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Scot’s Newsletter

Windows and Broadband Information You Can Use!

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July 24, 2001 - Vol. 1, Issue No. 9

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Will Windows XP Be Delayed?
  • Changes to Product Activation and Other Win XP Stuff
  • In the News: Yanking the Java VM
  • Review: Tiny Personal Firewall Good, But Not Great
  • Working Toward a Word 2002 Fix
  • PC and Broadband Q&A
  • Satellite Corner: Pegasus Update
  • Breakfast with Linksys
  • Link of the Week: Cringely's Quest for Real Broadband
  • Tip of the Week: Five Essential Windows Tips
  • 'Announcement' Version of SFNL
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Your Address.


    Will Windows XP Be Delayed?
    As I was gearing up to send Scot’s Newsletter today, forces were at work applying pressure that might delay the release of Windows XP. Microsoft is unlikely to bow lightly to any pressure on this point, but does the company have a choice?

    Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to make open access to competitors' software in Microsoft's forthcoming Windows XP operating system a condition for settling its antitrust case with the company.

    Bottom line: Isn't Microsoft repeating the same monopolistic behavior by making Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger an integral part of the operating system? I think the Senator has a point on this one.

    According to published reports, software maker InterTrust amended a lawsuit against Microsoft, asking for an injunction to prevent the shipment of Windows XP. InterTrust says that Product Activation violates four of its patents.

  • Senate Hearings Sought on Microsoft's Windows XP (MSNBC)
  • Senator Wants Win XP Changes Linked To Settlement (InformationWeek)

    Back to the Top


    Changes to Product Activation and Other Win XP Stuff
    Last week a story "broken" by Reuters, CNET, and others claimed that Microsoft had bowed to pressure and was now easing Windows Product Activation under Windows XP. Well, ah, actually, I referred to this minor change Microsoft was then only contemplating back in the June 27, 2001, issue of Scot’s Newsletter.

    I didn't go into detail about this "easing" of Product Activation because Microsoft simply hasn't figured out exactly how it's implementing these changes yet. But in the wake of last week's news, I asked the company again. This is what I received via email from Microsoft:

    "In order to address the needs of power users Microsoft has responded to customer feedback by providing an additional and automatic time-based Internet activation. Previously, a user may have had to telephone a customer service representative to reactivate a system if substantial hardware changes were made. Listening to customer feedback, Microsoft has changed this to allow an activation on substantially modified hardware to occur automatically over time. The time frame for allowing this is still being determined.

    "What this change does is allow more flexibility to the power user to get a substantially modified PC reactivated through the Internet rather than having to contact a Microsoft customer service representative by telephone. This means that, over time, Microsoft will allow an activation on a completely different hardware from the first PC the software is activated on with the intent that this activation is really a reactivation on the same PC with a substantially changed hardware configuration.

    "Bottom line, this change means more flexibility for the user.

    "Microsoft is committed to striking a balance between protecting its intellectual property and ensuring a positive customer experience. It is in the spirit of this commitment that has driven this change."

    Okay, that's the official word. Let me see if I can make sense of it for you. In the current implementation of Product Activation under Windows XP RC1, all hardware changes you make are permanently logged and when you go past a threshold number of hardware changes, Windows XP determines you've probably moved that copy of Windows XP to a second PC and you must make a phone call to reactivate. Under the change Microsoft has announced, but not detailed, hardware changes will only be logged for a specific amount of time. After that time period is up, the slate is wiped clean and Windows XP starts a new log of hardware changes.

    Microsoft hasn't determined or announced the time period yet, but for the sake of argument let's call it 120 days. With the 120-day hardware log in effect, you might replace a hard drive and add RAM in one 120-day period and then replace your CPU and network card in another 120-day period. Neither batch of changes would be enough to trigger the need for reactivation. If on the other hand you made all four changes (and perhaps one other) within the 120-day period, Windows XP would require you to make a phone call for reactivation. The goal isn't to keep you from upgrading your PC quickly; it's to prevent casual piracy of Windows XP.

    I don't know whether this is true, but according to a published report on the Internet attributed to Microsoft's Shawn Sanford, Windows XP will look at 10 different hardware components and will let users change four of them within a certain period of time before asking for reactivation. That sounds right to me.

    One thing I've learned recently is that the MAC addresses of Ethernet network adapters are being tracked by Product Activation, according to Microsoft's Allen Nieman. If it's true that a MAC address change could conceivably be the straw that triggers the need for a product reactivation, that's going to drive a lot of us nuts. I change NICs in and out pretty frequently.

    I'm glad for the time-based change, whatever the specifics wind up being. But when all is said and done, I'm not sure it's enough of a reduction in Product Activation's potency to make Windows XP palatable to me personally. I have days, nevermind quarters of the year, where I have three different NICs in the same PC. Most people don't, it's true. But ask any IT person and he or she will tell you that an average user's desktop PC having three different NICs in a day or two isn't a shocking event. The first NIC goes bad. The second one runs into a configuration issue. The third one works. It's pretty common in fact. Multiply the possibilities: RAM, hard drive, CPU, motherboard, BIOS, video card, sound card, network card, SCSI card, CD/DVD drive, floppy drive, and so on. For anyone like me who makes frequent hardware changes, Windows XP could be get annoying fast. Why should the people who pay the most for Windows -- retail buyers -- get the least flexibility?

    Sure, You Can Have Desktop Icons
    A couple weeks ago Microsoft announced that it was voluntarily offering a concession about making Internet Explorer removable in Windows XP and all future versions of Windows (and possibly older versions of Windows too). I've had very little clarification on the entire point, but as I understand it, Microsoft will give both PC makers and end users the option to remove Internet Explorer from Windows. It's a little unclear to me how fully end users will be able to "remove" Internet Explorer. I expect we'll learn more about that while watching Windows XP builds to come.

    Another element of Microsoft's concession is that it will make it possible for OEM PC makers to place icons for competing programs, such as Netscape or AOL Instant Messenger, on the Windows XP desktop. Given that Microsoft's aesthetic for Windows XP is no icons on the desktop at all, that seemed like a surprising concession to me. Until I remembered a comment made by one of Microsoft's leading UI managers at a recent reviewer's day meeting in New York City, the gist of which was that Windows XP's Desktop Cleanup Wizard will run automatically on OEM installations on the first run by the user. That got me thinking, maybe Microsoft was planning to quietly take away one of the connections it had just given?

    So I put the question to them, and learned something. The Desktop Cleanup Wizard (DCW) has two modes. One is completely invisible to the end user, who can't intervene or make decisions. This is known internally as the "time zero" mode because it only occurs on the very first run by the owner of a new PC. Time-zero is essentially part of the setup routine, and its entire purpose to strip the desktop of all icons other than Recycle Bin.

    The other mode of DCW is known as the "full UI" version. It runs for the first time seven days after the initial start of a new PC, and then every 60 days thereafter. The Full-UI version is defeatable by the user and also offers to move unused desktop icons into a folder. Users may decline the Full-UI version's services. (By the way, this is a simple but great idea. Something good for users.)

    All this sounds like Microsoft had a trick up its sleeve except for one thing: PC Makers have the option to defeat the time-zero run of DCW. So if they want to force third-party icons on the Windows XP desktop, they can.

    I liked these news stories about the Microsoft IE Concessions.

  • Microsoft Eases Windows License Terms (InformationWeek)
  • Microsoft Loosens Reins On Computer Makers (InternetWeek)
  • Microsoft's Strategy Unchanged Despite Concessions (InformationWeek)

    USB 2.0
    While I'm updating you on Windows XP and Microsoft announcements, I might as well talk about USB 2.0 too. Last week Microsoft announced the availability of USB 2.0 beta drivers for Windows XP and Windows 2000. If you were paying attention, you saw my mention of USB 2.0 in the 20 Things About Windows XP story a few issues back.

    According to Microsoft and others, USB 2.0 significantly increases available bandwidth, making USB 2.0 particularly suitable for high-performance peripheral devices such as high-quality video conferencing cameras, high-resolution scanners, and high-density storage devices.

    These drivers are currently available to Windows XP beta users via Windows Update. USB 2.0 Beta Drivers for Windows 2000 will be made available shortly to all USB 2.0 Beta Members. To sign up to become a USB 2.0 Beta Member visit USB.org's developer site.

    Microsoft was the first company to publicly demonstrate a USB 2.0 stack working on Windows XP in March 2001 at WinHEC and May 2001 at the USB 2.0 Developers Conference. The company intends to deliver the final drivers not long after the Windows XP launch.

    Back to the Top


    In the News: Yanking the Java VM
    As if all that weren't enough about Windows XP this week, Microsoft announced that it's yanking the Java Virtual Machine (VM) from all future versions Internet Explorer and Windows, beginning with Win XP. Microsoft has long been the largest distributor of the Java VM with Internet Explorer. Microsoft says it won't even distribute Java via Windows Update. Instead, the company says, when users who do not have the VM installed attempt to load a Java-based app, a dialog will pop up prompting you to download the software.

    There are a lot of ironies behind this move. First of all, the most reliable marriage of a Java VM and a browser is what has shipped with Internet Explorer 5.x. There's an important history that underscores this point. Sun sued Microsoft over its Java VM implementation, which it said Microsoft was making proprietary. And it won that lawsuit. Now Microsoft has said in published reports that deciding not to distribute the Java VM with Windows and IE was a decision it made in part to satisfy the terms of the lawsuit.

    Make no mistake, pulling the Java VM from Windows PCs will hurt Java. It'll take a couple of years before this change will begin to damage the Java community. Microsoft says there won't be a downside, but don't believe it. Microsoft has long given Java a free ride that has literally put Java on the map. Because of Microsoft, Java is installed on -- my estimate -- eight out of 10 Windows PCs in regular use. Hundreds and hundreds of independent software developers have opted to build custom solutions with Java largely because the Java VM is ubiquitous on Windows desktops. So it should come as no surprise that Microsoft is telling Sun where to get off.

    Of course, Microsoft has twisted a negative into a positive. If Java was a semi-threat to VisualBasic four years ago, it's absolutely lethal to the Microsoft.NET strategy.

    The truth is that, if you'll permit me to generalize: Java applets don't run very well in the Windows environment. Sun Microsystems -- a good company, a smart company -- has had an attitude about Windows PCs for a long time that comes across as a sneer. When the company built Java, it should have pulled out the stops to build a Java VM for Windows that truly worked without being a memory hog. But apparently that was never a priority. Java is a success today. But its success isn't so much as a website-enabling tool as an application environment whose front-end is the Web browser. It may be an environment that is at its apex right now.

    But what about all those software makers whose products are threatened longterm by this? I can't fault Microsoft for yanking the Java VM. Business is business. What it means is that Sun has to step to the fore and get serious about supporting Java and leading it into the future.

    Back to the Top


    Review: Tiny Personal Firewall Good, But Not Great
    I can understand why so many people seem to prefer Tiny Software's Personal Firewall to ZoneAlarm or Norton Personal Firewall. Tiny Personal Firewall (TPF) is lightweight, easy to install and use, and it seems to have less system overhead impact on your PC than the other two programs.

    But it also does a mixed job of protecting your computer. If you work hard with it -- and TPF does require your active, informed involvement to do its job well -- you can get very good results. But therein lies the trouble because most people don't know enough about Windows and the Internet to guess right on all the screens TPF displays asking whether it should permit or deny access to inbound or outbound activities.

    To give you a sense of my test results with the 2.0.14 version of the product, TPF scored just under Norton Personal Firewall and ZoneAlarm -- when configured properly. It passed the LeakTest when I clicked the Deny button -- something that it should do without my intervention. And most ports reported Stealth in the Port Probe test. It fell back a little on Security Space vulnerabilities, and did well on HackerWhacker. For more detail on this newsletter's firewall test suite -- including links to the test products and services in the suite -- please visit this newsletter's Firewall Test Methodology page.

    But configuring TPF properly took far more time the others, and it even involved some trial and error on my part. The TPF docs claim the product uses stateful inspection, and I'm not disputing that point, but it seems mostly rules based, with you making up the rules, and appears to have few built-in smarts. Some of these rules should be pre-built into TPF.

    Tiny Personal Firewall offers a three-position slider that sets the firewall protection at full open, full closed, and ask me. What it needs is a setting between full closed and ask me that offers a default configuration that turns on Internet Explorer and a bunch of other things while turning off most of the rest.

    But even with that feature, I would prefer the Norton and ZoneLabs products. And since, like TPF, ZoneAlarm is offered 100-percent free for personal use, it's just no contest. If Tiny Software ever cranks this thing up and gets serious about making it more highly protective right out of the box, I would be only too happy to test it again. As it stands, I place Tiny Personal Firewall as a distant number three among the personal firewall products I've tested. Both ZoneAlarm 2.6 and Norton Personal Firewall 2001 3.0.

  • Free for personal use and $39 for business, Tiny Personal Firewall 2.0.14, Tiny Software, 888-994-TINY

    Back to the Top


    Working Toward a Word 2002 Fix
    When I installed the "gold" version (final code not in the shrinkwrap package) of Office XP, I ran into a passel of minor Word 2002 problems right off the bat. In case you didn't read about that, here's where you can learn about the little annoyances I came across.

  • Angry About XP Activation
  • Office XP vs. Tweak UI
  • Office XP Unfixed

    Microsoft felt it could and should fix one of the problems I stumbled on. The symptoms are this: When I launch Word 2002 from the Quick Launch toolbar (the single-click launch area directly to the right of the Start button) and then open any Word dialog box, such as File > Open, the program appears to lock up. The dialog box doesn't appear, and Word's title bar and taskbar program icon begin to flash in helplessness. It's a repeatable problem that occurs under Windows 98 only. (Note: If you click the taskbar program icon, the problem rights itself.)

    Microsoft contacted me yesterday with a 8.5MB downloadable hotfix for the problem it wanted me to try. The new hotfix would only work, I was told, if the Word 2002 Update (dated June 21, 2001) is also installed on your machine. You can get that update from Microsoft's Office ProductUpdates site. See this resource for more info on the Word 2002 Update.

    So far, so good -- if not perfect. But there wound up being a big catch. I did everything Microsoft told me to do, but the hotfix didn't work for me. At this point Microsoft went off to check things at their end (and I haven't heard back yet). They also asked me to install Office XP, the Word 2002 Update, and the new hotfix on a second Win98 machine. I did that and had the same results. The hotfix installed properly, but it didn't fix the problem. Microsoft had tested the same hotfix on several machines before offering it to me, and it had worked for them. So the problem could be at my end. We're still figuring it out. I hope to report positive results next time.

    Because many of you have written to me saying you have the same problem, you may be wondering how you can get the new hotfix. When the bugs are worked out, Microsoft will release it internally. But it won't be made available for public download on its own. Instead, Microsoft will release the hotfix with Office XP Service Pack 1 (whose release date hasn't been announced). There will be another way too. You'll be able to call Microsoft Product Support and request a special download of the hotfix. Details should be available in an updated version of Microsoft Knowledgebase Article Q286857 in the near future.

    To call Microsoft Product Support, use one of these links to find the proper telephone number.

  • Microsoft U.S. Support Phone Numbers
  • Microsoft World Wide Support Phone Numbers

    Back to the Top


    PC and Broadband Q&A

    Question: I just got DirecPC two-way installed today through their special upgrade offer (I had DirecPC one-way). So I'm set up directly with DirecPC, not Earthlink or any of the other ISPs. I'm curious what is your thinking about firewalls for DirecPC? I mentioned it to tech support and they questioned why I'd need it since all traffic goes through IP spoofing. I just tried the Shields Up test at GRC.com, and it reports that my IP address assigned by DPC is actually within the private network range, so my computer is totally unreachable unless it sends out a request. Based on this, it seems I don't need to worry about outside attacks, since they can't get to me. But I'm also thinking that the firewall would still be a good idea to prevent any unwanted outbound traffic. What advice would you offer? --Chris Ruybal

    Answer: I recommend that you run a firewall anyway. Yes, for outbound traffic. That makes good sense. But I'm also dubious about any ISP or service that claims 100-percent protection for its users. While it makes sense what DirecPC's tech support told you, I'd use a firewall to be doubly sure about inbound threats as well. I'm using ZoneAlarm with Pegasus Express, and that's the one I recommend to you. --S.F.


    Question: What would be great would be to get a smaller version of your newsletter once a week. That would give everyone more time to react and/or make decisions. For instance, did you know that RC-1 of Windows XP won't be sent to me (Joe Public) until the end of July? --Peter Fonteece

    Answer: I agree a weekly frequency for this newsletter would be much better. As I've explained in the past, though, I don't have the personal time to devote to creating a once-a-week newsletter. I literally write this on the weekend every other week. My wife would brain me if I tried to go weekly. (Editor's note: Sad, but true. --Cyndy) What's more, I lose money on the newsletter, and I would lose more if it were weekly. This is as much as I can give right now. (If you want to help, you can donate to the cause, but the thing I need most is new subscribers! So spread the word.)

    About your point about Microsoft not shipping to paid beta testers ... a couple of things. I learned about that after the last newsletter went out. Even if I were doing this weekly, you wouldn't hear about that until last Tuesday. So I'm not sure it'd matter that much.

    Perhaps more importantly ... the fact that paid Windows RC1/RC2 beta testers won't receive RC1 until the end of July doesn't surprise me. They never promised to ship the discs right away, and manufacturing what could be hundreds of thousands of discs takes a lot more time than people realize. I agree, though, that they should have done a better job planning and communicating that point. --S.F.


    Question: Regarding your comments in the last edition of Scot’s Newsletter:

    "Maybe Microsoft truly is a monopoly ... What alternative do we have? Linux? It's not ready for desktop primetime. It may never be. Apple? It doesn't run Windows software. BeOS? Be serious. There's nothing wrong with those operating systems; but none of them has critical mass on the desktop. Windows is the only one that does."

    I'd like to suggest that the Macintosh platform is quite viable as an alternative to Windows, and getting better every day with the release of OS X. With its Unix core, OS X will be a delight for power users who will have a real command line for entering cryptic and powerful instructions. :-)

    As for average users, they have several options that make Mac useful. First, many applications available on Windows are also available on the Mac, notably MS Office which has actually been ahead of the Windows version in cool features the last few years. For programs that don't have a Mac version, Connectix Virtual PC has become a highly usable means of running them (assuming you have a relatively fast CPU and lots of memory). Probably the only folks who might not go for a Mac are gamers whose favorite shooter requires top-end Windows hardware -- Virtual PC isn't great for high-end games.

    With standard FireWire and wireless networking support, not to mention great usability, the Macs have a lot to offer. Who knows, once the word gets around about Microsoft's new "one PC, one copy of the OS" [Product Activation] policy, a lot of folks may consider switching when they buy their next machine.

    As for pricing, while Macs aren't as low as a generic beige box, they are now competitive with name brand Windows machines. You might want to contact Apple and see if they will loan you one for review purposes. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. --Steve Dennett

    Answer: Look out, you pushed one of my hot buttons. It may surprise everyone to learn I was an ardent Mac user in the late 1980s and I also owned Macs until only about four years ago when I got fed up with Apple and sold them off all of them. My point: I'm very familiar with the Mac. Windows emulators, even the newest ones, are not a worthy option in my opinion. What's more, I'm not shelling out $2K+ for a fast-enough Mac. Even the least expensive new G4, the 733MHz model, costs more like $2,500 with a monitor and what I deem to be standard accessories. (Note: Click the "Faster $1,699" link.)

    I don't consider that to be competitive with name brand Windows hardware. You can buy a top of the line Dell 8100 consumer PC with a 1.3GHz P4 processor, a 3-year warranty, a color inkjet printer, an Ethernet card, external speakers, and fully comparable equipment to the 733MHz G4 Mac desktop for only $1,168 (no monitor). The Dell also includes a software bundle. The Mac costs $1,700 (no monitor), and while it also comes bundled with an inkjet printer, it comes without any software of note and no NIC.

    Now I know my Mac-using readers will be disappointed by this talk, but the truth is that Macs still cost more than PCs. Apple made a mistake by going proprietary with its hardware. Early on, it should have licensed its operating system to hardware makers that complied with rigid standards -- but to as many as possible. And for its own hardware, it should have taken the high road on pushing out hardware and OS innovations that it sold into vertical markets and to power users -- withholding its latest stuff for a year or so from the operating system licensees. That would require a new Mac OS every 18 months, just as Microsoft has done. Apple also should never have gotten into the Mac software business, but should have fostered a strong community of independent software makers. Instead, most of its software is written by Microsoft.

    Marketshare drives this business. Being a small, elite computer maker doesn't make sense in today's consumer computer marketplace. Many years from now that could change. The cheap, mass produced Ford Model T which only came in the color black succeeded at the dawn of the auto era. Almost 100 years later, BMWs and others that differentiate with hot engineering and style do well. When it comes to the consumer PC marketplace, we're only just coming to the end of the Model-T era. Consumers (when they're actually buying) want low cost, reliable enough, what everyone else has, gobs of software choices, and above all else: excellent value. Apple is more than reliable enough and it offers widely perceived ease of use. But it's harder to make it interoperate in what's become a Windows world than Windows-based PCs are. The accessories and upgrades are more expensive. And the price of admission is still too high. On the bang for a buck scale, it doesn't rank. Perhaps because I once loved Macs, I may have become one of their staunchest critics. I want Apple to wake up and do something radical. Despite many modest improvements over the last 24 months, I'm still not seeing radical.

    Interestingly, Microsoft may be setting itself up for the same kind of fall with the X-Box. But that's another story.

    While I'm itching to play with OS X, I don't itch enough to spend the money it takes to get a high-end Mac just as an experiment. Apple has long had a policy of being very stingy about providing evaluation units to the press. It's very hard to get one for a serious review, period. If Apple decides to open up its review program to small newsletter writers, I'd be only too happy to include coverage of OS X in the newsletter.

    I put in a request for an Apple Mac capable of running OS X and, as expected, was rejected because Apple "doesn't have any of these units available." --S.F.

    Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
    Back to the Top


    Satellite Corner: Pegasus Update
    Two more weeks have gone by and I'm still pretty pleased with my Pegasus Express two-way DirecPC satellite Internet service. As fast as downloads are, web surfing performance is still mediocre, and I don't get the sense that will change. What's more, I want to caution SFNL readers that Pegasus Express download speed will probably slow down as more and more people start using this service. Performance degradation is a very real possibility.

    In my initial review of Pegasus Express last time I didn't get to one facet of Pegasus Express experience that's worth nothing. Like StarBand, Pegasus Express/DirecPC runs software at Windows startup. Unfortunately, the Pegasus Express software is annoying in several ways. The first is that it leaves a fairly large dashboard program open on your desktop with a rotating picture of the company's logo. This Java based application also doesn't function perfectly. It opens large on your screen, and then a script that runs it forces it to fold down to a smaller size in the lower right corner of the screen. But sometimes when it does this it seems to hang up, and either your Internet access never gets started or the clickable links on the dashboard are obscured from view. In other words, it doesn't work very well. We really don't need this big thing on our desktops, Pegasus. Make it go away.

    I also spoke with Pegasus Express's Blair Gilbert last week, and he was pretty honest about the fact that newsgroup support is by no means certain. To me, that's unacceptable -- and I told him that. What's more, if Pegasus Express decides not to offer newsgroups, I think Earthlink's version of two-way DirecPC might be the better alternative. One piece of good news: Pegasus Express does plan to make nationwide POP access to its service an alternative for its customers. That's in the works.

    One other point: I promised to test VPN services and I did. They're blocked for the standard Pegasus Express consumer service that I have.

    Pegasus Express Business Versions
    I thought you might be interested in more info on Pegasus for business and VPN. I had a lengthy conversation the company on this subject. Here's the short version. Both of their business products, Pegasus Express Plus and Pegasus Express Pro support VPN and PPTP (Microsoft versions). As far as price goes I was told that installation and hardware for the Pro version would be $4,500, ($4,000 hardware which I could lease, plus $500 hardware) and the Plus version was $1,000 hardware plus install. Service rates started at around $200 per month for 256kbps downstream and 64kbps upstream on the Pro version and went to $1,500 for what he called "T1 satellite speed" at 1.5Mbps. Base price for the 5-user Plus system was around $150 month. Just thought you'd like to pass that on to your business readers. I've decided to wait on DSL. --Craig Harmon, South Carolina

    One-Way DirecPC Might Be Better
    It has come to my attention from several SFNL readers that it's quite possible that one-way DirecPC satellite service may be better for some real-time applications (like online gaming and real-time market data) than two-way satellite. That's because it's possible that the latency for a 56kbps analog modem could conceivably far less than for a satellite modem. Upstream satellite performance is very slow with both StarBand and Pegasus Express (especially the latter). When I tested Pegasus Express, its upstream performance was about on par with a 56kbps modem, but its latency is much higher. So there's a lot of truth in what some readers are saying on this point.

    Personally, I don't use a lot of upstream bandwidth, and longer latency times don't mean that much to me for most things I do. But you're usage of the Internet may be very different -- and you should bear that in mind.

    One other note: Pegasus Express has a fallback dial-up modem option. If your satellite service goes out, you can call in to get mail and web surf. I'm not sure whether you might be able to run that in tandem with the satellite service, or whether you might be able to use it for upstream service while using the satellite for downstream. That's something worth exploring.

    StarBand Purchased by EchoStar
    Just in case you didn't notice, EchoStar purchased a controlling interest in StarBand. Check out EchoStar's online press release for more details.

    Back to the Top


    Breakfast with Linksys
    Last week, Victor Tsao, Linksys's president and ceo, and Karen Sohl, corporate communications manager, and I had breakfast at my usual breakfast spot: Mel's Restaurant. Countless Microsoft, Netscape, Symantec, and many other meetings have taken place under Mel's watchful eye.

    I got briefed about a slew of products Linksys is working on, including the company's UPnP lineup, and another intriguing product line it's working on but hasn't announced yet. UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) is something I intend to cover in more depth in the near future. Effectively, UPnP will make it possible for firewalls to automatically configure application port access on the fly. Windows XP supports it, and we're going to see a whole bunch of hardware companies shipping UPnP products this fall.

    Many of you have written with praise about the Linksys products that this newsletter and one of its predecessors, the Broadband Report, reviewed. And on the SFNL Labs' network, the default broadband router is Linksys' 8-port EtherFast Cable/DSL Router. I still think Linksys has the best product for the price. It's also the easiest to manage in a small office or home office setting. Anything above 50-60 users, though, and inexpensive broadband routers tend to choke, making them not a good choice.

    And that's one of three problems some SFNL readers have reported about the Linksys products -- though it applies to others too. Linksys is working on something that may help with that issue, by the way. But they'd have to shoot you (not to mention me) if I explained. Two other problems are more commonly reported with the Linksys product line:

    1. Problems with firmware
    2. Nightmarish tech support.

    The big news is that Victor Tsao sounds serious about fixing the tech support problems, which he readily acknowledged. The trouble has been that Linksys has grown incredibly fast over the last couple of years. The company wants to hire literally hundreds of new people, with tech support being a priority, but it is currently prevented from doing so by a space crunch. The company expects to move into a new headquarters office this fall. The company also doesn't have 24/7 tech support now, and uses an outside firm after hours -- which often adds to the negative user experience.

    We'll have to wait and see whether Victor can pull it off, but they know they have a problem, and they intend to work on it.

    Back to the Top


    Link of the Week: Cringely's Quest for Real Broadband
    You have to admire a guy who has the guts to take matters into his own hands to solve an apparently impossible problem. I'm talking about the sort of ingenuity that's the stuff of Hollywood movies, but applied to something really and truly important: Acquiring serious broadband.

    I've been a fan of Robert Cringely's column on the PBS website for a good long while. The man can write. But the story of his Quixotic-sounding quest for serious broadband (not the StarBand solution he was putting up with) earned my attention.

    Robert, whose home in Sonoma County, CA, is 36,000 feet from his phone company's central office had no chance of getting DSL. So he decided to try something theoretically possible but logistically ludicrous. He decided to create a wireless link between his house and the home of someone else in a neighboring town close enough to the central office to acquire mega-fast DSL. Helping him enormously in this endeavor is the fact that his house is perched on a hill.

    His first step was literally to survey the countryside with a telescope. Once he found a likely line-of-site neighborhood, his next step was to literally go knocking on doors offering to buy DSL service in exchange for setting up a two-way wireless link so he could share the bandwidth. I'll let him tell the story. But you should know, he succeeded.

  • Reach Out and Touch Someone
  • I Network, Therefore I Am

    If you've ever dreamed of a serious broadband connection, tell yourself this: Where there's a will, there's a way. Robert Cringely did. I'd like to thank SFNL reader Felipe Garcia for suggesting these two Cringely columns.

    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.

    Back to the Top


    Tip of the Week: Five Essential Windows Tips
    No matter how many of those Windows tips newsletters, websites, or 2,001 tips magazine articles I paw through, there are several essential tips I don't see explained well enough or often enough. Every expert Windows user has tumbled to five essential tips that help get you by in a pinch. You should know them too.

    Tip 1: Turn on File Extensions
    The first of these was the tip I ran in the June 27 issue of SFNL, called See All Your Files and Extensions. In many cases, you need to follow the steps in the above tip to take advantage of other tips.

    Tip 2: Change File Attributes
    Under most versions of Windows there are four simple file attributes that can make it difficult to see or delete files, such as System Registry files. Those attributes are Read-only, Hidden, Archive, and System. You can access and change those attributes for any given file by right-clicking that file and choosing Properties. There, at the bottom, you can disable an attribute by removing its checkmark. In most cases, the Archive attribute is not important. It can be used to track condition for more advanced functions. The two attributes that will be most useful to you are Read-only and Hidden. Under some versions of Windows, System is equally important. You can't edit a Read-only or System file. So very often your steps will be to remove those two attributes (where possible, and Read-only at the least), make changes to the file, then reinstate the original attribute settings. It's easy to do once you know how.

    Tip 3: How to Backup System Registry
    The second tip is how to backup the System Registry for safekeeping before you carry out a tip that requires Registry editing. There are several ways to do this. And some of them are specific to given Windows versions. For that reason, I'm going to just detail one easy way that everyone can remember. Under most versions of Windows, two files make up System Registry. Those files are SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT in your Windows folder. To backup the Registry, make copies of those files, renaming their extensions. For reference, I rename the copies of the files as SYSTEM.BAK and USER.BAK. That's all there is to it. If you run into a problem after trying a Registry edit, just delete SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT and rename the backup files to the original names. (You will probably have to turn off the Read-only and Hidden file attributes for these two files, following the instructions in Tip 2, before you can delete them.) Then reboot your PC. Be sure to reinstate the original file attributes on your Registry files. You can do the rename from either DOS or Windows. Placing the Registry files on a ZIP disc or burning them to a CD-RW disc is a good belt-and-suspenders notion. (Get details on backing up the Registry under Win2000/XP.)

    Tip 4: Using Microsoft Knowledgebase
    The fourth tip is how to search the Microsoft Knowledgebase for known problems and often surprisingly useful solutions. Microsoft's development and tech support departments have long maintained a free online database searchable via the Internet. Known as the Microsoft Knowledgebase, its value has grown year after year. If you've got a Windows problem, a little shrewd searching among relevant "KB" articles can often provide a solution. In fact, probably about half of the "tips" you read are derived from the Knowledgebase. This is where you access the Microsoft Knowledgebase:

    http://search.support.microsoft.com/kb/c.asp

    KB articles all have a number, and it's important to understand that number. For example, this KB article: Troubleshooting Internet Explorer for Macintosh, Q150592. The Q number is also the last six numbers in the URL for the KB article. Back on the main search page (previous URL), you'll see that you have the option to search by keywords, a specific article ID number, and asking a question using a free-text query (among other options). If a friend gives you the KB article number, use the "Specific article ID number" search option. Most searches do best with the "Keyword Search" option. Remember to do Step 1: Select the Microsoft product you're searching about. Select the appropriate product from the drop-down menu first. Sometimes you need to try different keywords. The free-text query lets you ask "How do I XXX?" and it's results are less predictable. Sometimes it's the best way to go; most of the time though, keywords do the best job.

    Sometimes you have to try several searches before you hit pay dirt. So keep trying. Combing through the results can sometimes be tedious, too. But if you stick with it, about half the time you'll come across something very useful.

    Tip 5: Using Windows Update
    Finally, I have been highly critical of Microsoft's Windows Update service in the past. See way back issues of Windows Insider if you're curious.

    But Windows Update has improved noticeably over the last 18 months. Although it's less likely to solve a problem than most people who use it regularly probably think, Windows Update is a resource worth checking. You should find it on your Start or Programs menu. If not, you can use this URL:

    http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/

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

    Back to the Top


    'Announcement' Version of SFNL
    As part of the ongoing discussion about whether Scot’s Newsletter is too long, a few issues back I asked people to email me if they would be interested in an announcement version of the newsletter.

    Such a version would be based on my standard text newsletter. The difference would be that only the first paragraph or two would appear below each primary subhead of the newsletter. Following that text would be a link to the same subhead on the website version of the newsletter. In order to read the newsletter, you would need to have a live connection to the Internet.

    About 150 readers responded saying they would be interested in this optional abbreviated version of the newsletter should I decide to offer it. Even though I didn't offer a "No" email link, about a dozen people created their own. Just to be clear: Any announcement version of the newsletter I might do would not replace the existing text version. It would just be an optional subscription choice.

    I'm still considering whether to do this, and I'll let you know once I've decided. But my guess is that people will not like this as much as they think they'll like it. Here's why. Other newsletters that send out brief descriptive newsletters in conjunction with a website version of the content write "digest" summaries of what you'll find when you click the link to a specific section of their newsletters. I wouldn't have the time to write a digest of each story. Instead, I would just be offering the first paragraph or two under each primary subhead of the standard newsletter. Sometimes those paragraphs don't really tell you what's coming.

    There's another issue too, since the announcement version will have to be text based, I can't offer navigation within the text newsletter between the sections. (This is possible in an HTML message, but not in a text message.) I would like to suggest that everyone interested in the Announcement version try using the link at the top of every emailed issue of Scot’s Newsletter that reads:

    Read the neater website version of Scot’s Newsletter!
    http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/09.htm

    You can treat this entire email as an announcement. The website version has internal navigation, including "Back to Top." So you can far more easily scan it. There are no heavy graphics to download. You should at least try this. If you try it and it doesn't work for you, please let me know why.

    One thing that's clear to me is that I really need to consider an HTML version of this newsletter. I've been holding off on that because my plan has been to offer HTML as part of the enticement to paid subscribers. It's also a good deal more work.

    Back to the Top


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