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April 26, 2004 - Vol. 4, Issue No. 56
By Scot Finnie
IN THIS ISSUE
But Comcast had a counter move. In the same month that Verizon DSL service began pumping bits down from the Internet to SFNL Labs 1.5Mbps, Comcast just turned a switch that doubled its average performance, which is stated at something like 2Mbps, but it's actually more like 4Mbps.
Here are some of the stories I wrote last year about Verizon and/or Comcast:
Now that I've lived with both services -- the two largest broadband providers in the U.S. -- for quite some time, I'm ready to give you the dirt on which one is better, and why. Read on to find out about my conclusions.
Ordering and Installation
Over the last year, I've ordered and installed Verizon DSL twice. I've detailed my experiences in more than half a dozen previous issues of the newsletter. Use the search tool on the Scot's Newsletter site to check up on them if you're interested.
I also went through the cancel process with the first Verizon installation. Although there were hitches here and there, by and large my experience was nearly excellent. Verizon support and customer service personnel have improved Internet-oriented service levels markedly over the past five years.
There were several other improvements that were shown up by the differences between my first DSL installation and the second one less than six months later. The installation software in the first installation was poorly written, and the set-up process was prone to error and tended to cause user frustration.
A lot of what was the better the second time around was due to the more sophisticated Westell Model 2200 DSL modem, which in addition to being a DSL modem is also a basic firewall and router. It runs circles around the Westell WireSpeed DualConnect modem I got with my first Verizon DSL installation. The Model 2200's configurability let's you do a lot more with it. The darn thing just works. And perhaps best of all, it makes the Verizon DSL software installation a completely optional event. The only reason to run it is to add the support software on your computer and pick your Verizon email address.
I'm forced to grade this part of Comcast's service partially on my experience with AT&T Broadband, which did my initial cable installation. My AT&T Broadband installation was perfection.
Meanwhile, the Comcast conversion from AT&T Broadband, which is as close as I get to a Comcast installation, was pretty bad news. The worst of it was the unnecessary and reportedly spyware-laden Comcast Transition Wizard, which was not only ineffectual but also caused some people problems. See: The Comcast Conversion Report Card.
Perhaps equally as bad though, and probably the underlying negative issue about Comcast, is the lack of consistent and accurate communication with customers. For me, that communication is just AWOL. I have had almost no contact from the company since becoming its customer. I never received the email that many others got telling me that it was increasing the performance of its system throughout the U.S. I happened to notice that change early on my own, and so I reported on it. But the company forgot to tell me. Overall, I gave Comcast a C- on its AT&T Broadband conversion. Combine my AT&T Broadband installation experience and the Comcast conversion experience, and I'll give Comcast a B- for ordering and installation. Verizon easily gets an A-.
Rating (A = Best): Comcast:
Software and Hardware
Verizon's Achilles' heel is its software installation disc. Even though initial installation went pretty smoothly with the Westell 2200 and the Verizon Online 5.1 installation software I received last October (the software has since received a minor upgrade to 5.1.6), it was troublesome nonetheless.
Verizon has a relationship with Microsoft's MSN online service, and the MSN software is a part of the Verizon DSL installation process. Even though MSN installation is optional, it doesn't appear that it is. You have to cancel out of the setup routine before you install the MSN software. Inexperienced users are apt to just continue on through. Verizon should clearly mark the MSN software installation as optional. I've written about MSN before, and suffice it to say that I dislike this software, and recommend against the use of MSN's service or software.
The Verizon installation disc falls down in other areas too. One of the initial installation options is:
"I am an existing Verizon Online DSL customer wanting to do one of the following: 1.) Update the Verizon Online software. 2.) Add Verizon Online DSL with MSN 8. 3.) Add Verizon Online software to another PC."
Long after having successfully installed Verizon DSL, I wanted to add the support software from the disc to another PC. So I picked that option. I attempted it twice, and both attempts killed my Internet connection for both PCs and resulted in tech support calls. One of the Verizon reps admitted that this didn't work very well, especially with Windows XP computers, and he advised that I download separate pieces of the support software from the Resource Center on the Verizon site. Of course, they don't actually offer all the support software installed by the disc on their website.
The Verizon software is also just over engineered. There's annoying talking voice that reads everything on the screen, and even though there's a Back button on most steps in the process, it's usually grayed out. Verizon's attempt to idiot-proof this software clearly goes too far.
Beyond installation, things get better again. Verizon's software delivers local utilities running in concert with Web-based data to provide everything from online billing information to remote diagnostic tools that can be kicked off by Verizon tech support reps. There's a rich level of account controls that lets you configure Verizon's wide range of ISP services, such as additional user accounts, newsgroups, email, personal Web pages, nationwide dial-up access, and a lot more. I would definitely like to see this software rethought. There's a bewildering array of end-user options that are a bit confusing. But the power of the account management and diagnostic tools blow away those of many other ISPs.
Verizon, like most phone company Internet providers, uses the PPPoE protocol, which I'm not overly fond of. However, the Westell 2200 modem/router contains firmware that handles this completely, so there's no need to configure a "mini dialer" or any other software in the operating system. That makes Verizon's DSL service as plug and play as other DSL services (from companies like SpeakEasy and many others) that do not use PPPoE. This is not the case with Westell WireSpeed DualConnect, which is in wide circulation with earlier Verizon and other PPPoE DSL customers. It won't increase your performance, but if you're a DSL customer with this older Westell unit, I would try to get your service provider to give you an upgrade. The Model 2200 gets top marks from me. Although the 2200 is able to connect via both USB and Ethernet, I strongly recommend using an Ethernet connection.
Comcast never sent me its installation software, and it's not freely downloadable on the Comcast website anywhere that I can find (although you can order a new disc in the mail). But judging from the manuals that go with it (which are freely downloadable), Comcast's software is much simpler than Verizon's. It consists of basic username and password selection, online user agreement, and email configuration steps. There's one step, though, that checks for your NIC and wants to register that NIC with Comcast (presumably so they can keep track of whether you've got a LAN running). Comcast's system requires no software whatsoever to operate. So long as you have your username and password, you can plug it in and go. And in fact, that's what I recommend that you do.
The Comcast website provide many of the features that Verizon software and Web services deliver. Online billing, for example, is available after you sign up for it on the Comcast.com site. (A support page on the Comcast site implies online billing may not be available in all areas -- but I was able to sign up for it.) You can manage your accounts and email addresses, access Web mail, set up personal Web space, use online storage, and store and share photos on the Web after you login to the Comcast.net site. It would be better if billing and account services were all managed from a single login, however. They're not even at the same domain, and that's a little confusing for users.
Comcast has published a very long list of cable modems that are approved for use with its High-Speed Internet system. The cable modem I'm using is a bit old and was originally distributed by AT&T Broadband. It's Toshiba's PCX1100, model DAZ8811F without a USB port (but Comcast does support both Ethernet and USB connections). This Toshiba modem is in wide use in my area, and has given me no trouble whatsoever. It's also very basic, though, and offers no extra features.
Rating (A = Best): Comcast:B Verizon: B+
Connection Sharing, VPN, Firewall
Both of these services make it perfectly easy to share your broadband connection with multiple PCs. Setting up a LAN and sharing your connection on that LAN is no problem with either software/hardware or hardware-only solutions.
But there is one important difference between Verizon and Comcast on this point. Verizon makes no bones about LAN sharing. It expects its customers with multiple PCs to do this, its license agreement specifically permits it, and it even offers basic support for it LAN sharing of the DSL connection. Comcast, on the other hand, expressly forbids the use of a LAN unless you purchase its Home Networking package, which, strangely, I was unable to find a price for. I'm not going to mince words: Comcast's apparent bid to make residential customers pay more for its already expensive service is outlandish and, in my opinion, unethical.
Verizon's Westell 2200 has basic firewall features that are user selectable. One of the first things I noticed with the Westell 2200 last year was that I no longer received Windows Messaging Services spam. This isn't instant messaging spam (also called spim), but a whole other category of nasty stuff that takes the form of gray pop-up windows. Verizon's network was inundated with this stuff under the old Westell modem, unless you installed a firewall or disabled Windows Messaging Services (a networking messaging functionality provided in Windows). The Westell provides NAT services. So right out of the box, with the firewall features turned off, the Westell 2200 gets full "stealthed" scores from PC Flank. You have as much protection as you get from a good broadband router. The 2200's configuration screens come with three built-in firewall settings, and you can also customize your own setting. There are both inbound and outbound protections available with this firmware-based firewall.
Comcast doesn't offer any built-in firewall functionality. The company is currently running a promotion, which ends May 1, of one-year free use of McAfee Personal Firewall Plus, which McAfee sells for $39.95. Thereafter you'll have to pay $40 a year for this firewall. It appears that's only available to new Comcast customers, not existing ones. On the other hand, you can install ZoneAlarm 4.5 free for personal use with Comcast. (The McAfee product is a little easier to use.)
Rating (A = Best): Comcast:
True ISP Services
Comcast has worked hard in this area over the last year, improving its service offering quite a bit. It's no longer just a cable TV company with some Internet services. Features like online storage, online email account management, Web mail, Web site space, and fast newsgroup service provided free to Comcast customers by Giganews make it a pretty well rounded service offering.
But it doesn't equal Verizon, which, surprisingly to me, has turned into a top-notch ISP with a rich set of services. Verizon gets the Internet. Like Comcast, Verizon offers Web mail, newsgroups, Web space, online storage, excellent online email account management with nine accounts, email aliases, email forwarding, anti-spam functionality with end-user controls, 30MB of mail storage space on the primary email address, and a lot more. It's an extra cost item that may vary by region, but Verizon also has a nationwide network of dial-up numbers that might come in handy too.
If Verizon has a weak point, it's probably its Usenet newsgroup functionality, which has a limited history and doesn't offer as many available newsgroups as other services. In all other respects, Verizon is a true ISP. At the rate Comcast is improving, I might be able to say the same thing about that company a year from now.
Rating (A = Best): Comcast:B+ Verizon: A-
Support and Documentation
In terms of paper-based or .PDF documentation, Comcast holds a slight edge. Verizon chose to build that into its installation software, which in my opinion, is a less useful way to do this. It does pretty much ensure that everyone will be forced to both read and hear the instructions -- but the whole experience is patronizing to anyone with even six months of computer experience. Comcast's printed installation materials accomplish the same thing without any underlying annoyance.
Verizon's online support is absolutely excellent, however. In preparation for this story, I called Verizon and Comcast's support desks two times each. I've also called both many times in the past. Both have improved, but Verizon is clearly a cut above Comcast in this regard. The corporate culture at Comcast puts its own employees in the dark about some things. And that comes across with vague answers and I-don't-knows from Comcast reps. Verizon people asked if I would wait a minute to let them research something they didn't have an answer to. When I called Verizon back, I referenced an earlier call. I asked the rep if he wanted me to wait while he brought up the details of that call. He said: "Sure, it's only one click for me." Verizon's systems are better than Comcast's.
Bottom line, bad install disc or not, I'd much prefer to have Verizon on the other end of my desperate tech support call than Comcast.
Rating (A = Best): Comcast:B Verizon: A
Performance and Reliability
Performance and reliability go a long way with me. That's what I signed up for, and that's the reason why I'm willing to pay $30-$50 a month to a broadband provider. It had better be fast, or else what's the point? As a result, I give performance far more weight than any other factor considered for this review. Figure that Performance and Reliability is worth 40 percent of the overall score. What that means is that a broadband service that delivers consistently and notably faster service in a head to head review in Scot's Newsletter is the most likely winner of the face off.
When it comes to Internet connection speed, the numbers speak for themselves:
Comcast Average Download Speed: 4080kbps (or about 4Mbps)
Verizon Average Download Speed: 1410kbps (or about 1.4Mbps)
For raw download speed, Comcast is more than 2.5 times faster than the Verizon DSL service. Some folks who have Verizon DSL report performance in the 2Mbps range, but even that is half as fast as Comcast Cable in my area, and that's an average Comcast test speed.
Comcast also has Verizon beat on upstream performance. My DSL connection averaged 132kbps upstream. My Comcast cable connection averaged 241kbps.
Broadband test tools used to arrive at these numbers include Numion's MaxSpeed, Bandwidth Place's Speed Test, PC Pitstop's Download and Upload Bandwidth Tests, and SpeakEasy's Speed Test:
Both of these services are highly reliable. My biggest concern last year when Comcast took over from AT&T Broadband was that I would start to see frequent outages. The cable company that ran my cable system before AT&T Broadband took over was prone to frequent outages. AT&T Broadband cleaned that up, and if anything, Comcast has been better in this department than AT&T. But the same is true of my Verizon DSL service. Both of these broadband connections are always on, always working. That's not to say they never go down, but I haven't lost any work time to either of them.
DSL is noted for being more consistent than cable. Supposedly, cable performance slows down during peak times on evenings and weekends. I'm sure that's true with some systems. Not with Comcast in my area. Its performance is every bit as consistent as the Verizon DSL service.
One plus for Verizon is that its Web surfing performance is the equal of Comcast's. I've tried and tried to see a difference between them at opening Web pages, and I can't see it. They feel the same to me. In fact, sometimes the Verizon DSL service seems a tad snappier. But when you download a large file from the Internet, such as a program installer, it's no contest. Comcast is more than just noticeably faster, it's a lot faster. But note: If you don't download of a lot of large files, the difference between the two may be negligible.
Because SFNL readers tend to download a lot of software, though, I'm weighting the raw download speed as almost as important Web surfing performance. So, Verizon isn't getting much of a boost in my scoring because its Web surfing performance is effectively equal to Comcast's most of the time.
Rating (A = Best): Comcast:
The Best Broadband Provider
Verizon pricing varies somewhat depending on region. In my neck of the woods it's $34.95 a month. I pay $29.95 because of a $5 discount for using a Verizon long-distance package on the same phone that my DSL connection runs on.
It took me a while to get that discount properly applied, but Verizon did credit me for months that I missed it when it finally got set up properly.
Anyway, whether it's $35 or $30, 1.5Mbps Verizon DSL service is clearly the best overall broadband value. Of course, with DSL, your distance from the phone company's central office in your town determines whether you'll get 1.5Mbps service, 768kbps service, or no service at all. Assuming that you have the choice between cable and DSL, I would only recommend the Verizon service (Pac-Bell and SBC have similar services) if you can qualify for 1.5Mbps. There's no way to know in advance whether you'll get 1.5Mbps or not, but Verizon offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it and cancel your order if you don't get it. All you be out is the mild hassle of setup and about $20 for shipping the modem back and forth.
I think you can tell from the tenor of this review up until this point that Verizon in the emotional favorite. I would rather do business with Verizon. This company is far more customer focused than Comcast is.
What's more, Comcast High-Speed Internet costs $45.95 in most areas, and that's assuming you have Comcast cable TV too. Cable Internet-only customers are forced to pay Comcast an outrageous $57.95 a month. That's a lot of money for this service, and I can't recommend at $58 a month.
But at $46 a month with the cable-TV discount, Comcast cable is worth the cost. It offers a ton of bang for the buck. Giant performance, excellent reliability, good services, adequate support. That's a winning combination. There's a lot of room for Comcast to improve, but right now, it's the best broadband provider in the northeast and many other parts of the U.S. I just can't pass up its average 4Mbps downstream speed. I want to, but I can't. Verizon has become my back up service. And because of that, I have to pick Comcast as the Best Broadband Provider of 2004.
Overall Rating: Comcast: A- Verizon: B+
Final Note: This head-to-head broadband review is the result of more than a year of preparation, research, and testing. Thanks go out to the hundreds of Scot's Newsletter readers who have contributed their own money to help support SFNL projects like this one.
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So, only if you did not respond from the last issue, please tell me which type of Internet access you use most frequently.
I've added two answers that were missing: T1 and Fiber Optic. Here's the poll question:
What's Your Primary Means of Internet Access? (Please choose only one.)
1. Dial-Up  (Any analog modem-based dial-up access at any rate)
If this link doesn't work, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type "BBPoll-4th_Dial-up" in the subject line.
If this link doesn't work, send a message to email@example.com and type "BBPoll-4th_Cable" in the subject line.
3. DSL  (Any form, including ADSL, RADSL, iDSL, SDSL)
If this link doesn't work, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type "BBPoll-4th_DSL" in the subject line.
4. Satellite  (Any type, one-way, two-way, any band)
If this link doesn't work, send a message to email@example.com and type "BBPoll-4th_Satellite" in the subject line.
5. Fixed Wireless
If this link doesn't work, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type "BBPoll-4th_Fixed_Wireless" in the subject line.
If this link doesn't work, send a message to email@example.com and type "BBPoll-4th_ISDN" in the subject line.
If this link doesn't work, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type "BBPoll-4th_Powerline" in the subject line.
8. Other  (Please specify in the body of the message)
If this link doesn't work, send a message to email@example.com and type "BBPoll-4th_Other" in the subject line.
9. No Internet Access
If this link doesn't work, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type "BBPoll-4th_No_Access" in the subject line.
10. LAN-Based T1
If this link doesn't work, send a message to email@example.com and type "BBPoll-4th_T1" in the subject line.
11. Fiber Optic
If this link doesn't work, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type "BBPoll-4th_Fiberoptic" in the subject line.
Thanks for taking the time to send me your message. Look for the results in an upcoming issue.
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Since then, I've spent a lot more time with it. I've written a detailed column on the subject in the upcoming July issue of PC Today, which hits newsstands at the end of May. But let me boil it down for you in the meantime. Windows XP SP2 RC1's Windows Security Center doesn't do its job at all. Less than half of the 16 software firewalls and antivirus utilities I tested were properly detected by Windows Security Center, including ZoneAlarm Pro 4.5 and the free 4.5 version, Norton Personal Firewall 2004, Norton AntiVirus 2004, Panda Titanium, and many others. McAfee's and Trend Micro's firewall and antivirus products were detected properly.
What that lack of proper detection means is that if everyone were to install this pre-release version of Windows Security Center, many of us would be frustrated by dire warnings that our systems weren't protected, even though they were.
Another aspect I've found very annoying is an Automatic Updates "feature" that downloads and installs updates when you Shutdown your computer and choose the "Turn Off" off option. While you can defeat this behavior in either of two ways, I think it's an poorly conceived functionality that Windows XP users everywhere will grow to hate. I doubt, though, that Microsoft will significantly change it.
My best guess, gathered from a variety of sources, is that Microsoft will release RC2 some time in May. (A recent rumor has RC2 coming out in early May.) Several sources tell me that Microsoft is working closely with security software makers to rectify the problems with Windows Security Center, and that changes are being made to software on both sides. I expect Microsoft will get that done and make Windows Security Center far more useful than it is in RC1. It has to. But I will be testing RC2 extensively for a large Windows XP Service Pack 2 review in PC Today magazine, and will also write about it for the newsletter. So there's a lot more to come on this subject.
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The problem was that Automatic LiveUpdates would stop working without error message or indication. In other words, one of the best features of Norton AntiVirus and many of its competitors -- the ability of the program to automatically check for, download, and install new antivirus definitions -- would just turn itself off without so much as a peep. When I launched LiveUpdate manually it worked fine. In fact, almost every time I launched LiveUpdate, I found antivirus updates awaiting me. And that was my only real clue to the problem. But there was another real clue once I looked: Even though Automatic LiveUpdate was properly turned on showing itself as operational, I could see in Task Scheduler, that Symantec's NetDetect routine, which checks for an available Internet connection, wasn't working properly. And when NetDetect fails, Automatic LiveUpdate won't run because the apparent condition is that Internet isn't accessible.
You might be thinking that one of my security measures, such as settings on my firewall, was blocking NetDetect? Nope. Automatic LiveUpdate always ran fine on other computers on the same network with the identical firewall settings. And even with all security features disabled, the affected machines were unable to get Automatic LiveUpdates reliably.
The good news is that after two years the problem has been solved on my computers. Symantec came out to see me recently with Ken Mihara, VP of consumer engineering, and Tom Powledge, director of product development. They had researched my problem and come up with a solution that involved an esoteric Microsoft patch to Microsoft's Windows Task Scheduler -- which Automatic LiveUpdate uses. The one downside is that the patch isn't generally available for download. Currently it's only available to those who call Microsoft tech support to request it. It would only be applicable if you had the exact same problem I had (which I know at least a couple SFNL readers do).
I installed the Task Scheduler patch about three or four weeks ago (in early April 2004). After a little messing around with Task Scheduler (deleting the existing scheduled tasks and reinstating the NAV-related ones), Automatic LiveUpdate started working. And it's worked perfectly ever since. There's still the possibility that it could stop working again. But I think Symantec found the culprit and the solution. Here's the Microsoft Knowledgebase Article pertaining to the patch:
If you have this problem or something similar you should start with these two Symantec knowledgebase articles first. Some Scot's Newsletter readers have reported that the instructions in these documents have fully solved their problems. Work through the first one first:
Please don't write to ask me for the Microsoft patch. I don't distribute software that I don't have permission to distribute. But if you want to get the patch for yourself, contact Microsoft support yourself. It's a bit of a daunting experience to contact Microsoft support, and it may not be free. But the good thing is that once you get through to a live person, you often get excellent support. This page is the starting point for accessing Microsoft support choices. If you've never called Microsoft for Windows support, you might get support for free. This Microsoft Support Options page, which is specific to Windows XP Professional, gives you a sense of options and pricing. Microsoft may also give you a run-around if you got your copy of Windows from your PC maker. If you get through to someone, you can try referencing this story on the Scot's Newsletter website. It might help slightly, at least to convince them that you need this particular patch.
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Because several of you wrote me confirming that you also had the problem, and some of you wrote me about possible solutions (all of which were a little on the complex side for my taste), I'm taking a moment to point out a Microsoft-released fix for the problem that takes all of about 30 seconds to implement.
The easy way to install this is to download this 1K file.
Place the file in a folder, then follow these steps:
1. Extract the lone file, which is called enableAuthInURL.reg, from the Zip archive.
2. Double click the .reg file. That will automatically edit your system registry with a very simple addendum.
3. Reboot your computer.
4. These steps can be performed either before or after you install Windows patches that cause issues with URLs that contain username and password information.
Notes: This has only been tested with Windows XP. It will probably work fine with Windows 98/Me systems, but I have not tested that. There is no automatic way to remove this registry edit. However, anyone familiar with the System Registry Editor will be able to easily delete the key that is added. Also, Windows XP users can set a named system restore point before double-clicking the Reg file.
For more information, check out Microsoft KB article 834489.
These are the exact contents of the enableAuthInURL.reg file:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
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We tested this in a few distros and found that only Slackware 9.1 and Mandrake 9.2 have mkrescue with the --iso option. Mandrake 9.1, Red Hat 9, and SuSE 8.2 still have an older version of mkrescue without the --iso option. We expect that future versions of these distros will include the 2.3 (or even newer) version of mkrescue.
Because newer Linux kernels and initrd.img (initial ramdisk image) are getting larger, the chances are that you will need this technique in other distros soon. Mandrake 9.2, for example, requires 1722KB to make a boot floppy. You can format a floppy to accommodate this under Linux, but it is not always stable, and that's the last thing you want to have to worry about when you're having boot problems. CD drives are the default removable media these days, and besides, booting from a CD is just plain faster than from a floppy.
For more information about Linux ISOs, please read this earlier Linux Explorers tip.
IMPORTANT: The tips in this document require the use command-line commands. For more information about how to read and execute Linux command-line commands, please check the LinuxClues' Linux Cheat Sheet, especially Linux Command-Line Nomenclature.
With that as an introduction, here's how to make boot CDs.
Use these steps under Mandrake 9.2 to make a boot CD:
Password: <type your root password here>
# mkrescue --iso --initrd /boot/initrd-2.4.22-10mdk.img --kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.4.22-10mdk
If you use a kernel other than the default kernel, such as the 4GB RAM kernel, you will have to adapt the numbers for intrd and vmlinuz using these steps:
Password: <type your root password here>
# uname -r (shows the Linux kernel version you should use below)
# mkrescue --iso --initrd /boot/initrd-2.4.22-21mdk-i686-up-4GB.img --kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.4.22-21mdk-i686-up-4GB
After running the command you will find a rescue.iso file in your /home and can simply burn it:
$ cdrecord --scanbus (checks number of burn device)
$ cdrecord dev=0,0,0 rescue.iso (where dev=0,0,0 is number above; may be 0,0,1)
Use these steps under Slackware 9.1 to make a boot CD:
Password: <type your root password here>
# mkrescue --iso (Slackware automatically knows what kernel to put in the ISO)
Test Your Boot CD
After you burn the CD, be sure to test it as your last step. If you wind up having to reinstall Windows you'll be golden. If your system is messed up and you find out your boot CD is flawed, you'll be miserable.
Reinstating Your Linux Bootloader
If you are forced to reinstall Windows, boot back into Linux using the boot CD. Your next step is to restore the Linux bootloader -- which is either Lilo or Grub, depending on your Linux-installation configuration. If you're not sure which bootloader your Linux installation is using, run this command at the command line:
$ ls -l /etc/lilo.conf
If that returns "no such file or directory" it means you're using Grub.
Here are the steps to restore your Linux bootloader for both in Lilo and Grub:
Password: <type your root password here>
# /sbin/lilo -v (for restoring Lilo to the MBR)
Password: <type your root password here>
# grub-install /dev/hda (for restoring Grub to the MBR)
Of course, there are times when even a boot disk won't save you. (We hate it when that happens.) To protect yourself when that unwelcome event occurs, take some time now and create a Linux rescue disk.
We like the Ultimate Boot CD because it has a whole bundle of useful tools for hardware diagnosis, as well as fixing configuration files and partitions. Plus it's free (although you should make a donation if you like it even half as much as we do). This thing can really save your bacon.
You can download all 58 utilities in a single uncompressed 101MB ISO file. Just scroll down the page to where it says "Downloads." You can use BitTorrent or select one of the mirror sites listed below it. FileArena.net is a good one to try. Download it and burn it to a CD (a separate one from the boot CD) and you'll be ready for whatever comes your way.
Note: Scot's Newsletter is making the Ultimate Boot CD Link of the Week in this issue of the newsletter. (See the next section for more detail.)
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 LinuxClues.com and the Linux Explorers section of Scot's Newsletter are adapted). Previous installments of Tips for Linux Explorers can be found at LinuxClues.com.
Tips for Linux Explorers is content-edited by Cyndy. (Scot copy edits.)
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The Ultimate Boot CD concept is excellent. The idea is that you burn these utilities to a CD to have ready in the event you run into trouble with your computer. So when your drive tanks and you can't access your data, you still have the tools at hand -- on a CD instead of your cooked hard drive -- to fix it. You'll find tools that help you with hard disks and partitions, file systems, memory, system utilities, DOS boot disks, Linux boot disks, and more. All are available singly (from their maker's sites) or in the full Ultimate Boot CD collection.
Plus there's a lot of excellent information on UBCD site. Check it out. So deserving is Ultimate Boot CD of a Link of the Week Award that I'm a little ashamed I didn't do it earlier.
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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Did you know you can always find out when the next issue of Scot's Newsletter is scheduled to appear by visiting the Scot's Newsletter home page?
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The Fine Print
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