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Scot’s Newsletter

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July 2005 - Vol. 5, Issue No. 71

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Microsoft Burns Hotmail Users with Sender ID
  • A Triumph of Marketing
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Longhorn Slipping?
       - Insights into Office 12
       - Microsoft Announces RSS Support in Longhorn
       - Win2000 SP4 Update Rollup; No SP5 Coming
       - Canon Digital Camera Dilemma
  • Long-Term Review: Lenovo ThinkPad T43 | Top Product!
  • Reader Poll: What Desktop OS Do You Use Most Often?
  • Network Know-How: Additional Wireless Security
  • Another Verizon FiOS Broadband Real-World Report
  • Q&A
  • Linux Explorer: Command-Line Aliases
  • Link of the Month: Firefox Users Sound Off
  • Missing Words II
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, Change Your Subscription


    Microsoft Burns Hotmail Users with Sender ID
    Which is more important to you? Being sure you're getting the emails you want? Or Microsoft taking the lead in the war on spam? (Yeah, it's a trick question.)

    Well, Microsoft is inflicting its special brand of anti-spam strategy on Hotmail guinea pigs, I mean users, just because the service is free, so they can. It's a cliché that Robert Heinlein beat to death. But like most clichés, it's true: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

    Of all ISPs and Web mail services, Hotmail is used by more Scot's Newsletter subscribers than any other. I don't know why that is. I'm on record as not liking Microsoft email software. Perhaps I should remind everyone that I'm similarly not a fan of Hotmail. I was an early Hotmail adopter. I used it happily before Microsoft bought the company in the late 90s. Since Microsoft took over Hotmail, though, the service has steadily eroded. For a while in the 2000-01 timeframe, Hotmail's servers were so overwhelmed that its users experienced serious issues due to lost messages. Microsoft eventually fixed those problems. But the service levels are not high. Another thing I dislike about the service is that if you don't use it for 30 to 90 days, your account is deleted without notice. And that's the behavior that finally drove me away from Hotmail entirely.

    If you want a great Web mail service, there's just no question that Google's Gmail, which offers 2GB of mail storage (Hotmail offers 250MB only), is superior. Google also gives you 9 months of inactivity before it'll turn you off, and it sends you an email reminder before doing that.

    So, anyway, it doesn't surprise me that Microsoft is using Hotmail as a podium for its Sender ID authentication system. Sender ID has evolved since Microsoft first announced it, and in combination with SPF (Sender Policy Framework), it's a methodology that makes some sense.

    In a nutshell, it works by publishing at the DNS level all the legal originators of email for a given domain name, including authorized senders on other servers. On paper, this works for legitimate email businesses, such as newsletter publishers, or any other business that uses a third-party service for legitimate large mailings. The problem is that only major ISPs and professional mailing companies (and not all of them) have implemented SPF. AOL, has, for example. But many other ISPs have not. Although the use of SPFs isn't really all that complicated, there are zillions of mail servers out there, and it's probably going to take years for this to happen.

    Microsoft doesn't seem to care about that aspect. It's using its large number of Hotmail users both to publicize its proprietary Sender ID standard (which many companies have shied away from) and also to bludgeon ISPs and other large email originators to do what it takes to avoid problems for Hotmail users.

    I don't think that's truly ethical behavior, especially since Microsoft could potentially charge for the use of Sender ID. Instead, I think Microsoft should work with other major computer industry players to come to terms on mail authentication. (Albeit, Microsoft has tried to do that and it hasn't worked out all that well, but more effort is needed by Redmond.) We don't need a lot fractious, competing means of fighting spam. What we need is to lock arms together and stare this scourge down without any grab for a financial reward by any of the companies or individuals involved.

    I'm making a call to Scot's Newsletter readers right now: Dump Hotmail. It's a bad service anyway. And that's how we should vote with our personal choice to show Microsoft that it shouldn't abuse users for its own personal gain — in the name of stopping spam.

    If you've ever complained about a perceived heavy-handed Microsoft tactic in the past, this is your chance to take a small action to fight back.

    There are many other, better Web mail services. For my money, a good for-pay POP/SMTP service like Modomail is a much better option. Modomail costs $25 a year for full-fledged POP/SMTP service (email program required), plus it also offers Web mail.

    But there's just no question in my mind about straight Web-mail providers. Google Gmail is the best. The large storage size, POP option, very cool built-in search features, the grouping by thread view, and Gmail Notifier make everything else look black and white by comparison.

    To get Gmail, ask your friends for a sign-up offer. Google still currently isn't offering any public sign up. Here's more information about that.

    By the way, a note to current Hotmail users who are Scot's Newsletter subscribers: Because of Microsoft's Sender ID experiments with Hotmail, it seems very likely that you will not receive the newsletter reliably. I'm learning about SPF and how to implement it, but my Web host, Invision Power Services, tells me it doesn't currently expect to support SPF any time soon. I have no way to implement SPF as a result, which means that I can't tell Sender ID that emails sent by my Lyris service provider with my return address are legitimate emails. So, more than likely, Sender ID will tag them all as spam. There's nothing I can do about it.

    Back to the Top


    A Triumph of Marketing
    Don't you love it when the marketing boyz get hold of a new business? The wunderkind of the 20th century were the monks of Madison Avenue. The marketers who turned pathetic products into must-haves. Don't Squeeze the Charmin (Mr. Whipple). Avis: We're Number 2, We Try Harder. Have It Your Way at Burger King. The Marlboro Man.

    I grew up with all that as more than just a passive television message. My dad was in advertising, and for a good part of my childhood he worked on Madison Avenue. My dad watched, listened, and read advertisements as a form of interactive sport. And that was a pastime I quickly picked up. One of the games we played was to be the first to put words to the unvarnished tacit message the commercial was whispering in your ear. (You know, like: If you get Whisk, the young women in the office will stop rolling their eyes behind your back at the unsightliness of your Ring Around The Collar.) Another game was "Name that Advertiser," because if you couldn't, the ad campaign had clearly failed.

    It appears that some onlookers in our industry are out to drag Internet search into the realm of a mature industry, where the long-held theories of business and marketing apparently rule. In the July 1 issue of Outsell, an opinion piece suggests that Yahoo!'s long-term vision is better than Google's, because:

    "Yahoo! is increasingly showing that it understands that information products are built around the needs of specific groups of users, rather than around the available content or technologies. That's a characteristic of good media companies — they see their market through the lens of audiences."

    Well, duh! But it isn't just publishing companies that must focus on audiences. All commercial businesses that sell products or services must study the demographics and shifting desires of the most important clusters of people in their markets or eventually perish when they're left behind as market needs shift. That's been the lesson of the rise of direct marketing, mail order, Internet retail, and the weakening of bricks-and-mortar storefronts. You can't just set up shop and expect them to come to you. You have to seek out the portions of your audience that are most responsive to your products or services, and that have the money to purchase them, and then find out why they are so responsive. So you can find more of them. Google is simply attempting to lead its market by creating new services. Yahoo! is mostly a follower.

    There are many ways to earn audience attention, trust, and loyalty. You can bludgeon them with your message, offer everything "FREE!", deliver what they want consistently with everything just a little bit better than the competition, or innovate faster than everyone else, as a few examples. Just because Google dabbles in technology constantly doesn't mean it has ignored the personality of its marketplace. In fact, Yahoo! has increasingly focused on marketing because it lacks its own technologies. The company has long been a technology consumer instead of a technology creator.

    One of the reasons for Google's early success was that the sweet spot of its market was just as intensely interested in new technologies as Google was. But, now half way through this decade, we've stopped focusing on new waves of users "coming onto the 'Net" the way we did in the 1990s. Although large numbers of people have yet to get onboard, people representing a wide array of demographics are onboard. The sweet spot Google focused on at first is no longer as large percentage of the company's market as it was seven or eight years ago.

    But think about Google's marketing message, still operating as a giant whisper campaign: Simplicity. Do no evil. Innovate. Free. Products whose functionality go the competition one better. I'll add one more that's unstated, but worthy of note: Google's services in most cases appear to be less privacy invasive than those of Yahoo! and Microsoft. Google manages to collect data more quietly.

    Despite the challenge it faces in broadening its appeal to a wider audience, there is no search company on the Internet with a better vision than Google's right now. I would agree with Outsell that Google faces a steeper learning curve in converting its operation to a long-term, more traditional business. Yahoo! is a more mature company. So, Google may be a little less prepared to meet the challenge of business as usual when the innovation slows down and the newness wears off. But there's also no reason yet to suppose that Google is not equal to the challenge.

    I see no sign at all of this Outsell statement: "In the long run, the something-for-everyone stuff that Google is busy adding will be taken for granted, and information users will move on to products and services targeted more specifically to them. In Outsell's opinion, Yahoo! is displaying a better long-term understanding of the needs of an information-drenched society."

    What I see is Yahoo busily trying to apply the theory that it can be more nimble by buying off-the-shelf technology, dusting it off, trying to make it a little bit better than the competitions'. In fact, I would invert the argument: Yahoo! could be in danger of being left behind if Google stumbles upon a technology that it applies perfectly to the market, that clearly resonates with the "audience," and that Yahoo! can't compete with.

    The argument may come down to this: Are we already entering the phase for Internet search when there's nothing really new under the Sun? Or are we still in a period of innovation? If Outsell is right, that first thing may be true. If I'm right, the second is.

    What do you think? Send me your two cents.

    Back to the Top


    60-Second Briefs
       - Longhorn Slipping?
       - Insights into Office 12
       - Microsoft Announces RSS Support in Longhorn
       - Win2000 SP4 Update Rollup; No SP5 Coming
       - Canon Digital Camera Dilemma

    Longhorn Slipping?
    According to a story reported by CRN's Paula Rooney, the first indication that the initial ship date for Windows Longhorn might slip into 2007 came last week in a speech made by a Microsoft official. I fully expect Microsoft to do everything it can to wrap up Longhorn by early October of 2006, and preferably mid September, so there's plenty of time for OEM PC makers to stock the store shelves with Longhorn-based PCs in time for the holiday selling season. Microsoft has a lot of incentive to meet that goal. If they can, they absolutely will meet it.

    Insights into Office 12
    Last Thursday, I interviewed Microsoft Group Product Manager Dan Leach about Office 12. Although he didn't give me much hard information about new features in Office 12, he did promise me that the company would be releasing beta 1 early this fall, and that there was a very large functionality concept they're working on that he thought I would be impressed with. I had suggested to him that Microsoft consider clustering configuration settings with a single click around specific common activities. For example, when you're working on a document for the Web, you don't want Word to insert curly quotes, em dashes, copyright symbols, and the like. What if you could click a single button to turn off all those functions? And then when you're done, you could click the button again to go back to Word document mode?

    Check out Barb Darrow's CRN article on Ribbons to get an idea of what Leach may have been alluding to. Other stories worth a read:

  • Office 12: Not Necessarily For Longhorn - CRN:
  • Microsoft Exec Gives Sneak Peek At Office 12 - CRN:
  • Some Takeaways from Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference - CRN

    Microsoft Announces RSS Support in Longhorn
    I wrote what I learned about, and what I think of, Microsoft's recent announcement that it will be including RSS support in Windows Longhorn on InformationWeek's Windows Weblog.

    Win2000 SP4 Update Rollup; No SP5 Coming
    At the end of June Microsoft released the Update Rollup for Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 (SP4). It contains all the security-related updates produced for Windows 2000 between the release of SP4 and the release of the Update Rollup. It also offers a small number of important non-security updates.

    Microsoft notes that the number of updates included in the Update Rollup is significantly lower than a Service Pack, and most of the tweaks it offers have already been released separately.

    Bottom line for Windows 2000 users: Microsoft has moved into the initial phase of unsupportedness (if that's a word), or the "Extended Support Phase," for Windows 2000. It will continue to release important security updates for the next few years, but it does not expect to release any future service packs at all for Win2000.

    For more information about the Update Rollup, including how to get it, see Microsoft's Update Rollup 1 for Windows 2000 Service Pack 4. And these other links that may help Win2000 users get a grip on this topic:

  • Windows Life-Cycle Policy
  • Understanding the Windows Lifecycle Policy - IEBlog
  • Windows 2000 Service Pack 4

    Canon Digital Camera Dilemma
    After last issue's proclamation that Canon's new Digital Rebel XT 350D is the digital cam for me several SFNL readers sent me personal impressions and links to reviews of the Rebel XT. I also had some interesting discussions with some Canon EOS 20D owners. Thanks especially to Dan Farnham, Jerry Bass, and Richard Piotrowski. The upshot was that I'm back to being conflicted about whether to:

    A. Try to pony up truly big bucks for the Canon EOS 20D plus $599 more for the 17-85mm IS lens and the somewhat loud shutter, or

    B. Ante up pretty big bucks for the Canon EOS Rebel XT 350D with the small viewfinder, lower resolution LCD, and with some troubling issues about menus for configuring custom settings.

    For the negative side of the Canon Rebel XT, check out this review by Michael Reichmann at The Luminous Landscape.

    I've found myself gravitating back toward the more expensive EOS 20D. But that model with everything I need for it is very hard to cost justify for the amount of picture snapping I do. I'm just one of these people who'd like to ensure that the fourth digital camera in my life is the last one I'll buy for about 20 years. I don't think that's too much to ask. I've owned my film SLR camera for about a dozen years now and see no reason to make a change there.

    Back to the Top


    Long-Term Review: Lenovo ThinkPad T43 | Top Product!
    If you've been reading this newsletter for a while, you know I'm a big fan of "thin and light desktop replacement" ThinkPad notebooks from IBM ... er ... Lenovo. I don't know, maybe it's all the time I spent as a paperboy when I was kid toting heavy newspaper bags on my shoulder, but somehow the weight difference between a 3-pound 12-inch LCD "executive" notebook and a 5.5-pound 15-inch LCD high-resolution notebook doesn't come close to overshadowing the difference in the utility of the two types of portables for day in, day out computing. I don't lust for something with a smaller screen, jammed together keyboard, and usually a slower processor. I don't feel rewarded by that. So IBM's X series notebooks don't appeal me too much, nor do competing models from several top-notch notebook makers.

    Give me a notebook with a 1400-by-1050-pixel 15-inch LCD that provides a real desktop upon which I can run two applications side by side. Give me something with a real keyboard I can type on all day. Give me a notebook that can do more than just basic Web browsing and email without requiring an add-on display. I guess I'm just American when it comes to notebook PCs. I like wide open spaces, the freedom to go where I want to go when I want to, and enough desktop screen real estate to spread out and really get stuff done. I hate the feeling of peering through a keyhole that I get with smaller-screen notebook PCs. And I hate all the typos I make on those toy keyboards.

    The T series ThinkPads, the T40, T41, T42, and T43 have all been extremely well designed notebooks. When the T43 was released, IBM quickly sent me one for evaluation, and I liked it so much that when I had the opportunity to switch my purchase order for a T42 to a T43, I did so. I've written quite a bit about the advantages of the T43 and my experiences with it in past issues:

  • Aggravating but Eventually Good ThinkPad Purchase
  • T-Series ThinkPads Everywhere

    For this formal review, I've tested two similarly equipped 15"-LCD T43 machines:

  • ThinkPad T43 266898U Specs
  • ThinkPad T43 266897U Specs

    What's New in the T43
    On January 19, 2005, IBM debuted the new T43, which makes standard the fingerprint reader security system that was offered on some of the T42 models starting about a year ago. It also uses a faster 533MHz front side bus, Intel's 915 chipset, the Pentium M Processor 760 CPU with a 2MB Level 2 cache (2GHz reviewed), and on my two test machines, ATI's newer Radeon X300 64MB video (there is also a 128MB video offering). So the innards are both faster and a new generation over the 1.8 GHz Pentium M Processor 745 with 400MHz front side bus sported by the T42 I reviewed last year.

    The reality about the new under the hood hardware is simply this: I don't really notice the performance improvement over last year's T43. It did seem slightly snappier to me at first, but then, it was also a brand new computer with a clean Windows installation.

    What I actually find more important about the T43 is that several minor things about the notebook series have matured in this iteration. In particular, IBM's long list of supporting software works better than when I first used it on these PCs a few years ago. I'm not a big fan of Intel's 2200BG wireless network mini PCI card, which Lenovo still sells on many of its portables (including the X series, by the way). Both of my two T43 test machines have non-Intel 802.11a/b/g wireless cards, and both work flawlessly on the many wireless networks I connect to.

    Some of the little things are what's best. When you open the lid of a hibernated T43, it automatically wakes up — something that competing models from makers like Compaq have done for a long time. Previous ThinkPad T series notebooks weren't able to do this. (Or, at least, I was never able to make them do it and IBM couldn't tell me how either.)

    So that's what's new. Not much, really. T42 and T43 machines have identical case designs, so the changes are mostly invisible to the eye. There is a fairly large structural difference between 15-inch and 14.1-inch LCD ThinkPad T series notebooks. The 15-inch models are beefier, and a tad thicker, and a bit heavier. But the added heft, a small amount really, is well worth the screen-real-estate advantage.

    Fingerprint Reader
    I've spent a lot of time analyzing the problems I have with the built-in fingerprint security device. I've now looked at three different notebooks with this feature, and all three of them have exhibited problems related to the software that IBM supplies to support the hardware. If you use Windows XP's Fast User Switching feature, you will occasionally, or even regularly, be prompted to swipe your finger across the reader on Shutdown. You don't need to do that, of course. But it may seem like you do. I have also had problems with using the fingerprint-identification system in connection with a password protected screensaver. Turning off Fast User Switching solves that problem. Finally, there is the problem that your finger needs to be placed very precisely in this reader. You can't swipe it casually but must think about. Once in a while, even when I feel that I am doing that, the reader rejects me. It's not uncommon to have to swipe three times. About half the time, I only have to swipe once. I continue to use it because I like the security it offers. But sometimes I think it'd be easier just to type the password.

    Typing your password continues to be an option with this system, by the way. So, in some ways, the security is still only as good as the password. Although the embedded security chip, once turned on, does offer several important new layers of protection.

    At a recent tradeshow I saw fingerprint-recognition hardware on another piece of hardware that allowed you to just place your finger in a depression and rest it there for a second. No swiping. That seemed like a much more convenient process that would be far less prone to rejections. I think Lenovo should look into this solution for future versions of its mobile hardware.

    Letting Go the Desktop
    Let's step back from the minutiae of a few extra features, and look at this at the level that matters. Using the T43 has changed entirely the way I work. And I think that's more important than the minor features, speeds, and feeds, that reviewers typically talk about. The desktop PC I used to use as my main home office work machine stopped being a daily driver. I went on a two-week road trip, and when I came back, I set up docking stations at both my home office and my work office. Now one machine contains all my data, my live email, and I tote it around from place to place. Life is easier. I was able to find the right settings in the ATI control panel to allow me to drive my 24.3-inch Samsung 243T LCD with a DVI cable at 1920-by-1200-pixel resolution.

    Too bad IBM's built-in "Presentation Director" display-setting software doesn't permit a saved setting of the now quite standard 1920-by-1200 resolution. Also, while you can tell the Presentation Director to automatically select this or that saved display setting when you dock, why can't it detect multiple IBM docks, perhaps based on the MAC addresses of their networking hardware, so that people who commute between docks can just make this headache go away entirely? I can't be the only one who wants this.

    But bottom line, my 2GHz T43 just turned my 3GHz Pentium 4 desktop PC into a giant dust bunny. And I'm never going back. To me, that's very high praise indeed. The first notebook in my life that's been good enough to do that.

    IBM/Lenovo has continued to perfect the T series notebook. I can't wait to see what they'll do with the T44, if that's in fact what it will be called. The T43 continues where its T series predecessors left off. It's the best desktop replacement notebook on planet earth, one of the few that truly has no serious compromises. They're mobile PCs that travel just as well as they sit on your desk. This is the do-everything computer. The one machine to buy if you want to make just one machine the one you use everywhere.

     
      Fact Box
    Top Product! | ThinkPad T43 2668-98U and ThinkPad T43 2668-97U, Lenovo T Series, Phone: 888-407-7426, Support, Press Release, Street Pricing: $2,600-$2,750
     
     

    Back to the Top


    Reader Poll: What Desktop OS Do You Use Most Often?
    Each year Scot's Newsletter conducts a reader poll that asks: What's your main OS? I know many of you use multiple operating systems. But for the purposes of this poll, I'm asking you to give me the one operating system (OS) you use most frequently. If you want to tell me about other OSes, please do so in the body of the message. Please do not vote for "Other" as a way to vote for multiple OSes. All such answers will be discounted. If you don't feel you can narrow it down to one, it's simple, don't vote!

    This is an email-based poll. To participate, click the link below the operating system name that most closely matches your answer. Clicking the link will open your email program and create an outgoing message with the proper subject line for our vote to be counted. (Without the preconfigured subject line, your vote will not be counted.) Users of some Web mail services will not be able to just click the link to create the proper subject line. If that describes you, see the "Manual Instructions" to send the email and create the subject line manually.

    Which Operating System Do You Use the Most:

    1. Windows XP Pro x64 (64-bit Windows)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinXP64" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    2. Windows XP Media Center Edition (any version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinMediaCtr" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    3. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition (any version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinTabletPC" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    4. Windows XP Service Pack 2 (Pro or Home Edition)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinXP_SP2" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    5. Windows XP (Pro or Home Edition)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinXP" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    6. Windows Server 2003 (any version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinServer2003" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    7. Windows 2000
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "Win2K" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    8. Windows Me
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinMe" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    9. Windows 98 (any version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "Win98" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    10. Windows NT (any version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "WinNT" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    11. Windows 95 (any version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "Win95" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    12. Linux (any distro or version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "Linux" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    13. Macintosh OS X (any version)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "Mac_OSX" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    14. Macintosh System Software (pre OS X)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "Mac_System" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    15. Other OS (DOS, Win 3.x, any mobile OS, OS/2, Unix, BSD, or other)
    Manual Instructions: Address message to poll2005@scotsnewsletter.com and put "Other_OS" in the subject line (without quotation marks).

    Note: For Other OS, please take a moment to tell me in the body of the message the name and version number of the OS you use.

    Thanks for taking the time to send me your message.

    In an upcoming issue I'll tell you how this turned out. I'll also ask you about what you think your *next* operating system will be. So hold off telling me about that until then.

    Back to the Top


    Network Know-How: Additional Wireless Security
    If you're managing a wireless network, as I have for several years now, you know that most better forms of 802.11x security involves some sort of key-based system and encryption, such as WPA-PSK. The reality is that these forms of protection are pretty good for most non-enterprise wireless networks, but they don't come without a cost. And that cost, which often goes unmentioned, is that even with a fast broadband connection you may experience noticeable network and Internet performance degradation. The worst problem I experience with any of these protections is that some Web servers time out before they finish loading pages. Network file sharing also slows down. Perhaps I'm a networking elitist, but these performance differences aren't acceptable to me. I want fast all the time.

    For years I've alternated periods of strict wireless security with no wireless security, using smart fall-back approaches. And even though I don't recommend that to you, learning about some of them can be good extra layers for your network.

    One of those smart approaches is to make your SSID (wireless network name) invisible to the network. (Changing your SSID name periodically is also a good practice.) But Windows XP Service Pack 2 makes this a frustrating experience, especially for wireless networks that are physically close to other networks or that employ multiple access points. The rise of 802.11g wireless networking has also created much more powerful wireless networks, which exacerbates the problem. If you don't select your network by SSID name, Windows XP SP2 will often just connect you more or less automatically to the strongest signal. The UI for XP SP2 wireless networking doesn't show you channels. Put simply, it can be a frustrating experience to manage this with the tools Windows provides. Indeed, Microsoft says this behavior is "by design," and it specifically recommends against hiding your SSID name as a means of security.

    I agree with Microsoft that this little trick isn't something you can rely on. It's not truly a security measure. It's just a hiding-in-plain-sight maneuver that adds a layer. On the other hand, to cavalierly defeat it in the name of Microsoft's idea of UI doesn't seem right to me either. I complained about this back when XPSP2 came out, but, well, Microsoft didn't listen.

    There is an old-fashioned alternative, though, that adds a useful layer of defense. While not being a sure thing by any stretch, this approach will defeat your average neighborhood broadband freeloader. It does require diligence on your part. And you'll need to add a software firewall to every machine on your network, if you haven't done so already. The trick is to make use of the MAC-address based filtering found on most firewall routers to permanently exclude any surprise MAC addresses that appear. How does this work? Pretty simply.

    Start by cataloging all the MAC addresses on your network. A MAC address is a unique identifier stored in the firmware of every network adapter (including cards, wireless cards, and onboard network circuitry). No two network adapters have the same MAC address. Here's a sample MAC address:

    00-12-23-76-B4-E4

    Some of your PCs may actually have two MAC addresses, one for the RJ45-based Ethernet card and one for the wireless card.

    One easy way to catalog your MAC addresses relies on logging features in the control software of your firewall router. Turn on all the PCs on your network, and enable all their network adapters. Your firewall router, if it's being used to assign IP addresses dynamically, should provide a list of all the computers on your network and display the MAC addresses of each of them. Double check that the MAC addresses listed correspond with the MAC addresses of your actual hardware. Many mobile hardware devices have their MAC addresses on the bottom of the case. You can also use a product like Belarc Advisor to quickly reveal your computers' MAC addresses. (Note that if a machine contains two network adapters, Belarc may only show the MAC address of the one that's active.)

    If your network changes infrequently, be sure to tighten down the DHCP IP Address assignment feature so that router cannot assign any IP addresses beyond what's on your network. Another option is to use static IP addresses, although that isn't a great option for networks where new PCs check in even occasionally. I would also lengthen the "lease time" on your IP address assignment to a week in the beginning so that you have a longer-lasting record of any unauthorized MAC addresses. Later, it would be a good idea to turn that down to three days or even less.

    The final thing this security measure needs is your diligent watchfulness. You need to check the DHCP area of your router's control software at least three times a week to see whether unauthorized MAC addresses have been assigned IPs. If you discover unauthorized access, you'll need to specifically block those MAC addresses from accessing your network. Your broadband-stealing neighbors and drive-bys will have to change network hardware in order to get into your network thereafter.

    Nothing about this MAC-address trick is going to thwart a determined, knowledgeable hacker bent on breaking into your network. But it's a useful measure, even for WPA-protected wireless networks. If nothing else, it's a good thing to do just to check whether your wireless network's protection is working.

    One word of caution: This measure should not be the only layer of protection for any network. That's especially true for anyone managing a network that has already experienced unauthorized entry or where preserving data and/or privacy are mission critical. It's just another layer.

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    Another Verizon FiOS Broadband Real-World Report
    This report is from SFNL reader Jim Refino, who had Verizon's new very high speed fiber-optic FiOS broadband service installed recently:

    I was leaving the mall one day after a visit to the local CompUSA. As I'm driving towards the exit, I see two Hummers pull up with wild paint jobs and the words "Verizon FiOS" on them. Being a curious person, I stopped to ask one of the drivers what FiOS was. He explained it was the company's new fiber-optic service and gave me a brochure. I called Verizon as soon as I arrived home and ordered the service. Our install was scheduled for the following Friday between 9AM and 5PM.

    In typical Verizon fashion, I hadn't heard a word as of 12:30 so I called. I got the runaround, so I called again at 3PM. Finally I spoke to the dispatcher who claimed the installer was held up at a previous job. The installation is listed as a four-hour process, so I asked why I wasn't informed about that around 1PM when it must have been evident to the installer that they couldn't make it to me. I spoke to the dispatcher again around 4:30, and he apologized and said the installer would be there shortly, and two installers did arrive just before 6PM.

    The installers walked around the house, had me show them where I wanted the Cat5 Ethernet wall jack, surveyed the basement for appropriate electrical outlets, and discussed with me where and how they would run the Ethernet cabling. We finally decided to bring it up through a closet in the next room and then through the wall into the room where I keep my computer.

    When things finally got under way, they installed the fiber-optic drop from the poll to the house, mounting a large gray box called an ONT (Optical Network Terminal) on an exterior wall. It replaces the original box for my phone lines. In the basement they installed a power supply as well as a battery back-up. They didn't mention that the battery back-up is only there to provide telephone service in the event of a power failure.

    Next came the computer setup. I was adamant that they not install any software that was not absolutely necessary and they complied. They connected the free D-Link DI-604 router but could not get a connection. The installers were extremely knowledgeable about the telephone and fiber-optic side of the job, but they were not computer savvy. In the end they let me give it a try. All I needed to do was to change my network card from a static IP to dynamic and all was fine.

    We chose to get the least expensive 5Mbps service which cost $39.95, a measly $6.00 more per month than we were paying for slower DSL. The router was free, the first month was free and the install was free. The installers ran some online tests and we are getting almost the full 5Mbps downstream and 2Mbps up.

    As a side note, I spent quite a bit of time talking with one of the installers. It would appear that Verizon has been working hard to get fiber installed in as many areas as possible. It seems that their plan is to compete with the cable companies and eventually offer additional services such as movies through their fiber-optic network. --Jim Refino

    Thanks, Jim! Anyone else who has first-hand experience with Verizon FiOS or other high-speed, fiber-optic broadband services, please send what you've learned my way. I'm also interested in hearing from techs and installers at Verizon and other companies who would like to pass along tips about these newer services (anonymously if necessary).

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    Q&A

    Problems with Norton Internet Security

    Question: I'm a new subscriber to the newsletter and I've just received my first copy. I just wanted to say what an interesting read it is :). I have Windows Media Center 2005 running XPSP2. I installed Norton Internet Security and have been having problems with the Norton Firewall. If I disable it and re-enable the XPSP2 firewall everything is fine. My problem is that when I reboot I have no firewall enabled and have to re-enable the Windows Firewall manually. Symantec tells me that the XPSP2 firewall is disabled because it is no longer set to be the primary firewall (NPF is) but they can't tell me how to reset it??? even though it was NIS that changed this setting. My system vendor doesn't know or care how to reset it. And I can't get any help from Microsoft because my copy of Windows is an OEM product, which means my PC maker is the only company I can get Windows support from. I have thought about reinstalling XPSP2 which is the only thing I haven't done yet, would you know of any other way to reset the XPSP2 firewall to be the primary firewall in Windows? —--Brian Dawe

    Answer: I have not been recommending NIS for quite some time. I do recommend NAV 2005, but I have to agree that Symantec is walking a very fine line in the way it deals with Windows XP SP2's Security Center feature. There's a cryptic setting you may choose during installation that causes the problem you're describing. It turns off Windows Security Center and also Windows Firewall.

    It's not clear to me from your message whether you fully uninstalled Norton Internet Security. I think that should be your first step. Uninstall that beast and restart. See if the problem has gone away. If you get Windows Firewall working again, you can reinstall NIS, but choose the custom installation and just install NAV2005, none of the rest of it.

    You may have a failed NIS installation. This can happen very easily if you didn't disable Windows Firewall when you installed NIS. Also, did you upgrade from a previous version of any of Norton's products? I have found that Norton upgrades don't go well. It's ALWAYS better to uninstall a previous Norton product first and then install the new one.

    Another problem is that NAV2005 turns on its own firewall features, called "Internet Worm Protection," that I find conflict with Windows in annoying ways. You can turn them off, though. Turn off "Internet Worm Protection" in the Options area. This may actually be the root of the problems you had before you uninstalled Norton Personal Firewall.

    I prefer Norton Personal Firewall to the Windows Firewall because it offers a good deal more protection than Windows Firewall does. But I would also have to admit that Windows Firewall excels at one thing: It stays the heck out of your way and rarely ever asks you stupid or cryptic questions.

    I have found that when you purchase the standalone versions of Symantec's products, you pay more, but fewer things like this go wrong.

    All in all, I have been pretty unhappy with Symantec security solutions over the last several years. They have improved their reliability in recent versions, but they just install way too many things on your computer and make far too many assumptions. They are so concerned about security, they're not thinking through the user experience very well.

    There are very few other antivirus products I trust, though. And that's what's kept me using Norton AntiVirus. But I am very selective about what I install from Symantec these days. —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: Command-Line Aliases
    For those used to graphical point-and-click interfaces, using command lines may require more than a little dusting off of those skills. Thankfully Linux has a way to make your command-line experiences more efficient. You can shorten long and complicated commands by assigning them an Alias to type instead. That way an often repeated command can be brought back to one or two characters.

    The format of the alias command is as follows:

    alias [name=['command']]

    "Name" is the alias you want type and "command" is the command line the alias should replace.

    There are only a few things to remember. The alias comes always directly after the prompt and if you want to use more of them in one line you'll have to add a space as you set the alias.

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

    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.

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

    Note: For many tips we start by changing user to root, but that's not necessary for this one. All the commands are given as user. (No need to do "su".) For our example commands, the username is shown as bruno.

    So let's set up some sample files and directories. First, create a directory /extra in /home/bruno/downloads/programs. Use the -p argument to make all the underlying directories, if they do not already exist. Type:

    $ mkdir -p ~/downloads/programs/extra/

    Next, make a text file called "index" where we will write a simple text.

    $ vi ~/downloads/programs/extra/index

    Then to put vi in insert mode. Type:

    i

    Add text to the file as follows:

    This is an index of downloaded programs.

    Save the file:

    Esc + ZZ

    The sample files are created, so now the real fun starts. Let's create some aliases for the command: cd /home/bruno/downloads/programs/extra. Type:

    $ alias c='cd ' (Note the space after cd!)
    $ alias dp='~/downloads/programs/extra'

    Then type:

    $ c dp

    And the proof that c dp actually worked here is the new prompt:

    ~/downloads/programs/extra$

    Let's see what is in that directory. Type:

    ~/downloads/programs/extra$ ls

    The result is:

    index

    Let's make another alias, note the space after cat. (Cat displays the contents of a file.)

    ~/downloads/programs/extra$ alias s='cat '

    Then type:

    ~/downloads/programs/extra$ s index

    You'll see the text you typed into the file named index:

    This is an index of downloaded programs.

    Then to get back where you started, type:

    ~/downloads/programs/extra$ c ~

    To remove the test files and restore the directory downloads as it was before the test, type:

    $ rm -rf ~/downloads/programs

    And to undo all the aliases set by the user:

    $ unalias c dp s

    These aliases will only be there for as long as you are logged in. They aren't saved and will disappear when you log out. To use them on a permanent basis, write them in /home/bruno/.bashrc. It's a good idea to do this if you use the long commands over and over again.

    You can also use "alias -p" to see what aliases are already set on your system, so you won't overwrite one that is already in use.

    That's what you need to know about aliases under Linux!

    Errata About Hard Links
    The last installment of Linux Explorer, Hard Links and Symbolic Links, contained an error that's been fixed on the website edition of Scot's Newsletter. The sentence: "Hardlinks are cool, and there's nothing like them under Windows" is technically incorrect. Thanks to SFNL reader Darryl Sequeira, and others, for pointing out that under NTFS in Windows XP, there's a utility called FSUTIL that can create hard links that work similarly to the ones in Linux. The MSDN article Hard Links explains how.

    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, BarryB, 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: Firefox Users Sound Off
    This issue's Link of the Month is a little bit different. Scot's Newsletter readers contributed to this story, written by my colleague, Mitch Wagner, at the old day job. But this isn't really a shameless promotion, because I think everyone should check out what Mitch learned when he interviewed lots of Firefox users about problems they've been having. So check out InternetWeek's article, Firefox Users Sound Off: Fix Those Bugs! If you use the Firefox Web browser, as I do, this one will be useful to you. Promise.

    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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    Missing Words II
    Last issue I mentioned a problem with the newsletter that I've been tracking wherein some people see something less in their emailed copies of Scot's Newsletter than most of us do. What those people find are missing words or sentences at the end of some paragraphs. About 10 readers sent me examples of the problem, following the instructions I gave in the last issue. Thank you very much for that help!

    It's a strange problem. My list distributor has been investigating it. On one of the messages that was sent to me with the problem, the headers showed that the receiving server issued a warning:

    "Sun-ONE-SMTP-Warning: Lines longer than SMTP allows found and truncated."

    According to documents I checked on the Web, the maximum length for a text line supported by SMTP is 1,000 characters. Of course, in the Text Edition, we're under 70 characters at all times. But the HTML Edition doesn't contain text returns at all. (It does contain HTML breaks, but SMTP doesn't read HTML.) Still, it seems unlikely to me that any paragraph would exceed 1,000 characters. But this is something I intend to check into.

    Lyris, the company that wrote the software of the list distribution server my service provider uses, is also checking into line-length issues. Currently, Lyris does not check outbound messages for line length.

    So, we're working an angle on this. And I hope to solve the problem, although it might not be right away.

    If you find that your copy of the newsletter has missing words or sentences, please reveal all the headers on your received copy of the newsletter and forward it me. If you could point out where the missing words are, that would be hugely helpful. One or two of you made that especially easy, and that made it much easier to show to other people. Thank you for that.

    Reveal all headers and forward me your truncated copy of the newsletter.

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    Newsletter Schedule
    The doctors say "any day now" for the baby who is on the way at the Finnie household. About the rest of the summer's newsletter schedule, please expect me when I'm good and ready. When I've gotten enough sleep to write something coherent. When my duties as a new father allow. Sometime in August.

    Also, expect news about Windows Longhorn, though. And that might drive the scheduling for the next edition too.

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