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March 18, 2003 - Vol. 3, Issue No. 42

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Doors Open on the Scot's Newsletter Forums
  • Network Know-How: Microsoft on NetBEUI
  • Cyndy's Review: ActiveWords SE 1.9
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Mozilla 1.3 and Opera 7.0.3
       - Delving into MyWay.com
       - AT&T Broadband to Comcast Update
       - More Bigfoot Shenanigans
       - Symantec on Spam and Product Activation
       - Windows Update Problems (and Fixes)
  • Office 2003 Beta 2 and Tablet PC
  • Let's Fight Spam VII: Blacklists
  • Link of the Week: AAx Services - The Microsoft 'Road Ahead'
  • Tips of the Week: Make My Documents Universal
  • Scot's Newsletter Is Two Years Old
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.


    Doors Open on the Scot's Newsletter Forums
    The software tests are over. And while the configuration and tweaking continue (especially concerning appearances), the Scot's Newsletter Forums are ready enough to throw open the doors. Please come visit us and express yourself! Or just check out what others are saying.

    http://forums.scotsnewsletter.com/

    Simple registration is required to post (only your email address and a nickname are required), but you can read all you want.

    For those of you who are forum-software curious, after testing a wide variety of excellent products, several SFNL readers and early forum members helped me select the Invision Power Board (IPB) 1.1.1 software. It offers the best combination of performance, reliability, user interface, and administration controls. If you're thinking of starting your own forum, I recommend IPB.

    I'd like to thank SFNL Forums members Arena2045 (our first moderator), Havnblast, Paracelsus, and Mike in particular for their significant help and support.

    In the weeks to come, I'll be looking for moderation help on various topics. If you're interested, please post a private message for me or send me an email from the forum.

    Back to the Top


    Microsoft Speaks About NetBEUI
    Over the last few issues I've written a series about using the NetBEUI network protocol in mixed Windows environments that included Windows XP. The culmination was the Scot's Newsletter website article I pointed out last time, How to Install Win2K's NetBEUI in XP.

    The article goes further than that, actually. It helps people make XP network properly with NetBEUI and TCP/IP. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from folks (about half of whom aren't, or weren't, SFNL subscribers) who have been helped by the steps it outlines.

    I recently interviewed Microsoft's Greg Sullivan about NetBEUI. Among other things, I asked him to review the steps outlined in my NetBEUI article. He verified that they made sense to him. While emphasizing that Microsoft doesn't support the use of NetBEUI under Windows XP, he agreed that it was perfectly possible to use it, and even conceded that the Windows 2000 version of NetBEUI could, in fact, work better than the legacy version shipped in a folder on the Windows XP CD.

    I've long believed that NetBEUI has a more stabilizing effect on mixed-Windows, small networks than either TCP/IP or IPX/SPX with NetBIOS. I know that many of you who network Windows PCs -- especially if you have both NT/2000/XP and 9x/Me computers -- know what I'm talking about when I say that sometimes, two computers just won't connect. Tomorrow they might connect fine though. Every once in a while it just happens.

    NetBEUI Power Down
    Published March 18, 2003, Scot’s Newsletter. Revised May 30, 2003.

    Even though NetBEUI is good about networking Windows PCs, it is bad about something else. Scot's Newsletter readers Alexander Bunakov, Mark Worden, and one or two others have written to me about a problem NetBEUI has with computers that use hibernation or standby mode. If NetBEUI is the only protocol being used to connect PCs on the network (and that's the recommended configuration for security reasons), then computers coming out of hibernation/standby often lose their network connections, requiring a reboot to be connected. And that defeats the fast-resume purpose of those power-management stand-down features. Microsoft Knowledgebase article Q267643 is clear on this.

    I've tested it myself and found it to be true.

    So, what's a network administrator to do? There are two choices: If you have machines that frequently hibernate on your network (as I do), stick with IPX/SPX with NetBIOS enabled. That configuration is able to handle hibernation just fine. While not as good at smoothing things over on a Windows network, IPX/SPX and NetBIOS is pretty darn good. I've switched my network back to IPX/SPX with NetBIOS because of the hibernation issue.

    The second option will sound like heresy to some of you. And this is not my recommendation (at least, not at this time). However, if you run NetBEUI with TCP/IP, with TCP/IP sharing enabled, the hibernation problem goes away. The heresy part is that by enabling TCP/IP sharing you're effectively dismantling an added layer of security that many consider the first line of defense -- especially for home networks.

    The truth is, all modern software and hardware firewalls provide protection against the vulnerability that crops up when you allow your local network and your Internet access to potentially share connections. For many people, enough security is enough. But I am still not comfortable recommending that you enable TCP/IP sharing. It's too easy for security to break down, and the results can be serious.

    Using TCP/IP Only?
    For many people, though, a single network protocol -- TCP/IP -- is (or has to be) enough. Sharing Internet access and peripherals, such as printers, are the forces driving home and small office networking these days. Many people doing this don't care that much about passing files between PCs. And they may not be aware of the dangers of letting the Internet's network protocol right onto their local area networks. Even if they are, they may be helpless to do anything about it.

    The rapid rise of wireless networking adds a whole new wrinkle to this discussion. As I do research on using non-IP protocols in wireless networking environments, what I've found is that NetBEUI works fine on some networks and is completely problematic on others. Other people find that IPX/SPX with NetBIOS works, but some say they have intermittent troubles that can drive you nuts, with performance on file copies or moves painfully slow some or all of the time.

    From recent interviews with Microsoft's Greg Sullivan and Netgear's Rhett Butler, I get the sense that 98 percent (the number is my own) of all wireless networking users are using TCP/IP only. I'm no 802.11x spec expert, but from what I can tell and others tell me, Wi-Fi is capable of handling non-IP network protocols. But TCP/IP's raging popularity has effectively demoted the capability to a footnote.

    Butler, by the way, said that Netgear's wireless products support NetBEUI and IPX/SPX. He offered to have the engineers double-check that point with the company's latest wireless products. I'm hoping to take him up on that offer and report back on the results.

    In the meantime, I'm trying to talk to Linksys, SMC, and others about this issue too. So far I haven't been able to get through. If anything comes of this, I'll report on it in a future issue.

    If you have any light to shed on wireless networking with non-IP protocols, drop me a note with what you've learned.

    Network Know-How Suggestions
    I want to thank the 50 or so people who sent me very interesting suggestions and questions about networking in response to my call for Network Know-How topics last time. I've answered very few of them, but I'm reviewing them and considering which might be the basis of future topics in the newsletter. If you want to send me networking topic suggestions or questions, please use this address.

    Back to the Top


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    Cyndy's Review: ActiveWords SE 1.9
    Editor's note: Cyndy, who is my wife and SFNL's editor, agreed to take on the job of reviewing ActiveWords SE 1.9 for Scot's Newsletter. Here's her take on the new low-cost version of the program. --S.F.

    Since my husband browbeat ActiveWord Systems to adopt a more reasonable pricing structure, I decided to give ActiveWords SE 1.9 a whirl. [Editor's Note: That's not what happened. SFNL readers and others made their case to ActiveWords, which listened and responded. --S.F.] Ok, so he didn't really do that, but I love to brag about his masterful domination of someone other than myself, and you can check out the actual history.

    What I've found so far is that I like ActiveWords -- a lot. But, then, I probably have a unique viewpoint, so let me tell you a bit about how I look at the program.

    Briefly, ActiveWords lets you launch applications, websites, documents, and folders with keyboard commands consisting of a text string you choose plus the F8 key to trigger it (or you can choose another activation key if you prefer). Some text strings I use include "eud" for Eudora, "sf" for Scot's Newsletter, "n" for Lotus Notes, to give you a sense of it. You can use any characters you want.

    ActiveWords is definitely on to something. Microsoft may have believed it was doing everyone a favor by putting the Start menu at the bottom-left corner of the screen. Usability testing showed that it was highly visible there, but out of the way. And after many years, I can confirm that the Start button is very, very out of the way. So far out of the way, I often resort to the Ctrl-Escape combination to open it. And, like most everyone, I load shortcuts to most-often used programs and files on the top of the Start Menu to avoid having to go to the Programs folder first. (From there, you just type the first letter of the shortcut to jump to it and Enter launches the program.)

    Beats me why I like keyboard shortcuts, but I always have. Maybe it's to compensate for my poor typing skills. (Though I've had years of practice now, I *did* almost fail typing in high school.) Or maybe it's just too darn slow to jump back and forth from keyboard to mouse. (Efficient maximization of time is important, you know.) Or maybe I'm just afraid of mice. (Up until about a year ago when I went optical, I made do with the pointer thingy on my two IBM ThinkPads, one at work and one at home.) Or maybe it's just a personality flaw. (Scot, you really DON'T want to put an Editor's Note here.)

    So anyway, I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts in navigating Windows and applications. My husband knows this. He's actually asked my advice on a couple of occasions when his mouse died on how to navigate to this or that obscure dialog or install new drivers, page through tabbed dialogs, and so on using keyboard shortcuts. That's probably why he suggested I try out ActiveWords.

    First Impressions
    I purchased AW SE 1.9 for $9.95 and installed it on a Windows 98SE ThinkPad at work and my Windows 98 ThinkPad at home. I decided to take a pass on the upscale Plus version. I'm a simple girl and don't have much need for scripting, add-on WordBases (already created command sets), or multiple WordBases. Nor do I have the time to configure it. I work full-time, take care of our 16-month old daughter, edit Scot's Newsletter, and try to keep Scot out of trouble. So I need software that works out of the box without requiring much thought or configuration. That means it had better not need me to read the documentation or some Readme file to get it going. ActiveWords passed that test.

    Of course, AW does need to know what programs, documents, folders, and websites you like to open. The Add ActiveWords menu is really straightforward to use. In about 10 minutes, I had set AW to launch the five websites, two programs and three documents I use most often. It was pure joy to not have to deal with IE's Favorites menu to jump between websites. Not to mention avoiding the depths of My Documents just to find the file I need to work on.

    Then I got creative and started using ActiveWords to insert text. Copy and paste work great if you're pasting the same phrase over and over and over again. But say you have 4 or 5 different phrases you need to put into various documents over and over and over again. With ActiveWords, you just assign a different code to each phrase and you've saved yourself hours of brainless typing. Perfect for when I'm editing my family genealogy, for example, and assigning one of four recurring sources of my data.

    Some of this sort of functionality is available in more sophisticated software applications. Microsoft Office, for example, has AutoCorrect, which lets you insert text in a similar way. It works great, so long as you're in an Office application. Switch to Lotus Notes and you say goodbye to AutoCorrect, unless you have ActiveWords.

    Speaking of Lotus Notes, because it's, well, a "special" application, ActiveWords behaves differently when Notes is the active application under Windows. AW works reasonably well if you've got a blank email open, but it doesn't work if you're in the inbox or any mailbox, calendar, database, or any place else in Notes where the search box pops up when you start typing. This may be configurable in Notes (who can tell), but IS gets upset when I change my Notes configuration. And because someone will probably take issue, I use Notes 5.0.8.

    On my work PC, I run the usual business applications -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Notes, Internet Explorer, AIM, and whatever default software my company puts on my computer. I also run Eudora, Palm Desktop 4.0.1 w/HotSync Manager, Paint Shop Pro, and FrontPage. (Yeah, I know, I'm embarrassed about FrontPage too.)

    Another way I like to use ActiveWords is to launch specific documents and thereby open their applications. So, instead of launching PowerPoint and poking around with its File Open menu for the presentation I need, I set an active word for the specific presentation. So "q4" opens my department's quarterly review presentation from the fourth quarter of 2002 and "q1" opens this quarter's presentation.

    ActiveWords is not all-knowing. If you move a document keyed to an active word to another folder, it isn't able to make the adjustment on its own. You'll have to reset your active word. This also presents a problem if you import your work WordBase at home (or vice versa) and the file structures on each computer don't match exactly, although it is possible to edit existing commands.

    Other Niggles
    But don't think I'm saying ActiveWords is perfect. Like any software it has its limitations. The first is the Monitor Bar. It can only live at top or bottom of screen. The default was on top, which annoyed me because it was taking up screen real estate (sometimes it's hard to see all of a website as it is). So I turned on Auto Hide. It worked well, except then every time I went to close an application (using the X box in the upper right corner), the Active Words bar appeared. So I tried moving it to the bottom with Auto Hide on, and it appeared whenever I tried to switch applications (my Windows Task bar is at the bottom.) So I turned off Auto Hide, leaving it displayed permanently on the bottom, which wasn't too bad, except then every word I typed I could see appear below in the active panel. I finally made the Monitor Bar disappear by using the tool tray icon, though this option wasn't available in the Menu, which seems odd.

    Another annoyance is that ActiveWords tries too hard to be helpful. AW SE makes suggestions for repetitive tasks it notices that you've perform three or more times. It's a feature that sounds more helpful than it really is. The default is to make such suggestions when ActiveWords loads during Windows launch. I don't know about you, but when I'm booting up in the morning, I prefer it do it as quickly as possible so I can get my caffeine fix in peace. Besides, the last thing we all need is something that makes the Windows boot-up process last longer. So I changed the option to make suggestions if I accessed the website or program more than 3 times (the software's default option). Boy was that a mistake! It turns out many of the tasks I do are repetitive and intensive, but only last a day or two. ActiveWords kept trying to make suggestions for me to save my Google search results for "sheets extra deep," which was very important to me for two hours two weeks ago, but not today.

    Then there's the human element. The most difficult thing about using ActiveWords is that you have to remember the precise active words you assigned. For example, I keep forgetting whether WorldConnect (a genealogy site I frequent) is "wor" or "wc". And God help me, if I configure it differently on my work PC than on my home PC, because now I'm really getting confused.

    The Bottom Line
    So what's the upshot? For me, personally, it's worth the 10 bucks. Why? The insert text feature. When I need it -- I really need it. And it's great. It gives me copy-and-paste-like functionality for multiple items. Plus I can launch my browser or favorite website with just a few keystrokes. And if I can come up with a logical text code, I won't have to delve into the depths of Internet Explorer's Favorites just to get to that cool website I found last month.

    Could I live without ActiveWords? Well, you're talking to a Mom who's been known to go without eating, sleeping, or (I'm sad to say) showering when things get busy. But for its part, ActiveWords sits quietly on my system waiting to assist me. Ah, if all the helpers in my life were this reliable.

  • $9.95 perpetual, ActiveWords SE 1.9, ActiveWord Systems, Inc., sales@activewords.com

    Back to the Top


    60-Second Briefs
       - Mozilla 1.3 and Opera 7.0.3
       - Delving into MyWay.com
       - AT&T Broadband to Comcast Update
       - More Bigfoot Shenanigans
       - Symantec on Spam and Product Activation
       - Windows Update Problems (and Fixes)

    Mozilla 1.3 and Opera 7.0.3
    Mozilla.org released the 1.3 version of its Gecko-powered browser suite last Thursday. I've been running the new version since, and so far I have no real comments, either positive or negative. Mozilla 1.3 is most notable for its built-in antispam tool that, reportedly, uses the Bayesian approach to content filtering. Also in this release, as described on the Mozilla website, are image auto-sizing, an API for rich-text editing on Web pages, newsgroup filters, dynamic profile switching, and nearly 2,000 bug fixes. For more details, including what's new, see the Mozilla 1.3 Release Notes. Also, you can download Mozilla 1.3 here.

    Also last week, Opera Software popped out a second security update of Opera 7 that fixes an "extremely critical" security flaw. The vulnerability could allow attackers to create a long filename, cause a buffer overflow, and then exploit the hole with code that could take control of the user's computer. Opera 6 and 7 incorrectly handle long filenames when showing the "Download Dialog" box. The company posted a new version within 24 hours. The new 7.0.3 version is downloadable from the Opera website.

    I've been working on the research for a comparison review of Mozilla 1.2 (now 1.3) and Opera 7. To be honest, what I have found so far has been discouraging. Many of you have sent me emails about your experience with one, the other, or both of these Web browsers. When you put them together, there are two things that come clear:

    1. Opera software handles JavaScript better than it did before. And Opera 7 is a better browser than Opera 6. It's also wicked fast. But there are still far too many Web pages it doesn't render as their webmasters intended. Opera Software does a lot of things in a non-standard way (from a Windows desktop point of view), and sometimes that causes problems. All in all, I like Opera. I always have. I just wish they'd get these things right.

    2. Mozilla 1.2 (about 1.3 I'm still not sure) has a different problem. It does better at rendering Web pages "correctly," but it has strange issues with performance -- only on some pages. For reasons as yet unknown or understood, something like one out of every 20 Web pages out there (my wild guess at the numbers), loads incredibly slowly in Mozilla. Sometimes the affected pages just never finish loading, in fact. I've seen Mozilla still cranking away at a page an hour later. I can't show you the page I regularly have this problem with because it's behind an authentication firewall, but both IE and Opera load the page just fine. And many other SFNL readers have reported the same issue with other Web pages.

    I have a fair list of websites that either don't display properly in Opera or don't load as quickly as they should in Mozilla, supplied by SFNL readers. I thank you all for sending me that information. If you have a site like that for either browser, please send me the URL and tell me what's wrong:

  • For Incorrectly-Rendered Pages in Opera 7.0
  • For Slow-Loading Pages in Mozilla 1.2 or 1.3

    Delving into MyWay.com
    Last issue's of Link of the Week wound up being a popular one. Many people wrote to tell me that they appreciated the link to the fast, ad-free portal site called MyWay.com. And I'm still using it too. Several people have written to tell me that MyWay.com looks and acts very similarly to Excite.com's portal page, without the ads and page weight. Using Network Solutions' Whois, I checked the domain registrations with for both Excite.com and MyWay.com, and sure enough, they're both owned by the same Irvington, NY, company, although the names of the companies appear differently. Bottom line: Excite.com was purchased by IWon.com, another portal company whose chief claim to fame is cash giveaways. Also, Excite.com, IWon.com, and MyWay.com all share a lot of elements.

    I want to thank Brandon Stockton, Tom Kustner, Paul D. Wolcott, and others for writing to me what they knew about MyWay. It was a big help.

    AT&T Broadband to Comcast Update
    You wouldn't know it to look at Comcast's Connection Center, the place that helps AT&T Broadband customers understand the conversion of their cable service to Comcast, but Comcast made a good decision recently.

    I called Comcast's customer support line to find out when my local AT&T Broadband service would be switched over to Comcast. My support rep tried but couldn't get the answer to that question. But he did volunteer a bit of useful information: Nearly four weeks ago Comcast decided to extend the overlapping usage period of attbi.com and comcast.net email addresses. Originally the company had said that attbi.com addresses would stop working in 60 days. (It still says that on the Comcast Connect website, in fact.)

    The good news is that Comcast has changed its mind and is extending the period until the end of 2004. AT&T Broadband customers will have two email addresses during that period, their new comcast.net address and the old attbi.com address. They will not be connected. That gives the several million AT&T Broadband customers a good, long time to make the conversion.

    For more information about the AT&T Broadband to Comcast conversion, see this SFNL story.

    More Bigfoot Shenanigans
    Can an Internet company be any worse to deal with than Bigfoot? This company is bad news. I wrote about MyRealBox last time and updated you on my long, sad story about migrating away from Bigfoot.

    To cut to the chase, I wrote them to request that my account be changed from the $9.95 per quarter "Premium Subscription" service to the free Basic Subscription service. I sent my request over two weeks before Bigfoot was due to charge me for the next quarter's service. I have emails from two separate Bigfoot representatives confirming that my account would be reverted to the free basic service. Ok, I'm just glad to be out of there.

    Not so fast, though. My next credit card bill showed that Bigfoot did in fact change my account status. But, oopsie, they made a tiny mistake. There was a new charge for $19.95. They converted me to their "Ultra Subscription" account, which costs $20 a quarter. The charge was made over a month ago. After sending messages to all appropriate Bigfoot email addresses, I got one terse response acknowledging the problem. A couple days ago the company did, finally, credit my account.

    There was no apology, no follow-up to tell me the problem had been taken care of. What I feel especially bad about is that in the 1990s I wrote several articles recommending Bigfoot to others. I am embarrassed to admit that now.

    Symantec on Spam and Product Activation
    Symantec made some interesting announcements recently. First, the company wants to make clear something I mentioned in the last issue of the newsletter: If you get a spam-like email offering to sell you a Symantec product at a good price, more than likely this is a pirated copy of the software. Not only can't Symantec support such software, it has been tracking the phenomenon for about a year and has found within this faux Symantec software many instances of viruses, Trojan horses, and spyware used to capture credit card information. For more information, please see Mitch Wagner's article in InternetWeek. He got the same Symantec briefing I did.

    Along with this announcement about spam sales of "Symantec" products that don't originate with Symantec, the company's William Plante revealed plans to include product-activation technology in its 2004 line of products, which I expect we'll see this fall. In an interview, I asked the company whether it would place a limit on how many machines Symantec products could be installed on from one copy of the software. The company is not limiting this number the way Microsoft did in Windows and Office XP. In fact, they allow at least two installations from every CD, and there's no physical limit on how many installs you can do. But, that doesn't mean you're free to install at will.

    I believe it's the LiveUpdate process, now in use by every Symantec product, that gives Symantec a way to track how many current installations you have from a common application CD. So if you only install the product on one, two, (or probably even three or four machines) simultaneously, you're not going come to Symantec's attention. If you install it on 17 machines, serially (uninstalling it from the last before you install it on the next), you're not going set off an alarm. But if you're a small business with 10 PCs and every one has a Symantec product installed from a single CD, you'll be asking for a call from Symantec's anti-piracy people.

    Windows Update Problems (and Fixes)
    As time passes, problems with Windows XP and Windows Update have grown, not diminished. On two of my computers I've seen a known problem wherein a security patch from February 13 keeps representing itself, as if you'd never installed it. Even though you have.

    That problem is just one of about 50 Windows Update issues Microsoft has identified and provided solutions for. The company created a special support page called Windows Update Troubleshooter that's designed to provide quick access to workarounds or fixes.

    Thanks to reader Dan McCoy for having the February 13th problem, prompting me to find the solution, and in the process, making me to realize I had the same problem.

    Back to the Top


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    Office 2003 Beta 2 and Tablet PC
    It's either feast or famine here in the SFNL Labs. Right now I'm flush with interesting stuff to evaluate. Office 2003 Beta 2 is installed and running on a prominent test PC. It looks, well, like Office. I've literally spent less than an hour with it. I'll write about it when I have something to say, if I do. I skipped Office 2000 entirely, and came very late to the Office 97 party. I installed Office XP and liked it, so I kept it, although it was very buggy under Windows 9x.

    Office 2003 doesn't even run on 9x/Me. You have to have Windows 2000 or Windows XP to install it. Long and short, they didn't suddenly take out the bloat-factor in this new version of Office. But we'll have to wait and see whether it's a better product than its predecessors.

    Microsoft is now selling Office System Beta 2 for $19.95 as part of its public beta program. The notes that come with the new beta specifically state that Microsoft advises against installing this on your production PC (meaning, a PC you do actual work on and that contains actual data you care about). So, really, don't try this at home.

    If you want to know more about Office System 2003, use the Internet in the form of Microsoft's extensive online docs about the forthcoming Office software.

    Tablet PC Ruminations
    Some of you may recall that I missed the Tablet PC first wave. Late last August Microsoft offered me a two-week evaluation of a pre-release Tablet PC. I was going on vacation for most of that two-week period. And, ah, ahem, someone has a rule about no PCs on vacation. (OK, OK, so it's a family rule.) Anyway, Microsoft recently briefed me on the current state of affairs with Tablet PC, and I've been playing with a machine finally.

    Office System 2003 has new software called OneNote 2003 that is Tablet PC-enabled. OneNote is designed to help you capture, organize, and reuse notes and data of all kinds, including typed and handwritten notes, hand-drawn diagrams, audio recordings, photos and pictures from the Web, and data from other programs. So, if I can get a Tablet PC for long enough to actually use one (two weeks just isn't enough time), I'd like to test OneNote with Tablet PC.

    So is Tablet PC cool? Yes. I wish I had a buck for every lukewarm review I've read of Tablet PC over the last five months or so since its introduction. In the early 1990s, pen-enabled computers were all the rage, and several prominent companies that bet on that market were briefly high fliers in the PC industry. But the technology just wasn't there. The really odd part is that a decade later, Tablet PC makes good on that promise, with enough software and user-interface functionality to make using one of these devices interesting. From a technology standpoint, we're finally at the crucial threshold that the early-90s marketing tried to make us believe we'd arrived at back then. Really, finally, there's something to write home about. But with something like 70,000 Tablet PC sales since last November, the market isn't exactly overjoyed. On the other hand, these devices are w-a-y too expensive.

    Tablet PC is probably the best thing Microsoft has done in five years, Windows XP included. Granted, the company is looking for a form factor to jump-start the declining PC market. So it hasn't gone all altruistic on us. But somebody had real passion about this one.

    The thing that surprises me the most about Tablet PC is how quickly the pen stylus replaces the mouse. I don't just mean for handwriting, inking, and drawing, although it does all those things. I'm talking about for opening and sizing windows, clicking buttons and hyperlinks, moving folders around, or literally anything you use the mouse for. It's so natural to do this with a pen. Even when I'm using my diminutive Acer Tablet PC in it's "mini-notebook" mode, with keyboard exposed. Microsoft's user-interface accommodations for the stylus are quite good. My only complaint is that landing zones need to be larger. The X-box in the upper right corner of most program or document windows, for example, is just too small to use comfortably with a stylus on a 10.4-inch screen. You really have to focus on being precise -- the way you do, for example, filling out those little ovals in a standardized test. But that's the only complaint I have. For me, the stylus makes every other pointing device pale by comparison.

    Of course, that doesn't mean I'm suddenly giving up my keyboard, because nothing beats it for rapidly entering sentence after sentence of text at thinking speeds. But if I could conveniently use my keyboard with a stylus for a pointing device, I'd happily chuck my mouse.

    What about the hand-writing recognition? Although it's not saying that much, it is the best I've ever used. It's not going to make my atrophied handwriting suddenly be the best way to capture data, but I could easily see taking brief notes in a class, a meeting, or while interviewing someone. And I admit that others may find it more useful still.

    Even so, I find it hard to believe that Tablet PC's handwriting-recognition technology could ever become anyone's primary means of entering data. That part still isn't there yet, and it's very possible it never will be. But as an occasional way to enter short bits of data it works fine. And, of course, most Tablet PCs have built-in keyboards, or at least an option to add one externally.

    The features that make up digital ink -- that is, the ability to store digitized images as both bitmap and handwriting-recognized digital text, letting you see what you wrote as you wrote it on virtual paper while at the same time allowing you to move your words into a program or search your handwriting for specific words -- is what's best about Tablet PC. It's just really cool. And it's just as cool in real life as it is in some Microsoft demo.

    I've been impressed by the Acer hardware I have too. I thought the TravelMate C100 would be too small to use as a notebook. But it's not. The screen is, well, very tight for me. But I could use it to surf or get email. In fact, surfing in tablet mode (without keyboard) effectively makes the screen larger because turning the long way down means less scrolling.

    Although not as slick as some of its competition in terms of how it changes from mini-notebook to tablet, there's a simplicity to the C100 that's very pleasing. The keyboard on this device is excellent. It's curved in a way that makes typing far more comfortable. And the byproduct of the size compromises is that it's so nicely light and small (3.1 lbs., 9.9 inches wide by 8.2 inches deep by 1.0/1.16 inches high), you really can pick it up and tote it around like you would a notepad. It's easy to imagine grabbing this thing and bringing it to a meeting, although the carry case needs a place for the power cord and its mini-brick AC adapter.

    Biggest negatives with the TravelMate C100 are:

    1. The price, $1,700 from Acer.
    2. 900MHz mobile P3 processor seems slow.
    3. It's a pain to change the screen orientation.
    4. Two-way clasp is pretty smart, but also broken on my eval unit.
    5. You have to click a button to switch between wireless and wired networking. That's an unusual way of doing things. What's more, the button face is cryptic, and the instructions are not easy to find.

    Despite these shortcomings, I'm impressed with both Acer's and Microsoft's Tablet PC efforts. Time will tell whether Tablet PCs are truly livable. (We already know they aren't affordable.) The real key to Tablet PC's future right now isn't hardware though. It's software. Everyday software, and software that uses Tablet PC's capabilities to the hilt.

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    Let's Fight Spam VII: Blacklists
    This installment of Let's Fight Spam is short and sweet. I want to bring your attention to some things I've gotten wind of lately.

    The first is JamSpam.org, a consortium of big-name computer companies -- including VeriSign, America Online, EarthLink, IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AT&T -- who are coming together to fight spam while protecting the business interests of the diverse group.

    As pointed out in a recent TechWeb News article by Antone Gonsalves, JamSpam takes a particularly vitriolic stance against blacklists. Its home page states:

    Many of the blacklists that these providers offer to ISPs are developed on the basis of an unaudited global public vigilante process. This process depends on Internet users who, through the use of turnkey services such as SpamCop, "tattle" on the physical computer that they believe to have spammed them. The process also includes identifying systems with open mail relays that spammers often trespass in the course of their work. These reporting processes use the IP address as the unique identifier of allegedly offending systems. In response, and often without any verification, the blacklist providers will add that IP address to a blacklist that thousands of ISPs subscribe to. In addition to that measure, if the ISP that furnishes IP addresses to the alleged offenders doesn't take action, then the blacklist providers engage in extortion by adding that ISP and its entire range of IP addresses to their blacklists. Then, the blacklist providers shift the responsibility of conforming to that blacklist to the next upstream ISP and so on. The thinking is that if an ISP is not part of the solution, then it must be part of the problem.

    If you've read all the pieces of the Let's Fight Spam series, then you're probably aware that I agree with this thinking. Something better than blacklisting is needed. I have subscribed to some of SpamJam's mailing lists, and I believe it to be the most realistic antispam organization I've come across to date.

  • ISPs, Tech Execs Brainstorm On How To Fight Spam - TechWeb

    Need more convincing about spam and open-relay blacklists? Chris Pirillo, founder of Lockergnome, passed me this interesting link to a website produced by Jeremy Howard, a director of FastMail.fm, a free and low-cost email service that I have recommended in past. It's titled, Why the SpamCop blocking list is harmful. It makes for interesting reading. Blaming ISPs for everything doesn't make sense, folks. And I'll have more on that in the next installment of Let's Fight Spam.

    MailWasher: Enough Already!
    Just about every day I get another email from someone telling me they use MailWasher. This program has the best press of any software utility I can remember in years. But, folks, I don't think the product lives up to the expectation. I reviewed MailWasher last September.

    There's nothing wrong with or innately bad about MailWasher, but there are many products out there that do a better job, including POPFile, Spammunition, and Spamnix (POPFile, like MailWasher, works with any email client). These product have all been linked to in earlier installations of the Let's Fight Spam series.

    MailWasher, which is available freely from MailWasher.net, has recently been released in a commercial paid version from Firetrust.com.

    So, folks, please use MailWasher if you like it. (Although you should know that it sometimes decides SFNL is spam.) But be aware that I know about it and have tested it. Read the review. It makes clear that some people will benefit from the product.

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    Link of the Week: AAx Services - Microsoft's 'Road Ahead'
    You want a real Microsoft eye-opener? This cogent, well researched, and acidly honest analysis of Microsoft and the future of the computer industry by Andrew Grygus called 2003 and Beyond Editorial is filled with excellent and disturbing insights. Although long, it is well worth your time. You'll learn things even if you just scan it.

    There's a subsection that contains the Microsoft-specific comments called, The Microsoft 'Road Ahead'. In particular, this piece is what prompted me to make Grygus' article Link of the Week. Taken as a whole this February 23, 2003, editorial is an amazingly thorough snapshot of the IT and computer marketplace.

    Several readers (including Patrick Thoms, whose name I inadvertently misspelled last time) and also a couple other newsletters turned me onto Grygus's comments. I'm just happy to add to the promotion of this interesting commentary.

    Some of you may be looking for me to comment on this treatise. Sadly, I agree with a good deal of it. I'm still analyzing it myself. There's a lot to take in. With Microsoft's next operating system, codenamed "Longhorn," due next year, I can promise I'll be covering much of this ground. In particular, I'm concerned about a brand new file system in Longhorn. More on that in future.

    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.

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    Windows and Broadband Information You Can Use!


    Tips of the Week: Make My Documents Universal
    The "commonsense" tips from last issue's Tip of the Week section drew a lot of praise, suggestions of variation, and in the words of one respondent, "violent disagreement." I love it. In case you missed it, take a look. I'm planning to print some of these responses (especially the good ideas) in an upcoming issue of the newsletter. So if you do things differently, or if you have a twist on what I suggested, tell me all about it.

    Universal My Documents
    This tip is primarily for people who network two or more PCs. It works with all recent versions of Windows. It won't be useful to everyone, but for those of us it is useful for, it is very useful. The idea is to store all your documents on one PC. But access them via the network through My Documents as if they were stored locally.

    This has several advantages. It makes version control a thing of the past if you frequently use more than one PC (or you share documents with other people). It also makes it easier to backup your documents from one central place. If you also access a main PC from satellite PCs via Windows XP's Remote Desktop Connection (something I do all the time), then this ability to make My Documents point to the My Documents folder of a "main" PC via your network completes the puzzle, making the remote-accessing experience seamless. In fact, I often remote access as a way of expanding my multitasking capabilities. On the local PC, a Tablet PC in my family room, I'm working in a document, which is actually stored on my main PC in a different room. At the same time I'm remotely accessing that other PC's desktop, where I'm running two browser windows and answering email. Remote Desktop Connection lets you switch back and forth between the two PCs just as you switch between programs.

    By configuring my remote PCs so they access My Documents on my main PC, I'm also signaling to all the applications on those remote PCs to check My Documents via the network on my main PC. I never have to think about WHERE my data is. It's just there, like a giant resource available from anywhere.

    The best thing about this tip is that it's relatively easy to set up:

    1. Make My Documents visible on your desktop if it's not already so.

    2. Right-click the desktop icon for My Documents and choose Properties, which opens the My Document Properties dialog.

    3. My Documents Properties varies depending on Windows version. If you have a Browse button, click it, choose Network Neighborhood, and navigate to the My Documents folder on the target PC. (Note: You may have to wait for your network to enumerate.) When you reach that folder, press OK.

    4. If you don't have a Browse button, you'll use the Find Target button. First though, to make this method truly easy, you need to tell newer versions of Windows to "Display the full path in the address bar." Open any folder window. Choose Tools > Folder Options. Click the View tab. Place a checkmark beside "Display the full path in the address bar."

    5. Click the Find Target button, which merely opens a new folder window. At the end of the Address bar, click the down arrow. Select My Network Places. Navigate to and open the My Documents folder on the target PC.

    6. Highlight the full path to the My Documents folder, then right-click it and choose Copy.

    7. Back in the My Document Properties dialog, erase anything already in the target field, then paste the new path to My Documents on the target PC into the address field. Click the Apply button.

    8. IMPORTANT: You may see the Move Documents box pop up asking whether you want to move all the documents in your old location to the new My Documents location. Choose "No" on this dialog.

    9. Click OK to close My Document Properties. Open My Documents on the remote PC to see it open to its new target.

    I need your help! 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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    Scot's Newsletter Is Two Years Old
    The next issue marks the beginning of the third year that I've been writing and publishing Scot's Newsletter. Today's issue is the 42nd "mini magazine" I've authored during those two years. And even though it's wreaking havoc with personal life, I'm taking time out to celebrate SFNL's modest success. Because make no mistake, I like writing this newsletter. And the fact that subscribership is fast approaching a respectable 40,000 is a very good thing for its future.

    It's also coming up on four years since I began continuously writing newsletters, starting with Windows Insider in early summer of 1999. The Windows Magazine predecessors to Scot's Newsletter, Windows Insider and the Broadband Report were discontinued in March 2001 when WinMag.com's plug was pulled. But as many of you have told me, the WinMag spirit lives on in the likes of newsletters like this one and Fred Langa's. There was something indomitable about the underlying spirit of Windows Magazine and its readers.

    In case you're interested in back issues of my newsletters:

  • Scot's Newsletter Back Issues
  • Windows Insider Back Issues
  • The Broadband Report Back Issues

    In case you're interested in the Windows Magazine content, you can find a good deal of it on the SFNL website's Find Winmag Content page.

    Call for Word of Mouth
    As you probably know, I periodically call for contributions to the newsletter. It's not time to do that now. But as long as we're reflecting on SFNL's two years of existence, there is one thing you can do to help support it: Tell others about Scot's Newsletter. Word of mouth is the best advertising I can hope for. And growing the subscriber list is my primary goal. So tell a friend, co-worker, acquaintance, or relative why you subscribe to SFNL. Your recommendation goes a long way.

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