Scot’s Newsletter

Windows and Broadband Information You Can Use!

 
NEWSLETTER ISSUES

 
 01-21-2003

 12-23-2002

 12-09-2002

 11-25-2002

 More Back Issues

 Please Subscribe

 
 
 
 
OTHER LINKS

 
 The Forums

 Product Reviews

 Let’s Fight Sp@m!

 NetBEUI and Win XP

 PayPal Donate

 Letter Mail Donate

 
 
Get free email delivery of this newsletter!

Recommend Scot’s Newsletter to a Friend!

December 23, 2002 - Vol. 2, Issue No. 37

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Let's Fight Spam, Part IV
  • Review: Spamnix 1.0
  • Results of the 3rd Annual Broadband Reader Poll
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - ZoneAlarm User Forum Debuts
       - More on Which Java Virtual Machine
       - Coming up in Scot’s Newsletter
  • Q&A
  • Slippery Slope: It's The Media's Fault
  • Link of the Week: Net-Integration.com
  • Tip of the Week: Outlook 2000 Beyond 2002
  • Scot’s Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to All!  Here's to a Brighter 2003.

    Let's Fight Spam, Part IV
  • Blacklisting Realities
  • A Call to Scot’s Newsletter Readers
  • Notable Spam Blacklisting Articles
  • Content Filtering: The Alternative

    This is the fourth in an ongoing series of SFNL articles about spam. You can read the others by linking back through them on the website version of Scot’s Newsletter, beginning with the last in the series.

    Thanks to reader Austin Ziegler for pointing out that during the 12-hour period after I sent the last issue of the newsletter, SpamCop.net had placed my newsletter distributor, Dundee.net, on its blacklist. For all practical purposes, that meant Scot’s Newsletter was on the blacklist too.

    I checked with Dundee the next morning and they were aware of the problem. In fact, SpamCop delisted Dundee shortly thereafter. And it does appear that one of Dundee's newest customers did something stupid, which Dundee pulled the plug on immediately. But why should every newsletter author on that particular Dundee server suddenly be blacklisted too? Public blacklists are stupid. They overreact. They throw the baby out with the bathwater. They brand people without even really investigating.

    I am totally against spam. But if our means of fighting spam results in branding innocent mailers as spammers, something is very wrong with how we're attacking the problem.

    Even more frustrating is the fact that, because blacklists have been one of the few antispam tools around for a long time, many corporations and ISPs worldwide have written large enterprise applications that rely on public blacklist databases as their sole or primary means of identifying unwanted email. Many of these applications use multiple databases, such as MAPS, SpamCop, Osirusoft, SPEWS, Spamhaus, and others. Every time I send an issue of the newsletter, I get numerous bounce messages telling me that SpamCop or some other blacklist has rejected my message as spam. Often without much or any justification or recourse.

    This is happening with increasing frequency.

    Although the problem plagues many, many newsletters and other types of perfectly legitimate email, I believe Scot’s Newsletter to be particularly susceptible. It is quite long, and contains numerous examples of the kinds of things that spam blacklists, in their infinite wisdom, have deemed to be "spam like," even though not a one of these things is used for such purposes in SFNL or 98 percent of the other opt-in newsletters out there.

    I don't think email newsletter authors should be forced to change the way we communicate with our readers just because some spammers imitate things we do in order to pass themselves off as legitimate newsletters or company missives. If spammers found a way to imitate personal messages (and many try to do just that), would it be acceptable for spam solutions to force everyone to change how they send personal email? Suppose we could never sign our emails with "Love" or with our names, or ever say "Dear ..." so and so in the salutation? And yet many newsletter authors are finding themselves faced with having to do just that.

    A Call to Scot’s Newsletter Readers
    There is one thing YOU can do. Tell you ISP or your corporate mail admin that Scot’s Newsletter (and the other newsletters you take) are valuable to you. Tell them it isn't right that the antispam measures they've adopted are blocking newsletters and other commercial email. Don't get yourself in trouble at your job over this, mind you. But I know for a fact that many people get SFNL work, and many companies consider reading it a good practice for their employees because it can make them more productive. So speak out if you can do so without ruffling feathers.

    Actually there's a second thing you can do too. Be aware of this: If you all of a sudden stop receiving your copy of the newsletter (and this happens more than you might think), don't just assume I skipped an issue or there's something wrong with the newsletter's distribution. I rarely skip an issue without noting that in advance. Chances are that if you stop receiving the newsletter inexplicably, it's not a problem with your subscription; it's a problem with your mail server or your spam filter. It's the number one cause of Scot’s Newsletter subscription problems.

    Public blacklists have been around for years, and they've proven themselves woefully inadequate at preventing spam. They seem more aimed at payback than prevention. With blacklists, the cure is often worse than the illness.

    Notable Spam Blacklisting Articles
    Think I'm crying wolf? There are a few articles I'd like to direct your attention to:

  • Spam Is '1,000 Times More Horrible Than You Imagine' - InternetWeek
  • Fred Langa, Real-Life Spam Solutions - InformationWeek
  • Fred Langa, Silent Censorship - InformationWeek
  • Fred Langa, Has Spam Won? - InformationWeek
  • Paul Graham's Filter's Vs. Blacklists

    Content Filtering: The Alternative
    You just got an earful about blacklisting, but what about the other leading method of fighting spam, rules-based content filtering?

    In its current state, content filtering for spam is, I think, equally flawed. I provide more detail about one well-known content-filtering antispam database, SpamAssassin, in the Spamnix 1.0 review (the next item in this issue of SFNL). The problem is that programmatic spam-identification tools require frequent mediation, by the rules programmers, client software maker, and the user. I don't think we're so far getting that kind of commitment from anyone involved. And I'm not sure the spam-filtering rules are really smart enough to trap spam without also trapping some good mail.

    Some in the industry are calling Bayesian mathematic analysis the next great hope for the future content-filtering spam controls, and antispam measures in general. For more about Bayesian concepts, check the International Society for Bayesian Analysis. I hope those who are predicting good things for Bayesian antispam implementations are right. (Some products are already claim to use Bayesian principles.) But I'm not jumping on the bandwagon until I see an actual product that works with a very low instance of incorrect judgments and that does not require users to significantly change the way they work with email. Color me somewhat skeptical, though willing to be proven wrong.

    Finally it should be noted that public blacklisting and rules-based content filtering are frequently used together by ISPs and enterprises. In my experience, their combination greatly increases the probability of accidentally sending good mail down the spam chute.

    Back to the Top


     
    VCOM announces the acquisition of the Ontrack PC Utility products. SystemSuite, Fix-It Utilities and PowerDesk Pro now join System Commander, Partition Commander, Web Easy, DVD PhotoPlay and AutoSave. Imagine what you can do!™ Visit us today!  V Communications

     
    paid advertisement


    Review: Spamnix 1.0
    With all that in mind, I decided to put aside my earlier unimpressed assessment of the beta of Spamnix 1.0 for Eudora, which uses content-filtering, and give it a full-fledged review. Any product designed specifically to work with Eudora gets my attention since Eudora is the best email program on the planet (but most people don't realize that). So far as I know, Spamnix is the only Eudora-specific antispam utility currently available.

    Spamnix is based on the SpamAssassin content-filtering antispam tool. The SpamAssassin technology is in popular use on Unix and Linux servers and desktops. It is also used in Deersoft's SpamAssassin Pro (14-day trial and $29.95 to register) and SpamAssassin Enterprise 2003, which work under all recent versions of Windows and with Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Exchange, respectively.

    SpamAssassin is an open-source, rules-based spam-mail content filter. The rules are a set of tests with which a server or desktop application, such as Spamnix, analyzes inbound mail. Each test, or rule, looks for a specific indicator -- a behavior, characteristic style of communication, common trick, common turns of phrase -- that it associates with spam. Each hit on the SpamAssassin list results in a weighted score, and the hits are totaled in a final score. If any given message scores 5.0 points or more (SpamAssassin's recommended threshold, and the default Spamnix setting), it is considered to be spam. Boom. No appeal. You're out.

    I have issues with the way this works. Despite claims to the contrary by Spamnix's author, during about 45 days of testing, I experienced a high degree of false positives. A false positive is a non-spam email that is judged by Spamnix to be spam and then tucked away in a spam folder in Eudora. Spamnix doesn't delete spam messages by default, and SpamAssassin's FAQs discourage automatic deletion (although it is possible in Eudora).

    In one case, though, it took me several days to find what was a very important message from a business person that I had needed to see right away. Spamnix had incorrectly branded it as spam. It was a message I wasn't expecting, and it came from someone I didn't know -- otherwise I might have found it earlier. The missed message nearly cost the newsletter a sizable amount of money. Even one such instance is one too many.

    The emails most vulnerable to false spam identification with the SpamAssassin technology are those that come from "commercial" sources, such as your bank, your online store, your newsletter author, or really any established website. Private correspondence among friends and family is the least likely to trip SpamAssassin's and Spamnix's spam sniffer.

    Still, the scoring process appears to be somewhat arbitrary. Here are some of the actual rules from a variety of non-spam messages I've received that Spamnix 1.0 identified as spam. Keep in mind that if the collective scores for the more than 100 spam tests run against any one inbound message add up to 5.0 or more points, Spamnix judges the message to be spam.

    Spamnix 1.0     SpamAssassin
    Points:            Test Description:
    -----------      -----------------
    3.1                 BODY: Talks about lots of money
    2.6                 'From:' address also used as sender's real name
    2.6                 URI: URL of page called "unsubscribe"
    2.1                 Received via SMTPD32 server (SMTPD32-n.n)
    2.1                 BODY: FONT Size +2 and up or 3 and up
    1.7                 HTML-only mail, with no text version
    1.6                 'Message-Id' was added by a relay (2)
    1.5                 BODY: Asks you to click below
    1.1                 BODY: A word in all caps repeated on the line
    0.8                 BODY: Includes a URL link to send an email
    0.8                 BODY: Tells you to click on a URL
    0.5                 BODY: 3 WHOLE LINES OF YELLING DETECTED
    0.5                 Uses words and phrases which indicate porn (3)
    0.4                 BODY: Contains a line >=199 characters long

    The messages I copied and pasted these scores from contained no porn, no selling, no attempt to falsify identity, nor anything nefarious at all. They came from a long list of trusted, everyday newsletters that Spamnix judged to be spam, including: Fred Langa's LangaList Plus HTML Edition, Dummies eTips, the PC World newsletters, InfoWorld Scoop, InfoWorld Technology and Business Daily, the TechWeb newsletters, Woody's Windows XP, Woody's Office Watch, SafetyAlerts-List, Jupiter Research, the NY Times, WinXPNews, the Windows.NET Magazine newsletters, Computer America, eSecurity News, InfoPackets Gazette, and Scot’s Newsletter.

    The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Spamnix 1.0 Build 37 (the latest version and the one I tested) uses a slightly older version of the SpamAssassin rules, version 2.31. The latest 2.43 release of SpamAssassin actually assigns lower scores to many of the tests above. Spamnix Software is preparing a near-term release of Spamnix that will incorporate newer SpamAssassin scores. I hope that update will reduce the number of false positives.

    What galls me, though, is the attitude of Spamnix's author and some others in this business. It isn't his or SpamAssassin's fault that their technology is falsely tagging newsletters as spam; it's purely the fault of spammers -- since they're the ones making their mail look like newsletters.

    What a cop out. Don't hide behind people who are truly criminal as an excuse. Make your tool better! It's not ok to almost routinely brand newsletters, emailed purchase confirmations from retailers (like L.L. Bean, for example), requested company communications, and other "commercial" messages as spam just because spam marketers are attempting to disguise their messages as such. No spam solution should ever create new problems as bad as this.

    Using Spamnix 1.0
    But before you skip the rest of this review in disgust, there is another side to the story. Spamnix is a very small company. The program is extremely simple -- a good thing. And even though this is a mixed review, I am continuing to use Spamnix myself. So, while I have misgivings about the underpinnings of Spamnix, clearly it's not all bad.

    For one thing, it's highly customizable. There's a fairly easy way to tell Spamnix to always accept mail from X domain or Y email address. You can create a whitelist and blacklist based on any part of the sender's email address and use variables too, such as *@scotsnewsletter.com. (The asterisk means any number of any kind of character, and in this example it would automatically block or accept any email from any address with this specific domain name.)

    What you can't do is filter to the whitelist or blacklist by anything other than the From: field. In particular, the ability to filter the subject line would be advantageous. Anyone who belongs to a mailing list with hundreds of members could use that feature. Another easy way to place Scot’s Newsletter on your whitelist would be to set up a rule that accepts "[SFNL]" from the subject line, since those characters always appear on the Scot’s Newsletter subject line. I'm told the subject-line filter feature is expected in a future version of Spamnix, and I hope it's the next one.

    There is a one-click means of rapidly assigning the From: email address of any open message to the blacklist or whitelist. This method always takes the whole email address and then presents you with an OK dialog signifying that it has completed the task.

    What would be better is to have the option to edit the new entry. Often it's not just the specific email address you want to allow or disallow, but any email address from that domain name. To do that, though, you must open the Spamnix Settings dialog, which is very limited. You can't resize the settings window either vertically or horizontally (grumble, grumble). It presents both allowed and disallowed rules together in one list. If you're looking to edit the entry you just made with the one-click button, it can be difficult to find it. After a month and a half of use, I have over 100 entries on the list (the vast majority of which are whitelist entries). This settings dialog is Spamnix's weakest link.

    Another problem with blacklist and whitelist rules is that it's easy to forget you've added any given rule, so you may find duplicate rules in Spamnix Settings. While that doesn't affect anything, it just adds to the general confusion.

    Making Spamnix More Accurate
    It's possible to adjust the SpamAssassin scores for individual tests, something I've done in my own installation. This has vastly cut down on the false positives without notably increasing false negatives (real spam messages that are allowed to pass into your mailbox).

    To modify scores, you add a blank text file in Spamnix's Rules folder called Custom.CF. There you follow a simple syntax to adjust a score. The default score for "talks about lots of money," for example, is 3.1 in Spamnix 1.0. To change the score, you enter this line in the Custom.CF file:

    score BILLION_DOLLARS 0.5

    The BILLION_DOLLARS term is just the official programmatic name for this SpamAssassin test. You'll find the programmatic name for each test on the SpamAssassin Tests page.

    The score 0.5 is my arbitrary scoring change for BILLION_DOLLARS. As I write this, the scoring for that test in SpamAssassin's latest release is 0.402. So it's in the same ballpark. Anyone who's interested in more information on customizing Spamnix can email me for more information.

    The latest build of Spamnix also makes it easy to adjust the spam-identification threshold score of 5.0 on the Spamnix Settings dialog. Raising that number is another way to reduce false positives, but it will also increase Spamnix's likelihood of letting through some spam messages. Still, adjust the spam threshold is the easiest way to adjust Spamnix if you find that it's treating too many legitimate messages as spam.

    Finally, it's possible to edit individual SpamAssassin rules once you get the hang of their syntax. This avenue is the most complex of the customizations, and not one I'd recommend to most people.

    One test in particular that deserves scoring modification is the "Received via SMTPD32 server (SMTPD32-n.n)" test. It has caused trouble with personal emails from literally dozens of SFNL readers. Recent changes to the SpamAssassin rules (not yet in Spamnix) have revised scores downward on several rules, such as SMTPD32 server, which have a tendency to cause false positives. I'm also told the SMTPD32 rule may be removed altogether in an upcoming update of the SpamAssassin database.

    The Key to Spamnix/SpamAssassin Success
    The issue of how frequently the SpamAssassin database and Spamnix are updated are key to whether these tools will work in high-traffic mail environments that include mission-critical legitimate commercial email. Both the database and the client product should be updated at least monthly, and more often than that would be preferable. When you look at the tests closely, you'll see what I mean. Many of their identifications are arbitrary. Many have been added for a specific spam-message spoof or trick that may now be outdated. Bottom line: You would have to categorize the evidence collected by the vast majority of SpamAssassin tests as circumstantial at best.

    For example: "Tells you to click on a URL," "FONT Size +2 and up or 3 and up," or "talks about lots of money." If I tell AOL users to "click here" for a Web version, use a headline, or write about how WorldCom lied about $9 billion will the newsletter suddenly be sucked into several thousand SpamAssassin spam folders? Is that even slightly reasonable? No, it isn't. And given the fact that there are more than 100 SpamAssassin tests, the chances for error are high.

    It's not just how often SpamAssassin is updated, but how often in turn Spamnix is updated. Currently the product does not have any way to do an online update. This is a brand new product so that isn't surprising. But Spamnix is definitely an excellent candidate for online updating of the SpamAssassin rules.

    You can install any new Spamnix version over your existing installation, but you'll have to keep checking the Spamnix website to see whether a new version has become available. It's possible Spamnix Software may come up with an automatic solution for this in the future. Optional email notification about new versions would be a good interim solution.

    Long and Short
    Spamnix integrates well into the Eudora environment and I am learning how to customize the SpamAssassin database scores and rules to my taste. But SpamAssassin (especially the older version Spamnix uses) has some pretty significant flaws that cause a high rate of false positives. You many need to receive the hundreds of emails a day that I get to see those problems clearly. But they're there. Spamnix needs a pre-populated whitelist that is expansive. Newsletters, companies, online retailers, and others that are routinely blocked by technology like this should have a relatively easy recourse for removing the block.

    There are several companies working on the notion of validating email originators, such as Habeas. But I think the onus should be on organizations like SpamAssassin -- since they're the ones blocking legitimate mail -- to find a way to incorporate email-origination-validation into their products. What's more, Habeas charges companies money for its services, and small newsletter publishers in particular are particularly hard hit by their pricing structure.

    The important takeaways about Spamnix and SpamAssassin for Scot’s Newsletter readers are these things:

    1. Spamnix is the best antispam solution I've tried for Eudora. But that isn't saying much. To date, most antispam solutions have not been very impressive. And the best client-specific solutions are available for Outlook.

    2. If you use Eudora and you install Spamnix, Scot’s Newsletter (and many of your other subscribed newsletters) will be branded as spam, as will other mailings that you've grown to expect. You MUST regularly review the folder called Spamnix that this program creates to weed out the false positives. And above all, you must learn to create new whitelist rules to avoid false positives in the future.

    3. Those two caveats aside, Spamnix works pretty effectively. While no antispam product catches all spam, anyone would be happy with Spamnix's performance in catching and jailing a very high percentage of the spam messages you receive. As much as I want to hate it, I can't. Until I find something better, it's what I'm using.

    Finally, as much as I disagree with Spamnix's program author, Barry Jaspan, on many points, I believe him to be someone who cares about his software's users and who is working hard to improve his product. Spamnix is available for ongoing use in trial mode with an occasional nag screen for free. If you opt to pay the $29.95 license fee, you get perpetual use of the version you purchase plus one year of free updates to the product. That's a good deal. If you find Spamnix becoming a tool you know you're going to keep, pay the $30; it's the right thing to do.

    And let me know what you think of Spamnix if you try it. As I mentioned earlier, anyone who wants help customizing Spamnix 1.0 to keep it from labeling Scot’s Newsletter and others as spam, send me a message.

  • $29.95 (and unlimited trialware), Spamnix 1.0 Build 37, Spamnix Software, 617-354-9471

    Back to the Top


    Results of the 3rd Annual Broadband Reader Poll
    The poll is closed and the results are in. Scot’s Newsletter's 3rd Annual Broadband Poll showed that the trends from the previous two years have continued. Fewer than 20 respondents replied that they could not get any form of broadband. A few explained that, while they might be considered to be in a satellite Internet service area, they're unable to get it because of geography, topography, or foliage. One such reader wrote that more than half of North Americans who are in satellite Internet service areas fall into that category. You have to have to be able to mount a dish that has line of sight to the satellite in the sky. It only takes one tree in the wrong place to prevent that.

    The other big statistic is that of the 1,750 respondents to the this poll, the vast majority, some 1,270 people, are able to get both cable and DSL. Most are concentrated in urban and suburban settings. Under the heading of cable versus DSL, cable leads by a very small margin. In fact, one of the biggest surprises is that during a year of DSL company consolidation, DSL availability has risen over last year. (For reference, see the results of last year's poll.)

    This year, 485 people reported they have cable, DSL, and fixed wireless broadband solutions available to them. The way the poll was structured, these people were also tacitly responding that satellite Internet is available to them too. So just under a third of the respondents have four or more types of broadband at their disposal.

    Of those reporting "other," most talked about ISDN, a phone-company service that I consider to be sub-broadband, although it's better than dial-up (but usually more costly than cable Internet or DSL). One or two referenced fiberoptic, but that's a form of DSL. Not a single person reported the availability of a power-line based broadband Internet connection. This form of broadband connectivity has been hyped for years by companies like RCN and others, but I have yet to hear of anyone actually using it. Let me know if you have this type of broadband.

    One number that troubles me is that only 134 people said that satellite Internet was the only service they had available to them. I can take that number a lot of ways. One way is that people who only have satellite broadband available to them didn't bother responding to the poll. But this time around, I think it's more likely that people don't realize that satellite Internet is a possibility.

    Worth noting: This broadband poll is neither scientifically valid nor any sort of true indicator about broadband availability in the U.S., North America, or the world. I did receive responses from all over the world, but respondents to this poll are all SFNL subscribers who chose to respond to a broadband poll. I believe that both of those data points would tend to raise the likelihood that respondents have broadband access.

    Back to the Top


    60-Second Briefs
       - ZoneAlarm User Forum Debuts
       - More on Which Java Virtual Machine
       - Coming up in Scot’s Newsletter

    ZoneAlarm User Forum Debuts
    Are you using the free-for-personal-use version of Zone Labs ZoneAlarm personal firewall, a Scot’s Newsletter Top Product? Many SFNL readers are, and probably the biggest drawback to this software is that it comes without any promised tech support whatsoever. Something like 17 million people are using this software, though, and people do run into problems with it. While Zone Labs can't afford to offer person-to-person tech support on a completely free product, it has come up with what it feels is useful alternative.

    Here's your starting point to the ZoneAlarm User Community, a new Zone Labs-sponsored threaded-messaging forum.

    Although the site was only created around December 11, there are already useful posts that apply to users of all recent versions of ZoneAlarm.

    According to Zone Labs' Te Smith, "We believe this will give our free ZoneAlarm users a valuable support and service option, as well as helping us to better understand users' needs and environments."

    More on Which Java Virtual Machine
    Back in October I did a series on Windows XP SP1 issues. One of the many areas that people have had trouble with recent service pack releases to both Windows 2000 and Windows XP is with the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine. What's more, Microsoft has heavily patched this software of late for security reasons. And the code is also embattled in the courts, where Sun has been contesting the way Microsoft is distributing Java runtime code. Sun is the original author of this software.

    Anyway, I wrote back in early October about a way you could check the version number of the Microsoft-based JVM installed on your computer in this little tip. A week or so later, Arie Slob, author of Windows-Help.net, sent along a tip of his own. He pointed out that the latest version of the JVM in Windows XP SP1 was 5.00.3807 at the time he was writing. What's more, he added, the JView command line utility reported the XP SP1 version number incorrectly as 5.00.3805.

    There was a Microsoft KnowledgeBase article that supported what Arie wrote me. But since that time, Microsoft has patched the JVM code and JView via the AutoUpdate feature of Windows Update. When I use JView now on my primary XP machine with both SP1 and all Critical Updates installed through December 22, 2002, it shows my Java VM version number as:

    5.00.3809

    Also, the Microsoft KnowledgeBase article Arie sent earlier has been radically updated and now talks about the security patches to the Java VM I mentioned earlier. You'll find it here:

  • Q329077: Flaw in Microsoft VM JDBC Classes Might Permit Code to Be Run

    Thanks to Arie Slob for his message.

    Coming up in Scot’s Newsletter
    Here's a sampling of some of some of the stories and reviews being worked for upcoming issues of Scot’s Newsletter:

  • What's Wrong with Tech Support, Part II
  • Agnitum Outpost Firewall Review
  • VisualRoute 7.0 Review
  • Is Now the Right Time to Buy a New PC?
  • Of Pop-Up Killers and Web Content Filters
  • Other products in the review queue include the Wal-Mart Microtel Linux PC, Macromedia's Dreamweaver, and Sun's StarOffice
  • An update on ActiveWords
  • A lot more

    Back to the Top


    Take cotnrol of Windows with Tweak Manager from WinGuides!
    paid advertisement


    Q&A
  • Fully Uninstall Symantec Software
  • Upgrading Windows 98 Second Edition
  • Multiple-User Email

    Fully Uninstall Symantec Software
    This first Q&A item is actually the record of a back and forth conversation between reader Eli Kaminsky and me:

    Question: I have used Norton products for over twenty years, including firewalls and anti-virus, and only now am I having any problems. In order to resolve some other matters, I had to reinstall Windows XP (specifically to eliminate a dual-boot arrangement). Prior to that, both Norton Personal Firewall 2003 and Norton System Works 2003 had worked beautifully as usual. But since that Windows XP reinstallation, neither program will install. Both present dialogs saying that "an unauthorized program" is attacking them, or changing their settings, or exhibiting erratic behavior, and therefore they will not install. Worse yet, Norton Personal Firewall (NPF) claims I don't have the "rights" to configure the program, and that only a supervisor can do that. This is strange as I am the sole user of this computer; no one else touches it. NPF not only comes up with "disabled" on every feature, but it blocks all Internet traffic so I can't even page Norton's tech support until I uninstall the firewall.

    Since I have pending requests with Symantec, I am not asking you to communicate with them on my behalf. If they can't resolve this, I'll have to use other programs, much as I would prefer not to. --Eli Kaminsky

    Answer: Eli, it sounds as though the Windows XP user logon name might have changed between installations or that user logon rights have changed. But let me answer your question with a question back: Did you uninstall the Norton products before your reinstalled Windows? If not, that's probably your problem. I agree that it's a somewhat surprising result, and something you might not expect. But security applications are more complex than many other types of apps. --S.F.

    Eli Kaminsky's Response: I am overwhelmingly delighted to report that your advice regarding my problems with both Norton AntiVirus and the Personal Firewall was right on target. You said that strange things happen if Windows XP is reinstalled without first uninstalling the Norton products. You were so right.

    As you know, there are "uninstalls" and "uninstalls." Actually I had done a later reinstall of Windows with the Norton programs uninstalled, but it was only a routine uninstall. This time, heeding the implications of your advice, I combed the computer for all references to Symantec's products and deleted them, and then I went into the Registry and deleted all the items I could find(that's quite a chore). Not only did the two programs install properly, but Windows no longer reported that it had "recovered from a dangerous error" or to that effect, after the previous reinstallations.

    Needless to say, I appreciate above all your prompt response which saved me an enormous amount of time and trouble. It will be interesting to see what Symantec's people come up with in response to my requests.

    Takeaways: Eli is clearly a man who doesn't need a lot of help to solve his own computer problems, since he was able to connect the dots and then do the hard work to rid his computer of all references to the Symantec software he was have problems with before reinstalling it. And folks, this doesn't just apply to Symantec's products. For anyone who might be in a similar predicament who needs help, this Scot’s Newsletter article, Fully Uninstall Software Firewalls, may be a leg up.

    If you poke around on the tech support sites of Symantec and other security software makers, you will find similar sets of instructions for removing antivirus and other types of security software as well. --S.F.


    Upgrading Windows 98 Second Edition
    Question: After reading an older issue of your newsletter regarding the question of upgrading Windows 98SE, I am confused. I have Windows 98SE installed on my computer. The computer came with that version of the OS installed. Do I need an upgrade? At the present time, I am not having any problems. You mentioned that the cost for the upgrade is $90 but would not be available for much longer. Would you please clarify? --Ann Gadbois

    Answer: Everyone's motto with computers should be: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's my knee-jerk reaction, but let me be more specific. There have been several items in the newsletter on Windows 98 upgrading, so I'm not sure which one you were referring to. But, if you already have Win98SE installed, you're happy with it, and don't plan to upgrade to Windows XP, cross this concern off your list.

    One of the more recent discussions was about upgrading from Windows 98 by purchasing the far less expensive Upgrade version of Windows XP Home Edition. It will update an existing installation, no sweat. But if you want to wipe your hard drive and do a clean installation of Windows XP Home Edition (the better way to install it), then you'll need to briefly insert your Windows 98 Second Edition CD-ROM during XP install when prompted to prove that you're a Windows 98 owner. Many people don't have their original Windows 98SE CD, since PC makers don't always give them out.

    Two other points are worth briefly summarizing around this discussion. The first is that your PC's hardware may not support Windows XP very well. If your PC came with Windows 98 Second Edition, there's a better than 50 percent chance that you'd be better off waiting until you purchase your next PC to get Windows XP. The second point is that Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 will shortly not be supported in any way at all by Microsoft, and Windows 98 (all versions) will enter a limited support phase toward the middle of 2003. That doesn't mean you should stop using Windows 98. But for anyone running a Windows 95 PC right now, it's time to think about a new PC. Security issues alone could make that an important consideration. At some point down the road, Windows 98 users will face the same decision point. --S.F.


    Multiple-User Email
    QUESTION: The subject of multiple-computer access to email on a small home LAN has been mentioned in passing in your newsletter in the past. You run several computers in your office. Do you handle all your email from one machine, as would be required when using Outlook Express? I know you use Eudora and I'm not sure if you use a POP server, but possibly Eudora has file sharing/locking. I would think that many of your readers would have multiple computers and in most case family members are sharing - designating one computer only for email certainly stifles. --Ed Bitzer

    Answer: Interesting question, and it's one I have struggled with and tried different solutions for over the years. Although I have set up POP/SMTP servers here at the SFNL Labs at various times, I find it to be more trouble than it's worth. For one thing, it's quite easy to get your server listed as an "open relay" at one of the blacklisting services. For another you really have to dedicate a machine to this purpose. And for another, it greatly complicates your security setup to have a machine that's outside your firewall. Bottom line: Such a machine is vulnerable to attack, even with the proper safeguards. I deem it to be more trouble than it's worth.

    But I also don't have the email needs some people have on a home LAN. I have only three people regularly using email, and one of them uses AOL almost exclusively. Even though there are 18 PCs in this environment, I'm the only one who needs to access email from more than one on a routine basis.

    It is possible to run Eudora over a LAN, and while I have worked that way for weeks at a time, I have never been able to do so 100-percent reliably. I have traded mail with other Eudora users who've tried or succeeded at doing the same thing, but their experience is equally imperfect.

    What works quite well in my setting is Windows XP's Remote Desktop though. If the computer running your main email program has Windows XP Pro on it, you can access a Windows XP computer from any version of Windows (and also Macs) using Remote Desktop. There's freely downloadable client software from Microsoft that allows all versions of Windows since Windows 95 to remotely access a Windows XP Pro machine and run any program on it. In fact, this works so darn well that I have done away with all the other methods I used to mess around with.

    For more information and how to use it, see this Scot’s Newsletter item on Remote Desktop Connection.

    On a home LAN, it would be possible to create a sort of client mail server by having multiple Windows XP user logon names, each of which had its own version of the email package installed (they could use different email packages, for that matter). The hitch in that setup is that only one person can access the computer at a time with Remote Desktop Connection. There are other Microsoft solutions that would allow for multiple simultaneous connections. --S.F.

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

    Back to the Top


    Slippery Slope: Blame It on the Media
    Slippery Slope is a new section of Scot’s Newsletter I'm trying out. It won't surprise many of you that I have knowledge and opinions on topics having nothing at all to do with computers. In fact, some days I wish computers didn't exist so I could focus on the things that really matter to me at the moment. [Editor's note: You mean like me? --Cyndy.]

    For times like that, there's Slippery Slope. I call it that in part to remind myself that going off topic is never a great idea for any sort of publication. I'm risking your annoyance by talking about something you didn't expect when you signed up. (As such, if enough of you hate this, that could easily put an end to it.) But Slippery Slope has another meaning too. An unfashionable opinion can quickly lead you off the precipice into uncharted territories.

    I'd like to think, though, that sometimes that's a good thing. ;^>

    Blame It on the Media
    Talk about fashionable, what's become fashionable over the last 20 years is to blame the media -- especially television news and newspapers -- for much of what's wrong in the world.

    Do we hold the media up to a higher standard than other businesses in the free world? Should we? We want the media to be our unswerving watchdog. Without that line of defense, power can become absolute power, and we know what happens then. At the same time, we want the media to hold its tongue about affairs of state that might endanger our country. It's an almost untenable position journalists and news enterprises sometimes find themselves in. Especially in trying times like this.

    The media has an important responsibility never to shape or drive the news, never to invent the news, and never to become the news. Because television and newspapers are businesses that, generally speaking, have increasingly come under profit pressure in recent years, those principles are not followed as much as they should be.

    Looking back through history, I'm not sure they ever were though. You have only to look at such poignant examples as the reporting on the sinking of the Titanic to realize that the Fourth Estate has often dropped the ball, or worse, used the press to its own purposes.

    Clearly, though, what's wrong in the world would exist with or without the media. And, in fact, an important byproduct of world communication and free media is that over and over, the worst things human beings have done to each other has eventually been reported, and when it has, it has often (though clearly not always) led to others putting a stop to human suffering.

    My point is that there's good and bad to what the media does, just like anything else ... human nature being what it is, both good and bad.

    And human nature being what it is, most of us tend to blame someone else for what's wrong with the world. We tend to feel powerless to change something as large as what's wrong -- certainly with the world, but also with the media. But we are not altogether powerless. Our power may be small, but it's not insignificant. Our power is to the power to choose.

    Perhaps you don't like local TV news that leads with breathless sensationalism about mayhem and untimely death. Perhaps you crave balanced reporting with good and bad news -- or maybe just the important news. Vote with your channel changer. The tone and substance of TV news would change swiftly if enough people did that.

    But know this, there's a reason your local news is so filled with bad news. It's the same reason that Greek tragedies are funny and Greek comedies are sad. There's a saying in the news business: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, bad news sells. It's human nature to feel privately uplifted when we escape misfortune, and to feel left out when somebody else wins the lottery.

    Cynical? Maybe. But it's hard not to reach that conclusion, because believe me, if good news were what people wanted, you can bet news organizations around the world would busily drum it up. Think about it. If Hollywood celebrities all had perfect marriages, wouldn't that make us feel they were having their cake and eating it too? Don't we secretly feel there's justice in the fact that larger-than-life personalities often pay a price for their fame?

    So when you think about it, does the media do the often crass, sometimes unforgivable things it does because it's shaped by the imperfect human beings who control it? Or does the media do the stupid things it does because we, perhaps unwittingly, want it to?

    Now there's an unfashionable thought.

    Comments.

    Back to the Top


    Link of the Week: Net-Integration.com
    I'll confess to a weakness for little-known independent publishers on the Internet who cover topics like security, privacy, news, and offers user forums on a variety of subjects. Net-Integration appears to be something of a labor of love. There's a lot on this site that is still under construction. It reminds me a lot of a little indie website called Nethead (don't go searching, it's dead) that I ran around 1996-1997.

    Check out Net-Integration. But if you do, be sure to check out the forums, which are currently the best thing at Net-Integration.com.

    I am giving this Link of the Week award partly to encourage Net-Integration's potential and partly its forums have come alive. Some of the very best content here is completely off-topic for Scot’s Newsletter. I find myself reading it right along with the perfectly on-point stuff about Linksys routers and newly discovered antivirus programs. I can't think of a better recommendation.

    I need your help! Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows or broadband related website that's a little or a lot amazing? Please send me the URL so I can check it out and let everyone know about it.

    Back to the Top


    Get StarBand and start enjoying lightning fast Internet speeds.
    paid advertisement


    Tip of the Week: Outlook 2000 Calendar Beyond 2002
    In keeping with the time of year, this week's tip focuses on how to update Microsoft Outlook 2000 to show holidays on its calendar for the years 2003 through 2006.

    Update the Outlook 2000 Calendar for 2003 to 2006
    Longtime SFNL reader Tim Downey sent in this Outlook 2000 tip. He writes:

    I had a user come to me at my company a couple of days ago reporting that none of the holidays for year 2003 were showing up in his Outlook 2000 calendar. I checked and sure enough no holidays were showing for year 2003 and later in the Outlook 2000 calendar program. Adding and re-installing did not fix the problem either. So I proceeded to check other machines and saw that the same was the case on all machines running Microsoft Office 2000. The problem did not exist in Office XP, however, where all holidays show up fine.

    So I figured the holidays must have become broken when one of the numerous patches were installed some time in the past. I decided to email Microsoft on the issue. I received a response from them and found that it was no bug. The outlook.txt file in Outlook 2000, which contains calendar information, doesn't include holiday listings past the year 2002. Microsoft sent me a new outlook.txt file that includes holidays from around the world through the year 2006." --Tim Downey

    Tim sent me the new 210K outlook.txt file, and I've posted it on the Scot’s Newsletter website in compressed ZIP format. If you don't have a ZIP utility (such as Nico Mak's WinZIP) on your machine, choose the self-extracting option:

  • Outlook.txt in ZIP file (21K)
  • Outlook.txt in Self-Extracting ZIP .EXE file (84K)

    Here are the instructions Microsoft sent Tim for installing the outlook.txt update:

    Please take the following steps to replace your original outlook.txt file with the new one and import new holidays into Outlook 2000:

    1. Quit Outlook.

    2. Open Windows Explorer and go to "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\1033" folder. [You may also search for the 1033 folder if it is not in that location.]

    3. Rename your original outlook.txt file to outlook.old.

    4. Place the new outlook.txt file in that folder.

    5. Open Outlook and click the Calendar folder.

    6. Go to View > Current View > By Category. You will see all appointments are listed as items.

    7. Click the "Category: Holiday" item to delete all Holidays. (If you don't delete them all now, all the holidays will be duplicated after you import the new list.)

    8. Go to Tools > Option > Click the "Calendar Options" button on the Preference tab.

    9. Click the Add Holidays button on the next window, then see if the proper country is selected. Once it is, click the OK button. The new holidays beginning with 2003 will be imported into Outlook.

    For more information about holidays in Outlook 2000, please refer to the following articles in the Microsoft KnowledgeBase:

  • Q197555: How to Add and Delete Holidays in the Outlook 2000 Calendar
  • Q274089: How to Customize Outlook 2000 Calendar Holidays

    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.

    Back to the Top


    Scot’s Newsletter Schedule
    I'm taking off one issue for the holidays. The newsletter will be back on Monday, January 20. The newsletter is slated for every-other-week publication from January 20th onward.

    Happy Holidays!

    Back to the Top


    The Fine Print
    If you like this newsletter, I need your help spreading the word about it. Please share it with friends and co-workers, and encourage them to sign up! It's free.

    Visit the new Scot's Newsletter Forums.

    Subscribe, Unsubscribe, Change Email Address or Message Format
    You can unsubscribe at any time; I don't believe in captive audiences. The website subscription center is the easiest way to manage your Scot’s Newsletter subscription. Changes take only a minute or two. You must select your message format — Text or HTML — even for address changes or unsubscribes.

  • Unsubscribe
  • Unsubscribe Help and Options
  • Subscribe
  • Change Email Address or Message Format (HTML or Text)

    Contributions
    To help with the cost of creating and distributing the newsletter, I accept contributions via PayPal and Letter Mail. For more information on donations:

  • Sign-up for PayPal (if you don't already have it)
  • Option #1: Donate via PayPal
  • Option #2: Donate via Letter Mail

    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.

    Please address advertising inquires (only) to: sales@scotsnewsletter.com



    Sign-up for PayPal.

    Support this Newsletter by Donating Today.
    Or donate via Letter Mail.

    How to Link to Scot’s Newsletter

    Copyright © 2001-2007 Scot Finnie. All Rights Reserved.
    Ten Myths About Copyright Explained.


    You are subscribed to Scot's Newsletter HTML EDITION as: $subst('Recip.EmailAddr')