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April 28, 2003 - Vol. 3, Issue No. 44

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Mozilla's New Firebird Browser
  • Let's Fight Sp@m VIII: Is Spam Winning?
  • Comcast: Business as Usual or Monopolistic?
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Power-Line Broadband Getting Real
       - Microsoft Office System (2003) Delayed?
       - Super DMCA Insanity
       - Comcast Pricing Workaround?
  • Annoying Software Behaviors and the SFNL Forums
  • Sites Reported Not to Work Properly in Opera 7.0x
  • Q&A
  • Product Beat: ZoneAlarm 4.0
  • Link of the Week: Windows Update Catalog
  • Tip of the Week: Making XP Users Invisible
  • Thread of the Week: 'Really Bad Advice'
  • SFNL Is 41,000 and Growing
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.


    Mozilla's New Firebird Browser
    In the last issue of the newsletter I wrote about browser overlays and alternatives (with the exception of Opera and Mozilla, which were previously covered). And I'm still working my way through the list of IE overlays in particular, which seem to me to be a near painless way for IE users to get the features they want without putting themselves through too much of a trial with an unknown browser.

    But that endeavor began to look a little less appealing the more closely I looked Mozilla's small and light Firebird browser (nee Phoenix). I wrote about Firebird last time, but not with any significant hands-on testing behind the words. Since last time I've been using not only the 0.5 milestone build of the product but also several of the "daily builds" of the forthcoming 0.6 version, which could arrive any day now.

    This browser will surprise you. Whether you're a Netscape, Opera, IE, or Mozilla user, I think Firebird brings something to the party that all those user groups may find intriguing. There are several threads about Phoenix and Firebird on the SFNL Forums. People are discussing various peccadilloes with individual builds, but every post I've read has been pretty positive about the product overall. If you're searching for a light and fast alternative to IE without a lot of junk in it, give Firebird a try.

    I can't say I've tried it for days and days yet (see the file date), but I recommend the 28-Apr-03 build of Firebird. In part that's based on this discussion on the SFNL Forums. This Firebird download site always provides the latest daily build considered to be a bit more stable.

    Windows users want the win32.zip version. Firebird doesn't have an installation routine. You just unzip it and create a shortcut for the Phoenix.exe file. (This may shortly change to the Firebird.exe file.)

    I had been planning to run preliminary first look of Firebird this time, but because Mozilla is on the verge of its next milestone build (that is, the 0.6 "Glendale" release), I've decided to wait. But I didn't want to put off passing along my enthusiasm for this product!

    For more information about Firebird:

  • Mozilla Firebird Project
  • Mozilla Firebird Help
  • Flii's Customization Tips
  • Will Firebird Fire Up The Browser Market? - TechWeb

    Back to the Top


    Let's Fight Sp@m VIII: Is Spam Winning?
       - Is Spam Winning?
       - Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo Team up to Fight Spam
       - John Graham-Cumming's Outclass
       - SMTP Authentication
       - Spamnix 1.1 Beta
       - Find Previous Installments of Let's Fight Spam

    Is Spam Winning?
    Think you got spam bad? You aren't alone. According to spam-fighting software company BrightMail as reported in InternetWeek.com, spam volume was up 4 percent in March over February. What's more, 45 percent of all email is spam these days. In December 2002 that number was 40 percent. Back in January of 2001, it was just 8 percent. I personally see as much spam mail now in my inbox as I did last fall. The major difference being that I have a spam filter that traps well over a hundred spam messages a day.

    InternetWeek recently did a non-scientific reader poll that asked whether we're losing the struggle to block spam. Some 75 percent of respondents said "Yes, we're losing the struggle." Only 11 percent said their spam filters weren't losing ground.

    So why is this happening? It's simple, really. The spam-fighting software technology currently in place is just not that effective. Any approach that uses blacklisting or a rules-based content filter will always, always be playing a catch-up game. There is some evidence and hope that the probabilities-based Bayesian mathematical approach to content filtering may prove to be more effective than other current technologies, but nothing is 100 percent effective.

    Software technology does not have the silver bullet. And other methods, such as shared databases of spammers, legislative and legal reprisals, charging spammers money, and validating good bulk mailers have all so far been mostly good ideas, not effective practices.

    We're losing the war because we're not innovating as fast as spammers are. And we're going to keep losing it until either technology gets smarter or people get together to put a stop to this. Or both. Even then, it's going to be tough.

    Note: The above is reprinted from my Tech Log column on TechWeb, which goes up every Tuesday. (Check it out tomorrow, it's about Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft server apps that don't run on it.)

    This New York Times story, Losing Ground to Spam, covers a lot of the same ground. This Network Magazine story, which somewhat ironically is titled Fighting the Spam Monster -- and Winning, does a great job of explaining the pluses and minuses of the spam-fighting technologies often employed by enterprises. In particular, note the Cons column, which echoes a lot of the things I've written in the past about blacklists and content filters.

    Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo Team up to Fight Spam
    Strange bedfellows? AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo are teaming up to fight spam. Considering that they represent some of the largest consumer ISPs on the planet, that's a good thing. Most spam appears to be targeted at consumers, not business people. If it becomes harder to send spam to AOL and MSN customers, for example, that might be discouraging to at least some spammers.

    More than anything, though, it's a great first step. The computer industry has got to come together to fight the spam scourge.

    For more information:

  • AOL, Microsoft, And Yahoo Launch Anti-Spam Alliance - InternetWeek
  • Microsoft Press Release

    John Graham-Cumming's Outclass
    Outlook users have new hope for fighting spam. The developer of POPFile, an automatic email-sorting tool that employs the Bayesian approach, has Outlook-specific product called Outclass. John Graham-Cumming contacted me about Outclass. The product emerged from beta in early February of this year, and the product received an important 1.2 Beta 1 upgrade a few weeks ago. Outclass is essentially a native plug-in for POPFile, which you must have installed and running first.

    John Graham-Cumming plans additional plug-ins for POPFile, including most likely Outlook Express and Eudora. People who use POPFile report it to be very effective, and cool besides. I have it installed on my primary machine, but it breaks the first rule of antispam solutions for me. It requires me to master and run another application -- something I'm not willing to do (at least, not yet!).

    Still, the way POPFile works is pretty cool. If Graham-Cumming releases a Eudora plug-in for his product, I will surely review it.

    Outclass users: Tell me about your experiences with Outclass.

    SMTP Authentication
    In a Q&A answer in the last issue of the newsletter I went off about the lack of SMTP user validation. It's a subject that I'm personally very keen on because it's one way (though not the only solution) we can and should be fighting spam without limiting the way people work with email. Thanks to Randy Switt for writing to tell me about the four-year-old SMTP Authentication RFC, which Randy's university has been testing for some time. Sendmail.org offers additional information about SMTP Auth.

    Randy writes that, while SMTP Auth works, "email client support for it is poor, and it would be impossible to require it in a large scale setting until it gets more application support. The major clients do support it, though some (notably Netscape 4.7x) don't work correctly with it. Mozilla, Outlook Express, and Outlook (I believe) all support it fine."

    There are also numerous proprietary solutions, vendors who want to sell enterprises that run SMTP servers their own secure SMTP solutions. I've been contacted by some of those companies in recent months as I've written on this subject for both TechWeb and Scot's Newsletter.

    Recently Ziff Davis's Larry Seltzer did a column on the subject called Throw Away the Internet; Start All Over.

    Spamnix 1.1 Beta
    Spamnix for Eudora is now available for the Mac version of Eudora. The program's author also released a beta of the 1.1 Windows version with several updates and improvements, including a new SpamAssassin ruleset and fixes to problems that may have caused Spamnix not to work as effectively. Here are the details about what's new in the 1.1 release.

    I'm using the Spamnix 1.1 beta without a hitch. I recommend it over the previous 1.0 build. Spamnix 1.1 is also a free upgrade for all registered users of the product. You install it directly over the top of your existing installation.

    Find Previous Installments of Let's Fight Spam
    This is really the 10th in the Let's Fight Spam series. (I forgot to number a couple antispam installments in the newsletter.) Because it's getting harder to find all came before, I'm making it easier. I created a simple Web page that lists all the major Let's Fight Spam articles and links to them. Check it out.

    Back to the Top


    Comcast Pricing: Business as Usual or Monopolistic?
    Last time I responded to reader Mike Parker's outrage at getting a 33 percent increase in his monthly rate after his cable Internet was converted to Comcast from AT&T Broadband. Comcast, like most other cable Internet companies (including AT&T Broadband in some areas) offers what most cable companies call a "discount" to people who subscribe to both their cable Internet and cable TV services. My response was one of commiseration, but not surprise or outrage.

    Since then, long-time SFNL reader Steve Disenhof and I have carried on a somewhat heated discourse on the subject. He's in the same boat as Mike Parker in a different part of the country. I thought everyone might be interested in the dialog.

    March 19, 2003
    Scot,

    I received what was, in effect, an extortion letter from Comcast last week. They announced their "new pricing model" to take effect on April 1. To wit, if you don't drop whatever competing cable TV service you have and sign up with Comcast, your cable Internet rates will be increased by $14 per month to $56.95. Antenna, satellite, or no TV, it doesn't matter. Sign up for their cable TV or get ripped for a 33 percent increase.

    I spoke with a couple of reporters. One had talked to a Comcast spokesperson and had received the response, "Hey, it's like a restaurant. You can order a la carte or we can give you a discount for buying more than one entree." Nice marketing image. However, if I don't like a restaurant's prices, I can walk across the street to another restaurant. Or to the one next to that.

    Comcast has an absolute monopoly in broadband. Like many folks, we're more than 18,000 feet from a the telephone company's central office, so DSL is not an option. If we want broadband, Comcast is the only [game in town].

    I spoke with a Boston Globe reporter who has written about Comcast and who was cynically fatalistic about it. His words:

    They rolled out this [same] pricing plan in Massachusetts a few weeks ago. All I can tell you is that if enough people get angry about it, and they lobby their state and federal officials to do something about it, and the state and federal officials agree, then something will happen. [The] newspaper can shake its impotent fist in outrage, but Comcast takes it as a one-day bad story and rolls along looking for the next way to raise revenues. Good luck and sorry to sound like a whipped dog.

    In the past week I've written to and spoken with a number of politicians. The locals are very helpful and sympathetic, but realistically point out that Congress, in its infinite wisdom, gave cable companies the right to be egregiously monopolistic in this way when they passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. They admit it's broken, but say only the feds can fix it. (The local District Attorney confided that if this was any other industry, he'd haul them into court for this.) Of course, I've not received one word of response from our federal elected officials. --Steve Disenhof

    April 4, 2003
    Scot,

    RE: Your comments on Comcast [in response to Mike Parker].

    I love the newsletter and you're usually right on with your comments, but you missed the boat with Comcast. The #1 issue with their rate increase is that they're a monopoly. While it's nice that Mike Parker had DSL to fall back on, almost 40 percent of the 6 million or so people in our neck of the woods do not have DSL access. What this means is that Comcast is virtually the only game in town for fast broadband.

    Then, to use this monopoly to force customers in an unrelated industry to drop their existing carriers and sign with them is what anti-trust laws were set up to prevent. Only a loophole in the Telecommunications Act allows them to get away with it. Our local District Attorney said that if he had jurisdiction, he'd haul them into court in a heartbeat. --Steve Disenhof

    April 23, 2003
    Steve,

    This is the way it has been done almost everywhere in the U.S. since cable Internet was first introduced -- although AT&T Broadband apparently didn't work this way in some or all locations. The way most companies have marketed it is that you get a "discount" when you sign up for both cable Internet and cable TV. Many other industries use the same ploy. I think one thing you have to keep in mind is that no one is forcing you to buy cable TV.

    Should Comcast charge less? Absolutely. And I think the focus should be on the bottom line, not the pricing structure. --Scot

    April 23, 2003
    Scot,

    The key point here is that Comcast and the other cable companies have been granted a monopoly over their broadband service. Other industries are not comparable because they do not have a monopoly. And in the few that do, they are regulated so that they cannot force this pricing. That's why our local DA and legislators are so hot over this ... and why my phone and email got flooded with calls after I was interviewed for a story in the local paper. --Steve Disenhof

    April 24, 2003
    Steve,

    There are a few unscrupulous cable companies that absolutely require you to buy their cable TV when you buy cable Internet. You have no choice. Now that is actionable, monopolistic behavior in my opinion -- and should be challenged in court. One SFNL reader who reported this is Jack Curl, whose Texas apartment complex has the TVMax cable system. Jack write that the company specifically told him he could not have cable-modem service without subscribing to cable.

    But Steve, I believe your local officials are saber rattling if what they're focusing on is the fact that Comcast charges $15 more for cable Internet if you buy it alone than it you buy it with cable TV. It's no different than the grocer selling you 5 bananas for the price of 4 when you buy 5 bananas at a time. (Although, your point that Comcast is the only grocer in town is certainly valid.) Virtually every industry on the planet offers some sort of volume discount on goods and services sold.

    You wanna get mad at Comcast? There is plenty to be mad about. I am a Comcast customer. Their pricing is inflated. My Comcast bill is $135 each month. That's pathetic. They also have the worst customer support according to an SFNL Reader Poll. But the underlying structure of how they sell cable TV and cable Internet access is virtually identical to 90 percent of the cable companies in the U.S. And there is nothing legally wrong with it (although, of course, I'm no lawyer). What I'm trying to say is, challenge the bottom line on monopolistic behavior, not the pricing structure.

    I'm not thrilled about the monopoly problem either. But this is how I see it: There are huge costs with infrastructure involved with hybrid fiberoptic cable. And this monopoly issue has some advantages; it allows companies to innovate and implement rapidly because they are guaranteed a high rate of return. Or let me put it another way, you live in California. Are you pleased with electric power deregulation?

    We are, though, I think in basic agreement. You, me, and all Comcast's customers are being gouged. Here's how I believe our legislators (and the FCC) -- not our litigators -- should be handling this. It should work something like the way drug companies are awarded exclusive rights to sale on patented drugs. Cable companies (and many other technologies where there's a huge infrastructural investment required) should be granted a specified period of time when they have a monopoly so they can recoup their investment and have time to migrate their business into another area, or develop further. It's a wild guess, but that timeframe might be 10-15 years. The number of years would vary depending on the industry. But here's the big difference: During that time such companies would be highly regulated to protect consumers. After the time expires, other carriers would be allowed access to end-users via the infrastructure, using the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) as a model.

    The Baby Bells have made an entire permanent livelihood out of their territorial monopolies. That is wrong. The TCA didn't go far enough. Now Michael Powell and others at the FCC seek to dismantle the TCA in whole or in part. If there's a windmill we should be tilting at, this is it. Should the Telecommunications Act of 1996 be extended to cable companies. Yes! But there's a good reason why they were excluded 7 years ago. Cable Internet was a nascent industry at that time. It's still an immature one. Cable companies should be given more leeway than the Bells and other more mature industries. A time is coming when they should no longer have that leeway, but we are not there yet.

    I can see the possibility of an even worse situation than exorbitant prices, and that's lack of available broadband service at all for huge parts of this country that don't have it yet if cable Internet companies are either over or under regulated.

    Keep this in perspective: Five years ago the percentage of U.S. households that readily adopted cable Internet service (the few that had it available to them) was quite low. Cable companies took a huge risk in building out or buying the infrastructure needed to make this become a reality. Some companies went out of business attempting to do it. AT&T's overall corporate strategy was for several years driven by the notion of recreating itself as a nationwide cable TV/cable Internet company -- a strategy that eventually failed.

    Now that Comcast has emerged as the leader, along with Cox and several others, we are coming toward the end of the early stages of the development of this industry. I think you're right that the time to consider future regulation is now. But let's not go off half-cocked. Let's get this right, because there are still millions and millions of North American households that do not have cable Internet. Over regulation and litigation will stunt the growth of this industry.

    In the end, I think the underlying story here is that Comcast's crude, provincial managerial style has shown itself once again. The company stupidly positioned this price differential as a price increase instead of as a discount. If AT&T wasn't charging the extra amount in some or all areas, Comcast should have left well enough alone instead of getting greedy. At the least, Comcast should have grandfathered existing customers and levied a higher price (if necessary) from new customers. And a $15 differential is just too high in a marketplace where $30 a month -- not $40, $50, or $57 -- is the sweet spot for consumers. --Scot

    Back to the Top

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    60-Second Briefs
       - Power-Line Broadband Getting Real
       - Microsoft Office System (2003) Delayed?
       - Super DMCA Insanity
       - Comcast Pricing Workaround?

    Power-Line Broadband Getting Real
    For years many who watch broadband like I do have been hearing that a new form, which uses existing power lines to convey Internet traffic, is "coming." I've more than once in past asked SFNL readers to report anything they've heard about actual service in their parts of the world to tell me about it. And let me renew that request now. If you're in an area where power-line Internet is being openly talked about or marketed, please contact me.

    The whole idea of power-line Internet has been in the news lately. FCC chairman Michael Powell visited a power-line-Internet-equipped model home in Maryland, and the agency is supporting this new form of broadband delivery. One of the advantages to it is that you can plug your computer into any AC outlet in your house and get instant Internet access. You may be aware that there are also power-line-based LAN networking solutions coming to market in droves right now. Netgear and others have recently released new product lines.

    According to Reuters, which cited company officials, Current Technologies, the equipment maker which set up the Maryland demonstration, hopes to offer power-line broadband service for under $30 by the end of this year. Current has wired 70 homes in Potomac, Maryland, according to Reuters.

  • FCC to Probe Broadband Delivery over Power Lines - EE Times
  • FCC's Powell lauds power-line Internet service - Reuters

    Microsoft Office System (2003) Delayed?
    It seems likely that Microsoft will delay the release of its forthcoming new office suite software. Although it had been scheduled for June, the company announced last Thursday that it would issue another, previously unscheduled beta. Here's what a Microsoft spokeswoman explained to me:

    ...More than 600,000 people have asked for and received the Office System beta, making it the largest Office beta program ever, and twice that of Office XP.

    We consider the Beta 2 release of the Microsoft Office System a success, and based on the feedback we are making a number of improvements to the Beta 2 versions of the Office System products. In order to make sure customers have the chance to look at the changes [we're making] in response to their feedback, later this spring, Microsoft [will] refresh the Beta 2 code for the Microsoft Office System. We anticipate this will be done through a downloadable patch, details to come.

    While we always have internal target [dates] for release to manufacturing (RTM), we don't lock [them in] until we've completed the beta-feedback process. However, we still expect to RTM this summer.

    Super DMCA Insanity
    In the last issue I ran a link to a page on Edward Felton's Freedom to Tinker website that points out some of the potential fallacies of new Super DMCA laws being acted by a number of U.S. states. I provided these links:

  • Use A Firewall, Go to Jail
  • State Super-DMCA Bills and Laws

    I got several emails from SFNL subscribers telling me I was crazy to run links to Felton, whom they felt was blowing this all out of proportion. But I continue to find what he has to say interesting, although I think other interpretations of the Super DMCA laws going into effect in various states just as important to follow. There have been several threads on this topic on the Scot's Newsletter Forums, and one of them offered links two recent columns in eWeek by Peter Coffee and Jim Rapoza.

  • Peter Coffee: IT Laws Defy Reality
  • Jim Rapoza: New Law Putting Net-and You-at Risk

    Peter Coffee said it best when he wrote: "When eight states propose laws that could make it illegal to use a network firewall, it would be nice if working IT professionals could laugh it off. It would be nice if those who know better could assume that laws like these would fail as quickly and obviously as a measure that seeks to repeal the law of gravity. Unfortunately, I've seen little in the history of cyber-law to inspire much hope that legislation will converge with common sense -- not, that is, unless those who understand IT operations start taking a more active role in writing the rules."

    We should be under no illusion that our federal and state governments will ever actually *get* technology and do the reasonable thing when it comes to enacting laws or prosecuting litigation. Even though these laws are patently ludicrous, so ludicrous that it's hard for us to believe most would be taken seriously, that doesn't mean that they won't be prosecuted. Stranger things have happened. Those of us who truly understand the Internet and technology need to stop hiding behind our smirks and start speaking out.

    Comcast Pricing Workaround?
    Last issue's Q&A about Comcast pricing brought the discussion about possible monopolistic behavior in the previous section. It also brought a practical suggestion from another reader that I thought was well worth passing along. I don't know if the service level he describes is available everywhere. But it's worth calling and asking about:

    In Richmond, Virginia we also had Comcast raise our Internet rates if we were not also cable TV subscribers. However, we came up with a workaround. Although Comcast does not advertise it, in our area at least it offers a Cable TV package for about $9.00 a month which includes a very limited set of channels (local channels mostly). Generally people with satellite dishes use this package to get local TV programming. However, if you sign up for this service, you qualify as having cable TV and therefore your internet rates do not increase. Yes, your total cable bill will go up the $9.00, but at least you're getting something for it! --Lee Barden

    Back to the Top


    Annoying Software Behaviors and the SFNL Forums
    The Top 10 Most Annoying Things About Software rant in the last issue of the newsletter was a hit in several ways. It was picked up by friend and SFNL reader Michael Horowitz on the homepage of his website, Computer Gripes (a past Link of the Week).

    The story also included a link to a thread I started in the SFNL Forums on the same subject, and that thread turned up dozens of other software annoyances -- enough to create a large What's Wrong with Software document, co-authored by SFNL subscribers and Forums members. My intention is to gather up all the understandable pet peeves and roll them up onto a single Web page. And I'll publish it from a future issue of the newsletter as a message to the software industry.

    I'll tell you right now, my personal pet-peeve is applications that pop-up some sort of notifying screen or which go off automatically (like email or instant messaging) and in doing so, steal the focus away from what you're doing. Often when you're right in the middle of typing.

    What's yours? It's not too late to "carp diem." By that I mean something like "complain today" (so, yes, I meant to spell it that way). Post your software annoyances at the Forums.

    By the way, this AP story I found on MyWay.com does an excellent job of covering the issues pertaining to buggy code (a somewhat different but related topic):

    Spread of Buggy Software Raises Questions - Associated Press

    Who Will Be the 1,000th Member?
    Probably within 24 hours of this issue of the newsletter, someone will become the 1,000th member of the SFNL Forums. With well over 6,000 posts, SFNL Forums is growing steadily. We've made a lot of changes in recent weeks, and we'll be raising the curtain on at least two new forums in the near future: Software and Hardware.

    Perhaps the best thing about the forums can't be measured in numbers. It's the character of the community, which is friendly, helpful, informative, witty, supportive, encouraging, knowledgeable, and considerate. I'm really proud to sponsor and help foster this incredible environment. And even if you never post a message there, I think you'll gain something by visiting once in a while. Interesting news and tidbits hit the board early and often. It is already feeding the newsletter pretty significantly.

    Simple registration is required in order to post messages, but you can visit and read anything you want without registering. The registration process requires quick email validation. A minute or two after you register, you'll receive a validation email. Just click the validation link in this message and you're done. (There are instructions for people who aren't able to click links in email.)

    In case I haven't said this clearly in the past, the only information you need to give when you register is a valid email address and a nickname. I manage the board personally, and I strictly guard the privacy of the member list. You can hide your email address from all others easily in the "My Controls" area. (From the Forums home page: My Controls > Click "Email Settings" in the column on the left > Place a check beside the first option, "Hide my email address from other members.") You will not get spam as a result of registering or posting at SFNL Forums. You control your user profile, user name, and password.

    The SFNL Forums also has great options for dial-up users that allow you to selectively disable the displaying of images, including avatars, images in posts, and images in signatures. (You'll find these settings under "Board Settings" on My Controls.)

  • The Scot's Newsletter Forums
  • Register to the Scot's Newsletter Forums

    Back to the Top


    Sites Reported Not to Work Properly in Opera 7.0x
    For more than five years I have reviewed Opera favorably, but in every case I've wound up saying that I love it but it still doesn't render pages as well as I'd like it to. I placed a lot of hope in this new version of Opera with its redesigned browser engine. There's no question that there are many excellent features in the product. But it still has problems rendering pages the way many Web developers expect their users to see their pages. I've decided not to do another Opera review until I have strong evidence that I can trust this browser well enough to throw IE away. I don't feel like this version of the product gets me any closer to that goal than Opera 6.0 did. Here's why:

    Since Opera 7.0 was first released, Scot's Newsletter readers have been sending me reports about specific websites that don't render properly in the browser, but which do display fine in Internet Explorer and other browsers. I've collected a list of these websites so that everyone may try them -- in hopes that it will get this issue out in the open. This is it: Sites Reported Not to Work Properly in Opera 7.0x

    When I showed the list to Opera Software president and CEO Jon von Tetzchner, he immediately let me know that the 7.1 version of the program fixes at least some of these problems. I was not aware that the 7.1 version added page-rendering improvements. I went back and checked. The vast majority of the sites on the list were reported to me prior to the release of Opera 7.1. So Jon may have a point.

    I have not tested the list extensively; it would take many hours to do so. I'll leave that up to Opera Software. I did notice that in some cases you'll need to do a visual comparison with the site loaded in both IE and Opera to find the differences. In some cases you'll need to perform tasks on the Web page that require secure login, check out, or filling in of forms to encounter the glitch. In some cases the person reporting the problem may not have realized the website required a Java Runtime Environment or Flash player. In some cases I couldn't find a problem, so it may have been fixed by the Web developers (or a newer version of Opera) since it was reported. Some of these I deleted but if I wasn't sure, I left it in. One common problem not always apparent is that "roll-over" hyperlinks may not work properly.

    Some people believe that the only way to address such issues is for all Web developers to build pages strictly to Web standards instead of developing for the de facto Web browser standard -- Internet Explorer. I have covered this in the past; I don't agree at all with that point of view. The reality is, you can't program an application with an expectation that it will be used in a specific, prescribed way. That just not a viable programming strategy. Instead, the strategy should be: The user is always right. Most Web developers focus on making a page look right in the most common browsers, instead of adhering to a spec that in many cases limits what they can do on a page. I know this to be true; I've worked in online editorial professionally since 1994 and am proficient in HTML, JavaScript, and other Web dev tools. You are free to disagree. But the market has borne this out repeatedly. Microsoft had to learn this very same lesson back when Netscape 1.0 and 2.0 ruled the roost.

    Another source of information on this subject is the Opera newsgroups. I recommend these two in particular:

  • Opera.Page-Display
  • Opera.General

    Thanks to all the many SFNL readers who sent in their experiences with Opera. I hope this does some good, both for Opera and its many users.

    Back to the Top


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    Q&A
       - Users, Be My Guest
       - Revising NTFS Cluster Resizing
       - Ctrl-Alt-Delete No More

    Users, Be My Guest

    Question: I would like to know how to network a Windows XP computer with a Windows 98SE computer. I have a Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router and a Surfboard SB3100 cable modem for Internet access. I can get the Win XP computer to see the Win 98 computer; but the Win 98 computer cannot see the Win XP computer. I set up the same Workgroup name in both network setups. --Kathy Van Pelt

    Answer: There could be a variety of causes for this problem, but the most likely is that, on the XP computer, you have to enable the Guest account in the User Accounts control panel. Or another way to manage this is to add the workstation name of the Win98 computer as a specific user on the XP computer.

    There are trade-offs with both methods. With the workstation name method, you will see the workstation name of your other computer(s) when you start up your XP machine as if it were an optional "user" who uses your computer too. This can be annoying if there's only one user on your computer because it changes the way the login works. It can be a little more than annoying if you have large network with lots of workstations. (Note: See this issue's Tips of the Week section for a tip that may help you manage the workstation-name method, however.)

    The problem with enabling the Guest account is that it reduces the security of your network. Anyone trying to hack into your network may use the Guest account as a first point of entry. So, of the two options, using the workstation name is more secure. Enabling Guest is easier and more convenient. It's been my experience that most small network managers enable Guest. (Note: It is possible to password protect the Guest account, by the way.)

    I've been trying for a couple of months to get Microsoft to shed some light on this issue, how best to enable XP user access for networking sharing -- both for security and convenience -- but so far have not heard back from them. I'm hoping this Q&A will encourage them. --S.F.


    Revising NTFS Cluster Resizing

    Question: I am using Windows 2000 Professional and just ran into that cluster size issue. I read your newsletter series on the NTFS cluster-resizing issue and performance slow-downs: Part I and Part II. I looked and cluster resizing for NTFS is listed as a feature of the newest version of PartitionMagic. Can you confirm that or have you written any newer articles on this subject? --Mark Illich

    Answer: Hi, Mark. My coverage of the NTFS cluster-resizing issue was actually a four-part series. You might want to check out Part III and Part IV. See Part IV for more information about Windows 2000's version of NTFS.

    To answer your question, yes I can verify that beginning with version 8.0, PowerQuest's $69.95 PartitionMagic has been able to resize NTFS clusters. I've tested it myself. Paragon Software's Partition Manager 5.5, which costs $39.95, also handles the cluster-resizing chore under NT/2000/XP. I have not tested this new version of Partition Manager yet, although it is slated for a Scot's Newsletter review. The product's 5.0 version worked fine for me, and the few problems that some readers had were all resolved (and it was never clear that those problems were ever Partition Manager's fault). --S.F.


    Ctrl-Alt-Delete No More

    Question: A friend of mine purchased a new computer with Win XP Home Edition. He did something that now requires him to press Ctrl-Alt-Del before he's able to login. We are using PC Anywhere to operate his system while he is away. If I reboot his machine remotely, I get hung because PC Anywhere is not running yet. Is there a simple cure for this? --Vaughn Wilson

    Answer: I believe this Microsoft Knowledgebase article (308226) will solve your friend's problem, although you may have to wait until he returns to fix it. --S.F.

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    Product Beat: ZoneAlarm 4.0
    By now you've probably heard that Zone Labs is releasing a major new release of ZoneAlarm toward the end of May or early June. The new 4.0 release will arrive in Pro and Plus versions simultaneously. The free-for-personal-use version of ZoneAlarm is not being updated at this time.

    There's a lot being added to this new version of the firewall software, which the company estimates has an installed base of 25-million users (all flavors and versions). My favorite new feature is a new user-interface module that gives advanced users configuration options that control settings for port, protocol, application, and time of day -- akin to the controls offered by Sygate Personal Firewall Pro 5.0 and others.

    Zone Labs has also added a VPN-configuration wizard combined with underlying functionality that automatically detects and configures VPN connections.

    ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 will also offer the new Hacker ID feature, which gives members of the Zone Labs community the ability to safely track attacks on their PCs and report offenders to the appropriate ISP, which helps to make the Internet a safer place. To do that, Zone Labs has teamed up with past SFNL Link of the Week, MyNetWatchman.com. Smart move, Zone Labs.

    The new version will also contain a number of other improvements to areas such as MailSafe, privacy controls, security, and browser cache management. ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 will support Windows 98, 98SE, Me, NT, 2000, and XP. For additional detail, see Zone Labs' press release on ZoneAlarm 4.0.

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

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    Link of the Week: Windows Update Catalog
    Back in the Windows 98 days, Microsoft used to offer a website designed to serve enterprise users that offered links to downloadable versions of the Windows Update patches. The idea was that IT managers could get around having to laboriously install patches on user machines via Windows Update, but could instead set up automatic or manual patching via saved installers stored on a network volume.

    It was known as the "corporate Windows update" site by many, it was a definite bookmark for many of us. But then Microsoft killed the site. They've reopened a new version of it called the Windows Update Catalog. It offers the ability to download and save installers for many Windows patches and critical updates. It also provides downloadable versions of device drivers offered on Windows Update. Chance are, this one Link of the Week that's going to come in very handy. And thanks to SFNL Forums moderator "ThunderRiver" for bringing it to my attention.

    Now, perhaps in celebration of Easter and Easter-egg hunting, SFNL Forums member "Onurb" (that's Bruno spelled backwards) offers EggsCentral, the repository of software Easter eggs. What's a software Easter egg? It's an undocumented bit of code hidden inside operating systems and applications. Commonly, Easter eggs provide credits to the programs who build the operating system or application. But they can be whole separate programs, often a game or puzzle.

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

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    THIS SPACE AVAILABLE!  EMAIL FOR DETAILS.


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    Tip of the Week: Making XP Users Invisible
       - Making XP Users Invisible
       - Killing Desktop Clean-Up
       - Win2K Command Prompt Help

    Making XP Users Invisible
    This tip was suggested by SFNL Forums moderator ThunderRiver. It can be very useful in certain network settings, and it also an advantage if, like me, you set up a plain-jane version of Windows XP. Whenever I install XP, I create a sort of "default" user that is exactly as shipped with the operating system. No customizations or changes. I use this as a snapshot to check on how things were setup initially. It helps me to track my own changes, and also serves as a very basic troubleshooting aid.

    I also create a user that represents my primary login. On some networks, I enable the Guest account. That leaves me with two or three users on every computer just to get started. And it means I have more choices on the Welcome screen than is necessary when only one person uses my computers.

    There are several ways to skin this cat, but one tip that is truly useful is this simple Registry edit that makes user accounts invisible. The best part is that it takes only about a minute to accomplish. Here are the steps:

    1. Open the Start Menu, select Run, type "regedit" (without the quotation marks) and press Enter. That opens the System Registy Editor.

    2. On the left pane of the Registry Editor (RegEdit), select HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE (which is abbreviated to HKLM below). Then navigate to this location:

    HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\
    Winlogon\SpecialAccounts\UserList

    3. With UserList open in the left pane, right-click any blank area on the right pane and choose New > DWORD Value.

    4. Give the new icon the exact name as the user account you want to hide. Then press Enter.

    5. Repeat the steps for each additional user you want to hide.

    You're done. You can test it by choosing Start > Log Off > Switch User (if that's available). If you don't see Switch User, then use Log Off, but this will shut down all your apps and documents. To reverse it, just delete the icon you added.

    Killing Desktop Clean-Up
    SFNL Forums member "Big Jeff" reminded me of this tip for a pesky recurring annoyance in Windows XP. It's a tip I believe I ran in one of the early reviews of XP in WinMag.

    Windows XP has a useful utility for inexperienced users called the Desktop Clean-Up Wizard. Periodically it wakes up and asks you whether you want to tuck away icons on your desktop that you haven't used in a while. If you say yes, it places them in a folder where you can retrieve them later if need be.

    Microsoft's big mistake is that it didn't provide an option on Desktop Clean-Up to let you tell it to go to sleep forever. You can tell it to go away, but it'll pop-up again every 60 days. Worse, it's not immediately obvious how you go about giving it The Big Sleep. So here's how:

    Right-click the desktop and choose Properties to open the Display control panel. Click the Desktop Tab and then the Customize Desktop button. Remove the check from the box whose label reads: "Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days."

    Win2K Command Prompt Help
    Well, well. Last issue's XP Command Prompt Help tip, which described how to quickly access a command reference for XP's DOS-like Command Prompt, generated more email on any tip than I've had in quite a while.

    Bottom line: Everyone who wrote to me agreed that it is in fact completely possible to make the same thing happen under Windows 2000. What they couldn't seem to agree on was *how* to make it happen. There were, of course, the usual number of corrections to the tip published under XP, and long-winded diatribes about the differences between DOS and the Windows NT/2K/XP Command Prompt, yada, yada, yada.

    I didn't have 14 hours to check out all this stuff. [Editor's Note: He tried to spend the 14 hours, but I gave him a choice. Guess which one he picked? --Cyndy.] So I'm literally picking one name out of the proverbial hat, and that name is Loren Balk, to offer her version of tip for Windows 2000 version. I've tested this under Windows 2000 Pro and it works fine.

    %windir%\hh.exe mk:@MSITStore:C:\WINNT\Help\windows.chm::/ntcmds.htm

    Please read last week's tip for instructions on setting up this version for Win2000. You'll find it here.

    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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    Thread of the Week: 'Really Bad Advice'
    The SFNL Forums have a section known as The Water Cooler. It's the place to let you hair down, forget about Windows, broadband, newsletters -- and just hang. The master of disaster in The Water Cooler is our moderator Jeber. He's also the guy who brought you Putt-Putt Golf in the last issue of the newsletter. But what's really great about Jeber is that he's quite literally hysterical. At times, laugh-until-you-cry-funny in fact. SFNL Forums is lucky to have him, and all our great mods. They're quite a crew. New moderators since last time include Computer Bob, Peachy, and Paracelsus.

    Anyway, this issue's Thread of the Week comes straight to you from Jeber. With his tongue firmly planted in cheek, he's offering Really Bad Advice. I promise you'll find it a hoot. It's also a stress release, because, it's just the sort of really bad advice we'd all love to give to people who know less about computers than we do -- served up with a cat-who-swallowed-the-canary grin.

    Honorable mention this time around goes to SFNL Forum member Onurb for his Tips for Linux Starters thread, which garnered a wide range of interesting replies and information.

    Thanks to Forums members GolfProRM, Teacher, and JBRedmond for their nominations.

    SFNL Forums denizens, have you noticed a thread (or topic) in the Forums that is useful, interesting, problem-solving, or just cool? Nominate it for possible publication (Forum registration required to post) in an upcoming issue of Scot's Newsletter, and if I make it Thread of the Week, I'll print your name (or forum nickname) with it.

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    SFNL Is 41,000 and Growing
    In two years' time this newsletter has gone from zero to more than 40,000 subscribers without the benefit of a weekly or monthly print publication or a high-traffic website to back it up. Other newsletters have higher subscription numbers, but Scot's Newsletter's rate of growth is fairly impressive.

    I've been aided mightily along the way by CMP Media and Mike Azzara, who helped me get started, by Fred Langa, Chris Pirillo, Mike Elgan, Karen Kenworthy, Jason Levine, Dave Methvin, Alex at pcnineoneone.com, and others who have promoted the newsletter. Many, many Scot's Newsletter readers have helped by placing buttons or banners to Scot's Newsletter on their websites or recommending the newsletter to friends. In the words of that now famous MasterCard ad, that sort of help is "priceless." Thanks to all who have helped. For anyone interested in following suit, you'll find instructions for how to do so here.

    My next goal is 50,000 subscribers. I'm going to continue to rely on the support of friends and well wishers to keep growing. And most of all, I will work hard to deserve the subscriber growth that is necessary to the long-term success of this publication.

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    Newsletter Schedule
    The next issue of the newsletter is slated for Tuesday, May 13 (unless I get ambitious and send it on Monday, May 12). The issue after that should arrive on Tuesday, May 27, the day after Memorial Day holiday in the U.S.

    Back to the Top


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