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August 19, 2003 - Vol. 3, Issue No. 49

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Review: Netgear 802.11g WLAN | Top Products!
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Security Pipeline Debuts! You Know Its Editor
       - You're Sick of MSBlast?
       - SpyBot-S&D Mini Review | Top Product!
       - Lavasoft Releases New Ad-aware Speed Update
       - Microsoft's Stealth TweakUI 2.10 Update
       - Battle of the Bayesian Spam Filters
       - Windows XP SP2 Not Until Next Summer
       - Re: Microsoft, Read This
       - What's Cooking
  • The Comcast Conversion Report Card
  • Thread of the Week: What Do You Think of Windows 'Longhorn'?
  • Tips for Linux Apprentices: Updating Your Distro
  • Link of the Week: FILExt.com
  • Tip of the Week: Classic Windows Tips
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.


    Review: Netgear 54Mbps 802.11g WLAN | Top Products!
    What a difference a year or two makes. I haven't been very positive about wireless networking over the last couple of years. I jumped in with both feet early on, trying out many products, even before the 802.11b spec was cast in stone. I've tested 802.11b access points, wireless routers, and wireless NICs from over a dozen companies, including Belkin, Linksys, Lucent/Orinoco, SMC, Sohoware, 3Com, Netgear, and D-Link to mention a few. I've continued to use 802.11b for solving some of my network problems (currently SFNL Labs sports 15 permanent nodes on its networks, with several other computers that are occasional connectors).

    What wasn't to like? Wireless networking is pretty bullet-proof for sharing Internet access. If that's what you're after, I think you'll find it reliable and worthwhile. But if you want to perform traditional networking tasks on your network, such as file transfer, remote access, and device sharing, you may have been in for a rude surprise under the 11Mbps-capped 802.11b. Performance was part of the issue. But the power of earlier 802.11b wireless products also wasn't great. Connection drop-off was a problem. (Although, in a corporate setting, the smaller area of effect could be an advantage.)

    When D-Link, Linksys, Netgear and other top-flight, low-cost wireless networking companies released full lines of 54Mbps wireless products early this year, I didn't rush to dismantle my 11Mbps 802.11b configuration (which used a combination of Linksys and SMC access points and wireless NICs). But that was my mistake. D-Link's stuff was the first to arrive here, but because they didn't send me enough equipment to actually rip out my wireless network and replace it with all new stuff, I did a limited test of it and didn't feel I had conclusive results.

    So when the PR firm for Netgear reached out to me about its new 802.11g 54Mbps product line, my response was, send me three WG602 access points and five WG511 wireless PC Card NICs and I'll give it a thorough review. I got one less wireless NIC than I wanted, but it was enough to test with. And the results were more positive than I hoped for.

    Setting It Up
    The Netgear product line uses a Web-based configuration screen for the access points. The printed quick-start documentation provides instructions for using your wireless network card to configure its WG602 access points. But if you're connecting a WG602 to a wired network, then any computer on the network can also reach the access point's Web-config screen via the wired connection to the access point.

    The Web address for each Netgear access point is a unique identifier that you type into your browser's address bar. The identifier uses part of the access point's MAC address for the identifier. Each WG602 comes with a strip of stickers with the unique identifier printed on them. You can place one on the access point. You can also change the identifier name in the config screens. The settings screens are excellent, and provide a good degree of control.

    I tested the initial connection to the Web-based config screens using the WG511 cards. There's a bit of a catch 22 to this. Your first step is to install a wireless NIC, which you can't be sure is installed properly until there's an access point to connect with. And vice versa. The quick-start documentation that comes with both products is quite good. I might have had trouble without it.

    I discovered an interesting phenomenon. On two of the three access points, the first time I connected to their config screens I had to place their antennas within a foot of the WG511-equipped computer I was using. Once the initial connection was made, the need for close proximity disappeared.

    You install the WG511 software before you insert the PC Card hardware. Windows XP has built-in controls for handling the management of wireless networks. But I prefer the software supplied with the Netgear WG511 NICs. To disable the XP stuff, follow these steps: Open Windows' Network Connections folder. Right-click the icon for your wireless connection and choose Properties. Click the Wireless Networks tab. Remove the check mark "Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings." After you do this, you'll find that the software that comes with the Netgear NIC has expanded functionality. Netgear also sells a PCI-card-based 54Mbps 802.11g wireless NIC, part number WG311 (not tested for this review).

    A couple of security points: Don't use the default SSID (wireless workgroup name) you'll find preconfigured. For example, Netgear products use the SSID "NETGEAR." And don't pick an obvious name like "Wireless" or something. In my neighborhood, I can see two of my neighbors' wireless networks. One has the SSID of "Linksys." Gee, that was hard to guess. Good thing I would never mess with this, but can anyone count on that from all their neighbors? Pick a name that's unique. Even more importantly, do not run in "ad-hoc" mode; use "infrastructure." Everyone should strongly consider this option. But if you live in an apartment building or in a densely populated or highly traveled area, enable encryption.

    Bottom line on setting up the Netgear access points and NICs: It's easy. Netgear got this right.

    In Operation
    This was the best part. The new 54Mbps wireless points are all power, all the time. They make the older stuff pale by comparison. In my house, where I had previously needed three wireless access points strategically placed to ensure signal strength and reliability, I quickly found that not only did I only need two access points, but any more than two caused problems due to signal overlap, which causes the signals to cancel each other. You also need to be careful to separate channels. Both issues, which I've encountered infrequently in past with the 802.11b hardware, are a much more prominent with 54Mbps. Access points should not be placed near each other, and if they're on the same SSID, they should use different channels.

    But enough of the caveats, switching to the new hardware transformed my wireless network. Where it had been wimpy for anything but Internet access, suddenly file transfers appear to occur as quickly as between wired PCs on a 100Mbps network.

    You may recall that I've written pretty extensively about connectivity issues with wireless networks and NetBEUI or IPX/SPX with NetBIOS peer networks. This problem is only apparent when you disable sharing of TCP/IP. For more on using other network protocols and how to disable TCP/IP sharing, see this Scot's Newsletter item.

    Anyway, wireless networking with IPX/SPX (the only protocol I tested with) is much improved too with the Netgear wireless solution. I've found that wireless-computer-to-wired-computer connections work just fine, whereas I couldn't count on that before.

    I still have a problem with PCs isolated to IPX/SPX for local networking when both computers are wirelessly connected to the network. It appears to be that they are expecting a TCP/IP connection. These computers can see each other (although it may take a long time before they do). But when you try to open them in the Network folder, you get the message that the other computer is not accessible, or you might not have permission to access it. When you enable TCP/IP file sharing, hey presto, the connection works perfectly. Now, it's possible I'm missing something on this, but I've tried everything I know. I welcome anyone's suggestions (see email link below).

    Windows XP (as did Windows ME and Windows 98) has a lot of trouble with network browsing. That problem seems to be exacerbated on wirelessly connected computers using IPX/SPX only for sharing. I've found that clicking XP's "View workgroup computers" option in your Network folder results in widely unpredictable results on wirelessly connected machines.

    I don't attribute any of these issues to Netgear's hardware or the software that ships with it. On the contrary, this hardware has fewer problems with non-IP networking than any other wireless solutions I've tested. The reality is, most networks are TCP/IP only. I'm not fond of that configuration because I'd prefer to separate Internet connectivity from network connectivity.

    Cut to the Chase
    Another thing I like about the Netgear access point is that the hardware is well designed for its use. The WG602 router has a single antenna and the slim unit comes with a stand that allows it to be positioned vertically. That minimizes footprint and maximizes signal strength. The PC Card Cardbus hardware includes both power and data-transfer LEDs. The WG511 is slim enough to allow a second PC Card in the adjacent slot, so long as Netgear card is in the top slot.

    At roughly $100 for a WG602 access point and about $55 per WG511 PC Card wireless NIC, Netgear's current wireless solution isn't dirt cheap, but it's both affordable and an excellent value. The company also sells the WGR614 54Mbps 802.11g 4-port Cable/DSL Wireless Router, available for about $95 on the street. It includes stateful packet inspection and network address translation, both of which add some security. (Scot's Newsletter recommends the use of wired broadband router products and networking wherever possible, adding wireless access points as needed to facilitate wireless networking. For some, usually smaller networks, it may be more cost effective to purchase a wireless router.)

    There's no question that Netgear's 802.11g product line is best of breed, and well deserving of the Scot's Newsletter Top Product! status I'm awarding it now. Before testing this product line, I'd given up on wireless networking as anything but a novelty. Now I'm back down to just one wire on my notebook PCs.

    My only question is, when are we going to be able to cut that AC cord too?

    If you have comments on this review, please use this link to send your email message.

  • Top Products! | WG602 802.11g access point and WG511 802.11g PC Card NIC, Netgear, 888-638-4327, support@netgear.com, lowest street prices: $100 and $55 respectively

    Back to the Top


    NetSwitcher keeps you going when you switch network connections!
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    60-Second Briefs
       - Security Pipeline Debuts! And You Know Its Editor
       - You're Sick of MSBlast?
       - SpyBot-S&D Mini Review | Top Product!
       - Lavasoft Releases New Ad-aware Performance Update
       - Microsoft's Stealth TweakUI 2.10 Update
       - Battle of the Bayesian Spam Filters
       - Windows XP SP2 Not Until Next Summer    - Re: Microsoft, Read This    - What's Cooking

    Security Pipeline Debuts! And You Know Its Editor
    We have met the editor, and it is me. That's right, I'm the editor of a newly launched online publication called Security Pipeline:

    http://www.securitypipeline.com/

    Many of you know that my day job is as one of TechWeb.com's Editors. Well, the TechWeb Network is in the process of launching a series of vertical sites called Pipelines. A couple months ago we launched Storage Pipeline, and you can bet your bottom dollar there are more Pipelines in the, ah, pipeline. I'm involved with all the Pipelines in one fashion or another. But I'm the Editor of Security Pipeline. So please come early, come often, amaze your friends (by sending them the link to it).

    Security Pipeline launched this Monday, so you're getting in on the ground floor. My partners (in crime) at Security Pipeline are InformationWeek security reporter extraordinaire George V. Hulme, Network Computing senior security technology boffin, Mike Fratto, and Network Computing contributing editor Don MacVitte (major programmer). We're also closely allied with Computer Security Institute (or CSI, the folks who do that annual FBI Security report), and CSI's Editor in Chief, Rob Richardson, will also be a Security Pipeline contributor. The content comes from a wide variety of excellent publications, as well as original articles assigned and edited by me. There's news, how-to, a prominent blog, in-depth features, and of course, opinions. Check out the reader poll this week: "What Grade Would You Give Microsoft So Far on Its 'Trustworthy Computing' Initiative?" Your choices are A, B, C, D, and F.

    You're Sick of MSBlast?
    Not as sick as you'll be if you get this thing -- or more specifically, a new variant of it or a far more mean-spirited piece of malware that exploits the same Windows flaw. It's not over; in fact, these darn things are never truly over. So listen up anyone using Windows XP, Windows 2000, or Windows NT 4.0: If you've ignored the whole Blaster thing until now, you're not out of the woods. And unlike many other infamous viruses, worms, and Trojans, Blaster (also known as MSBlast and LoveSan), is not borne by email. It can get to you in other ways. So you should definitely make diagnostic checks and take preventative steps.

    One of the most common symptoms is spontaneous rebooting every minute or two. If you experience that, the probability is high you have MSBlast. Disconnect your network connection, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete once, and look in Task Manager (or the Close Programs box) for an instance of "MSBlast.exe." Microsoft and many others, such as antivirus companies and ISPs, have issued stacks of instructions for fighting and preventing this computer scourge. I'm not going to reinvent that wheel. So, instead, here are some solid resources for you.

    One thing I will say that doesn't get said enough. The specific Windows Update patch that prevents Blaster on Windows XP is labeled:

    "Security Update for Windows XP (823980)"

    Telling people to get "the July 16" update as so much of the press has done is ludicrous, since Windows Update doesn't show the dates of patches. If the patch is already on your Windows XP system, it will be identified as "Windows XP Hotfix - KB823980." It will also be identified that way on Windows Update.

    This Microsoft Knowledgebase article is probably your best source of information about the problem and its solutions. Start here if you think your computer is infected with Blaster. The free Symantec end-user Blaster removal tool may be a help, but it can be tough to use if your computer is spontaneously rebooting.

    If prevention is your main concern and you're in a hurry, download and install the 823980 patch. You can also get the 823980 patch on Windows Update.

    There are already several variants of Blaster, unfortunately. To educate yourself, see Microsoft's Blaster Worm FAQ. Remember, there's no such thing as a "good" worm.

    IT Admins, get the scanning tool for your network.

    SpyBot-S&D Mini Review | Top Product!
    A while back I promised this newsletter's audience a review of PepiMK Software's Spybot Search & Destroy, a spyware/adware/Trojan removal utility that has gained popular acclaim, especially over the last year. Because of a conversation with PepiMK's Patrick Kolla a couple months ago, I've been waiting for the next version. But it's apparently taking longer than expected, and Patrick has stopped responding to my emails. So ... when SFNL subscriber K.A. Wilson wrote me the other day asking me whether Spybot was the one to get, I dashed off a quick mini review of Spybot 1.2 in reply. It occurs to me that the other 43,000 of you might want to read it too, though.

    I offered some comments about Spybot 1.2 in my review of PestPatrol 4.2. To close the loop, some salient points: I run Spybot 1.2 on every PC I own. Its two best features are that it's very fast, and PepiMK does a great job of keeping it up to date. I also install Ad-aware 6 on every machine I own. Its best feature is ease of use. I have come to prefer running both of these programs whenever I check for spyware, adware, and other malware. The two products, both free for personal use (although some sort of payment would be preferred, I'm sure), overlap in large measure, but each catches things the other doesn't.

    My basic assessment of Spybot boils down to this:

    1. I find it annoyingly difficult to use because it's not always clear what its functions are or what you should do next. In some places there are function buttons running up the side, across the top, across the bottom. The rationale and logic behind the user interface design could be summed up in one word: Thoughtless. There is an "easy" version of the interface, but somehow the "advanced" version reappears anyway. Interface is not a PepiMK strong suit.

    2. But who cares? Because the program works great. And while these programs are really only as good as their last update, more times than not I come away from using Spybot and Ad-aware feeling like Spybot went a half notch deeper. I prefer it slightly to Ad-aware in terms of catching bad guys on your PC.

    Fast, free, and it ferrets out spyware like nobody's business. What's not to like? I've just placed Spybot 1.2 on the Top Product! list, alongside Lavasoft's Ad-aware. Use them both. I do.

  • Top Products! | Spybot - Search & Destroy 1.2, PepiMK Software, Support FAQ, Support Forum, free for personal use (but make a donation).

    Lavasoft Releases New Ad-aware Performance Update
    So long as we're talking anti-spyware products, there's an Ad-aware update too. About a month ago Lavasoft released a new revision of Ad-aware 6, build 181. The software maker is claiming an increase in the "overall speed and efficiency of Ad-aware by up to 400 percent over previous releases of our 6.x generation." This list of improvements is taken directly from the Lavasoft press release:

  • Smart scan mode -- Improves speed and has been optimized to detect content at the root level enabling fast and efficient maintenance scanning.

  • Improved in-depth scan -- More effective while reducing CPU resources.

  • Improved deep registry scan -- Faster with additional registry coverage that can detect dynamically created registry keys.

  • Conditional scanning -- Improves speed by allowing Ad-aware to decide when and where additional scanning is needed based on a previous detection during the scanning process.

  • HOSTS file scanning -- Newly discovered exploit that uses HOSTS file editing to facilitate browser hijacking has been countered with this addition. Now Ad-aware has the ability to scan, backup, remove, and restore known references from your HOSTS file.

  • More efficient reference file usage -- Ad-aware can now read and use more detailed information stored in the reference file.

  • Improved browser hijacker detection -- Better detection for known and newly discovered browser hijackers.

  • Improved log file output -- More comprehensive reporting for better record keeping.

    Microsoft's Stealth TweakUI 2.10 Update
    Think you're running the latest version of Microsoft's TweakUI? Maybe not. Microsoft recently dropped newer code on the PowerToys page without so much as updating the page's "last updated" date.

    The only PowerToy I use regularly is TweakUI, so I haven't checked the other toylets. But I've been running the new 2.10.0.0 TweakUI version for a couple of weeks. There are some changes here and there, nothing to go wild about, over the old 2.00.1.0 version, released in April of 2002. Mostly the new version appears to be a Windows Server 2003 update.

    A couple of points to note: This version of TweakUI requires SP1 for Windows XP. You also must uninstall any previous version of TweakUI before you install this one.

    There are numerous minor additions and changes, and here's some of the stuff I thought was worth mentioning:

  • A new configuration option lets you configure the number of programs visible in the Alt-Tab "cool switch" task switcher.

  • Wish Win9x had had this: There's a new Folder Customizations option that lets you choose how many folders Windows will remember the unique settings of (sort order, icon type, and so on) before it starts dropping folder settings mysteriously.

  • You can use the Tab key to navigate AutoComplete entries.

  • Turn off the absurdly huge user name at the top of the Start Menu.

  • You can tell Windows defrag (or not to defrag) your drive as needed when it's idle.

  • A new "keep RAS connections after logoff" feature lets you switch Windows users without losing your dial-up or remote access connections.

    There are about a dozen other new settings in there, mostly very minor.

    Battle of the Bayesian Spam Filters
    Here's a well done review of POPFile and SpamBayes written by Kristian Eide, which apparently made serious rounds on the Linux circuit. If you're interested in nipping spam in the bud no matter what it takes, these two products are well worth your consideration. And you may be surprised by Kristian's conclusion about which of the two is better. Thanks to Paul Schindler and Craig Reynolds for suggesting this link. Paul and Craig write Paul's P.S. A Column on Things.

    Windows XP SP2 Not Until Next Summer
    If you've freshly installed Windows XP any time recently, you know just how many patches (and how much time) it takes to get Microsoft's newest desktop OS up to date. So why has the company decided to wait another whole year before it will release the Service Pack 2? It beats me, folks. Here's a story about it on Security Pipeline. And here's the Service Pack Roadmap that says it's so.

    Re: Microsoft, Read This
    Whether you love Microsoft or hate them, this CNET story published early today is a must read. Thanks to Ken Kashmarek for forwarding this link.

    What's Cooking
    Let's Fight Sp@m will rise again when there's something useful to report on. I'm working on reviews of ZoneAlarm 4.0, Mozilla Firebird, and other products I can't mention yet. On my list is a piece that will pulls together a final version of the Software Hall of Shame. I'm planning a piece on buying used computers -- and accessories -- on eBay, something I've been doing a lot of lately. I'm still working on a power-line broadband piece, and I intend to circle back on the Comcast vs. Verizon DSL idea. I'll be installing Linux Mandrake 9.2 later this year. And I'll be covering Windows Longhorn in a bit more detail late this fall. And that's only the stuff I can tell you about right now. Stick around. Scot's Newsletter's got a lot cooking.

    Back to the Top


    Windows and Broadband Information You Can Use!
    paid advertisement

    The Comcast Conversion Report Card
    Comcast has waited out the bad press, and the story has all but died. But what I've learned about the Comcast Transition Wizard might curl your toes. Many, many people -- including some who work for the company -- believe that the Comcast Transition Wizard contains spyware that's designed to track Comcast cable Internet customers' usage of their Internet services.

    Here's an open letter that was posted in Usenet newsgroups by Comcast subscriber Richard Harris, who also happens to be a Scot's Newsletter subscriber. Before you read it, I have to say I wouldn't publish this letter if I didn't think it contained more than a germ of truth. I have independent confirmation of some of the things Richard says. That confirmation comes from those good old "unnamed sources," because if I named them, they'd probably lose their jobs. Here's what Richard wrote to Comcast:

    -------------------
    7-8-03

    Brian Roberts President, CEO
    C/O Comcast
    1500 Market Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19102

    Dear Brian,

    I wanted to make you aware of an error that was committed by Comcast when it misrepresented the nature of its "Transition Wizard," to every Attbi customer who was being migrated from Attbi to Comcast.

    The piece of software which your company implored everyone on the AT&T system to download, in your company's description, was to make the transition smoother. However, unannounced, but also contained in the wizard, was another bit of code (software) which purposefully attacked/affected every one of your new customer's browsers.

    Microsoft tech support called it "virus like," as did Joanne in your customer service facility in Denver. Every computer/Internet expert (many in Boulder) informed me that Comcast intended to use this new add-on as a spy to report, possibly for marketing goals, on people's browsing habits.

    While your customer service department and tech support department have acted like Beavis and Butthead at every turn of my attempting to unravel my computer and consumer problem, it seems QWEST was/is seizing this opportunity by offering fantastic deals to all Comcast telephone subscribers and soon internet subscribers.

    All Comcast had to do was admit its mistake and honestly attempt to right it. Instead the problem grows (look at the internet chat-rooms and newspaper articles in the next week) and the company's credibility plummets day after day on the internet. Don't you folks understand, you are like a utility, trust is essential! Comcast destroyed that trust and does not want to fix it.

    I demand all customers be notified of the problem, immediately, and a fix of some sort be offered to all. You need to hire some people whose heads are out of the sand. Finally, I would like to see a public apology for Comcast's betrayal of the public trust.

    Richard Harris

    -------------------

    I have never installed the Transition Wizard, and frankly, I don't intend to start now. But if you installed this thing on your computer, please, uninstall it. And run both Spybot and Ad-aware on your computer. I don't know for sure that that it has spyware, but don't take a chance.

    The only good news for Scot's Newsletter subscribers is that fewer than a third of you -- at least the couple hundred of you who responded to the last issue's call to grade Comcast -- used the Transition Wizard.

    So what about the overall grade, as reported by SFNL subscribers, on the AT&T-Broadband-to-Comcast conversion? You know, I keep reading through the couple hundred emails you sent me and counting grades and trying to find trends in that data -- and it's difficult. Numerically, "F" is the most common grade. But that doesn't tell the whole story by any means. Because an almost equal number of people gave Comcast an A or B. And the second most common grade was C.

    What we have here is a failure to differentiate. Flat results. It renders most any survey pretty meaningless. But I think I can extrapolate.

    To be sure, some people sailed through this in about five minutes. Other people had nightmares involving operating system replacement or worse. (My sympathies go out to Dawn, the Mac user, who found her previously well behaved Mac had been reduced to shambles, and Comcast refused to help her in any way.) But the truth is, both camps were small in numbers.

    The single most common experience people had -- whether they used the transition wizard or not -- was no serious problem or very minor problems, such as my own experiences, described in the last issue.

    People awarding a grade of everything from B+ to F- wrote me saying they were marking Comcast down for terrible communication, overzealous pushing toward the "unnecessary" Transition Wizard, and the lack of consistent manual-configuration instructions provided in advance. Interestingly, the biggest complaint of the people who used the Transition Wizard is that either it did them no good at all because they don't use Outlook Express or that it was unneeded because they could have configured this themselves.

    So, here's how I see it. If you were just plain happy that the Comcast transition went off more or less without a giant hitch (compared with some of the @Home transitions from a couple of years ago), you gave an A or a B. If you were fed up that Comcast just doesn't seem to deal with people in an aboveboard way, you gave them a C, D, or F.

    The funny thing is, I think both points of view are valid.

    In the end, I'm giving Comcast a big fat C- for its efforts. If I could prove that the Transition Wizard did some of the things people tell me it does, that grade would be an F in a New York Minute.

    Back to the Top


    Thread of the Week: What Do You Think of 'Longhorn'?
    The advent of the next version of Windows, codenamed "Longhorn," is beginning to polarize knowledgeable computer users. Insights, misunderstandings, and frustrations about Longhorn as well as comparisons to some of its alternatives (including Windows 9x, Windows 2000, and Linux) are some of the many points of interest you'll find in a Scot's Newsletter Forums thread called Windows Longhorn, I don't like where M$ is taking us, started by forum member "epp_b."

    Long though it is, I recommend reading it all the way through. You'll definitely learn something.

    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


    Tips for Linux Apprentices: Updating Your Distro
    First-time (and even experienced) Linux users have questions. And we have answers. In this third part of our ongoing series of Linux tips, learn how to update your newly installed Linux distro, and also how to install Mozilla's Firebird Web browser.

    Most of the material you'll read in Tips for Linux Apprentices 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).

    While Bruno collected the material that appears in Tips for Linux Starters, many other SFNL Forums members have contributed ideas to make them better, and Bruno revises them.

    For the Scot's Newsletter versions of these tips, they've undergone additional revision, and we often add links to outside sources for extra help. Here are links to the previous installments of Tips for Linux Apprentices:

  • Check Your Linux 'ISO'
  • Installation Tips

    Now, on to this issue's tips!

    Updating Your Linux Distro
    It's very important to update your Linux installation on a regular basis. Just as under Windows, Linux updates include bug fixes and security patches. Some distros need very few updates, while others have long lists updates requiring large amounts of disk space to keep them running properly and safely.

    Mandrake and RedHat, for example, are always pressed to use the latest, cutting-edge versions of KDE, Gnome, Mozilla, and so on. There's also healthy competition between the two Linux distributors, which tends to make for frequent new versions, and many large updates of those new versions (both needed more than 300MB worth of updates during the first three months after their last major releases).

    At the other end of the spectrum are Debian and Slackware. Debian has not released a new version in two to three years; the distributor still offers its super-stable "woody" 3.0 (which is also the underpinnings of Knoppix). All the bugs were fixed long ago and the only updates are security related. Slackware does not rush to new versions either. It only includes fully tested, bug-free apps in its releases. Slackware prides itself in on legendary stability.

    The process of updating Linux installations varies by distro, so here are some tips for updating with some of the more popular distributions:

    Mandrake. The updating that goes on as part of the Mandrake install process is minimal. After you complete your Linux installation, you should perform a full update in the Mandrake Control Center. To do that, open Mandrake Control Center > open the Software Management menu > and select Mandrake Update.

    A full description and update-alerts are in this Scot's Newsletter Forums thread.

    Just subscribe to that thread and you'll get automatic email notification from the forums whenever a new Mandrake update comes out.

    RedHat. All you have to do is type "up2date" in a console or click the red exclamation point next to the clock. Subscribe to this Scot's Newsletter Forums thread and you'll get notification from the forums whenever new RedHat updates are released. The same thread also tells you about alternative ways to get the RedHat updates.

    Debian. Simply open a console and type:

    su <enter your root password when prompted>
    apt-get upgrade

    Slackware. This distro is a bit more complicated to update than most. Major security updates are announced on Slackware.com's home page and changes are always made to the "current" branch. You can follow the changes by periodically checking this Slackware.com i386 Current ChangeLog Web page. Download any update packages and enter this into a console to install them:

    su <enter your root password when prompted>
    upgradepkg

    SuSE. This version of Linux has a built-in online updater called YOU (YaST2 Online Update). Beginning with the 8.2 version, there's an icon in the task tray that checks once a day for updates and turns red if any are available. You can configure it to automatically download and install updates. For dial-up users who might get a friend with broadband to download manually-installed patches, this SuSE Web page provides a list of SuSE 8.2 update RPMs. (Much of the SuSE information was contributed by Jason Wallwork.)

    From now on, no more excuses for not being fully up to date and bug free.

    Installing Mozilla's Firebird Browser for Linux
    We're providing step-by-step instructions for installing Mozilla's Firebird because it installs differently than most other Linux applications.

    Start by downloading the latest nightly build of Firebird for Linux to your /home directory. Use this link to download Firebird. Occasionally the link changes. If so, check this directory on the Mozilla site. You'll find a lot of different versions of Firebird there. If you're not sure which one is the right one, post a note in the All Things Linux forum and get help. You might also try Scot's Newsletter Forums' excellent Firebird, Thunderbird, and Mozilla forum.

    After downloading Firebird, go to your home directory, right-click the package and choose Extract Here. Or you can open a console and type:

    tar -zxvf MozillaFirebird

    Press the Tab key to complete the name of the package and then press Enter. Either way, the result will be a new directory called MozillaFirebird.

    Next, open a console and type:

    su <enter your root password when prompted>
    mv MozillaFirebird /usr/local/bin

    Now log out of root by pressing Ctrl-D. To add Firebird to the shell menu so you can launch it (using distro-independent means), open a console and type:

    kmenuedit

    That will give you a dialog where you fill in the name of the application and the command to launch it. In this case, that command is:

    /usr/local/bin/MozillaFirebird/MozillaFirebird

    (There are, of course, distro-specific ways. Mandrake users, for example, could type "menudrake" instead of kmenuedit.)

    To make a desktop icon for Firebird, right-click an empty space on your desktop, select Create New, then Link to Application from the menu. You'll see a panel with four tabs, on the first tab type: "Firebird." (You can change the default icon for a custom one by clicking the icon-field also on the first tab.) Then on the third tab in the field for entering the command, type the following and click OK:

    /usr/local/bin/MozillaFirebird/MozillaFirebird

    Now you can delete the tar.gz file from your /home directory. Happy browsing!

    Note: Future updates to the information above will be made on the Scot's Newsletter Forums on these specific pages:

  • Updating Your Distro
  • How to Install Firebird

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    Link of the Week: FILExt.com
    I love websites like this. It's not going to rock your world, but you will find that it comes in handy, I promise. FILExt.com does one thing well. It identifies DOS and Windows file extensions, telling you what software makers and programs it's associated with it, as well as what the file format is designed to do. There's also all sorts of other tools and info about researching and understanding file formats and extensions. The next time you run into a cryptic file format, you'll know where to go. Thanks to Brandon Stockton for suggesting this site. It's the perfect Link of the Week.

    The Way Computers Should Work
    Thanks to long-time SFNL reader Michael Machnica for contributing this wry Link of the Week. It made me chuckle. Don't be afraid. Type your first name when prompted. You'll see what I mean.

    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: Classic Windows Tips
    Here are some of my favorite Windows tips, most written with a Windows XP orientation, although they will probably work with other versions of Windows.

    1. To restart a computer that you're remotely connected to via Remote Desktop Connection, click the remote computer's Start button and press Alt-F4.

    2. If you hold down the shift key while clicking "No" in a Confirm File Operation dialog, the response will be interpreted as "No to All."

    3. To close several open windows at once, hold down the Control key while clicking the Taskbar buttons of each in turn. When you have selected all the windows you want to close, right-click the pick "Close Group" from the pop-up menu. If Windows is set to group similar open windows (such as multiple Internet Explorer instances), you can just right-click the Taskbar group button and choose Close Group to terminate them all.

    4. If you create an image file, name it Folder.jpg, and place it in any Windows folder, the image will be used as the thumbnail for the folder. The image will also be used as the album art in Windows Media Player for all media files in that folder.

    5. Internet Explorer: To remove an AutoComplete entry from a Web form, highlight the item in the AutoComplete dropdown and press the Delete key. To remove all Web form AutoComplete entries, open Internet Explorer's Tools menu, select Internet Options > Content > AutoComplete > then press the "Clear Forms" button.

    6. Internet Explorer: When Microsoft was developing Internet Explorer's Organize Favorites facility (back in the IE 4.0 to 5.0 timeframe), I told them it was lame and that they'd better rework it. They told me their research showed this wasn't important. Bull! It's a lot easier to organize Favorites in a regular folder window. The fastest way to get there (without modifying the Registry) is to open any folder, hold down the Shift key, open the folder window's Favorites menu, and choose Organize Favorites.

    Another way: Add the Favorites folder to your Start Menu. To do that, right click the Taskbar and choose Properties. Click the Start Menu tab. Click whichever Customize button that isn't grayed out. On the Advanced tab, put a check in the box beside "Favorites Menu" or "Display Favorites Menu" (you may not have to click the Advanced tab). Now all you have to do is open the Start Menu, right-click the Favorites icon, and choose Open or Explore from the pop-up menu.

    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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    Newsletter Schedule
    The next issue of this newsletter is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 16. After that, I expect to return to every-other-week scheduling for the fall.

    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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