineOneOne.com
  • Tip of the Week: Explore Your Favorites
  • My Broadband Story
  • Subscribe to or Unsubscribe from this newsletter.


    Review: New ZoneAlarm Pro 2.6  **SFNL Top Product!**
    Got broadband? Get ZoneAlarm. It's as simple as that.
          This is a good time to do that too. Zone Labs is just releasing the new 2.6 version of its popular desktop firewall software for Windows. The $39.95 ZoneAlarm Pro 2.6 version was offered on the company website quietly last Wednesday, and the free for personal use version, ZoneAlarm 2.6, is expected to be available for download tomorrow (Wednesday, May 2).
           I've been testing the Pro version for several days in preparation for this review. The first thing you should know is that ZoneAlarm 2.6 is not a major upgrade of the current 2.1 version. It's probably best characterized as a modest usability update with some security tweaks. The second thing you should know is that I became a confirmed ZoneAlarm user last year. Nothing about version 2.6 changes my mind about that. It's also not a compelling update. But whether you're using the Pro or Free version of ZoneAlarm, version 2.1 or 2.6, ZoneAlarm is the best desktop firewall product on the market. None of the others do as good a job of protecting you, and the ZoneAlarm interface grows on you.
           If you've never used a desktop firewall product, and you decide to start with this one, here's what to expect. The first few days of use after installing ZoneAlarm will likely involve some care and feeding of the product. A firewall doesn't exist in a vacuum. It requires you to make some decisions about whether Internet-related activities are good or bad. By default, it will tend to assume the worst and question you when your browser, email package, instant messaging program, streaming-media player, antivirus, and other applications attempt to reach out to the Internet on their own. You train it to work with your applications, giving each permissions that suit what they do. To make those decisions, you'll need to understand your applications and what ZoneAlarm does. Spend some time consulting ZA's documentation for help with that. After a few days, ZoneAlarm settles in and begins doing its job quietly and efficiently.

    Testing ZA's Security
    To test ZoneAlarm 2.6, I started by removing my NAT-based broadband router and connecting my test PC directly to my DSL modem -- creating unprotected access. Then I installed ZoneAlarm. If you're using an earlier version of ZoneAlarm, the best way to install this product is with that previous version running.
           When it came time to test ZoneAlarm 2.6 for vulnerabilities, it scored better than any single product I've tested before. It's still the only software or hardware product I've tried that catches outward bound activities reliably. That's why it passes GRC's LeakTest. ZoneAlarm also aced GRC's Shields Up and Port Probe tests, showing all "stealth" on the latter. Scot Finnie's Newsletter uses the same firewall test procedures that the Broadband Report used before its demise. So in addition to GRC, I run through HackerWhacker for a more extended port probe and through Security Space's port scan and 636 vulnerabilities scan. I use the Security Space test known as the Standard Audit.
           Although it did exceedingly well, ZoneAlarm did not score perfectly on my test machine. On both extended port scans it showed a low-risk "open" for the TCP "daytime" port, as well as one other minor issue. ZoneAlarm is highly configurable, and I did customize it to work with the existing software on the machine and the way I use the Internet. So your mileage could vary in either direction. Even so, after I reconnected my broadband router (in this case, the Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL 4-port Router) I re-ran the HackerWhacker.com test. The addition of the broadband router did improve the score to desktop-security virtual perfection.
          Let me take this moment to repeat something I've said in the past (in Broadband Report) that's worth repeating: For the best security, for the most reliable small networking environment, and for your convenience, the best cable or DSL setup combines the use of a multiple-port broadband router/switch with ZoneAlarm running on every PC on your network. Anyone who is sharing a broadband connection among two or more PCs should work this way. If you have only one PC, just get ZoneAlarm.

    Version 2.6 Additions
    The most visible new feature is a nine-step getting-started tutorial designed to explain controls and alerts to get new users up and running quickly. Although it does ease you into the product, and in some cases provide excellent information, I found one or two of the getting-started screens to be a little vague. At the end of the process, the tutorial turns out to be a "wizard" that asks you to fill in information about your network and Internet access.
           Step 8 will probably go over the top of some new users' heads. It asks whether your computer is "part of an ISC/NAT where multiple computers connect to the Internet through one 'gateway' computer...". As an experienced user, I had no problem understanding this question, but there's no drill-down from this screen to a more detailed help file that explains, for example, what "ICS/NAT" means. Personally, I think Zone Labs should put "Internet Connection Sharing or a NAT hardware or software product" in parentheses, and spend the rest of the space explaining what they mean instead of letting fly with acronyms.
           Another addition consists of informative and, Zone Labs hopes, intuitive color-coded alerts, which rate security risks and give assistance about how to proceed. The new Alert Advice provides help from Zone Labs' experts; the idea being to help you respond to security alerts with more confidence. I don't know about confidence, but having the right information to respond smartly to this product's alerts can make all the difference as to how well ZoneAlarm will protect you. It also improves the user experience because answering correctly can cut down on repetitive (often superfluous) alerts.
           A Zone Labs press document notes additional improvements to these important security areas of ZoneAlarm: Intrusion blocking and logging, increased security for Windows vulnerabilities, and outbound traffic monitoring.

    Differences Between Pro and Standard
    Many of you have written me in past asking about the differences between ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro. Here's the summary the Zone Labs folks sent me: Regular ZoneAlarm does not include customizable security levels (the standard version is customizable, but you can't customize the built-in High, Medium, Low security levels), automatic network detection (aimed mostly at mobile users), customizable restricted zones, password protection for configuring ZoneAlarm, Internet Connection Sharing/NAT support for one-click network configuration, and administrator tools that provide advanced installation and configuration options for network-wide installations. Additionally, the Pro version provides an enhanced version of the MailSafe email attachment protection. In addition to checking for .VBS file extensions, which is all standard ZoneAlarm's MailSafe does, the Pro version's enhanced MailSafe checks for more than 30 different file types.

    Recommendation
    Firewalls are not the easiest programs to configure. The beauty of ZoneAlarm is that it combines excellent protection with good-enough usability. You'll find products out there that are easier to use, but they aren't worth your time and trouble. ZoneAlarm is the one to get.

  • $39.95 (regular version is free for personal use), ZoneAlarm Pro 2.6, Zone Labs, 877-546-3823

    Back to the Top


    Microsoft Reserves WMP8 for Windows XP
    Is Microsoft using Windows XP to distribute its new Windows Media Player 8, or is it the other way around? Talk about the tail wagging the dog. The publicity recently about Microsoft's decision to make its new Windows Media Player 8 available only as part of Windows XP drew a lot of raised eyebrows and conflicting responses. One thing's for sure, this isn't about selling Windows XP.
           But Microsoft is doing something that appears to be counter-intuitive for the streaming-media player marketplace. It's effectively "limiting" distribution of the version of Windows Media Player (WMP7 will continue to be available for download). Of course, when you're automatically distributing your player to everyone who buys Windows XP, it's not like you're really hurting distribution. But what does Microsoft gain from reserving WMP8 for XP?
           According to Sean Alexander, Microsoft's Windows Media Player product manager, "Windows Media Player 8 was created specifically to take advantage of and complement the new visual design of Windows XP as well as core XP technology (DVD playback, integrated CD burning, the enhanced "My Music" folder, and more). We're not making Windows Media Player 8 available down level [that is, for earlier versions of Windows] because those other Windows services don't exist down level."
           What's more, the new Windows Media Audio and Video 8 codecs released last month are backwardly compatible with earlier Windows Media Players, including 6.4 and 7.0. Alexander explains that Microsoft has a playback technology that "auto-updates the player's audio and video [capabilities] ... so that users can always see and hear the latest" Windows Media content. Bottom line: You don't need the latest version of Windows Media Player to see streaming media built with the latest Microsoft codecs.
           There may be another issue at work too. This is sheer speculation on my part (with help from Serdar Yegulalp and Dave Methvin), but Hollywood, the record industry, and other multimedia content makers are looking for a way to allow PC users to download audio and video content for personal playback while at the same time preventing them from copying that material and handing it out to other PC users. Several technologies in Windows XP, including Product Activation's Hardware ID generation technology, might be harnessed for this purpose. Because this is technology that only XP has, Microsoft may be relying on the operating system. We'll have to wait and see if there's any truth to that theory.
           The recent spate of stories in CNET, MSNBC, and elsewhere appear to have been spurred by the release of materials from the industry group Project to Promote Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age (ProComp), which accuses Microsoft of unfair practices with Windows Media Player 8.
           The outrage about Microsoft deciding to build WMP8 as a feature of Windows XP -- as if that were something new the software giant is doing to boost WMP client adoption -- seems almost comical to me. Media Player was introduced in 1991 and has been bundled in every version of Windows since then. Where were the complaints about bundling over the last 10 years? Maybe it's because streaming-media is finally heating up.
           The only hard-hitting point critics of Microsoft's decision to restrict WMP8 to XP are making is that it's the first step toward hard-wiring Windows Media Player into the Windows operating system -- the way Microsoft incorporated IE into Windows. I have to admit that bears consideration. On one hand, I believe Microsoft has every right to innovate by adding features, functionality, and software modules to its operating system. Especially when they're services that clearly serve end-users. Windows Media Player clearly falls into that category. And guess what, virtually every other desktop operating system comes bundled with at least one media player. On the other hand, it's not right for Microsoft to use its monopoly power and multiple distribution channels to literally place client applications in users' hands before its competition can. Is this history repeating itself, a la Internet Explorer and Netscape? It's too soon to say. But I think we should at least leave the door open to that notion.
           There's something very different about the streaming-media player market, however. The content that browsers deliver is underpinned by standards-based HTML encoding (among others). Streaming media use any of several file formats based on mostly proprietary codec (compressor/decompressor) mechanisms. The real battle for "broadcast" on the Internet comes down to whose codecs are in use by the most content providers. Right now, RealNetworks has a marked lead there. Microsoft has the lead in the installed base of players (as shown by PCPitStop.com). But since there's more RealPlayer content in the world, the RealPlayer client is probably getting a better workout.
           So when all is said and done, I'm not sure Microsoft's distribution strategy for Windows Media Player 8 is of key importance. You don't need it to play the latest content, and I don't believe that client distribution is the Holy Grail of streaming-media competition. The question is, will Microsoft use WMP8 bundling in XP to somehow persuade content creators to use Windows Media codecs instead of, or at least in addition to, those of the competition? I don't have the answer. But there's something Microsoft isn't telling us about all this. When I find out what that is, you'll be the first to know.

    Back to the Top


    In the News: Will Windows XP Be Late?

    Reports Say Windows XP Could Be Delayed Until 2002
    CBS MarketWatch's Mike Tarsala was the first I'm aware of to report a quote from Giga Information's Rob Enderle as saying that Microsoft may be considering a later release of Windows XP than previously expected. Yesterday CNET picked up the story. Some of the reports conflict on the details. What it comes down to is this: Microsoft is still working on some areas of Windows XP. Ever since Win XP Beta 2 slipped, a release in time for the back-to-school selling season has been iffy. Microsoft may have alerted its OEM PC customers that the finished product might not be available until late September or October. If that happens, the holiday selling season could also be in jeopardy. In the worst-case scenario, Microsoft could decide to delay the product release until January 2002. However, a spokesperson for Microsoft reached for comments said this afternoon that nothing has changed.

    AT&T to Raise Cable Modem Service Rates
    According to published reports at CNET and elsewhere, AT&T Broadband intends to increase the monthly fees for cable modem service to as much as $45.95 in June. (Most customers currently pay $39.95 a month including modem rental.) CNET says that AT&T Broadband subscribers may receive an email message later this month informing them of the rate hike.

    AOL Shows Hand in Microsoft Negotiation
    Coming to PCs near you later this year, AOL Time Warner is reportedly planning to release major versions of its AOL and CompuServe client programs that would make it easy for AOL to replace Internet Explorer as the onboard Web browser with, for example, the AOL-owned Netscape browser. The new client technology, code-named "Komodo," is designed to support multiple Web browsers.
           A little history review, Microsoft and AOL have had an uneasy alliance for many years. Microsoft provides desktop access to the AOL client on its Windows desktops, and AOL in turn has used Internet Explorer exclusively in its client software. That deal, struck over five years ago helped Microsoft Internet Explorer leapfrog Netscape in marketshare, and helped AOL reach 29 million subscribers.
           The contract between AOL and Microsoft officially ended on January 1, 2001, but the two companies have continued to talk and neither has pulled out. In its story on this subject, MSNBC makes the excellent point that the Komodo technology makes it possible for AOL to use a different browser if talks with Microsoft go bad. Bottom line: Whenever the negotiation with Microsoft gets real, AOL would be negotiating from a position of weakness if it didn't have technology that would let it use a browser other than Internet Explorer. AOL bought Netscape in late 1998. It's just finishing the job it started then.
           Analysis: AOL would be crazy to risk peeling the link to its client software off Windows desktops -- especially with a major new version of Windows for consumers about to ship. File this under AOL walking softly but carrying a big stick. It needs an ace in the hole. What if Microsoft had just decided that it patently wasn't going to continue the arrangement? That's all this is about. I expect Internet Explorer will continue to appear in AOL's client software for as long as Microsoft wants it to. And Microsoft wants it to.

  • AOL Re-ignites the 'Browser War' (MSNBC)
  • AOL Considering Dropping IE (Betanews)

    MSN and Qwest to Jointly Offer DSL
    Microsoft and telco giant Qwest inked a five-year deal last week to jointly deliver DSL services and MSN Internet access, content, and services to the 14 states Qwest serves. MSN will become the preferred ISP for Qwest and provide Internet access for Qwest's 500,000 ISP subscribers as early as this summer. Qwest serves more than 12 million consumers in its 14-state service area. Microsoft's previous DSL provider, NorthPoint, left MSN DSL customers in the lurch when it shut-down its wholesale ISP service after AT&T bought everything but that part of NorthPoint's assets.

  • Deal With Qwest Reunites Microsoft With DSL (InformationWeek)

    Other News of Note

  • Broadband Bill Benefits Phone Giants (InternetWeek)
  • AT&T First Quarter Hurt by Excite@Home (InternetWeek)
  • Cell Phone Giants Join on Wireless IM (MSNBC)
  • Wireless Networks Vulnerable to Hackers (MSNBC)

    Back to the Top


    New and Notable: WildBlue Two-Way Satellite
    I'd like to thank readers Norm Duncan and Jeffrey and Kathleen Scionti who wrote to point out that WildBlue Communications and EchoStar (parent of Dish Network) are working on the release a brand new Ka band two-way satellite Internet access service for the U.S. and Canada. A Latin America service is planned for shortly thereafter.
           The new always-on service is expected to roll out January or February of next year, and the company is quoting performance "comparable to DSL and cable modem service," plus upstream speeds of 400kbps (which is better than most cable or DSL connections). Even the dish is smaller than StarBand's or the one being used by DirecPC/Pegasus/Earthlink.
           Although pricing isn't set, a company FAQ notes that pricing is expected to be lower than the pricing of StarBand and DirecPC two-way satellite services.
           EchoStar owns 12 percent of WildBlue Communications, and a company spokesperson says WildBlue has no plans to distribute with its service with any other company but EchoStar -- which has a large nationwide dealer network. Although its first service offering will be Internet only, WildBlue does have the capability to provide a one-dish solution to existing customers of Dish Network or DirecTV.

    Back to the Top


    The Latest on StarBand
    I want to thank several SFNL readers who sent email about a rumor concerning a possible rift between StarBand and EchoStar (Dish Networks). That turned out not to be quite true, but Dish Networks did halt StarBand installations on April 4 and for a few weeks following. According to sources at both companies, the temporary hold, which was lifted last Wednesday, occurred because of issues with "cross polarization."
           According to Dish Networks representative Marc Lumpkin, it became apparent that some 300 StarBand units were improperly installed around the country. Dish Networks halted StarBand installations so it could find those units, correct them, and issue new training information to its dealers to prevent further occurrences.
           StarBand's Sandy Colony responded with regret that Dish felt the need to halt StarBand installations. She also notes that as of mid-March, all new StarBand installations have been processed on the company's new auto-commissioning system, making it nearly impossible for any units to be installed improperly. "With this new state-of-the-art system in place, we expect that EchoStar will respond to the increased demand for our service ... and continue shipping StarBand systems to the DISH dealer network."
           StarBand's installed base is now up to 30,000 users.
           EchoStar's 12-percent investment in WildBlue Communications could signal that the relationship between StarBand and EchoStar may have a limited shelf-life. EchoStar also has options to increase its holdings of WildBlue.

    Localized StarBand Problem
    Apparently, I was one of the unlucky ones. My StarBand service, which had been working well, was afflicted almost a week ago with a new "known problem" that affected only some users in my region of the country. The symptoms of the problem boil down to this: I lost my StarBand service until this afternoon. While it was out, StarBand could ping me, all the lights on my StarBand 180 USB box were lit, and the PC software was working correctly. I learned last Friday that a StarBand firmware upgrade applied in my region caused the problem. I'm really glad this isn't my only Internet connection, because it was out for six days. Also, there was no notification by the company to end-users. This is big StarBand problem. You can't get to StarBand's support site unless you're connected via the service. StarBand's tech support is excellent, but its communication skills and apparent unwillingness to pull out the stops to solve a problem like this could leave you seething.
           I had planned to test Ositis' new version of WinProxy for StarBand, but there's no way to do that now. With WinProxy 4.0 not too far off, I may wait and just do them both at the same time.

    Back to the Top


    Tracking DirecPC's Two-Way Satellite Service
    Pegasus, Earthlink, and Juno are all scheduled to begin offering Hughes DirecPC powered two-way satellite service "soon." According to DirecPC, the service -- which should be roughly comparable to StarBand -- is now available to all three of its primary distributors: Pegasus, Earthlink, and Juno. SFNL talked to both Pegasus and Earthlink directly last week. Both companies say they're close to releasing two-way satellite, but neither would say exactly when it'll be available. Earthlink also declined to work with me to evaluate its version of the service. Earthlink's setup fees, which I covered last time in Product Beat, are exorbitant.
           Pegasus is still saying that it'll set me up with service as soon as it's available -- though I'm still awaiting a callback from the marketing department with more information about when that might happen. I still intend to write several reports on this satellite product if and when the service becomes available to me.

    Back to the Top


    Watch Lycos Computers for Big Windows XP Review
    A team of ex-Winmaggers, including me, Serdar Yegulalp, Dave Methvin, Neil Randall, and the online magazine's premier art and production staff banded together to research, write, design, and produce a full-blown Windows XP Beta 2 review. The story, which is very like the Windows Coverage stories the same people wrote for Winmag.com, is slated to be published by Lycos Computers sometime this week or next. As a subscriber to SFNL, you're getting the first word on that. Winmag.com may be dead, but we aren't done writing hard-hitting reviews of Windows.

    Back to the Top


    Good-Bye Yahoo Groups
    Well, I did it. This newsletter is no longer hosted by Yahoo! Groups. Scot Finnie's Newsletter is now distributed by Dundee.net, the same company that sends out the newsletters of buddies Fred Langa, Mike Elgan, Arie Slob (WindowsHelp.net), Woody Leonhard (WOW), and many others. From this edition forward, you should see fewer problems with message formatting, fewer broken wrapped links, and no gratuitous advertisements tacked on by the distributor.
           Even better, Dundee.net, which is powered by Lyris software, has far better list security. No one is going to break in and spam us. Also, there's no Web-based sign-up that tries to collect bits of information about you that even the government doesn't know. The only information I'm collecting is email address, and optionally first and last name. I will never rent out this list, and I will never use it for anything other than mailing this newsletter. I have to pay Dundee.net to send out SFNL, but it's worth it.
           How does the change of list distributors affect you? Minimally. All existing subscribers as of last Wednesday, April 25, were successfully migrated to the new list. A small trickle of people have attempted to subscribe via Yahoo! Groups since then, and I have either manually subscribed them to the new list or sent them directions on how to do so themselves. So long as you're happy with your subscription, you need do nothing at all.
           I will shortly remove all subscribers from the old Yahoo! Groups list. I'm waiting to be sure this mailing goes off successfully. You don't have to do anything to be assured that your email address will be removed from the old SFNL Yahoo! Groups list.
           There is one area where things have changed: The simple procedures for subscribing, unsubscribing, and changing your email address. The process is nearly identical; it's only the email addresses that have changed. The bottom of every issue of SFNL shows this information, and this issue is the first to show the address changes.
           A couple aspects are different. Under Yahoo! Groups, some of you used a Web form to initiate your subscription. To prevent errors, I currently offer email-based subscribe and unsubscribe only. Just send a blank email message to the appropriate address. There's also a quick extra step (which prevents prank subscriptions) during sign-up. You'll receive a confirmation message for "scots_newsletter" from the Lyris server that you MUST respond to in order to receive the newsletter. After you respond, you'll receive a welcoming confirmation message from me.

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    Winmag.com Content Lives!
    That's right, TechWeb and CMP Media have made most of the Winmag.com content available again. You won't see the website, per se, but you can search for and find a good deal of the article content, including all the back issues to the Broadband Report and Windows Insider. You run your searches from the small search field at this Web address: http://www.techweb.com/winmag/. The following is a collection of URLs to some of the more popular columns and articles from Winmag.com.

  • Windows Insider Back Issues
  • Broadband Report Back Issues
  • Fred Langa's Explorer Back Issues
  • Hot Fixes
  • The Windows Me Long-Term Wrap-up
  • Ten Ways to Make Windows Me Run Better
  • Ten Ways to Make Windows 98 Run Better
  • Get the Most Out of Win98
  • The Essential Guide to Installing Windows 2000
  • The Essential Guide to Installing Windows 98
  • The Essential Guide to Installing Windows Me
  • Step-by-Step: Installing Tweak UI 1.33
  • The Guided Tour of Windows Whistler Beta 1
  • The Essential Guide to Dual Booting Windows
  • Say Hello to Windows 2000
  • Reviews

    Unfortunately, some of Winmag's most popular content, including WinList, WinTune, the Tips Database, and the forums are not available. This wasn't purposeful. Winmag.com housed most of its article content on a Unix server. But we also managed our own NT server, and the items I just listed were all on that server. CMP wasn't able to access and integrate that content. Maybe someday some of it will come back to life, however.
           If there's a story you're looking for but can't find, drop me a note and I'll try to resurrect it for you. I can't help you with anything that you can't describe in detail. I'd need to know roughly when it was published, what it was called, who wrote it, what type of story it was (or at least a solid combination of some of those things).

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    Windows and Broadband Q&A

    What About USB Hubs?

    Question: I really enjoy your newsletter, and immediately re-subscribed after the Winmag.com fallout. I will soon be getting DSL service from Ameritech. It uses a DSL modem with a USB connection. Are there any Broadband hubs that allow you to share a USB DSL connection? Or am I stuck using software like Microsoft's Internet Connection Sharing? I would like to share my connection between machines running Windows Me, Windows 2000 Pro, possibly a third version of Windows. --Mike Willett

    Answer: I have asked all the big companies repeatedly about this, and none that I'm aware of currently have a USB-based hub. Linksys offers a hub/router that has one USB port, but that port is not designed to receive the connection from your DSL modem. It's designed only to share your Internet connection with a USB device.
           For the short run, I think you will be stuck sharing with something like ICS (which can handle most versions of Windows), although I would recommend that you consider instead software like WinProxy or WinGate. There are several others out there as well. Many are freeware. None of these products does as reliable a job of managing your network as the hardware NAT/DHCP broadband router devices. But they all share your connection very well and provide basic security. --S.F.


    Which Version of IE 5?
    Question: I don't recall if you wrote about IE5.01 Service Pack 2. I've read reviews from individual users and most of them have been positive. Some even claim that SP2 is faster than SP1. At the present my browser is IE5.01 SP1. Would you recommend upgrading to SP2? --Al Jack

    Answer: I'm running IE 5.01 SP2 and have had no problems. More importantly, I've had zero reports of problems from readers. It doesn't seem any faster or slower to me, but it is SFNL's currently preferred version of Internet Explorer. So, yes, I recommend installing it. -- S.F.

    Bonding Two Types of Broadband
    Question: Do you know of a fairly hassle free way of using both cable and ADSL? Reconfiguring the router is a nuisance when changing connections. A second router is a possibility. Any other ideas? --Earle Robinson

    Answer: I haven't actually tried this yet (since I don't currently have cable and DSL), but a company called Vicomsoft has server software with a "bonding" technique that's supposed merge the throughput from multiple types of Internet access. Actually, Vicomsoft calls this connection teaming. The company has several different types of products that include connection teaming. The website is a bit hard to fathom, so I suggest really looking around and then calling them to find out what solution is best for you.
           In subsequent email, Earle pointed out that hardware maker Nexland has a broadband router product designed to accept and load balance two simultaneous broadband connections. This broadband router product, which sells for $399, is the 8-port Nexland Internet Sharing Box Pro800turbo. Earle and I may collaborate on a review of this model for SFNL. The specs for Pro800turbo are very impressive, and it sounds like a great value. --S.F.

    Do you have a burning question about Windows or broadband? Send your query to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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    Link of the Week: PCNineOneOne.com
    Any serious long-term Winmag.com fan probably came across the Winmag Forums at one point or another. You might have haunted the place. We had some of the best forum regulars any website ever had, anywhere. Knowledgeable, helpful, straight-shooting folks who helped thousands and thousands of Windows users. For years. Okay, so Winmag.com is dead. But many of its best forum regulars are easy to find. As are lots of great how-to articles, reviews, and other helpful stuff. Oh, yeah, and a great forum. I'm talking about the newest SFNL Link of the Week, PCNineOneOne.com

    Cheers, Alex (and everyone else at 911).

    Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows- or broadband-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: Explore Your Favorites
    The tools Microsoft has delivered for managing bookmarks are pretty terrible for anything other than basic use. Your best approach for serious work with Favorites is often just to open the \Windows\Favorites folder. Here are some tips for doing just that with a little style.

    Open Your Favorites
    The best way to open favorites from within Internet Explorer is to just type C:\WINDOWS\Favorites in the location bar and press Enter. That opens your Favorites right in the IE window. But here's a twist. Bookmark this window and call it "Open Favorites." You'll be able to access the folder as a regular Windows folder any time you want just by selecting Start Menu > Favorites > Open Favorites. And when you're working in IE, choosing it from the Favorites menu will open it right in the IE window. That works in Win98, Win98 SE, and Windows 2000.

    Explore Your Favorites
    If you're really serious about bookmarks management, the best way to handle it is with a two-paned Favorites Explorer window that opens directly to your \Windows\Favorites folder, shows all your favorites subfolders, and displays what's in each one as you click it. Drag-and-drop copies and moves of multiple favorites icons are a snap, and it's easy to rename things or check their dates. To set this up, right-click the desktop and choose New > Shortcut. In the command-line field, type or paste this line:

    C:\WINDOWS\EXPLORER.EXE /e,root,c:\windows\favorites

    That's my preferred way, but you can also use this variation:

    C:\WINDOWS\EXPLORER.EXE /e,/root,c:\windows\favorites

    Name the shortcut "Favorites Explorer." Now right-click the new shortcut and choose Properties. Click the Change Icon button. Click the Browse button, navigate to your \Windows\System folder, locate and highlight the SHELL32.DLL file, and click Open. That will display a large palette of available icons for your new shortcut. Scroll to the right and choose the icon that shows a folder with a blue asterisk or star on it; click OK twice in succession to finish the job. Whenever you launch this shortcut it will open a two-paned Explorer window with folder hierarchy on the left side automatically anchored to your Favorites folder. You should also place this one on your Favorites menu.

    More on FDISK /MBR
    SFNL reader Skip Harrison wrote with this to say in addition about last week's Tip of the Week:

    "FDISK /MBR can also be used to remove older boot track viruses. I have had several customers with kids who recently contracted old boot track viruses from sharing floppy disks brought home from school.
           "If the system does not have active floppy scanning enabled, then the virus will jump onto the hard disk when the floppy is accessed. None of the newer Windows-mode-only antivirus programs will remove these old viruses from the boot track of the hard disk as they do not even know they exist. They can usually be identified by right-clicking My Computer and clicking the Performance tab, where it will be reported that Windows 95/98 is running the hard disk in "compatibility mode." Sometimes Windows will report that the boot record has been modified and that it might have a virus, but that does not always happen.
           "I prepare a clean boot disk with COMMAND.COM, FDISK, and an AUTOEXEC.BAT file that automatically runs FDISK /MBR. This disk has the write-protect slider set to read-only so the virus does not jump off the hard disk onto the clean floppy. The customer can just boot off this disk, wait until the FDISK command has run, remove the floppy, then reboot, and the virus will be eradicated."

    Good tip, Skip.

    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.

    Back to the Top


    My Broadband Story
    I had my StarBand satellite dish properly stake-mounted today to the tune of $175 for parts and labor. Broadband Report readers may dimly remember that we used the cement-block and sled approach in January. The sled is about three feet by five feet. The reinstallation went off without a hitch -- other than the price. I worked with a local satellite dish installer, and StarBand had nothing to do with it.
           SpeakEasy.net continues to impress me with solid service that's both faster and more reliable than Flashcom's ever was. My only concern is that Covad is now a penny stock that appears to have been delisted from Nasdaq. What will happen to my connection if Covad goes belly up? A message from a SpeakEasy rep suggested there's a good chance I would be snapped up by another company. Hope so. Not sure who's left to do that any more though.
           In a recent issue I mentioned that AT&T Broadband has reneged on its verbal agreement with my town. Now the Board of Selectmen is considering a class-action lawsuit against AT&T, which keeps claiming it can't afford to build out the four towns in my area that are lumped together -- all without cable modem access -- but surrounded on most sides by towns that do have it. We waited a year for AT&T to complete its acquisition of these towns. Now they're asking us to wait another year because we're apparently a low priority.
           AT&T Broadband has another thing coming.

    Back to the Top


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