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July 9, 2003 - Vol. 3, Issue No. 48

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • The Comcast Report Card
  • More on Verizon DSL
  • Revisiting the D-Link DI-604 Router
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Dispelling Hall of Shame/Fame Confusion
       - Windows Product Activation Glimmer of Hope?
       - ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 Progress
       - DoNotCall.gov
       - Top 10 Malicious Code Threats for June
  • Review: Vonage VoIP Broadband Phone Service
  • Tips for Linux Apprentices: Installation
  • Link of the Week: The Gazette
  • Tip of the Week: Working with System Restore Points
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.


    The Comcast Report Card, Part I
    Because I've received fewer than 20 "grades" from AT&T Broadband users who underwent the conversion on June 30th, I'm going to hold off on assigning Comcast a grade for the conversion process. Instead, I'm going to tell you about my experiences.

    The short form is that I was able to convert my email from AT&T Broadband to Comcast with less than an hour of messing around, and with only a moderate level of annoyance.

    I opted not to use Comcast's Transition Wizard. I never installed it. And, frankly, I'm guessing that at least 90 percent of Scot's Newsletter readers would not have needed the Transition Wizard. Some of the downsides of this "you better use it" piece of software are that it:

    1. Only works with Outlook Express.

    2. "Doesn't work for everyone."

    3. Royally messed up at least some people's computers.

    If Comcast had spent even a tenth of the time and money it spent to create a decent set of instructions on how to configure your email package, it wouldn't even have needed the Transition Wizard. And probably would have ended up with fewer problems as a result. But, no, Comcast insists on believing its customers are stupid.

    The interesting part is that Comcast did write an almost perfect set of manual instructions, both for Outlook Express and for several other email clients:

  • For Outlook Express
  • For additional (unsupported) e-mail clients

    Trouble is that Comcast required people to set up Secure Socket Layers (SSL). While that point is only implied under the Outlook Express directions, it was implicitly assumed by the directions for Eudora and other email clients. As it turns out, SSL wasn't needed at all, and what's more, it greatly slows down your email. It took me several days to realize that I could turn it off and my Comcast mail was just fine without it. Duh!

    Comcast also neglected to make the point that people making the transition should use their AT&T Broadband password to make their initial login to the Comcast servers. Knowing that would have saved me some time and aggravation. While I figured it out, it's a point that should have been stated explicitly.

    Finally, the manual directions describe how to configure newsgroups in Outlook Express (OE), but they're completely wrong. You have to apply to Giganews separately, configure a different newsgroup domain name than the manual instructions listed, and use a specific user name and password, supplied by Giganews, to access your news. Here's where you sign up.

    I'd be willing to bet that most Transition Wizard customers don't even know that they don't have newsgroups configured.

    That wasn't the end of the problems I experienced either. On June 30th, any page on the Comcast or Giganews sites that was secure was plagued by serious performance issues. I found that they repeatedly crashed IE 6.0 under Windows XP.

    Oh, and all those warnings in numerous emails from Comcast about how you wouldn't have email forwarding if you didn't install the Transition Wizard? They were, of course, bogus. After I logged in to the Comcast servers for the first time, there was a 15-minute delay, and then my attbi.com started forwarding automatically. That was automatic.

    Despite having to negotiate all these annoyances, I was able to set up mail, newsgroups, and also email forwarding in less than an hour. Like many of you, I'm experienced though. If you ask me, Comcast blew it by relying on transition software instead of doing the upfront documentation work to make this truly easy for everyone.

    All in all, I'd give Comcast a C- for my transition. They didn't make it easy, but then it wasn't that hard. So I personally can't really give them a lower grade. But I can tell you that of the 20 emails I have reporting on Comcast transitions, nearly half of them assign the letter grade of F.

    What was your experience? If you were an AT&T Broadband customer who recently transitioned to Comcast, how did your transition go? Please give me answers to these questions in your email message:

    1. What letter grade would you give Comcast for the transition (A, B, C, D, or F, with A being for excellent and F being for Fail)?
    2. Did you use the Transition Wizard?
    3. Do you use Outlook Express for your email?
    4. Did you configure newsgroups?
    5. Did you test that your attbi.com email address is being forwarded properly?
    6. Did you have to change the first part of your email address?

    Back to the Top


    More on Verizon DSL
    I can't remember a review I've done recently that was as enthusiastically received as last issue's preliminary coverage of Verizon's new $35-per-month DSL service. I should sign up for new broadband services more often. ;^)

    [Editor's Note: If they all happen as ... invisibly ... as this one, you have my blessing to get as many broadband connections as you want. Bet you didn't expect me to say that! --Cyndy.]

    I received a lot of email about PPPoE, Verizon, SBC DSL, creating the WAN miniport dialer, and other related topics. So in this issue I'm following up some of these details.

    Near as I can tell, SBC's PPPoE DSL service is very, very similar to Verizon's. I can't say that things I write about Verizon's services will apply perfectly in all cases to SBC's DSL, but I believe that most will be applicable. In fact, PPPoE DSL service from telephone companies, which has grown dramatically in usage over the last two or three years, is probably very similar all over North America.

    Verizon DSL in the Real World
    Since last time I've switched my entire network over to the Verizon DSL service and forced everyone at "SFNL Labs" to use the PPPoE DSL service. Result? Downloads are clearly slower. We knew that. But we don't just know it in the test tube of broadband performance tests. Now we know it in everyday use where it's noticeable.

    Remember that my point of comparison is Comcast's cable Internet service, which tests out at over 1Mbps. I was only able to qualify for Verizon's 768kbps downstream ADSL service. And Cyndy never commented on the change. I didn't tell her, and if she noticed, she kept it to herself. (Cyndy is a woman of a few, albeit choice, words in case you hadn't noticed.)

    For straight Web surfing, email sending and receiving, instant messaging, and so forth, the differences between 768kbps Verizon DSL and Comcast cable aren't noticeable. In fact, sometimes it feels as though the DSL service is faster in that department.

    Avoiding the Cheesy ISP Software
    Probably the most common response to my initial review was a hearty agreement with my statement that I didn't want ISP software installed on my computers. Those responses divide into two categories. One group wanted to know how they could avoid ever installing the software on Verizon (and other) PPPoE DSL installations. The other group wanted to know how they could remove the software after the fact. I'll address both, in that order.

    Verizon's CD installation is vastly annoying, curiously unable to back up in some places or be restarted midstream, and supremely frustrating in that it's not needed at all except for one little detail: You're never given your username and password in advance of installation. Those items are partially created by calls to the server through the installation routine.

    But there's a dirty little secret Verizon doesn't tell you about. You were assigned a default username when you signed up for your service. That username starts with the letters VZE (or, at least, mine did).

    Readers have told me that if you call up in advance and ask tech support for this default user name and a password, it is possible you will get them. (There used to be a skeleton-key username and password back when Verizon was called Bell Atlantic that was widely distributed on the Internet. So this has been going on for a long time.)

    Verizon business DSL customers are, in fact, given the username and password once they have three solid green lights on their Westell modems. So if you're going to call tech support, wait until you get to that point in the process. (See the last issue's review for more information.)

    This is as close as I can get you to avoiding the software installation. Read on to find out how to get rid of the software after it's installed.

    Configure the WAN Miniport Dialer
    Verizon is constantly changing its installation and logon software. I found three completely different login dialogs on my Verizon installation CD. It's bewildering. They all worked, but they worked differently. The reason I bring this up is that depending on when you got your Verizon DSL service, you may have different software than I do. The Verizon CD installed three different programs on my test PC. All three came with Add or Remove Programs uninstall routines, and they uninstalled adequately.

    Before removing the software, I recommend these five steps:

    1. Run the Broadband Advisor from Visual IP Insight (installed by the Verizon CD). Copy down the information on the Identification tab.

    2. You need that user name and password, so write them down too.

    3. Take a look at the existing WAN miniport network connection. Open Network Connections in Control Panel. Right-click the "Verizon Online" network connection icon and choose properties. Check out and note the settings on each of the five Properties tabs.

    4. Now make the new network connection. (These instructions are for Windows XP.) Open Network Connections in Control Panel. Under Network Tasks, click "Create a new connection." In the New Connection Wizard, click the Next button. Choose "Connect to the Internet" and click Next. Choose "Set up my connection manually" and click Next. Now select "Connect using a broadband connection that requires a username and password" and click next. Type "Verizon DSL" or whatever is applicable under "ISP name" and click Next. On the last screen type your username and type your password twice. In most cases you should leave the first two check marks below and remove the check mark for Internet Connection Firewall.

    5. Log off of your DSL connection by right-clicking the Verizon Online connection icon and choosing Disconnect. Then launch your new icon to test that you can connect with it. You should be able to connect without making any properties settings changes.

    At this point, the new connection is probably working. And with it, you're completely independent of the software the Verizon CD installed. You can uninstall all the software from Add or Remove Programs, and restart your computer.

    Before you gleefully skip off and do that though, I'm going to do something funny and tell you that maybe you shouldn't remove it. There are things that Verizon included that can be useful. The Control Pad gives you access to many account settings and lots of useful information and controls. The Broadband Advisor provides information that might come in handy in the event of trouble. The other piece of software, Help and Support, has a few good points too. And if you ever run into an issue with your Verizon DSL account, the tech support folk may want to use some of this software to troubleshoot. Of course, you could probably install it all then.

    Here's the ideal scenario, in my opinion. If you have multiple PCs, install all this junk on a PC you don't care much about. That way you still have access to all those happy Verizon bits, but you can keep your main PC free and clear of it. That's what I did. [Editor's Note: Great, that probably means it's on my computer. Maybe this isn't so invisible! --Cyndy.]

    Oh, and another thing about the Verizon software. Some folks wrote to ask me how I avoided installing MSN 8.0, since that installation appears as the last step in the Verizon installation process. Just say no! A dialog pops-up asking you whether you're ready to install MSN 8.0. Just click the Cancel button, and you can give MSN 8.0 a miss.

    Configuring Linksys Routers for Keep Alive
    With a broadband router like the Linksys BEFSX41, which is what I'm using with Verizon DSL at the moment, you don't even need your homemade Verizon DSL network connection icon. All the newer Linksys routers (including a BEFSR41 purchased in the last couple of years) provide a special PPPoE option on the main Setup tab in the Web configuration screens. Choose PPPoE from the WAN Connection Type drop-down menu. Type your Verizon (or other provider) user name and password. Then select the "Keep Alive" radio button. (I'm just using the default Redial Period.) Click the Apply button. While the instructions for doing this vary in other routers, products like the D-Link DI-604 have similar options and work just as well.

    Optimizing for PPPoE
    One of the many responders to the Verizon piece suggested I talk about optimizing the System Registry for a PPPoE DSL connection. Good point! In my neck of the woods, Verizon's servers are optimized for the maximum PPPoE MTU, which is 1492. Windows XP defaults to an MTU of 1500, so an adjustment is in order for ideal throughput. (Other Windows versions vary.) You should nevertheless check the maximum MTU setting for yourself, because different Verizon servers might behave differently. I have long preferred the Speedguide.net's Determining Your ISP's MTU instructions for how to figure all this out.

    There is, of course, a raft of other Registry tweaks related to broadband performance that you might want to consider. If you intend to go there, one of these two Speedguide.net pages is required reading.

  • Windows 2000/XP Registry Tweaks
  • Windows 9x/ME Registry Tweaks

    Speedguide.net's TCP Optimizer does as good a job as any utility I've seen at implementing Registry tweaks in a convenient way. It also lets you save your existing Registry settings in advance -- something I strongly recommend that you do. This utility is not fully automatic, which means you need to learn about tweaks and settings changes to gain the maximum advantage. Change things slowly; don't assume all changes are good changes. They aren't always. Also, I do not recommend any of the other downloadable Register tweaks on the same page as TCP Optimizer.

  • Download TCP Optimizer
  • TCP Optimizer FAQ

    Back to the Top


    NetSwitcher keeps you going when you switch network connections!
    paid advertisement

    Revisiting the D-Link DI-604 Router
    Back on May 27 I reviewed the D-Link DI-604 Router and named it a Scot's Newsletter "Top Product!" Six weeks later I'm still using the product and I'm just as pleased with it now as I was then. And I'm hoping to review a more advanced D-Link router in the future. I have some additional information to pass along about the DI-604 based on questions I received and in some cases answers D-Link provided.

    First up is some additional specifics about the model I reviewed. The DI-604 has existed for quite some time, and it underwent an overhaul recently that heavily revised both its appearance and other aspects. What's confusing about that is that older models are still available at some retailers at a lower price. Although these products are similar, I can't vouch for them. I reviewed the E1 model of the DI-604. It's the only one I recommend.

    One reader wrote to ask whether the DI-604 employs stateful packet inspection in its firewall functionality. The DI-604 only inspects incoming packets, but according to its makers, it does have stateful packet inspection, as do all current models of D-Link's SOHO routers.

    The two nits I picked with the DI-604 in the review were its lack of stealth on port 113 (more on this in a minute) and the lack of a stand. IT manager David Matthews wrote to tell me that his company has standardized on DI-604 firewall routers for employees who work from home. He's noticed another problem: Heat dissipation. He recommends keeping the DI-604 vertical to promote cooling. One trick he's used is stick-on Velcro that attaches the router to a vertical surface, such as the side of a computer case. Another solution that D-Link should offer is the inclusion of a vertical stand -- like the one Netgear provides. A stand would be nice for neatness too: The DI-604 box is so light that the tension on Ethernet cabling connected to it can force it horizontal.

    The Port 113 Fix
    A number of people have written to tell me that it's easy to fix the port 113 stealthing issue that I brought up in the review. It's true, this is easy to fix, and I probably should have taken the extra time and space to include this in the review. The fix has been available on the Scot's Newsletter Forums site for several months. D-Link also offers detailed, step-by-step information on how to do this on this support page. (For other D-Link routers, see this page.)

    Adding stealth to your system with these steps takes under two minutes. It's very easy. The problem is that unless you're reading this newsletter, you probably don't know about it. And that is the point I was trying to make in the review. D-Link should offer an option in its configuration screens to enable or disable stealthing of port 113 IDENT. Perhaps it should ship its products with the port closed but not stealthed. But a simple check box would turn stealthing on.

    For those of you rolling your eyes because port stealthing is not true firewall protection, get with the program. Every layer of protection is important. The best security is about layers. Although this one doesn't keep attackers out, it makes you less likely to be a random target.

    What's more, while it's not what I recommend, the average home user can get by with little more than NAT-based port-stealthing, an up-to-date email-scanning antivirus program, and a spyware/anti-trojan product like Ad-aware or Spybot. Unfortunately, many have a lot less than that.

    Back to the Top


    60-Second Briefs
       - Dispelling Software Hall of Shame/Fame Confusion
       - Windows Product Activation Glimmer of Hope?
       - ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 Progress
       - DoNotCall.gov
       - Top 10 Malicious Code Threats for June

    Dispelling Software Hall of Shame and Fame Confusion
    I've received a lot of positive response on the Software Hall of Shame, and the more recent introduction of its antithesis: The Software Hall of Fame. Thanks for that.

    But it's become clear to me that just as many people are confused about what I wrote about this in the last issue of the newsletter. The Software Hall of Shame and the Software Hall of Fame are both works in progress. I do intend to publish a formal list of Software Hall of Shame finalists in an issue or two, once all the discussion dies down. (I'm not sure we've really had enough traffic on the Hall of Fame topic to really make the same possible there.)

    But let me be explicit about this: The nominees on the two lists published in the June 17 issue of Scot's Newsletter are not my nominations. I did make nominations to get the Software Hall of Shame started, and I've also added some of my own nominees to the Software Hall of Fame. But what you saw listed in the last issue was a summary of all the nominations posted in the Scot's Newsletter Forums or suggested in reader email.

    That's why there are contradictions. For example, Qualcomm Eudora (and others) is nominated on both lists. It's also why I'm not attempting to justify the inclusion of a nominee on either list. These aren't my picks; they're your picks. And if you feel passionately about this topic -- and I think many of you do -- then I would ask you to post your thoughts and opinions in the Scot's Newsletter Forums. (I can't promise that I'll be able to read and collate everyone's email on this subject.) Besides, you're missing out on a lot of good comments and insights if you duck the forums.

  • The Software Hall of Shame
  • The Software Hall of Fame

    Thanks to Cindy Ross, by the way, for pointing out that I published the wrong link to the Software Hall of Shame in the last issue. My apologies for any inconvenience that may have caused.

    Windows Product Activation Glimmer of Hope?
    Jim Eshelman, a Microsoft MVP whose content on the Aumha.org site has been quoted by this newsletter several times and has been the Link of the Week more than once, did an interesting piece in his E-List News about Microsoft coming closer to committing to a course of action that equates to this: When it abandons support of Windows XP, it will also provide an XP update that disables product activation. The actual statement is:

    Microsoft will ... support the activation of Windows XP throughout its life and will likely provide an update that turns activation off at the end of the product's lifecycle so users would no longer be required to activate the product.

    As Jim so aptly points out in his article, there's just one trick word in this statement, the word "likely." The inclusion of that word basically invalidates the statement. But I have to say that I'm pleased that Microsoft is thinking along these lines.

  • Microsoft Piracy Basics FAQ
  • WPA Won't Leave You in a Lurch - E-List News

    ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 Progress
    As previously reported, my tests of ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 are underway. And many SFNL readers have sent me their initial impressions of the product too. If you'd like to add to the collective knowledge, please send me your comments about the product.

    I will pass along this as I continue to test, while Zone Labs produced a whole list of features new to the product, it looks very similar to the old one. When you get deep into the various screens, you'll find that you have customizable controls specific to IPs and ports not available in previous versions of ZoneAlarm.

    Some of my annoyances with the product, like repeatedly getting the same message of discovery about a network already configured, are still there. Also, ZoneAlarm routinely blocks some things I don't want it to block, but its Alerts don't give me an easy way to prevent it from doing that in the future. Usability stuff is still an issue with this product.

    Despite those problems, I still trust it better than any other software firewall I've ever tested. And when you come right down to it, what's more important than that?

    DoNotCall.gov
    I sort of doubt you could have missed this since it was widely reported by the general press. But if telemarketer phone calls make you fume (and they do me), SFNL readers Joe Grochowski and Ronnie Perry wrote me to suggest pointing out that the FCC and FTC have jointly created a national Do Not Call database for all U.S. residents. When you add your phone numbers to this list, theoretically, you will get far fewer telemarketing phone calls.

    The state I live in has its own Do Not Call database, which I signed up for more than a year ago. Doing that eliminated more than 95 percent of the unsolicited phone calls I get. Yeah, this is the original spam: Phone spam. Because my state's Do Not Call list has been so effective, I signed up for the national Do Not Call list the first day it was offered, a few weeks back.

    I recommend you do the same. After 20 or 30 million households sign up for this, unsolicited telephone sales could begin to wither away. Too bad this same method will never work for email spam.

    Top 10 Malicious Code Threats for June
    For the month of June, 2003, Symantec's Security Response charted these 10 malware threats, with the first being the most prevalent. Percentages are the total of all submissions for North America.

    10237 W32.Bugbear.B@mm 39.03%
    1501 W32.Klez.H@mm 5.72%
    1240 W32.Sobig.C@mm 4.73%
    771 W32.Bugbear.B.Dam 2.94%
    675 W32.Mapson.Worm 2.57%
    519 W95.Hybris.worm 1.98%
    453 Trojan.Download.Chekin 1.73%%
    308 Backdoor.Winet 1.17%
    280 W32.Pinfi 1.07%
    253 W32.Sobig.E@mm 0.96%

    Back to the Top


    Review: Vonage VoIP Broadband Phone Service
    Want to use your broadband connection for something more than surfing and email? How about saving money on your phone service and long-distance phone calls? A company called Vonage offers voice over IP (VoIP) phone service to people who live anywhere in the U.S. All you need is DSL or cable modem service. Vonage can save you significant money on phone services and long distance charges. In fact, you might not have any long-distance charges at all. Calls to Canada, for example, are free. And overseas International calls are very inexpensive. What follows is a review of the service by SFNL reader and Vonage customer, Mike Strock.

    Vonage Broadband Phone Service Is Tops
    I've been using Vonage for about five months now with my 768kbps DSL service. It works extremely well, and the sound quality is as clear as conventional telephone service.

    There have been no outages since I've been using Vonage, and the only glitch during that time was that until recently it did not have local 911 service. If you called 911 you would be routed to the nationwide 911 service and then be routed locally once they figured out where you were calling from. Recently Vonage resolved that issue, though. You are automatically routed to the correct local 911 call center now. The only hitch is that call center can't see your address based on caller ID. They can see your phone number, but you will have to tell them your address verbally.

    Vonage has two plans for home users. One is a 500-minute-per-month plan for $26 or an unlimited plan for $40 a month. Both plans let you call anywhere in the U.S. or Canada for that flat rate. If you go over 500 long-distance minutes a month, additional time is charged at 3.9 cents per minute. Local and regional calls are completely unlimited even with the $26 plan. For more on what "regional" means, see this Vonage Web page.

    In some parts of the country the definition of regional is pretty liberal. In some states, for example, you get the whole state, no matter where you are. (In Scot's neck of the woods, though, calling three of the five surrounding towns would be out-of-region, just as it is with Verizon.)

    Vonage has a long list of great features:

    1. You get voicemail for free, and it can be retrieved over the Web. If you are traveling, you can check your voicemail and listen to your voicemail over the Web. Plus you can get email notification of pending voice messages.

    2. Caller ID, caller ID blocking, call waiting, call forwarding, *69 (repeat calling), call transfer, and other up-level phone features are all free with Vonage.

    3. You can also pick any of the area codes that Vonage supports in the U.S. and have additional "virtual" numbers tied to your original number. For instance, I'm in the 425 area code for my main number, but I also have a 214 tie line. The addition of the 214 number lets friends and relatives in another state save money on calls they make to me.

    4. Incoming Vonage calls are free, so you could forward your cell phone to the Vonage number and not have the minutes counted against your cell phone minutes.

    5. All calls to Canada are considered U.S. calls, so there is no additional International calling cost. My company has a developer and a vice president of sales based in Canada. We call them essentially for free using Vonage.

    6. Vonage also has small business plans that give you a fax line in addition to your regular line at no extra charge.

    7. Vonage subscribers get attractive international long-distance rates too, such as Hong Kong, London, and Moscow for 5 cents per minute and Mexico City, Paris, Sydney, and Tel Aviv for 6 cents. For a full list of international rates, consult this page on the Vonage site.

    8. Vonage recently added a toll-free number option that gives residential or business customers an 866 tie-line with 100-inbound minutes of calls that are toll-free to the caller. The option costs $5 a month. Additional minutes are billed to the Vonage customer at 4.9 cents a minute.

    Another benefit is that if you sign-up a friend for a Vonage plan, both of you get a free month of service. If any SFNL readers are interested in signing up for Vonage and getting a free month of service, send me an email and I'll respond with the information needed to do that. Email me at: mike_strock@hotmail.com.

    How does Vonage connect your telephone handsets to your broadband system? You need an inexpensive broadband router with at least two ports and at least one port free. The number of ports you need is one more than the number of PCs connected to your network. A single-port broadband router connected to a hub or switch is also fine. Vonage sends you a device called an MTA (multimedia terminal adapter) that plugs into your free router port. The MTA has a standard phone jack that you plug your telephone handset into. If you have more than one phone, there are several possibilities, but the easiest way is to set up a wireless phone system, which is what I have.

    It's possible to completely cancel your local and long distance service with all other companies and make Vonage your only phone service provider. If you're a DSL customer with shared phone-line/DSL-line service though, you will not be able to cancel the telephone part of your service. You can turn off any of its extra features though.

    The only downside to Vonage that I've noticed is that there's more than one way for your phone service to go down. If you lose your Internet connection or if the power goes out in the house, your phone service is out. But since most people have cell phones as a backup, I don't consider it a big problem.

    Vonage is less expensive, more convenient, and vastly improves my telephone service. I may have tried it without any real expectation of keeping it, but there's no way I'm going back to my traditional phone service.

    Back to the Top



    This Space Available.  Email for Details.
    Scot's Newsletter Advertising Information

    house advertisement

    Tips for Linux Apprenctices: Installation
    First-time (and even second- and third-time) Linux installers have questions. And we have answers. In this second part of our ongoing series of Linux tips, we're addressing installation issues and planning for such things as a floppy-boot disk, the file system, and partitions.

    Most of the material you'll read in this section comes from Bruno of Amsterdam, one of the moderators of the popular 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 (from which Linux Apprentices was developed).

    For this installment of Linux Apprentices, Senior Moderator LilBambi contributed significantly. SFNL Forums member Prelude76 also helped.

    Here are the links to the previous installments of Tips for Linux Apprentices:

  • Check Your Linux 'ISO'

    Now, on to the latest set of Linux tips!

    Basic Installation Guidelines
    Each and every time you install Linux, review these getting-started tips *before* you get into the installation routine. Print them out and pin them up on the wall. These tips are aimed primarily at Windows users who are experimenting with Linux or taking a first step toward making a transition to it. The underlying assumption is that you'll be running Windows and Linux on the same PC.

    Prior to Installation:

    1. Check out your PC's Linux hardware compatibility with a specific Linux distro without installing the distro at all. Use the information you find in the Scot's Newsletter Forums post to access a "live CD." Live CD's are distros that run completely from CD. Nothing is written to the hard disk, and no real install takes place. But you get the chance to work with a fully functional operating system.

    2. Create a solid backup of all important data on your computer -- even if it's on a partition that won't be effected by the install.

    3. Plan in advance how you want to configure Linux partitions and what file system you want to use, such as Ext3, ReiserFS, and so on.

    Note: You'll find advice on partitioning and file-system selection a later in this installment of Tips for Linux Apprentices.

    4. Check your computer's CMOS BIOS Setup screens for an entry something to the effect of plug-and-play-aware Operating System (it may be abbreviated as PnP). And if you find this setting, change it to "No."

    5. Check your computer's CMOS BIOS Setup screens for a drive boot-order setting. The order should be first CD-ROM drive, second floppy drive (if you have one), and third IDE-0 (your first hard drive).

    6. Connect all modems, network adapters, printers, scanners, card readers, and other devices that you plan to use with Linux and make sure that they are all turned on and ready to go.

    7. Open and read through the README and INSTALL text files on your Linux distribution CD.

    8. Always make and test a boot-floppy for each operating system installed on your PC prior to installing a new OS. If you already have a boot floppy, test it again.

    9. Defrag all Windows file-system portions of your hard drive. This is especially necessary if you did any repartitioning work in advance of your Linux install. You should always defrag your drive after you do a dynamic repartitioning (such as with PartitionMagic, Partition Manager, or Partition Commander).

    During Installation:

    10. Write down the root-password you'll create during installation.

    11. Don't use up all the free space from your Windows partition for your Linux installation (an option available in the Linux install routine). Leave some working-space there for adding new programs or temp files. CD-burning programs, for example, use at least a 700MB temp space. You don't want to cripple your Windows installation.

    12. Select the installation option that installs the bootloader Lilo or Grub in the your hard drive's Master Boot Record (MBR). This will automatically create a dual-boot menu that will appear each time you start your computer, allowing you to choose to load either Windows or Linux.

    For more tips and information about installing Linux, see Professor Norman Matloff's 17-page Beginner's Guide to Installing Linux. Note: An Adobe Acrobat PDF reader is required to retrieve the link.

    Establishing Smart Partitions
    Start by gathering the current information about your hard drive partitioning. Under Linux, you would do that by entering this command in the console:

    df -h

    Sample output for a two-hard-drive system might be something like this:

    File system Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on
    /dev/hdb1 5.8GB 1.8GB 3.7GB 33% /
    /dev/hdb6 5.0GB 1.8GB 3.3GB 35% /boot
    /dev/hdb7 3.9GB 2.5GB 1.3GB 67% /home
    /dev/hda1 19.0GB 14.0GB 4.7GB 75% /mnt/windows
    /dev/hdb8 5.7GB 63.0MB 5.4GB 2% /tmp

    The listing tells what lives on each partition. The symbol / represents the root, which is found in the partition /dev/hdb1 in this example. Make a note of what you find; the information could come in handy in the event of a need to reinstall, repartition, or recover from a crash. If you don't have Linux on your system yet, a trip into DOS's FDISK utility would provide some of this information (although it's less useful).

    In Linux, the term HDA is the first physical hard drive, HDB refers to the second hard drive, HDC is third, and so on. HDA1 is the first primary partition. HDA5 is the first logical partition on the first hard drive. By default Linux makes four primary partitions on each hard drive. It leaves the first primary partition as is and will make one of the remaining primary partitions the extended partition, as needed. As with DOS, the extended partition is said to contain the logical partitions.

    Everything in one partition is not a good idea, at least you should have a separate /home partition and give it space enough to grow as you add data. The clever thing about a /home partition is that when you do a re-install or upgrade you can leave it as it is, saving all your personal settings, mail, address-book, and other data.

    Some Linux distros are able to work with less than 500MB while still running an X shell interface. But our focus in this article is on conventional installations more commonly tried by first-time Linux users. So we're offering three different partition and allocation recommendations, based on the amount of free disk space you have available:

    With 5GB Free
    If you have at least 5GB of disk space to spare for the full installation version of most current Linux distros, this is our recommended minimum number of partitions and sizes:

    2GB for /
    2+GB for the /home partition
    500MB for the /swap

    Please note that anything larger than 500MB for the /swap partition would be a waste of disk space. The Linux installation process creates and allocates the Linux swap partition automatically.

    With 10GB Free
    With 10GB of disk space to work with, this would be a better allocation of space:

    1GB for /
    3GB for /usr (Most of the extra programs you install will reside here.)
    5+GB for /home
    500MB for /swap

    With 15GB Free
    If you have 15GB or more to spare, the ideal partition table is:

    500MB for /
    3GB for /usr
    20MB for /boot (For a few extra kernels to boot from.)
    500MB for /var (A lot of writing is done to the /var/logs.)
    500MB for /swap
    5+GB for /home
    5+GB for /backup

    Any additional disk space should be allocated to the /home and /backup partitions.

    Scot's Newsletter Forums member Prelude76 advises anyone installing SuSE to have a fairly large /opt partition, since this is where most third-party apps get installed.

    Some additional resources about Linux partitioning:

  • Linux-sxs.org's Partitions, General Info
  • Togaware.com's Suggested Linux Partitioning
  • The Linux System Administrators' Guide: Partitions

    Picking a File System
    You're probably at least aware of file systems such as Fat16, Fat32, and NTFS for Windows. Linux has Ext2, Ext3, ReiserFS, and XFS. The last three are journaling file systems. Ext3 is the same as Ext2 with the journaling capability added.

    A journaling file system allows quicker recovery in case of system crash or power failure. At the time of this writing, ReiserFS and XFS are new file systems that are still under development. We currently recommend the Ext3 file system to everyone.

    Some additional resources about journaling file systems:

  • Linux Gazette's Journal File Systems
  • Linux Magazine's Journaling File Systems

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    Link of the Week: The Gazette
    Ever wished for a newspaper front-end to the professionally published computer- and Internet-related news stories from well-known sites such as Yahoo News, CNET, eWeek, and so on? The Gazette may be just the place. Webmaster Scotterpops, also a frequenter of the now defunct WinMag Forums and the PCQandA.com forums (a past Link of the Week) run by ex-Winmagger Jason Levine, also includes links to his favorite computer-related places on the Internet, his own opinion pieces, tips, fixes, and a lot of useful information. It's all on the front page of the simply named Gazette. Check it out.

    I'd also like to point out a humorous site this week. Did you know July 25, 2003 is Systems Administrators' Day? Neither did I. And I'm not sure, but I don't think you'll find it listed among the ranks of official special days decreed by politicians in Washington, D.C. But that's the fun of Sysadminday.com. Anyone who works in IT will probably get a kick out of this place. It's tongue is planted firmly in cheek. I especially like the "Gift Ideas" section. But click around, there's a lot of funny stuff. Kudos to webmaster Ted Kekatos.

    Link of the Week Artwork
    Has your site been named a Scot's Newsletter Link of the Week? My designer has created a graphic you can display on your site that tells the world you're an award winner:

    http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/art/lotw.jpg

    Only websites that have been named Link of the Week are permitted to display this image on their sites or claim that they have been given the award. If you're not sure whether your site was awarded, please check the official list of Link of the Week Award Winners.

    I ask that sites that display this graphic encode it with a link back to the Scot's Newsletter site. That could be to the Scot's Newsletter home page, the main Link of the Week page, the original Link of the Week write-up of your site, or the Scot's Newsletter Subscription Center, your choice.

    A page with these instructions -- including an HTML code snippet -- will be added to the SFNL website as soon as time allows.

    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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    Tip of the Week: Working with System Restore Points

       - Working with System Restore Points
       - More Quick Access to Task Manager

    Working with System Restore Points
    The advice to create a named, saved System Restore point in Windows XP (and also ME) before installing a new piece of complex or potentially problematic software or hardware is routinely given out in newsletters and Web forums. But do you know how to do it?

    First, what is System Restore? This built-in recovery system in Windows XP automatically makes theoretically daily saves of your Windows Registry files so that you can revert to a previously good state in the event of system trouble. Roughly speaking, Windows makes one to three weeks of System Restore points. While you might be able to rely on an automatically created System Restore point, it's much better to create a restore point manually, naming it something like "Prior to ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 Installation." You'll know that way exactly which restore point to use if you need to use one.

    System Restore is no panacea. If you make multiple significant changes to your Windows installation, it could even conceivably cause more problems than it solves. For example, if you install Program A on Monday and Program B on Wednesday, and you start having trouble with Program A on Thursday, and treat the problem by reverting to your pre-Program A System Restore point, you will render both Program A and Program B inoperable.

    System Restore is also not a substitute for uninstalling programs. You should uninstall all programs that you have installed since a restore point before you revert to that restore point.

    Once you know its limitations, System Restore is a useful tool. To learn more about it, check out Windows XP's Help and Support Center. Run a search for System Restore, and you'll find several very useful links.

    Here's how to create a System Restore point. Navigate these menus to open the System Restore Wizard: Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore. In the wizard, choose "Create a restore point." On the next screen, give the new restore point a descriptive name. Press create.

    To restore a previously saved restore point, start the System Restore Wizard and on the first screen choose "Restore my computer to an earlier time." Navigate the calendar view by clicking emboldened dates (the bold shows when restore points were saved) to find the appropriate one. Click Next and follow through the process, which includes restarting Windows.

    To make saving restore points easier, drag and Ctrl-drag-and-drop the System Restore icon (whose location is described above) to the top of the Start menu.

    More Quick Access to Task Manager
    Thanks to reader Bev Nicholson for this tip. To bring up Task Manager, just right-click any empty spot on Windows' taskbar and select Task Manager from the pop-up menu. Like the Ctrl-Shift-Escape method I wrote about in the last issue, this one has the added advantage of working on the remote PC when you're accessing it via Remote Desktop Connection -- something I do every day of the week. Bev's tip has another advantage: it's easy to remember.

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

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    Scot's Newsletter Schedule
    I've mentioned in past that I reduce my publication frequency during the summer months because so many of you are on vacation, as am I. But there's been a change to my summer schedule. The previously planned July 22nd issue of Scot's Newsletter has been cancelled because of unexpected business travel. As a result, the next currently planned issue of the newsletter is in six weeks on August 19. Because that's a long time, I'm going to try to sneak in another issue somewhere. But if that doesn't work out, I'll see you the third week of August.

    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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