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May 29, 2001 - Vol. 1, No. 5

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Angry About Office XP Activation
  • More on SFNL's Business Model
  • In the News
  • Review: Norton Personal Firewall 2001 3.0  SFNL Top Product!
  • Update on ZoneAlarm 2.6
  • Amazing up-to-8Mbps Sprint ION DSL
  • The Windows XP Report
  • Network Know-How: Do Without NetBEUI
  • Reader Poll: Is SFNL Too Long?
  • Computer Savvy: Rule #1
  • Reader-to-Reader
  • Pegasus Express Good News
  • Link of the Week: Home PC Firewall Guide
  • Subscribe to or Unsubscribe from this newsletter.


    Angry About Office XP Activation
    For most of a week I've been waging a war with Office XP. Microsoft belatedly sent me an evaluation disc after I called up and grumbled. They should have sent it over a month ago. When the CD arrived, it had a Product ID number printed on the face of the disc. This is the "gold" version of the code, so the packaging isn't final. Normally the Product ID is on the jewel case. Even so, the gold software should operate exactly as the shrinkwrap version does that you'll find in stores beginning this week.

    I entered the 25-digit Product ID number on one of the earliest Setup screens, as requested. I opted to perform an "upgrade" installation of my existing Office 97 installation. After installation, and upon initial launch of any of the programs, I was faced with the Product Activation screen. When I agreed to "activate now," I was given the error message that this copy of Office XP has already been activated on another PC, and so it couldn't be activated on mine.

    Hmmmm. Apparently, Microsoft was giving out CDs with the same Product ID to multiple people. The Activation nag screens are annoying because a giant window opens each time you launch any Office program. After 50 launches without activation, MS Office XP won't let you launch any more. Under word, the activation nag screen occasionally seemed to conflict with an automatic Word .DOC-file virus scan running on my PC (probably in conjunction with Norton SystemWorks 2001). Said conflict could sometimes bring Word to its knees, causing it to flash its titlebar, the Microsoft Word-equivalent of "Danger, Danger, Will Robinson."

    I also had another very minor but to me annoying and strange problem. Under Word's Tools > Options > General tab there's a setting that lets you control the number of recently opened files that will appear at the bottom of the program's File menu. It's a little convenience that helps you re-open files more quickly. I've come to rely on it. For some reason, this setting was grayed out on the Word XP (or, more correctly, Word 2002) Tools > Options > General tab on my PC, and no recently opened files would appear on the Word File menu. For a while I assumed that I needed to activate or deactivate some other Word setting to make the Recently Used File List option available again, but there just wasn't anything that affected it.

    The Fix
    I decided to solve the product activation problem first. So I called the Product Activation support number. A very nice activation rep listened to my description of the problem, tried to activate my Office XP installation remotely, and got the same error message I had, whereupon she said she'd have to have a supervisor get back to me. This was on Thursday of last week. She promised I'd hear back from them by today. So far, no call back. Meanwhile, I called Microsoft's press relations folks to find out whether they'd forgotten to send me a separate Product ID. Turns out that was probably the case, although they never quite said that. Later on Thursday I received a new Product ID from Microsoft. But I decided to check around with a few colleagues whose primary focus is reviewing Office. They received Product IDs in a separate email message. From one of Microsoft's representatives, I learned that each Product ID most reviewers received is good for 10 product activations. The version of Office XP you buy in stores is good for two activations (and I believe you have to call Microsoft for the second one). So the reviewers aren't playing with the actual beast, and many of them may not even know that.

    My first Office XP installation took about three hours. The software setup is actually quite rapid -- faster than earlier versions. And the user-interface for Setup is excellent. Almost all that time was spent on importing my very large Eudora email database into Outlook. This is the first version of Outlook that hasn't choked on installing my Eudora database (which has only grown larger over the years). Figured I'd get those positive points in, because the rest is negative.

    The first note of dread about product activation was introduced when I learned that I would have to uninstall Office XP entirely and then reinstall it in order to use the new Product ID Microsoft sent me. I found myself immediately exasperated that Microsoft hadn't figured out a better way to change a Product ID number. What happened to how easy production activation was supposed to be for us all? But, wait, it gets worse.

    There was nothing for it but to uninstall Office XP, so I did. Losing all my Eudora data imported for Outlook in the process. I didn't bother to so much as run RegClean (Microsoft's Registry scrubbing tool) after I uninstalled Office XP and before reinstalling it. All I did was reboot and reinstall using the new Product ID. I didn't "upgrade" Office 97 this time, but I did do a custom install, opting to skip FrontPage and Access since I don't use either. This time around, product activation worked great. But I still had the annoying loss of the Recently Used File List. A quick check with a colleague showed that his Office XP installations were not lacking the Recently Used File List. So I knew something was wrong on my PC.

    I decided that the probable cause of the problem could be conflicting settings in Registry. Although it's less than six months old, my test PC has had Office 97, Office 2000, and now Office XP installed on it. I was also concerned that the original Office XP upgrade of Office 97 might have glommed onto something old and messed up in Word's NORMAL.DOT file. So I uninstalled Office XP all over again. While it was uninstalled, I ran RegClean 4.1a and Norton's WinDoctor (which among other things deletes abandoned and errant registry entries). I also cleaned out all Office files at and C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office. And I ran a search for the NORMAL.DOT file, renaming it wherever I found, just for the heck of it. Even though I knew WinDoctor would leave behind some Registry entries, I decided to stop there and run the installation again.

    The setup process appeared to go well. I opted this time to run the "Install Now" typical installation without any modification. The Product Activation routine detected that my machine was already properly activated from my previous installation, and so I need do nothing more. That's exactly what it should do.

    Teeth Gnashing
    So far so good, right? Here's where I really started grinding my teeth. Unfortunately, the grayed-out Recently Used File List was still grayed out. When a user interface item for a setting is grayed out, and no other setting affects it, it usually means trouble in the Registry. I ran through all the uninstall steps as described above. This time I deleted files related to Office in C:\Program Files\Common, C:\Windows\Application Data, and I did a manual edit of the Registry to remove unnecessary Office XP entries. Mostly I focused on the locations in Registry whose key names ended with /Software/Microsoft/Office. In these locations I found entries for Office 8, 9, and 10 (97, 2000, and XP). There was such a mish-mash of entries and leave-behinds, including some settings that sounded like they might directly apply to the problem.

    After running setup again, I found that product activation now thought I was trying to install on a different PC and refused to let me activate. Grrrrr! This is when steam began to issue from my ears, and it's exactly the reason why power users hate the idea of product activation in the first place. Something automatic that presumes to know what's right. Microsoft has proved over the years that it doesn't do "automatic" things well. And it's proved the point again in Office XP's activation function.

    Of course, power users will eventually prevail. It didn't take long to figure out that I'd deleted a folder from one of those shared application directories that's required by product activation. I simply restored it from Recycle Bin, and Office XP was in business again. Microsoft would say that it's my own fault for deleting things. Well, maybe. But until they stop shipping software that doesn't work right out of the box, I and many others will continue to try to fix it on our own.

    After all was said and done this time, Office XP is running okay. But that pesky Recently Used File List checkbox is still grayed-out, and there are one or two other quirks I'll go into next time. Microsoft support is on the case, so maybe they can figure it out.

    I'll report more on Office XP in weeks to come. If you're looking for a recommendation in the meantime, my initial reaction is: There's no compelling reason to jump into Office XP. I've come across several minor usability tweaks, but the bigger stuff like Task Panes and Smart Tags will be more annoying than helpful to experienced users. Unless you always have to get the next great thing, let people like me take the shake-down cruises.

    Back to the Top


    More on SFNL's Business Model
    I got more mail in response to last week's discussion about the present and future of SFNL's business model than for any other topic, and I want to clarify some of the points I made. By far the most popular response from those of you who wrote me was that it would be great if I offered a paid-subscription version of SFNL while keeping the free version too. Someday, I hope to do just that. Most of you suggested an amount between $10 and $15 per year for the paid version, which would include both a little additional content and an HTML option. I'll come back to this notion shortly.

    Last time I also unveiled the SFNL donation program using the PayPal online transaction system. More than 50 SFNL subscribers have taken advantage of that system to donate anywhere from $1.00 to $50.00 over the last two weeks. I'm really heartened by this response because, while I'm still in the red, the donations definitely help! Thank you to everyone who donated. I really mean it.

    I must have gotten 20 emails from people who said they'd like to donate, but would prefer not to use PayPal. Many asked for a snail-mail address. Okay, fair enough. I had been in the process of setting that up anyway, so I just found a faster way to do it. To facilitate donations, I've created a new document accessible from the SFNL website that tells you the poop on snail-mail contribution.

    To donate to Scot Finnie's Newsletter via letter mail, open this 1K text document in your browser and print it out.

    To donate via PayPal, visit SFNL's home page and click the "PayPal" donate button in the lefthand column.

    Thanks in advance for anything you can afford.

    Back to paid subscription. Unfortunately the economics of setting up a paid-subscription service will keep me from doing that until SFNL's subscriber list is larger than it is now. Fred Langa's list (for the LangaList newsletter) is several times larger than mine. The overhead involved with contracting financial companies to process Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards isn't trivial. And there's also the issue of managing the list of paid subscribers, which I would have to do myself by hand. Based on information that Fred has kindly supplied me, I've learned that the number of people who would likely subscribe to a future paid version of my newsletter wouldn't offset my costs -- both in terms of monthly outlay and the added time required to support the paid-subscription process. I'm keeping close tabs on this though. If the list gets big enough, I fully intend to offer a paid version. That's been my goal all along. But it's hard to predict when the list will be large enough. My best guess would be not for several months at least.

    That's why I'm focusing my efforts on acquiring new subscribers -- something that's already cost me money, and is likely to cost me more. So I threw the door open the door on donations to the newsletter as well as advertising. Observant readers may have noticed that this is the first issue of SFNL to have a paid advertisement (at the top of this message). I'm very happy about that because every ad and donation I receive makes it possible for me to continue writing this newsletter.

    Back to the Top


    In the News
    These news stories over the last couple of weeks caught my eye, and many are likely to interest you:

    Windows

  • AOL, MS to Finalize Deal for XP Real Estate (BetaNews)
  • Microsoft Details 64-Bit Windows Plans (BetaNews)
  • Snitch-a-Customer Program Was 'Stupid', Says Microsoft (TheRegister)
  • Windows XP Release Schedule Updated (BetaNews)
  • The Truth About Windows Activation (BetaNews)
  • Pocket PC Takes Off Past 1 Million Mark (MS PressPass)
  • MSN Explorer Rolls Out to More Than 30 Markets Worldwide (MS PressPass)
  • Microsoft Announces Launch Details for Xbox (MS PressPass)
  • Win XP Protection: It's the .NET, Stupid (TheRegister)
  • MS Tips Its Hand on Win XP Protection System (TheRegister)
  • The Truth About Redmond's Win XP Signed Driver Plans (TheRegister)
  • Microsoft Posts Warning over Easy CD Creator (TheRegister)
  • IBM Breakthrough to Quadruple Hard Disk Sizes (MSNBC)
  • Intel Bows 1.7 GHz Workstation Chip (InternetNews)

    Broadband

  • Microsoft: Upgrade Your Media Player (BetaNews)
  • He Said, She Said....Bells vs. Competitors (InternetWeek)
  • You've Got a Monthly Fee Increase (InternetNews)
  • Teligent Files for Chapter 11 Protection (InternetNews)
  • Bill for AOL Restructuring, Acquisition Nears $1 Billion (InternetNews)
  • IEEE Unable to Agree on 20+ Mbps 802.11g Standards (InternetNews)
  • RealNetworks, Microsoft in Mortal Kombat? (InternetNews)
  • Password Glitch Exposes DSL Subscribers (InternetNews)
  • Juno Settles FTC Charges; To Reimburse Customers (InternetNews)

    Back to the Top


    Review: Norton Personal Firewall 2001 3.0
    In the last issue of SFNL I introduced this review with some initial comments. I've spent two weeks testing Norton Personal Firewall 2001 v.3.0 on a couple of different PCs. I've run all the official SFNL firewall benchmarks and then some. To find out about the SFNL benchmarks, see this page on the website.

    There's good news and not quite so good news about this product. First of all, a wider of variety of users will be comfortable with its interface. What's more, there's a very real potential for ZoneAlarm users to misconfigure that firewall because that product's interface doesn't provide as clear just-in-time explanation and help. Misconfiguration is also less likely to happen with Norton Personal Firewall because it has three types of automatic configurations that should go a long way toward helping you to protect your computer, even if you don't know a lot about firewalls.

    When an application attempts to access the Internet, you train Norton Personal Firewall just as you would with ZoneAlarm. A dialog pops up asking you to decide whether to give the application access. In most cases, there's an automatic option that you can select. You can even opt to have the program automatically make educated access decisions for you based rules about applications Symantec compiled in advance. I've got mixed emotions about this functionality. On one hand, I recommend that experienced users steer clear of it. But if you know little about firewalls and the Internet, you might be better off using this feature than making uninformed guesses. In the early going, you'll see a lot of warning dialogs when applications like your browser, email program, FTP client, and so forth reach out to the Internet. The decisions you make on these dialogs definitely affect your overall level of security.

    The second automatic feature is the application scan. This routine automatically scans your entire PC for programs that are capable of accessing the Internet, and then you can make automatic or manual decisions about what access they should have. This isn't just a convenience feature, either. It's a key part of your outbound protection.

    The third automatic feature is the Security Wizard, which literally steps you through the process of configuring and managing the firewall. ZoneAlarm's wizard pales by comparison to this Norton routine, which really gets the job done.

    Another great automatic feature of Norton Personal Firewall 3.0 is called Auto-Block. I had to disable this feature in order to do the port-probe-scan portion of my benchmark testing. When Norton Personal Firewall's intrusion-detection technology detects a port scan, it automatically shuts down all access to the scanning party for 30 minutes.

    I also liked the fact that Norton Personal Firewall automatically integrated with Norton SystemWorks 2001, which I run normally on all my machines. It also integrates with standalone Norton AntiVirus 2001. Although not as robust in this area as ZoneAlarm, Norton Personal Firewall is also able to setup ranges of restricted or trusted IP addresses, which lets it provide a semblance of the "local zone." ZoneAlarm does a much better job of this, but at least Norton offers some basic options in this area.

    Norton Personal Firewall has built-in controls for managing spyware and Trojan horse programs, and it offers both logging and alerts on potential scans, intrusions, and attacks. The product also comes with one year of free firewall updates via Symantec's LiveUpdate online updating tool. The Norton product is also capable of blocking Java and ActiveX applets, at your option. There are also built-in privacy controls. You can upgrade this product to Norton Internet Security or Norton Internet Security Family Edition to add additional protection and features. For more information about what these three different products offer, see this webpage.

    The Rub
    I said up top there's also some not so good news too. Norton Personal Firewall did a nearly excellent job of protecting two PCs in my benchmark tests, but not an excellent job. Plain and simple, ZoneAlarm does a little better, and I judge it to be excellent at protection. There were two areas where Norton Personal Firewall fell down. Firstly, it gave up a half-notch more susceptibility on the Security Space test than all the best hardware and software firewalls I've tested over the last six months. Let's be clear that this is a small incremental difference, not a large one. It literally boiled down to one more UDP port being accessible to hackers than ZoneAlarm and others allow. But any difference is at least somewhat meaningful.

    Secondly, I had trouble initially with GRC's LeakTest. Something I did in configuring Norton Personal Firewall or some program I installed, probably afterward, is what likely caused the problem. I worked with Symantec to figure it out, and while haven't figured out the source of the problem, after about 45 minutes Norton Personal Firewall did successfully and repeatedly block LeakTest. The software firewall passed all my other standard benchmark tests with flying colors.

    Symantec has made the best of the AtGuard firewall it purchased. But I believe Zone Labs' security technology to be a touch better. ZA doesn't need an automatic-blocking feature to prevent intrusions. For me, to protect better out of the box. It's a close call, but right now I have to side with ZoneAlarm.

    Norton Personal Firewall is nevertheless a very good product that has improved very rapidly over the last year. It's rate of improvement is much higher than ZoneAlarm's. I find ZoneAlarm no more difficult to use, and perhaps even a bit easier to use now that I know both programs. Still, nine out of 10 people who've never used either product would choose Norton Personal Firewall 2001 3.0 as the easier of the two to learn. And because of its many well-crafted automatic features, I would recommend NPF to a wider range of less experienced users. If and when my mother asks which firewall to get, I'll probably recommend Norton Personal Firewall.

    I plan to continue using ZoneAlarm Pro 2.6. I just like it better. And ZoneAlarm is still a reigning SFNL Top Product. But sometimes there's room for two top products in a category, and I think this is a perfect example. Because Norton Personal Firewall 2001 3.0 does everything right, and especially because it's easy to use and so may be better suited to some people, it earns SFNL Top Product status.

  • SFNL Top Product, $42.95, Norton Personal Firewall 2001 3.0, Symantec Corp., 800-441-7234, key features. Lowest price from PC Connection. Note: There's a $20 rebate on this product until September 1, 2001.

    Back to the Top


    Update on ZoneAlarm 2.6
    Over the last few weeks I've received email from about 20 or so SFNL readers concerning troubles with ZoneAlarm 2.6, a few of which I talked about last time. Some of the problems were serious. When I contacted Zone Labs about this, the company immediately requested that I forward email from any readers having difficulty with ZoneAlarm 2.6 regular or Pro. I contacted everyone who had sent me mail on this point, and all gave me permission to forward their messages to Zone Labs. Zone Labs has been working on those problems for a couple of weeks now, and it has contact most of the SFNL readers. Many of you have written to tell me that your problems were resolved. Zone Labs wrote this message in response to the problems that I think you should take a look at:

    "Thank you, Scot, for gathering these comments and allowing us to respond. We've examined all the questions you sent and have resolved the users' problems or in some cases are still working with some users to reproduce and then resolve issues.

    "The problems you forwarded concerned installation, incompatibility with other software, pricing and licensing questions, or relate to an issue we are still investigating.

    "One thing I should point out as a general observation is that since we 'hardened' security at the operating system level, ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro load earlier in the boot process. As a result, some configuration issues can occur. This can vary, depending on the version of Windows that is on the PC and on other programs that are loading on that PC.

    "As to the Installation questions, these problems can be traced to combinations of our software, the Alert logs they've generated in the past, and to various versions of Windows and/or other software on the user's PC.

    "In some versions of ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro, the Alert logs do not get uninstalled (this is to make sure that re-installation of that software version can be done easily, if necessary). When version 2.6 was installed over that previous version, an incompatibility resulted with the log. Again, this situation can vary depending on the version of Windows that is being used and/or other software on their system. In some cases, the Uninstall process corrects the problem and version 2.6 can then be installed and operated without any further problems. For some situations, the Uninstaller needs to be augmented with some manual uninstall steps.

    "We have posted these instructions on our website for ZoneAlarm and for ZoneAlarm Pro. You can also reach tech support via email.

    "Due to the large volume of upgrades and resulting questions that always accompany a new release, our Tech Support folks have been busier than usual. We apologize to those readers who have had to wait for a response.

    "In terms of incompatibilities with other software, one of your readers was having an issue with a stock-charting program. We believe this issue has to do with recent updates to the stock-charting program and have contacted that company about the issue.

    "In terms of pricing and licensing questions, we solved issues with two readers by contacting them directly. In both cases, the customers' questions were answered to their satisfaction. They've helped us to identify some places where we've needed to clarify our Customer Service policies and/or to communicate our pricing and licensing policies more clearly. For the record, the purchase of ZoneAlarm Pro buys the software plus a year's worth of updates and new versions. When the 12 months are up, if the user chooses not to buy the next upgrade (or to 'renew their subscription'), their existing software is still fully operational.

    "Finally, one or two of your readers had problems which we are not able to reproduce and thus, to solve. These include the gentleman with the Roadrunner connection as well as the gentleman with the 'slow PC' problem. In both these cases, we've contacted the customer directly so we can gather more information in hopes of isolating and solving the problem." --Te Smith, Zone Labs

    Back to the Top


    Amazing up-to-8Mbps Sprint ION DSL
    In the last issue I talked about the Sprint Broadband Direct two-way fixed wireless broadband service, which recently rolled out to 14 cities.

    But Sprint ION is something much better. I want to thank SFNL regular Antony Tovar for drawing my attention back to Sprint ION, a service I haven't mentioned since sometime last year. Because Sprint ION DSL delivers bandwidth to drool over -- up to 8Mbps downstream -- and Sprint has gotten serious this year about delivering it. If you're really lucky, you'll be in the right town and close enough to your phone company's "central office" (or CO) to be eligible for Sprint ION. If you are that lucky, you could find yourself cruising the 'Net at anywhere from 2Mbps to 6Mbps on average.

    Right now, consumers in eight lucky cities have potential to sign-up for Sprint's ION DSL data-plus-voice (telephone) service. Those towns are Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Houston, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego, California; and Phoenix, Arizona. According to Sprint ION consumer public relations manager Angie Makkyla, Sprint ION for consumers will roll out to seven or eight more U.S. cities this year. Sprint's long-term plans project eventual availability in something like 85 cities. So this isn't some isolated service that only a few people will ever get.

    I did a little snooping around, and these additional cities are some of the ones I believe Sprint ION is rolling out to this year: Chicago, San Jose, Orlando, San Antonio, Tempe, and perhaps additional areas in Colorado.

    A business version of Sprint ION is provided as well, and the company says the business offering is available nationwide. Sprint ION for business does not necessarily come with DSL-based telephone service, and from what I can gather, it uses a much wider variety of technologies designed to ramp up from small businesses to very large corporations. For more information about the business version, see Sprint ION's business website.

    Details on Consumer ION
    Near as I can tell, the costs for consumer Sprint ION range from $50 to $165 a month, depending on performance level, number of telephone lines, and number of long distance minutes on the telephone. This telephone requirement is apparently the Achilles' heel of Sprint ION. Numerous early adopters have reported extensive trouble with the phone service, as reported in this forum area of DSLReports.com (a past Broadband Report Link of the Week).

    My recommendation is that you only get one phone line (the "Sprint ION xt1" service level, around $105 a month in most markets) and basically treat the phone line as a novelty for now. Don't replace your existing phone lines with this service.

    As with Sprint's fixed wireless service, Sprint ION installation fees vary depending on your term of commitment. With no commitment, you'll pay $200, with a one-year commitment the charge is $100, and with a two-year commitment installation is free. Some additional fees may apply, and this varies from service area to service area. Sprint will also configure your home LAN for you optionally, if you want, as part of installation. They use PNA and they're planning to offer wireless in the near future. Here's a summary of the service agreement.

    This FAQ about the consumer service should answer many of your questions about the service. But here are some additional points: Sprint uses EarthLink as its ISP, and that means you get analog dial-up service as part of the bargain. You could even keep your current dial-up ISP. The company also takes a liberal stance toward sharing your access with multiple PCs, and most VPNs will work with it. As part of the service, you'll get specialized modem hardware packaged by Sprint. It includes support for the voice services.

    How ION Works
    Several SFNL readers have written asking me what it is about Sprint ION's DSL service that makes it faster than other DSL services. Sprint has a website devoted to explaining its technology. But the truth is much simpler. Most DSL companies cap their service. Sprint doesn't. DSL has always been capable of 8Mbps (or even higher) data-transfer rates. But keep in mind, even though DSL provides you a dedicated line to your central office (minimizing sharing of bandwidth with your neighbors), sooner or later the bandwidth is shared when it reaches the primary pipe your provider uses to reach the Internet backbone. Sprint has the advantage of being a major player in the telecom industry across the U.S. It's a long distance company and a local phone company in some areas. By uncapping the service and stepping up standards, it's able to deliver better performance in limited markets. To some extent, this is a marketing position because Sprint's DSL is really no different than anyone else's. But don't tell that to Sprint ION customers who are routinely seeing 2Mbps to 6Mbps throughput downstream, with 3Mbps second being common. They're just happy to be beneficiaries of the best bandwidth bargain on the planet.

    Performance
    Upstream performance is capped with Sprint ION Direct. One reader reports he gets up to 1Mbps upstream, but many other say it's less. Some people truly are getting 8Mbps, although it doesn't sustain at that data-transfer rate for very long. As with any DSL service, the key to high service levels is a clean, short line between your computer and the phone company's central office. To get 8Mbps service, you'll probably need to be under 4,000 feet to the CO (SFNL's estimate). Until recently, Sprint ION's maximum distance to the CO was about 12,000 feet. The company is now extending that ring to about 14,000 feet.

    Not everyone in a given Sprint ION city can qualify for the service. What's more, not every CO in some of these large cities is actually enabled for DSL. You can check this out on the Sprint website by entering your zip code. For additional info, there's a fledgling unofficial users site for Sprint ION you might want to check out.

    Sprint ION DSL is not available in SFNL territory for 2001, unfortunately, although I get the sense that it might be in one of the 85 metropolitan areas the company hopes to serve eventually. It doesn't look like I'll be able to test it myself any time soon, though.

    Therefore, if you have this service or are about to get it, please write me with your experiences.

    Back to the Top


    The Windows XP Report
    This week I have a small collection of updates, links, and information about Windows XP. First, I'm hearing that Microsoft is getting close to releasing RC1. I don't have a specific date, but early June appears to be a possibility. (Another source places the release date as June 15.) I expect to receive this build of the operating system, and I will report on it as soon as I can. So stay tuned to future issues of SFNL.

    Last time I wrote about a strong rumor I'd heard that Microsoft had frozen Windows XP's device driver pack with Beta 2. I've received conflicting follow-up information about that. Microsoft adamantly maintains through its public relations agency that it did not freeze the device driver pack with Beta 2. Does the company mean that it is still accepting newer versions of the existing drivers in the pack? Or does it mean that it is continuing to accept drivers for additional devices not included with the Beta 2 pack? I didn't get that kind of detail. What the company did say is that the rumor is false.

    That's one side of the question. The other side is reports from about half a dozen Windows XP beta testers who tell me that Microsoft did, in fact, indicate to them that the device driver pack was frozen to additional devices with the Beta 2 code. According to those reports, Microsoft would continue to refine the drivers that are there, but wasn't planning to add many or any devices.

    It's possible that Microsoft initially planned to seal off the driver pack when Beta 2 shipped, but it opened the door again when it decided not to ship XP until October 25. So the rumor might have been true at one time, but just isn't any longer true.

    The last couple of releases of Windows have followed a similar path, wherein it appeared drivers were locked down too early and too few were included. Even Windows 98 dropped a bunch of older drivers from its roster to the annoyance of many at the time. Windows 2000, in particular, seemed under-prepared for the devices it was running with.

    A couple of other points: I've already written more about the wireless features in Windows XP than most other reviewers -- which should be no surprise given that this newsletter and the Broadband Report have covered many wireless products. Microsoft sent me an interesting link this week about wireless technology in Windows XP that I want to pass along. In addition to finding summaries of wireless support in Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows Me, you'll also find online white papers about how to enable 802.11 WiFi networks under XP and related materials.

    I'd like to pass along one other bit of information about XP this week. The Microsoft networking protocol NetBEUI will not be supported by Windows XP. According to Microsoft it is "a legacy protocol being obsoleted by the use of TCP/IP in virtually all networks today." Actually, I'd argue that point. Not so much that NetBEUI's use is on the wane, it clearly is. It's just not being made redundant by TCP/IP, per se. TCP/IP has become the dominant networking protocol in general, both on the Internet, the use it was intended for, and also on local area networks. And, well, that's a great segue to this week's "Network Know How" item.

    Back to the Top


    Network Know-How: Do Without NetBEUI
    For years I've run my Windows peer networks with TCP/IP and the NetBEUI protocol. As a secondary network layer running with TCP/IP, NetBEUI can add a bit of security on some networks when configured properly. It also provides more network reliability, because TCP/IP sometimes hiccups. Microsoft used to recommend NetBEUI (which is a Microsoft protocol that dates back to LanMan) for mixed Windows version environments -- especially where NT-derivative and Win9x-derivative OSes are running together.

    But all that is about to change. Windows XP will not support NetBEUI. I've also found that wireless networks that run either TCP/IP only or TCP/IP and NetBEUI can have intermittent trouble with standard file transfers. But there's an alternative to NetBEUI that works just fine.

    If you add IPX/SPX (the version available with Windows from Microsoft) and then enable NetBIOS on the IPX/SPX properties sheet (in the Network Control Panel), the wireless networking problem goes away. And IPX/SPX with NetBIOS provides the same advantages that NetBEUI does over TCP/IP on its own.

    For all these reasons, I made this small change on every workstation in the SFNL Labs. I recommend you do the same on your small network.

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    Reader Poll: Is SFNL Too Long?

    Hey I can answer my own question. Scot Finnie's Newsletter is most definitely very long by newsletter standards. But the question is, do you mind? Would you miss things if the newsletter were shorter? Does the newsletter contain information you could do without? I want to get this right. For nearly two years I've been writing one long newsletter a week. Now I'm writing every other week -- covering Windows and Broadband in one issue. Believe it or not, I'm having to cut a lot of information every time. I'm thinking about cutting out even more.

    I need your input and opinion on that point. Below are two email links. Please click the one that more closely matches your view about the length of the newsletter. Do not worry at all about telling me the truth if you find it too long, I don't mind. So here's the question:

    Is Scot Finnie's Newsletter Too Long?

    Yes It's Too Long.

    No It's Not Too Long.

    You don't have to write anything when you cast your vote. Just send a blank message if you want. Or, if you've got a minute, please tell me which parts of the newsletter you prefer and which parts you could do without. I'm talking about recurring items like Q&A, My Broadband Story, Reader-to-Reader, Windows Report, Reviews, In the News, Product Beat, Tip of the Week, Link of the Week, and so forth.

    Thanks for taking a minute to let me know what you think.

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    Computer Savvy: Rule #1
    Readers of my now dormant newsletter Windows Insider may recall my ongoing "Windows Wisdom" series. What they may not know is that the whole "Windows Wisdom" notion started as a column I wrote for Access Magazine called "Computer Savvy." When I parted from Access early last year, Editor Stephanie Chang gave me permission to use the "Computer Savvy" and concept elsewhere. So I'm picking it back up for SFNL.

    Windows Wisdom entries have offered advice from the school of computer hard knocks. They're the everyday bits of wisdom that experienced computer users live by often without realizing it.

    I'm kicking off Computer Savvy with the help of reader Eric Somberg. Eric sent me something to tack on to my Rule Number One. First, though, let me recap:

    Rule No. 1: When Troubleshooting, Eliminate the Variables
    When computer troubles crop up, they often occur in conjunction with newly installed software or hardware. A problem may not seem to be related to a recent change on your system, but the smart money assumes that it probably is. To troubleshoot the problem, start by eliminating the variables. If you just added a piece of hardware, check Device Manager to make sure it's properly installed and the driver is working. If all else fails, remove the piece of hardware. You're checking to see it the new problem you encountered goes away.

    The same is true of software. If you just installed some, uninstall it. If that didn't fix things, what about that program you installed last week? In fact, why not take this opportunity to uninstall all those apps you never use? This is something you should do periodically even when you don't have problems. Get to know Windows' Add/Remove Programs Control Panel applet. Use it.

    Here's Eric's addition: To avoid problems in the future, do not add more than one application at one time. In other words, install a new program, reboot, and live with it for a while before installing another program. By following this rule, you'll be able to figure out which application started causing the problem. And that makes troubleshooting a whole lot easier. Eric also recommends using the "Custom" installation option (when available) instead of the "Typical" setup option. His point being that under custom, you should look for overly complicated things you don't need, and turn them off in advance of installation.

    For an example of that concept, see Windows Insider's advice on how to install Symantec's Norton SystemWorks.

    If you've got a solid rule of thumb for computing, send it my way like Eric did.

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    Reader-to-Reader
    The Reader-to-Reader section is the part of SFNL where I publish information directly from readers, for readers -- without mediating that information. That can sometimes make Reader-to-Reader the place to hear about things first. But it also means that the information hasn't been checked by me. I have, of course, exercised editorial judgment in selecting the items that appear here.

    BIOS Spying on You
    Something this morning came through from my MVP peers that I thought needs passing on. I find this most disturbing and wanted you to look it over. Seems some will stop at nothing to "spy" on us. Take a look at the
    PhoenixNet-Enabled System Boards on the market today. In the FAQ section of the PheonixNet website, note the question: "What is the difference between installing a PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard and a non-PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard?" The answer reads:

    'If your computer is built with a PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard, a portion of the PhoenixNet software resides safely within the BIOS ROM (Read Only Memory). PhoenixNet solutions launch automatically at the initial start-up of your new PC and it sets the home page and search page default based on system settings detected on the computer. If you don't have a PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard, PhoenixNet software is available on the CD-ROM containing the motherboard drivers. If you decide to pre-install PhoenixNet software for your end-user, the home page and search page will be automatically set up the first time the end-user connects to the Internet.'

    Now read about the data PhoenixNet BIOS collects and what it's used for. I don't believe most users will ever know it's there. If I understand this correctly, we've got BIOS level spying and advertising, and even potentially spam from PhoenixNet's "partners." That means you can't get rid of it without flashing your BIOS. And where do the flashes come from? The same company that implanted this garbage in the first place. --George Aker, MS [MVP-DTS]

    Response: Indeed it looks the same way to me, George. And several other SFNL readers have written me alarmed about this too. I'm still trying to reach PhoenixNet for comment, but until I do, I think the best advice we can give is that people should avoid buying PCs or motherboards using a PhoenixNet BIOS. Unfortunately, the list of motherboard makers on the PhoenixNet site is long and filled with recognizable names. --S.F.

    StarBand Disaster
    My StarBand system is a disaster! Have you tried to enter a secure site, such as banking or bill paying? You could walk to the bank, have lunch on the way and pay the bills in pennies before the logon screen come up on StarBand! The worst insult was that I added the service to my existing Dish Network Account and the installer cancelled my existing account and then wrote up a new account separately for StarBand then another one for Dish Network! When I confronted Dish Network with this they demanded I pay the balance of my cancelled account plus then pay a two-month advance to reactivate satellite TV in addition to the two-month advance for StarBand. I believe we will wind up in litigation shortly. --Thomas Gamon

    Response: I've come to believe that StarBand service varies widely from region to region. I am able to logon to my bank's secure site in only a few seconds. The other stuff you describe sounds inexcusable to me, but also more related to EchoStar (Dish Networks). I sincerely hope it is resolved. If that happened to me I would be livid. --S.F.

    USB and DSL Don't Mix
    In the
    Q&A section of SFNL's 5-01-2001 edition, you gave suggestions on how to share a DSL connection with a USB modem from Ameritech. I would strongly suggest to Mike Willett to not even set-up the USB modem. I to have Ameritech DSL without the USB modem. I have heard nothing but problems with USB connections, everything from slower performance to Mike's problem. If he can't convince Ameritech to change to the Westell Wirespeed, he should take matters into his own hands and buy a Westell Wirespeed on eBay. Just a suggestion. --Robert Schwedler

    Mac User's Broadband Router Quest
    After only a short time with my new cable modem connection, I decided to add a broadband router for increased security and as a way to connect my two Macs and share my cable connection to the Internet. I went to the PracticallyNetworked.com website (a past SFNL Link of the Week) and read the postings about both the MacSense and Asante routers. Both products are Mac friendly. Even though the Asante received more positives, I chose the MacSense MIH-130A XRouter Pro. When I couldn't get the MacSense to work, however, I returned it and picked up the Asante FR3400C Cable/Router instead.

    After unpacking the Asante I looked through the owner's manual and was very impressed with it. I followed the directions, connecting everything similarly to the way I had connected the MacSense and booted up my two Macs. All the status LEDs on the router looked normal, so I ran my Web browser and tested my access. Everything worked -- right out of the box.

    I've had the Asante now for over two weeks and haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary. Some Asante FR3400C owners have reported that it tends to get warm to the touch, but mine's as cool as a cucumber. I've had no lock-ups or any other surprises so I am totally pleased with the hardware and its documentation. I would recommend this router without hesitation to Macintosh users everywhere. --Gerry Moravec

    Dish Network
    I've had experience with Dish Network and would like to point out that the company will not mediate any disagreements between its customers and its installers. Dish Network's policy is: "Take it up with them," or so I was told when I was badly ripped off by a retailer in my area. My installers were totally incompetent and the owner was only interested in unit sales. StarBand lists the same dealer as being qualified to install StarBand. I have serious doubts that anyone in this installer company's employ has technical knowledge of PCs or the various problems likely to arise when installing these systems. The details of my installation prompt me to suggest that not only should a potential user ask about dish aiming but *all* the relevant questions they can think of! Perhaps a call to the Better Business Bureau would also be appropriate. Rural areas have their own unique set of problems, but luckily there are other dealers in my area. Keep up the great work. --Bernie Broster, Georgia

    StarBand Experience
    I've had StarBand for a month. Using a USB 180 modem through a Windows 98 SE System Hub with Win Proxy and Zone Alarm Pro. I have six systems networked including Apple Air Port, a G4, and the rest PC's running Windows 98 SE/2000/Me.

    Downtime is very minimal now, if not negligible. StarBand is slowly coming up to speed on several problems. My data-transfer rates range from 234kbps to as high as a record 2,122kbps for 5MB transfers. Not too bad! Average is around 667kbps. StarBand's speed test is really off the wall! Obviously peak speed results for a 512k transfer.

    I've encountered several issues regarding 3DES and various website encryption schemes. There are still serious performance and other problems with many secure sites. And the email system stinks. They are using Pronto Mail servers, which were never a good mail service. --Michael Sinclair

    Have you found out something that others should know about? Give it to them!
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    Pegasus Express Good News
    Just when I thought I wasn't going to get Pegasus Express, the company called me out of the blue to schedule installation. Barring any unforeseen problems (as in, they can't find the right part of the sky with the disk from any part of my yard), I should have the two-way satellite Pegasus Express (using DirecPC) up and running in about three weeks. Probably right after the next issue. I'll keep you posted. Not long after that, I'll probably be removing StarBand from the SFNL test labs. So if you have any last minute questions about StarBand, let 'em rip. Although, let it be known, that for a while anyway, there'll be an extra dish here. Nevermind what my "editor" has to say about it. (Editor's note: At the risk of seeming predictable, you're darn tootin' StarBand will be removed from the, ah, "SFNL Labs." Anymore paraphernalia on that side of the house and I wouldn't be able to show my face in the neighborhood. They'll think we're hooked up to a spy satellite for sure. --Cyndy) [Heh, heh. I think I finally found a way to get the last word in. The heck with the neighbors! If StarBand hadn't called and told me they were pulling the plug at the end of June, we would too have a third satellite dish on the side of the house! --Scot]

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    Link of the Week: Home PC Firewall Guide
    Henry Markus's Home PC Firewall Guide is an excellent resource for all things firewall and security. Like the best independent Internet publishers, Henry is source agnostic. If he finds a review of a product that he thinks is worthy, he'll link to it -- no matter what. That means you'll always find something interesting at Home PC Firewall Guide. If you're interested in broadband security, I guarantee you'll find interesting information at this website.

    Bonus Link: Microsoft Clippy
    I actually laughed out loud looking at Microsoft's Office Clippy website. The link was given to me by a Microsoft tech support rep. If you hate Office's animated paper clip as much as I do, be sure to play the Staple Clippy game. Because Microsoft is supposedly sending Clippy packing (although he's all over Office XP by default again), check out Clippy's resume. They even got Gilbert Gottfried to be the voice of Clippy in the games and animations. Someone with an excellent sense of humor at Microsoft built this website. You're sure to get some yucks out of it.

    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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