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May 23, 2002 - Vol. 2, Issue No. 26

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Which IE for Your PC? Latest IE Patch Problems
  • New Broadband Wrinkle: Usage Charges
  • Don't Get Klezed, Take II
  • HTML Version Official, and SFNL's New Home
  • Reader-to-Reader: More NTFS Cluster Conversion
  • SFNL Labs: StarOffice 6, Folder Guard, XP Firewall
  • Sharing StarBand with ICS via Windows XP or 2000
  • Reader Poll: What's the Best MP3 Player?
  • Follow-up on the Sun Cobalt Qube 3
  • Q&A
  • Tweak UI Redux
  • Link of the Week: Startup Content
  • Tip of the Week: Killing Windows Messenger
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Your Address.


    Which IE for Your PC? Latest IE Patch Problems
    Woody's Windows XP newsletter has been all over the IE security patch released last week, which was billed as being a huge step forward in security for users of IE 5.x and 6.x with fixes for six new vulnerabilities. Check the MS Security Bulletin on the update.

    Woody's a pal o' mine, and an all-around good guy. I recommend you read what he has to say about the IE Security Patch.

    What I have to say about this is that I've never met a Microsoft patch I truly trusted. And I've gone on record as saying that unless there's a demonstrated behavioral glitch on your PC (such as a shutdown problem) or a security need for rushing out and installing a new MS patch, I don't recommend it. Hang back, let the other folks be the guinea pigs. Still, what Woody and his crew have to say is interesting (as usual).

    But all this brings up another point. When last I wrote about Internet Explorer, my advice was to stick with IE 5.01 Service Pack 2 (SP2) on Windows 98, all flavors, and that goes for Windows 2000 too, at least prior to installing the latest service pack. If you have Windows Me, you have IE 5.5. I've recommended updating to SP2 with IE 5.5, but read what Woody has to say first, because apparently at least some people with IE 5.5 SP2 have been unable to install the new IE security patch. This is precisely the sort of reason why I don't trust Microsoft patches. The company has become even more sloppy in recent years about checking new code against variants of its older code.

    I decided to test it though. There are specific versions of the new security update for IE 5.01 SP2, IE 5.5 SP1, IE 5.5 SP2, and IE 6.0. I downloaded the IE 5.5 SP2 version and installed it over an IE 5.5S P2 installation, and it appeared to install just fine. It's possible those readers reporting troubles to Woody are downloading the wrong patch for their installed version of IE 5.5.

    Choose IE 5.5 For Now
    Over the last six months, I've revised my opinion about IE 5.5. With the SP2 patch in place (which is how I've had running on all IE 5.5 machines), I've found it to be more stable than IE 6.0 on Windows 98. On my Windows XP machines, IE 6.0 is rock solid. On Win9x machines, it tends to have little hiccups, like script errors, frozen screens, and so forth. Not very often. But often enough to be a trend.

    The interesting thing about this is the difference of opinion among experts. A longtime press friend recently posted a message in which he said he was having trouble with IE 6.0 in XP, and on three different PCs. I've found just the opposite to be the case. Similarly, in writing about Office, Woody prefers Office 2000 to Office XP. I'm just the opposite. I stuck with Office 97 because I hated Office 2000 (still do). And now I'm installing Office XP on most machines, because I like it better than Office 97.

    Take all the recommendations with a grain of salt. For my money, IE 5.5 SP2 is the most stable build for Windows 98/2000/Me. You really don't have any choice under Windows XP. And I am not recommending the new security patch just yet.

    There's nothing wrong with IE 5.01 SP2, but I think that we may have just seen the last hurrah for updating it. It pays to keep moving forward, just not at the very front of the pack.

    I'd like to thank reader Lior Zur for prompting this IE recommendation update.

    Back to the Top


    New Broadband Wrinkle: Usage Charges
    Canada is where it's at in North America when it comes to broadband Internet access. For a long, long time now, I've been collecting data and planning a large newsletter report on broadband access in Canada. It's a generalization that doesn't apply to every Canadian broadband service, but by and large Canadian broadband customers have faster service and are paying less for it than their American counterparts south of the border. In fact, Canadians may well enjoy the best broadband access per capita in the world. I don't have that information statistically. It's just an observation based on more than two years of anecdotal information. If you have a piece of information that adds to that picture, or contradicts it -- I'd love to hear about it.

    Apparently, Canadian broadband companies are also ahead of the curve in bulking up their business models. I've been hearing reports for a couple months now that Canadian broadband providers were flirting with usage charges. Now comes news that Sympatico, Bell Canada's widespread DSL service, is instituting a default usage cap of 5GB downstream and 5GB upstream per month. After you download more than 5GB of data, you will be charged $7.95 Canadian per gigabyte.

    The bad news isn't that Sympatico customers will now be paying a lot more money. No, actually, I think it's worse than that. My guess is that most Sympatico customers will be very hard pressed to use up their 5GB of downstream data per month. The bad news is that broadband providers around North America, and probably the world, will be watching to see whether Sympatico users put up with the fee increase. And, basically, I think that consumer users of the Sympatico service should be blazing mad. I don't think they should take it. In the name of unlimited broadband use everywhere, Sympatico users should fight back. Loudly. If you can switch providers, you should!

    But for business users, or SOHO, telecommuters who use VPN or who share their connection with multiple workstations and users, it's possible that this is a fair way to charge for DSL service. If every user exceeded 5GB per month, data-transfer rates for everyone would probably be reduced. So there's a side to this I agree with. People who do make extra use of the service should probably be taxed. And my guess is that 5GB is a fair number.

    But will other broadband providers be tempted to decide on a 2GB threshold? Or 1GB? It's the precedent that concerns me.

    Here's the email Bell Canada sent to Sympatico subscribers. I'm withholding the name of the SFNL reader who provided this just in case Bell Canada doesn't like the idea. (But thank you to that SFNL subscriber!)

    From: "Sympatico member services"
    To: NAME WITHHELD
    Sent: Friday, May 17, 2002 8:09 AM
    Subject: Important news about your Sympatico High Speed Edition service

    Dear Valued Member,

    To keep pace with our customers' evolving Internet usage needs, Bell Canada, like all Internet service providers, must continually invest in expanding and upgrading our network.

    Effective July 4, 2002, your monthly rate for Bell Sympatico High Speed Edition(TM) Internet service will allow 5 Gigabytes (GB) download and 5 Gigabytes (GB) upload of bandwidth activity. If your bandwidth activity exceeds either 5 GB download or 5 GB upload, an additional charge of $7.95 per GB will be applied to your Sympatico account.

    AN EASY WAY TO MONITOR YOUR BANDWIDTH ACTIVITY
    To give you the ability to monitor your monthly upload and download bandwidth activity, we've created a simple tool: the Bandwidth Activity Tracker. With this tool, you'll be able to check how much bandwidth you've used. To get your bandwidth activity update, just click this link.

    Thank you for choosing Bell Sympatico Internet service.

    Back to the Top


    Don't Get Klezed, Take II
    Boy did this topic get a lot of mail. I got a couple snippy mails, and some very polite email, telling me that my #8 tip was promulgating an Internet myth. Well, hogwash. It's true that adding a contact entry of "!000" or whatever in your address book is no serious form of protection. It's barely a band aid, in fact. I think I made it pretty clear that no one should rely on this. That's particularly true with newer viruses and worms, many of which don't even bother leveraging Outlook's outgoing mailbox (or SMTP services) -- they have their own. They'll grab a local address book's entries, but that's it.

    On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to add this to your address book. That was the point I was making. Every little bit helps. Sometimes the computer glitterati are too quick to reject things. This may be one of them. Tip #7, adding your own email address (or perhaps a throwaway address you don't care about that forwards to your regular address) to your address book may still be the simplest early warning you can provide for yourself.

    Eight More Ways to Protect Yourself
    What interested me far more were the additional ideas and pointers SFNL subscribers sent about how to prevent infection. I've got so many good ones that here are eight more ways to protect yourself:

    1. Virus protection on the mail server. Adam Bernstein sent in this one, and he's perfectly correct that it's the most convenient way to be protected. Some ISPs offer this. Most larger companies have implemented it too. I want to stress that no antivirus solution, no matter how expensive, works if it's not updated. And with a fast-moving new virus, the antivirus companies may not come up with an update fast enough to prevent your PC from being infected. So antivirus software isn't a panacea. But it's still the first line of defense. And having your mail or LAN server protect you is even better than having software on your desktop PC protect you. If you can get it.

    Another reader, Gil Boisvert, notes that he uses MyRealBox.com's free email service, which provides both Web mail and POP3/SMTP access (so you can use it with an email program like Eudora). MyRealBox is run by Novell. Among other things, mail is virus scanned. I am also a MyRealBox subscriber, and I've noticed an increasing number of new SFNL subscribers with MyRealBox addresses.

    2. Remove Outlook and Outlook Express. Jay Roos says, if you don't use Outlook or Outlook Express just remove them. Removing Outlook can be done through the Office installation program. Outlook Express is pretty straightforward to uninstall in 95/98. To uninstall OE in Windows 2000 follow the instructions in Microsoft's Knowledge Base article Q263837. There are some other links in this KB article that might be of interest to either OE or ex-OE users. Check it out.

    By the way, don't forget the Microsoft Windows Address Book (WAB), a default address book used by Word's rudimentary mail-sending feature. If you've got addresses there, delete them or remove the WAB.

    3. Turn off the preview pane. Ray Thomson notes that many newer viruses are activated by messages viewed in the Preview Pane, a feature offered by many email programs (including Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora). Turn this feature off, and make sure that updates to your email program are up to date. There was a security patch for Outlook not all that long ago on this very point.

    4. Use an email server-checking tool. Readers Larry Wilson and Terry Hicks both wrote that they use a program called MailWasher that lets them see the sender and subject lines while the mail is still on the server. You can delete the message with this tool while it's still on the mail server. I use a similar tool, called Easy Notification. Yet another similar program, recommended by Steve Husting, is the freeware utility called Magic Mail Monitor. And John Howard suggests PopTray.

    5. Get a program called MailDefense. Reader Tom Breeden, uses MailDefense from InDefense to help thwart email worms and viruses. It strips all executable attachments from both incoming and outgoing email and puts them in a quarantine file. If you were to get infected, MailDefense would prevent the attachment payload from leaving your computer. It works outside your email client so it should work with any email program.

    Having checked out the website myself, I'm particularly interested in this one. It looks promising. Of course products like this can be a nuisance, too. What if I want to send something innocent to a friend?

    6. Use Jasc Quick View Plus to view file attachments. Harry Brawley suggests using this file viewer utility to examine files before you open them.

    7. Check the size of inbound messages. Andres Cascardi sent this sound piece of advice. Most email-borne viruses have message attachments. So before you open an unknown message, check for an attachment. You may have to make adjustments to emailers like Outlook and Outlook Express to position the "Size" column so its visible.

    8. Finally, don't be quick to assume who sent you a virus. This piece of advice comes from reader Fraser Farrell, who writes:

    Klez takes its From address from the victim's PC. We've received many messages this month from individuals, and from corporate email scanners, claiming that we sent them Klez. Which is impossible because we run everything on Linux. In addition our mail server blackholes all suspicious or malformed email -- inbound or outbound -- to /dev/null. So far today it's killed 43 infected emails.

    So even if your virus defenses are up to date -- or you're inherently immune (like us) to the latest nasty -- you can still be made to look like a clueless newbie [just because your email address is in someone else's address book]. So, don't be too quick to attack the apparent sender of an infected email -- because it might not be them!"

    Back to the Top


    HTML Version Official, and Scot’s Newsletter's New Home
    Before I forget, if you've been waiting to sign up for the HTML version of Scot’s Newsletter, or waiting to delete your Text version subscription in favor of your HTML subscription, wait no more. The HTML version is now completely official.

    What's more, thanks to Jason Levine, the new subscription center is fully functional. Not only can it handle HTML or Text subscriptions, it lets you change your address, or change your message format (say from Text to HTML), or both at the same time. Check it out:

    http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/subcenter/subscribe.htm

    I've tested the new website-based subscription services pretty thoroughly. But I can't promise that every version of every browser works perfectly with it. If you run into any problem at all, even a minor one, I'd appreciate a heads-up about it.

    Along with the new subscription center, I've rolled out a new domain name and email address for Scot’s Newsletter. I also wound up going with Web host SectorLink. There were others that offered the same service levels, but SectorLink is also inexpensive.

    New Domain:
    http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/

    New Official Email Address:
    scot@scotsnewsletter.com

    The old URLs and addresses work, for now. At some point, though, I'll have to discontinue that support.

    More Reasons Why I Left Hostway
    I hate to kick a Web host when it's down, but these guys deserve it. In past issues I've chronicled the fact that Hostway, which still fronts my scotfinnie.com domain, was causing a problem with Scot’s Newsletter subscribes and unsubscribes. It's not a problem unique to Hostway. Most Linux Web hosts who rely on SendMail for website-based SMTP services have this difficulty. I had the same problem with HostPro before Hostway. My initial problem was that the Hostway tech support team was quarrelsome, unhelpful, and uninformed about the service they were providing (albeit, it's an esoteric area), and about SendMail. They told me it was my problem, not theirs. But that isn't the whole truth.

    The problem was that, on a large number of new subscribe or unsubscribe attempts (but not all, it was an intermittent problem), the Hostway server was inserting a generic name for my Web server as the email address when it forwarded a subscribe or unsubscribe message to my newsletter's Lyris server. The upshot of that was that the request went unfulfilled. Whenever this happened, an email message was sent to my Hostway email account alerting me to the problem. But there was a second problem that obscured the first one.

    Hostway was sending those messages to an email account I didn't know existed. Unknown to me, Hostway set up a "default" email address for my scotfinnie.com domain and never told me about it. In fact, I thought the default account was another specific email address. Recently, Hostway significantly upgraded its website control panel software, and in this new version of the tool, the default email address is for the first time visible and configurable. Since the default account used the same password as my site administrator login, I was able to access the messages -- all 1,500 or so of them. Each one an indication of a would-be SFNL subscriber or unsubscriber whose request failed. Because of Hostway.

    Hostway was even sending me warnings that my mailbox was overflowing, and that messages would be lost. So the number may be even higher. Of course, those mailbox warning messages were going to the same mailbox, so I didn't see them until after it didn't matter.

    Hostway caused serious injury to the service I provide Scot’s Newsletter subscribers, and I also take some responsibility for not realizing it sooner because this intermittent problem went on for months. I'm tired of Web hosts acting like they don't owe their customers a fair shake or some investigative tech support just because their margins are so low. It is possible to get these things right. Not understanding someone's business is no excuse for providing ineffectual technology. There's a huge, huge shake-out coming for Web hosts, and when it comes two things will be true:

    1. Companies who haven't treated their customers reasonably will be gone.

    2. We'll probably all be paying a lot more for Web hosting services.

    Back to the Top


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

    Tip on Converting to NTFS Using a Dynamic Partitioning Utility
    Just wanted to send you a comment regarding the FAT32 to NTFS conversion details you've been discussing in recent issues of the newsletter. I, like many others, made the mistake of converting FAT32 partitions to NTFS after installing XP, only to suffer from poor performance with 512-byte clusters. I used Partition Magic to resize them, and the process was similar to what you described in a recent newsletter, in Another Way to Convert Cluster Sizes.

    However, I did follow an additional step after converting from NTFS back to FAT32. There is an conversion option at that stage that allows for you to make the file system FAT32 Aligned, which I found crucial to getting 4K clusters in NTFS. This may be the missing step that is preventing some users from being able to do a successful conversion in Windows 2000. In addition, I did find that some troubleshooting was required for some common error messages I encountered when doing the conversion. Mainly the need to use the Compact.exe command with some switches from a command prompt on each partition in order to avoid an error message in PM7 that indicated that some files were currently compressed on the volume. I would go into the nitty-gritty here, but the set of instructions I followed I got from Usenet archives on the Google Groups. Hope this will be helpful to other readers. Keep up the good work! --John Cogan

    Response: Thanks, John. Since the tip I wrote originally worked for me, I have no way to test your procedure. But it sounds right, which is why I'm passing it along to everyone.

    Have you found out something that others should know about? Give it to them!
    Back to the Top


    SFNL Labs: StarOffice 6, Folder Guard, XP Firewall
    New to SFNL Labs this week are a number of software products, including Sun's StarOffice 6.0 for Windows, the Folder Guard file-locking utility from Winability, and the new version of BlackICE. I'm especially keen on reviewing Sun's StarOffice 6.0. Although reviews have been mixed so far, I have the highest hopes for this alternative office suite product.

    Quick update: I also have finally acquired an evaluation version of BlackICE Defender. I've been testing Zone Labs ZoneAlarm 3.0, Norton Desktop, and Windows XP's built-in firewall.

    Continuing lab notes on ZoneAlarm 3.0: I'm still having problems with it. I finally uninstalled it and stripped everything about the previous installation off my test computer and did a complete clean install of ZoneAlarm 3.0 over Windows 98SE. I am STILL having problems (though not as frequent as before) with ZoneAlarm disallowing connections from other computers on my trusted internal network. I've never had this problem with previous versions of ZoneAlarm, and I'm frankly finding it darned annoying. This one could keep me from recommending this product. I prefer ZoneAlarm 2.6.x.

    Windows XP's Built-in Firewall
    Even more frustrating, though, is Windows XP's built-in firewall. It's not very configurable, not very well documented, and is designed to be used only if the computer you're using it on is connected directly to the Internet. That means that your computer is physically connected to your Internet connection. If you're using a broadband router -- any broadband router -- that means that you should not use XP's built-in firewall at all, since it's your router that's physically connected to the Internet. If you do, you'll find that other computers on your network have intermittent trouble connecting to that computer. And there may be other issues as well. The documentation is not very specific. I've personally experienced the intermittent connection problem.

    Even when I reconfigured my network to test XP's built-in firewall, though, I found it to be only of marginal value. The one way it is valuable is for people with ICS (Windows' Internet Connection Sharing) feature turned on. In that mode, the XP firewall provides another free piece of the puzzle.

    Back to the Top


    Sharing StarBand with ICS via Windows XP or 2000
    When I head-to-head reviewed StarBand and Pegasus Express (DirecWay) earlier this year, I tested with Windows 98 Second Edition. In the next issue, I followed up on, among other things, Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) under Windows XP and 2000.

    But it took me until now to test it. The reason being that the Windows XP machine I would have tested it with became an IIS Web server for a while so I could test the new subscriber services for Scot’s Newsletter. Now that that's done, I'm picking up where I left off.

    But it's sort of a ho-hum report. I tested Windows XP only, since I've had numerous reports from 2000 users that StarBand works with Win2K, and none from Win XP users.

    Windows XP's version of ICS works absolutely fine with StarBand. In fact, setting it up took almost no time at all. As under Windows 98 Second Edition, you have to add the ICS services under Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs. I tested this with two Ethernet network cards instead of USB. In fact, I've given up on USB with StarBand. The Ethernet connection works far better. USB isn't worth the trouble. At least, not the pre-2.0 version of USB.

    I added the second Ethernet card after I had StarBand installed and working properly. Once that mission was accomplished, it was simply a matter of right-clicking My Network Places (I keep a copy on the desktop) and choosing Properties, then right clicking the LAN connection and choosing Properties. On the Advanced tab, enable Internet Connection Sharing. That should take care of it. If not, open the TCP/IP properties for your ICS network card properties and set a static IP address of 192.168.0.1 with a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0.

    Hardware-wise, among three or more computers you'll need a simple hub or switch. With just two computers, you can run a crossover cable between the second Ethernet card on your StarBand PC and the NIC on the other PC. Not much to it.

    For more information about home networking, especially with a crossover cable, see Network Know-How: Setting Up Simple Networking.

    Back to the Top


    Reader Poll: What's the Best MP3 Player?
    Last year I began working out more seriously. Earlier in the year I'd gotten the Iomega HipZip as a giveaway from an event I attended. The HipZip came in very handy in the gym as I slaved away on various exercise machines (mostly I like running).

    The HipZip is great because it's got relatively cheap 40MB media that you can swap in and out quickly. It records quickly. The sound quality is excellent. And the controls are just right. It's a bit on the thick and heavy side for running, which has kept me from using it on the road. But the really bad part is that the HipZip just doesn't stand up to use. I've already replaced it once under warranty, and forums around the 'Net are filled with tales from other people with the same problems. One account I read, the guy replaced it three times under warranty.

    I'm now out of warranty, and they no longer make the HipZip (probably because of the reliability problems). So I'm in the market for a new MP3 player. Ideally, I'd like a model that uses CompactFlash memory because it's cheap and abundantly available. I'm not interested in a CD-type player; too big. And I want to avoid all that record industry copy-protection mumbo jumbo. I am buying CDs to record from (if I don't already have them). But some of these protection schemes limit the number of times you can record for yourself, and others aren't worked out all that well.

    I've done a lot of research on this. Many of these companies are going out of business or being bought up by others, like Sonic Blue. Here's the player I ended up singling out: With CompactFlash, thin and light, not over $300, and with a decent display, the one I come up with is the Nex II made by Frontier Labs.

    What I want to know is, what are your experiences? What MP3 player do you recommend? Drop me a line. If one of these babies gets recommended in a landslide, I will definitely print that in a future issue. Give me your MP3 player thoughts and experiences.

    Back to the Top


    Follow-up on the Sun Cobalt Qube 3
    A few issues back I wrote a glowing review of the Sun Cobalt Qube 3. There's a lot to like about the Qube 3. But in testing all its many features, I turned most of them on. Including the email server. Stupid, Scot, who knew better. I created what's known as an open relay (an unprotected mail server that spammers might use to send mail to others, shielding their identities). My ISP caught the open relay and sent me a note about it. As soon as I got the note, I turned off the email server and the problem was solved. But a word to the wise, the Cube 3 is more powerful than you may realize, and unfortunately, not that well documented. Be careful what you turn on.

    The Sun Cobalt Qube 3 comes with a free firewall software that you can download and install. If you own this product, I strongly recommend you do just that. But part of the beauty of this device is that it's designed to be a Web server, email server, ftp server, intranet server, and so forth, and to do most of those things, you have to hang out on the Net. Which means your server is vulnerable to attack. I'm not saying it doesn't need protection. In fact, it needs more protection. But some of this added vulnerability is to be expected.

    Back to the Top


    Q&A

    I like to think that every subscriber to SFNL will find something they didn't know, that they can use, in Q&A.

    USB Networking
    Question: Your latest newsletter couldn't have come at a better time. I read the section on networking with great interest. This is my problem: I am partially disabled and want to network my Sony laptop running Windows XP to my PC running ME. I was going to do this with a 50 crossover cable because I cannot haul out and disassemble my PC to install a wireless card. However, I just noticed the other day that they now have a piece of equipment that plugs into a USB port that simulates the card. This sounds wonderful to me. What are the disadvantages and problems? --Shirley A. Challingsworth

    Answer: USB networking is fine, Shirley. I've actually written about it in past issues of the newsletter. Be sure, though, that your Sony laptop actually has a free USB port before you buy. Many of the home networking steps I wrote in the last issue apply to networking with USB network adapters. The chief trade-off is performance. USB network adapters are about half as fast as standard Ethernet network cards. I also wouldn't use this method if you're using USB on any of your machines for intensive tasks, like scanning or printing. (Scanning is okay if you only scan things once in a while.) And some of these USB devices take a little messing around with to get installed. Although they usually work fine if you follow the directions closely. -- S.F.



    Disabling Windows Messenger in Windows XP
    Question: Supposedly one can get rid of the Windows Messenger icon in the systems tray when OE is running by going to Tools, Options, General and deselecting "automatically log on to Windows Messenger." Nothing works to get rid of that pesky fellow. I've also gone into Programs, Windows Messenger, and cleared that out too and turned it off in the Systems Utility tray. --Peggy Tisch

    Answer: Microsoft's nag screens for Windows Messenger and Passport in Windows XP are reprehensible. I can't believe the gall of the operating system maker. I'm particularly unsympathetic to Passport, which serves no use whatsoever to you and me. It's just there to help Microsoft fight a war with Sun Microsystems and the Liberty Alliance. Microsoft is out of control.

    Thankfully, you can eliminate the Passport nag by agreeing to launch it and then canceling it on the first screen. But Windows Messenger (which is all about Microsoft's battles with AOL), is harder to dispose of. Or at least, it appears harder at first. There are two ways to handle Windows Messenger. You can disable it, and you can uninstall it. Here's how to disable it:

    1. Double-click the greenish-blue "generic people" icon in the system tray (area next to the clock).

    2. Select Tools > Options > And click Preferences tab.

    3. Remove the top two check marks: "Run this program when Windows starts" and "Allow this program to run in background."

    4. Click OK. Close the Windows Messenger window. That's it.

    Note, that doesn't uninstall the program. But it does get it out of your face, and keep it from loading. To uninstall it, see the Tip of the Week later in this issue of Scot’s Newsletter. -- S.F.



    Is AOL Safe from Viruses?
    Question: The info that AOL puts out says that you can't get a virus by opening an email, only by downloading it or downloading an attachment. It appears from your newsletter that they are wrong. Can you get a virus simply by reading an email if you don't download anything at all? I would really like to know how to approach my email. Thank you so much for your help! --Lisa Cummings

    Answer: AOL has a proprietary email system. I've been writing more about standard email systems in the "Don't Get Klezed" series. AOL could well be right that it's far more difficult to get a virus by opening an AOL message. AOL doesn't permit true HTML mail. Most people can't even get clickable hypertext links in their AOL email. These limitations do help AOL control the likelihood that a virus would be transmitted via AOL mail. But nothing is impossible. New viruses are being dreamed up every day. And AOL is a *huge* target. One other point, AOL's point is classic misdirection. To date, most email viruses and worms have been delivered by attachments. Whether on AOL, Web mail, or standard POP3 mail, you have to open the attachment to get the virus in that case. All three types provide you the opportunity to step in it.

    To answer your question more precisely, despite what I just said, it is technically possible to get a virus just by reading your email. Email program preview panes have already been targeted, and some of those are nothing more than modified browser windows anyway. Your Web browser, unless specifically set not to, can allow executable files to launch. Even with AOL, we are all painfully vulnerable. -- S.F.



    Eliminating XP's Multiple-Boot Menu
    Question: My machine originally ran Win 98SE and I decided to upgrade to XP Pro. At the time of the XP Pro install, I intended to keep 98SE on the C: drive. I opted to set up as dual boot with 98 on drive C and XP on drive D. At first I was reluctant to use XP but I stayed with it and now like XP better than Win 9x. XP is more stable and I had quite a few system crashes using Windows 98SE. I removed Win 98 and made all drives NTFS. The only problem is that somehow I'm still seeing the dual-boot selection menu. I would like to do away with that at startup and assign drive D as the boot drive. Do you have an easy method to get through this without reinstalling XP? --Ron Perry

    Answer: There's a lot I don't know about what you did and how you got where you are. I wonder whether you may have fouled your Windows XP installation. But to solve the specific problem of eliminating the need for the boot menu, you need to edit the the Boot.ini, found in your C drive root directory so that it no longer shows your Windows 98 instance and properly addresses your Windows XP installation on Drive D. All the information you need to understand how to edit the boot.ini file is in Microsoft Knowledge Base article Q289022. -- S.F.


    Variable Cluster Sizing on Huge NTFS Volumes
    Question: I have a question about the NTFS file system. If NTFS keeps its cluster size to 4k, then how (under a 32-bit operating system) can NTFS support hard drive capacities of up to 8 Petabytes? --Chris Stachewicz

    Answer: Good question. XP's NTFS offers variable cluster sizing, like FAT32. But several things were designed into it to keep the cluster sizes smaller to make it more efficient storage wise. At the same time, Microsoft did other things to make it fast at small cluster sizes. They're not telling all, Chris. But let me answer your question this way: I'm sure that when you get up in the Terabyte range, never mind Petabytes, your cluster size is a whole lot bigger than 4K. I circled back to Microsoft to answer this in more detail. Here's the response from David Golds, Microsoft's NTFS expert:

    Windows XP is a 32-bit OS, but we have always used 64-bit cluster numbers in the NTFS on-disk format. In the code paths, Microsoft only currently supports 2 to the 32nd power clusters, but it will be no problem for us when we want to support 2 to the 64th power since the on-disk format has always supported it.

    Note also that FAT32 only supports 2 to the 28th power clusters, not 2 to the 32nd power. For detailed information about how FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS stack up, please see this table of information.

    By the way, plans are to continue the NTFS series in upcoming issues. One of my ideas is to run questions and answers on NTFS like this one. -- S.F.


    Brighter Future for IDSL Subscribers?
    Question: I'm over 20,000 feet from the nearest telephone company central office (CO), and there's no cable Internet access in my area. That means my only broadband option is IDSL. There are two problems. First, it's expensive at $79.95 per month. Second, it's limited to 144kbps. Not quite broadband really. It's still a great gaming connection because it has low latency, but I'm feeling deprived of bandwidth. My ISP, DSLi, has this interesting tidbit on its website.

    The limitation of IDSL now is speed. It offers a symmetrical connection at 144[kbps], slightly faster than the 128[kbps] of ISDN. This product will eventually be upgradeable to 1[Mbps].

    As you can guess, that last sentence has me on the edge of my seat wondering what they're talking about. Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated ... by me and likely other broadband-deprived souls. --Brandon Ross

    Answer: Bottom line: There are moves afoot to extend the distance from the CO for DSL, which if they occur, would may improve DSL performance for some people. I'm not hearing much about it right now with the downturn in the economy, especially for telecom, and also the many bills being considered by Congress that might change things for DSL providers. DSL companies can't afford to upgrade right now. But also, with the phone companies attempting to resurrect their monopolies (the Tauzin bill in Congress), the baby bells have absolutely no incentive to build out service and improve it. They really don't care. They just want to make money, and they have a high-powered lobby in Washington. We have to defend the 1997 Telecommunications Act if we want to continue to see improvements.

    I know that probably didn't answer the technical aspects of your question, but let me give you an example of how your distance to the CO could be effectively changed. Your phone company could create satellite COs around your town by running fiberoptic lines to a junction box that's closer to where you live. These fiberoptic connections are much faster, and are effectively an extension of the CO (so long as not too many copper pairs are connected to them). This is just one of several ways that companies are considering expanding DSL coverage areas. -- S.F.


    About Corporate Product Activation
    Question: You've written a lot about Microsoft's Product Activation and its limitations, so I thought it would be okay to ask you about this. Over the weekend I installed Office XP standard at a company I was doing work for. They had purchased five copies through Microsoft's Open Licensing agreement for corporations. The machines are on a workgroup with no Internet connection, nor do they have phone lines attached to their modems. I had to call Microsoft to get the CD key to be used for installation.

    Due to their isolated nature, there was no communication with Microsoft after installation. Will these Office installation fail to work after 50 uses [what Office XP does when you don't activate it]? Although I only installed Office XP on five computers, how does Microsoft know that? I am doing everything legally, I just don't understand product activation fully. --Mike Willett

    Answer: The answer depends on the exact nature of the license that was purchased. But if the company has an ongoing relationship with Microsoft, it may well have been given preactivated CDs. Many enterprises do. What preactivated means is that it functions just like Office 97 discs. You need the Product ID, but that's it. And there's no need to be concerned.

    There's a pretty easy way to tell. When you install an unactivated (or standard retail) copy of Office XP, the activation nag screen pops up automatically with each XP session. The screen says something like: "This copy of Microsoft Word [or whatever] isn't activated. Would you like to activate it now?"

    Your question about how activation works is a good one, and I think many people have it. Because I've covered this a lot in past, I've set up a Web page with links to my product activation coverage. The full answer is in there. Although most of my comments in previous stories focus on Windows Product Activation, 95 percent of the information is fully applicable to Office XP. -- S.F.

    Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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    Tweak UI Redux
    In the last issue of SFNL, I wrote about Tweak UI, both for Windows XP and for most other versions of Windows. In the section on Tweak UI for Windows 98/98SE/Me/NT4, I printed the wrong URL. Many of you may not have noticed since the URL you got was a useful one. But the URL to the Best of Scot’s Newsletter page called "Step-by-Step: Installing Tweak UI 1.33" was incorrect. This is the correct URL:

    http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/best_of/sbs/default.htm

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    Link of the Week: Startup Content
    I am really remiss in not running this site as Link of the Week much sooner. For months people have been sending it to me, and I knew instantly that it was a Link of the Week, but for some reason I'd forget to run it. Paul Collins' Startup Content is one of those bright ideas you wish you had. They're always so obvious after the fact.

    Startup Content provides details about the short program names you'll find in two places on your computer: The Close Program box (what happens when you press Ctrl-Alt-Delete) and also the Startup tab of the System Configuration Utility (in Windows 98, Me, and XP), more commonly known as MSCONFIG. Paul has compiled a list of 1107 cryptic program identifiers. With those names he provides the filename of the executable as well as extremely useful comments that may help you figure out whether the program belongs running on your PC or not. This website is an invaluable resource for Windows users everywhere. Thanks for your efforts, Paul.

    The most recent submitter of Startup Content was SFNL reader Phil Buschette, whom I want to thank. I wish I could find the emails from all the others so I could thank them too.

    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: Killing Windows Messenger
    SFNL reader Jerry Viano sent me the gist of this tip, which provides a way to uninstall Windows Messenger from your Windows XP PC. I worked out the exact steps through trial and error. (Thanks, Jerry.) The tip isn't all that hard to do, but it starts with another tip. So here are both:

    Reveal All Files and Folders Under XP
    I have printed this tip frequently for Windows 9x. This is the Windows XP version of it. By default, Microsoft hides a lot of files and some folders from you. It does this to protect you from yourself. And to be frank, some people are better off with this protection in place. But if you're reading this newsletter, you probably aren't one of them. Or to put it another way, if you can resist deleting things you shouldn't delete or would never delete anything you weren't sure about, you've got the right mindset to see everything on your XP computer. Here's how to reveal all the files and folders:

    1. Open any Windows Explorer window, such as My Computer or Drive C. 2. Click Tools > Folder Options > View 3. There are four changes I recommend you make in the "Advanced Settings" area. They are:

       a. Place a check beside: "Display the contents of system folders."
       b. Place a check beside: "Show hidden files and folders."
       c. Remove the check beside: "Hide extensions for known file types."
       d. Remove the check beside: "Hide protected operating system files."

    4. Click OK and you're done.

    Uninstalling Windows Messenger in XP
    The tip works by providing a way to reveal the option in Control Panel's Add or Remove Programs to uninstall and reinstall Windows Messenger at will. (Kind of makes you wonder where the hidden option to uninstall Internet Explorer might reside, no?) To make it work, you have to delete four letters from a text file. Here are the steps, in two parts. The first part makes it possible to uninstall Windows Messenger. The second part are the steps you take to uninstall it.

    Part One:
    1. Open the \Windows\Inf folder on your primary drive. If you're not sure how to do that, start by looking on Start > My Computer. If you only have one copy of Windows on your PC, then it's probably in Drive (C:).

    2. Find the Sysoc.inf file and double-click it to open it with Notepad. (It might also be a good idea to make a copy of this file before you open it.)

    3. Under the [Components] section, find this line:

    msmsgs=msgrocm.dll,OcEntry,msmsgs.inf,hide,7

    4. Select the word "hide" at the end of the line and delete it, leaving the two commas that were there. It should look like this when you're done:

    msmsgs=msgrocm.dll,OcEntry,msmsgs.inf,,7

    5. Save and close the file.

    Part Two:
    1. You need to be logged onto Windows XP as the Administrator or with Administrator's rights to install or uninstall a program. See Start > Help > and search for Administrator for more information.

    2. Open the Control Panel from the Start Menu and then open Add or Remove Programs. (Click Start > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs.)

    3. On the left side of the Add or Remove Programs window, click Add/Remove Windows Components.

    4. The Windows Components window will open after a minute or two. Scroll down to the bottom.

    5. Remove the check mark beside the Windows Messenger entry (which didn't appear before you did Part One).

    6. Press Next to start the uninstall process. When it's concluded, click Finish.

    7. Close Add or Remove Programs and Control Panel.

    8. Windows Messenger is removed. On your next restart, it will disappear from the system tray permanently.

    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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