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Scot’s Newsletter

Windows and Broadband Information You Can Use!

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June 12, 2001 - Vol. 1, No. 6

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Link of the Week: Real-World Denial-of-Service Attacks
  • Let's Get the Word Out!
  • Office XP vs. Tweak UI
  • Review: Ositis Software's WinProxy 4.0
  • ZoneAlarm vs. Norton Personal Firewall
  • Netgear FR314 Firewall Router Follow-up
  • Poll Results: Is SFNL Too Long?
  • Product Beat: Web Browser Recorder
  • Reader-to-Reader: Get Real About Trojans
  • Results of the SFNL Donation Drive
  • Windows and Broadband Q&A
  • Computer Savvy: Rule #2
  • My Broadband: Pegasus Express and AT&T Broadband
  • Tip of the Week: Repair ISP 'Branding' in IE and Outlook Express
  • My Day Job: TechWeb.com
  • Subscribe, unsubscribe, or change your address.


    Link of the Week: A Real Account of Denial-of-Service Attacks
    Fascinating. Eerie. A wake-up call. Must reading. On May 4, Steve Gibson's GRC.com came under a distributed denial-of-service attacks from 474 bot ("zombie") PCs orchestrated by a 13-year-old with the handle "Wicked." I'm a big Steve Gibson fan, but this is the best thing Steve has ever published on his website. He recounts in detail the attacks, which continued for several days, and what he did to thwart them — including the infiltration of an IRC chat room from which unwitting IRC bot PCs were being directed. It's the most interesting security story I've ever read.

    About those 474 bot PCs? They're the Windows PCs of people like you and me who have always-on connections to the Internet, but who aren't running a solid firewall like ZoneAlarm. And there are thousands of PCs that are "zombies," and their owners don't know it.

    You will learn something from this story, and I highly recommend that you read it all the way through, long though it is. Toward the end you'll find information about how to detect IRC bot infection and also personal firewalls that successfully thwart attacks or fail at protecting you from this threat.

    Several SFNL readers wrote to suggest that I check out this story, including Jason Levine, Antony Tovar, Dean Adams, Michael Dollbaum, Michael Horowitz, Charles Gibson, and Stew Bottorf. Thanks!

    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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    Let's Get the Word Out!
    Let's get the word out about Scot’s Newsletter. Boosting subscriptions is the key to SFNL's long-term success. If you think the newsletter is worthy and you're associated with a PC user group, run a website, or are part of a company, institution, or organization in which you have the option to republish all or part of this newsletter — I need your help. Normally, you need written permission from me to republish any part of Scot’s Newsletter. But on a one-time basis, I'm granting blanket permission to anyone who would like to promote the newsletter by printing any part of it. There are only a few rules to this:

    1. You must publish at least an entire section (Tip of the Week, Office XP vs. Tweak UI, etc.). No editing is permitted. This deal applies to anything from any of the six Scot’s Newsletters published to date. (This does not apply to Windows Insider or the Broadband Report.)

    2. I ask that you credit me, Scot Finnie, as the author, and that you publish the URL to either to the main newsletter home page or the new subscription center (your choice):

    Scot’s Newsletter Home Page:
    http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/

    Scot’s Newsletter Subscription Center:
    http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/subcenter/subscribe.htm

    3. This is a one-time deal. In other words, you (that is, your group or organization) can republish me once without written permission, so long as you follow rules 1 and 2 above.

    If you're interested in republishing any part of Scot’s Newsletter on an ongoing basis, please email me for permission. Be sure to include details about what you want to republish, how you're publishing, who your audience, and so forth.

    Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

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    Office XP vs. Tweak UI
    Last time I wrote about some minor but frustrating issues I was having with Office XP. Altogether I've come across four separate issues with Word 2002. Two of those issues have been solved, and two continue. None is serious, but that's a lot of problems to encounter within minutes after installing a new version of Office. Here's the report card.

    Two Fixed Problems
    Microsoft's tech support folks have been working pretty hard on fixing the four problems. Literally about half an hour before I sent the May 29 issue of Scot’s Newsletter, MS tech support contacted me with an explanation for the problem I was having with the grayed out Word 2002 Tools > Options > General > Recently used file list setting. (It was too late to include that information in the newsletter, unfortunately.) The setting in question permits file names of recently opened files to appear at the bottom of the File menu. It lets you bypass the File > Open dialog and go directly to frequently accessed files. It's a convenience feature, but one it turns out I use a lot more than I realized.

    The problem is caused by a conflict between Word 2002 and a specific setting in Tweak UI 1.33 (the latest version). The setting is found on Tweak UI's IE tab. The trouble occurs when you remove the checkmark beside "Add new documents to Documents on Start Menu," which happens to be one of the more popular Tweak UI options.

    When Microsoft tech support contacted me, they provided a link to the Microsoft Knowledgebase article Q284896. (Several SFNL readers subsequently sent me the link to this KB article, by the way, and I want to thank them for that.)

    The article describes the behavior I was seeing as a known problem and provides the "workaround" that people should just add the checkmark in Tweak UI. Doing that solved my problem, and I've been working with Word 2002 this way ever since.

    At first I was told that Microsoft had no intention of fixing the conflict since Tweak UI is an unsupported product. I pointed out that Tweak UI is very popular with moderate to advanced Windows users, and that this would cause a ruckus. While it's not promising anything, Microsoft has decided to escalate the issue and see if it can locate the problem and possibly fix it in a future Office XP hot fix.

    My other fixed Word 2002 problem had to do with the appearance of the words "Requesting virus scan" in Word 2002's status bar every time I launched the program. For about five to ten seconds after launch, I would see these words in the status bar, and the program wouldn't respond during that five-to-ten-second time period. It turns out that the steps described in Microsoft KB article Q243579 that deals with a conflict between Norton SystemWorks 2000 and Office 2000 solved this problem for me.

    Interestingly, I'm running Norton SystemWorks 2001, not 2000. I suggested to Microsoft that it should update the existing Knowledgebase article, but it doesn't sound like they're planning to do that.

    Two Ongoing Problems
    I've experienced two other problems with Word 2002, only one of which I mentioned last time. The first is far more annoying. When I launch Word 2002 and immediately open any dialog box, the program effectively locks up. The dialog box doesn't appear, and Word's title bar begins to flash in helplessness. Clicking anything in the Word 2002 window has no effect. If you click the program button for Word 2002 in the taskbar (which also flashes), the program window minimizes and then the dialog you requested opens.

    Microsoft tech support was able to locate a pertinent Knowledgebase article Q286857 WD2002: Dialog Box Doesn't Open After Quick Launch.

    Essentially, the workaround was to click the program button for Word 2002 on the taskbar. In other words, Microsoft decided to accept this improper functionality.

    I argued a bit on this one too, and Microsoft did accept this problem for escalation and possible fix as well. Again, no promises, but the company is hopeful of a repair sometime in July.

    The last problem I experienced seems to me to be related to these other problems. It's a intermittent problem wherein the drag-and-drop lower-right corner of the Word 2002 program window behaves oddly. I'm referring to the little upside-down triangle of diagonal ridges where you can place your mouse pointer and than drag and drop to resize the Word window. It becomes much harder to consistently grab this "friction pad" with your mouse pointer sometimes. I described this tiny problem in detail to Microsoft tech support's Janice White who "got" what I was saying, and spent some time figuring it out. She was able to reproduce the problem, and it turns out that it also has a Tweak UI connection.

    As far as I know, this minor problem has not been added to the escalation list. I didn't get notification that it had been added, but if they fix the other problems, there's a good chance this one will be fixed too.

    Several of you have written me to take issue with my Office XP comments so far or to agree with them. I intend to cover some of the Office XP heralded features (which don't float *my* boats that much), and also to give you a list of lesser features that I do like quite a bit next time. So stay tuned. If you're using Office XP and want to send me your thoughts about it, send them here.

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    Review: Ositis Software's WinProxy 4.0
    Ositis gets an A for technology, but a C+ for usability with WinProxy 4.0. And, okay, I admit it — I don't much like software DHCP products. But WinProxy 4.0 hasn't improved its DHCP management in the slightest over WinProxy 3.0, which I reviewed in the Broadband Report back in September of last year.

    As I wrote in the 3.0 review, WinProxy can do everything that a hardware NAT/DHCP broadband router hardware can do, plus it adds a bunch of additional features — all for $59.95 for three concurrent users. For example, site restrictions based on controversial content types are useful in both business and home settings. While I don't use this feature, WinProxy can block Web site banner ads. There are also built-in proxy caching, logging, and user-access-restriction features. The product also supports StarBand, but Ositis has an optimized version of WinProxy for that Internet service.

    The big news in new features with WinProxy 4.0 is automatic notification and alerting. For example, a network administrator could set up WinProxy 4.0 so if an outgoing virus was detected WinProxy would send a custom message to the network administrator's pager, an email alert to his desk, and an email to the originator's PC with a custom message telling them to shut down immediately.

    One of the best built-in features is antivirus checking of multiple Internet protocols, including HTTP (Web), FTP (file transfer), POP3 (inbound email), and SMTP (outbound email). The outbound check is new for version 4.0. The latest version also adds VPN support.

    WinProxy provides built-in firewall protection, and that starts with transparent proxy services, something most other firewalls don't boast. (Transparent proxy is one reason WinProxy gets an A for technology.)

    In my standard firewall tests, WinProxy scored okay as a basic firewall. I ran the firewall features in default mode. You can crank them up higher, but when I did so, I found that some of my programs stopped working properly. That's one of the tenets of my firewall testing — that a long list of common Internet programs must be working properly before I run the firewall tests, such as email, ftp client, instant messaging, PPTP VPN, and several others. One aspect of WinProxy's usability troubles is that its firewall doesn't help you train it to accept certain application types. In fact, the dialogs that control many parts of WinProxy are downright arcane.

    To learn more about how SFNL tests firewalls, please see the SFNL Firewall Test Methodology page.

    WinProxy 4.0 managed to show full stealth on all common ports. (I had to use the SyGate SOS Stealth test because Gibson's Shield's Up and Port Probe tests are down right now.) But on my standard HackerWhacker.com and Security Space tests, WinProxy's firewall didn't fare very well. It had more open ports than any firewall I've ever tested, and it's overall score within the Security Space test showed it as being marginal. WinProxy shouldn't be your primary firewall.

    Sticking Point
    The big downside to WinProxy is that it runs as a Windows service, which adds several disadvantages: 1. It uses additional system resources on the "server" PC. 2. Unlike a broadband router, it requires you to turn on the server PC in order gain Internet access from any other PC on your network. 3. In my experience, software-based DHCP is flaky. It took me about 90 minutes to make 10 PCs properly access the Internet with WinProxy 4.0. I routinely accomplish the same feat with virtually any broadband router device in less than 20 minutes. Internet performance is also a tad slower (based on subjective assessment).

    But even that isn't the worst. WinProxy sometimes causes my server machine to hiccup, forcing five-to-ten-second freezes, brief Internet access interruptions, and I even saw one blue screen. My opinion of this product hasn't changed since the last time I tested it: It's just not 100 percent stable and reliable.

    That's a big negative, I know. But WinProxy continues to be an excellent bargain. For the lowdown on WinProxy 4.0 pricing on first-time purchases and also upgrades from previous versions, see this Ositis page.

    Version 4.0 is somewhat better version 3.0, and it's the best software-based Internet-connection-sharing peer-network-IP-assignment product I've tested. But it's still not good enough for me to recommend whole-heartedly. For straight NAT/DHCP services, you're just plain better off doing it with a hardware product such as the SMC Barricade, Linksys EtherFast, or Netgear RT314. WinProxy may be the best alternative, however, for people who have USB-based broadband services.

  • $59.95 (three users), WinProxy 4.0, Press Release, Ositis Software, 888-946-7769.

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    ZoneAlarm vs. Norton Personal Firewall
    Over the last three to four weeks SFNL readers have written about their personal experiences with Norton Personal Firewall and ZoneAlarm. Here are some of things people have said that everyone should know about.

    ZA Trojan Vulnerability?
    I recently read about a vulnerability in ZoneAlarm at the SecuriTeam.com site. Essentially, a Trojan with a little bit of code in it can shut down or prevent ZA from loading, thus leaving the computer open to attack or to be used as a "zombie." The SecuriTeam page states:

    ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro can be stopped from loading by creating a memory-resident Mutex (using a call to the CreateMutex API). Uninstalling [and] reinstalling ZoneAlarm in a different path has no effect. The impact of this vulnerability is that a Trojan running on a victim's machine can prevent ZoneAlarm from loading, and thus leave the victim open for attack.

    SecuriTeam.com offers a harmless little program that replicates what a Trojan could do to ZoneAlarm. There's also an "unofficial" patch for this vulnerability. I have tried it and does seem to eliminate the problem. --Randall Perry

    Zone Labs Response: ZoneAlarm 2.6 and ZoneAlarm Pro 2.6 protect against this type of problem due to the "hardening" of security we added. Basically, ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro load very early in the boot process and therefore preempt the possibility of this happening. The problem cited is a function of the operating system installed. Windows 9x and Me were exposed in this way, while Windows NT and 2000 were not. ZoneLabs has also never had any reports of anyone actually encountering trouble because of this. But, as I said, we hardened security at the operating system level in ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro to make sure that this potential issue stays in the theoretical realm. --Te Smith

    Norton Personal Firewall and VPN Issues
    I have a comment regarding your newsletter topic of ZoneAlarm vs. Norton Internet Security [the expanded version of Norton Personal Firewall that includes Norton AntiVirus]. I used to use NIS exclusively but recently switched jobs and went from a Nortel based VPN client to a Cisco based VPN client for "work from home" access. NIS worked fine with the Nortel client, but after I installed the Cisco client I couldn't go anywhere on the Internet. What's more, NPF wasn't even running. It was just installed. I went out to Symantec's support newsgroups and learned several people were having this problem. Symantec's solution was to eventually publish an official statement that NIS doesn't support VPN clients. A co-worker found that he was able to configure ZoneAlarm and use the VPN just fine. With the official denial of VPN support, I gave up and switched to ZoneAlarm, which works fine. --Gary McClannahan

    Internal vs. External
    I too am checking out Norton's 30-day internet security product. You know what I'm missing the most right now (from Zone Alarm 2.6 non-Pro) — the ability to configure it so an application is allowed to play on the internal network but not the external. Zone Alarm makes that so intuitive and easy. On the other hand, with the Symantec product, I can drill down right to the port addresses. As you wrote, you seem to have to go all over the place in NPF for different options and settings. --Bill Switzer

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    Netgear FR314 Firewall Router Follow-up
    Reader V. Lui alerted me to this problem, and when I went back to test it, sure enough, there's an issue with the Netgear FR314 firewall router (which I reviewed recently) and at least some software firewalls. If having "stealthed" ports matters to you (and I think it should be something to strive for but not fret about) the Netgear FR314 has a strange habit. Even though ZoneAlarm and Norton Personal Firewall on their own stealth the most common TCP ports, when they're running behind the Netgear FR314 Firewall Router, your ports will be "closed" but visible to hackers. The same results can be seen with GRC's Port Probe test and Sygate's S.O.S. Stealth Scan.

    As I wrote in the Netgear FR314 review, Netgear plans to fix this "closed" vs. "stealth" issue in the FR314 (presumably with a free firmware upgrade), but this is an annoying problem in the meantime.

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    Poll Results: Is SFNL Too Long?
    In a word: Wow! I got more responses to this poll than any poll I've ever run in Windows Insider, the Broadband Report, or Scot’s Newsletter. And SFNL has a smaller list of subscribers. So that's saying something.

    The results are pretty dramatic too:

    More than 1800 people voted: No, SFNL is not too long.

    And 365 people voted: Yes, SFNL is too long.

    Some of the voter comments were really funny; others were touching. One reader actually sent in 80 "no" votes all at once. (I only counted him once, of course.)

    Despite these numbers, I don't really consider this to be a landslide. A lot of the comments from voters on both sides are very interesting. The honest truth is that the newsletter is just way too long — more than twice as long as I'd prefer. It's just that a lot of you a lot of you are willing to put up with that. So, despite the lopsided poll count, I will be looking for ways to shorten SFNL. On the other hand, don't expect dramatic changes. It'll be gradual.

    Even some of the "no" voters commented that they could do without the "In The News" or "My Broadband Story" sections. Another frequent refrain was that either you could do without the broadband content or that the broadband content was your favorite part. One reader wrote that he's really not interested in the broadband content, but really liked, for example, my recent reviews of ZoneAlarm and Norton Personal Firewall. Guess what? Software firewall coverage is broadband content. If I were writing two newsletters, those reviews would appear in the broadband newsletter.

    I've been dealing with this Windows vs. Broadband duality for about a year and a half now. During that time I've handled it in three different ways: Intermixed Windows and broadband content in one newsletter (what SFNL is now), segregated broadband and Windows content in one huge newsletter, separate broadband and Windows newsletters. Of those three methods, the one I like best is to send two different newsletters on alternating weeks. That's the right way to handle this. Unfortunately, it's also the most labor intensive. Segregating the content within one newsletter wound up being the worst way to handle it. It created even longer newsletters, and the workload just about killed me. That method is not an option.

    Possible Solutions
    Based on suggestions and my own brainstorming, here are some steps I am *considering.* No promises right now. But I would welcome your input on these thoughts:

    1. I might offer an "announcement" version of the newsletter. It would show the headline and, say, the first paragraph or two of each story. To read the rest you would have to click a link that would take you directly to that story on the website version of the newsletter. Here's what the website version looks like.

    Users of this version of the newsletter would need Web access while they're reading the newsletter. Please note: This would not be a digest version wherein each section would be retold in shortened form. To derive the benefits, you would need click the links and read the rest of the story. The main advantage is a much shorter and more scannable version of the email newsletter appearing in your mailbox. If I offered something like this, would you sign up for it?

    Have you noticed that the very first link after the advertisement at the top of this newsletter is a link to the website version of the newsletter? Anyone who would prefer an announcement version of SFNL might want to try reading the newsletter from the website right now. There is built-in navigation on the Web version that makes it easier to read and skip over things of less interest.

    2. About In the News and My Broadband Story recurring sections: I have no plans to drop My Broadband Story. It may seem pathetic to some of you, but the reason I keep it around is that it gives me a chance to describe firsthand the kinds of things that happen to many people seeking or maintaining broadband connections. My story isn't unusual. With rare exception, you'll find My Broadband Story at the end of the newsletter, and it will only appear when there's something to say. But it's here to stay. In the News I'm on the fence about. I may experiment with it in future.

    3. Many people have suggested that I write the same newsletter but do it weekly. Others suggested that I go back to alternating a broadband newsletter one week with a Windows newsletter the following week. That was a great solution when I was getting paid by my employer to write newsletters. But I give up part or all of every other weekend to write this newsletter. I can't do it on company time. It may seem like I could write two newsletters every other weekend, but it just doesn't work that way. Bottom line: My, um ... editor ... would be less than thrilled if I were to give up all or part of every weekend.

    If I can ever make the newsletter pay in a significant way or if I ever get the flexibility to take one business day a week to write this newsletter, I would return to weekly frequency in the blink of an eye. Right now, it doesn't appear to be in the cards. One factor that could propel me in that direction would be enough advertising demand to warrant weekly issues. To drive that, I'm going to need much higher subscriber counts. All roads lead back to the business model. ;-)

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    Product Beat: Web Browser Recorder
    Remember the Windows Recorder that lets you record a series of mouse clicks and keystrokes, name and save the recording, and run it as a sort of graphical batch file? A company called NQL has just announced the Browser Recorder free download. It lets you automate frequently performed tasks on the Internet. For example, websites that require you to click through several screens and enter passwords to get access to information could be much easier to negotiate in later visits if you use this tool. Some examples of usages include:

  • Checking your bank and credit card accounts
  • Checking specific stocks at financial Web sites
  • Accessing password-protected publications
  • Checking frequently-searched items at auction websites
  • Signing onto a Web-based email account
  • Using search engines for frequently-searched terms

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

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    Reader-to-Reader: Get Real About Trojans
    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.

    Get Serious About Trojans
    Anyone who reads SFNL knows about GRC's LeakTest, and if they've been listening to you they have personal firewall software that passed that test (such as ZoneAlarm or Norton Personal Firewall). But what should you do when your firewall begins blocking a Trojan horse or worm? ZoneAlarm can block the problem, but it can't eradicate it. To prepare for this, start by installing an anti-virus utility and update that software's virus files once a week. You should also actively scan your system for viruses once a week, and not just rely on automatic scanning. Symantec's Norton AntiVirus, Panda Software's Panda Antivirus, and Trend Micro's PC-cillin are three notable antivirus products.

    If your anti-virus software doesn't find or is unable to remove a Trojan or worm, you should install an anti-Trojan utility. Such software complements anti-virus software. I have found four anti-Trojan programs that have been tested, reviewed and/or recommended by a wide variety of sources. The four programs are BOClean, The Cleaner, Tauscan, and Trojan Defense Suite. For links to articles, tests, reviews and software, go to the new Anti-Trojan Resources page at my website: Home PC Firewall Guide. --Henry Stephen Markus

    Response: SFNL intends to test some of these products in future issues. Better antivirus products, though, should be able to pick up Trojans and worms. Email-based virus scanning is a must. --S.F.

    MSN vs. ICS
    I've run into a strange incompatibility between two Microsoft products — Microsoft Network (MSN) and Microsoft Internet Connection Sharing feature in Windows 98, 2000, ME, and XP. Microsoft never mentions that MSN does not support Internet Connection Sharing. But that's the case. Here's a recent email I got from MSN Help and Support when I asked about this for the umpteenth time. (I don't give up easily.)

    Dear Member,
    Thank you for contacting MSN/IA Member Support. I appreciate the opportunity to assist you. We apologize for all the inconvenience that you have been experiencing. MSN does not support Internet Connection Sharing. We regret the inconvenience. Thanks, MSN/IA Member Support

    I was able to share my MSN Internet connection, but I had to use Wingate 4.1 to do it. --Mary Gallagher

    Ameritech USB Modem
    In reference to this previous Reader-to-Reader topic, USB and DSL Don't Mix:

    Just so you know: I did get Ameritech to give me an Ethernet modem instead of USB one. So I am able to share my DSL connection via the SMC Barricade router. Each of my two machines also has ZoneAlarm 2.6 running on it. It took just a bit to allow local network access with ZoneAlarm. This was accomplished on the advanced tab by adding each machine's NIC and the IP range used by the Barricade's DHCP server. Thanks for your help. I just finished reading your latest newsletter, keep them coming. --Mike Willett

    Phoenix.net 'Spyware'
    In reference to this previous Reader-to-Reader topic, BIOS Spying on You:

    Thanks for the info on PhoenixNet. I built two PCs for my wife and myself last December with the Gigabyte "PheonixNet Enabled" BIOS. We were taken to the PheonixNet PC Users website when we started up the PCs. I may have been asked if I wanted to make it my homepage, I don't remember. If it asked, I would have said "no." We use AOL and search via Google. Is the PhoenixNet software sending info about me over the Internet without my knowledge? I'm thinking I don't really care, except they're using my resources to do it. Perhaps I'll install ZoneAlarm and find out. It's not a priority. It appears to me that PhoenixNet is more about getting money from OEMs than getting anything from me. --Mike Hansen, Michigan

    Have you found out something that others should know about? Give it to them!
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    Results of the SFNL Donation Drive
    Only about 1/2 of one percent of all SFNL subscribers have responded with donations to the newsletter. I am nevertheless wildly ecstatic with the results. Income from donations more than doubled over the last two weeks because of two reasons: A lot of people took advantage of the Letter Mail Donate instructions I posted last time.

    Thank you! The other reason is that the average size of donations increased. I want to say thanks to two important contributors, each of whom donated $100 via PayPal over the last two weeks. Out of deference to their privacy I won't name them. But I really appreciate that kind of generosity. To donate via PayPal yourself, please visit the Scot’s Newsletter home page and click the link in the left column.

    Newsletters rack up a lot of costs, but I can now say with pretty good certainty that the donations to date should cover almost a year of one of the largest parts of my expenses: my newsletter distributor. That's really great news. Also, the advertising I've received to date has covered the costs of my graphical designer so far. Okay, so I'm still out of pocket on some other things, but I'm a lot less out of pocket than I was before. I really appreciate all the donations I've received so far.

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    Windows and Broadband Q&A

    Question: I recently received notice of a rate increase from AT&T Broadband in Colorado. They're taking a 15 percent rate increase. My regular monthly service has been $29.95 per month plus $10 per month rental fee on my Surfboard router [cable modem]. The new monthly charge is $35.95 plus the $10 rental fee for a total of $45.95. I've been an AT&T subscriber for less than a year and, of course, I oppose any rate increase. But, out of fairness, I'd like your opinion. Is this 15 percent increase justified? Am I getting the best speed for the money or could I do better to pay a similar amount for DSL? Where do you see the best "bang for the buck" in broadband value and price? Also, should I buy my own cable modem now, so I can reduce the monthly amount by $10? --Dale Horkey

    Answer: Despite my general dissatisfaction with AT&T Broadband right now (see My Broadband Story below), I do think that you should take the price increase in stride. For consumers, there's no better broadband value out there than well maintained cable modem service. What's more, broadband rates are going up right now with some players falling by the wayside. And you would most likely be paying a lot more for comparable DSL service. DSL is technically better, but for most people's needs, $45 a month for service that averages between 500kbps and 1,000kpbs is still a bargain.

    About purchasing the router. If your service is flawless performance wise, then purchasing your own cable modem is now probably worth given strong consideration to. Generally, I advise people to rent for the first six months as a starting point. Cable modem connections often need adjustments during that period to optimize performance, and it's best if it's their modem, not yours, in that setting. I guess I'd want to know the purchase price before I advised you fully. Remember, you're paying that money upfront. Be sure the number of months before the router pays for itself is well inside the length of time you're likely to keep using the service. If you move to a different AT&T Broadband area, for example, they might not readily accept your cable modem. Equipment is highly regional.

    If you've had any trouble with technical support, customer service, or field technicians, I'd also be leery of giving up the rented modem — if only because it might be easy for your cable company to blame the modem when problems occur. The better companies will replace a modem, even when it's one you own, in the event of a problem where they want to eliminate the modem as a possible cause. I'm somewhat less concerned about this now than I was when I wrote about this same topic last year in Broadband Report. Purchasing a cable modem is an option worth considering after six months of trouble-free service. But run the numbers first. --S.F.


    Question: My problem is this: Internet Explorer chokes while attempting to load all the graphics on a Web page. The remaining unloaded graphics show up as merely a small box with a red X. If I right-click an unloaded graphic and select Show Picture, that picture will immediately load. Hitting the Refresh button does the same for all the unloaded graphics. Netscape 4.x and 6.x do not have any problem loading graphics on the same machine. Microsoft's technical support site says this problem is caused by a known issue with download accelerators. I found two such utilities on my system. One had been installed with RealPlayer and the other was Download Accelerator Plus. Uninstalling these programs did not cure my browser problem though. I updated IE 5.0 (I'm running Win2K) with Service Pack 2. Again, the browser troubles remain. Since there is no way to uninstall IE, and reinstall it, I am at a loss. Netscape 4 and 6 both download pages fine. I hesitate to install IE 5.5 because I've heard it's buggy, but if it will fix this problem, I will. --Dave Dennett

    Answer: There is a way to uninstall newer versions of Internet Explorer than the one that came with your operating system. Usually this trick works. Reinstall the current version over itself and then uninstall it. You will either return to the last version you had installed or the base level version of the browser that came with the operating system.

    This problem could be caused by a wide variety of sources, anything from your ISP to your network configuration to problems with the browser cache, a specific problem with IE 5.0x and Win2000, or even the websites you're visiting. Issues with your Web cache, history, and cookies could be causing the problem. So fully clear out your browser cache and history, and try expanding or contracting cache size. For more tips on clearing your browser cache, use the information written by Dave Methvin you'll find here:

  • Son of IE Cache Fix
  • Fix IE's Leaky Cache

    You'd be surprised what gets left behind. One other thought, download and run LavaSoft's free Ad-aware, which detects and removes spyware.

    It may help you detect and remove other utilities on your system that could be causing the problem.

    I've checked the Microsoft Knowledgebase, and a couple of other articles that might pertain, although they aren't directed specifically at Windows 2000. I couldn't find anything that was a direct hit on your problem. --S.F.

  • Images Are Not Displayed Properly in Internet Explorer
  • Problems Displaying Images in Internet Explorer

    Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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    Computer Savvy: Rule #2
    Last issue I introduced Computer Savvy. It's the spot for computing-school-of-hard-knocks advice about how to work shrewdly with your PC to avoid problems and maximize performance and satisfaction. Rule #1 was, "When Troubleshooting, Eliminate the Variables." Here's the next commandment.

    Rule #2: Never Upgrade over a Beta
    To some people this may be obvious, but to a lot of people it isn't. Never, ever, install a newer version of a program over an existing beta installation of that program. This includes installing a later beta version over an earlier beta version as well as installing the final version of a program over any of its betas. Beta software is prerelease code, and programmers do not necessarily ensure that the final version of their software will clean up well when installed over a previous beta.

    Some software makers will tell you it's OK to do this. For example, Qualcomm has sometimes said in past that it was okay to install Eudora Pro over its betas. I still wouldn't do that. In most cases it's easy enough to uninstall first.

    I will even go so far as to say your computing experience will generally be better if you uninstall a previous version of a program before you install a newer version. People rarely do this, but it's the right habit to get into. There are exceptions to this rule, but over the long haul, get into the habit of removing the old before you install the new. Your PC will be better off for it.

    I'd like to take a moment with this rule to emphasize that installing any beta of Internet Explorer is generally a bad idea because this program doesn't uninstall well, and that could mean that you'll be headed for a clean installation of your operating system at some point to clean up after the beta.

    Reader Rules
    After reading the inaugural Computer Savvy, several Scot’s Newsletter readers wrote in with their own expert rules of thumb. Here are three of my favorites:

    1. Perfect prep. After a clean install of Win98SE I eliminate all except the bare bones OS itself, clean the registry using Easy Cleaner by Toni Arts, boot to DOS, run scanreg/fix/opt. Then I run Defrag Pro and, finally, using Drive Image 4.0 image the partition to CDR. Now I have the "perfect" Windows 98 Second Edition ready to "clean install" with all my net and user settings intact ready to roll. --Rick Steele

    2. Reboot, reboot, reboot. Here's a computing rule I now live by: Install & uninstall software only after doing a clean boot. I had tons of trouble installing Norton Utilities 2000 until I did so. I also had to uninstall my old version from a clean boot. The following link to Symantec's site gives step-by-step instructions on how to do this in Windows 98. After much gnashing of teeth and many hours of effort, I learned my lesson. I don't necessarily do this for small programs but certainly do for heavy hitters (Office, AutoCAD, Photoshop, etc.). --Pam Kovach

    3. Captain's log. Keep a log of all changes you make to your computer - software additions and deletions, hardware changes, changes to settings. I keep a Word document linked on my desktop and record the date for each change. Also record any error messages, workarounds, so forth. I also print it out once in a while so that I have that trusty hard copy. Although this takes some effort, it's a very useful way to track down the likely culprit of a problem. --Alan Moskowitz and Ken Cox

    I'll be running more of these reader rules with each future installment of Computer Savvy, so if you don't see yours here, it may appear at later date.

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

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    My Broadband Story: Pegasus Express and AT&T Broadband
    Here's the latest on my Pegasus Express two-way satellite installation. The installer has been here three times and the dish and receive equipment have arrived. He's installed a six-foot-high post in my yard on which the dish mounts. But now I'm waiting for a May 18 completion date.

    One thing I've heard recently about Pegasus Express is that you cannot have a network adapter in the machine connected (via USB) to the satellite dish. If that's true, you won't be able to share your Internet connection with any other PCs. I'm willing to bet there may be a workaround for that, but won't be able to try out anything until I've got a working installation.

    AT&T Broadband Cable Modem Service
    I didn't report on this last time, but I attended an interesting town meeting with several AT&T Broadband representatives (including legal counsel) and officers from the cable commissions of half a dozen towns surrounding mine, all of whom were promised cable modem service by spring of this year, but who haven't received it. The room was packed with about 200 people, the largest Board of Selectman meeting ever, according to one of the board members. Several people spoke, many venting their rage at AT&T.

    I'm not going to bore you with a lot of details, but here's the gist: During the last discussions with my town, which wrapped up last year, the town was negotiating with Cablevision. Cablevision and AT&T subsequently did a swap of towns, and now it's AT&T that owns rights to my town for the next nine years. At the time of the negotiation, the plan to swap the towns was known, and AT&T participated in the negotiations. At that time it verbally promised to have cable modem service in the town by the spring of 2001. Because of the way the previous contract with Cablevision was written, any specific wording about cable modem service had to be excluded from this new 10-year contract. And that's the crux of the problem. AT&T Broadband just isn't legally bound to roll out service in this town, or any of the other towns in my state for that matter. They gave their word, but with the economic downturn, apparently that isn't good enough. They simply don't want to spend the money here this year.

    When after 90 minutes of jaw-boning, we still didn't have them on record as giving us the new projected date of service roll out, I stood up and asked them to at least give us an estimate. The response was spring of 2002.

    My town and the surrounding towns are seriously thinking about banding together to bring some sort of class-action lawsuit. I don't think it'll ever happen though. Legally, we don't have much of a leg to stand on. There's nothing in the contract that forces AT&T to do this. And we'd need more than the meager legal monies of six towns to fight lawyers of this corporate goliath.

    AT&T is generating a lot of bad will right now. And it isn't just in my neck of the woods in the northeast.

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    Tip of the Week: Repair ISP 'Branding' in IE and Outlook Express
    The lament goes like this: You tried out some new ISP's software to see whether you might like it, and you got bitten by an innocuous bit of unasked for "branding." What's branding? It's when an ISP's software installs text like "provided by StarBand" on the Internet Explorer (IE) and Outlook Express (OE) title bars. The revolving, or animated, logo in the upper right corners of the IE and OE program windows are sometimes also replaced by ISP logos. Worst of all, when you uninstall the ISP software, it leaves its changes behind.

    Although I've yet to see an instance where ISP branding caused problems to a user PC, many people are annoyed by the leave-behinds. And this sort of behavior is unacceptable. No program should leave behind its branding on uninstall. And all programs should be fully uninstallable. The good news is that you can fix the problem yourself, and this exclusive Scot’s Newsletter Repair ISP 'Branding' page tells you exactly how to do that.

    More than likely, your browser's home page was also changed by the ISPs installation software. You may also find custom URL icons for your ISP's site on IE's "Links" toolbar. And there may be new folders of sites in your Favorites. You can unload the unwanted favorites with some judicious pruning in your C:\Windows\Favorites and C:\Windows\Favorites\Links folders. And to change IE's default home page, first load your browser with the page you'd prefer to be your browser home page. Then choose Tools > Internet Options, and there on the General tab, click the "Use Current" button.

    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 Day Job: TechWeb.com
    Many of you have asked what I do for a living when not writing this newsletter. After Winmag.com folded, I was given a new job at CMP Media as an editor of the TechWeb.com website. My first task was to help redesign and relaunch TechWeb — a goal we achieved last week.

    I've also gotten some mail asking whether Paul Schindler and I would be continuing the weekly audio reports we did for Winmag.com in some new fashion. For the last six or seven weeks, Paul and I have been doing the TechWeb Week In Review audio report. TechWeb is aimed at an IT audience. The Week In Review is available every Friday afternoon. Here's the most recent Week In Review (requires RealPlayer).

    As long as I'm talking about TechWeb, CMP, and Winmag.com, some of you may have noticed that Winmag.com content was disabled last week for about a day. This wasn't intentional. Several TechWeb-associated websites were temporarily (and accidentally) out of commission last week as we relaunched the TechWeb service. This past Saturday morning, there was an unrelated site-wide outage.

    If you're looking for golden oldie Winmag content, the best place to find it is on SFNL's Find Winmag Content page.

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