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Decemeber 4, 2003 - Vol. 3, Issue No. 52

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Inside Longhorn: The Next Version of Windows
  • Let’s Fight Sp@m Part 11
       - Making Spam Illegal and RSS
       - Review: Norton AntiSpam 2004
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - ActiveWords SE Giveaway
       - Linux Pipeline Say Hello World
       - StarBand Emerges from Chapter 11
       - PC Pitstop vs. Gator
  • DSL Chronicles - Leaping over DSL Hurdles
  • Time to Get off the Windows 98 Bus
  • Tips for Linux Explorers: Directories and Tab Completion
  • Programs of the Month: Aida32 and Spell.vbs
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.


    Inside Longhorn: The Next Version of Windows
    Windows Longhorn is alive and well and running on the PC right next to my main PC. As reported in the last issue of this newsletter, I attended Microsoft's PDC2003 where I got the thick, black CD binder embossed with the words "the goods" on the cover. Among other things, it contains Longhorn Build 4051, a late alpha, early pre-beta of the next version of Windows, which will probably arrive some time in 2005.

    These large JPG images show Longhorn's desktop with Sidebar and My Computer (which blessedly is called just "Computer" in Longhorn). They should give you a good sense of some of the visual differences:

  • Longhorn My Computer (259K, 621 x 926 pixels)
  • Longhorn Desktop (935K, 1280 x 1024 pixels)

    But there's a lot more going on in Longhorn than some interface tweaks. I'm not going to go into deep detail right now. What I am going to do is tell you what I think of Longhorn. I went to the PDC with some concerns. With the exception of the NGSCB ("Palladium") stuff though, I came away with few if any paranoid worries about what might be very wrong with the next version of Windows. In fact, I came away from the conference very eager to get my hands on this one. Here are some of the reasons why -- and I'll come back to the NGSCB (Next Generation Secure Computing Base) topic too.

    Windows Longhorn is the most ambitious new version of Windows since at least Windows 95, and arguably the most ambitious ever. If you know Windows now, consider this: GDI, Win32, FAT32, NTFS, are all antiquities in the next version of Windows. They all continue to be supported, but they're all superceded by something newer and better.

    This chart (large download) or some semblance of it was shown in session after session at PDC2003, and while few people understand everything on it, it may give you a better sense of how Windows Longhorn will be architected.

    If what I've said so far doesn't bring it home for you then think about this, Longhorn will present graphics both faster and better than any Windows before it. People talk about twisting, rotation, transparency, and so on, but the bottom line is this: The new "Avalon" presentation system is vector based. Instead of "blitting" bitmaps around the screen, it uses algorithms to draw both straight and curved lines, shapes, and colors very rapidly, and with a very high degree of precision. Avalon is being designed to take advantage of next-generation technologies and products, but it will also degrade gracefully on older video hardware. Perhaps the key takeaway is this: The extra-effect video experience you get with the best Windows games today will be routinely available to applications under Longhorn without bogging down the hardware and operating system. Avalon should raise the bar pretty significantly on graphics, video, animation, and even font rendering.

    Aero is the code name for a new user interface design and philosophy that grows out of Avalon, WinFS (the upgrade of the NTFS file system), and a variety of other new aspects of Longhorn. For details on Aero, see this list of articles on the Microsoft site.

    Aero defines everything from a new Help system to the new Sidebar graphical notification area (see the JPG image URL above) to a set of user interface guidelines for developers, to handling privacy and security and a lot more.

    WinFS is a new improvement of the NTFS file system that extends the way Windows stores and annotates data on your hard drive. It creates an extra dimension in the form of tags that software developers can employ to classify data with and make it more immediately available. WinFS also defines a set of actions and notifications that can be taken with data that should help applications provide a far more data-centric user experience where you and your data are driving the bus.

    The most clear-cut WinFS- and Aero-derived new element in Windows Longhorn is a Windows Explorer-like window that shows you file objects that aren't stored all in one folder on your hard drive, but instead are all related to a data point, such as person, place, event, thing, project, company, or whatever you want. Some call it a search-based interface. It's an interesting idea, but one that needs a lot more exploring.

    Indigo is the code name for Longhorn's new communication/Internet services module. Say what? Think of it this way: It's a set of Microsoft .Net (read somewhat proprietary Web Services) technologies for building Web-based applications that connect systems and companies to products, services, and information. Interaction, communication, and notification are the hallmarks of what many Indigo-based Web services will do. Also expect to see the integration of third-party services into applications running on the Web or in Windows applications.

    This fairly simple document offers a more useful explanation of Indigo than many of the slides and pass-outs I got at the PDC.

    I mentioned NGSCB earlier. Microsoft intends to build security into Windows Longhorn that starts in the hardware the operating system is running on. Working in conjunction with AMD and Intel, Microsoft is developing a hardware-boot option for Windows that should prevent many types of malicious attacks from taking root in the seam between where the hardware ends and the software begins.

    There's also the notion of a new, more secure operating mode for Windows Longhorn called Nexus, which executes in kernel mode within a secure memory space. This document, which formed the basis of a presentation I caught at the PDC, explains Microsoft's plans for NGSCB in Longhorn much better than I can.

    Long and short, people: The rumors have been wrong. Microsoft is not going to require you to buy new hardware in order to run Windows Longhorn for security reasons. I don't put it past them to inspire you to buy new hardware because of a long list of benefits you'll be missing if you don't, but so far as I can tell, there's not going to be a mandatory requirement. A lot of this capability seems to be aimed at sensitive enterprise and government computer users who need far more protection than they have today. In those settings, new hardware will be required.

    One other thing about NGSCB, of all the new things coming in Windows Longhorn, it's the sketchiest right now. They're still figuring a lot of this stuff out.

    Speaking of hardware, the minimum system requirements for this pre-release build of the operating system are an 800MHz Pentium III or equivalent, 256MB of RAM, DirectX 7-supporting graphics processor, 32MB of VRAM (and a 1024 x 768 display at 32 bits per pixel), and a DVD drive (this last probably because the Longhorn PDC release came on DVD not CD). The recommended configuration for developers started with a 1.6GHz or higher CPU and 1GB of RAM, and suggested DirectX 9 support with 64MB of VRAM. If that sounds like a lot more hardware than you've got, remember we're probably two (or more?) years away from the final release of Longhorn. Unless memory prices go up dramatically, I'm guessing most new PCs in late 2005 will be shipping with 1GB of RAM (at least) as fairly standard. (Bargain basement machines might still be shipping 512MB.) And from a CPU standpoint, an 800MHz Pentium 3 is already considered to be a little behind the curve. This is a move up from the system requirements for Windows XP, but it is does not seem drastic to me in the least. Of course, Microsoft minimum system requirements are always subject to change, and there's still plenty of time for them to do so.

    In coming issues of this newsletter, I'll be exploring the Longhorn PDC release in some detail. But I want to make sure you're aware that the code I'm looking at is a long, long way from the operating system Microsoft is going to ship. This is not feature complete and some of interface items are just Windows XP with a new skin. Many of these things are certain to change. Microsoft is expected to release Windows Longhorn Beta 1 some time in the second half of next year -- that's when things start to get real.

    In the meantime, we'll explore the bits we've got over the next few issues. For example, Longhorn's Internet Explorer has a pop-up stopper. And its Internet Connection Firewall is now turned on by default, though I still recommend you turn it off and get something better.

    Back to the Top


    Let’s Fight Sp@m Part 11
       - Making Spam Illegal and RSS
       - Review: Norton AntiSpam 2004

    Making Spam Illegal and RSS
    It may sound like a good idea, or an idea that can't hurt. But the anti-spam bill currently making its way through both houses of the U.S. Congress could put smaller email newsletter publishers like me out of business. Why? Because all it'll take is one letter from a lawyer threatening a civil suit and I could be facing a very difficult decision. Scot's Newsletter doesn't make enough to afford legal representation in any kind of protracted legal action. Scot's Newsletter is purely opt in, but you would not believe the misunderstandings some people have about how to manage their subscriptions. Whether they realize it or not, I suspect that many other independent email newsletter publishers could be in for a rough ride as well.

    This is one of the main reasons why some other notable computer newsletter publishers -- such as Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome -- have gone on record as saying that email newsletters aren't the future. And it's possible that Chris and others are correct. Some have pointed to RSS as the likely successor to email newsletters. And while I find RSS intriguing, I'm not as convinced that it's the answer.

    What is RSS? It's an XML-based Internet file format designed to serve up headlines and Web content. You need a client of some sort, an RSS reader or news aggregator, to retrieve and read RSS streams. Many such clients exist, and most are free. Some day, I imagine, Web browsers may provide this capability too. (For more on RSS, see some RSS links I compiled at the end of this article.)

    I'd be interested to know what Scot's Newsletter readers think of RSS. I don't have the bandwidth to write and produce HTML, Text, and RSS versions of Scot's Newsletter. If I were to make the change to RSS, it would probably be an all-or-nothing change, meaning that I would stop sending email newsletters entirely. That would have the advantage of saving me on production costs, but it's not at all clear to me how I could, or might someday, make money on an RSS-based publication.

    At this time I have no intention of switching to RSS. But it would be something I would consider if the obstacles to doing business as an email newsletter publisher were to rise. My own tea leaves show that this is apt to happen sooner or later.

    Tell me what you think about RSS, both in general, and as a possible means of publishing Scot's Newsletter.

    Some RSS Resources (there are many others):

  • Introduction to RSS - Webreference
  • What Is RSS? - XML.com
  • RSS Tutorial for Content Publishers and Webmasters - Mark Nottingham
  • Lockergnome's RSS Resource
  • All About RSS - Fagan Finder
  • RSS Feed Reader / News Aggregators Directory - Hebig.org
  • Top Aggregators - UserLand
  • RSS Readers - Weblogs Compendium


    Review: Norton AntiSpam 2004 A couple months back I promised a review of Norton AntiSpam 2004 (NAS 2004). The utility is interesting because it comes from a mainstream security software vendor, uses Bayesian anti-spam technology, and best of all integrates with the user interfaces of three mainstream email clients: Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora. I was eager to test it out.

    But the first time I installed it, nearly three months ago, I ran into a severe issue. And even though I contacted Symantec about it, they hadn't heard of the problem -- I was the first person to report it. Symantec Senior Program Manager Dave Lewis said the problem was eventually duplicated in their labs, and that's when a Symantec Knowledgebase article was released:

    Error: "NAS has detected that COM automation is turned off ..."

    The problem rendered Norton AntiSpam unusable with Eudora on the first system I installed it on. Unfortunately, no resolution has been discovered, and I'm working with Symantec as best I can to help them figure it out. Note that the apparent cause of the problem occurs when Eudora users install their mail stores in the My Documents folder. (I encountered a similar problem with Outlook Express on the same machine, but that problem hasn't been explained.)

    I'm not alone in experiencing problems with NAS 2004 either. Several SFNL readers have sent hard-bitten reports about problems with the anti-spam utility. Andy Tracey sent this message about his experiences with Norton AntiSpam:

    The recent deluge of spam finally pushed me over the edge and I bought Norton's AntiSpam 2004. I already run Norton Internet Security 2003 and like it (with a few provisos). Being another Norton product I figured I'd come to grips with it quickly.

    But Norton AntiSpam crashes Outlook Express 6 when doing its primary job of allowing the user to identify a message as spam that went undetected. Symantec lists this as a known issue [in its Knowledgebase].

    The problem is so acute, though, that it renders NAS 2004 unusable on my machine. Compared to using Norton AntiSpam, spam is an acceptable inconvenience. I've removed the program from my system.

    Let me add to Andy's experience that in my tests of Eudora 6.0 and Eudora 6.0.1 with Norton AntiSpam 2004, a seemingly related problem became evident to me. Although using NAS 2004's "This Is Spam" toolbar button to manually train the product about missed spam messages does not crash Eudora, it appears to have little or no effect. In a one-week test of Norton AntiSpam with Eudora, I attempted to notify NAS 2004 of over 180 missed spams. According to the utility's own statistics, it had only missed one spam message. And I received the exact same spam message sent with different From fields over and over again, and NAS 2004 continued to miss those spams even after I had trained it.

    What's more, NAS 2004 was pretty bad at catching spam on my system. I average just under 1,000 emails received per day. During my test period, it racked up a very poor 79 percent spam-detection rate. Half-way through the test I raised to the maximum level the utility's sensitivity to spam, but that had no apparent effect. In short, Norton AntiSpam didn't do its job well at all, and didn't appear to take training from me manually either. As a spam fighter, it was marginal.

    Symantec's Dave Lewis agreed that a 79-percent detection rate was sub par, and he was surprised the number was so low. Even right out of the box, with no training, Symantec's tests show that NAS 2004 does much better than 79 percent. And I believe him. But there's not much I can do except report what my experience has been.

    The one shining light for this product is that in my tests it had the lowest rate of false positives I've ever seen from any anti-spam utility. In other words, the product rarely identifies messages as spam that aren't spam. The false positive rate was under 1 percent. This is partially due to the fact that, during installation, NAS literally imports the email addresses of everyone in your address book. It even gives you the option to edit this white list just before it creates it. Other anti-spam products white list the address book too, but NAS 2004 does it better than any utility I've seen so far.

    Given the problems I've experienced, you'd have to wonder whether NAS 2004 might be improperly installed on my second machine. That's very possible, although I encountered no problems during installation, the product shows no outward signs of trouble, no error messages, crashes, freeze-ups, or hesitations. It has caused no overt problems with Eudora. You wouldn't even know that it wasn't training spam messages manually, except that its own statistics show it isn't. And the spam-detection rate isn't improving. I also fully uninstalled NAS 2004, rebooted, made sure all email programs were closed, and then reinstalled NAS. I had the exact same experience.

    Lewis believes I may have a failed installation because of the fact that, even though the installation created the "Norton AntiSpam folder" in Eudora, which is designed to collect detected spam, I didn't find a Eudora message-filtering rule that automatically routes Norton AntiSpam-detected spams to the Norton AntiSpam folder. On neither installation attempt did that rule appear. Later -- working with Dave and other Symantec folks -- I opened, closed, changed the file name of, and changed back the file name of the Eudora file (filters.pce) that contains message rules. Hey presto, the missing rule magically appeared at that point.

    I don't rule out an issue with my Eudora mail store as the culprit in this situation. It's huge, very old (containing some messages that date back almost ten years), and it has been through literally a dozen or more Eudora upgrades. It's also moved from PC to PC to PC like a nomad. It's never given me any problem, but it probably represents an extreme scenario for Eudora.

    Nevertheless, I've installed NAS 2004 on two different PCs (on one of them twice) and I have to imagine that if I experienced problems on both that hundreds or more likely thousands of people who've paid money for this product could be having trouble too. I did not test NAS 2004 with Microsoft Outlook. But my assessment is that Symantec, which shipped NAS 2004 at almost the same time Qualcomm shipped Eudora 6.0, did not do a good job of testing against Eudora 6.0, even though the product's requirements specifically state Eudora 5.0 and higher. As noted, Outlook Express users are also reporting a variety of issues.

    Interface Improvements Needed
    Even if NAS 2004 worked properly with Eudora and Outlook Express, I would have other issues with it. If you plunk down $40 to buy Eudora 6.0, you get Qualcomm's homegrown Bayesian anti-spam tool called SpamWatch. SpamWatch is a so-so anti-spam utility. But it has a couple of small but important advantages going for it:

    1. Like NAS 2004, it recognizes any sender address already in your address book as not being spam.

    2. You don't have to open spam messages it misses in order to send them to the SpamWatch Junk folder. Not having to open a spam message not only saves you time, but it prevents the spam from downloading images or launching Web pages -- something that's likely to become even more important over the next year or two.

    3. You can both manually identify a message as spam and send it to the Junk folder in one simple step just by selecting the unopened message in your inbox and pressing the Ctrl-J keyboard combination. This sounds minor, but it's really major. It's a vastly superior user experience to work this way. Once you try it, you'll never want to go back to opening a spam message and then clicking a tiny toolbar button to tag a message as spam. Plus you're still not done. You have to close the message and manually move it out of your face to your spam-collection folder, or delete it.

    Eudora's SpamWatch feature is lacking in many ways, and Qualcomm is unlikely to improve it anytime soon. So I'm not holding SpamWatch up as a paragon of virtue over Norton AntiSpam 2004. However, those three usability features are key to any product integrating properly with Eudora or any other specific email program. NAS 2004 only gets one out of three. A product that I've talked about in past, Spamnix, does a better job of integrating with Eudora. I've had reliability problems with its 1.2 beta version, but I still have high hopes that Spamnix -- which uses a mixture of SpamAssassin rules-based content filtering and Bayesian methods -- will properly fill the void for Eudora users. But the jury is still out there too. I'd have to say particularly so because SpamAssassin's spam-detection results are questionable at best.

    I don't often do this, but I'm going to provide you with a link to a contrasting point of view about Norton AntiSpam 2004. Written by respected reviewer and author Larry Seltzer, AntiSpam: Up Close and Personal is worth a read if you use Outlook. Larry apparently does, and his experiences with NAS 2004 were much better than mine.

    Even so, I have to conclude that Norton AntiSpam 2004, as originally shipped, isn't ready for prime time. I've increasingly come to believe that Symantec (despite its claims to the contrary) is placing less and less emphasis on wide-spread external beta testing in advance of product releases. I'd like to see the company give more emphasis to software quality. And in the anti-spam category, even though Symantec leads the pack on integration with popular email programs, there's considerable usability work still needed. If and when the Norton folks upgrade this one, I will look at it again. But I do not recommend it in the 2004 release.

  • $36 (street price), Norton AntiSpam 2004, Symantec, Phone: 800-631-8124, Support

    Back to the Top


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

    60-Second Briefs
       - ActiveWords SE Giveaway
       - Linux Pipeline Say Hello World
       - StarBand Emerges from Chapter 11
       - PC Pitstop vs. Gator

    ActiveWords SE Giveaway
    The folks at ActiveWord Systems are making a limited-time offer to Scot's Newsletter readers: A free copy for ActiveWords 1.9 SE, which they normally charge about $20 for. My editor (and wife), Cyndy, and I have both written about ActiveWords in this newsletter. If you're not familiar with the keyboard macro utility, let me send you back to Cyndy's review for more information about the product, which many people feel is innovative.

    So what's with the free deal? I don't really know. It's a promotion that ActiveWord Systems' Peter Weldon contacted me about. I'm not getting a dime out of it. And I'm not the only newsletter they've cut this deal with. The offer is good until January 10, 2004. I'm told they will add you to their mailing list, which I've been on for quite some time. It provides mostly tips and pointers on how to use ActiveWords, and you can unsubscribe at any time. I'm sure they're going to try to upsell you to ActiveWords Plus 1.9, not to mention 2.0 whenever that comes out. But in the meantime you can download and use the free lite version of ActiveWords just because you subscribe to this newsletter:

    http://www.activewords.com/scotsnewsletterseoffer2003.html

    One thing to be aware of, ActiveWords uses product activation, and it appears that's in effect for this giveaway version of the SE product.

    Linux Pipeline Says Hello World
    Wearing my other hat, the one that describes me as editor at the TechWeb Network, Mitch Wagner and I have launched a new IT site for Linux called Linux Pipeline:

    http://www.linuxpipeline.com/

    The site went live this past Monday, and it has already earned praise for being professional, useful, and articulate. Please check it out.

    StarBand Emerges from Chapter 11
    In May of 2002, two-way satellite Internet service provider StarBand entered Chapter 11 following a painful separation from business partner EchoStar, the folks who market Dish Networks. At that time, I interviewed some of the remaining officers of the company and wrote a piece about where StarBand stood, and what its customers' prospects were, given the $600-$800 investment two-way satellite customers often pay to get started. At the time, I was cautiously optimistic that StarBand would emerge from bankruptcy protection.

    It took a lot longer than anyone expected, but StarBand has just come back from bankruptcy. And the company did a good job keeping things together while it bided its time. Despite the challenges of operating while in Chapter 11, StarBand launched improved services such as its commercial-grade StarBand 480 Pro service with faster speeds, an integrated 4-port Ethernet router, and compatibility with most operating systems. It also has new residential service plans with pricing as low as $40 per month.

    I still have StarBand 360 equipment and the StarBand Small Office service in SFNL Labs. But I've disconnected it and am making plans to return the equipment. Including the medium-size dish in the side yard. [Editor's note: Yippee! Two down, one to go! --Cyndy]

    With two DSL connections and a cable Internet connection, I'm going to focus for a while on other forms of broadband. However, I would like to test the DirecWay two-way satellite system. I'm still having trouble getting through to Hughes, however. I would also be interested in testing Earthlink's version of the DirecWay service. [Heck, send 'em both, we're getting low on dishes around here. --Scot]

    Ka band two-way satellite also continues to intrigue me, as does power-line broadband. Many SFNL readers in Britain report the availability of power-line Internet service. It's also available in very tiny pockets in the U.S. Something else to look at.

    PC Pitstop vs. Gator
    Past Link of the Week website PC Pitstop was sued by Gator Corporation in September. Dave Methvin, one of the founders of PC Pitstop, is also a Windows Magazine editorial alumnus. He contacted me recently and had this to say:

    "Although we resolved the dispute with Gator, some of its public statements on the matter may have left a false impression that PC Pitstop was obligated to remove most discussion of Gator's products from our site. This is not true."

    Perhaps in part to make that point, PC Pitstop has just launched the new Gator Information Center website. Methvin says the new Gator page on PC Pitstop reveals the "results of original research we conducted based on responses from visitors to the PC Pitstop site. Our results show that most users that have Gator applications on their PC did not consciously install them. This contradicts a key Gator assertion that the company has the user's permission and acceptance of Gator's license terms."

    PC Pitstop's Gator Information Center also includes:

  • Free or low-cost alternatives to Gator applications
  • Step-by-step instructions for removing Gator
  • How to recognize Gator's drive-by downloads and confusing ads
  • A link for complaints to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission
  • An interactive quiz about Gator's terms and condition

    Back to the Top


    DSL Chronicles - Leaping over DSL Hurdles
    Earlier this year I embarked on a quest to replace my aging, slow, and expensive SpeakEasy SDSL service with a faster, much cheaper ADSL service from Verizon. I was hoping to get 1.5Mbps Verizon Online DSL service, which would roughly compete with my Comcast cable broadband service. The plan has been that once I had roughly comparable service levels, I would do a long-term, head-to-head comparison review of the two broadband providers.

  • Second of two installments on Verizon DSL
  • AT&T Broadband/Comcast

    Instead of the 1.5Mbps ADSL service, I qualified only for the 768kbps Verizon DSL. But I was determined to take another stab at the faster rate, and I wrote about the issues I faced in doing that in this article.

    As a result of this last item, Verizon reached out to me and has been attempting ever since -- with good success -- to help me solve the problems I faced, which were:

    1. My two existing analog phone lines were way too long to qualify for faster ADSL rate.

    2. Existing analog phone lines used a Digital-to-Analog-Multiplexing device (known as a DAML or AML box) that creates two phone numbers from one analog phone line. That kind of equipment installation prevents either "line" from being used to provide ADSL.

    3. My Covad-installed SDSL line was some 2,000 feet shorter than any of the other lines coming to my house, but because of the laws and procedures surrounding the way that an incumbent local exchange carrier (Verizon) allocates copper pairs to competing local exchange carriers (in this case, Covad), Verizon had no easy way to get this much shorter line back from Covad. In fact, the likelihood was that the line would be lost when I cancelled my SDSL service.

    Verizon has been battling both its own internal procedures and a host of technical and legal constraints for the last several months in an attempt to solve these problems for me. And it has managed to address these problems. The AML box is gone from my house; we were able to recapture the shorter Covad SDSL line; and I've got a new Verizon Online DSL installation.

    Only one thing is left to be done. It took Covad about three weeks to release my DSL line when I cancelled my SpeakEasy service. In the interim, Verizon provided me with a longer, temporary line that would eventually be replaced by the shorter SDSL copper pair. But once all the work was done with the temporary line, they initiated my DSL service and asked me to install it. Of course, that gave me 768kbps service (again). So I'm working with my Verizon rep now in attempt to get them to crank up my service to 1.5Mbps to see whether that will work.

    Hopefully I'll be able to report in the next issue that I have 1.5Mbps Verizon DSL service. But there's probably only a 50-50 chance of my getting the faster rate. I'm probably between 500 and 1,000 feet over the current 1.5Mbps distance from my town's central office (CO). On the other hand, they don't really go by distance. They go by line quality. When my field tech tested the line, his equipment said that it should support up to 2.1Mbps service. (Verizon doesn't offer 2.1Mbps residential service in my area, by the way, it's just a test result.) So if my luck holds, I might just receive a pleasant ADSL surprise for the holidays.

    Verizon does not normally do what I've just explained it did for me routinely for all customers. My newsletter caught the attention of highly placed Verizon Online executive in upstate New York named Stephen Cicchinelli. He contacted me, listened to the obstacles facing me, and said he would make it happen -- and he did. Shortly thereafter I was contacted by Verizon Encore representative Sue Del Pino, whom I've been working with for months to get everything to fall into place. And Sue is still working on cranking up my DSL rate.

    I'd like to thank Stephen Cicchinelli, Sue Del Pino, and my top-notch field technician, whose last name I never learned. All three of them, as well as several people at Verizon I don't know at all, worked extremely hard to make this happen. I'm very grateful. I only wish that it were possible for Verizon to make these sorts of exceptions with more residential customers. A significant amount of time and effort went into this, though, and that's why they can't do it every time. There is a lot of hope for would-be DSL customers all around the U.S. and elsewhere. The technology is getting better, and the viable distances from the CO are lengthening.

    Back to the Top


    Time to Get off the Windows 98 Bus
    I suspect some among my Win 98 faithful readers may staunchly disagree with some of what I'm about to say. I'm hoping you'll at least take it the way I mean it: As my very best advice. No one pays me to have opinions in Scot's Newsletter. I just have them naturally, and I call them the way I see them. This one is based on strong, long-term Windows experience. So, please take my advice. Or at least, don't discount it without giving it consideration.

    Now is the time to extricate yourself from Windows 98. If your main PC is a Windows 98 box, this is the time to buy a new PC. If your PC was released in the Windows 2000 timeframe, a simple upgrade to Windows 2000 may be all that's in order. The means with which you make your way away from Windows 98 does not matter. All that matters is that you do so in the near future.

    Why? Because Windows 98 is outmoded, only marginally supported by Microsoft now (despite extensions to its lifecycle calendar), and is vastly inferior to Windows 2000 and Windows XP. I'm not claiming that security reasons are the reason to move up to Win2000 or XP (a case could be made in either direction on that point). But the time has come. Increasingly, new software will be less backwardly compatible with Windows 98. New hardware will not work with it as well. And system resources are even more of an issue now than they were when these machines shipped. As we're forced to layer more and more security utilities on our PCs, forced to download increasing numbers of email messages, and forced to contend with new file formats, new clients, and other increasing demands on the OS -- Windows 98 is being pressed harder and harder to its breaking point.

    Now is the right time to move away gracefully. The sky isn't going to fall if you stick with Windows 98. But I've waited and waited until what I feel is the last good moment to make this recommendation. Get out now to avoid both unnecessary aggravation and increased cost.

    And Windows Me users, you're on deck. It's an OS I've never liked, but I know it serves some people pretty well, and it has some advantages over Win 98, such as a much newer device-driver pack. Even so, this is your one-year warning. Despite Microsoft's claims when it shipped ME, that OS is no more reliable than Windows 98, and it's quirky to boot.

    A Good Day to Buy
    I believe that this quarter will show a significant up-tick in business and consumer demand for PCs over 4Q2002 once all the numbers are tallied early next year. The rise in demand is going on right now, and after two or more years of clamping down, there's a lot of pent-up demand to purchase new hardware. I am already seeing evidence that PC prices are rising. Just price out a Dell PC, for example. Barring unforeseen events, I believe that next quarter will show an even more significant increase in PC sales over 1Q2003, especially from business customers. Significance? Supply and demand, baby. Prices are going up. I don't have a crystal ball, but my gut tells me that we've hit bottom and it's going to rise firmly if not dramatically.

    Back to Windows: I don't condone Microsoft's operating system lifecycle policies. Those decisions are made largely for corporate gain, in my opinion. You have only to learn that Windows XP Home has a supported lifecycle two years shorter than Windows XP Pro to have that point brought home, as it were.

    Nevertheless, I think you'll also agree that Microsoft can't extend its resources indefinitely to support every OS it ever builds. People are still using DOS 4.01. Should Microsoft support it? And I think they're well within their rights more than a decade later not to support Windows 3.0, even though it's still in use. Should Ford and GM support 20-year-old vehicles? They do not, at least, not as a matter of course. And the pace of the computer industry moves much faster than that of automobile manufacturing.

    But the announced supported consumer life span of Windows Me is quite short. Even Windows XP's end of the road isn't all that far off. Windows 98 and 98SE are currently slated to enter their "non-supported phase" on January 16, 2004. That's a little more than a month away. Windows ME enters the same phase on December 31, 2004. Windows XP Home loses support on December 31, 2006. Windows 2000 is good until March 31, 2007. Windows XP Pro's time runs out on December 31, 2008.

    For more information, see Microsoft's Windows Desktop Product Life Cycle Support and Availability Policies for Consumers.

    With these facts in mind, Windows 2000 Professional -- though not cheap -- continues to be the sweet spot for long-term Windows use. It lacks product activation, which makes it an excellent choice for power users who install their OS on a succession of PCs (but uninstall it from the last one before installing it new on the next one as the license agreement requires). Windows 2000 may also have slightly better networking reliability and slightly worse advanced hardware support (such as USB, and so on). The driver model is more or less the same, so drivers created for XP will usually work on Windows 2000. Best of all, Win2000 is every bit as reliable as Windows XP (and some people feel that it is more so). It will give you a much better user experience than Windows 98/ME.

    In short, Windows 2000 could be the right OS to stick with if you don't want to move up to Windows XP. The only real sticking point is the price. Buy.com, for example, has Win2000 Pro full install for about $280 and the upgrade version for about $190.

    You can get it for less if you shop around, but be very careful. There are unscrupulous no-name companies selling "OEM" versions of Windows that aren't "legal." Buying an OEM version with hardware -- such as a PC, hard drive, or motherboard -- is acceptable according to Microsoft's license agreement. Buying the OEM version without hardware goes against the Microsoft license agreement.

    If you're buying a new PC, get Windows XP. On most points of comparison, it's a slightly better operating system than Windows 2000. XP is absolutely a no-brainer on a new PC. I highly recommend Windows XP Pro over the Home Edition. This isn't just because of the shorter Home Edition lifecycle. There are a long string of minor differences between the Pro and Home Editions that tilt in favor of the Pro version. Think of Home Edition as modestly crippled.

    One last point about Windows 98: I'm not advocating that businesses in particular or consumers in all cases should immediately pull the plug on computers that run Win 98. If Windows 98 PCs are doing the job, you might want to stick with them. If consumers are using Windows 98 PCs as second or third machines, there's no reason to turn them off because the OS is getting old. If it's doing the job for you, it's OK to run it. But when we're talking about your only machine, especially if you spend a lot of time with it, I happen to think you're tempting fate.

    What's more, anyone reading Scot's Newsletter who is still running Windows 98 would benefit from an upgrade to Windows 2000 or a PC running Windows XP. Getting into one of these two newer versions of Windows will put a smile on your face. They are significantly better than Windows 98 in a wide variety of ways.

    There's no time like the present. Get out of Win 98 while the getting is good.

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    Tips for Linux Explorers: Directories and Tab Completion
    What do you think of Tips for Linux Explorers? I've received mostly positive emails on this new recurring section of the newsletter. But a few people have written to complain that a newsletter that bills itself as covering Windows and broadband is addressing Linux so regularly.

    Well, I guess I can understand that concern. But Windows coverage is *not* dropping off the menu at Scot's Newsletter. I'll be covering Windows more and more as we ramp up toward the release of Windows Longhorn. But I'm interested in all viable operating systems, not just Windows. Linux is very intriguing, and I encourage SFNL readers to try it for themselves.

    Tips for Linux Explorers is aimed at Windows users, in fact. It's designed to be a friendly outstretched hand for experienced Windows users who are interested in taking a Linux test drive to see what all the fuss is about. I'm not about to become some sort of Linux fanatic and forsake Windows entirely. But I always like to keep an open mind and explore new things. That's what Linux Explorers is about.

    Even so, I want to hear what you think about it. Please send me any comments, suggestions, constructive criticisms about Tips for Linux Explorers that occur to you. I will share them with Bruno wherever it makes sense to. We would value your input.

    Common Directories
    The following is a simplified overview of the Linux Tree listing the most important subdirectories and brief descriptions where applicable:

    /bin - Contains most user programs with normal user permissions
    /boot - Where you can add extra kernels for multi booting
    /dev - Contains all the special files (nodes) used to access hardware and other device drivers
    /etc - Contains most of the config files
    /home - Where the directories are those of the standard user
    /home/{username} - Akin to Windows' My Documents folder
    /home/{username}/tmp - Where a given user might download and store ISOs
    /home/{username}/downloads - Other downloads, directory made by user
    /home/{username}/documents - You guessed it, documents
    /lib - All the libraries needed for installed programs to run
    /lost and found - Where things end up after a "scandisk" due to an improper shutdown
    /mnt - Where devices, such as disk drives, are mounted
    /mnt/win_c (this subdirectory appears if you dual-boot Windows)
    /mnt/cdrom
    /mnt/floppy
    /opt - Some 3rd-party programs, like Acrobat Reader, get installed here
    /proc - A direct reflection of the system kept in memory)
    /root - Where Konqueror opens as root
    /root/drakx - Only if you run Mandrake
    /root/tmp
    /sbin - Most executables that need root permission)
    /tmp - System temp files
    /usr - Contains no files, only directories (most important ones follow)
    /usr/bin - Most executables for programs with user permission
    /usr/local/bin - Programs you install yourself
    /usr/src - For extra kernel sources and downloaded RPMs
    /var - Contains no files, only directories (most important one follows)
    /var/log - all the log files, and there are many

    For far more information, type the following and press Enter:

    $ man hier

    Tab Completion Tip
    Did you know you can use the Tab key to auto-complete commands on the command line? Just type a few characters that start a command and press the Tab key. The command or name of an existing directory or file will be completed.

    Try this. Type the following and then press the Tab key:

    $ cd /u

    Now add an "s" and press Tab, type "h" and press Tab. The result should be:

    $ cd /usr/share/

    Now type "f" "o" "n" and press Tab, "t" press Tab, "d" Tab, and press the Enter key. That should put you in:

    /usr/share/fonts/ttf/decoratives

    Type the following and press Enter:

    ls

    That'll bring up a list of all the fancy ttf fonts on your system.

    So next time you have to type a long command like this:

    # cp synthesis.hdlist.update_source.cz /var/lib/urpmi/synthesis.hdlist.update_source.cz

    ... try it this way instead:

    # cp sy (Tab key), /v (Tab key), li (Tab key), u (Tab key), sy (Tab key)

    And because the full command is on your screen, the light will go on if it hasn't already! (Note: This command works only if the file "synthesis.hdlist.update_source.cz" is in your /home directory)

    How about a little more on the Tab key and commands. If you don't remember exactly how a command was written, type in the first character or two and hit the Tab key. You'll get a list of all the commands that start with the same character(s).

    If you wish to know what a certain command does -- say, mkmanifest -- use the whatis command, like this:

    $ whatis mkmanifest

    mkmanifest (1) - Makes list of file names and their DOS 8+3 equivalents.

    O'Reilly Network offers a useful list of all Linux commands with descriptions.

    Sources
    Most of the material you find in Tips for Linux Explorers 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 Teacher, as well as other forum members who have posted in the highly useful Tips for Linux Explorers thread (from which this section of the newsletter is adapted). Previous installments of Tips for Linux Explorers can be found in these Scot's Newsletter back issues:

  • Check Your Linux 'ISO'
  • Installation Tips
  • Updating Your Distro
  • Command-Line Shortcuts
  • Making CDs and Boot Floppies

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    Programs of the Month: Aida32 and Spell.vbs
    You like Program of the Month. You really like Program of the Month. (I'm so touched.)

    [Editor's note: Ay, that you are, laddie. -- Cyndy]

    But jokes aside, it's clear from the volumes of email I got in response to last issue's Program of the Month that this is something I should continue to do. I actually tried the same idea about four years ago in a newsletter I used to write called Windows Insider, and it bombed. So, I'm a little surprised. But heck, I'm game to try it again.

    Better Than Belarc?
    Is a program called Aida32 better than Belarc Advisor? Lots of people -- including Rob Anderson, Arthur Croft, Michael Cohn, Walter Donavan, Glen P. Goffin, Eric Kempf, Max Raven (a longstanding Scot's Newsletter supporter), and Ray Thomson -- wrote to me that they feel Aida bests Belarc.

    I put it to the test, and there's no doubt that Aida is sharp, fast, and a very worthwhile application. If you like Belarc, you'll definitely like Aida32. But, there are things about Belarc I still prefer. Some of the details in the Belarc report are better. For example, the Memory Modules section shows the number of DIMM slots, the name of each slot, and shows what size DIMM is in each slot. Aida has this information, and even goes further in the detail it provides (including things like the motherboard designation for the slot and the speed of the memory), but it buries that data under the Computer > DMI > Memory Modules area. In short, Belarc is much better presentationally. The things I want to know when I check out a PC are listed very high and easy to read in Belarc. Aida32 goes deeper, but things are harder to find.

    Nevertheless, by popular appeal, and because I know I'm going to use Belarc *and* Aida, I'm naming Aida32 Program of the Month as well. One other important issue, the Belarc user agreement appears to preclude freeware use in an enterprise environment. Several IT folks rightly wrote to me to point that out. Seems a little silly.

    Spell Checking Anywhere
    Another Program of the Month this time is called Spell.vbs. It harnesses the power of Microsoft Word's spell checker to check the spelling of text you copy to the Windows clipboard. It's extremely useful for spell checking Web forms, bulletin board posts, and text in literally any program that doesn't have its own spell checker. Spell.vbs requires Microsoft Word, but if you use Word you may also have customized its spell-checker with proper names and industry acronyms and terminology, and that's actually an advantage.

    Spell.vbs is very easy to use. Highlight the text you want to spell check and press Ctrl-C to copy the text to the Windows Clipboard. Then launch Spell.vbs (configure it to work with its own keyboard combination to speed things up). If there's a misspelling, the program gives you the standard Microsoft Word dialog in that event. When you're done, if you made corrections, just press Ctrl-V to paste the correct block of text back into your document.

    This program was submitted anonymously by an SFNL reader, but it's also been suggested in past at the Scot's Newsletter Forums. And here's more information about Spell.vbs, including a download link, from PC911.

    Many of you have sent me suggestions, and some of them I'm still checking out. Please keep sending your ideas for Programs of the Month.

    Have you found a little-known freeware or shareware program that solves a specific Windows or broadband problem extremely well? I'm looking for diamonds in the rough, software that begs to be discovered, utilities that can save your bacon. This isn't about mainstream applications, folks! It's about software many of us might not have heard about before, or that just doesn't get enough attention. IMPORTANT: Please include a link to the software-maker's site, not some big download place. Also: 30-day full-featured trialware programs are acceptable, but freeware will get preference. And simpler programs that do one thing well are far more likely to be selected as Program of the Month. Please tell me about your personal favorite, what it does, and why you like it.

    Back to the Top


    Newsletter Schedule
    This issue of the newsletter was a long-time coming, and for good reason. Since the last issue on October 20, I've been traveling a lot on business, including separate trips to LA and Las Vegas (for Microsoft's PDC2003 and Comdex, respectively). I would like to do one more issue in 2003, but that isn't altogether certain at this time. One thing is sure, I always take off some time around the holidays, and I really need it!

    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?

    Happy Holidays, Everyone. All the Best in 2004!

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