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September 12, 2002 - Vol. 2, Issue No. 31

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • What You Need to Know About Win XP SP1
  • Win2000 Service Pack 3 Feedback
  • Let's Fight Spam!
  • Firewall Frenzy
  • Symantec's Bumper Crop of '2003' Products
  • Reader Poll: What's Your Primary OS?
  • More About Advertising
  • Link of the Week: ChangeDetection.com
  • Tip of the Week: One Each for Win 9x and XP
  • SFNL Back on Track
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Your Address.


    What You Need to Know About Windows XP SP1
    - Service Pack 1 Is Out
    - What's in Windows XP SP1?
    - Hiding Microsoft Apps
    - Download and Installation Options
    - Important SP1 Resources
    - SP1 Word of Warning
    - More XP and SP1 Coverage
    Service Pack 1 Is Out
    Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) has been available on the Microsoft site since Monday, September 9. I've been running the beta for several months and the shipping version of SP1 for the last week, and it's been 100-percent smooth sailing for me. So if you want this thing, get it. I think it'll work fine for you.

    To get started on installing the new service pack for your Windows XP Pro or Home edition PC, visit the Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 1 page. Before you head over there, though, you might want to read through the rest of this article to get up to speed on what SP1 is and the various download and installation options available for it.

    What's in Windows XP SP1?
    SP1 is a primarily a roll-up of a long list of bug fixes, security patches, and software compatibility tweaks. According to Microsoft's Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows XP, speaking in an interview, there are new fixes and updates in SP1 that haven't been previously available via Windows Update or Automatic Update. But he wasn't able to elaborate on what's new. You get the sense they're mostly smaller bug fixes. Still, it's nice to have a single, quick way to install all the Win XP fixes to date.

    In addition to bug fixes, the major components of SP1 include USB 2.0 support, some minor changes to product activation, code that will prevent SP1 from being installed on known pirated copies of Windows XP, and the antitrust-compliance features (more on this in a moment). Here are some additional facts about SP1 you should know about:

  • Unlike most NT and 2000 service packs, the emergence of Windows XP SP1 also signals a new SP1-onboard version of Windows that will soon be sold in stores, get pre-installed on new PCs, and be distributed to organizations. Sullivan notes that this new version of Windows XP will appear sometime in October.

  • It is possible to uninstall SP1 if you choose the "Archive Files" option on the Select Options screen during installation. This saves your existing system files during SP1 setup.

  • USB 2.0 support requires a new PC that supports USB 2.0. Those have only been shipping since earlier this year. If you're not sure whether your recently new PC provides support for the much faster USB 2.0 standard, check with your computer maker.

  • Bluetooth (wireless personal area networking) support is not included in XP SP1. That functionality will be released separately some time this fall.

  • XP SP1 includes the Internet Explorer 6.0 Service Pack 1 set of security patches.

  • Microsoft's Java 2 SE v.1.4.0_01 Java Virtual Machine (JVM) is installed automatically by Windows XP SP1, without any option to prevent installation. The Java virtual machine architecture does not check for or uninstall other JVM versions. So if, as most people do, you have another or even multiple previous JVMs installed, this new one from Microsoft will just be another one at the party. Microsoft should have made JVM installation an end-user option. It is, though, uninstallable from Add or Remove Programs if it irks you.

  • The Microsoft .NET Framework is an optional part of SP1. It's only available on the CD version of SP1. It does not install automatically, and there's no option even to download it from the SP1 setup routine. For those who want it, .NET Framework is freely available from the Microsoft website, or so I'm told. So far, I haven't wanted it.

  • SP1 contains an updated device driver pack that may help some Windows XP users out of device driver problems.

  • SP1 offers one-time installation, meaning that you won't have to reinstall it if you add a device or new software (an almost daily ritual back in the NT days).

  • SP1 is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

  • There's a long list of SP1 installation command-line options that are detailed in the Windows XP SP1 Installation and Deployment Guide.

    Hiding Microsoft Apps
    The only truly visible component of SP1 is what Microsoft calls the consent decree-compliance features. Very little has overtly changed about SP1 since the beta version I reported on back in June:

  • The Lowdown on Windows XP Service Pack 1

    Everything I wrote then about the new "Set Program Access and Defaults" settings dialog that allows you to hide Microsoft applications in Windows XP continues to be true in the final version of SP1. The dialog has changed slightly, but not materially. It is hard to grasp initially, but more than anything else it's hampered by the fact that even recent versions of many installing third-party applications haven't registered themselves to become the default browser, email program, or instant messaging client in the way Windows expects. For example, Netscape 7.0 is the only browser, email program, or instant messenger that shows up on my Windows XP SP1 machines -- even though Opera, Eudora, PocoMail, AOL Instant Messenger for Windows, The Bat!, and several other programs are installed on them. Without that compliance from third-party apps, the default program aspect of this functionality is pretty useless.

    If you prefer Microsoft apps, one thing this dialog will do is let you quickly and easily restore default status to Microsoft apps. No surprise there, eh? The Non-Microsoft area of the dialog isn't very useful -- at least, to me. Since Eudora, AOL Instant Messenger, and Opera don't even show up in the dialog, what's the point? The Custom part of the dialog is probably the best bet for most of us. That's the only area Microsoft provided for Windows 2000 SP3, and I think it's probably the only area that's needed. Custom incorporates the setting "your existing default," which at least doesn't change the fact that Eudora is the default emailer on my PC. The Computer Manufacturer section of the dialog doesn't show up unless XP came with your new PC and your computer maker customized XP's installation with specific default programs.

    Download and Installation Options
    Like Windows 2000 SP3, Windows XP SP1 is installable in three ways: Network Installation, Express Installation, and via CD. It's also available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions (Network Installation only).

    The Network Installation is the most flexible form of install. It lets you install SP1 on multiple PCs and is completely free. The only cost to you is that you'll have to wait through a 134MB download. But if you're installing to any more than two PCs, I recommend the Network Installation mode.

    Most individuals will probably choose the Express Installation option, which performs an online installation with an incremental download. It does that by leveraging Windows Update to check your system for already installed updates and downloading only those modules you don't already have. Microsoft says that it averages around 30MB, but I found it to be more than that. It really depends on how Windows XP was installed and how religiously you've updated it. The drawback to the Express Installation is that it doesn't save a reusable installation set. Also, there's a slight danger to your Windows installation if the power were to go out while you were installing SP1.

    I'm not a big fan of online installations -- but I think this is the right approach. What's a lot more confusing is the ability to customize your download for multiple installations, an option that Internet Explorer long offered. If you don't download the full installation set, you may think you have that later, and be confused why you can't find important installation items. Or someone else might be confused.

    If you have the bandwidth and the disk space, use the Network Installation. If not, use the Express Install. For either one, start with the Windows XP Service Pack 1 page.

    There's a third option, a copy of SP1 on CD. You can order one online for $9.95 U.S. or $14.95 Canadian, and it will arrive in two to four weeks. You can also call an 800 number. Get the details on the Order the Windows XP Service Pack 1 CD page.

    Important SP1 Resources
    Check this stuff out before you install:

  • Windows XP SP1 System Requirements
  • List of Windows XP SP1 Fixes
  • List of Windows XP SP1 Security Patches
  • Partial List of App Compatibility Fixes
  • Release Notes for Windows XP SP1
  • Windows XP SP1 Readme

    SP1 Word of Warning
    If your copy of Windows XP was pirated or hacked to prevent product activation, don't try to install Windows XP SP1. Either it won't install, or it could reverse your hack and start requiring product activation.

    I'm pretty vehemently opposed to product activation. But I'm equally opposed to using software illegally. Microsoft sets the rules for its software, and it's not unique in doing so. Intuit recently decided to follow Microsoft's product activation model, and many other software companies are considering something similar. Even though I disagree with Microsoft's end-user license agreement and product activation, glomming a pirated Windows XP product ID or hacking Microsoft's software are not the answer.

    If you want to protest Microsoft's decision to implement product activation, dump Windows and install Linux or another operating system of your choice. Vote with your wallet. That's the best way to break the "rules."

    More Windows XP and SP1 Coverage
    I haven't made a lot of hay about this in SFNL, but I write regularly for TechWeb.com and sometimes for InternetWeek.com. I recently authored an InternetWeek.com feature called Is Windows XP Worth It? that may be of interest to anyone using XP or considering it:

  • Is Windows XP Worth It?

    Please check it out, and let me know what you think.

    Finally, have you run into trouble with Windows XP Service Pack 1 or do you want to comment about it? What's your experience? Tell me all about it.

    Back to the Top


    Win2000 Service Pack 3 Feedback
    All this talk about Windows XP SP1, what about Win2000 SP3? In the last issue of Scot’s Newsletter, I wrote an in-depth article on W2K SP3. At the end of the piece I included some negative user experiences I'd heard about, and I asked you, dear readers, to supply me with your experiences. Well, I got mail.

    It seems a lot of people are unhappy about the AutoUpdate feature. Frankly, I think they're wrong about that. I hated it in Windows XP too, when I first starting using XP. But after quite a long time with it, I've changed my mind. I do think that AutoUpdate should be configured so that it doesn't download and install updates automatically. That's foolish. Someone knowledgeable needs to decide what gets installed, especially in a business setting; stuff shouldn't be installed willy-nilly. Under Win98 and Windows Update, I've seen mindless installation of updates cause lots and lots of problems. (I wrote an article about this in Windows Insider newsletter a few years back called "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Patches.") But Microsoft has significantly improved both the process and the updates themselves under Windows XP. It's neither like the old NT days or the Win98 disaster. It's better. To Win2K folks, I say, live with AutoUpdate for a while. It's better than you think.

    And to those who are worried about privacy issues to do with AutoUpdate, or about the wording of Microsoft's EULA -- honestly, I think you're overreacting. And I care a lot about this sort of thing. Microsoft really isn't spying on you with this code. I can't say for sure they aren't with other things. But I'm more than reasonably sure they aren't doing it with their Windows Update/AutoUpdate technology.

    Beyond AutoUpdate, though, the vast majority of emails I received were from happy people who'd installed SP3 often on multiple Win2000 machines with absolutely no problems. One wrote to me that it installs "smooth as silk." That's been my experience too. Some people even report that minor bugs were fixed by the SP3 install.

    But, naturally, there were also some problems. Blue screens, for example, on a small number of installations seems to be an issue. Also, many people who experienced problems mention having installed Windows Media Player 7.1. Thanks to all who wrote in. Here are some of the messages I got, in case knowing about them might help you:

    Since loading W2K-SP3 my Outlook Express 6 cannot recognize any kind of an embedded hyperlink. If it is an HTTP hyperlink it will not open Internet Explorer 6 and go to that URL. I have tried reloading the (final) IE/OE 6 package, but that doesn't resolve the problem. --Chad Fletcher

    We installed Win2K SP3 on a server that we use for remote use via Microsoft Terminal Services. One of our user's primary applications is an investment portfolio management program that is run from a shortcut on this box, with its executables located on another server. After we applied the SP3 patch, this program stopped printing. After various attempts at a fix failed, we tried an uninstall of the SP3 patch by the book, but which also failed. We finally had to reformat the server and rebuild it to SP2 to get our program fully functional again. We still don't know why this happened, but surmise that it may have to do with one of the security patches. --Steve Disenhof

    I recently installed Win2K SP3 on a Gateway 1.7 GHz machine. The download and installation went smoothly, without a hitch. However, when I rebooted after the installation, I found that I could no longer connect to the Internet. I could connect to my local network but not to anything outside it. After much investigation I discovered that the problem was with my Zone Alarm Pro configuration. This configuration had been working properly for several months with SP2 and I disabled it for the installation of SP3. It seems that even though I had ZA shut down it still wanted to control my computer's access to the Internet. The solution was to restart Zone Alarm and change its settings to Low. I was then able to get to the 'Net and have since reset Zone Alarm to my previous specifications. --Ken Couser

    After installing SP3 on our server it now hangs intermittently on the boot screen. All of sudden, the system just locked up and after numerous attempts, I was able to get it to boot. I had recently upgraded the computer with SP1, SP2, critical updates, and recommended updates from the Windows Update Site. No problem until I ran SP3. I have tried a cold boot and a warm boot and it doesn't matter, it still hangs, but only sometimes. --John Melson

    "Both at work and at home I ran into driver issues with the installation of SP3. At work we have a camera for looking at optical components that interfaces with Windows. It turns out the computer locks up with no error on boot if you install SP3. The camera is from Dataray and their website explains the fix. I don't expect many of your readers will have this camera but the driver they use is from another company so it may show up with other software installations. The driver company is Jungo and the driver is windrvr.sys. They too have a detailed Web page on updating the driver.

    At home I found that the drivers for Promise's Ultra100 will not work with SP3. The company's Web page suggests using the Ultra100 TX2 drivers instead. They state that, while the company has not tested it, many users report no problems.

    At work only two computers out of more than 60 have had any problems with SP3, both due to the camera driver. At home I am in no hurry to install SP3 so I will wait to see what happens with the Ultra100 drivers before I take the plunge. --Mike Morrell

    I installed SP3 on top of IE 5.5 with latest patches and Media Player 7.1 and it also [like Sande Nissen reported in the last issue of SFNL] took me back to IE 5.01. The system in question is a Dell Latitude 610. --Louis M. McCutchen

    I downloaded the network version to a home grown system with an Asus motherboard, a 533 PIII, W2K Pro and IE 5.5 with all patches. The installation went well except for one problem. I lost the ability to make changes to Windows components in Add/Remove Programs. --John Diakogeorgiou

    Mike King, from Microsoft's Windows 2000 Setup Support, wrote to say that the problem Sande (in the last issue) and now Louis and John report "might be related to a similar issue noted in Microsoft Knowledgebase article Q277624, Updated Versions of Internet Explorer Not Listed in Add/Remove Programs. The SP3 install might cause programs not to show up in Add/Remove Programs when they are actually still there and can be launched." In other words, check your software versions in the program's About box, not just in Add/Remove Programs.

    I found out that if you're still using Office 97 (my company is) you must update it with all the patches available, or you'll be reinstalling it and Outlook 98. They both worked improperly on my first computer. --Alan Kuehnau

    I had big problems with SP3. The install deleted many core Windows files but did not replace them with the updated versions. For example, NTOSKRNL.EXE was gone which prevents Win2k from booting. Thank goodness I used a disk imaging program to back up my system drive before running SP3 so I was able to restore without re-installing Win2k. I submitted a trouble report to Microsoft via the free e-mail support option but got no response. --Dennis Bartt

    Finally, Microsoft has released Knowledgebase article Q309601, Some Windows 2000 Hotfixes May Cause a Conflict with Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000. Apparently this problems affects "a small number of post-Service Pack 3 (SP3) hotfixes." Check out the KB article for the details.

    Back to the Top


     
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    Let's Fight Spam! (Part I)
    It has reached a crescendo, the influx of unwanted messages in my emailbox. I'm sick and tired of spam. And because I have many published email addresses, I get a lot of it. I'm also getting spammed by email viruses. Some days, I feel like my email package is close to being overwhelmed with all the useless crap it has to process. Something has to be done about it. My guess is you feel the same way.

    In the last issue, I wrote about DigiPortal's ChoiceMail, which is half service, half program, half local email server. I've been testing it extensively since the last issue, and I've run into major pluses and minuses. First, this thing does work to drastically eliminate spam. Right away. That's a major plus. But on the negative side, it's fairly young software, and I ran into numerous problems with it.

    The ChoiceMail developers have spent a fair amount of time troubleshooting my problems, but many of the fixes needed for my situation involve new functionality in the program. For example, ChoiceMail doesn't work with email servers that require authentication to send mail. It also isn't able to work with multiple SMTP servers (if you have multiple email accounts, as I do). It requires you to choose one SMTP server to send all your mail through. That isn't always a workable solution. Finally, software firewalls can give ChoiceMail problems, since it actually functions as a small mail server on your system whose only client is your email package.

    All those things are being fixed in future versions of the program, DigiPortal's people say. And I've decided to wait until they fix a few more of them before I render my opinion on the product. I'm still very interested in ChoiceMail, but it isn't quite ready for my very complex mailbox.

    That doesn't mean it isn't ready for yours. If you have only one or two email accounts and you don't make heavy, customized use of Eudora's or Outlook's Personalities/Identities feature sets, ChoiceMail may work just fine for you.

    Where ChoiceMail Isn't Going to Work
    There is a type of emailbox that ChoiceMail is unlikely to ever be ideal for, a public emailbox. In my case, that's the Scot’s Newsletter mail accounts, but most email accounts attached to websites have this problem. Whether it's a webmaster's address or customer service or sales, if email contact with unknown people is important, but only likely to occur once, ChoiceMail isn't going to work well. People are unlikely to fill out a form that identifies them to a faceless email account in order to send a one-time message. ChoiceMail's basic assumption is that you're spam until you prove otherwise. And that just isn't going to work with most public email addresses.

    That's why I'm interested in other anti-spam solutions too, and could even see a combination of rules-based, spam-filter products with the ChoiceMail approach.

    Norton's New Anti-Spam Utility
    Although the $70 Norton Internet Security 2003 hasn't shipped yet, it will shortly. One of the brand new modules in this version of the product is a spam-filtering utility. Such programs work by consulting a list of rules, or patterns, that identify common spam techniques and comparing those rules with incoming mail. They are not even close to 100 percent effective. On the other hand, they're a lot better than nothing.

    Although I've yet to try it, I particularly like the approach taken in the Norton product. Instead of deleting spam on the server, it downloads the mail to your email package, sending it to a special spam folder -- something like an antivirus program's quarantine. That's the right way to handle this because the user can check to make sure that a "good" message didn't get tagged as spam by accident.

    Even more importantly, though, Norton is hooking its tool up to its LiveUpdate system. That's important with a product like this because spammers are constantly changing tactics. For example, ever notice the something like 137 variations on putting the three letters "ADV" (which stands for advertisement) in the subject line of a spam message? Spammers get into trends as they copycat each other, identifying new ways to fool people. But then someone comes up with a breakthrough spamming technique, and off they go, invading your mailbox again. So long as the Norton folks devote some resources to chasing down the spamming trends and make lots of new spam signatures available on LiveUpdate, their product could be useful.

    You can use the Norton anti-spam tool with any email client that uses POP3 email accounts, and spam detection levels are configurable by user type or account.

    See the next section of this issue, Firewall Frenzy, for some of the other new features of Norton Internet Security 2003. And look for an in-depth review of this product in an upcoming issue of the SFNL.

    Your Anti-Spam Suggestions
    I know a lot of you are using MailWasher, an almost cult favorite spam-filtering product. Many SFNL regulars have written to tell me that they're using it, but also that in its default configuration, MailWasher scrubs away this newsletter. I've reached out to the folks who make MailWasher in an attempt to get to the bottom of that, but there seems to have been some sort of disconnect because I haven't heard back from them recently. To be honest, I can't recommend MailWasher. This newsletter, being as long as it is, and especially the HTML version (most HTML newsletters are suspect to a spam-filtering product), is an excellent test of anti-spam tools. But don't expect me to recommend a program that nabs SFNL in its default settings, ok?

    What I'm most interested in is ChoiceMail-like solutions -- services you sign up with that provide a way for email senders to identify themselves to you in a way that spammers are never likely to do. You can't really reply to most spam messages. They're usually sent from phony email addresses. Their only goal is to get you to click a link. They don't want to hear from you by email. So if you ask them to identify themselves, chances are very high they're not even getting your message. But if someone really did mean to send you the message, and they expect to send you additional messages, taking a few seconds to identify themselves is not a problem. What I'd like to hear about is any solution you're aware of that takes advantage of that approach.

    For example, one such service sent me by an SFNL reader is called Spam Arrest. I have yet to test it out, but according to this FAQ, it works similarly to ChoiceMail.

    If you know of similar services -- and especially if you're using one -- I'd like to hear from you with a recommendation and a link to the company's website.

    Anti-Spam Bonus Link of the Week
    Finally, one of my colleagues from Windows Magazine, Mike Elgan, just did an excellent issue of his free Mike's List newsletter whose lead story is all about fighting spam. I know you're going to get something out of this. Read it, and give strong consideration to subscribing to Mike's List. His article is titled How to Stop Spam.

    I hadn't read this issue of Mike's newsletter until this morning, but as soon as I did, it became a Scot’s Newsletter Link of the Week.

    [Read the next installment in the I Hate Spam series.]

    Back to the Top


    Firewall Frenzy
    Man, sometimes product categories get hot fast. Right now, firewalls are doing that. Norton, Sygate, and Zone Labs have all shipped new versions of their firewall products (or are very close to doing so).

    Norton Internet Security 2003
    Start with the newest of the new. Norton Internet Security 2003 is slated to be unveiled on September 16, so SFNL readers are getting a couple days heads up on it. I have beta of the product, but I probably won't receive the "gold" version -- the only kind of firewall I seriously test -- until the middle of next week. I'm very eager to check it out, for a lot of reasons. Some of which I'll come back to a little later in this section.

    What's new in Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2003? For starters, this $70 package offers everything the $100 Norton Internet Security 2002 Pro package offered, plus lots of bug fixes and refinements. That means perhaps the easiest-to-use personal firewall, intrusion detection, Norton Antivirus, ad blocking, and parental and privacy controls. As I mentioned in the Let's Fight Spam section above, the newest feature is spam detection. NIS 2003 also incorporates Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2003, which is detailed in the next section of this issue of the newsletter, Product Beat. I haven't even tested the final version of NIS 2003 yet, but I can tell you that at $70 (plus the rebate coupons Symantec usually includes), NIS2003 is one heck of a value. The combination of NAV2003, Norton Personal Firewall, Intrusion Detection, and Symantec's anti-spam utility are easily worth the $70. Among the improvements to Norton Personal Firewall, by the way, is full stealthing across all TCP ports. (More on this shortly.)

    Sygate Personal Firewall Pro 5.0
    The final version of Sygate Personal Firewall Pro 5.0 was also recently released. So recently, in fact, that I put off doing a review of any firewall in this issue of SFNL. I had intended to work on either Sygate 5.0 or Norton Internet Security 2003, but neither arrived quite in time, and I waited too long to start on something altogether different, like Agnitum Outpost. But all in good time.

    The new Sygate has an impressive list of features. As before, the product comes in "Standard" and "Pro" versions. I've been testing the 5.0 Standard edition, and I can already tell you that I could not have recommended that product over the Norton or Zone Labs firewall products. It is better than the last Sygate version I tested, but it's not better enough for me to go ga-ga over it. I realize that folks like Fred Langa and friends of mine at PC World think highly of Sygate. And you may too if you try it. But as an early gut reaction, I find the Standard version less than perfect.

    But I'm intrigued by the features the Pro version packs, including intrusion detection with online updating, auto-blocking and stealthing ("Active Response"), ICSA certification, VPN support (which I deem mandatory for any firewall), operating system-identification protection, and more. I'm going to test this product, and if I can get around it's awkward UI (why are firewalls so hard to use?), and it tests well -- it's a serious contender.

    For more on the features in both the Standard and Pro versions, visit this Sygate Personal Firewall Standard and Pro comparison page.

    ZoneAlarm 3.1 Pro (version: 3.1.395)
    Earlier this week, Zone Labs finally released ZoneAlarm 3.1 Pro. In an earlier issue of SFNL, I wrote that I expected a dramatic new feature of some sort in this release. I was wrong about that. This is more of a maintenance release than a new-features build. The delay with releasing the Pro version is what prompted me to think there might be more. Here's the list of what's new, as provided by ZoneAlarm's Te Smith:

  • Improved performance and loading time
  • Improved user interface, including new maximize/minimize button and wireless networks display
  • Support for the entire LinkSys product line
  • Improved interoperability with proxy server applications like Webwasher and Proximitron
  • Improved and refined ad-blocking functionality
  • Blocking of JavaScript-based cookies
  • Privacy support for gzipped Web pages

    Take the 30-day trialware version of ZoneAlarm 3.1 Pro for a test drive, and let me know what you think. I'll be testing this one too, but unless something surprisingly good or bad surfaces, I think I'll let the subject of ZoneAlarm 3.1 rest with my SFNL-Top-Product Product ZoneAlarm 3.1 Plus review.

    PC Flank vs. Norton Personal Firewall
    But wait, there's even more on firewalls. In a recent issue of the LangaList, Fred included an item about the PC Flank website and how its firewall test showed Norton Personal Firewall (included in Norton Internet Security 2002 Pro, an SNFL Top Product) didn't fully "stealth" ports.

    While I had heard rumblings of this before, I didn't feel that PC Flank's conclusions were nearly as important as they made them out to be. To be honest, I'm still not quite sure that they are. The bottom-line assertion is not about true firewall protection, but about stealthing, or the ability to hide your visibility on the Internet. According to PC Flank, ZoneAlarm, Sygate, and some other firewalls are fully invisible on the Internet, while Norton Personal Firewall and one or two others are not. Other stealth tests, including Gibson's Nanoprobe port tests, show that Norton Personal Firewall stealths ports just fine. By the way, check the Scot’s Newsletter Firewall Test Suite and Methodology page for more on how I test firewalls, and for links to the tests.

    I decided to check it out again, and spent a long time on PC Flank testing firewall products and reading about other people's experiences in the PC Flank forum. It convinced me enough to contact the Norton Symantec folks about it and find out what gives.

    Symantec was surprisingly forthcoming. They told me that after talking to PC Flank, their own firewall techies agreed that PC Flank had a point. Even if it was an academic one. Norton Personal Firewall only stealthed ports that were hacker targets. And GRC's tests focus on the same ports. So to some extent, this is a semantic (no pun intended) discussion. Is it important to hide every port, or only the ones hackers commonly probe for? I could come down on either side of that question. I guess when all is said and done, though, it's better to be safe than sorry.

    The Norton folks felt it'd be no trouble to stealth all the ports, so that's what they're doing. And the results show up be in the Norton Internet Security 2003 product mentioned earlier in this article. Norton Personal Firewall 2003 will also get this upgrade.

    Bonus Link of the Week
    Incidentally, despite my ambivalence about the conclusions drawn by its stealth test, the PC Flank site is a worthy destination for anyone interested in security. There are also several additional security tests and it provides a good deal of useful information. One page I like in particular is the Ports Database, which allows you to search for information about TCP/UDP ports. I also recommend the Which Software to Choose page for an excellent discussion of different types of security software, and why you need them.

    PC Flank is now an official Scot’s Newsletter Link of the Week site.

    Back to the Top


    Product Beat: Symantec's Bumper Crop of 2003 Utilities
    I've already given you some insight into Norton Internet Security 2003 in the "Firewall Frenzy" section just above. But also hitting the streets these days are Norton Antivirus (NAV) 2003 and Norton SystemWorks (SW) 2003, and they're a little ahead of NIS 2003. I've been testing their final versions for a while.

    Both of these 2003 editions are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. And that's a good thing. Both NAV2002 and SW2002 were fairly significant changes over their predecessors, as were the upgrades before those. We software users are ready for a gentler change right now.

    Norton AntiVirus 2003
    Of the two newest versions, NAV2003 is the more ambitious. For the $50 full retail price or $30 upgrade, you get Instant Messenger scanning that supports AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo Instant Messenger, and MSN/Windows Messenger. I use AIM, but unfortunately, I use too old a version of AIM to be supported by NAV2003. (I've avoided upgrading AIM because it seems to get worse, not better, with newer version numbers.) I like the idea of scanning instant-message traffic for viruses. While there isn't a big problem there yet, it's probably just a matter of time. One thing I didn't like is that NAV2003 doesn't support ICQ instant messaging.

    NAV2003 also adds Worm Blocking, designed mostly to prevent outbound transmission of worms via your email package. This is one of those features we all need, because stopping outbound worm traffic will stop the promulgation of email viruses. And we need to do that. Pronto. If we'd had it last year, perhaps SirCam, Nimda, and Badtrans wouldn't have been such a big deal.

    Earlier versions of Norton AntiVirus added a pretty steep performance hit (especially on slower Internet connections) for outbound mail scanning. I've found NAV2003 to be slightly better than NAV2002 at this task, and NAV2002 in turn was a tad better than NAV2001. I like the trend.

    NAV2003 is also designed to handle viruses without getting in your face about it. It can silently dispose of viruses, so you keep on working. Actually, that was somewhat true of NAV2002 as well. But not as it originally shipped. LiveUpdate modified it to do more dispatching of viruses silently, if you preferred. NAV2003 is better, although I'm still working through my testing of this aspect -- and am not 100 percent convinced yet that it works as silently as it should. This was a big criticism I had of NAV2001, though. Symantec has gotten the message.

    What I notice most about NAV2003 in use is that it, for the most part, it works better, and more as you expect it to. I wouldn't call it perfect, but it's a solid refinement over NAV2002.

    Norton SystemWorks 2003
    Symantec Group Product Manager Marian Merritt was able to brief me on SW2003 in record time when Symantec called to give me the 2003 heads up. The biggest new feature in the $70 SystemWorks 2003 standard version is NAV2003. SW2003 Professional Edition, which sells for $100 retail, gets a new version of Norton Ghost. Among other things, Norton Ghost no longer needs to be booted from a floppy because it has a full Windows UI. It also supports Firewire, USB, and CD/DVD. SW2003 Pro also includes a new Process Viewer/Task Manager utility and a new performance/benchmarking utility.

    The quintessential refinement release, SW2003 standard only has three notable features. One Button Checkup has changed, and the primary change is that it's a lot more user-customizable so that, for example, if you're in a hurry you can skip Speed Disk. Or if there are tests you don't really care about, you can skip them permanently. One Button Checkup also logs its changes to a history file, and even better, provides an Undo capability.

    Web Cleanup is a modest addition that serves as a sort of one-button checkup for Internet Explorer. It empties your browser cache, cookies, and history. It has no effect on Outlook Express or any other Internet program (including other browsers). It does let you view and sort this data by date or by website, which is probably its most useful feature. You can delete selectively, including selectively deleting your Web cache.

    The third new feature is Connection Keep Alive, designed wholly for dial-up users whose ISPs tend to drop their connection after an interval of inactivity. This feature is quite rightly turned off by default, to prevent unexpected usage of online minutes for those on a limited connection time contract. It should be in the product, but it's hard to get worked up about it.

    I suggested to Norton that they add a tool for broadband users that would track broadband connectivity by pinging the gateway server every so often, keeping track of packet loss and service drop-offs. I use a product called LiveCon 1.20 by RemoteTek for that purpose. It keeps a text log of packet loss and connection drop-offs that has proved invaluable to me in the past when I've had trouble with this or that broadband connection. Unfortunately, LiveCon hasn't been updated in more than two and a half years. I hope Symantec or another utility company considers my suggestion.

    Only one other thing of note about SystemWorks 2003. It marks the end of the sale of Norton Utilities as a standalone product. To get Norton Utilities in the future you'll have to buy SystemWorks.

    In coming issues, I'll likely fill you in on my experiences with NAV2003 and SW2003, perhaps giving you my recommended installation instructions for SystemWorks 2003. Both products (or their competitors) are important ones for SFNL readers to have at hand. I'm also looking to step up my coverage of utilities provided by other smart companies. Please feel free to email me with your recommendations.

    Netscape 7.0
    Also of note since the last SFNL, although it's hardly news at this point, is the release of Netscape 7.0, which occurred while I was on vacation. I've installed the product, and to be honest I'm a little taken aback by the AOL-isms I see in it. In particular, I find the Instant Messenger nag screens particularly annoying. And while the browser renders better than any previous Netscape version since Netscape 6.0, it's still no Internet Explorer. I like the interface. I've always liked it. And the product has improved. It loads a little faster. But it needs a lot more testing. I've always intended to review it, but I don't think that review will be coming right away. I want to live with it some more. Use Netscape's Netscape 7.0 download page to try it out for yourself.

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

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    Reader Poll: What's Your Primary Operating System?
    Almost exactly a year ago I published a reader poll asking what one operating system was likely to be your next primary OS. Windows XP was about to come out, Linux was on the rise (and still is), and Apple had an ambitious new OS in the works. It was an interesting time to ask the question.

    What surprised me was that almost half of the 3,000 respondents said they expected to move to Windows XP sooner or later. At that time, I personally had no intention of moving to XP. Maybe Win2000, but not XP. So it was a real eye opener. Now I want to ask you a related but different question.

    What's Your Current Operating System?
    There's a baker's dozen of answers below that one way or another should provide a catalog to identify your operating system. The links beside each entry are designed to automatically create an email message with your default email program (sorry, this won't work for everyone, but it works for many). Simply find your operating system, click its link, and send the message. If link doesn't work, I've provided details on how to send the message manually. Note: You must copy the subject line exactly as shown or your response may not be included.

    I recognize that many people reading this newsletter have more than one operating system at their disposal. I'm not looking for multiple answers (although it's fine to give me those details in the body of the message). Instead, I want you to narrow down your operating system choice to the one you feel is your primary OS, the one you either use the most or like the best. It has to be an operating system that you have on the PC you use regularly at work, home, or school.

    So, what's your primary operating system? Please choose only one response:

    1. Windows XP
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Windows_XP" as the subject.)

    2. Windows 2000
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Windows_2000" as the subject.)

    3. Windows Me
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Windows_Me" as the subject.)

    4. Windows 98 Second Edition
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Windows_98SE" as the subject.)

    5. Windows 98
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Windows_98" as the subject.)

    6. Windows 95
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Windows_95" as the subject.)

    7. Windows 3.x
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Windows_3x" as the subject.)

    8. OS/2, any version
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "OS2" as the subject.)

    9. Linux, any version
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Linux" as the subject.)

    10. Unix, any version
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with Unix" as the subject.)

    11. Macintosh System, any version
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Mac_System" as the subject.)

    12. Macintosh OS X
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Mac_OSX" as the subject.)

    13. Other, please explain in message
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll@scotsnewsletter.com with "Other_OS" as the subject.)

    Thanks for taking the time to send me your message.

    In an upcoming issue, I'll ask you to tell me what your next operating system will be. So hold off telling me about that until then.

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    More About Advertising
    Before I get going on this topic, let me save some of you some time. If you're unconcerned that Scot’s Newsletter is now accepting up to three tasteful ads in each issue, please skip this section. But if you have any doubts at all, I think you should at least scan this.

    In the last issue of the newsletter, I announced that SFNL would start accepting up to three ads per issue if advertisers came knocking. I explained a little about that decision, and opened the door to comments. Well, the comments came, and came, and came. I was surprised. Especially since 98 percent of those comments read something like this:

    My opinion? Whatever it takes to keep YOU happy and writing the best-damn tech-newsletter going is okay by me. Regards, Steve Purhonen.

    I can't tell you how gratifying it is to be supported so well by the subscribers of this newsletter. Almost every message I received was positive. A lot of readers even pledged to check out SFNL advertisers. Thank you to all who sent messages on this topic. Only one fellow expressed anger and said he was going to unsubscribe (but last I checked he hadn't).

    Along with the general support for ads in the newsletter, there a handful of concerns noted, and I want to address those:

    1. I will not send pop-up ads (or anything that runs a program) in either the text or HTML versions of the newsletter. I will have clicked every link myself that my advertisers are asking you to click before you get there. If I'm aware of anything questionable, I won't accept the ad. It's not worth it to me.

    2. Many people have asked me to keep ads on topic, that is relevant to what the newsletter covers. That's a good goal, and I expect that's what we'll usually have. But I'm not going to commit in advance to only accepting computer ads. There may be other types of advertising that are perfect for this audience that are nevertheless off topic. I will use my judgment about that. One thing I will say is that I will only accept tasteful ads. There are some ads out there that fall into a gray area, and if those advertisers come to me, I will make a judgment call. In any case, there not be anything pertaining to pornography, gambling, and probably several other topics I don't care to think about right now.

    3. If I haven't said this recently, let me say it again. I will never, ever sell or rent the SFNL newsletter list. Similarly, I will never knowingly sell an ad to a company whose primary focus is to collect your email address in an attempt to spam you. Again, I will be checking this out in advance. All my advertisers to date have been aboveboard companies with honest messages. And I intend to keep it that way.

    4. One or two people said they would prefer I didn't accept animated .GIF ads, those banner ads that have color and motion. The odd part about that is that my "house" ad, the one I sometimes run when I don't have ads, is an animated .GIF about Scot’s Newsletter. And no one has ever complained about it. For more than a year now, Scot’s Newsletter has had a single ad at the very top of the newsletter, both HTML and text editions. The only thing that's really changing is that I'm now accepting up to three ads per issue (spaced out throughout the newsletter) and also that advertisers are suddenly interested. So I will continue to accept animated GIFs for the HTML version and on the website. But I think you'll find them not to be overly intrusive.

    5. One reader asked a smart question about the HTML version of the newsletter. Since I don't actually send banner ad graphics with the newsletter, but serve them from my Web host via the Internet, Josh Auerbach wanted to know:

    Will you be tracking, for your advertisers, the number of or percentage of users who read the email? Will you store this information, at a user level or in the aggregate? Will there be cookies associated with the ads?

    I have no intention of tracking information about anyone in this fashion. The economics of advertising in newsletters really aren't the same as for website ads (which is the model your question is drawn from). Unless a newsletter has many hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and the advertising is less focused on selling a product or service and more focused on conveying an overall message, what matters to most advertisers is click-throughs. That's something they can track on their own. You'll see many ads (including some in this issue of Scot’s Newsletter) where the URLs are coded so that they can track the number of click-throughs from this specific issue of Scot’s Newsletter or from all Scot’s Newsletter issues. That's the primary type of tracking I expect to see from the ads SFNL publishes. When you click a link to a website, it is possible for the server on that site to gather some basic information, mostly about your browser and operating system.

    I am not currently offering any sort of tracking service for my advertisers. I'm not counting anybody or anything. To me the only number that matters is how many subscribers I have.

    Note: Some HTML "banner" ads aren't graphics at all, but are colored text HTML. Such ads do not require an Internet connection to display; they use very simple code and contain no image files.

    6. David Benton sent in a concern that is probably closest to my own biggest concern about taking advertising. He wrote: "I depend on your evaluations on products. The minute you accept advertising, your bias becomes suspect. How do you plan to handle this issue?"

    I'm glad to get this one out in the open. I've been calling them as I see 'em on computer products for almost 20 years now. I don't intend to stop now. I'm simply not going to give an advertiser special favor on a review just because they're an advertiser, nor am I more likely to review a product because it's advertised. It's my open promise to everyone.

    I'll admit that it'll make reviewing products from companies that advertise a bit more complex. But it's not going to change my recommendations. Not one bit.

    By the same token, I have a reputation for being very both fair and extremely thorough in researching my product reviews. Most companies whose products I've reviewed have found that I go the extra mile to research problems I discover with their products. I interview them, call their tech support lines, call their PR people and tell them there's a problem before I publish the story. And I give them a chance to tell me where they think I'm wrong. Because sometimes I am wrong, and that's part of the review process in my book. I do this with all products I review, and have done so for years. I think my review process is less likely to engender anger from advertisers whose products I wind up criticizing.

    But if it does, so be it. The truth is more important than a few bucks.

    7. Probably the single most common response was, "When are you going to offer an optional ad-free paid version of the newsletter, like Fred Langa's Plus edition?" The answer is that I have long intended to do that, and have picked Fred's brain about it on more than one occasion. When I ran the numbers on it last year, it became clear that I had to raise the circulation of the newsletter first to make it cost effective. Fred puts in a lot of extra hours and pays out a significant amount of money to service providers in order to offer the Plus version. He is making the money back because the subscriptions help a lot. But his list is bigger than SFNL's, being about three years older. So when the list reaches critical mass, an optional Plus version is my goal.

    I began accepting financial contributions as a stopgap solution while I grew the subscriber list. You'll find links at the end of the newsletter where you can send a contribution to me to help offset my costs. If you've sent me a contribution any time in the last 12 months, don't send another one. I look at this as a voluntary annual contribution. Even with the ads, though, I could use the help of people who haven't donated yet.

    Another way you can help Scot’s Newsletter is by getting the word out about it. I need new subscribers, and while the list is growing, it's not growing all that quickly. That's because a lot of potential subscribers aren't even aware of it. They're not making a conscious decision, they just don't know about it. If you have a website or any sort of forum where you can tell people who might be interested in the newsletter where to check it out and subscribe to it, that would be better than a financial contribution. This page on the Scot’s Newsletter site offers banner ads and promotional buttons along with simple website code that links to the subscription pages.

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    Link of the Week: ChangeDetection.com
    This is a free Web-based service that I find truly useful. ChangeDetection.com lets you select any page on the Web to monitor. Whenever the page is updated, it will send you an email notifying you there's been a change. I use this all the time with vendor product pages, so that I know when they issue an update or change something (like the price?) of their software or hardware. If you're in business, you might use it to monitor your competitors' pages. Or keep track of important changes on sports sites, news pages, whatever is of interest to you. ChangeDetection.com only tracks changes to the text on a given page. HTML coding changes and image changes are not recognized. You can unsubscribe any time, by the way. At a time when free Internet tools seem to be on the decline, this one stands out and is a clear Scot’s Newsletter Link of the Week.

    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: One Each for Win 9x and XP
    Because I know that some of you want Win 9x tips, and some want XP tips, I have one of each variety. (Win2K users: Not as much for you this time, but I'll make it up to you!)

    Windows 9x: Change Registered User Info
    You can change Windows' registered user and company info from System Registry. Open the Registry Editor by selecting Start, Run, typing regedit, and clicking OK. Navigate to this key:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion

    You'll see the RegisteredOrganization and RegisteredOwner string values (or AB icons) in the right pane. To change one of these values, double click it to open its Edit String dialog, type in the new information, and press OK. Repeat for the other entry if necessary, and close RegEdit. Note: This changes the default registered user info. Any program registration, dial-up connection, or logon you've already created with the previous name will stay in effect.

    Note: Windows NT/2K/XP users should find the same info in this key:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion

    (I haven't tested this tip extensively for NT-derived OSes though.)

    Another common problem people have is installing a retail copy of Windows 9x over an OEM installation, usually where they don't have a regular Windows disc because the OEM maker didn't provide one. If you run into problems with that, check out this golden oldie from my old Winmag newsletter, Windows Insider, Make Your PC Accept a New Retail Windows CD:

    http://www.techweb.com/winmag/columns/insider/2000/26.htm#retailcd

    Note: This may not work on newer "BIOS-locked" PCs. For more on BIOS locking, see this June 2000 story from Windows Insider:

    http://www.techweb.com/winmag/columns/insider/2000/23.htm#cdless

    Windows XP: Step Up Performance
    One of the most common complaints of first-time Windows XP users, especially those whose PCs verge on being at the lower end of the minimum system requirements scale, is user interface (UI) performance. By that I mean delays or hesitations when using the mouse to open menus or dialogs, and perform other routine steps. The problem can affect both applications and Windows user interface objects.

    You might not be aware that the likely cause of such problems on your PC is that the XP designers opted for a higher-overhead user interface, one that uses lots of transition effects, text refinements, object shadowing, simultaneous colors, and graphics and CPU horsepower. Many of the people who try XP and deem it "buggy" don't realize that they can mitigate or even nullify these performance issues by experimenting with a set of Performance controls buried in System Properties.

    To access the Performance Options dialog, open the Start menu and follow this path: All Programs > Control Panel > System > Advanced tab > click the Performance Settings button. Start by choosing the "Adjust for best performance" option, and click OK out of the open dialogs. (Note: Applying these changes will probably change your current desktop theme back to Windows XP's default theme.)

    Next, restart the computer and live with the change for a little while. See if your performance problems go away. If they do, and you're happy with the way the UI looks, you're done. If they don't go away, think about a different OS, a different PC, or a hardware upgrade (RAM and a more powerful graphics card would be a good starting point, but new motherboard/CPU might also be what's needed).

    If it solved your performance problem, but you preferred the richer UI, go back and selectively add things. On my PCs I often turn off the fade effects, but I really prefer font-smoothing effects and ClearType (which adds more overhead). But what do you like? Experiment to see what features you can leave on and how they affect user interface performance.

    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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    SFNL Back on Track
    It's almost fall here in the U.S. and Scot’s Newsletter has come off its reduced summer schedule and is back to every other week issues. See you in two weeks, on or around September 26.

    One additional word on SFNL scheduling: When Scot’s on vacation, Scot’s Newsletter is usually on hiatus. And I have more vacation time from TechWeb.com that I have to burn through this year or I lose it. Some of that isn't planned out yet. I'll keep you posted.

    If you're ever wondering whether you missed an issue or I skipped one, you can find out quickly and easily at the Scot’s Newsletter home page. You'll find the next expected publication date listed there, as well as links to all the recent issues. Check it out.

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    The Fine Print
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    Contact
    Send comments, suggestions, or questions about this newsletter. Don't be bashful about telling me what you like or don't like. Send emails related to editorial content (only) to scot@scotsnewsletter.com.

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