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June 17, 2003 - Vol. 3, Issue No. 47

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • DSL Test Drive: Low-Cost Verizon Online
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Windows 2000 Service Pack 4
       - ZoneAlarm 4.0 Pro Released
       - Windows 98 Lifecycle Extended
       - Microsoft Killing Standalone IE?
       - AOL Scam?
       - Eudora 6.0 Beta for Windows
       - Storage Pipeline
  • The Software Hall of Shame, Part II
  • AT&T to Comcast Conversion: June 30th
  • New! Tips for Linux Apprentices
  • Q&A
  • Link of the Week: Geektools' GeekTel
  • Tip of the Week: 5 Quick Tips
  • Thread of the Week: Windows XP Services
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.


    DSL Test Drive: Low-Cost Verizon Online
    What would you say to $35 a month for ADSL consumer service with downstream performance up to 1.5Mbps? That's the deal, in fact, that arguably the largest Baby Bell, Verizon, began offering on May 13. And it's not a limited-time deal or temporary price cut. The company says this is a permanent price point. Existing Verizon consumer ADSL subscribers will see their rates lowered automatically. You can even get $5 per month off the $34.95 price if you sign up for a Verizon long-distance package on the same phone line. And even that discount isn't a limited-time offer. (See the Verizon Press Release for more details.)

    To say this Verizon DSL caught my eye is an understatement, but what really opened my eyes is that, after five years of waiting, Verizon has finally opened up DSL service in my town. Prior to this the only way to get it was via Covad or its competitors. With the Comcast changeover on my cable Internet service looming, and my SpeakEasy/Covad 384-kbps SDSL service having inched up to more than $108 a month, it was a no-brainer for me to try the new Verizon service.

    On June 2 I ordered Verizon Online, and by June 13 it was running perfectly. There were some trials and tribulations in between. And there are some caveats to pass along. What follows are my order placement and installation experiences, the results of my performance tests, my initial evaluation of the service, and a few tips for those who wind up following in my footsteps.

    The Order Experience
    Long-time readers may recall that I've had some negative experiences with Verizon in the past, and I've made no bones about my displeasure with the company in this newsletter and before it, the Broadband Report.

    I can honestly say that Verizon, while not perfect by any stretch, has cleaned up its act quite a bit. The order process was pretty painless. I called to order (instead of placing the order online) because I had a long list of questions and concerns. The largest of which was the fact that I didn't want to be forced to install MSN 8.0 on any computer. Verizon co-markets its DSL service with MSN 8.0. And the Verizon install CD has MSN 8.0 on it. I consider that Microsoft software PC poison. If I'd been forced to install it, I would have declined the Verizon DSL service. Every question and concern I had about the service was answered fully by the phone rep, and in every question, the response was the positive one.

    The only negative was that I'm too far away from the telephone company Central Office ("CO") to qualify for the 1.5Mbps/128kbps service. But I was within bounds for the 768kbps/128kbps service. The price is the same either way. You get what you qualify for. Although, it's important to note that no particular service level is actually guaranteed with services like this. Line noise/quality are the big factors in determining performance.

    The Verizon Online package has no time commitment, there's no equipment charge, and because Verizon's DSL (like most current phone company DSL offerings) shares an existing phone line without interrupting phone service in any way, no one has to come in your house. Verizon sends the DSL modem and wiring in the mail. There is a one-time charge of $12.95 to cover shipping the modem (UPS Ground). But that is your only out-of-pocket expense. In fact, after a year of service, the modem is yours to keep.

    I ordered on a Monday and received the modem package on Thursday. On Friday I received the email I'd been told to expect stating that my service was turned on and ready to be installed. On Saturday I earmarked about an hour to set up Verizon Online DSL. There's both written and CD-based tutorial instructions on how to install the modem and wiring. That aspect is very easy. Easier even than I expected. It takes about 10 minutes to set up. So long as you have a phone jack within 15 feet of your computer, you're all set.

    The install kit comes with a wall-mount-phone adapter/DSL filter and four inline DSL filters. If you have other phone sets on the same line your DSL service is sharing, you must put one of these filters between the wall jack and the phone. If you need more filters, you can order them. The purpose of the filters is prevent static on the phones sharing the DSL line. I ordered my DSL service on the line that normally handles my dedicated fax machine and serves as my backup analog dial-up Internet access line.

    Installation Still a Bit Rocky
    My first DSL service took something like seven months to get installed properly, back in 1999 -- with literally an innumerable list of hurdles and problems that needed to be resolved. This one took seven days (something like two orders of magnitude better), and involved solving four problems. Verizon's customer service was excellent throughout, a pleasant surprise indeed.

    Problem #1: My first problem was the biggest, and took the longest time to resolve. Long and short, you need three solid green lights showing on the Westell WireSpeed DualConnect modem ("the white Westell"). The instructions don't say that the green lights need to be solid. One of mine was flashing green and the others were solid green. I tried to install the software anyway, but a pre-installation check showed the line wasn't ready, and thoughtfully displayed the toll-free number to call. I reported the problem, and the tech support rep quickly ascertained that it was something in the CO or the line. His diagnostics could see my modem, but there was something wrong.

    It took four days for the CO to pick up the trouble ticket, run a couple of tests, and determine that there was a line problem somewhere between the CO and the modem. (Your DSL support is only as good as the responsiveness of your CO; in my case, not good.) On the fifth day, a field technician arrived unannounced (because he didn't necessarily need to come into my house). I happened to be looking out the window as he backed his truck into my driveway, so I spent some time with him. He quickly determined the problem wasn't in the house and began to isolate it on the street. There was a steady rain as he climbed up the telephone pole a few doors down and discovered a "bridge tap" on the line. A bridge tap is an intersection or junction where a second line leads away from the first. On phone lines, this usually means a drop away from the main line to a house that used to access the phone line but (hopefully) no longer does. By the time he got to my door and we went to look at the modem in my office, the three lights were solid green. He had found the problem.

    Problem #2: That night I tried to install again. But I was halted only another couple of steps into the installation program on the screen that asks for the phone number of the line the DSL service is sharing and your zip code. I was informed that there was no DSL service on this line. OK, back to tech support. At least the wait times for tech support were never any longer than five minutes. It turned out that the phone rep who took my order accidentally put the wrong ZIP code on my order. So the database thought I lived in Brooklyn, NY. Uh, I don't even live in New York State. It took over 20 minutes and a lot of holding for this problem to be remedied. In the process, the support folks coordinated with the billing folks to get three separate databases to align, with all of them having the same data about one Scot Finnie, new DSL customer, who doesn't live in Brooklyn, NY.

    Once that was done, I was able to use my correct ZIP code and finish the installation process. Verizon Online installs a bewildering set of software on your computer. Three separate programs in fact, Verizon Online, Verizon Online Control Pad, and Visual IP InSight (a remote diagnostic tool). But when I got done with the installation, I was surfing the Web, Outlook Express was configured to get Verizon email and news groups, and my wife and I both had email addresses and passwords. All the usual stuff was ready to go and apparently working, so I knocked off for the night.

    In the morning I got up very early and spent a couple of hours running performance tests. I ran a battery of four tests (SpeakEasy, DSLReports, PC Pitstop, and BandwidthPlace.com). And I ran them simultaneously on my ADSL, SDSL, and cable Internet connections. The Verizon DSL service consistently returns about 725kpbs downstream and 135kbps upstream. Those are very decent numbers for a service billed as 768kbps/128kbps.

    After I had finished testing, I experienced a hiccup in the service. It stopped working, and I had to reboot to get it working. I didn't think much about that until I got a call late in the day from Verizon.

    Problem #3: The Verizon QA person who called me was just following up to make sure I was happy with my service. He ran diagnostics on my service when he heard that I'd had to reboot that morning, though. And he discovered a problem. Apparently the CO couldn't see the Mac address for the network card in my computer, even though they could see the MAC address for the DSL modem. He had me power-down the modem, and when we powered it up again, my service would not come back up. After he tried several things, he switched me over the installation tech support folks. We went through their script of problems and solutions. And it wound up that my somewhat ancient 3Com 3C905BTX Ethernet adapter was dead. That became especially clear when, after detaching the Ethernet cable and hooking up a USB cable to the PC and the modem (the reason they call it "DualConnect"), my service returned. So, Murphy's Law is alive and well and wreaking havoc in SFNL Labs.

    Just to cap it off, this tech support rep and I discovered that they still had the wrong ZIP code in one of the databases. So I had to call billing directly and get that fixed.

    Problem #4: So you'd think I'd be done, right? Wrong. After getting off the phone, I quickly popped out the bad 3Com NIC and slapped in a Linksys LNE100TX, opting to use it in a different PCI slot. Once the PC was back up and running I connected the Ethernet cabling, but the same problem existed. I called back Verizon tech support late that evening and we went through a battery of checks, finding nothing wrong. His diagnostics showed a different MAC address for my NIC than the one I was seeing with Windows XP's ipconfig /all command-line utility. It didn't make sense, to either of us. We decided there might be an issue on the Verizon server's routing table. Perhaps we need to wait for the routing table to be updated. Or perhaps he was seeing log information, not live information. We agreed that I should wait until morning and try again.

    The next morning I woke with the answer. It was obvious. I had never power-cycled the modem after swapping in the new NIC. The modem was holding the old NIC's MAC address. After checking to make sure the problem was still there, I powered down the modem (first the power cable, wait 30 seconds, then the phone line, wait 30 seconds, then the Ethernet line). Wait a minute or two then reverse the steps. Bingo. It worked. And it has worked perfectly ever since.

    Pluses and Minuses
    There are some pluses and minuses about this service. First two pluses:

    1. Verizon has no problem with you using a broadband router or NAT software with a hub/switch product to share your connection with multiple PCs. In fact, they'll even sell you a Linksys broadband router for that purpose and help you configure it. I tested this functionality and it was simple as could be. It took me two minutes to swap from direct-connected service to routed service.

    I tested this with a Linksys BEFSX41 4-port firewall router. I used a standard straight-through Ethernet patch cable connected from the WAN port of the router to the Ethernet port of the DSL modem, and connected another straight-through cable from one of the router's ports to the computer's NIC. In the Web-config dialog, I enabled PPPoE and entered my Verizon username and password.

    2. Verizon also has no qualms about your using VPN with its service. There are no limits on this in the Verizon Online Terms of Use. I tested it with plain-vanilla PPTP VPN, and it worked perfectly under Windows XP. (One Verizon rep told me that VPN works more reliably with Windows XP than Windows 98.)

    The biggest downside to Verizon's DSL service is that it uses PPPoE (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet). A few years back, PPPoE was problematic. Many DSL early adopters who discovered their service used PPPoE found it nearly unusable. From the user perspective, having PPPoE means that a dialer-emulating login routine must run for you to connect to the Internet. It happens both silently and very rapidly (about three seconds or less). Technically speaking, you're not "always on."

    But in the real world, for all intents and purposes you are always on. The only time you'll experience any delay is right after you start the computer. You either have to manually launch the login or configure the Verizon Online software to login automatically whenever Windows starts. With the auto-login setting in vogue (under Windows XP), I experienced a delay of about 15-20 seconds after Windows started when I couldn't get online. But in that mode, you don't see a login screen. It's automatic. Neither of those solutions is perfect, then, but there is a better way.

    The "always on" experience is perfect behind a broadband router like the newer Linksys or D-Link products, both of which have PPPoE-specific settings on their configuration screens. The router handles the dial-up login and it's just purely automatic. The instant Windows comes up you're connected. The experience is identical to my cable Internet or SDSL connections.

    With or without the router, you don't need the Verizon software -- at all -- in order to connect to the Internet (tested with Windows XP). That's an important aspect of broadband access for me. I don't want to have ISP software on my computers, for lots of reasons. To accomplish this without a router you have to create a network connection icon (a WAN miniport dial-up emulator) in Network Connections. (If folks want to know how to do that, they can write me and I'll put it in a future issue of the newsletter.) With the router, just uninstall all the software and plug the router in as described. It works fine.

    The only drawback is that in order to get your Verizon Online DSL username and password, you have to go through the installation process. But I did some testing and found that the Verizon software does do a pretty good job of uninstalling.

    Conclusions
    So what's it like to use Verizon DSL? Surfing performance at 725kbps is snappy. It seems about the same to me as my cable Internet service (which tests between 1.3Mbps and 1.7Mbps downstream). Raw download performance is clearly not as good as the faster cable Internet service. I can't prove this, but my hunch is that if I'd qualified for the 1.5Mbps service, Verizon DSL would be faster overall downstream than my cable Internet service. But the upstream performance of Verizon DSL tests considerably slower than my cable Internet service. That's a weak point. Still, most broadband consumers have little need for upstream performance and won't notice the difference -- me included.

    Down the road, I expect to offer a Comcast Cable vs. Verizon DSL (The Battle of the Broadbands) analysis of both services. In the meantime, I'll say this: Verizon DSL is an excellent value. The company has more experience as an ISP than Comcast, its services are better rounded, and its tech support is superior. And it's less expensive. Verizon is clearly worthy of strong consideration by anyone who has a choice. And that's an increasing number of people in the U.S, where Verizon has some 30 million telephone customers.

    So, look out SpeakEasy/Covad. Your days could well be numbered at SFNL Labs.

  • Verizon Online DSL, Verizon, 800-567-6789, 24x7 tech support, press release, monthly charge: $34.95 ($5 off if you switch to Verizon long distance with the Verizon Freedom package), total installation charge: $12.95

    Back to the Top


    60-Second Briefs
       - It's Coming: Windows 2000 Service Pack 4
       - ZoneAlarm 4.0 Pro Released
       - Windows 98 Lifecycle Extended
       - Microsoft Killing Standalone IE?
       - AOL Scam?
       - Eudora 6.0 Beta for Windows
       - Storage Pipeline

    It's Coming: Windows 2000 Service Pack 4
    According to SFNL Forums Windows moderator ThunderRiver, writing in the Scot's Newsletter Forums thread Windows 2000 SP4 release dates, Microsoft is planning the public release of Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 by June 25. Note the beginning of this thread lists earlier dates that were apparently pushed back. Read through to the end for more information.

    ZoneAlarm 4.0 Pro Released
    Right upfront I have to tell you this is about the $49.95 ZoneAlarm Pro version only. The 4.0 upgrade I gave you some early intelligence about a couple months ago went gold on June 11. I was given early access to it as a reviewer the next day. And now it's available on the Zone Labs website for download and purchase.

    My understanding that the Plus 4 version will follow, but I didn't get much word on the ZoneAlarm 4 free-for-personal use version of the program. I'll be reporting on the product in upcoming issues. I recommend holding back on the upgrade, unless you know you're going to go there no matter what. Just to see if any issues crop up.

    If you do upgrade, please, please, uninstall all previous firewalls first (especially previous versions of ZoneAlarm) and install it fresh. For more information, see last year's SFNL article, Fully Uninstall Software Firewalls.

    Also, let me know how your ZoneAlarm Pro 4 experience goes.

    Windows 98 Lifecycle Extended
    Microsoft giveth and Microsoft taketh away. It seems this time, though, the company has thought the better of killing off the "extended phase" of Windows 98's support this month. It appears to have pushed that date back to January 16, 2004. Windows 98 gets a seven-month reprieve. Check out Microsoft's convoluted Lifecycle document for more information.

    Microsoft Killing Standalone IE?
    A couple weeks back Microsoft apparently dropped the bomb that it would not be continuing the standalone version of Internet Explorer, meaning that the only way you could get the browser would be by buying Windows or other Microsoft software. This bit of news was attributed to IE program manager Brian Countryman in an interview posted on the Microsoft's website. For more details:

  • Microsoft Drops the Ball with Internet Explorer - WinInfo
  • Microsoft to Abandon Standalone IE - CNET
  • Microsoft's Browser Play - CNET

    I'm honestly skeptical about whether they really will kill the downloadable version of Internet Explorer. We're going to have to wait and see, but I think Microsoft is shooting yet another hole in its foot with this one. But its feet are getting a more and more porous of late ....

    AOL Scam?
    I received this message from Scot's Newsletter subscriber Hugh Muir and thought it might be worth passing along:

    Yesterday I received this postal mailing from AOL, welcoming me as a new subscriber to the America Online service: Needless to say I called the 800 number immediately because I had not subscribed and would never subscribe to AOL. The phone representative who took my call insisted that someone at my telephone number must have called AOL to subscribe. Since my wife and I are the only people in the house and we have no children, no pets, and no maid -- there is no possibility that anyone called AOL from this number. Looks like the company is up to its marketing tricks again! --Hugh Muir

    'Welcome to America Online' sign-up acknowledgement.

    Eudora 6.0 Beta for Windows
    The first public beta of the Windows version of Eudora Email 6.0 was made available for download a couple of weeks ago.

    Storage Pipeline
    Just thought you'd want to know what I've been up to at the day job. I've been in the thick of things building the first of a series of "Pipeline" microsites at TechWeb. The first went live last Monday; it's called Storage Pipeline. Check it out and let me know what you think. We're turning to Security Pipeline next, and there'll be others -- including one I think will be of strong interest to Scot's Newsletter readers -- whose topic I can't reveal just yet.

    Back to the Top


    NetSwitcher keeps you going when you switch network connections!
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    The Software Hall of Shame, Part II
    Last issue's Software Hall of Shame article earned a record number of Scot's Newsletter Forums posts and emails. Something about it touched a nerve -- something I can relate to.

    This effort is not over yet. So many people have contributed new nominees that I think further debate is called for. So below you will find the Working List of the Hall of Shame, a list of New Nominees, and some nominees for the opposite: The Software Hall of Fame. See whether you agree, disagree, or have a completely different idea. (I would ask that you provide your thoughts on the SFNL Forums, if possible.)

    Taking Back Paint Shop Pro
    Because SFNL subscribers and Forums members have clearly spoken, I'm taking Paint Shop Pro off the Hall of Shame list. Scores of people love their "PSP," and so I am just plain overruled. The version currently installed on my computer, v.7.0, does seem to have garnered several negative comments that match my own. But people using 5.x, 6.x, and 8.x all like it. And even some 7.x users would rather fight than switch. Given that I have also used this product, mostly happily, all the way back to at least 1994 myself -- well, maybe I was a little hasty. It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong and, well ... ok, so I could stand to lose some weight.

    I think SFNL Forums may have coined a new term: "Shameware" (credit to SFNL Forums member Cluttermagnet). The Software Hall of Shame discussion thread was filled with heated and passionate arguments both for and against various programs. And it's still worth a read.

    Down to Business
    There were two clear leaders on the Hall of Shame list. Those products are RealNetworks' RealPlayer and RealOne and Roxio's and Adaptec's Easy CD Creator. Those two product lines were nominated over and over and over again, both via email and in the forums. And not one soul stood up to defend them. They are the Shameware Kings of the Software Hall of Shame.

    Working List of the Software Hall of Shame
    In alphabetical order:

    AOL America Online
    AOL ICQ
    AOL Instant Messenger
    Apple QuickTime
    Intuit Turbotax
    ISS BlackICE
    Lotus Notes
    McAfee VirusScan
    Microsoft ActiveSync
    Microsoft Passport
    Microsoft MSN
    Microsoft MSN Messenger/Windows Messenger
    Microsoft Outlook
    Microsoft Outlook Express
    Microsoft Windows Media Player
    RealNetworks RealPlayer and RealOne
    Roxio/Adaptec Easy CD Creator
    Sharman Networks KaZaA
    StreamCast Networks Morpheus

    Recent Nominees
    If you like any of these programs, get on the SFNL Forums and post an argument in their favor. If you agree they should be on the list, then let us know that too. Otherwise, I'll make my own decisions.

    Adobe Acrobat Reader (and the .PDF file format?)
    Adobe Illustrator
    AOL Netscape Communicator 4.x
    Grisoft AVG
    Bonzi.com Software Bonzi Buddy
    Comet Systems Comet Cursor
    DeLorme Street Atlas 2003
    Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2003
    Qualcomm Eudora Email
    Forte FreeAgent/Agent
    Gator Corp. Gator
    Grokster Ltd. Grokster
    IncrediMail IncrediMail
    Intuit Quicken
    Intuit Quickbooks
    McAfee Firewall
    McAfee Safe & Sound
    Microsoft Access
    Microsoft Excel
    Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server)
    Microsoft Internet Explorer
    Microsoft Money
    Microsoft Office
    Microsoft Personal Web Server
    Microsoft Windows Me
    Microsoft Word
    Palm Palm Desktop Software
    PestPatrol PestPatrol
    PowerQuest Drive Image
    PowerQuest Partition Magic
    PGP Corp. PGP
    Roxio GoBack
    Stomp BackUp MyPC
    Symantec Norton AntiVirus
    Symantec Norton CrashGuard
    Symantec Norton SystemWorks

    Software Hall of Fame Nominees
    I'm a positive sort of guy. There are some great programs out there, programs many of us have used happily for years. Let's name those products too. Let's give recognition where it's deserved. Here's the initial list of nominees:

    ActiveWord Systems ActiveWords
    Ahead Software Nero
    Cerulean Studios Trillian Pro
    Frontcode Technologies WinMX
    Geurt Vos Extended Operating System Loader (XOSL)
    Jasc Paint Shop Pro
    Lavasoft Ad-aware
    Linux
    Macromedia Dreamweaver
    Microsoft Excel
    Microsoft Internet Explorer
    Microsoft Windows XP
    Microsoft Windows 2000
    Mozilla Firebird
    Opera Software Opera
    David Harris Pegasus Mail
    PepiMK Software SpyBot
    Poco Systems PocoMail
    Qualcomm Eudora
    Rainy's Rainlendar
    Symantec Norton Ghost
    Sygate Personal Firewall Pro
    RIT Labs The Bat!
    WinZip Computing WinZip
    VMWare, Inc. VMWare
    Zone Labs ZoneAlarm

    SFNL Forums member Fuzzbutt took the high road even before I did when he started the more upbeat Software Hall of Fame thread on the forums.

    I'd like to thank all the many contributors to Software Hall of Shame list. While not a full list, here's a good starting at naming all the players, including both newsletter readers and SFNL Forums members:

    Alejandro Lorenzo, Allshebe, Aphoria, Arekyyz, Arnfinn Kristoffersen, Basx, Blitzer99, Bob Baird, Bob Dickson, BurBunny, Clayton Blades, Cluttermagnet, Corey Lawson, Cybernut, DaKat, David L. Benton, Denny Mickelson, DoctorMidnight, Epp_b, Frank, FuzzButt, Gary Lyte, Gary Stanley, Genaldar, Gengar56, Glen8, GolfProRM (forum moderator), Greg Smeltzer, Greengeek, Halppo, HappyMan, henderrob, ibe98765, Intedeco, Jack Harper, Jalbino, James Ko, JBRedmound, Jeber (community moderator), Jeffrey C. Combs, Joe Schumacher, John C. Lewis, John Howard, John McCurdy, Joshgard, Ken Young, Len Steele, LilBambi (senior moderator), Marcos P. Lagomarsino, Mary Grabanski, Michael D. Bray, Michael Horowitz, Mike Yada, Mrainy, Mr Llanga, Nicole Chardenet, Nlinecomputers, Noel Beyleveld, Nucatlue, Optimized, Pablo, Paul Thornett, Peachy (forum moderator), Pgirl, Philip Gilly, Prelude76, RabidWolf, RobertM, Rob Peirce, Rodney Gavin Bullock, Ron Marraccini, Scorpio, Scott McMahan, Sea, SocBum, Spyrias, Steven Patterson, Teacher, Temmu, Thabu Pienaar, ThunderRiver (forum moderator), TomDavisSr, Untergeek, Wacky Packs, Walterius, and Wrecklass.

    Back to the Top


    AT&T Broadband to Comcast Conversion: June 30th
    The deadline for the AT&T Broadband transition to Comcast is fast approaching. This changeover affects literally millions of broadband cable Internet subscribers located all over the U.S. (I'm one of them too.) The transition is scheduled to happen on June 30th, barring unforeseen circumstances.

    Comcast has been pumping out email messages warning about the switchover every few days. They all say the same thing: Install the Transition Wizard. But supposedly all this tool does is change your email POP and SMTP server names on June 30th. It only works with Outlook Express, I'm told. I'm also told that Comcast only supports email access to its servers with Outlook Express. Some Eudora users have reported problems. I guess all of us about-to-be Comcast users will find out in a couple weeks.

    MESSAGE ABOUT YOUR SCOT'S NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIPTION: If you're an AT&T Broadband customer, supposedly Comcast will be forwarding your email to your new Comcast email address after June 30th. However, I have heard from numerous SFNL subscribers who are currently on Comcast (many who went through the @Home transition), that you should not count on Comcast to do the right thing competently. I am suggesting that you either temporarily change your SFNL subscription to another email address or that you actively make the change once you are given your new Comcast address. Click the link in this sentence to quickly and painlessly change your email address for your Scot's Newsletter subscription.

    Please read the instructions carefully. This works perfectly if you know two things:

    1. Your exact subscription address
    2. Whether you get the Text or HTML edition of Scot's Newsletter.

    You'll find both bits of information at the very bottom of any received copy of the newsletter.

    Inside Information on Comcast
    I'm printing this very instructive email message from SFNL subscriber and AT&T Broadband/Comcast customer Jim Tepe. If you're in the same boat that Jim and I are in, you'll find this interesting:

    I ran into trouble with the "Transition Wizard" as soon as I installed it. My Windows XP computer would not boot up except into Safe Mode. It took another phone call and almost half an hour for the tech support rep to tell me how to delete the folder the program had installed. The Transition Wizard does not provide an uninstall routine in Add or Remove Programs. After I deleted the folder, the computer worked fine again. Please tell everyone to be wary of Comcast's Transition Wizard.

    The Comcast Customer Support Center also told me that all the Transition Wizard changes is the POP and SMTP mail settings. And they just gave me the names of those servers so I could enter them manually on June 30th:

    POP3 incoming mail server: mail.comcast.net
    SMTP outgoing mail server: smtp.comcast.net

    I will wait till I get a error message, something like Server Not Found, on June 30 and manually change my server names. It seems to me to be useless software unless you do not know how to change them yourself.

    I have been extremely satisfied with my service through AT&T Broadband. It is many times better than my previous service with @Home. There have been no outages with ATT that I have noticed, neither mail or Internet. I hope Comcast is at least as good as AT&T. --Jim Tepe (Colorado)

    Prompted by a long string of back and forth messages between Jim and myself, I called Comcast myself to get some answers. First, I learned that, like Jim, the first part of my email address will not be changing (there's no conflict with an existing Comcast customer). If you have a conflict, you will have probably already received an email from Comcast on this point.

    Comcast does not itself provide newsgroup access. It has contracted with a third-party company called Giganews to provide that service to its customers. The rep I talked to explained that once you have your Comcast user id (on June 30th), then you'll be able to login to the Comcast home page and there will be detailed instructions about how to sign-up for newsgroup access. From past correspondence with existing Comcast customers, I believe this to be the Comcast/Giganews sign-up page.

    You have to wait until June 30th anyway, so you might as well read the instructions they provide at that time.

    If you're an AT&T Broadband customer, tell me what happens to you on June 30 when Comcast completes the conversion. And give Comcast an honest letter grade (A for excellent, F for fail) on how well it handled your conversion.

    Back to the Top


    Windows and Broadband Information You Can Use!
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    New! Tips for Linux Apprentices: Check Your Linux 'ISO'
    Welcome to a new, recurring section of Scot's Newsletter called Tips for Linux Apprentices. It's become clear to me that a growing percentage of Windows users (including me) are interested in at least dabbling with Linux. You may not be ready to chuck Windows just yet, but it can't hurt to educate yourself either.

    Tips for Linux Apprentices is aimed at Windows users who would like help figuring out how to download, install, configure, and use Linux. The plan is to offer a new installment of this series in every issue of Scot's Newsletter.

    Most of the material you'll read in this section comes from Bruno of Amsterdam, one of the moderators of the All Things Linux forum at Scot's Newsletter Forums. Bruno is helped by All Things Linux co-moderators Peachy and ThunderRiver, as well as other forum members who have posted in the highly useful Tips for Linux Starters thread.

    Bruno, who modestly describes himself as "only a normal Linux-user giving tips to other Linux-users," envisions over 60 installments of the Tips for Linux Apprentices series. He's already published many of them in the Tips for Linux Starters thread. Bruno, Peachy, and ThunderRiver have also helped several SFNL Forums members successfully install Linux on their computers. And they go about it in a friendly, non-judgmental way. So, if you like the first tip in the series, check out the rest.

    Checksumming A Downloaded Distro
    So, you want to try Linux? If you don't opt to purchase Linux from one of the operating system's major suppliers, your other option is to download a free copy from the Internet. Generally speaking, Linux distros (Linux distributions or versions) are tens of megabytes in size. So you need a fast broadband connection or the ability to tie up your dial-up connection for hours and hours. Two top resources for finding Linux distro download links and learning more about them are LinuxISO.org and DistroWatch.

    Downloaded distros have the .ISO filename extension, which is why they're commonly called ISOs. For a quick definition of an ISO, see LinuxISO.org's What is a Linux ISO?. For more details on ISOs and how they differ from other downloads, see this SysLinux by Peter Anvin FAQ about ISOLinux.

    A future installment of Tips for Linux Apprentices will cover working with the download to install it. But your first step after downloading an ISO is to check its file integrity. A large file is more susceptible to corruption during download than a smaller one, and many a Linux installation has been stymied by a corrupt ISO. So don't blow this off as a problem that couldn't happen to you. Do it before you burn your ISO to a CD.

    The best way to check the integrity of your downloaded ISO file is with the md5sum checksum. The Linux distro download site should offer either a Web page display or a separately downloadable text file containing a string of checksum characters. This string has to exactly match the string you get when you run md5sum against your downloaded ISO file.

    For Linux Users
    The md5sum checksum functionality is built into Linux. To begin the process under Linux, change directories to the wherever you downloaded your .ISO file. Once there, open a "console" or "terminal" and type this command after the prompt and press Enter:

    md5sum {DOWNLOADEDFILENAME}.iso

    (Note: Replace the {} and what's inside them with the actual name of your downloaded .ISO file.)

    Next, skip down to the "Analyze the Results" subhead and pick up the steps there.

    For Windows Users
    To begin the process under Windows, download the Etre.org the md5sum.exe command-line utility or Luke Pascoe's md5summer Windows utility.

    To use the DOS/Windows command-line utility, copy the md5sum.exe file to the proper directory:

    For NT/2K/XP: Put md5sum.exe in {Your Windows Folder}\system32 folder

    Then open a command prompt:

    Windows 95/98/Me: Start > Run > command
    Windows NT/2K/XP: Start > Run > cmd

    Use the CD command to change directories to the wherever you downloaded your .ISO file. Once there, type this command and press Enter:

    md5sum {DOWNLOADEDFILENAME}.iso

    (Note: Replace the {} and what's inside them with the actual name of your downloaded .ISO file.)

    The utility will create a checksum you can compare to the string offered by the Linux .ISO download site.

    Analyzing the Results
    Creating the checksum will take a few minutes. Once it's done, you can visually compare at least the first six characters and the last six characters of the two checksum strings. If they match, you're all set. It's time to burn your CD -- and that's the subject of our next tip.

    If you're a dial-up user or just don't want to put up with managing and .ISO file, you can buy most Linux distros from their distributors, or try CheapBytes for an inexpensive Linux distro retailer.

    Thanks to Windows forum moderator GolProRM for contributing to this tip.

    Back to the Top


    Q&A
       - Application Slow-Downs in Windows XP
       - Getting Religion About Spam
       - Wish upon a Satellite

    Application Slow-Downs in Windows XP

    Question: I have a baffling network problem. My Windows XP system is up to date with service pack 1, all critical security patches, and it's a fast 2.5GHz CPU with 1GB of RAM. When I start many applications on my system, there's a delay of about five seconds before they start. If I disable my Client for Microsoft Networks, everything works fine without delay -- except that I can't access my network. I've tried repairing windows, checking thoroughly for trojans and viruses, a new network cable, a new IP address, uninstalling the one Security Fix that produces similar symptoms, a new network card, uninstalling NIS firewall and NAV, and several other things. But no matter what I do it stays the same. Any suggestions. --Dave Collins (Posted on SFNL Forums)

    Answer: I think I have your solution. As you noted, some people experience slow app performance after the 811493 (MSO3-013) patch is installed on their Windows XP PCs. (Although Microsoft recently re-released that patch and it seems to be doing better.) Since that isn't you, I'm betting that you've been struck by another common malady that slows app speed: the LMHOSTS file and settings. You'll find these settings for LMHOSTS here:

    Network Connections > Right-click your main network connection, choose Properties > Double-click "Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)" > Click Advanced button > Select WINS tab.

    The solution I've seen recommended and posted in various places is to remove the check mark beside "Enable LMHOSTS lookup" on the WINS tab and/or "Disable NetBIOS over TCP/IP." People report that the application slow-downs go away.

    Although I've never had the symptoms, I tested this personally and found it has no effect on app-loading performance for me. But my understanding is that this problem applies either all or mostly to people who use TCP/IP only. (I currently use IPX/SPX, and don't even have an LMHOSTS file on my PCs.)

    If you try this, please try one change first, then the other and report back what happens. Disabling LMHOSTS (which is similar to the Windows HOSTS file, but for local networking), is the more likely of the two -- although they are related. If you find that you solve the problem this way, I would strongly recommend that you open the LMHOSTS file and check how many entries are in it. You'll find it here:

    {Your Windows Directory}\System32\Drivers\Etc\LMHOSTS

    If there are a lot of entries in this file (which doesn't have a filename extension, and it is NOT the LMHOSTS.SAM file), that may be the whole problem. You might make a backup of the file and simply erase all or most of the entries.

    For more information, see these Microsoft Knowledgebase articles:

  • LMHOSTS File Information and Predefined Keywords
  • How to Write an LMHOSTS File for Domain Validation and Other Name Resolution Issues --S.F.


    Getting Religion About Spam

    Question: My question is about the mail-filtering tool called POPFile, which many people have found does an excellent job with managing spam. In a past issue of the newsletter, you wrote: "I have POPFile 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!)."

    Is not having to master and run another application some sort of religious vow or something? I'm another big fan of POPFile, been using it for a couple of months, and have found it to be astoundingly accurate. Once the initial configuration of Eudora to use POPFile's proxy mail server is done, it's incredibly simple to master and run. --Chris Boyer

    Answer: Chris, I understand your point. For some people, the efficiency of POPFile is worth the added overhead of having a separate program to manage. But I think most everyone would agree that not having to launch a separate program just to manage spam would be greatly preferred. I've written about my reasons for this pretty extensively. Look back through the Let's Fight Sp@m series.

    Bottom line: If we all have to learn and use a whole other program to kill spam, it might be just as easy to delete it in place ourselves. This is about productivity. It's always been about productivity. Bottom line: Almost all the solution providers agree with me, some somewhat secretly. Most are planning email-client-specific solutions. POPFile is installed on my system, but frankly, Spamnix does nearly as good a job, and I don't have to do ANYTHING but review the Spamnix file once in a while. Life is short. I don't want a new job managing spam.

    I have given POPFile a lot of ink for a good reason: I think it represents the most promising client-oriented technology. There is an Outlook plug-in for POPFile. Well, wake me up when it has a Eudora plug-in. I'll be the first to climb up on the rooftop and sing its praises. --S.F.


    Wish upon a Satellite

    Question: Now that we are on Bresnan Cable here in Colorado (sold by Comcast after the AT&T Broadband deal), things aren't much better. We're facing $42.95 a month for cable Internet plus $47.95 for digital TV. While it's possible to drop down to Basic Cable TV, we prefer to get some of the premium channels. So could you send me some links on some of the two-way satellite companies? --Rob Holton

    Answer: I have noticed an increasing number of questions about satellite broadband recently. I've even received some somewhat angry email complaining that I haven't reviewed any two-way satellite products since December of last year.

    The truth is that not that much has changed in this area over the last year or so. There are two major players, StarBand and Hughes Network Systems, which makes DirecWay. StarBand has been in Chapter 11 for some time now, but according to a spokesperson it is doing well and hopes to emerge in the near future.

    StarBand is also in process of beta testing new hardware and a new service. I was not offered a chance at those trials, which weren't opened to anyone who didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment and service commitments. I've heard there's a performance increase with the new service.

    I did write an initial review of StarBand Small Office, the last new offering from the two-way satellite company. Apparently StarBand is also going after the lower-cost market, just judging by its ads. I don't know much about it, but if you click the StarBand ad in the last issue of Scot's Newsletter, it offers a rate "as low as $60 a month." Or check StarBand's standard sign-up page. I'm not sure if there's a difference.

    In the past I've reported extensively on Pegasus Communications, a company that resells Hughes Network Systems' DirecTV service. For a time, they were also reselling the DirecPC service (before it was renamed DirecWay) under their own name, Pegasus Express. But near as I can tell, Pegasus is not offering that service now.

    EarthLink Satellite is another repackaging of Hughes Network Systems' DirecWay two-way satellite service. EarthLink has twice declined my request to receive a temporary evaluation installation of its EarthLink Satellite service for the purposes of reviewing its service.

    Hughes Network Systems is the biggest player in this space with its DirecWay service. I have never managed to get Hughes to respond to any of my emails or calls with requests to review its satellite service. I would still be interested in reviewing DirecWay if anyone knows someone over there who can help me get their attention. One thing I will pass along, most SFNL subscribers who have DirecWay report being very satisfied with it.

    Satellite Futures
    The next wave in satellite Internet is Ka-band satellites. The two big players there are Hughes with its planned SpaceWay service line and a new company called WildBlue, which has a healthy list of well known satellite, space, and media companies either allied with it or backing it, including EchoStar, TV Guide, and Liberty Media.

    Ka band represents the future. The vendors involved are talking about data-transfer rates of up to 3Mbps, which is nothing to sneeze at. Hughes is talking about a first Ka-band satellite launch this year with service available in "early 2004." WildBlue also plans a 2004 launch of its service.

    For quick access to all of Scot's Newsletter's extensive hands-on information about two-way satellite services, check the Two-Way Satellite Broadband page. --S.F.

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

    Back to the Top


    Link of the Week: Geektools' GeekTel
    Do you travel on business? Do you need a broadband connection when you do? Who doesn't! But trying to find a hotel or motel that has broadband is next to impossible with the traditional travel-oriented sites. But a little-known website called Geektools provides an international database of hotels that provide broadband to their guests. It's called GeekTels. And it's just what a lot of us have been looking for. Thanks to InternetWeek Senior Editor Mitch Wagner for telling me about it.

    The Link of the Week Awards Site
    I also have another kind of Link of the Week this time. Scot's Newsletter, and its predecessors Windows Insider and Broadband Report, have been picking Links of the Week since January of 2000. That's about three and a half years of Links of the Week. I recently went through every single one of these selections, and was surprised to find that most of them are still out there and still very cool. So I created the new Link of the Week Award Winners Web page on the Scot's Newsletter site. If your site has ever been picked as a Scot's Newsletter Link of the Week, you might be interested to know that I've commissioned my graphic artist (ex-WinMagger Heide Balaban) to create a "Link of the Week" award button that you can place on your site if you like. I'll offer that as soon as its ready.

    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: 5 Quick Tips
    Most of this issue's tips were submitted by SFNL readers or forum members. You're sure to find at least some of them useful.

    Tip #1: Antispam Tip
    Does your email package automatically confirm "Read Receipt" requests? If so, you could be giving spammers an easy way to confirm that your email address is valid. This tip is specific to the Microsoft Outlook email program, but the concept is applicable to virtually any email software. Here's how SFNL reader Joseph Majchrowicz solved the problem in Outlook:

    Several spam emails I have deleted lately have prompted an Outlook dialog to open stating that the sender requested an acknowledgement that the mail was received. Outlook users should make sure that this functionality is not configured to send a read receipt automatically, because that would validate your address to spammers. You'll find the settings for controlling read receipt requests at the bottom of this dialog (Office 2002):

    Tools > Options > Email Options button > Tracking Options

    This setting should never be placed to 'Always send a response.' --Joseph Majchrowicz

    Tip #2: Ctrl-Shift-Esc for TaskMan
    In the last issue I wrote about how to access Windows XP/2000's Task Manager. One way to do that is with the Ctrl-Alt-Del keyboard combination. Here's another way:

    Try Ctrl-Shift-Esc to open Task Manager. --Scott Noga

    Tip #3: Scraps
    One of the most under-appreciated things you can do in Windows is "Scraps." Just select a section of a document in Word or WordPerfect and drag and drop it onto your desktop. It's great when you need to rearrange parts of a large document and don't want to risk losing them in the Clipboard. It's also good if you want only want to email part of a document. --Peter Intrator

    Tip #4: Make AIM Ads Disappear
    The AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) Windows client (not the America Online dial-up software) displays two separate ad windows that you may find annoying. This tip prevents those ads from appearing:

    1. Exit the AOL Instant Messenger Windows client if its running.
    2. Open your AIM program folder and create the "AIM with Ads" folder.
    3. Copy the aim.odl and advert.ocm files to the Aim with Ads folder.
       (If you ever want to reverse the tip, copy these back.)
    4. Use Notepad to open the aim.odl file in AIM program directory.
    5. Search for "advert" entry. You'll find two instances.
    6. Delete the word "required" after each advert entry.
    7. Save aim.odl and exit Notepad.
    8. Delete the "advert.ocm" file in AIM program directory.

    The tip does not reclaim the space the ads used in the AIM client window, but the ads disappear for good. --Atari, SFNL Forums member

    Tip #5: Windows Media Player 6.4
    Windows XP comes with Windows Media Player 8.0. While you have the option to upgrade to Windows Media Player 9.0 via Windows Update, the old reliable Windows Media Player 6.4 is also installed on your computer. You'll find on the drive Windows XP is installed on here:

    \Program Files\Windows Media Player\

    The file name is: mplayer2.exe

    Just double click it to launch. You can change file associations for the specific file formats on the View > Options > Formats tab. This version of Media Player does not support many newer file formats that Microsoft and others have released. But you may find it preferable for long-standing video and older sound formats, for example.

    Do you have a Windows or broadband tip you think SFNL readers will like? Send it along to me, and if I print it in the newsletter, I'll print your name with it.

    Back to the Top


    Thread of the Week: Windows XP Services
    With nearly 1,400 members and about 19,000 posts, Scot's Newsletter Forums is getting to the point where you can't pick just one thread any more. There are just way too many useful things going on there. I also can't read it all, but it's pretty easy to scan for what interests you.

    I spent some time poking around the forum this week and came away mightily impressed with the Windows forum thread called Windows XP Services. Windows XP users have lots of questions about the services running on their systems, and this thread provides serious answers, both with explanations from knowledgeable people and also links to excellent resources around the Web that will explain things to you.

    If you're a Windows XP user, you owe it to yourself to check out this thread on SFNL Forums. Thanks to Yellowpike, Dryhumor, and moderators ThunderRiver and GolfProRM for their contributions to this thread.

    SFNL Forums members, 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.

    Back to the Top


    Newsletter Schedule
    I will be paring back to one issue a month for the summer because of vacation time. Currently planned issue dates are July 22, August 19, and September 16. (I may sneak out an issue, possibly an abbreviated one, on July 8 too.)

    Did you know you can always find out when the next issue of Scot's Newsletter is scheduled to appear by visiting the Scot's Newsletter home page?

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