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January 5, 2004 - Vol. 4, Issue No. 53

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • First Look at Windows XP Service Pack 2 Beta 1
  • Review: IBM ThinkPad T40p | Top Product!
  • Poll Results: What's Your Primary OS?
  • New Poll: What's Your Next OS?
  • Q&A
       - Buy Norton Internet Security 2004?
       - Upgrading from XP Home to Pro
       - Remote Desktop over Two-Way Satellite
       - Multiple-User Email Problem Under XP
  • Tips for Linux Explorers: All That Bash
  • Verizon and Comcast - Fast, Fast, Fast!
  • Link of the Week: Watching Microsoft Like A Hawk
  • Program of the Month: Google Toolbar | Top Product!
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Errata
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.


    Beta Review: First Look At Windows XP Service Pack 2
    The forthcoming second service pack for Windows XP focuses on security by making it easier for everyday Windows users to let Microsoft protect their computers. The biggest changes are the new Windows Firewall and an increased emphasis on turning on the Automatic Updates feature.

    Over the holidays I obtained the first widespread beta of Microsoft's forthcoming Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). Microsoft says this beta represents a subset of what will be released when this software is finalized sometime during the first half of 2004.

    I tested the new software on several machines over the last few weeks and found it to be very reliable. It's not recommended that you install this beta in a production environment, however. Even so, I found that its uninstall routine works extremely well.

    Unlike most Windows service packs, this one adds quite a bit of new functionality. There are four main areas where Microsoft has made feature and user-interface changes. They are:

    1. Automatic Updates
    2. Windows Firewall (formerly known as Internet Connection Firewall).
    3. Wireless networking controls
    4. A pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer

    Full-Automatic Updates
    With the beta of Windows XP SP2, Microsoft appears to be shaking a finger, figuratively, at users who don't turn on Automatic Updates — or who limit its ability to do its job by not allowing updates to be installed automatically. The first screen you see after installing SP2 and rebooting is a blue warning page that asks you to turn on Automatic Updates. You have two choices:The initial prompt to turn on Automatic Updates. (Click to expand.)

    1. Yes, help me protect my PC by automatically downloading and installing updates (strongly recommended)

    2. Ask me again later.

    The properties screen that controls Automatic Updates settings has been changed. There are now four radio button options (it's really the same number of options presented differently), and the first is the most automatic option; the same one that Microsoft calls "strongly recommended." By default, it automatically downloads and installs patches at 3AM every day. This hour may be a mistake. Many people turn off their computers at night. I haven't tested the point, but the default 3AM time may prevent patches from being installed automatically on many PCs. A better default time might be during the noon hour, with a dialog that pops up and waits for 10 minutes asking you what time of day is best for you.New Automatic Updates configuration screen. (Click to expand.)

    In general the changes to Automatic Updates are a good idea. Some businesses may not want Automatic Updates to be quite so automatic, but on most consumer desktops, this is the correct setting.

    Workable Windows Firewall
    What used to be called Internet Connection Firewall (and is still called that in build 2055 of the product tested for this story), has been upgraded and rechristened "Windows Firewall." There are several minor changes, but the biggest and best change is that, according to Microsoft, XP's firewall should work much better with applications. In part, that should be brought about by the new default "On" setting that's something like a medium level of protection. There's also an "On with no exceptions" setting that provides a high security level (similar to the only level of security provided by default in Internet Connection Firewall).

    The feature I like best is Windows Firewall's new Network Connections tab. Like ZoneAlarm's Trusted Zones feature, it automatically detects networks and lets you disable firewall protection for, say, your peer LAN. Without this feature, Internet Connection Firewall was nearly impossible to use in more complex networking environments. It's still not ideal in an enterprise setting, but in my tests the default configuration stayed out of the way. And that's a good thing because Microsoft currently intends to turn Windows Firewall on by default.

    The new Windows Firewall. (Click to expand.)As will likely be the case with Automatic Updates, some IT managers are bound to be concerned that a software firewall will be turned on by default in Windows XP SP2. While it's easy to turn off, and presumably turning it off by default using enterprise Windows installation tools will be a simple thing, it could be a mixed blessing. Although this requires Windows servers, Microsoft says central administration of Windows Firewall will be available through Active Directory Group Policy.

    Easier Wireless Networking?
    Microsoft has added a new unified wireless networking client whose main focus appears to be providing standard client services for third-party wireless hotspots without having to install proprietary software. Microsoft is basing this enhanced wireless-hotspot functionality on Wireless Provisioning Services. I wasn't able to test the workings for this review, but one of the aspects clearly evident in the revamped wireless networking-related settings pages is the notion of automatic connection to wireless networks.

    The new "Choose A Wireless Network" dialog replaces the functionality of a property sheet in the original Windows XP. Our initial tests of this dialog found it not to be functional. After a lot of contact with Microsoft on this point, it turned out that something was wrong with the XP machine we were testing this feature with. A clean install of Windows XP and reinstallation of the SP2 beta did the trick.

    Choose a wireless network. (Click to expand.)Microsoft has also tweaked the wireless networking settings screens in positive ways, but I still found some areas that need improvement:

    1. You may not be aware of this, but it's possible to make a small icon appear in the system tray, or "notification area," (the icon area next to the clock) for each network to which your system is connected. To turn this on, open the Network Connections Control Panel, then right-click each network connection in turn and put a check in the box beside "Show icon in notification area when connected." Experienced XP users rely on this icon to monitor their network connections. But there's also another benefit. The icon provides a shortcut by giving you the ability to right-click it and choose "Open Network Connections" to access the wireless networking (or regular networking) properties. Accessing the properties this way is definitely sort of round-about, but it winds up being the fastest set of steps to get there, just not the most obvious route. This is notably improved in SP2, since the Open Network Connections" is what was replaced by the better "Choose A Wireless Network."

    But there's something missing from the context menu for each notification area network-connection icon — a properties menu item. Microsoft should take this opportunity to make accessing the wireless or wired network connection properties easier for experienced users by adding that menu item in this release. The alternative is a continuation of the confusing, multiple-click process that even experienced network administrators sometimes forget how to do.

    Netgear's wireless network scan. (Click to expand.)2. Another area of frustration pertains to the signal scan for available wireless networks. When multiple wireless access points use the same SSID on different channels, they show up as a single network entry, not as individual results identified with their channel numbers. While that's a simpler presentation, there are times when it's crucial to be able to connect to a specific access point, not just the strongest one with the strongest signal (what I assume Windows is doing). The utility that comes with Netgear's WG511 Wi-Fi card (and others) shows the functionality of a scan for wireless networks that works as I've described.

    Another type of wireless, Bluetooth, also receives an update with SP2. Not tested for this story, Microsoft says the point of the update is to provide support for a wider range of the latest Bluetooth devices, including wireless keyboards, mice, and connections with cell phones and PDAs.

    Security Baked In
    There are some significant areas of security improvement that are invisible in SP2, but they represent some of the more important changes. Windows Messenger Service, the network messaging feature (not to be confused with Windows Messenger, the instant-messaging client), is turned off by default in SP2. The Windows Messenger Service has been the target of spam pop-ups for more than a year. More recently, it has been identified as a possible area of exploit by hackers and malware.

    For those who use Microsoft's Outlook Express e-mail program or Windows Messenger instant-messaging client (no and no, for me), the software maker is implementing some security fixes in these products. File attachments to emails or files passed with Windows Messenger will be treated with more suspicion by default. Attachments will only be able to open and execute with the fewest permissions possible, limiting their potential areas of impact. Outlook Express will also no longer download external content (such as graphics) in HTML mail by default — so the preview window won't be such a gotcha area (but newsletters may not display properly either). Additionally, Windows XP SP2 will deliver the latest versions of Windows Media Player 9 and DirectX 9.0b, both of which have numerous security tweaks.

    Internet Explorer's new pop-up blocker white list. (Click to expand.)Microsoft has also partially disabled the Remote Procedure Call aspect of Windows, which was targeted by MS Blaster and its variants. It runs with reduced privileges in SP2 and will no longer accept unauthenticated connections by default.

    The Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) has been given "more granular COM permissions to give administrators the flexibility to control a computer's COM permission policy," according to a Microsoft document. In the current environment, it's not possible to allow a local-area network access to COM without also implicitly allowing that application access via the Internet too.

    Microsoft is also going after the most-often cited cause of computer attacks, the buffer overrun. Just how it is working to minimize buffer overruns in Win XP SP2, the software maker isn't saying in great detail. All Windows code released since Windows XP has been recompiled using Microsoft's Visual Studio, which the company says reduces the likelihood of certain buffer-overrun vulnerabilities. The company is also developing software for use with future microprocessors to help Windows support hardware-enforced "no execute" (also known as NX) restrictions. Unfortunately, only high-end, server-oriented AMD chips have this functionality right now. For more information on NX and also deeper details on Windows XP Service Pack 2, see this Microsoft TechNet article: Changes to Functionality in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2.

    A long-time Microsoft beta tester and Scot's Newsletter Forums regular, ThunderRiver, had these thoughts when reading this review:

    Microsoft is working on Version 5 of Windows Update in conjunction with Service Pack 2. It has much better user interface and certainly provides additional update support for products like Office 2003. Although it is still in its infancy, I find it to be a good toward a centralized patching system. Another thing to be aware of is the Microsoft Java VM. If you installed SP1 prior to SP2, the Microsoft JVM should continue to work. On the other hand, many people have reported difficulties applying the JVM after SP2 is installed on machines with SP1a.

    Said and Done
    Although ThunderRiver has found SP2 to be a little unstable, I've found quite the opposite to be true. And I've been surprised about that. Some functionality is still being added to this larger-than-usual service pack release, but a lot of it is in place. Microsoft is slated to deliver this by early summer, but it would not surprise me if they pushed this one out the door sooner.

    Large corporate users of Windows software will clearly benefit from the changes that Windows XP Service Pack 2 brings, but it's important to note that SP2 is not aimed primarily at businesses. It's best to think of SP2 as Microsoft's response to the MS Blaster worm. Everyday PC users increasingly have always-on broadband connections, and we're leaving our PCs on. Many of those PCs (not the ones operated by Scot's Newsletter readers, of course) may not be protected well enough. Microsoft is taking the bull by the horns to ensure that more and more people are protected with a built-in firewall and automatic updates. Given that worms and Trojans not only infect unprotected PCs, but use them as staging areas to infect other PCs, this is an important step for Microsoft to take. It's part of the responsibility I feel the company owes Windows customers everywhere.

    Nevertheless, there are some concerns. If Windows Firewall causes too many problems, it's possible that Microsoft will decide to minimize it further or even turn it off by default. I wouldn't bet on that last option though. Microsoft has done a better job of testing its security patches over the last 18 months. That improvement was key because it's now that much easier for companies and individuals to decide to install every update that comes along — or let Windows do it for them. Many of us would have been very uncomfortable with that thought two or three years ago.

    All in all, SP2 is a solid set of improvements. While not earth-shaking, it's a more ambitious Windows service pack than most, and everything about it is labeled "security." So it's a welcome update as soon as Microsoft straightens out all the kinks you expect from this beta service pack.

    Back to the Top


    NetSwitcher keeps you going when you switch network connections!
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    Long-Term Review: IBM ThinkPad T40p | Top Product!
    The ThinkPad T40p series of notebooks represents a notebook form factor at the top of its game. There is no other product available with a 14.1-inch LCD that works out this perfect compromise between sheer portability and comfortable livability.

    I've examined, tested, reviewed, and written about a wide range of what I call "thin line" full-size notebooks. They're thin and light but have full-size displays, and by that I mean screens measuring 13.3 inches or larger on the diagonal. The trend is toward ever-smaller notebooks, many of them under 3 pounds with screens measuring 12 inches and smaller. And if all you're doing with your notebook is checking email or surfing the Web, a 12-inch screen may be big enough for you.

    But I hunger for more screen real estate and a larger keyboard than that. I want the chance to go to 1280 x 1024 when I want to. And at 1024 x 768 pixels on a 14.1-inch display, I could happily work a whole day without coming away a blurry-eyed mess.

    The New Boss
    IBM released the T40 series in March 2003. I've examined two T40 series machines over the course of the last six months or so. The first one had the SXGA display, which offers native resolution of 1400 by 1050 pixels. The second one has the SVGA display, and its highest resolution is 1024 by 768 pixels. I found the 1400 by 1050 resolution to be too fine for my over-40 eyes. And the non-native resolution modes, such as 1280 by 1024 and 1024 by 768, just weren't as crisp as I'd like because they rely on software interpolation. It's difficult to find ThinkPad T40 models with the 1024 by 768 resolution, but they can be had.

    Let's get to what's truly great about this notebook PC: 4.5-pound travel weight, and it's only about 1-inch thick and 10 inches deep. The keyboard is perfection in a way that only IBM seems able to master. IBM's UltraNav pointing system has spoiled me on the rudimentary pointing devices provided by other notebook manufacturers.

    UltraNav
    UltraNav comes with both the eraser-head style pointing stick and touch pad. The touch pad is just a touch pad. I've never been overly fond of them because they're imprecise. But the pointing stick on the T40 is evolved. The pointing stick itself is larger than its competition, and it has wider, flatter surface that's covered with soft rubber. With other pointing sticks, I find that my finger hurts after a few hours. Not so with this one. The UltraNav pointing stick can also accept tap inputs, interpreting them as a left (or optionally right) mouse click, like most touch pads. But the best part is the scrolling solution. Anyone who uses a wheel-mouse will miss that scrolling functionality on most notebooks. The T40 has an ingenious solution.

    There's a third button nestled between the left and right thumb buttons for the TrackPoint, just below the keyboard. When you press and hold the middle button and move the pointing stick up or down, you get the same type of scrolling you would get by rotating the wheel on a wheel mouse. A tiny scroll-bar icon appears at the tip of your mouse pointer signifying that you're in scrolling mode. You can also control the scroll speed with the amount of downward pressure you apply on the pointing stick. The harder you press, the faster the page will scroll.

    UltraNav may sound like a gimmick, but it isn't. It's so good, in fact, that I've had thoughts of chucking the mouse for my desktop PC and getting IBM's $85 UltraNav keyboard for my main desktop PC. The fact that you don't have to take your hand away from the keyboard is a major advantage.

    Performance and Battery Life
    I've never run out of juice with the T40p. Now I'll admit, the longest plane flight I usually make coast-to-coast in the U.S., rarely more than 5.5 hours. And I'm unlikely to use my computer the whole way unless I'm in first class. And, albeit, I literally have no other reason to unplug my notebook PCs other than for brief moments when they're being carried from one room to another. But Intel's and IBM's claims that the Centrino chip vastly stretches battery-charge life are true. What's more, Centrino/Pentium-M machines run much cooler than comparable Pentium III mobile chips or P4 chips.

    The clock rates listed for Centrino processors are also confusing. You would think that a 2.4GHz Mobile Pentium 4 would be much faster than a Centrino/Pentium-M 1.6GHz processor. But according to many people in the industry (and I don't just mean Intel), that isn't the case. My own basic testing bears this out. What's more important, in real-world use with today's software, you're not going to notice any difference. Why? Because the Centrino chip has 1MB of onboard cache, whereas the Pentium 4's have 512K. For some types of operations, that isn't a big plus, but in many cases it is.

    The T41, A Modest Update
    Last October, IBM announced a slightly newer variant of the T40p, the ThinkPad T41p model (press release), which is identical to the T40 but adds some new security and durability features. The T41 comes with hard-drive-protection technology designed to protect people's data in the event the unit is dropped or damaged. IBM's Active Protection System uses a microchip on the system board that detects system acceleration and rapidly (and temporarily) parks the drive's read/write head. The T41 also adds support for the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) increased wireless security and the Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) in its built-in 802.11b wireless solution. The T41 also employs the 1.7GHz Intel Pentium-M processor, the ATI Mobility FireGL T2 graphics card with 128MB video RAM, and Intel's Centrino mobile wireless technology supporting 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth wireless, and Gigabit Ethernet. With the T41's second battery onboard, the machine can go 8.6 hours on battery, according to its manufacturer.

    Quibbles
    So what don't I like about the T40p? There's very little to complain about. The biggest criticism was made up top: A 1400 by 1050-pixel display resolution on a 14.1-inch LCD is all but useless in my opinion. Its main value might be in displaying to an external monitor, and even there I have my doubts. So, IBM, give us an LCD that's native at 1280 by 1024, or do much better job at the interpolation trickery so that various resolutions work visually. Samsung and some other desktop LCD vendors have achieved this; you can too.

    Other small points: The shape of the TrackPoint buttons isn't ergonomically correct, and this causes me to hold my hand with more tension that I might otherwise. I also have a suggestion for IBM's engineers. If you've ever used a five-button wheel mouse, you know how freeing it is to be able to click the browser Back and Forward buttons using special dedicated buttons on either side of the mouse. I recommend that IBM add similar functionality to the UltraNav. The gesture might be to hold down the left button and tap the pointing stick for Back, and the same but with the right button for Forward.

    The units I tested have built-in wireless with antennas invisibly enclosed in the display. That's great, but the only wireless standard supported at this level is 802.11b. You can pay more for an option that brings you 802.11a/b or 802.11a/b/g (in the T41), but some of this seems like needless stratification.

    In fact, the number of different versions of the T40 and T41 models is staggering, and making a purchase decision can be daunting as a result. And the Let Me Build It configurator at IBM's ThinkPad T Series site definitely creates the exact model you want, but you'll pay way too much for it in the process. These pre-built models with 1024-by-768 resolution are cheaper but you can't reconfigure them.

    Finally, I can't pass this by. The Ctrl Key and the Function key are at war on the left size of the spacebar on most notebook computers. Most touch typists use that Ctrl key far more often than the Function or Alt keys. None of us ever want to hit the Function key when we think we're hitting the Ctrl key. Stick that pesky Fn key somewhere else!

    Finish Line
    Using the T40 series of ThinkPad notebooks is a pleasure. It's been a long time since any new computer impressed me as much as this one. For the last couple of years, I've been a confirmed HP/Compaq notebook PC user. This two-spindle notebook is almost as sleek and light as my one-spindle Toshiba Portege 7200 (which, albeit, is a couple of years old). In short, it's the perfect notebook for me. And probably the perfect notebook for just about any home user or road warrior — unless you truly like typing on a midget keyboard and peering into a 12-inch screen. If someone forced me to part with every computer I own except one, this ThinkPad would be the one I'd keep. And let me tell you, that's saying something. [Editors note: With over 20 computers around this place ... please, somebody force him! --Cyndy]

    Notable specs: 1.3GHz - 1.6GHz Pentium Mobile-M processor (a.k.a. Centrino), L2 cache: 1MB, 256MB / 2GB RAM (min. / max.), 400MHz front-side bus, ATA-100 30GB (and higher) hard drive, ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB DDR SDRAM video, new slim form factor add-on bay with a long list of insertable options, including optical drives, second battery, and a floppy drive. Ethernet, a modem, S-Video out, 2 USB, external display, and a long list of ports (everything but Firewire) are standard. IBM's Embedded Security System 2.0 is very useful, especially in an enterprise setting.

  • Top Product! | $1,749 IBM ThinkPad T40p (Model: 2379-D3U), IBM ThinkPad T Series, Phone: 888-SHOP-IBM (888-407-7426), Support, Press Release

    Back to the Top


    Poll Results: What's Your Primary OS?
    The results of the second annual SFNL "What's Your Primary OS?" poll aren't wildly surprising, but they confirmed my suspicions. Nearly 6,000 people responded to this Scot's Newsletter poll (at 13 percent, I believe that's a record response rate for the newsletter).

    I'll cut to the chase: The big news is that almost 60 percent of Scot's Newsletter readers are using Windows XP. That number is up from 40 percent last year. Only 2 percent of the rise in XP usage was derived from upgrades from Windows 2000, which had 16 percent usership last year and 14 percent this year. The Windows 98 numbers have dropped from 34 percent in 2002 to 20 percent in 2003.

    To me, though, the more interesting comparison is to group NT-derived operating systems (XP, 2000, NT, and Windows Server 2003) together and pool Win 9.x OSes (ME, 98, and 95) in another batch. XP and other NT-derived users total 73 percent of Scot's Newsletter readers in 2003. In 2002, they totaled 57 percent. And the Win 9.x group dropped from 41 percent in September of 2002 to 24 percent in October of 2003.

    When you consider the small number of Linux SFNL readers, keep in mind that the question was: What's Your Primary OS? I asked for one response only. If I had asked what OSes you run, the Linux numbers would be much higher because a lot of Scot's Newsletter readers have a second machine or a multiple-boot configuration running Linux.

    Other notables, not a single response hailed from a Windows 3.x user, and only two people said their primary OS is DOS. Only two OS/2 users. Mac users went up slightly in 2003, but still represent only 1 percent of the whole.

    I've prepared four pie-chart slides that show the What's Your Primary OS responses from 2003 and 2002. They're worth a look if this discussion interests you, as it does me.

  • SFNL 9-26-2002 Primary OS Poll Results

    Back to the Top


    New Poll: What's Your Next Operating System?
    This is the fourth annual What's Your Next OS poll conducted by this newsletter (and its predecessor, Windows Insider). When added to the results of the What's Your Primary OS poll, the results of this poll provide very interesting data about desktop operating system usage. I also use this data to plan future coverage in this newsletter. So I would appreciate your input!

    The question boils down to this: Whether you get your next operating system with the purchase of a new computer, download ISOs and install them, or buy and install new operating system hardware, what do you think will most likely be your next OS?

    Please use the email links that follow to send in your response. If the clickable links don't launch a new email message for you, follow the directions below each answer to create your response manually. It only takes a minute.

    Which one response best describes your plans to begin using a different operating system?

    1. Do not plan to upgrade my OS any time soon
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_None" on subject line.)

    2. Waiting for Windows 'Longhorn'
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_Longhorn" on subject line.)

    3. Windows XP Professional Edition
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_WinXPPro" on subject line.)

    4. Windows XP Home Edition
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_WinXPHome" on subject line.)

    5. Linux (any version)
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_Linux" on subject line.)

    6. Macintosh OS X
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_Mac" on subject line.)

    7. Windows 2000
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_Win2K" on subject line.)

    8. Windows Server 2003
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_WinServer2003" on subject line.)

    9. Other OS (OS/2, Unix, BSD, older Windows, or any other)*
    (If this link doesn't work, send a message to poll2003@scotsnewsletter.com and type "Next_OtherOS" on subject line.)

    * NOTE: For #9, please write the name of the other operating system in the body of the email.

    Thanks for taking the time to send me your message. In an upcoming issue I'll tell you how this turned out.

    Back to the Top


    Q&A
       - Buy Norton Internet Security 2004?
       - Upgrading from XP Home to Pro
       - Remote Desktop over Two-Way Satellite
       - Multiple-User Email Problem Under XP

    Buy Norton Internet Security 2004?

    Question: My subscription to Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2003 ran out on December 31 (and Norton SystemWorks Pro runs out this May). I'm wondering whether to pay $30 NIS 2004 or buy another copy of NIS 2003 for $10. Reading back over your brief comments in September and October, it's not clear whether you think the upgrade is worth it from the standpoint of new features or the program's functionality. This is for a single-person computer on a Comcast connection. Have you developed any opinions about this yet? Gene Goldenfeld

    Answer: I haven't tested NIS 2004 at all. My comments in the earlier issues of Scot's Newsletter were purely product announcements, and I was making no evaluative judgments at that time.

    However, my liking for the NIS product series has reduced over the last year. It represents enormous value, but I'm becoming disillusioned with Symantec's ability to make multiple security systems work together without customer support issues. You saw my review of NAS 2004.

    My tendency at this point, without having reviewed NIS 2004 (so this might change), is to recommend Norton Personal Firewall 2004 on its own or ZoneAlarm 4.0 Pro. I also like Sygate Personal Firewall Pro (now up to version 5.5), but it's tough to configure and is really aimed more at experts than everyday people.

  • Norton Personal Firewall 2004
  • ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0
  • Sygate Personal Firewall Pro 5.5

    Each of these products has peccadilloes. ZoneAlarm tends to forget you have accepted your LAN into the trusted zone. Networking stops working inexplicably (this usually occurs on one PC only). If you run ZoneAlarm on a network, get into the habit of checking it first when the network stops working. Other than that, it's an excellent firewall, and if that bug — which has plagued ZoneAlarm for two years now — were ever fixed, I'd probably just pronounce ZoneAlarm the best and be done with it. Norton Personal Firewall 2003 was a little suspect in its protection level, but it appears to have improved in the 2004 version. If you've had problems with ZoneAlarm, I'd get this one.

    NIS 2004 represents a great value, there's no doubt. But I'm finding that with Symantec products, it's better to limit your intake. I still like NAV, and am running NAV2004 (though I'm still having issues with LiveUpdate and automatic checking and installation of virus definitions). And Norton AntiSpam is not a good product in its first release. So, though it might cost a little more, I recommend getting NAV2004 separately.

    About Norton SystemWorks 2004. They only thing I really love about this product are some of the Norton Utilities tools, like DiskDoctor and SpeedDisk. The Pro version adds Norton Ghost, and that's a major advantage. I prefer Norton Ghost to PowerQuest's latest versions of Drive Image. The fact that it includes NAV2004 may be a good thing, but I'm still leery of Symantec's Swiss-army-knife products.

    Another option is to get a hardware firewall/router product. If you have a solid antivirus product kept fully up to date and you also regularly run anti-spyware/adware products (I prefer SpyBot and Ad-aware, and I run them both), you may not miss the outbound protection that hardware firewalls lack. Software firewalls check outbound traffic for signs of a Trojan or worm that has infected your PC and is using it as a staging area to replicate itself (or other unpleasant activities, like coordinated denial-of-service attacks). But the overhead of software firewalls is intrusive. A hardware firewall/router solution in the hands of an experienced user offers good protection.

    To some the idea of not running a software firewall is heresy. And it is riskier. But it's a viable option. --S.F.


    Upgrading from XP Home to Pro

    Question: Just read your interesting piece about Windows lifecycles. I have three computers that are running Windows XP Home. My question is: Can I upgrade to XP professional without reformatting? Since it is a better OS and has a longer support life, I think some of your subscribers might also be interested in the question. Bob Thrall

    Answer: You're right, good question. Yes, you can upgrade without formatting. It's a minor upgrade. Of course, you'll have to pay for a separate copy for each computer. But if the money doesn't bother you, then by all means go right ahead. Do an upgrade installation. With Windows XP Home Edition running, insert your XP Pro disc and, click "Install Windows XP" on the pop-up screen, and then go with the default installation type: "Upgrade (recommended)."

    One other thought for you: If your main concern is the lifespan of Windows XP Home Edition, keep in mind you have almost a full three years of use of this product before it moves into the realm of reduced support. And Microsoft currently guarantees to continue selling Windows XP Pro through the end of 2005. Unless there's some other reason why you'd prefer to move up to XP Pro, it might make more sense to wait until December of 2005. That's almost two years, and a lot can happen between now and then, including:

    1. You decide to buy new PCs 2. The price of the Windows XP Pro Upgrade comes down a bit. (Although Windows prices don't tend to fall markedly.) --S.F.


    Remote Desktop over Two-Way Satellite

    Question: Do you know if Remote Desktop over the DirecWay [two-way satellite Internet service] suffers the same fate as most VPN connections with incredibly sluggish performance? Matthew L. Schubert

    Answer: Do you mean Remote Desktop Web Connection (RDWC) or Remote Desktop Connection (RDC)? The former is designed to work on the Internet, the latter is designed to work on a LAN. I'm going to assume you mean RDWC.

    Yes, RDWC connections will be quite slow on two-way satellite Internet systems. The satellite is 22,000 miles high in geosynchronous orbit, and that creates an extreme amount of latency. But VPN and RDWC are different technologies. Each is slow, but for slightly different reasons. RDWC is slow over most broadband connections without the high latency of satellite. You're essentially squeezing the video performance of a remotely accessed computer through a pipe that's limited by the remote machine's upstream Internet performance. Although I haven't actually tested this, my bet is that two-way satellite is virtually unusable with RDWC — especially when it's the remote or host machine that has satellite. --S.F.


    Multiple-User Email Problem Under XP

    Question: Your section in the last edition of the newsletter re: the end of the line for Win98 really hit a nerve with me. I'm one of the holdouts, still using Win 98 reliably and happily. I have two 98SE systems (P4-2.4GHz/512MB & PIII-650MHz/512MB) tied together via a Linksys router on a cable connection, and they both work day after day after day. But, I know the end is nearer, rather than further away, and XP Pro sure looks to be the solution. My hope is the networking setup is at least as simple as it was on 98SE (and from what I've read, it looks to be).

    My biggest concern about XP is the darned email account thing. As far as you know is it still the case that XP Pro has difficulty managing multiple email accounts? I have two less experienced users here who don't like change when it come to the computer. If the difficulty (compared to simply switching identities within 98) with managing email accounts persists in XP Pro today I'm going to have a tough sell. What do you know of this situation? --Jeff Heyen

    Answer: I have never heard of XP having trouble with multiple email accounts. I think, but am not sure, that you're referring to changes in Outlook Express. Since I don't use that program (and don't recommend it to anyone else either), I'm not completely up on that problem. I also recall an issue about the number of Internet streams that various versions of Windows are able to address simultaneously. I'm not sure if that's the problem you're referring to. But that's also adjustable with a Registry setting. I would check with your ISP(s) on this point to see if they have heard of this problem with their services.

    But, if I'm understanding your area of concerns correctly, Windows XP makes sharing a single computer among two or more people much easier than Windows 98. Each person can keep his own version of an entire Windows setting separate from everyone else, and can switch from one user to another without having to reboot. Programs that are smart about how XP works are designed to manage multiple users. And data and general Windows settings are preserved completely separately for each user. It's probably the single most powerful feature of Windows XP for home users. If you're sharing a PC with multiple people, you definitely want Windows XP. --S.F.

    Send your burning question to the newsletter, and look for an answer in a future issue. But if you're in a hurry to get a technical question answered, perhaps other Scot's Newsletter readers can help. Visit the Scot's Newsletter Forums, and post your question in the Q&A forum.

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    Tips for Linux Explorers: All That Bash
    There are several shells available for Linux, but the default shell — the command-line functionality you get when you open a terminal or console — is called Bash. Bash is actually an acronym derived from the phrase Bourne Again SHell; it's a pun on the traditional UNIX shell authored by Steve Bourne.

    A shell is a program that takes commands from the user and passes them to the kernel for processing. Like all the other shells in Linux, Bash is not only a great tool for the command line, but also a scripting language. Shell scripting allows you to automate tasks that in a normal way would need typing in a lot of commands.

    Some other notable Linux shells include the C shell, the Korn shell (also called KSH, the default for IBM's AIX operating system), the ASH shell (ASH is useful for testing whether scripts are shell compliant), the TCSH shell (fully compatible version of the Berkeley UNIX C shell), and the new ZSH shell (which closely resembles KSH but offers many enhancements).

    When you open a terminal/console, you're opening the Bash shell whose prompt typically ends with a $ and looks something like this:

    [localhost@localdomain:~]$

    (In the above example, localhost and localdomain are placeholders for the names specific to your Linux login and directory location.) A Bash prompt ends with the $ symbol when you're logged in as a standard user. (In SuSE, the Bash prompt ends with a > symbol, like DOS when you're logged in as a user.) When you're logged in a root (or "administrator"), the Bash prompt ends with the # symbol. SuSE also displays # for root.

    Bash History
    Here's a neat Bash-prompt trick. At a basic Bash prompt, press the up-arrow key and you'll see the last command you typed in. Press again and again to rotate through all the commands you typed previously, stored for you in Bash history.

    You will only see the commands you typed in for your login, whether that's for a specific user or for root.

    Here are some additional Bash tips, all of which are commands that you type at the Bash prompt:

    To display a full numbered list of all stored commands, type:

    history

    To retrieve the eighth command previously entered, type:

    !8

    To get the last command that started with the letter V, type:

    !v

    Bash history isn't lost when you reboot or shutdown either. Clever isn't it?

    Bash Shortcuts
    To go along with Bash basics above, here are some basic shorthand commands:

    To go back one step in the directory tree, type:

    cd ..

    To change to the /home/{logged in username} directory, type:

    cd ~

    To change to the directory of a specific user when you have more than one, type the previous command followed by the name of the user:

    cd ~bruno
    cd ~anna

    To change the directory /home/{logged in username}/Downloads/Backgrounds, type:

    cd ~/Downloads/Backgrounds

    For really fast typing don't forget to use the Tab-key for auto-completion. Typing the following does the same as the previous example, a lot faster:

    cd ~/D {press Tab Key} /B {press Tab key}

    Bash Script
    You probably know that the "rm" command removes (or deletes) a file permanently. Wouldn't it be nice if we could move it to the recycle bin with a simple command instead? You can. To do that, you can make your own command called Del with a brief script.

    To build the script, open a terminal and type the following lines:

    su
    {type your root password}  (Note: you should see the # prompt)
    kedit /usr/bin/del

    This opens a new window in the keditor into which you should type the following script:

    #!/bin/bash
    mv $1 ~/Desktop/Trash
    #End script

    The next step is to save the file using kedit's File, Save As menu command. Then, back at the Bash prompt logged in as root, type this line to make the new script executable:

    chmod 0775 /usr/bin/del

    Now whenever you type the del command, it will run your script. For example, if you came across the "tessst" file and you wanted to move it to the trash, you could just type this at the Bash prompt:

    del tessst

    That will perform the same action as:

    mv tessst /home/{logged in username}/Desktop/Trash

    Sure this was a very short example, a three-line script, it only holds one command, but you could add as many lines to the script as you wanted to and execute it with a simple three-letter word. If there are more commands in the script it will execute them in the order that they appear. Because /usr/bin is in your path you only have to type "del" to execute it from anywhere in the file system.

    If you need to do complex commands in a certain order on a regular basis, make a little bash script, put it in your path, and give it a name that's easy to remember.

    In a future installment, we'll make a simple backup script, to backup and GZip the contents of your /home directory. We'll also explore the Vi editor at a later date. Vi is often the only tool for many scripting and editing chores.

    Sources
    We'd like to take a little space to announce a new website called Linux Clues. It's derived from the Tips for Linux Explorers section of Scot's Newsletter. It came to life only a couple days ago and is still partially under construction:

    http://www.linuxclues.com/

    Let us know what you think. Check the About Us page for where to send suggestions, comments, and possible content for the site.

    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
  • Directories and Tab Completion
  • Linux Clues home page

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    Verizon and Comcast - Fast, Fast, Fast!
    Last issue of the newsletter I reported that I was "this close" to getting 1.5Mbps DSL service from Verizon for $34.95 a month (plus you get $5 off if you switch to a specific level of Verizon's long-distance service on the same phone line).

    Frankly, the game of getting me faster DSL went in extra innings after the last issue of the newsletter. My loop length didn't really qualify for 1.5Mbps service. (It's not clear to me that Verizon was, in fact, successful in saving my Covad-supplied SDSL line.) But Verizon was kind enough to figure out a way to give me the faster level of service anyway. They're effectively treating me like a guinea pig — something I was happy to try for them — in testing out a faster level of service on a longer line. And so far there have been no problems at all. It could be that I'll get into trouble with this, but the technician I worked on this with said that I would have no trouble at all.

    Bottom line: I was very psyched to get the improved performance. Thanks again to Stephen Cicchinelli at Verizon.

    A funny thing happened, though, while I spent literally half a year bringing my Verizon service levels up to the level of my Comcast service so that I could head-to-head them in a fair, deep, wide-ranging comparison review. Comcast hasn't been standing still. Just a few weeks ago I got a note from the fellow in my town who leads the town committee that negotiates with the cable company. He'd heard that Comcast would be cranking up the speed in our area, and that for the time being, anyway, it was doing this for free. Market pressure. And when you consider that I pay $46 for my cable modem service and $30 for my DSL service, it makes sense that the cable service should be faster.

    But I was not prepared for how much faster. It was only a couple of days later that, and not two weeks after my Verizon speed got cranked up, that I noticed that Comcast seemed a lot zippier. I remembered what I'd heard about Comcast boosting performance, so I ran a battery of bandwidth tests. I think my mouth must have sagged open when I learned that my little Toshiba PCX1100 cable modem (which is getting a little long in the tooth) is now three times faster than I was when I first got it. I routinely see performance in the 3Mbps range from Comcast now.

    For the first time, ever, I'm no longer green with envy about the millions of Canadian cable customers, most of whom have extremely fast 2+ Mbps Internet access. For once, my hat's off to Comcast.

    Verizon Too
    There have also been some significant improvements to other aspects of the Verizon service since I reported on it last June. For one thing, Verizon has upgraded its modem to the newer Westell 2200; it's a modem/router that has a built-in NAT plus firewall features. All you need is a switch with however many ports you need to connect the computers you have to share out your Verizon DSL connection. Also, Verizon's support continues to be excellent. The software has improved dramatically, but it's also completely unnecessary. You can plug any computer into Verizon's modem/router and the connection will take hold right away. No software, no messing with a WAN miniport, no problem. Separate and apart from the performance, the Verizon experience is darn good — even though it's still PPPoE based.

    It's great when things improve, while not costing customers a dime more. I plan to review the Verizon service again, and then jump into a comparison with Comcast in an upcoming issue.

    What's your broadband story? Whether it installed like a dream or was an utter nightmare, tell SFNL readers about your experience.

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    Link of the Week: Watching Microsoft Like A Hawk
    Watching Microsoft Like A Hawk is a topical link site that's extremely well done, for two primary reasons:

    1. Smart people are involved. They are picking out the very best Microsoft stories published on a variety of professional publishing sites and less professional "beta" sites. The selection of the stories shows keen insight into Microsoft and what it's trying to accomplish. The selection also creates at edginess that goes along with the site's name.

    2. The site editor (editors?) cops just enough attitude in the blurbs that describe each story to make you smirk without going overboard. In fact, the only thing that may go overboard is the name Watching Microsoft Like A Hawk. But, then, the name worked.

    Watching Microsoft Like A Hawk is a Link of the Week, but if you're as interested in watching Microsoft as I am, you'll probably want to visit it every day.

    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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    Program of the Month: Google Toolbar | Top Product!
    For the last three months I've been using the Google Toolbar pretty extensively. I'm not an Internet Explorer toolbar kind of guy, to be honest. In fact, I'm not all that keen about customizing the IE browser at all — although I can see why many of you would be. My reasoning isn't typical: I make my living working on Internet content, and I want the browser I use to be as close to the basic tool that most of my readers use as possible.

    For website creators, though, the Google Toolbar has some compelling advantages. The Page Rank features gives you a visual representation of how well Google thinks any website you visit is trafficked. And the Backward Links feature gives you a list of referrers. Since I search Google so frequently, though, I really like having a little window open on the screen that lets me do that at all times. It also has drop-down history, which is nice. There are several other features that I personally find less useful, although you may like things like the search highlight button, AutoFill, or BlogThis. So far as I'm concerned, it's the Google Popup Blocker that is the lead feature in this product.

    I've gone on record in the past as saying I didn't like pop-up blockers. But over the last year or so, they've improved dramatically. The Google pop-up blocker works extremely well. It has a white list, something that casual users might not be aware of, since it's not a very obvious feature. You can't edit the white list (well, it probably exists in Registry or in some text file somewhere, but there's no UI for editing it). To add a site to the white list, visit the site and then simply click the Popup Blocker button on the toolbar. It toggles and now reads Site Popups Allowed. It will remember this state and show it automatically whenever you visit a site that you've configured to allow pop-ups on. If you change your mind, just revisit the site and click the button again.

    All in all, the Google Toolbar is extremely well done. It's not only the Program of the Month. I'm also putting it on the Scot's Newsletter Top Product list.

    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.

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    Newsletter Schedule
    Let's face the facts, Jack. This has turned into a monthly newsletter when I wasn't looking. There are very good reasons for that. My monthly column for PC Today commands attention nowadays, and it's tough to do both a column and a newsletter issue in one weekend. My most recent PC Today column is called: Getting A Grip on Windows 'Longhorn'. Check it out. Unfortunately, PC Today doesn't let you see the entire article on the Web unless you subscribe to the magazine. Ah, well. The magazine is also on the newsstand just about everywhere.

    So, anyway, I don't expect the next issue of the newsletter until the second week of February. 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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    Errata
    Several subscribers reported receiving double copies of the issue last time. This is not an uncommon problem when the receiving mail server is nearly overwhelmed. It may send both a bounce message back to the sending server AND also eventually route the message to the proper recipient. That bounce message causes the sending email server (in this case, my newsletter distributor's Lyris server) to resend the message. This is how all Internet mail operates, by the way, not just Lyris or email newsletters.

    But in this case, there were some problems on the Lyris server at the time that my newsletter was going out. I believe that one half of the list was delayed, and then resumed, part way through the mailing. Probably only a small portion of the people on the list wound up getting sent to twice as a result. It was completely out of my control, and so far as I know, handled entirely by the Lyris server. In any case, my apology if you get the newsletter twice last time. And let me know if it happens again.

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