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May 2005, Part II - Vol. 5, Issue No. 69

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Looking at Longhorn Build 5048
  • Review: Copernic Desktop Search 1.5 | Top Product!
  • Resolved? Problems in Firefox Paradise
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Mozilla Delivers Firefox 1.0.4
       - Apple's Beautiful OS X 1.4 Tiger Operating System
       - Yonder Is WildBlue
       - Microsoft's Forthcoming new 'Eiger' OS
       - Verizon FIOS Coming to Papa
       - Windows Server 2003 SP1 and R2 Customer Preview
  • Anti-Spyware Realities
  • Aggravating but Eventually Good ThinkPad Purchase
  • Q&A
  • Linux Explorer: Hard Links and Symbolic Links
  • Link of the Month: Konfabulator
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • In Upcoming Issues
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, Change Your Subscription


    Looking at Longhorn Build 5048
    Last Updated: June 6, 2005. This story was expanded on in in the next issue of the newsletter.

    I spent a good part of a recent weekend, in between my son's soggy baseball games, working through the 5048 Windows Longhorn build that was distributed to all Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) attendees in late April. Part of that time, I was enabling the "Glass" features (transparency, blurring, reflections, and 3D effects) and the rest of the time I was attempting to work through the available new features in the late alpha code.

    The last issue of the newsletter gave you a solid overview of some of the features and technologies slated to appear in the final version of Longhorn that were talked about at WinHEC. I eagerly looked forward to playing around with at least some of these things after installing the bits.

    I have to admit that the code I returned home with is disappointing. Many of the more interesting features either aren't there or have only basic placeholders where they will eventually, hopefully implement something much better that actually works. But Microsoft isn't a bad company or in trouble because its late alpha release of Longhorn doesn't do what we'd all hoped it might by now. Microsoft decided about a year ago to base Windows Longhorn on the more reliable Windows Server 2003 code base than on the Windows XP code, upon which they had been building Longhorn. That meant the development team had to start over on many of the Longhorn modules it built for the PDC2003 version of Longhorn. Make no mistake, some of Microsoft's developers were pulled off Longhorn to work on Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Windows Server R2. And it was already behind because Windows XP SP2 siphoned off development resources. But I'm glad Microsoft is making the right decisions now about how to build its next desktop OS.

    What's more, I'm going to save any serious criticism for the final product. How long it takes to ship matters not one whit to me. And it shouldn't to you either. What matters is that Microsoft delivers a solid, reliable, refined version of desktop Windows at the end of 2006 that's worth upgrading to. The only people who really need a new version of Windows are Microsoft stockholders. It's an operating system, not a cure for cancer.

    Let me help set the proper expectations: Microsoft has warned reviewers and developers that Longhorn won't even approach being feature complete until Beta 2. Many of the best features will come later because, of course, they're more difficult to implement. There will probably even be some features added, or visually and functionally revamped, in the first release candidate. And none of it is a surprise for anyone who watches Windows development cycles. Nothing about this is unusual. Microsoft isn't even terribly late with Longhorn. A roughly fire-year spread between major releases is just fine by me.

    Graphics Tiering
    So while I was a little disappointed, I wasn't surprised that many of the features I wrote about in the last issue are only barely evident in Longhorn build 5048, which is dated April 1, 2005, almost a month before WinHEC. In particular, the desktop-search features are not really there. Some basic UI is exposed, but only about half of the functionality is functional, and none of it is fully functional. It indexes. It looks like it should work, but it doesn't really work fully or properly, and some of it doesn't work at all.

    The Titlebar 'Glass' Effect.
    Windows Longhorn's Titlebar 'Glass' Effect.

    Similarly, the vaunted Glass features, to be delivered by the Avalon presentation system, are present only rudimentarily in build 5048. (They're not evident at all until you do a little messing around in the Windows Registry.) You might think of it as a partial Avalon emulation. The Start menu is just barely transparent, if you look very closely. The one readily apparent demonstration of both transparency and blurring is the titlebars of all open windows. The window control buttons — the minimize, maximize, and close buttons — also get a richer visual treatment with Glass turned on. Minimize and maximize turn blue when you roll over them with the mouse pointer, and the close button glows red. (The color roll-over behavior has a lesser counterpart with Glass turned off.)

    That's a good segue to a discussion of the "graphics tiering" of the Aero user-interface, which was laid out in one of the more interesting sessions at WinHEC. Microsoft engineers and product marketing people currently envision two main divisions of graphics support, each with two variations. What that means is that, depending on the graphics card and monitor you have installed and your graphics settings, there will be four different presentation levels that you could see in Longhorn. The two lower levels are called "Basic Graphics" and the two higher levels are called "Aero." The Basic Graphics levels shake out to "Classic" (XP/2000 look-alike) and "To Go." The Aero levels are "Express" and "Glass." Longhorn will require DirectX 9 video support. The other factors that affect the graphics tier level you'll see include your bits-per-pixel color depth (number of simultaneous colors supported), the capabilities of your 3D graphics hardware, and the amount of video memory available to your graphics hardware. As you climb up into the upper video levels, each exposes more and more of the Aero and Glass look and feel. Microsoft's idea is to provide wide backward support for older machines while at the same time rewarding more advanced hardware with a richer user experience. If it can pull this off, I think it'll provide both a wide base for Longhorn adoption and create a built-in reason to upgrade your hardware.

    The new Start Menu (click to see full size).By the way, to fully enable Glass in current Longhorn builds, Microsoft has said you need either an ATI Radeon 9800 or an Nvidia GeForce FX 5900, or better, video card. (I'm testing with the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB.) By the time the product ships, my guess is that the video hardware of 80% of PCs sold by major manufacturers will fully support Glass. If you're buying a PC right now that you hope to upgrade to Longhorn, I would get one with one of these two cards, and I would give strong consideration to 256MB of graphics memory. I often point out when I think it's a good time to buy a new Windows PC. Right now is not one of those times. If you do buy now, you might want to consider a lower-cost PC that you expect to last only two to three years with the understanding that you'll replace it with a higher end Longhorn PC after the new version of Windows ships.

    Windows Longhorn Alpha Build 5048
    But let's return to Longhorn build 5048. There isn't a lot to dwell on in this release, but the two structures that have received the most attention are the Start menu and Windows Explorer.

    Type to Launch Programs (click to see full size).The Start menu in this release looks more like a proof of concept than anything else. It's difficult to see what's different about it from screenshots, but Microsoft has done away with the old Start menu whose All Programs menu expanded to fill the size of your screen and then scrolled after that. Instead, the Programs menu opens on the left side of the Start menu, replacing the contents on the first level temporarily. And it scrolls within that space automatically. There's also a new text-based program launcher that lets you type in the name of any program on your hard drive. As you type, the Start menu shows you all the programs that share the letters you've typed so far, and you can either click one of them or type the full name and press Enter. The text-based search area is a bit frustrating in this release. While it let's you create multiple-level searches with a visual query tool, you can't save searches and the entire experience is clunky.

    The New Explorer Window (click to see full size).There's also a way to create List, a new structure that's supposed to be a collections of files connected by a common intellectual thread of importance to you. Although I was able to create a list file that collected contents based on keywords, the method I used is not the user interface that I think Microsoft intends, and it appears to me that Lists don't work properly in this build. Longhorn 5048 also contains pre-built Autolist files too, but they didn't appear to work either. Eventually you'll be able to create lists with a structure not evident in 5048 called the List Pane, which will let you use drag-and-drop to visually create lists of files that bear an association meaningful to you. The information we have about Lists is very vague and sketchy so far, so more detail will have to wait for later builds.

    Explorer Points to Future
    Far More Useful Search Results (click to see full size).Windows Explorer seems to have gotten the most actual attention in this build. One of the interesting changes is that Explorer is a two-paned affair that always shows My Documents in the root on the left pane, while the right pane is a standard folder window showing whatever folder you opened. So the two are not innately connected, unless you click something on the left pane. This seems like more of a bug than a feature, because you can't drag and drop from one side to the other either. The Up level button is also not a default part of the folder toolbar, but is easily added. The Search functionality finds the top of the new Explorer window, and it offers two types of search. One is a full-text file content search, and the other is the filename search. The functions aren't wildly different from the old XP and previous Windows search facility, but visually they're very different, and the results are more useful.

    New Expanded Properties Bar (click to see full size).Also changed in Explorer is the file information area, which in XP is on the left side of the folder window. In Longhorn 5048 that bar has a colored background and it defaults to appearing along the bottom of the window (you can also move it optionally to the right side). Personally, I still feel this giant bar is a colossal waste of space. I'd like to see Microsoft spend more time working on offering easy user controls for making it appear or disappear, such as a toggle of some sort. This info bar has some important uses, though, especially for searching. It exposes user-customizable file metatags, and other extended properties for different file types.

    Vector-Based Scalable Icons (click to see full size).One of the more startling features of Longhorn for long-time Windows users is scalable icons. The 5048 build of Longhorn shows some of that. After turning on the folder window toolbar, the View menu is wide to the right. Clicking the View button toggles between Views. Clicking the down arrow beside it opens a vertical slider bar it, you'll see a vertical slider bar that can make file and folder icons truly giant or minuscule. The slider see screenshot, slider only, 6K) also has an interesting behavior in that both ends are small icons, but in different views. So slide up and you get small icons in Details view. Slide all the way down and you get small icons in Icon view. In the middle is Tile view, where the icons may be huge, depending upon where the slider is set. The View menu also shows Details, Tile, and Icon settings. In 5048, My Pictures doesn't have a Filmstrip or Thumbnail view. But many, many aspects aren't hooked up in this build, so that may just be temporary.

    New Expanded Properties Bar.Why is it that Microsoft ignores obvious features for so long? I've been trying to get the company to add a New Folder button to the Windows Explorer toolbar since around 1998. Apparently, we're not supposed to create our own folders, because the only ways to initiate that function are from the File menu or folder context menu. Neither of these are intuitive, and both take too many steps. Click a darn toolbar button and, bang, new folder appears. That's how it should work. Make the button optional on the folder toolbar if you want. But add this feature, please. And think about turning on the folder toolbar by default. Microsoft has one new folder toolbar button, Redo, which complements Undo. I bet I use that button once for every 100 times I create a new folder.

    Control Panel has several new items, including a new expanded version of Add or Remove Programs that provides Change/Remove Programs, Add New Programs, and OS and Application Updates as separate Control Panel icons that access different areas of this tool. There's also the Portable Media Devices connection tool, Sync Manager, Indexing Options, iSCSI Initiator, and Network Device Installation Control Panels. Functionality doesn't appear to be all there in these items, though. And some of the specialized items from earlier Longhorn builds are missing in this build.

    Longhorn's Revised Control Panel (click to see full size).I mentioned in the last issue that Microsoft's penchant for naming everything with the word "my" has finally run its course. Longhorn build 5048 still sports "My Documents," but you can expect the final code to call that folder Documents or proceed that word with the possessive of the current user name, as in Administrator's Documents. (I vote for the that second approach.) Where the change is already evident in this build is that My Computer is called Computer and My Network Places is called Network. The Network icon also displays the workgroup or domain name in its name, a minor convenience.

    Turning on Display of Drive Letters (click to see full size).Finally, Longhorn's setup facility deserves a few words. The setup routine appears to be revised but not all there. So I'll reserve comment, because I know Microsoft intends to add some interesting bits to the process. What is worth comment now is a change to the way Longhorn works with drives, the user interface for drive icons, and how that affects Windows' built-in dual-boot functionality. I installed Longhorn to drive D of a freshly wiped machine with Windows XP installed on drive C, a FAT32 partition. Longhorn build 5048 required NTFS. That's fine, I intended to test 5048 with NTFS anyway, and most of my machines run NTFS. (It's not clear to me yet whether the final version of Longhorn will require NTFS too, but it's on my list to find out, and my supposition is that it might.) Longhorn installed properly in drive D and created the dual-boot menu familiar to all who use this feature under Windows 2000 and Windows XP. What gave me pause at first was that, while booted in Longhorn on this machine, the drive D partition it was installed to displays as Drive C. And while booted to Windows XP on the same machine, its volume also shows as drive C. It appears Microsoft is making the system-booted volume the primary volume, regardless of its drive letter designation. In fact, by default in build 5048, drives of all types do not display drive letters at all. And the icon for the system-booted drive displays the superimposed colored Windows flag — indicating that it is the booted system drive. I like this change a lot, other OSes and file systems work this way and it will take us in a good direction. But I expect it could be confusing at first to long-time DOS and Windows users.

    Longhorn's Revised Control Panel.There are probably a few things I've yet to discover about Longhorn build 5048, and I'll report on anything else I find in future issues of Scot's Newsletter. But this is the full guided tour of the WinHEC Longhorn code. Microsoft is coming to see me in the near future to tell me more about what the final version of Longhorn will include, and Beta 1 is due in six to eight weeks. So you can expect more information in the next edition of the newsletter, and a detailed Beta 1 report thereafter. If you're not a current subscriber to the newsletter, this might be a good time to sign up.

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    Review: Copernic Desktop Search 1.5 | Top Product!
    By Cyndy Bates Finnie

    To quote Carl Sagan, the Internet consists of billions and billions of documents — many of which even have useful bits of data on them. Having that much information available has turned us into data packrats who tuck away bits of info for later, like numbers for the quarterly presentation, pricing for that big purchase decision, and checklists for household projects past, present, and future. Given that most hard drives have free capacity measured in tens of gigabytes, there's as much room to store information as you could possibly want. Storage isn't the issue. It's all about retrieval, baby.

    And that isn't easy. Most of us are not, shall we say ... organized. Did I save the HTML document? Or just copy the interesting bits into an email? Did I send that to anyone or just myself? What did I name the spreadsheet that had those Internet usage numbers? Or was it a PowerPoint chart? Or, gulp, a PDF?

    To save us from having to answer these and other mind-numbing questions, several Web search companies, such as Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Ask Jeeves, have released so-called desktop search programs. For several companies, this is their first foray into desktop search software, so the feature sets and user interfaces of their products are uneven. One company that's not a newcomer to the field is Copernic Technologies, which has been developing desktop search products since 1996.

    Copernic Desktop Search 1.5 (click to see full size).Longevity has served Copernic well. While the newer entrants are still figuring things out, Copernic understands what to offer in a free desktop search product. Copernic Desktop Search (CDS) 1.5 doesn't try to do too much. It offers just the right feature set to get the job done.

    A Distinctive Search
    Any search product — Web or desktop — is only as good as the index it creates. The key to picking the desktop search utility that's right for you is to make sure it indexes the types of data you most need to search. It should also create a full-text index of most files. (Full text means includes the contents, not just metadata, of documents, emails, and other files in its index.)

    Most desktop search products create a full-text index of Microsoft Office, text, and HTML documents, plus Microsoft Outlook emails. Some will index email attachments or Eudora mail. Most will index metadata (items like file name, size, date, and directory) for music, image, and video files. Some also index Outlook contacts, appointments, PDF files, Web history, and bookmarks. So start by asking yourself, what data do you need to index?

    Copernic Technologies recently released CDS 1.5. One of the utility's new features is the ability to index Eudora email, an important decision point for me. (Despite years of trying, I just can't get in bed with Microsoft Outlook. I'm a tried and true Eudora girl.) Desktop search products are always playing leapfrog with each other, but Copernic 1.5 indexes an impressive list of file formats, including Office, HTML, .PDF, text files of all kinds (including .INI, Flash, and .ASP); Outlook, Outlook Express, and Mozilla Thunderbird emails, contacts, and attachments; Eudora email and attachments; browser history and bookmarks; and metadata indexing of music, image, and video files. Check out all the file types CDS recognizes and indexes (scroll down to the "Available desktop search categories" subhead).

    About the only file format not supported by Copernic's 1.5 release is Instant Messenger transcripts. Only Google indexes AOL IM chats, but Google Desktop doesn't yet support Eudora email. Copernic also doesn't index RSS feeds, but then no desktop search product I'm aware of does that. (Scot mentioned in the last issue of the newsletter that Microsoft recently announced that Windows Longhorn will index RSS feeds.)

    Install and Index
    Turn off Selected Mailboxes or Folders (click to see full size).So what's Copernic like to set up and use? During installation you select the file types you want CDS to examine, including email program(s), file locations (directories), and your primary browser for Web history and bookmarks. You can configure CDS to search all mailboxes, or turn off selected ones. For example, you'll want to have it ignore your trash and spam folders. Copernic does an excellent job of making default selections, which it lets you customize. In picking file locations, it focuses on My Documents, My Music, and My Pictures, excluding Program Files and the Windows directory. The latter two usually don't contain data documents and would add considerably to indexing time. Even so, if you have a program that stores documents in Program Folders, you can configure CDS to search in that specific folder.

    Excellent Defaults You Can Customize (click to see full size).Once the program's configured and installed, the next step is building the index. This is the step that will take some time depending on what you've configured, your operating system, your hardware, and how much data you have. To give you some idea, it took a couple of hours to index my documents and email. I turned off the screensaver and did not use the computer at all while it was indexing. I have a hefty, though not obese, data store. I've been an amateur genealogist for many years, so I have a lot of files and documents I keep on hand.

    For those who can't resist and want to delve into the numbers, I use about 10GB on my notebook's 40GB hard drive. That includes indexing a 162MB Eudora mail folder, some browser history, 1.2GB in My Documents, with few music or video files. My current PC is a 733MHz Compaq Pentium III notebook running WinXP Service Pack 2 with 1MB RAM.

    I did run into a couple of problems. There were three emails in my Eudora mail store that the index didn't like. Each had a very large attachment, though I have many others with equally large attachments that indexed just fine. (Copernic indexes attachments, but lets you ignore those above a certain size. The default is 50MB.) I was able to continue the indexing process by creating a new mailbox within Eudora, moving the problem emails there and turning off indexing on that folder. Copernic support, which is unaware of this review, is looking at those three messages and their attachments to see if they can identify a common theme, but in the meantime, the program is working just fine.

    My other problem was somewhat specialized, but I'll explain anyway. As a genealogist, I share family information with other genealogists and we use a specific file format to do that, called Gedcom (.GED). It's text-based, but CDS wasn't including my dozens of Gedcom files in its index. Under Options > Advanced, there's a listing of file extensions CDS uses to identify files to scan. I added GED as a text format, and now my genealogy files appear in search results, along with pictures, PDFs, and HTML documents. You can modify this list to include .DLLs, .EXEs or any other specialized file types you need to find.

    And onto Results
    Copernic's Results Help You Find Files Fast (click to see full size).Once the index is compiled you can begin searching for documents. (Actually you can begin searching while the index is compiling, though why you'd want to is a mystery to me.) The interface is easy to use — just type in some keywords and click the green arrow or Enter and the search is done. Copernic holds true to its primary function, which is to help users find files fast — not just in indexing and searching, but also in how it presents results. It doesn't overwhelm you with a huge long list of files — it groups them. First you select the type of file to search for (email, picture, file, and so on) then Copernic groups the results into sub categories by date, folder, or file type. You can also limit the search by date and by other criteria relevant to the file type.

    What's nice is that even though the results listing is limited — a box underneath the search box shows you how many results were found in other file types. Meaning if you opted to search files, it will list the number of emails, pictures, contacts, and so forth that also meet your search criteria. In addition, you can change the subcategory grouping, so you can group emails by From, To or Subject instead of Date. And if what you really crave is one big listing of results, just deselect Show in Groups to see your heart's desire.

    There are some who may find the groupings that CDS presents to be overly confining and trying to do too much thinking for you. (I've been known to criticize some software for that.) Personally I find Copernic to be just right. It arranges data files into meaningful groups that help you quickly zero in on the specific document you're looking for.

    In addition to the results listing, there's also a file viewer that let's you view the contents of files so you can make sure that's the file or version you need. Once you're convinced, it's a simple matter to click Open File or Open Folder at the top of the results listing to get at your data.

    So after all this, it probably sounds like I think Copernic Desktop Search is perfect. Well, not exactly. Remember, the desktop search category is still evolving. Even though CDS is incredibly functional, the interface is a bit flat. It's a Windows interface, but sort of chunky Windows, rather than elegant Windows. As a minor tweak, I'd like more expansive options to refine the search. Right now it's a series of drop down menus, depending on what type of document you're looking for. It would be nice, for example, to be able to select more than one file type at a time — for when I know the file was either a PDF or HTML, but not an Office document. It would also be nice to be able to save searches — in case there are things you look for on a regular basis.

    One Size May Not Fit All
    They say about New England weather that if you don't like it, wait for 15 minutes. It's much the same with desktop search, a product category that's moving fast. And the thing that drives a decision for one person often won't be the same as for someone else. For example, if you use Eudora mail exclusively, your choices are Copernic, X1 or Blinkx. If indexing AOL IM chats is mission critical, you want Google Desktop Search. If indexing Lotus Notes is your thing, then X1 is the way to go. So far, no product offers it all.

    It's clear that data-search functionality should be built into the operating system. And desktop search is coming to Windows in Windows Longhorn in late 2006. In the Mac world, it's available now in Apple's Tiger. But for Windows users, just because it'll be available in Longhorn by 2007 doesn't mean most of us will have it. Longhorn is going to drive us toward new hardware (if we're smart). That means you could wait three years or more before having this useful facility at your fingertips. There's really no reason to wait though.

    Having looked at all the contenders recently for PC Today magazine, Copernic Desktop Search definitely outpaces the free desktop search field. Copernic's only serious competitor is X1, which offers comparable or better functionality but costs $75. That's a lot of money for a specialized utility; more, for example, than I paid for Quicken last year. (Look for a review of X1 in an upcoming issue of Scot's Newsletter.) Since I mentioned X1, it's probably only fair to note that the absolutely free Yahoo Desktop Search is powered by X1, but there are a few important differences. First of all, Yahoo Desktop Search doesn't support Eudora, which lets me out. It also doesn't support Netscape Mail, Mozilla Mail, or Thunderbird. And as already noted, X1 adds Lotus Notes support. So, while they're essentially the same product, Yahoo Desktop Search pales by comparison with Copernic, and X1 is the more commercial, enterprise-oriented product that does it all for a price. Of course, Outlook and Outlook Express users may see this equation differently (but check the YDS file support list).

    That leaves Copernic in the sweet spot among free desktop search utilities. Just download, install, and go. It's fast. It doesn't interfere with your everyday computer usage. When Windows launches, CDS is minimized as a tray icon. It searches all the file types I need it to, many more than most other free desktop search tools. By virtue of its simplicity, raw power, performance, and value — Copernic Desktop Search 1.5 is a clear Scot's Newsletter Top Product!

     
      Fact Box
    Copernic Desktop Search 1.5 | Copernic Technologies | Top Product!
    Freeware, 800-406-4966, Email, Tech Support, Press Release
     
     

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    Resolved? Problems in Firefox Paradise
    Last Updated: June 17, 2005.

    I'd like to thank Scot's Newsletter reader Paul Yeiter for being the first (within minutes after I sent the newsletter) to suggest a solution to the problem I summarized in the last issue about Firefox refusing to launch. Actually, several other readers suggested the same solution — as well as several other solutions — to my problem. I knew pretty much for certain by the time I sent the newsletter that the problem was caused by some issue with a Firefox third-party extension. Peter Yeiter clued me in that it was probably User Agent Switcher. And he appears to be correct in that assessment.

    Now that I have had time to examine what actually happened, it appears that the launch-balk problem began on my machines when User Agent Switcher was updated to version 6.5, which occurred on April 16th. This was actually the day after Firefox 1.0.3 was released. The problem occurred on both Firefox 1.0.2 and 1.0.3 machines, however. So I have to lay the blame pretty squarely on User Agent Switcher. Interestingly, that extension has not apparently been updated since then.

    I started by removing all extensions from one machine. Then cued by Peter Y., I removed User Agent Switcher from a second. Then a new third machine arrived, and I installed all my usual extensions except for User Agent Switcher on this new machine. The problem disappeared on all three machines (well, the third one never had the problem). Later I installed all the other extensions on the first machine. The problem is gone. I will continue to test to see whether I can add User Agent Switcher without trouble. A page on the User Agent Switcher site warns that you should uninstall "the original" version of User Agent Switcher before installing updates. Firefox extensions are supposed to be upgradable. I've just eliminated User Agent Switcher from my list of approved extensions as a result.

    I maintain and regularly update this Customizing Firefox site, which originally appeared in the newsletter. I run this exact configuration on a very large number of machines now. Whenever there's a problem, I eliminate the customization or extension in question. And if I add an extension and have fully tested it, I will add it to this page. I've actually been surprised at how few problems I personally have had with so many third-partly extensions and customizations to the browser. But many people are having problems.

    Trouble in Paradise
    Despite the fact that my problems appear to be identified and solved, I was dismayed to find that this same problem, or variations on it, must have a variety of causes. My colleague at TechWeb, Mitch Wagner, had the same problem on one machine, and he doesn't use user Agent Switcher. Many other SFNL readers have similar problems (such as, for example, it won't launch on the first attempt after a reboot or it launches but hangs). Like any piece of software, Firefox has bugs. But I would have to renew my call to Mozilla to think more about how to manage third-party extensibility. In the last issue I wrote:

    If a software-development organization is going to support third-party extensibility, I think it must fully support it. Mozilla needs to think hard about integrating and fully testing the common functionality that the more popular extensions provide.

    To that I would add that extensions should be forced to follow explicit, prescribed rules that prevent issues like those so many people have experienced. And if they don't pass the test, they should not allowed to be added to the browser. If that means that Mozilla must limit automatic extension installation only to code that is hosted on its own servers, so be it. Mozilla must actively guard the user experience. It's not enough just to build a light-weight browser that's fast and pleasant to use. To truly compete, Mozilla must deliver the full package of goods.

    I've long wondered whether a completely open-source endeavor like Mozilla will be up to the task of properly testing and refining its product over time. It's not that I doubt the commitment and abilities of the developers and others that work on Firefox. But I wonder whether they have the strength in numbers, and the available time, to get the job done for an application that could some day be running on hundreds of millions of user PCs. I'm not just hoping that Firefox will be merely the temporary stick that galvanizes Microsoft into a serious upgrade of Internet Explorer. But if you doubt the hundreds of thousands of man hours that Microsoft sank into the development of Internet Explorer through the first four versions, you are seriously naive. Nothing but the same level of intensity is going to make this a real two-horse race.

    Don't be beguiled by the download numbers. I've downloaded Firefox at least 50 times myself since it shipped. How many times have you? When you get right down to it, Firefox has only a precarious hold on the market. It has attention, and a limited time to prove that we should keep giving it more of the same. Hopefully Google, or better yet, a combination of backing companies will get into the Firefox endeavor and help Mozilla deliver.

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    60-Second Briefs
       - Mozilla Delivers Firefox 1.0.4
       - Apple's Beautiful OS X 1.4 Tiger Operating System
       - Yonder Is WildBlue
       - Microsoft's Forthcoming new 'Eiger' OS
       - Verizon FIOS Coming to Papa
       - Windows Server 2003 SP1 and R2 Customer Preview

    Mozilla Delivers Firefox 1.0.4
    Mozilla issued the Firefox version 1.0.4 security update on Thursday to combat some JavaScript security vulnerabilities discovered by a pair of security researchers. I have installed 1.0.4 on a couple of machines, and have so far had no problems. Check the 1.0.4 release notes. Then, please upgrade for security reasons. Please also follow my advice under Resolved? Problems in Firefox Paradise for how to install Firefox updates.

    Apple's Beautiful OS X 1.4 Tiger Operating System
    Even though I'm theoretically a Windows guy, it's hard to ignore how great a job Apple has done with the OS X operating system. And Tiger, the new 1.4 version of OS X is a stunning release that delivers many of the features that Microsoft is working on for Windows Longhorn, still more than a year and a half away.

    Apple has graciously provided me with Tiger, and I will be writing about it extensively here in Scot's Newsletter and also on the TechWeb Pipeline sites, where a reviewing team consisting of Richard Hoffman (Developer Pipeline), Matt McKenzie (Linux Pipeline), myself, and others will be working Tiger as a tag team. So expect more Mac coverage. Tiger is impressive.

    Yonder Is WildBlue
    I first wrote to you about the two-way satellite broadband service called WildBlue in May of 2001, and it's been vaporware all this time. The Ka-band-based service has been touted as being cheaper, faster, and more pervasive than other satellite services, but near as I can tell none of those things is completely true. WildBlue is now emerging, and the website says it will be reaching "virtually everywhere in the continental U.S. Starting in June 2005." I've heard from at least one dealer selling WildBlue that entry-level 512kbps service costs about $50 a month with startup costs of $300 for equipment plus $180 for installation. WildBlue offers service levels of 1Mbps ($70 per month) and 1.5Mbps ($80 per month) too. The company offers a good selection of ISP features, including multiple email addresses, web space, optional dial-up for travel, newsgroups, and 24/7 tech support. I see nothing on the website that indicates upload speeds. Also, Wildblue requires a one-year contract. Check the package details.

    I've been trying to get through to WildBlue's PR people to see if I can get an evaluation service installation to review this for you. So far, though, no call backs. A few things I can tell you about the service right away. Like all other two-way satellite services, latency is an issue with WildBlue and Ka-band satellite Internet service. Latency is a huge issue for anything realtime, like multi-player Internet gaming. The satellite is located in geosynchronous orbit 22,500 miles away from earth. The distance is what introduces the latency, or delay. You won't notice this surfing around, but with any kind of interaction, it can be either an annoyance or a problem. Like other satellite services, and many cable services, WildBlue is also employing a Fair Access Policy that will limit very heavy bandwidth users.

    With other satellite services, the big problems are that the only thing that's fast is web surfing. Email, IM, newsgroups and other Internet protocol-based activities weren't as fast, and sometimes didn't operate all that well. In order to test that, and how fast it really is, I would need to get the actual service installed here in SFNL Labs. For that, they have to call me back!

    Microsoft's Forthcoming new 'Eiger' OS
    Microsoft is working on a Windows XP-based operating system, code-named Eiger, intended for folks who are unable to purchase new hardware but who want the benefits of Microsoft's current security and management technologies. Eiger is an early stage of development and testing. Microsoft just released it in a technical preview to about 100 enterprise. There's been a lot of mythology creeping up around this release. This is not the low-cost Windows that Microsoft has been shopping around to some countries in an effort to stem Linux defections and piracy. It's solely aimed an enterprises currently running Win9x who are falling behind on the security front and who are unwilling to upgrade their hardware so that they can upgrade to Windows XP. Microsoft believes that the best solution for customers with older hardware and an older operating system is to upgrade to the latest generation of hardware and to Windows XP. Eiger is has been somewhat incorrectly, but also understandably, labeled as a thin client solution because it is primarily designed around the idea of using terminal services (either Microsoft's or a third party) to serve clients to desktop machines. I don't think Microsoft is attempting to get into the thin client business here so much as it is looking to provide an upgrade path — mostly for security purposes — to enterprises that are being penny-wise and pound foolish about upgrading their OS and hardware.

    Verizon FIOS Coming to Papa
    Back in February I wrote a 60-Second Brief called Broadband Wars that talked about several things, including Verizon's FIOS fiber-to-the-curb (or, as Verizon calls it, fiber-to the-premises) 5Mbps, 15Mbps, and screaming 30Mbps residential broadband service. I just heard from a very reliable source that Verizon hopes to offer FIOS in my home town as early as the end of this year. If that happens, I will be the first person to sign up here, and you can expect a detailed review of what it's like to possess 15Mbps broadband service, which is supposed to sell for $45-$50 a month. FIOS at the 15Mbps service level is 10 times faster than my current Verizon DSL service, and nearly four times faster than my current Comcast service. No matter how you slice it, this will be a noticeable speed improvement. And I can't wait to test it.

    Meanwhile, Martin Heller, a columnist for Developer Pipeline, Byte, recently got 15Mbps FIOS and he sent me this brief summary of what it's like:

    I just switched from 3Mbps Comcast cable Internet to 15Mbps Verizon FIOS at home. You can notice the difference for ordinary Web pages if you pay attention; the difference for downloads from fast servers is huge.

    Man, some people are just lucky.

    Windows Server 2003 SP1 and R2 Customer Preview
    By now you've probably heard that Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 is out there and available for free download. SP1 was released in late March, so it's not news. But in case you put it off until later, this might be a good time for Windows Server 2003 users to download it or order a CD. Go get it. Unless you're running Small Business Server, for which Microsoft intends to release a specific separate SP1 version. There are some other exceptions too. Read the "Important" note on the page linked just above.

    While I'm talking about Windows Server 2003, you might want to check out Microsoft's Windows 2003 R2 Customer Preview, which is scheduled for release sometime during the second half of this year. R2 improves identity and access management, branch office server management, storage setup and management, and application development. For more details, see this Microsoft R2 FAQ.

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    Anti-Spyware Realities
    A few issues of this newsletter back I vowed to test the latest crop of anti-spyware products, and I immediately started digging into the research, including gathering a list of test candidates, investigating test methodologies, preparing a testbed, and all the things I usually do when I test products. But I have to admit something. I underestimated just how big a deal this is. Spyware comes in so many flavors, and the bad things it does are legion. The bottom line is this: There is spyware out there that no anti-spyware product can adequately extricate you from. The state of the art of the software utilities out there right now is roughly about the same as where antivirus software was in, say, 1992. Unfortunately, spyware is much, much more prevalent right now than viruses were in 1992. There's a whole different motivation behind the genesis of spyware than there was behind viruses: Greed. Spyware, like spam, is big business. People are making piles of cash on this stuff. They could care less that they're ruining people's PCs.

    Bottom line: I don't think there's anything more important to the computer industry right now than making some serious strides on thwarting spyware. Symantec is publicly beta testing an interim version of its Norton Internet Security 2005 targeting spyware, to be called Norton Internet Security AntiSpyware Edition. A good move. But none of the products out there right now, or in the near future, are likely to be able to protect you fully. With some spyware, the only real solution is to wipe your drive and start over. I kid you not. This PCPitstop List of Top 25 Spyware and Adware will tell you more about some of the very worst offenders out there. It's worth checking out. Be sure to click the names of these bad actors to check out their details.

    Everyone should be running anti-spyware software. Everyone. I recommend buying, installing, and running some combination of the following products:

  • CA's eTrust PestPatrol
  • LavaSoft's Ad-Aware SE
  • McAfee's Antispyware
  • Microsoft's AntiSpyware
  • PC Tools' Spyware Doctor
  • Safer Networking's Spybot-Search&Destroy
  • Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy
  • Webroot Software's Spy Sweeper

    This product is also very useful to have around when all else fails:

  • Merijen HiJack This

    I'm still working on how best to help you fight spyware. I'm beginning to think that my original plan, to review anti-spyware products, might not be anywhere near as helpful as my researching and reporting on how to avoid spyware in the first place — given the state of the anti-spyware utility marketplace. So, for those of three of four of you waiting with bated breath for my reviews of the products, don't. I'll report back on this as soon as I have something useful to offer.

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    Aggravating but Eventually Good ThinkPad Purchase
    A couple of issues back, I related the first part of a story in T-Series ThinkPads Everywhere that began in February and didn't conclude until early May. That's how long it took me to actually receive a working ThinkPad. Strangely, I'm happy about it too.

    In a nutshell, this is what happened. I ordered a 15" 2379-R9U ThinkPad T42 from PCSuperDeals.com, a Micro League company. The unit arrived with a bad Intel 2200BG wireless networking mini PCI card. After a lot of back and forth with IBM and PCSuperDeals customer support, I sent the unit back about two weeks after it arrived.

    It took another two weeks or so for PCSuperDeals to send another 15" 2379-R9U ThinkPad T42, but when that unit arrived it had the same problem. After only a few days I had a second RA number and I boxed it up and sent it right back to PCSuperDeals.

    At this point I decided not to take a chance on yet another sample of the 2379-R9U. I'm sure PCSuperDeals just got a bad batch. But since I was stuck buying from them (if I wanted cash back, I would have had to pay a 20% "restocking fee"), I decided to get a ThinkPad T43 instead, and I wanted one with the IBM 802.11g wireless networking card (probably made by Phillips). The cheapest T43 carried by PCSuperDeals with all the same specs as the T42 I had purchased was $600 more from PCSuperDeals; it's the 15-inch-LCD ThinkPad T43 2668-98U. I resigned myself to paying the considerable extra money, but unfortunately, I then also had to resign myself to waiting another month for PCSuperDeals to get the 2668-98U back in stock. After weeks of waiting, the new T43 arrived on May 2, while I was on a business trip.

    You might think I should be angry. And a part of me is. After all, had I started out to buy the 2668-98U, I would have paid less than I paid from PCSuperDeals. One other very reputable dealer has it for about $50 less than I paid. I also would have saved about $70 in shipping charges to send two units back to PCSuperDeals — not to mention phone calls, my time, and the added aggravation. But there are two good things that came out of this: The first is that PCSuperDeals treated me very fairly. Never once did its representatives even suggest that it was my wireless networking environment that was at fault. And it would have been all too easy for them to do just that — even though I made sure that was not the case. Customer service rep Sheila Abulencia was friendly and helpful throughout the entire process. And even though I paid a bit more than I would have liked for the machine I finally wound up with, I vastly prefer the one I got to the T42 I originally spec'ed out. The T43's faster bus and the PCI Express-based ATI X300 video are a better fit for my needs now and later.

    I expect to publish my long-term review of the ThinkPad T43 in the next issue of the newsletter. I've been working with the evaluation unit that IBM sent me in early March and now I have this second example. It's helped me track down a bug with the fingerprint-reader software that comes with the T series. I'll give you the details on that with the review, next time.

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    Q&A
       - Probable Damaged Firefox Profile
       - OK, Now What About XP SP2?

    Probable Damaged Firefox Profile

    Question: I'm running FF on both my laptop and my home desktop. On the latter, it's been smooth sailing. On the notebook, without warning, I loaded FF one day, and all my bookmarks were gone, and font sizes I thought I had adjusted were wrong again, etc. It was like a config file was changed or damaged. Some extensions I had loaded were still there, however, so it's not like I was running a "virgin" install of FF. Hope this of some use. —Paul Bijkersma

    Answer: More than likely your Firefox Profile was damaged. On Windows XP/2K machines, you'll find your profile in this directory:

    C:\Documents and Settings\{Your User Name}\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles

    If you see more than one file there (with a cryptic alphanumeric name), you have more than one profile. But odds are you will only find one.

    This Mozilla page will help you manage your profiles, and should help you solve your problem. —Scot


    OK, Now What About XP SP2?

    Question: I don't want to disable automatic updates, but am afraid of SP2. I've installed it once (fortunately it uninstalled easily) and it slowed my computer to glacial speed. Startup took 40 minutes and virtually no programs worked. I installed from the Microsoft disc which they mail if you request it. Is there some magical installation process I failed to follow? If the extreme slow-down is a reported problem, are there any solutions? —Larry Aronberg

    Answer: Hi, Larry. Your experiences aren't typical. I've installed SP2 on about a dozen of my own machines, and have had no noticeable issues with performance. I would suggest that there is some Internet-based service on your machine that loads at start up that is being blocked by Windows XP SP2's Windows Firewall. The first thing to do might be to disable things like antivirus, firewalls, and other Internet-oriented apps before you install SP2. The second thing might be to turn off Windows Firewall after you first boot Windows XP SP2. Where do you stand after that? If performance is better, add in one firewall and see how it goes.

    Another common cause of problems like this is a computer that has already been upgraded before. My standard rule of thumb is, don't upgrade a Windows computer more than once. So, if your computer originally ran Windows ME, and you bought a Windows XP Upgrade for it, you should not then try to upgrade it to Windows XP SP2. Instead, your choice should be to either buy a new PC or live with SP1 and all available patches. The second option is not the end of the world. So long has you have antivirus software and a solid firewall, and you're experienced, it's perfectly fine. —Scot

    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 appropriate forum. (Note: A rapid, simple registration via email with Web-based confirmation is required to post messages.)

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    Linux Explorer: Hard Links and Symbolic Links
    Today we're going to test your virtual imagination ability! You're probably familiar with shortcuts in Microsoft Windows or aliases on the Mac. Linux has something, or actually some things similar, called hard links and symbolic links.

    Symbolic links (also called symlinks or softlinks) most resemble Windows shortcuts. They contain a pathname to a target file. Hard links are a bit different. They are listings that contain information about the file. Linux files don't actually live in directories. They are assigned an inode number, which Linux uses to locate files. So a file can have multiple hardlinks, appearing in multiple directories, but isn't deleted until there are no remaining hardlinks to it. Here are some other differences between hardlinks and symlinks:

    1. You cannot create a hardlink for a directory.
    2. If you remove the original file of a hardlink, the link will still show you the content of the file.
    3. A symlink can link to a directory.
    4. A symlink, like a Windows shortcut, becomes useless when you remove the original file.

    So far this is probably a bit tough to grasp, but stick around, we're going to explain it.

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

    IMPORTANT: The tips in this document require the use of command-line commands. For more information about how to read and execute Linux command-line prompts and commands, please check the Linux Clues Linux Cheat Sheet, especially Linux Prompt Basics and Linux Command-Line Nomenclature. You'll need to start by logging in as root. If you're not sure how to do that, read Logging in and out as Root.

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

    Hardlinks
    Let's do a little experiment to demonstrate the case. Make a new directory called Test and then move into it. to do that, type:

    $ mkdir Test
    $ cd Test

    Then make a file called FileA:

    $ vi FileA

    Press the I key to enter Insert mode:

    i

    Then type in some funny lines of text (like "Why did the chicken cross the road?") and save the file by typing:

    Esc
    ZZ

    So, you made a file called FileA in a new directory called "Test" in your /home. It contains an old and maybe not so funny joke. Now, let's make a hardlink to FileA. We'll call the hardlink FileB.

    $ ln FileA FileB

    Then use the "i" argument to list the inodes for both FileA and its hardlink. Type:

    $ ls -il FileA FileB

    This is what you get:

    1482256 -rw-r--r--     2 bruno bruno     21 May 5 15:55 FileA
    1482256 -rw-r--r--     2 bruno bruno     21 May 5 15:55 FileB

    You can see that both FileA and FileB have the same inode number (1482256). Also both files have the same file permissions and the same size. Because that size is reported for the same inode, it does not consume any extra space on your HD!

    Next, remove the original FileA:

    $ rm FileA

    And have a look at the content of the "link" FileB:

    $ cat FileB

    You will still be able to read the funny line of text you typed. Hardlinks are cool.

    Symlinks
    Staying in the same test directory as above, let's make a symlink to FileB. Call the symlink FileC:

    $ ln -s FileB FileC

    Then use the i argument again to list the inodes.

    $ ls -il FileB FileC

    This is what you'll get:

    1482256 -rw-r--r--     1 bruno bruno     21 May 5 15:55 FileB
    1482226 lrwxrwxrwx    1 bruno bruno      5 May 5 16:22 FileC -> FileB

    You'll notice the inodes are different and the symlink got a "l" before the rwxrwxrwx. The link has different permissions than the original file because it is just a symbolic link. Its real content is just a string pointing to the original file. The size of the symlink (5) is the size of its string. (The "-> FileB" at the end shows you where the link points to.)

    Now list the contents:

    $ cat FileB
    $ cat FileC

    They will show the same funny text.

    Now if we remove the original file:

    $ rm FileB

    and check the Test directory:

    $ ls

    You'll see the symlink FileC is still there, but if you try to list the contents:

    $ cat FileC

    It will tell you that there is no such file or directory. You can still list the inode. Typing:

    $ ls -il FileC

    will still give you:

    1482226 lrwxrwxrwx     1 bruno bruno     5 May 5 16:22 FileC -> FileB

    But the symlink is obsolete because the original file was removed, as were all the hard links. So the file was deleted even though the symlink remains. (Hope you're still following.)

    OK. The test is over, so you can delete the Test directory:

    $ cd ..
    $ rm -rf Test     (r stands for recursive and f is for force)

    Note: Be cautious using "rm -rf"; it's very powerful. If someone tells you to do "rm -rf /" as root, you might loose all your files and directories on your / partition! Not good advice.

    Now you know how to create (and remove) hardlinks and symlinks to make it easier to access files and run programs. See you on the links!

    Sources
    Most of the material found in Linux Explorer comes from Bruno of Amsterdam, lead moderator 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 Linux Explorer and the LinuxClues.com site are adapted). All previous installments of this section of the newsletter can be found at LinuxClues.com. For more from Bruno, please see his Tips for Linux Explorers website.

    Linux Explorer is edited by Cyndy, and copyedited by Scot.

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    Link of the Month: Konfabulator
    Want to see a little bit of future now, or get a sense for where Apple got some of its cool OS X ideas? This website offers a downloadable shareware tool, called Konfabultor, that offers a simple way to host XML and JavaScript-based widgets (or mini applets) for your desktop. In fact, there are over 500 widgets already available to play around with. Konfabulator comes in Windows XP/2000 and Mac versions. It sounds a lot like Active Desktop, and it is — but it works a whole lot better and looks better too. Take a look at these screenshots to get a look at what it can do.

    Konfabulator is developed by Pixoria, which is three guys with a good idea. It's been around since early 2003, so it isn't really new. And it enjoyed a following a while back. Check out the info and history page for more detail. If you try it and like it, remember to pay the $25 shareware license fee. Check this one out. I think you'll like it. There's even a workshop page that helps you build your own widgets.

    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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    Newsletter Schedule
    Scot's Newsletter is a monthly e-magazine. My aim is to deliver each issue of the newsletter on or before the first of each month.

    Because I doubled up in the month of May, I'm not sure yet about when the June issue will arrive. Check the website if you're wondering. I'd also like to announce that the Finnie household is expecting the Stork to deliver yet another bundle of joy this summer. Cyndy is pregnant, and due sometime during the second half of July. So expect a varied schedule for the second half of the summer. And please excuse any bleary-eyed typos during the first few months through the fall. It's quite possible, for example, that I'll wind up missing the August issue entirely. But since Longhorn Beta 1 is due in early July, you might get two issues that month, or it might be a delayed issue so I can cover Longhorn toward the middle of July. Or who knows? I'll keep you posted.

    You can always find out when the next issue of Scot's Newsletter is expected to appear by visiting the Scot's Newsletter home page.

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    In Upcoming Issues
    Sometimes there's just a welcome abundance of things to explore and write about. In upcoming issues of Scot's Newsletter I hope to offer coverage of Apple's new OS X 1.4 Tiger, IBM's ThinkPad T43, a lot more Longhorn, some inside info on the forthcoming Windows Longhorn Beta 1, some hands-on experiences and insights into 64-bit Windows XP Pro, a review of HP's DX5150 64-bit consumer Windows PC, some coverage of Office 2003 (ok, a little belatedly) as well as the next version of Office (due in 2006), I'm hoping to test the WildBlue two-way 1.5Mbps Ka-band satellite broadband, and probably some time in the first or second quarter next year, a review of Verizon's fiber-to-the-premises 15Mbps high-speed broadband — possibly in another head to head with Comcast's fastest residential service. Clearly, not all of this will happen, and it won't happen right away, but it's what's on the radar.

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