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April 19, 2002 - Vol. 2, Issue No. 24

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Windows XP Borg Assimilates Finnie
  • Multiboot, Part II: System Commander 7.04
  • Sun Cobalt's Qube 3 **Top Product!**
  • SFNL Lab Notes
  • Product Beat: Mozilla, Ad-aware, Nexland
  • StarBand News, and StarBand via Ethernet
  • Reader Poll: The Best Web Host, Take II
  • Happy B-Day to SFNL and Subscriptions
  • Tried and True: Netgear PC Card NIC
  • SFNL's Broadband
  • Link of the Week: Black Viper SuperTweaks
  • Tip of the Week: Fixes For Two Annoying Problems
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Your Address.


    Windows XP Borg Assimilates Finnie
    It's your fault.

    Windows XP has been running in SFNL Labs for something like a year now on a couple of test machines. But as part of my research for both the NTFS file system series and the multiple-boot series, I wound up installing XP on a number of other machines. That forced me to really use XP, instead of "review" it. I found that I liked it in spite of myself (and product activation).

    Then one day I got fed up with a specific program that I really like, but that clearly has a memory leak. (Not Eudora, by the way. And I'm not naming this app now because I'm planning to review it here in the near future.) Because of this one program, I had been rebooting Windows 98 two to three times a day.) I found myself so furious that I picked up a Windows XP disc, cleared away a partition on my main PC, and clean installed Windows XP Pro in a multi-boot configuration.

    I knew from experience that the setup process would be long but that the result would be reliable. Afterwards, though, I expected lots of hassles with applications, networking, and messing around to make Windows XP work the way I wanted it to. Although I still prefer Windows 98's UI overall, Windows XP is easy to configure, and the UI is more flexible. Truth be told, I ran into no significant issues with configuring XP or setting up my applications. I'll be offering some tips about this in the multiple-boot series, so stay tuned.

    That was nearly two months ago. Since then, two other machines now have XP on them, also in multi-boot configurations with Win98. One of those two additional machines is my primary "household" notebook PC. I don't use it for work so much as for play and shopping. [Editor's note: Ah ha! The cat's out of the bag now. --Cyndy] That means that the two computers which account for 85 percent of my computer use are both running Windows XP. And it's XP that I'm running on them primarily.

    By now you've guessed the truth. I've become a Windows XP convert. In fact, there's no operating system I've tried or worked with over the last five years that I like as much as Windows XP. I wanted to hate it. I do hate Windows Product Activation. But the benefits of the newest version of Windows overshadow everything Microsoft has ever done. And it makes current distributions of Linux pale by comparison.

    It's not Linux's underpinnings I'm dissing here, by the way. Linux is an extremely reliable and well-architected OS. There's a lot to admire about Linux. It's based on open source code -- clearly an advantage. It's also an advantage that it's a UNIX derivative, although I'll freely admit I'm not that fluent in UNIX. My problem with Linux is that the UI is an afterthought. And I don't mean the color of the icons. I mean the tools you use to configure Linux and make it work the way you want to. Each flavor of Linux works a little differently, too. There's a lot of room for improved consistency. The biggest problem, though, is installing services (daemons) and applications. No two Linux distros handle this basic OS function quite the same way, and problems are common. Finally, despite many excellent websites, FAQs, and even some pretty good documentation, there's no denying the steep learning curve.

    But this isn't a Linux kiss-off. I'm still very intrigued by it. And I will continue to download or purchase newer distributions. In fact, I'm planning a new Red Hat test some time this year. The thing is, I'm not going to pick an OS -- or not pick one -- based on whether I hate the company that makes it. I have to call them as I see them, and the way I see Windows XP is that I like it a lot. More than I expected to. More than any version of Linux I've tried. It's nearly as reliable as Linux, and a whole lot easier to use. Okay, so it's way bloated by comparison. And product activation is a dumb idea. The way I see it, those are the only drawbacks.

    Let me tarry on the Windows Product Activation (WPA) point for a minute. [Editor's note: Do we have to? --Cyndy] You probably know computer reviewers get most software for free, and most hardware is offered on a 90-day loan basis. When it comes to Windows XP, reviewers get special CDs that allow for installation of Win XP on multiple PCs. It's unclear to me what the actual number of PCs is, but it's something like 10 to 15 PCs. By accident, I wound up with two XP discs. All reviewers got Full Install Windows XP Pro discs. To get anything else, we have to ask specially for it. So, bottom line, while I've hated Product Activation in print over and over again, I'm not as affected by it as the average power user may be. (IT people at larger companies may have a license arrangement that gives them special versions of XP that don't need to be activated at all.)

    Last but not least, I know I'm going to hear some howls from my many Windows 98-using readers. I already get occasional criticisms because I'm not offering many Windows 98 tips. Here's the thing: This changes nothing. Virtually every computer at my disposal has Win98 on it. If I come across anything new about Windows 98 that I can write about, I will. The problem is that there isn't much new. I've already covered the best information at least once and probably twice. One thing I will promise: I'm working on exposing my Best of SFNL content better on the Scot’s Newsletter website. That should help Win98 users more quickly access the best tips and how-tos from back issues.

    So, just what operating systems does SFNL cover? Let me make this very plain because I haven't recently. Windows XP is very definitely on the SFNL menu. So is Windows 98. I will also offer coverage of Windows 2000 and Windows Me, where applicable. I have one Windows 95 test machine left in SFNL Labs, and some time this year it'll will be departing to make way for newer PCs. When that PC goes, so does official Windows 95 coverage (because I will have no way to test anything on Windows 95). I have only one original Windows 98 PC, although that machine is less threatened. I also have only one Windows NT machine, and I really don't plan any NT 4.0-specific coverage. There will be future Linux coverage in this newsletter, although it will probably only be on a special-appearance basis. Apple Computers turned me down on a request for an OS X evaluation Macintosh, so I will not be covering the Mac or OS X. Complaints, suggestions, comments.

    Back to the Top


    Multiboot, Part II: System Commander 7.04
    In the last issue of Scot’s Newsletter I launched a series on multibooting Windows XP and Windows 98. I've gotten quite a lot of email on this subject over the last six months, and the topic has also come up on the Computer America Talk Radio Show Tech boards, where I've been moderating.

    Because of that I cast a net a while back to learn the best way to add a Windows 98 installation to an existing Windows XP (or Windows 2000) installation. In the last issue, I established that doing the reverse, adding Win2K/XP to an existing Windows 98/Me installation is ... well, pathetically easy. Win2000 and Win XP have excellent setup routines that are able to automatically configure multiple boot.

    But when adding Win98 second, things get dark in a hurry. I had an interesting email from Scot’s Newsletter reader and Windows expert Carl Siechert. Carl co-authored the book "The Windows 2000 Professional Expert Companion" with a friend of mine, Craig Stinson. Carl also co-authored Microsoft Press's "Windows XP Inside Out" with another friend of mine, Ed Bott. So Carl knows his stuff, and he wrote to tell me that in his Expert Companion book, he and Craig offered some tips for installing Windows 98 after the fact with Windows 2000. To prove the point, he sent me both of his books. In a future issue of the newsletter, I plan to test their solutions, update as necessary for Windows XP, and publish a do-it-yourself set of instructions -- if I can find one set that's reliable.

    For this issue, I tested V-Communication's System Commander 7.04. System Commander is the king of multiple-boot utilities. I've tested several versions over the years, but not for this specific application.

    Using System Commander 7.04
    Nothing is ever easy about computers. (Here's where I'm supposed to smile gleefully because it keeps me in business, but we could all use stuff that works the first time.) It took me two and a half days of trying, but I finally managed to prompt V-Communications System Commander 7.04 to install Windows 98 on a Windows XP PC.

    Why did it take so long? I started with this premise. I just bought a new PC and the PC maker didn't give me an option; the new box came with Windows XP (my choice of Home or Pro). I chose Pro, by the way, but there's no difference when it comes to installing Windows 98 after the fact. I'm figuring that you have a single NTFS partition of probably 40GB or more. So that's how I configured my test computer (although, being an 18-month-old Compaq Armada M700, the hard drive is only 12GB).

    First I acquired System Commander 7. The retail box I got was version 7.02, so I downloaded the free upgrade to 7.04, which you install as an update to the installed program. So far so good. System Commander isn't a program you can run, per se. It starts each time you boot your PC. It runs its own little operating system at system boot automatically, and then provides you with a user menu. You select which OS you want to run, and then your system restarts and you launch into that OS.

    Setting it up is the hard part. System Commander comes with Partition Commander, a dynamic disk partition utility, and the OS Wizard, a tool that automates the process of installing multiple operating systems. There are two ways to work with this product: 1. Blow off the OS Wizard entirely, which is what I eventually had to do. 2. Check yourself into dummy mode, stop thinking, and let the OS Wizard do everything for you -- including the partitioning work. In my case, if I'd done that second thing, I might have realized sooner that OS Wizard wasn't feeling too magical with this process. Bottom line, each time I attempted to install Windows 98, the Windows Setup routine was telling me that it had found "Windows NT" on my disk, and that was a major problem that halted setup.

    I wound up using the full install version of Windows 98 with its special boot-floppy disk that doesn't use a RAMdisk (which gets assigned another drive letter). The process of installing over Windows XP (or Win2K) entails hiding the Win XP volume and making the Win98 target partition the active, bootable drive. That means that even though you're installing to your second drive partition, when you're actually doing the deed, you're installing to drive C:, since DOS can't "see" NTFS volumes.

    The OS Wizard is able to handle these chores, but for some reason Win98 Setup detected XP anyway. It wasn't until I used this Windows 98 Setup command string, supplied by V-Communications president Frank van Gilluwe, that I actually got the older version of Windows on my drive:

    Setup /d /NTLDR

    (Note: The /NTLDR caps are required.)

    Even then, it would only work after I used the Manually Partition option to hide the NTFS partition and set the FAT32 partition as active and bootable.

    That wasn't the end of it either. Although the Windows 98 installation went okay, SC7 was partially disabled by the process (which V-Communications says is normal). I had to run System Commander boot disk (which you make as part of SC's installation) in order to revive System Commander. This step is explained in the documentation, I just missed it. System Commander isn't really a program most of the time, it's a boot utility. That means there's sometimes no way to notify users about something because no program is actually running when they need to know.

    Now that it's set up, it works like a dream. And the highly configurable OS selection menu is a pleasure to use. But I have several beefs with this product. The user has zero sense of the process going into it. And the program doesn't tell you what it's doing now or what to do next. The technology is quite good, unique even. But someone at V-Communications needs to start thinking outside the box, both about making the process manageable and also what people want this thing for. It would seem to me that installing Win9x secondarily to Windows NT, 2000, and XP would be a natural task -- if for no other reason than it's hard to do. Also, with so many XP boxes for sale now, this need is only going to grow, not diminish. The documentation also needs help. It's well written, but again, there's little sense of process. What's needed is set of instructions, not a lot of overview. Step 1, step 2, step 3, that's what SC's docs should do. Of course, it would have to do that for several different processes, such as adding Linux to Win9x; adding Windows XP to Linux, and so forth.

    With a price in the $55-60 range, System Commander is a good deal. But I expect more from a product that purports to help me set up multiple boot. I recognize that Microsoft has made this difficult, but then, that's why I'm willing to pay money for a utility to do it for me. As it stands, I'd have to give System Commander a miss for this specific application of adding Windows 98 after the fact to a Windows XP PC. On the other hand, I did eventually get it to work. And it should be easier for you. Also, adding additional OSes is comparatively easy with this product.

    Finally, I should offer the caveat that V-Com stuck with me through all my problems in testing. They assigned a tech to run several types of Win98 over Windows XP on NTFS installations, and that person had no problems, according to the company. And I believe them. I guess what I'm saying is, it's possible your mileage will vary, in a good way.

    Do you have a multiple-boot tip for Windows XP you'd like to share? Send it in, and if I like it, I'll publish it in an upcoming edition and print your name. Be sure to include your first and last name for attribution.

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    Review: Sun Cobalt's Qube 3 **SFNL TOP PRODUCT!**
    Several issues back I gave Sun Cobalt's Qube 3 network appliance some ink in Product Beat. I had a demo of the product in another "Breakfast at Mel's" adventure, and I was really excited about it. About a month later, I received the product and it's been running my network ever since. Here's the review.

    The Sun Cobalt Qube 3 is a relaunch of the Qube 3 following Sun's purchase of Cobalt last year. Although this new Qube 3 is very similar to the old one, it nevertheless has a long list of new features, many of which, I'm told, will be available to pre-existing Cobalt customers, since what's new is software based.

    The Qube 3 is a server appliance aimed at branch, departmental, small offices, and up to medium-sized business. It's designed to create a network and provide Internet connectivity. Although it does not compete with other products SFNL has reviewed in past -- such as the Linksys and Netgear broadband routers -- it does many of the same things. It also provides a higher degree of reliability, a broader feature set, and entails some extra complexity. List pricing starts at $1,149 and moves up to $2,099. For the money, the Qube 3 is reasonably priced for the business environment.

    I tested the top-end model with twin RAID 40GB drives and 512MB of RAM. All Cube 3's come with a 450MHz processor, Linux, two built-in Ethernet ports (for connection to your Internet access and your network switch or hub). The biggest advantage of the Qube 3 is that you don't need to be a Linux aficionado to gain Linux's quiet server reliability. You configure the Qube 3 via an LCD panel to get started. Thereafter, you use a Web browser to make changes. These interfaces entirely shield you from Linux. What's more, if you just close your eyes and let the Qube set up your network, it'll get the job done in record time. (More experienced users may have trouble with this; I did. But if I'd just given the Qube 3 its head, I wouldn't have had any problems.)

    For the target customer, whom I sometimes call "instant IT" -- the person who didn't take one step back fast enough when volunteers were called for -- the ability to bypass Linux training is a blessing. And this is the single best aspect of this product -- ease of setup and configuration.

    In addition to basic DHCP (dynamic IP assignment), NAT-based IP sharing, and support for IPSec VPN services, the Qube 3 can function as a Web server, email server (SMTP, POP3, and IMAP), DNS server, FTP server, LDAP service, and primary domain controller. It can provide modem connectivity for dial-up access to the Internet (in addition to broadband access). With downloadable software, you can add true firewall services. It provides Web caching and can disable access to specific Web sites. It offers a Web mail feature. It delivers file sharing in a multiplatform environment. It also provides built-in print sharing (and spooling) via its USB port.

    For details about the product, see the Sun Cobalt Qube 3 product page. There are so many features, I can't detail them all here.

    The Qube 3 also has the ability to update itself, not just with system updates but with add-on software, both from Sun Cobalt and a solid list of third-party developers. Unfortunately, the third-party thing isn't working (apparently because of legal issues concerning tech support), but software for the Qube 3 is available from this website.

    In The Real World
    On paper, there is plenty about the Qube 3 to get excited about. And my long-term (over two months) experience with it bear out the initial impressions. The ability to use this product as a Web server and an email server give you a lot of power. Setup and configuration are quite easy. And this product was the most reliable DHCP server I have ever used. That means a lot to me, because larger networks tend to get fuddled up with stuff that makes certain nodes less responsive.

    One issue I never did completely clear up was trouble with wireless. This may be a network protocol issue that's more applicable in a mixed Windows environment. But I found that the wireless access points on my system didn't all function at 100 percent under the Cube 3. In particular, the Linksys models had difficulties, the symptoms of which were very slow file moves and copies. I've seen this same issue with older Windows networking protocols in place and WiFi before, so it wasn't a shocker. But I still haven't been able to resolve it.

    The rest of my problems with the Qube 3 aren't huge, but they deserve mention. First is the overall size. The product is roughly 8 inches square. That sounds small, but it's a good deal larger than the hardware it replaced on my network. Given that it's a full-fledged computer in this form factor, though, it's plenty small enough. Still, I had to make new accommodations for it. The fan is also a little noisy (although not as loud as that of the Netgear and D-Link switches). And the giant green "on" light on the front of this unit quickly required a big piece of packing tape to keep from blinding me. But my single biggest pet peeve is the power cord. It has a tendency to fall out. And since it can take well over 10 minutes for the Qube 3's RAID drives to self-check on startup, an inadvertent power loss can be "shout epithet out loud" annoying.

    I also struggled with terminology. Perhaps that's because I come from the world of Windows, and this is a Linux product marketed by a Unix company. But both the help system and the documentation didn't go far enough for me in explaining next steps. I wanted more detail, and more "how do I use it" instead of what it is. There's also no real context-sensitive help in the Web browser. The online documentation is frustratingly a .PDF file. At this level, a hard copy manual would be preferable. I had to contact Sun Cobalt on two separate occasions to figure out various features.

    All in all, I would recommend the Qube 3 to anyone setting up a business network -- especially anyone who wants an easy-to-setup network-in-a-box. Some companies are operating banks of them, since they can be ganged. I would also recommend the Qube 3 to any power user who wants to set up his own local Web server and/or email server with a minimum of fuss. I'm using it that way right now, and it's a breeze to configure. While not perfect, the Qube 3 is a pretty cool piece of hardware that's a cinch to solve problems wherever it goes. No question that it's an SFNL Top Product.

  • $1,149 - $2,099, Qube 3 Network Appliance, Sun Cobalt, 800-555-9SUN, Qube 3 Press Release

    Back to the Top


    SFNL Lab Notes
    As long promised, I'm gearing up for a personal firewall review that will include ZoneAlarm Pro 3.0, Norton Personal Firewall with intrusion detection, Windows XP's built-in firewall, and, hopefully, a new version of BlackICE Defender (that's the current hold up). Last time, I offered some notes about ZoneAlarm 3.0. I want to follow up on that thread.

    There I wrote: "I seem to be getting a lot of messages that computers on my trusted network (local LAN) are being blocked by ZA, even though my restrictions to the trusted network are almost nil." Even though I said installation went perfectly, apparently it did not. A Zone Labs tech support person worked with me to figure that out, and we released some of my previous settings, and the problems I was having disappeared. Note, though, that I followed the installation instructions to the letter. And I've heard from SFNL readers in the past that they've had trouble with upgrade installations of ZoneAlarm. This is the first time I've encountered that.

    I'm still not that fond of the new ZA interface. I don't think it adds anything truly useful, especially to existing users. The privacy features are nice, and all. And there are some other advantages here and there, but frankly, I prefer the old program.

    On the positive side, so far no problems whatsoever running on Windows XP. Only other point to note: Zone Labs released an update to ZoneAlarm 3.0 that adds some minor functionality and presumably some bug fixes.

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    Product Beat: Mozilla, Ad-aware, Nexland
    Three products in the news this week that you need updating on.

    Mozilla.org's Mozilla 1.0
    Netscape Navigator and perhaps more importantly, Mozilla.org's Mozilla 1.0 "Gecko" Web browser, appear to be on the comeback trail. After the bugs with the early releases of Netscape 6, the product did improve considerably with the subsequent point releases. But as I wrote then, I was tired of testing and retesting the same product over again. I said I would review the product when Mozilla.org finished Mozilla 1.0. A couple of days ago, Mozilla.org released Release Candidate 1. I expect to review this puppy within a month or two after it goes final. I'll probably also look at the next major Netscape release.

    In the meantime, if you're interested in looking at Mozilla 1.0 RC1, check it out here. (I recommend the 10.5MB Win32 "Talkback" download.) Check the Release Notes too. And here are some additional Netscape links that might intrigue you:

  • Netscape's Return: The Readers Talk Back - InternetWeek.com
  • Poll: Will Your Company Deploy Netscape? - InternetWeek.com

    Ad-aware 5.71
    Last issue I put Ad-aware 5.62 on the Tried and True list. The following week, the folks at LavaSoft released Ad-aware 5.7. (Thanks to SFNL reader David Forward for pointing that out to me.) And since then, the 5.71 version was released. You might want to get it.

    Consider Ad-aware Plus, if like me, you like this product. The Plus version costs $15, and it delivers Ad-watch, real-time spyware-monitor that watches your memory and registry for spyware that tries to install or change your system.

    Nexland Pro800turbo Internet Security Appliance
    Although this product isn't new, I've lusted after it for more than a year now. The Nexland Pro800turbo Internet Security Appliance is able to bond, or load balance, two broadband connections. And it's arrived in SFNL Labs. I may try to test it with StarBand. But you can definitely expect a test whenever, if ever I get cable Internet service (there's an update later in this issue on that very point).

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

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    StarBand News, and StarBand via Ethernet
    StarBand has been in the news recently because parent company, EchoStar, is using StarBand's consumer business as a poker chip in an attempt to persuade the government that EchoStar deserves to be able to purchase Hughes's DirecTV/DirecPC business. Personally, I think EchoStar is a well-run company. Far better run than GM's Hughes, which seems mired in its own internal politics and scientific research. EchoStar is a much, much more customer-focused company.

    On the other hand, I'm never in favor of taking both the two largest satellite TV companies (Dish Networks and DirecTV) and the two largest satellite Internet companies (StarBand and DirecPC) and merging them under one company, EchoStar. And that's what's on the table. Monopolies don't work. At least, not without major regulation. Personally, I'm a believer in regulation. EchoStar is the right company to push the satellite business to the next level. So long as end-users are protected.

    Regulation: Because absolute power corrupts absolutely. Witness, Microsoft. But we can't force companies to do business just to prevent monopolies either.

    So there have been all sorts of stories about how StarBand is being cut off at the socks. EchoStar is offering up StarBand as a sacrifice to convince the U.S. government that EchoStar should get the Hughes purchase. Blah, blah, blah. SFNL readers have written me asking: Isn't StarBand dead? I checked in with StarBand's director of communications Sheila Blackwell on this point, and as I surmised, the reports of StarBand's death have been greatly exaggerated. First, StarBand's new small business service (which is significantly faster) was launched in early March. It was never affected by the EchoStar announcement. What's more, StarBand has just gone around EchoStar direct to the dealers, who are still actively selling the service.

    I don't think StarBand is dead at all. StarBand has agreed to set me up with their business service, which starts at $129 a month for three concurrent users. If that happens, I'll definitely test it and report on it in future issues. For some small companies, this may be the least expensive broadband solution available to them.

    StarBand Ethernet
    In my past reviews of StarBand, I've focused on USB support, because USB is supposed to be easier to work with, and I believe that most StarBand users will be connected via USB. Well guess what? Hogwash. More users may be connecting to StarBand via USB, but they should be using Ethernet. StarBand is much easier to set up via Ethernet. Of course, that requires you to buy and install a $20 network card (I recommend the Netgear FA310TX, and Microwarehouse has them in stock right now). The toughest thing about the Ethernet solution is remembering to connect from your NIC to your StarBand 360 satellite modem with a cross-over Ethernet cable -- which is supplied with the StarBand modem. I forgot, and it took me longer than it should have to figure that out.

    I've installed the product on two different PCs with Ethernet, and it is hands down and easier installation that way than with USB. Technically, Ethernet is faster too. I'm also in the midst of testing StarBand's Win2000/XP ICS support, but I'm not ready to report on that. Perhaps next time. I'm also wondering whether it might be possible to test Nexland's Pro800turbo Internet Security Appliance with StarBand Ethernet. I have my doubts, but I'm checking into that.

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    SFNL Reader Poll: The Best Web Host, Take II
    Do you have a Web host who's worthy of recommendation?

    I asked this very question last time, but no clear winner emerged. If I got about 100 responses (could have been more, I didn't count), there were very few repeats. Interland and Hostway, my two previous Web hosts (neither of whom I'm fond of), were among those who garnered three or four repeat votes. I think this might be the first Scot’s Newsletter poll (or Windows Insider or Broadband Report, for that matter) that fell flat on its face. That's almost certainly my fault for not thinking it through. But just in case, I'm going to ask the question again. I'm not looking for the cheapest host; I'm looking for one with excellent service. I've also decided, by the way, to go Windows 2K with my next hosting platform. But that's OK. Send me who you think is best, regardless of whether they host with Linux/Unix, Windows, or offer both options.

    So, if you've got a Web host who delivers a lot while offering great support, I want to hear about it. Send me email and describe why you like the Web host. Please include a URL to the host you're nominating.

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    Happy B-Day to SFNL, Donations, and Subscriptions
    Scot’s Newsletter was one year old as of April 3. A good number of you have been reading my newsletters for lot longer than that. (The precursors to Scot’s Newsletter were Windows Magazine's Windows Insider and Broadband Report newsletters.) One year after launching my own newsletter, I have this to say about it: It's a lot of work, and it's not cheap. But I love doing it. The current size of the Scot’s Newsletter list is over 31,000 and growing every day.

    Speaking of the newsletter's expenses, it's that time again. I'm taking off my hat and asking folks who read this newsletter to send me a little something to help pay the bills. If you've donated before, feel free to disregard this message. But if you haven't donated, I could use your support. I offer two methods of payment, PayPal and postal mail:

  • PayPal
  • Letter Mail

    PayPal folks, it's probably a good idea to take a quick look at the Letter Mail donation page.

    Subscriptions, Including HTML
    In past issues I've written about problems with SFNL's Web-form-based subscription services. The Web forms are the ones where you type in your address and press a Submit or Subscribe button. I've been working pretty hard on that problem in my limited spare time, and I think I have a solution. I still have some implementing and testing to go before I can roll out my fix. Thanks to PCPitStop's Dave Methvin and Jason's Toolbox's Jason Levine are in order. Both helped me diagnose the problems, and Jason is actually working on code right now to help with the solution. Anyway, while we're still under construction with the new subscription page, I'll continue to offer only the email-based method of unsubscribing. If that doesn't work for you, feel free to ask for my help with changes of address (type old and new addresses in body of message) and unsubscribes. Click those links for my help.

    HTML subscribers, I have good news. About 1,000 SFNL readers have so far subscribed to the HTML version. To date I've had only about a dozen messages with any sort of problem with the HTML version. About ten times as many messages have told me that they've had no problems with the HTML version. At this point, the only thing that I'm waiting to do is institute a subscription page that can handle HTML subscription changes. I have every intention of continuing the HTML version. The only hitch is that I don't have a Web-form-based way to unsubscribe from the HTML newsletter -- and the Web-based HTML subscribe isn't perfectly reliable.

    So here's the deal. The one thing I cannot afford the time to do is get into supporting hundreds of subscription changes related to switches from Text to HTML. In other words, please don't ask me for help with deleting your Text subscriptions because you've subscribed to HTML. Until I have a Web-form-based way to do it, I can't support it. But if you want to unsubscribe your text version of the newsletter because you're sure you want the HTML version -- and you can help yourself -- please go ahead. To repeat: If you feel you need my help, please wait for the new subscription center.

    I hope to have the new sub center done some time over the next 2 - 8 weeks, depending on how many problems I run into, and how expensive they might be to fix. Jason and I have already run into some problems we didn't expect. But that's how these things always go.

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    Tried and True: Netgear PC Card NIC
    Netgear and NVidia products crop up in Tried and True this time.

    Netgear FA511 PC Card NIC, Netgear
    Late last year I both requested the Netgear FA511 PC Card network adapter and purchased one. So I have two. I also have an essentially similar PC Card Ethernet adapter from SMC, which is also a great product. But, as always, Netgear NICs are my personal favorites. Many new laptops come with built-in NIC circuitry and an RJ-45 port. If that describes your notebook PC, you're all set.

    I have four notebook PCs in SFNL Labs. Only two have built-in Ethernet circuitry. For the other two, I'm using these Netgear PC Cards, and they're especially nice because of one reason: They don't have a dongle (that cable that connected to older PC Card NICs). Why is that important? Simple, dongles have two problems. They break off. They tend to come unconnected at inopportune moments. I've had more than one dongle-style PC Card NIC or modem break on me. The second reason is that even though the Netgear (and most of its competitors) accept an RJ-45 (standard modular Ethernet) connector, they only use one PC Card slot if you use the top slot. The Connector part is built into a lip that protrudes above the flat bottom area that's adjacent to the second PC Card slot.

    Another reason is the price. You can buy a Netgear FA511 for $39.95 (Computers4Sure.com). It supports 32-bit bus-mastering CardBus connections, provides autosensing 10/100-Mbps connections, and supports Windows XP (Linux, NDIS, NetWare, and every other version of Windows). Installation is a snap. If you need a PC Card network adapter, this is it.

    XTASY NVidia GeForce4 MX 440, VisionTek
    This product falls into the Tried and UNTrue department. But I have to take something back. In this issue of SFNL, I said I loved the display quality of the NVidea videocards. And I do really prefer the GeForce2 chip display quality to that of many of its contemporaries, including ATI's products. But the GeForce4 MX 440 I just purchased for $138 is going back to Buy.com (if they'll take it). I am severely disappointed with the display quality of the GeForce4. One big caveat, SFNL Labs doesn't do CRTs. All I have is LCDs (spoiled brat that I am). And LCDs do display differently than CRTs. For one thing, most need to run at a 60Hz vertical refresh rate (or at the least, a low refresh rate) to show their best display quality. At 60Hz, this VisionTek GeForce4 literally showed squirming vertical lines. Although that problem disappeared when I raised the refresh rate to 70Hz, at that level, the picture was overdriven, causing ghosting and blotchy, bleeding bold characters on my NEC LCD2010 XtraView display.

    A couple of SFNL readers sent critical remarks about my NVidea selection. One fellow even sited poor display quality. Perhaps he was using a GeForce3 or GeForce4 card. If so, then he may have been right. I still like the NVidea GeForce2. In fact, I just bought a PCI GeForce2 for an older PC that was having trouble with its Matrox card. My experience with this new GeForce2 is similar to my previous GeForce experiences. I like it very much. It seems NVidea may be cutting corners somewhere with the newer cards.

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    SFNL's Broadband
    I've been chronicling my end-user broadband experiences since 1999, and I'm not about to stop now (even though this is among the least popular sections of the newsletter). Back in January, I experienced another disconnect of my SDSL connection. Long and short, an inexperienced Verizon phone installer accidentally co-opted my DSL line while working on my next-door neighbor's phone lines.

    Last week, the same thing happened again. And when Verizon makes a mistake like this, I can't just call them and let them know. I have to call my ISP, SpeakEasy, which must first test the line. If it agrees with me, it calls Covad, which in turn schedules a time with me through SpeakEasy when they can call for a "cooperative test." Then if they agree, they schedule a Verizon service call. Verizon has 24 hours from the time Covad contacts them to send out a truck with a field technician. If it's a Friday, too bad.

    Why does this keep happening? Phone lines are in high demand in New England, where most of the wiring was installed a long time ago. My house is over 30 years old, considered a pup by New England standards. (The same house might be considered "older" in many areas of California.) Because there aren't enough lines in New England, the field technicians are always looking for "abandoned" lines. The technicians have a tool that listens for a dial tone. If a line doesn't have a dial tone, then it must be free, right? Not if it's a DSL line. DSL lines must be specially marked by a tag so as not to be co-opted.

    Turns out that my DSL line was marked in the access box about a third of a mile away from my home. Unfortunately, it was marked with the wrong circuit ID number. The number it was marked with is a circuit ID that isn't in use. This isn't surprising given how many DSL lines have actually been connected to my house at one time or another (I count four different lines, each of which had some sort of problem).

    On the plus side, this time around SpeakEasy/Covad/Verizon were able to fix my line in only a little over 24 hours. Now two weeks later, the line is working perfectly. And, as a bonus, I believe my line is now properly labeled. Is it too much to ask that maybe this won't happen again? I hope not.

    The Good News Dept.
    Instead of 'DSL Hell,' how about the hell with DSL? Crews contracted by AT&T Broadband are working fast and furiously on the wiring in my town again. Really observant readers with good memories will recall they were on my street last year. Well it happened again. This time I waylaid them and asked when they thought cable Internet would be available in my town. I was told that I might see the service as early as July 1. Also that my street was the among the very earliest to be fully wired for the service. Apparently the cable company smartly started with my end of town, and I was told that cable Internet would be turned on in the same order. Adding in the usual delays, maybe I'll have cable modem service by September. But, hey, whenever it comes, I can use the Nexland's Pro800turbo Internet Security Appliance to bond my DSL connection to my new cable Internet connection. Now that's broadband bliss.

    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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    Link of the Week: Black Viper SuperTweaks
    Two links for the price of one.

    Black Viper's SuperTweaks for Windows XP
    I know you want to speed up Windows XP's performance, and these simple but well-considered tips are a great starting point. In fact, you'll find a lot of useful information on the other main pages at Black Viper, which is devoted to Windows XP. In particular, this site's author has made a study of Windows XP services, and you can learn a thing or two from him. Well worth your time, and a solid Scot’s Newsletter Link of the Week.

    Software Security Vulnerabilities Site
    Contributed by reader Jerry Robertson, who writes: "Anyone who thinks Microsoft is the only company that has issues needs to see this site. Very interesting": Security Focus's Vulnerabilities By Software Vendor.

    Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows- or broadband-oriented website that everyone should know about? Please send me the URL, and let me know why you liked it.

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    Tip of the Week: Fixes For Two Annoying Problems
    This week we have fixes for two annoying problems that many people encounter:

    Fix Unclickable Hyperlinks in Email
    SFNL reader Paul Hoffman sent in a fix for a problem that I'm hearing more and more about lately. It seems to strike Outlook Express 6 users more than anyone, and Paul is using Windows XP, which comes with OE6. His problem was that on every text newsletter he receives, the hyperlinks weren't blue underlined, and weren't clickable. He had to copy and paste them into the browser address field. He writes that this website, run by Microsoft MVP Stephen L. Cochran, offers a fix to the problem that worked for him. I've checked the fix and it looks good to me. And it worked for Paul. So if you have this problem, go get the fix.

    Always Ask Before Downloading This Type of File
    A Computer America listener posted this question in the Computer America Tech Talk forum: "I was downloading a ZIP file and when IE asked me whether I wanted to save the file to disk or open it from the current location, I unchecked the box that says "Always ask before downloading this type of file." I didn't know that meant that I would no longer have a choice of saving the file or opening it. Now that I understand, I want to undo it. But how do I do that?"

    To fix this problem, open any Explorer folder window and choose Tools (or View) > Folder Options > File Types (older versions of Windows may have a slightly different names or locations for these menu items). In the File Types window, scroll to the end and click the "ZIP" or "WinZip" entry. If you installed a program other than WinZip for handling ZIP programs, such as ZipMagic for example, you would look up that program name. Under Windows 2000 and XP, the file type is listed by the extension instead of the program's name, which makes more sense. Once you've selected the proper Zip file entry, press Edit (in Win9x) or Advanced in Win XP. Place a check mark beside "Confirm open after download." That'll do it.

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

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