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Scot’s Newsletter

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August 8, 2001 - Vol. 1, Issue No. 10

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Product Activation Is Microsoft's Big Win XP Mistake
  • Alternative Operating Systems: Linux Mandrake 8.0
  • Microsoft Is Sending Windows XP RC2
  • Browser News: Netscape 6.1, IE 6.0, and IE 5.5 SP2
  • DSL Deliverance: Covad, Rhythms, and ProSpeed
  • Pegasus Express Down for the Count
  • The Truth About the PhoenixNet 'Spy' BIOS
  • Your Broadband Experiences
  • Tip of the Week: Backing Up the Win2000/XP Registry
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Your Address.


    Product Activation Is Microsoft's Big Win XP Mistake
    Microsoft has just released a technical bulletin (link opens .DOC file) about Product Activation that you should probably read if you have lingering questions on the subject. You should also check out Microsoft's Product Activation answers site.

    Just as the software maker is beginning to wrap up development of Windows XP (I'm predicting the OS will finalize at the end of this month), Senators, privacy groups, and competitors are doing their level best to halt or delay the new operating system. For some, that's because of issues with application bundling (or "commingling," to use the legalese, by tying in Windows Media Player, Windows Messenger, et al.). For others, it's because of issues with Passport, Hotmail, and other Internet services that are required for some activities, and which may pose a privacy threat. There are even companies like Kodak complaining that Microsoft's built-in software for working with digital images replaces software Kodak distributes with its products. For the first time in over 15 years of writing about Microsoft products, I find myself agreeing not with Microsoft, but with the forces loosely aligned against it.

    Oddly, though, it isn't any of the above that's irritates me most about Windows XP; it's Windows Product Activation that has me on edge. Scot’s Newsletter, and Windows Insider before it, have produced a half dozen strong, detailed articles about Microsoft's Windows Product Activation (WPA). I've also touched upon Office XP's Product Activation in several recent issues. Even though Microsoft is still tweaking WPA, and a final pronouncement on the "feature" will be the topic of Scot’s Newsletter later in the year, I've seen enough by now to stop pulling my punches about the copy-protection scheme. Product activation is bad idea because it has the potential to significantly erode the end-user experience. It introduces numerous opportunities for frustration. We're not talking inconvenience; we're talking outright slam-your-fist-into-a-wall frustration.

    I ran into just one example recently. Microsoft sent me a copy of the retail version of Office XP a couple months ago. I installed it on two machines, the maximum permitted. To install it on the second machine (Office XP permits a second installation to a laptop PC, Windows XP does not), I had to call the Office Product Activation support line and say pretty please. The rep gave me a Confirmation ID that I had to type into the PA screen. All went well.

    Next, because of testing I'm doing on Word 2002 issues at Microsoft's behest, I was asked to install a newer instance of Office XP (which they overnighted me) on the same two machines. So I uninstalled Office XP from both PCs and then installed the newer version on both. I didn't bother to call the Office XP PA number to activate the second machine because I had every intention of going back and using the first version of Office XP on the two machines. When I was done testing, I uninstalled the second instance of Office XP from both machines, and reinstalled the first one. Guess what? The second machine -- the one for which I had called for the special Confirmation ID -- would not reactivate. Even when I attempted to put in the Confirmation ID I'd been given previously. That means I'm going to have to call and explain to the PA rep and try to explain what I did -- all perfectly legal according to Microsoft's license agreement -- and say pretty, pretty please. Otherwise, I've effectively killed one of my copies of Office XP.

    That's why I strongly dislike Microsoft's product activation. Because, while on the surface it sounds like it'll be fine, in practice it is going to cause numerous difficulties and mounting frustration. Far more than Microsoft is so confidently predicting.

    I think Windows XP is going to wind up being the best version of Windows ever. I really, really like it. But I'm beginning to think it won't be the version of Windows I use on my primary PC. Because who needs the Product Activation aggravation? Not me. And keep in mind, I'm a reviewer. They send me the bits for free. Microsoft hasn't thought this through. Maybe others will find they can live with WPA, but I doubt I ever will. It's just too much of a big brother thing for my taste. There's a reason why Central Point Software's Copy2PC thrived back in the 1980s. It's because people hate copy protection -- especially people who are honest. Because copy protection is a pain in the butt. And Windows Product Activation is no different. In fact, it may be worse.

    A couple of weeks ago, as I pondered Windows XP with Product Activation, I asked myself. But what alternative do we really have? Well, maybe Linux is a partial alternative ...

    Back to the Top


    Alternative Operating Systems: Linux Mandrake 8.0
    In the last issue of the newsletter, I wrote a fairly anti-Macintosh response to a question posed by a reader. I expected to get a lot of negative mail, but surprisingly only a handful of you wrote to complain about my opinion. I guess there's nothing quite so rabid as an ex-Mac user, a phrase that describes me and quite a few others. Apple has improved in recent years, but not enough for me. Even so, I apparently made an error in comparing a Dell Windows PC to a Mac G4. For several years, all Macs have shipped with onboard Ethernet circuitry. Apple didn't mention that in the specs for the G4 I perused, so I overlooked it too. Apple has also declined to send me a G4 for evaluation because they say they have no units available.

    I stand by my comments about the Mac, although everyone is entitled to their opinion. And I'm not trying to push Mac users away. On the other hand, I call 'em as I see 'em -- and I always will. In fact, if Apple ever decides to grace SFNL Labs with a G4 running OS X or OS X.1, I will give the operating system a full and fair review in this newsletter.

    So what's this Macintosh business have to do with Mandrake 8.0? Among the many emails I received was one commenting on a passing reference I made about Linux not being truly suitable as a desktop operating system. The reader implored me to rethink that statement based on the latest versions of the Linux kernel and the packaging by Linux Mandrake in particular.

    My previous Linux experience is pretty modest, but extensive enough to draw conclusions. In 1999 I bought Red Hat Linux 6.1, installed it without much trouble, and used it for a year. Then I received the last two versions of Corel Linux and installed both. Linux has been running in the SFNL Labs for about two years.

    My Red Hat 6.1 experience was pretty terrible, and I received no help from the company, despite having paid the full $60 price for a retail version of the product. There was a Catch 22 in that the Red Hat servers never did recognize me as a registered user, so I couldn't download any of the fixes for the Update tool, which was required in order to solve the system problems I was having -- which included the inability to install any software. After lots of emails and hours spent trying to fix the problem, I finally got fed up with Red Hat. My Corel experience was much better. But after a few months I found that the dual-boot with Windows on the same PC no longer functioned reliably, and even Linux sessions began to lose stability. Probably these problems cropped up because the system wasn't shutdown properly while it was logged in as Root -- a problem I've heard other people lament in dual-boot installations, and not just with Corel Linux. So I reinstalled. That fixed the problem for a time, but it came back again later. And with Corel apparently not updating its product any longer, I began to lose interest. I was also not thrilled with any Linux-based Web browser available at that time -- something that kept me from using my Linux installation as much as I might have.

    Over the weekend, I bought Linux Mandrake 8.0 PowerPack and installed it. The previous weekend I had selected a machine and opted to upgrade its hardware to make it a near ideal Linux box. I chose a Dell Pentium II 450. After some low-cost upgrading, it has a 28GB hard drive, a 13GB hard drive, 256MB of RAM, an NVidea GeForce 2 MX 32MB video card, a Samsung SyncMaster 800 TFT 18.1-inch LCD display, a 3Com 3C905B-TX Ethernet card (with LAN-based connection to my SDSL Internet connection), and Microsoft keyboard and optical scroll-wheel mouse. The only real wildcard is the Aureal Vortex 1-based soundcard in this machine. I decided to leave that problem in place to see how much difficulty I'd have fixing it after the installation. Given that Aureal is out of business, and the company's original Linux drivers were problematic, I was leaving myself a little hurdle that I so far haven't had time to attack.

    I chose Mandrake because it has the reputation of being the most end-user oriented distribution of Linux. In other words, it's the closest distribution to being a desktop OS that might compete with Windows. Having installed it and lived with it for a few days, I can honestly say that Mandrake 8.0 lives up to its billing. Even though Corel Linux was a tad easier to install, Mandrake has a much better set of installation options. You can either take control or allow it to manage the process. And you can go back and forth between those to modes of installation.

    Terminology is an issue, and the documentation -- like most Linux manuals -- is appalling. Not because of bad English, but because it occasionally fails to address obvious questions, or uses terminology that isn't explained. But, unlike Red Hat's documentation (at least, in the 6.1 timeframe), which puts you to sleep by over explaining everything, the Mandrake docs strive to say only what's needed, getting to the point right away. Although they need a strong editor, the Mandrake docs lay a good foundation. Bottom line: I spent less than 20 minutes reading the installation instructions. I didn't even really need to do that. Except for nomenclature things (such as two different "Expert" modes, one in the GUI and one in the command area), I needn't have bothered reading the docs at all. Installation was very easy. Almost as easy as later versions of Windows, and clearly easier than a Win 3.x or Win95 installation.

    But like every other Linux manual I've seen, the Mandrake docs are long on installation help and detailed "reference" materials, but way too short on telling people how to do the things they most need to do: install applications, change settings, adjust the multiple-boot menu, configure hardware, set up a basic network, and so on. With Red Hat 6.1, I couldn't find instructions for how to adjust my screen resolution, though. That's easy under Mandrake, and it wasn't tough under Corel. So Linux is improving all the time. Still, not everyone is going to approach Linux as your average geek does. To make Linux truly usable by the masses, teams of people are going to have to spend time (and probably money) creating interfaces and documentation that are easy to grasp and use.

    Some drill-down on Mandrake's installation routine: The process sets up Windows dual boot (if you like), repartitions and reformats your hard drive, copies the OS files, and also installs whatever applications you purchased with Mandrake. Since I bought the $65 PowerPack (from a local Best Buy store), I got gobs of apps. And most of the installation time was spent copying applications and image files onto my hard drive. Even though this was my first Mandrake installation, I found myself multitasking elsewhere while it was running. In other words, I was so comfortable with what was happening, I wasn't riveted to my chair awaiting disaster. Instead I answered email on a neighboring Windows PC, checking back now and then to pop in a new disc or answer a question.

    Along with everything else, Mandrake 8.0's Expert installation mode walks you through creating a boot disk, setting up firewall security, establishing networking and Internet access, assigning a password to the Root (Administration user), and creating at least one user. Based on the installation experience of longtime reader Lanny Marcus, the "Recommended" installation process skips some of these steps -- including making a boot floppy, assigning a password to Root, and setting up firewall protection. My biggest criticism of Linux Mandrake 8.0 is that the Recommended installation cuts these corners. I strongly urge that anyone installing Mandrake 8.0 select the "Expert" option (not in the character mode area, but in the Graphical User Interface part). Doing that and then following along in the Mandrake manual (which does not detail the Recommended installation process at all), you'll get the best installation you can get. A dual-boot configuration with Windows is recommended because that may help you configure your hardware, or keep using your PC until you do.

    Post installation, I was immediately impressed with Linux Mandrake. Everything I've tried so far has worked (except sound, which, as expected, it utterly mute). Mandrake comes with at least five Web browsers, including Netscape 4.77, Opera, Mozilla, and KDE Konqueror (both file browser and Web browser), all of which do a great job. So I'm already able to use this box for serious lengths of time. I found I had to twist up the size of the fonts, since I'm running at the LCD's native 1280 x 1024 resolution. But that was easy to accomplish in the Control Center.

    My wife walked in while I was working with Linux Mandrake running the KDE desktop interface, and she remarked: "Ah, this *has* gotten better." That's pretty much the way I feel about it. I'm not yet ready to declare Linux Mandrake 8.0 a truly usable desktop OS -- and a full-on alternative to Windows -- but this release of the kernel and KDE certainly bring that possibility a full step closer over Linux distributions of recent yore.

    I plan to report back on my Mandrake experiences from time to time. If you've got Linux questions, or you're a Linux user who wants to point out something to me, send me your thoughts.

  • $64.95, Linux Mandrake PowerPack 8.0, MandrakeSoft, 626-296-6290

    Back to the Top


    Microsoft Is Sending Windows XP RC2
    After hearing a few weeks back that the press would not receive RC2 of Windows XP, I'm happy to report that Microsoft has changed its mind and I'm slated to receive an RC2 XP CD in a couple days. I'll have a Win XP RC2 update in the next newsletter. It'll chart anything new or different about in the last major pre-release build of the next Windows. My prediction is that Win XP will go "gold" by the first week of September, and perhaps a week earlier.

    Recent published reports say that Microsoft is giving its larger OEM PC maker customers the OK to ship Windows XP as much as one-month earlier than the official retail on-sale date of October 25. So you might be able to buy a new PC with Windows XP around September 25. PC makers need some time to test the "gold" code of a new Windows version on their selected hardware before they begin shipping product with that OS. Traditionally, two weeks is the average minimum testing time. On consumer PCs, Windows XP is a far more dramatic change than any version of Windows since Windows 95. That might call for a longer test period of three or four weeks. On the other hand, every major test build (Beta 2, RC1, and presumably RC2) has been much more solid than their counterparts under previous Windows development cycles, including Windows 2000 and Windows Me. So PC makers may be ahead of the curve.

    Bottom line, it's crystal ball gazing time on when new PCs will actually arrive. Late September has been my guess for two months now, so I'm not surprised that Microsoft is reported to be saying that out loud. But there could still be a week, maybe even two, of padding built into that number. At this point, Microsoft has a vested interest in pushing Windows XP out the door as fast as it can do so without making mistakes. Once the new operating system is in consumers' hands, it would be much tougher for the courts to issue an injunction on it. Let's not lose sight of the fact that Microsoft originally intended to finalize the Win XP code in mid August. The development cycle lost almost three weeks back in the first quarter of this year, right before Beta 2 shipped. But near as I can tell, the software maker has been solidly on course ever since.

    I bet those developers are hoping to wrap it up before Labor Day.

    Back to the Top


    Browser News: Netscape 6.1, IE 6.0, and IE 5.5 SP2
    Netscape released version 6.1 version of its browser suite today, and Microsoft released IE 5.5 Service Pack 2 last week. And there's been recent talk that final version of IE 6.0 could be released as soon as next week. Here's an update on all things browser:

    Netscape 6.1
    The first truly positive buzz about a Netscape browser in over two years is to be found right now on some bulletin boards around the 'Net. Some people are saying this new version is more reliable, and also loads faster. Netscape is claiming both performance and reliability improvements.

    I was one of the few reviewers who actually seemed to like many things about Netscape 6.0. Although ultimately, I found the shipping version to be too buggy, I still think that the 6.x release is much better than the 4.x code base, which I find slow, stodgy, and somewhat unreliable. On that last point, Netscape 6.0 was clearly worse. Does Netscape have the bugs worked out? Time will tell. I'm not ready to make up my mind about that yet. One thing I will say is that in the fewer than 24 hours I've had to play with it, so far I like it a lot. It also does improve some of the page-display-compatibility issues we saw with the initial 6.0 release, although not all of them.

  • You can download Netscape 6.1 right now.

    Expect about a 25MB download typically; my stripped down installation began life as an 18MB download, including Sun's Java virtual machine software, called "Sun Java 2." The installation process was fast, easy, streamlined. There's a check-off box that lets you save the installer files (something I recommend).

    The one criticism I've leveled in past that Netscape didn't address is the confusing dialog that pops up at the end of setup that asks: "Do you want to set up Windows so that it will use this application whenever you open the kinds of documents and Internet shortcuts that this application can view?" I mean, duh! What are they talking about? Make sure to say "No" on this one. Otherwise Netscape steals your file associations, which can lead to a painful user experience, especially if you're using any other browser.

  • Learn more about the features and changes in Netscape 6.1.
  • Netscape 6.1 Launch Press Release.

    The IE 6.0 Ship Date
    CNET, TheRegister, and BetaNews have all reported in recent weeks that Microsoft is very close to finalizing IE 6.0. On August 3rd, TheRegister wrote: "Internet Explorer 6 is due to go gold next week and will be released on August 15 as a standalone program."

  • IE 6 to Launch on 15 August (TheRegister).

    I put this question to Microsoft yesterday, and the answer I received was that IE 6.0 will ship around the same time that Windows XP becomes available. I read that this way: Microsoft will post IE 6.0 on its Web servers or free download around the time that PC makers begin shipping Windows XP boxes in quantity. But I guess we're going to have to wait and see whether TheRegister and BetaNews are right. Certainly, at this point, the watch begins for IE 6.0.

    The IE 5.5 Service Pack 2
    As is usually the case with service packs for Internet Explorer, Microsoft quietly posted IE 5.5 SP2 on about August 2. Thanks to reader Phil Chee for bringing it to my attention. You can get the new IE 5.5 from Windows Update, but I recommend reading this IE 5.5 SP2 Knowledgebase article first.

    Before you go chasing off to install this thing, like other IE service packs, this installs IE all over again. If you choose the Download Only option, it's a 29MB download. What's more, I don't recommend installing IE 5.5. I never have. Although I run it on a couple of machines in the SFNL Labs, I recommend IE 5.01 SP2 instead.

    I also just installed IE 5.5 SP2 today, so I can't tell you whether there might be issues with it. The last several IE service packs have posed zero reported (to me) problems for the people who have installed them under any version of IE 5. This is the description of IE 5.5 SP2 that Microsoft offers:

    The newest version of Internet Explorer includes improved support for DHTML and CSS, which gives Web architects greater control over browser appearance and behavior. Enjoy the ability to preview Web pages exactly as they appear when printed. Internet Explorer 5.5 Service Pack 2 (SP2) makes it easier than ever to connect to the Internet and find the information you need. With Internet Explorer 5.5 SP2, you can use Connection Manager as your default dialer when Dial-Up Networking is already installed.

    Back to the Top


    DSL Deliverance: Covad, Rhythms, and ProSpeed
    Well, it finally happened. My DSL wholesaler, Covad, announced that it's in the midst of a prenegotiated Chapter 11 filing yesterday, which is expected to be made around the middle of this month.

  • Covad to File Chapter 11 (InternetWeek).

    But things may not be as bad as I feared. My Covad SDSL service is fronted by SpeakEasy.net's ISP services. I've been very happy with both companies. According to an email message sent by SpeakEasy to its DSL customers yesterday, the "Chapter 11 filing will affect the parent company, Covad Communications Group, Inc., but will in no way affect ... its operating companies. Due to this essential distinction, all of the Covad operating companies (which include vendor relationships and the maintenance of DSL circuits) will continue to operate without any court-imposed restrictions. Basically, this announcement will not affect your Speakeasy DSL service in any way."

    So, at least for the short term, it would seem I still have a DSL connection.

    I wish I could say the same for Rhythms NetConnections customers. Rhythms filed for Chapter 11 last week, and unlike what they're telling us about the 330,000 existing Covad circuits, Rhythms customers are facing possible disconnection.

  • Covad to File for Bankruptcy (Excite News).

    Thanks to Terry Flanagan for providing this letter that EarthLink sent out to some EarthLink's Rhythms DSL customers:

    Dear EarthLink Subscriber,

    We want to alert you to a problem that is likely to affect your EarthLink DSL access.

    EarthLink works with several partners to provide DSL service to our subscribers. The partner who helps us provide you with EarthLink DSL is Rhythms NetConnections Inc. Rhythms NetConnections Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It is possible that they will not be able to continue to meet their obligations.

    Because of this, we have been trying to find out whether another one of our partners can provide you with DSL service. If one of our other partners CAN take over, you may face a range of scenarios. At the simplest end, you'll need to install some new hardware and change some email settings. In a more complicated situation, you may also face as much as a 6-week DSL downtime, during which you'll need to access EarthLink via dial-up modem. Unfortunately, we cannot even guarantee that another partner will be available for your area.

    Whatever scenario you face, we will stick with you every step of the way to make your transition as smooth as possible.

    Within the next few weeks, we will send you detailed information about how Rhythms NetConnections Inc.'s chapter 11 filing will affect your DSL. At that time, we will provide you with EarthLink's plan for your future service and your options. Please check your EarthLink email regularly for updated information.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at 1-800-890-6356 or via email at dslservice@earthlink.net.

    Here at EarthLink, we're dedicated to doing everything possible to keep your DSL service up and running during this difficult time.

    Sincerely, The EarthLink DSL Team

    DSL for SFNL
    Interestingly, a small local DSL ISP called ProSpeed is aggressively trying to deliver DSL service in the northeastern region of the U.S. where I'm based. It has specifically named my town as being one it hopes to roll out DSL service to within three months. Meanwhile, Verizon, which has all the digital switchgear in place that it needs to offer DSL in my town, is still declining to offer DSL service here. (That's why you don't want too much power in the hands of the baby bells.) Up until now, only Covad has been in my hometown Central Office. It's not clear to me how ProSpeed expects to access the CO, whether through Covad or by acquiring direct access itself. It'd be interesting, though, to have two DSL connections.

    Some 39 towns in my region were promised AT&T Broadband cable-modem service this year, and only four will receive it. One of the towns has announced plans to launch its own cable TV/Internet access services. That may sound strange, but there's one town in this area that has successfully managed its own cable TV and now cable Internet service for approximately 20 years. Several towns are considering this option very closely.

    For the good of the broadband coverage in this newsletter, I fully intend to acquire cable modem service just as soon as possible. DSL and satellite aren't enough. I also want to test products that allow you to bond two or more broadband connections. But with AT&T Broadband clearly on the selling block, the prospects for getting cable modem service here any time soon are dimming again. We've already been through this once. It took about 18 months for the Cablevision-AT&T Broadband regional customer swap to go through. AT&T had originally promised my town to offer cable modem service by the second quarter of this year. Early this year, they reneged and pushed that back to the Spring of 2002. At this point, any talk or promises are meaningless.

    People who live in this neck of the woods -- not all that far from where the Boston Tea Party took place -- are ready to revolt over being yanked around by corporate America on high-speed access. There are a great many high-tech companies in this area, and people who live here are fed up. Me among them.

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    Pegasus Express Down for the Count
    Nothing in the world of broadband ever works first time, every time, and stays working for any length of time. When you count up all the broadband connections I've had, the number crosses into double digits. And I've never once gotten a new broadband service that didn't have some sort of problem during the first 90 days.

    Pegasus Express is no different. A week and a half ago my Pegasus Express connection just stopped working. I didn't have a lot of time to fiddle with it. In the back of my mind when I discovered the problem was the concern that the large oak tree that takes up a big part of the sky very close to where DirecPC's satellite is parked in geosynchronous orbit might have grown a bit, obscuring the direct line between my dish and the satellite. I already had tree guys scheduled for a big pile of tree work in my yard, so when they came on Monday, I worked with them to prune away the potentially offending small branches. But that wasn't the problem. For whatever reason, the signal strength on my Pegasus Express system dropped from the 70s to between 0 and 12. You need to be in the low 40s to have reliable service. Nothing is blocking the dish. So something else is wrong.

    I called Pegasus yesterday, and they're scheduling my installer to come back out and fix the problem. I'll let you know how it goes.

    Back to the Top


    The Truth About the PhoenixNet 'Spy' BIOS
    Back at the end of May I published a message in the Reader-to-Reader section of the newsletter about a BIOS from PhoenixNet that purportedly spied on its owners.

    Since then there've been several developments on this story, and I want to bring you up to date. First off, PhoenixNet decided a while back to discontinue the BIOS. I interviewed Rodney Archer, Phoenix's vice president of engineering and operations, and learned several things I want to pass along to you.

    First, according to Phoenix, the BIOS isn't actually the active component. Instead, a software program installed on your hard drive was the culprit. Also, and this may be the most important bit: According to Archer, the software was not tracking you at all. It sent this information, only one time, back to the PhoenixNet servers: Language installed for Windows, local country setting, data about your PC hardware, and your version of Windows. Thousands of Web servers collect similar information (and more), from you every time you surf to them. If what Archer says is true, this is not a big deal. Not that I'm endorsing the practice. But this isn't a scary invasion of privacy. Not to me, anyway.

    Some other details. Archer says that this particular BIOS, though owned by Phoenix Technologies, appears as a Phoenix Award BIOS. It was distributed mostly to Taiwan motherboard makers, and those motherboards did not make their way into "name brand" PCs. You'd be more likely to have this BIOS if you bought your own "white box" motherboard or you bought your PC from a local shop that builds PCs with cheap off the shelf parts. About 3 million motherboards with this PhoenixNet Award BIOS were distributed. There still could be some in the channel, by the way.

    The BIOS did not send any information if you did not want it too (and you were alert when the software first ran). There was a permission question. The PhoenixNet application that sends the information would just become inactive if you answered "No" to the permission question.

    Phoenix Technologies has made available a Web page that both describes what this BIOS and accompanying software does and also tells you how to disable the advertising-support features.

  • Instructions On Disabling PhoenixNet BIOS.

    Interestingly, the main reason PhoenixNet killed the project was because it was aimed at Internet advertising, and that's dried up over the last three or four months. Initially, PhoenixNet has a lot of well known companies who'd signed on with them to use the data, including CNET, EarthLink, Excite, TerraLycos, AltaVista, and Trend Microsystems. AOL was talking to PhoenixNet too.

    Finally, one of the features of this BIOS is a set of fully graphical configuration screens -- not the character-based screens 98 percent of BIOSes have. (IBM is the only other company I can think of that has offered GUI BIOS screens.) This aspect of the BIOS had nothing at all to do with the "phone home" activity.

    Even though the PhoenixNet BIOS threat seems to be less intrusive than many people feared -- and I think it's important to clear the air on the issue because these things take on a life of their own -- I am not condoning what PhoenixNet did. I believe the company made an error in judgment. But most of my PCs run Phoenix Technologies-derived BIOSes, and I hope that will continue.

    For more information, see these two sources:

  • Phoenix Answers Phone-Home BIOS Questions (TheRegister).
  • Dodging The PhoenixNet "Phone-Home" Bullet (LangaList).

    Back to the Top


    Your Broadband Experiences
    Haven't run this segment in a while, but I've continued to get email from people reporting their broadband experiences. Here's a couple you might be interested in.

    Oh Boy, Sprint ION
    The Sprint ION tech arrived right on time and marched right back to the NID that Southwestern Bell provided with the ADSL drop. He reported that the line was good but there was no ADSL loop present. He explained that it was very likely that the pair originally provided by SW Bell had been "borrowed" during the efforts to restore phone service in the aftermath of all the flooding we had in my area earlier. He said Sprint would order SW Bell to provide the ADSL loop and he would have to arrange another visit.

    Sprint projects four to six hours per installation, and my tech tried to get me to switch to Sprint's fixed wireless service (which has much slower performance). He also added that there have been some changes in ION service that were inconsistent with things I had heard earlier. There had been experiments in changing the connection between the COs and Sonet to ATM. At least in Houston those experiments were abject failures, so the CO to Sonet link is still over IP and this continues to present performance problems in the voice lines that come with ION service. SW Bell arrived the very next day and remedied the trouble with the ADSL line. The tech who performed the work was prompt, courteous, and knowledgeable. I almost asked him for SW Bell ID since this is not what I have come to expect from Ma Bell in my region.

    Next, I called the order processing dept, armed with my order ID and attempted to inquire about when the Sprint tech could return. Their initial response was two weeks later, at a time when I would be out of town for three weeks. But I was told it would either be then or four weeks after that. I protested. I'd been waiting eight weeks already and did not want to be delayed another four to six weeks. I told her that they should not be actively promoting a service that they were not prepared to provide in a timely manner. They had recently distributed hang tags on the door of every house in our neighborhood. She offered to take the matter to her superior and call me back once again.

    When she called back she took down an outline of my situation as well as my comments and emailed them to a management contact as directed by her supervisor. For my part I told them that if they cannot return to complete the installation before I left on my three-week trip (three days before the date they suggested initially), that the install order should be terminated. I would not do business with a company that was so unresponsive to prospective customers. I'm still waiting to find out whether they'll do it or not. --Michael Graves

    Note: This message is several weeks old. Michael, could you write me back and update me? --S.F.

    Bell Canada's DSL
    I ordered Bell Canada's DSL for my home in Ontario, Canada. Seven days later I received by express courier a package containing everything I need to start using DSL, and the process of setting up took me only an hour. At first I couldn't get online, but I called tech support, which wanted to know whether I had "put the filters on all my telephones, including my FAX machine?" They were right, I hadn't. I needed a couple of extra filters and these were sent out free of charge. In the meantime, I disconnected the fax and my cordless telephone and was online right away. My charges are $39.95 a month (Canadian), no installation fee, and one month free. This is Bell Canada's introductory offer.

    Two weeks later, our Cable TV provider, Roger's, introduced its @Home service in our area. My wife ordered this service for her computer. (Bell doesn't support networking, we're too inexperienced to take on networking the DSL.) When she placed the order, she was given a date a week out at 3PM. They apologized that they couldn't do it sooner, but were very busy in our area (city of 33,000). The installer arrived an hour early on the date given, apologizing for being early. Less than 90 minutes later he'd run a new coax line from the box in our basement through the ceiling and walls to a first floor room. By two hours, my wife's machine was connected perfectly. The rate is also $39.95 a month, free installation, with two months free. Neither provider has service contract that specifies a minimum period of time, like one year, that you must stay with them for or pay a fee to disconnect. Last week I cancelled my DSL. I bought a hub, cable, and my wife and I are sharing the cable modem Internet access. On PC Pit Stop we're getting 1,800-2,200kbps on their Extreme bandwidth test. --John Parker, Ontario, Canada

    Response: For over a year now I've been planning to do a story on Canadian broadband. Letter after letter after letter that I receive from Canadian readers report experiences like John Parker's. Very fast service, excellent customer service, fair pricing, easy terms. It's enough to make a guy want to head north. In fact, if you have broadband service in Canada, I'd like to hear about your experience. --S.F.

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

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    Tip of the Week: Backing Up the Win2000/XP Registry
    Last issue I published Five Essential Windows Tips. A torrent of interesting email came out of these tips. In particular, Tips 3 and 4, How to Backup System Registry and Using Microsoft's Knowledgebase, respectively, brought in the most mail. The MS Knowledgebase mail will be the subject of a future Tip of the Week installment. This time around, I want to give Win2000/WinXP readers a better set of instructions on How to Backup the System Registry.

    The easiest way to do this is use the Export function in the System Registry Editor. But to do this manually -- which is still the way I prefer -- you need to understand that Win2000/XP Registry is set up differently than the Win9x Registry. The two main files are NTUSER.DAT and USRCLASS.DAT. You should do a search for these files on your system. You may find multiple versions because of the way users and profiles are handled in these versions of Windows.

    But that's only some of your Registry. Win2000/XP uses the hive system. Using the System Registry Editor, open this subkey:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\ControlSet001\Control\HiveList\

    Depending on how you've set up your system, you may need to look at one of these key locations instead:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\ControlSet002\Control\HiveList\
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\HiveList\

    The HiveList shows you the locations, by path statement, of all the files that make up the Registry on your PC. Just make copies of NTUSER.DAT, USRCLASS.DAT, and all the hive files to create a full Registry backup.

    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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