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June 27, 2001 - Vol. 1, No. 7
By Scot Finnie
IN THIS ISSUE
1. Release Schedule. Microsoft hopes to finish Windows XP Release Candidate 1 (RC1) by the end of this week. The internal goal is this Friday or Saturday. Plus, they plan to distribute it to me and others by July 4th. So if all goes well, expect a first look at Windows XP RC1 in the next issue of this newsletter. On top of that, Microsoft expects to freeze the final code in August. An RC2 build is expected to be distributed in late July.
2. Pricing. Microsoft's John Frederickson plainly stated that, while pricing still has not been set, we should not expect to see large price increases over comparable versions. To me that means no more than $99 for the Windows XP Home Edition Upgrade version. Given that Windows 2000 Pro Upgrade version sells for around $175 (but with a wider range of variability than Windows Me or 98), I expect its price to stay about the same. Personally, I don't think this is the time for Microsoft to take a price increase. If XP proves itself, then an increase may be warranted. We probably won't hear the official price until the product ships.
3. System Requirements. Microsoft has announced official system requirements: a Pentium or equivalent CPU running at 300MHz or faster, 64MB RAM minimum (128MB strongly recommended), and 1.5GB free disk space. The BIOS and components in PCs born before January 2000 could have trouble with Windows XP, since Microsoft focused on devices shipped since that date. Some features of Windows XP will actually require BIOSes that won't come to market until later this year.
4. Multiple Monitor ("MultiMon"). If you've read my previous coverage of Windows XP, you may recall that I criticized the split between Home Edition and Professional Edition because Microsoft had planned to only put the Multiple Monitor in the more expensive Pro edition. Although I still recommend that anyone reading this who is planning to upgrade to Windows XP when it ships on October 25 to choose the Professional version, the inclusion of MultiMon in the Home Edition definitely curbs some of my ire about what's missing from the Home Edition. This previous issue of SFNL goes into more detail about the differences between Home and Pro.
5. Upgrade Advisor. Microsoft is working on a new utility for prospective XP buyers called Upgrade Advisor. It'll be a free 35MB download (and also available for a nominal fee on CD, although it's unclear whether that's in stores or from the Microsoft website). Upgrade Advisor is designed to run on PCs with previous versions of Windows. It will let you know, before you shell out for install XP, whether your system components and OS installation will weather the change well. Microsoft hopes that the utility -- which won't be available until sometime after "RTM" (Release To Manufacturing) -- will be able to list all devices that may have issues, as well as offering links directly to manufacturer sites where you can get more information. Upgrade Advisor also covers software compatibility, giving specific advice about any software on your PC that either will not run, or might not run.
6. Clean Installing. Microsoft says, and I tend to believe them, that the virtues of clean installing will be far less important with Windows XP than they have been with previous versions of Windows. In other words, you can expect upgrade installations to go more smoothly, and the disadvantages of an upgrade installation (slower performance, longer Windows boots, and increased usage of disk space) to be minimal compared to previous upgrade installations. For retail buyers of Windows XP, they strongly recommend an upgrade installation. Knowing me, I'll be doing clean installs. But thought I'd pass it along.
7. Upgrade Paths. Just in case I haven't made this clear in the past, Windows 98/SE/Me owners will be able to upgrade to either Windows XP Home Edition or Windows XP Professional. But Windows NT 4.0 and 2000 users are required to upgrade to the more expensive Windows XP Pro edition. Although no pricing has been set, Microsoft has added a Windows XP Home Edition to Windows XP Professional upgrade SKU. So if you buy the Home version and realize you need Pro, you'll be able to upgrade rather than having to buy the whole thing all over. Finally, if you're moving up from Windows 3.1, Windows 95, or NT 3.51, you must clean install.
8. Product Activation. Not much has changed on the Product Activation front. This is the one aspect of Windows XP that I'm still not pleased about. I've written about Activation extensively. For a refresher, start with this back issue and work your way back following the links in each story. There's a lot of detail in these back issues that will help you understand Product Activation -- a subject about which there's a lot of confusion.
There is one thing that's new. Microsoft's Allen Nieman said last week that Microsoft is working on a way to make it easier for people to move the retail version of Windows XP from an old PC to a new PC. Right now this process would require a call to the Product Activation support number -- even if you delete the existing XP installation on your old PC. What Microsoft is hoping to do is make it possible to activate XP on your new machine with an Internet-based check of your machine instead of a mandatory phone call. The new method would be based on an interval of time. In other words, you'd be allowed so many activations in X number of weeks or months to be determined. They're still working it out. It's not much, but it's a bone. And we'll take it.
9. Performance. Microsoft is claiming all sorts of performance improvements over both Windows 2000 and Windows 98 Second Edition based on tests it has run internally, including Business Winstone, Content Creation Winstone, Webmark 2001, Sysmark 2001, Boot, Standby/Resume, and Hibernate/Resume. The one area where they're not claiming an improvement yet is with the performance of advanced graphics adapters, whose drivers are still being worked on.
10. Device Support. Previously SFNL had reported on a strong rumor that the "inbox driver" set of Windows XP was locked with Beta 2. Microsoft denied it, and I specifically talked with the folks involved with that. It turns out that the inbox driver pack is being locked right now, and RC1 will show us a near final version of device support. Many of us have experienced the occasional driver being offered under Windows Update during the last year or two. Microsoft is still planning to deliver a significant portion of newer and more recently updated drivers via Windows Update after XP ships. And of course, some hardware makers will release updated drivers on their own. Because Windows 98/Me automatically becomes a legacy OS when XP ships, and because XP merges the business and consumer driver support, it's expected that vendors may be more eager to do updated drivers for XP. Of course, what really matters is the sales of XP. If it does well, and if gamers adopt it, hardware makers will be likely to favor it with new drivers.
11. Application Compatibility. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about this now. Microsoft claims that it will have tested and certified (either as is, or with a patch to the OS or the app) 1,500 mainstream applications, including a huge swath of both business apps and games, by the time XP ships. They've passed 1,000 apps so far. I really think they're going to nail this area. Will it be as software compatible as Windows 98? Of course not. Will it be close? I think that's a possibility.
12. Windows Messenger. I didn't write about Windows Messenger when Microsoft released a press release about it a few weeks ago. It's an interesting product that was demonstrated twice during my day in Manhattan. Think of Windows Messenger as a half step between MSN Messenger and NetMeeting. Windows Messenger integrates online presence, text, voice, and video messaging in a simple user interface. It only works in point-to-point mode (between two people) not multipoint (among three or more people). It makes use of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), which is capable of multipoint support, however. So it may some day replace NetMeeting. Put simply, Windows Messenger is Microsoft's first real attempt to leap ahead of AOL Instant Messenger. Windows Messenger can also do what many other collaboration products do: Whiteboarding, application sharing, and PC-to-phone audio calls.
13. UPnP and NAT Transversal. Universal Plug and Play is an open industry standard that should have wide-ranging positive effects on a variety connectivity issues between PCs. One of the first ways it will improve things is by automating the process of allowing a PC application to selectively penetrate NAT (Network Address Translation)-based Internet access sharing functionality. UPnP also makes it easier to detect networks and Internet access. As a result, Windows XP has an entirely new version of the Home Networking Wizard (from Windows Me).
One of the most common problems related to NAT is with applications that use multiple ports for multiple users and/or streams, such as NetMeeting and some network games. Although I have yet to see this in action, Windows XP is supposedly UPnP-enabled, and Microsoft's Mark Lee says in many settings this will help with configuring Internet-utilizing applications. He also predicts that NAT-based broadband routers, such as those from Linksys and others, will be adding this functionality too. For more information about UPnP, see UPnP.org. Scot’s Newsletter will be following up on this subject in the future, and not just in relationship to Windows XP.
14. Remote Assistance. When Winmag tested Remote Assistance earlier this year we couldn't get it to work. You'll recall that Remote Assistance is the feature that allows your Uncle Bill, for example, to send you a digital token that allows you to remotely access and control his PC via the Internet so that you can diagnose and fix a problem he's having. The reason we couldn't get it to work was firewalls and NATs. Even with one NAT in place at that time, we couldn't get it to work. Even when we disabled our firewalls we had trouble. Microsoft believes that NAT transversal (discussed above) will help Remote Assistance. It has also added an instant messenger-like way to transfer the digital token, and it has been hammering on security with this feature. Remote Assistance requires both people to be running Windows XP, by the way. So its advantages are unlikely to take hold overnight.
15. File Systems. There's been a good deal of confusion about how Windows XP will handle file system support out of the box. I consulted Microsoft's Kristian Gyorkos about this and got the straight dope. Win XP will not convert your existing file system on upgrade installations. It will leave FAT16 or FAT32 in place. If you're installing over NT 4.0 or Win2000 NTFS (NT File System), it will update your NTFS file system to the version supported by Win XP. There's an XP command-line utility you can use to convert to NTFS after an upgrade installation.
When you clean install Windows XP, you're given the option to keep your existing file system or to convert to NTFS prior to installation. Unless you're dual-booting with another version of Windows, it's best to opt for NTFS.
Finally, Microsoft expects that the vast majority of new Windows XP computers will ship with NTFS, not FAT32.
Microsoft gave me the following details about the different versions of Windows and NTFS. XP updates NTFS to the latest version -- which is an update to the version that shipped in Win2000. NT 4.0 shipped with NTFS v1.0; Windows 2000 came with NTFS v3.0; Windows XP has NTFS v3.1. (Note these NTFS version numbers are slightly different from what Microsoft has used in the past.) Minor version numbers are only informational. They imply that the x.n version of the on-disk format is backwards compatible with the x.n-1 implementation of the file system. NT 4.0 SP3 and earlier will not mount NTFS v3.0 or later. NT 4.0 SP4-SPx will mount NTFS v3.x. Windows 2000 will mount NTFS v1.x and v3.x. Installation of Win2000 over an existing NTFS partition automatically upgrades those partitions to NTFS v3.0. Windows XP will mount NTFS v1.x and v3.x. Installation of WinXP over an existing NTFS partition automatically upgrades those partitions to NTFS v3.1.
16. Design, User Interface, IE, and Help. It's hard to describe the look and feel of Windows XP because it is just fundamentally different from other Windows versions. The reason for that is the number of simultaneous colors. For the first time, Microsoft is working with the expectation that users will have a minimum 16-bit color enabled. The dramatic boost in colors means that instead of just pouring in simple colors, the design team is literally commissioning hand-drawn graphics for all the control elements, everything from window surrounds to buttons to menus and much more. The result is a significant upgrade in the "feel" of the product. You may think to yourself, "who cares?" but the change brings a welcome subtle improvement to the user experience. Windows XP will ship with only three complete "styles" for Windows XP. Each style affects a broad array of Windows visible structures. More styles will be available after launch, possibly free for download.
A few other user interface points. In the Professional version, the Start Menu was recently changed to include My Recent Documents and My Printers by default. Also, it appears that the QuickLaunch bar is disabled by default. Microsoft has added specific general and manual controls for managing by primary and third-party cookies by website. IE's SmartTags (the subject of some recent controversy) will not be enabled by default. The improved Help system includes what looks like magazine feature articles with long explanatory text and pictures on specific popular subjects, such as Home Networking. You can also bookmark Help pages and Windows Update will deliver updates to help and/or links to website-based updates.
17. Microsoft Plus. Although this is by no means definite, from recent discussions Microsoft is looking to ship a Microsoft Plus! "plus pack" for Windows XP. This would probably contain additional themes and utilities the company didn't have time to ship this year. No real details are available yet.
18. System Restore. Remember how System Restore in Windows Me dragged down performance? One of the first tips many of us passed around was how to disable it. Microsoft claims that it has fine-tuned System Restore and that any performance or system overhead trade-off will be negligible in Windows XP. (We'll believe it when we see it, but it's good to hear them claiming that upfront.) For administrators, Microsoft is making System Restore scriptable. You can also configure XP's System Restore on a drive-by-drive basis.
19. Windows Media Player for XP. There are literally dozens of tweaks to WMP8 (Microsoft no longer uses the "8.0" designation since the client will only be available in XP). Few of these tweaks are as all-fired important as Microsoft seems to think. But collectively they do add up to a significant increase in usability. For me, the improvements start with a smaller overall window and faster load performance. The product seems more stable to me in pre RC1 XP than it ever did in 7.x trim under 98/Me or 2000 -- although I don't have that code right now. If you're running with NTFS, WMP-XP's Playlist is able to reflect file management changes (moving a track from this folder to that folder) dynamically. That's a major benefit to anyone serious about collecting music. A lot of the improvements just make sense -- like you can import album art to display on files and folders. And as you've probably heard, MP3 playback is built-in to this version of WMP, and you'll be able to download and install functionality that lets you rip MP3 files.
20. USB 2.0 and Bluetooth Support. The press has been tearing Microsoft a new one about its decisions to drop support for USB 2.0 and Bluetooth. I completely buy what John Frederickson told the east coast press in NYC last week: Microsoft has the code to do this, but there's no real demand for USB 2.0 and Bluetooth hardware support right now. They would prefer to hold off and continue to revise and update their support code and ship it as needed in a forthcoming service release.
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I Like The Name PC Insider
I Don't Like The Name PC Insider
Webmail users or anyone for whom the above links don't work, send your vote message to this address: email@example.com
Copy and paste one of these two phrases into the Subject line:
If you have other name ideas for this newsletter, or would like to send me comments or suggestions, please tuck them into your vote message. Otherwise you can just leave the message blank.
Program note: For fans of the newsletter's broadband coverage, I'm thinking about developing a name for that material that would appear within PC Insider. That way it would have its own identity -- something I think it needs. If you have ideas, please pass 'em along with your vote.
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Microsoft, in its wisdom, has decided that all but one of the issues I experienced with Office XP are Tweak UI's fault; the company has no intention of pursuing them further. Here's an example of the messages I've received from Microsoft's Premier Support team:
"Re: Resizing Word 2002 application window with friction pad does not work 100 percent with Tweak UI
"I will be archiving this case today. I hope you know that we have discussed the issue and have attempted to champion your feelings to make the Tweak UI and Office products a little more compatible. We contacted several internal groups in both Product Support Services (PSS) and Development. It has been confirmed that Office XP is operating correctly. I tried to escalate the problem as a Tweak UI issue. I contacted the group that owns Tweak UI; they responded with a reminder that Tweak UI is an unsupported utility, and therefore ineligible for escalation. Even though the final outcome is that Tweak UI is still "unsupported", I sincerely want you to know that our team did our best to address this case issue on your behalf. For Scot’s Newsletter readers, I would recommend that they [read] the "un-supported" notice that appears on the initial Web page for downloading Tweak UI prior to using the product."
The only "case" I described that the software giant hasn't slammed the door on is the one wherein Word 2002's titlebar flashes when you attempt to open a dialog box after launching Word from the QuickLaunch bar. (QuickLaunch is the single-click program-launch area beside the Start button.) It's the most serious of the problems, so I hope they'll actually fix that one.
Several SFNL readers sent me their notes after attempting to duplicate my problems. Thanks to everyone who did that without even being asked! Some of you encountered the same problems; others did not. All those who properly set up their tests and who did not have the same problems I did were running Windows 2000. In fact, Microsoft has told me that the issues I detailed are specific to Windows 98 and Windows 98SE.
Thoughts About Office XP
For what it's worth, I've been using Office XP since I first wrote about it over four weeks ago. To be honest, I like it. I'm still annoyed by Task Panes and other "cool new" features. But overall it's a marginally better package than either Office 97 or Office 2000. I use Word and Excel daily; I use PowerPoint occasionally, and I never use Access or FrontPage.
I'm not the only one who has run into issues with Office XP Product Activation, though. Someone I won't name (but an experienced Windows reviewer) relayed to me his similarly negative although different troubles with the Office XP activation process. We can't be the only ones who have run into troubles.
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The debut issue offers a security warning about self-executing Word macros, help with Excel keyboard shortcuts, answers to common Word questions, and an analysis of the reasons you should upgrade to Office XP according to its product manager, David Jaffe. Future editions will show you how to use Outlook's calendar, provide tricks for using Excel's named ranges and percentage formatting, and deliver exclusive FrontPage 2002 tips.
Whether you're using Office 97, 2000, or XP, The Office Letter provides tips, Q&A, insights, opinions, and the latest news about "everything Office" to improve your productivity. Read it for yourself. I think you'll see why I'm recommending it.
In addition to Jim, the Office Letter team consists of several ex-Winmag authors and editors, including Dick Archer, Yael Li-Ron, and Joel Patz. With this crew all working to turn out a weekly newsletter, you can expect this to be almost like a magazine in terms of the level of expertise it provides.
Like the LangaList, The Office Letter is available in Premium ($12 per year) and Standard (free) editions. I'll be watching Jim's progress paid subscription closely to see whether I can adapt his methods to this newsletter.
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StarBand made two important announcements early last week. The first was that it's delivering the new Model 360 satellite modem to replace the Model 180 -- the box I've been testing. The 360 is a vertical device with a sculptured case that sits upright on your desktop, taking up far less space than the Model 180. There's a picture on this StarBand webpage. More importantly, the Model 360 provides Ethernet connectivity. It's also quieter than the 180 because it doesn't have a fan. It may be slightly faster than the 180 because it uses a newer version of StarBand's acceleration software, although a StarBand representative told me not to expect any performance increase.
Existing StarBand subscribers can upgrade to the Model 360 completely free for a limited time. StarBand even pays the shipping freight on the return of your Model 180 unit to them. Here's where'll you'll find information on how to initiate the satellite modem swap.
Buried at the bottom of the press release (which isn't on the website) is an even more interesting fact. StarBand has decided to get out of the end-user part of the business. They want to be an OEM that provides satellite Internet services to other companies. That's not a good omen, I'm afraid. StarBand describes it as moving to a wholesale distribution model. This may always have been part of the plan, but with technology this young, it's better to have one company providing the service and dealing with the customers. On the other hand, the television satellite marketplace grew up the exact same way. StarBand is proposing to grow its end of the satellite Internet access business. So maybe there's hope yet.
You may be wondering whether I plan to review the Model 360. The short answer is that I intend to, but I'm probably going to hold off until I wrap up my Pegasus Express evaluation. I'll be making decisions this summer about that. [Editor's note: He can be so politic sometimes. --Cyndy.] (Meanwhile, WildBlue contacted me late today and asked whether I want to beta test its product later this year. Can you say "Four satellite dishes"? --S.F.)
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The gist of the story is this. Corporations whose employees work at home on evenings and weekends, a few days a month, or as a regular part of all or some of their job, are scaring the heck out of IT managers. Why? Because many of these employees have always-on cable modem, DSL, and other broadband connections. And they're becoming a trap door for hackers into corporations. The InternetWeek story talks about two incidents where hackers successfully broke through a corporate firewall after hacking a home PC.
After I ran this item last week, an IT reader of the newsletter wanted to know whether I thought it was okay for him to mandate that employees who work on home PCs use personal firewall solutions. He also wanted to know whether there was a nice way for him to check that they have a firewall in place.
I predict this will become a much bigger issue by year's end. And, frankly, I sympathize with IT managers on this one. It's not a big deal to install ZoneAlarm on your broadband-connected PC. If you're working with sensitive company documents or have VPN access through your company firewall, it's just plain not smart to run without a firewall.
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So I thought I'd let you know that I've been working on reviews of two software products: Netscape 6.1 and Sygate Personal Firewall 4.0 for some time now.
Sygate Personal Firewall 4.0
My initial experiences with Sygate Personal Firewall weren't all that positive. I wound up uninstalling it after two days of use because it was causing system instability and hiccups on Windows boot. Also the configuring settings aren't all that great, and there's no good way to manually add applications. It takes a while to "train" a firewall, and I have a rule that I train before I test firewalls. Most of them do very well on initial installation. What matters is, do they still hold out the big bad Internet after you've configured VPN, FTP, HTTP, instant messaging, and everything else you do. So I haven't even gotten that far with Sygate Personal Firewall. My initial take is that the product shows promise, but isn't in the same league with ZoneAlarm and Norton Personal Firewall.
Netscape 6.1 Preview Release 1
Netscape's first public beta of Netscape 6.1 was posted two weeks ago. It's a giant bug fix of Netscape 6.0 that includes dozens and dozens of usability tweaks, performance enhancements, bug fixes, and other improvements. It's probably a bigger update than a dot-1 release, but there's not a lot of new major functionality, so Netscape decided to do the honest thing and name down instead of naming up.
Unlike the rest of the press, I still like the Netscape 6.0 user interface. I greatly prefer it to the 4.x version of Netscape. (I probably also prefer the Netscape 3.x browser suite to the 4.x or the 6.x versions, but that's another story.) My relatively brief experiences with this product so far are this: 11MB download took forever because the Netscape server kept insisting that my DSL connection was disconnecting -- which it wasn't. The problem was probably on the server side. Thankfully, Netscape's download system was able to resume the interruptions (self-fulfilling mission?). It also checked for CRC errors and downloaded only the components I need to fix them.
During the first five minutes after launching the product I already knew that Netscape 6.1 PR1 was as reliable as Netscape 6.0 wasn't. Same with the Netscape Mail module, which was horribly unreliable in 6.0. A lot more time is needed with this browser before I'll make up my mind, however.
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Rule #3: Uninstall Before You Install a Newer Version
There are many instances where uninstalling an application and/or reinstalling it is the right thing to do. Sometimes the inverse is what's called for: reinstalling a program in order to facilitate uninstalling it. Both activities are acceptable, so long as you keep some rules in mind.
1. This is the namesake part of Rule #3: Unless a program's maker specifically says it's okay to do this, never install a new version of a program over an existing installation of an old one. The best way to install a new version is to uninstall the old version. Leave the file, folder, and Registry remnants of the previous program in place. Reboot. Install the new version of the program into the same folder where the old one resided.
2. If you're having troubling uninstalling an app, such as Internet Explorer, it's a good idea to try reinstalling it, rebooting, then uninstalling it. There's just one catch: Reinstall the exact same version. Installing an older version is a prescription for disaster. Installing a newer version may work, but it's not the right way to do things.
3. Under no circumstances should you install an older version of a program over a newer existing installation of a program. In fact, make sure a program is fully uninstalled, and any of its file and folder leave behinds are deleted, before you install an older version of the app.
4. With more complex applications there's potential for trouble even if you're uninstalling version 3.0 and reinstalling 2.0. Consult the Readme file for notes on uninstalling the application. It might be a good idea to use a quality uninstaller program. I generally do my own Registry editing, but don't be proud about that. It's easy to mess things up in there.
5. Larger software packages (such as Quicken, Internet Explorer, and so on) may install multiple items in Add/Remove Programs. When uninstalling, it can sometimes be vitally important for you to uninstall *all* the separate items that appear in Add/Remove Programs related to that program. It's not uncommon for app modules that got installed at the same time to show up in Add/Remove Programs with completely different names. If you're not sure, consult the documentation.
Another trick is to use Tweak UI's Add/Remove tab. It shows you each item on Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs list and lets you click the Edit button, which shows you the path where that program is installed. Where it's installed may give you a clue as to whether it was installed with another program.
I'm getting lots of excellent advice! I hope to use all of it, and I may create a Computer Savvy special section on the newsletter's website.
Drive safely. Always have at least two drives (physical or logical partitions) on your computer. Install the operating system and program files on drive C: and your volatile and important data to another drive. I don't know how many times I've had to re-install the operating system or clean format the C: drive and having all my data on D: made it a snap. This is especially true at work where the corporate help desk response is usually -- "Send us the machine and we'll re-install the 'image' (usually the whole C: drive"). And that, of course, means that I lose all my data. --Dominic Delmolino
Response: Great advice. For added convenience, put your Windows installer files on a drive other than C: too to make doing a clean install of the operating system easier. --S.F.
Don't get burned by the midnight oil. I have one simple rule: Never touch anything vital on your PC after midnight. Savvy night owls recognize that, while it may be fun to stay up late, sleepy human beings and computers don't mix. It's far too easy to make a mistake that can lead to disaster because of lack of concentration. When you have to make changes to your computer environment, wrap them before midnight or be prepared to finish the next day. If you must work at night, make a checklist. What time is it as I write this? Mmmm ... it's 3:50AM. --Tamura Yoh-ichi, Japan
Reformatting is drastic. A complete formatting of your hard drive should always be the very last resort. Always try to reinstall the operating system (exact same version) over the existing installation first. In my experience, the PC sorts itself out this way 99 times out of a hundred. The best way to never get so desperate as to consider reformatting your drive in the first place is to never install a beta. Beta's should be considered viruses until proven otherwise. You should even be leery of the very first commercially available version of any software product too. --Jan Hjelm
I'll be running more of these reader rules with each future installment of Computer Savvy, so if you don't see yours here, it may appear at later date.
If you've got a solid rule of thumb for computing, send it my way.
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Answer: I believe you will find your solution in the first of these three Microsoft Knowledgebase articles. I offer three KB articles because many people have trouble with the Content Advisor, and I believe these are the answers to the most common problems:
Question: Do you know if Linux or any other PC-compatible operating systems uses all available RAM for system resources? Even though I have 320MB of ram, my resources are unchanged from when I had only 64MB. I was told Microsoft has never gotten past this barrier. --Name Withheld
Answer: There's a difference between Windows System Resources and RAM. All operating systems have built-in limitations and internal heaps and stacks that limit how much physical memory they can utilize. It's true that Windows Me, 9x, and 3.x are pretty severely limited in that regard, however. You'll be hard pressed to get any advantage out of anything over 128MB of RAM in those OSes. Linux utilizes memory much better than Win9x, but it has many other limitations, such as device and application support -- two things that can drive anyone crazy.
There is an operating system that you might like, however. Microsoft's Windows NT, Windows 2000, and forthcoming Windows XP all do an excellent job of utilizing physical memory. Windows XP has the expected advantage of being much better about application and device compatibility, as well. --S.F.
Question: How about commenting on the Tauzin/Dingell Bill that is before Congress. I think I am against it, since Verizon is for it. I have Capunet/Covad DSL, and Verizon is doing it's best to put Covad out of business. In fact, in a few months when my contract expires, I will have to change to Comcast because Capunet is going to raise my monthly fee significantly. It's a bummer, because I like the Capunet/Covad service and dependability. --Kent Husted, Maryland
Answer: I'm glad you brought up Tauzin/Dingell bill; it's been moving a bit fast right now for a biweekly newsletter, but I'm keeping close tabs on it. Suffice it to say, I'm against Tauzin because it basically seeks to cripple the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The good news is that, last I checked, Tauzin seemed to be in trouble on the Hill (but it isn't over until it's over). Giving power back to the baby bell monopolies would put the industry a step back, not a step forward. Tauzin would probably provide a short-term advantage in that some baby bells would feel freer to add DSL service availability because they'd have less competition. But looking even a year out, I see prices going up and availability freezing up. What would be the incentive for Verizon, SBC, Qwest, and so on, to improve and augment their service? It's bad enough now. Make no mistake, the baby bells have a powerful lobby, and they hate having to open their switching stations to competitors. They're trying to kill the CLECs while they're down with the dot.com flu. We shouldn't let them get away with that. This is an industry that needs regulation. --S.F.
Question: I have a client who has a DSL line in her house. She wanted to share it with her kids (they have two other computers). Wireless seemed the way to go. I purchased a Linksys Broadband Cable/DSL Wireless Router/Switch and Print Server (BEFW11P1), a wireless PC Card for her laptop (WPC11) and two USB NICs (WUSB11). I installed the BEFW11P1 and then the PC Card in the laptop. Then I tried to configure the router. Have you ever tried this? I couldn't configure the router because I didn't have a standard Ethernet NIC, which the router has to connect to. What were the guys thinking? Shouldn't you be able to set up a wireless network wirelessly? I may have to buy a laptop in order to do these set ups. That's a hell of a lot of money for me to spend because the person who should be thinking of all possible environments didn't do their job completely. --Henry S. Winokur
Answer: Hi, Henry. There's a catch-22 with configuring wireless networks because you need to configure before you can connect wirelessly (or at least that's what many of the wireless companies believe). Actually, I tend to agree with them. Although for someone like you, I also agree that a wireless configuration option should be offered. The better solutions come with a USB connection and cable. Personally, I think that's the best way to handle it -- offer both a USB and Ethernet NIC option. But many wireless products rely on NIC configuration, as you describe. The Linksys access point-only solution (not the broadband router/wireless solution you bought, and which I haven't actually reviewed) uses a USB connection.
The SohoWare products (reviewed in back issues) are the only ones I've tested personally that are designed to be configured wirelessly. I found them very frustrating because in order to do that, you really have to buy their wireless adapters and APs. And then the process is really proprietary, not standards based. It also wasn't easy. The SohoWare wireless adapters are much more expensive than others to boot. But they do obviate the need for a NIC of any sort.
One last point: An Ethernet PC Card adapter would have solved your problem, I think. You could insert that in your client's notebook. Not exactly ideal, I know. --S.F.
Question: You've written about Norton Personnel Firewall and your comments were enough to get me to switch from BlackICE. Having made the transition I wanted to run Steve Gibson's Shields Up to check my security. With the default settings in NPF it blocked access to Shields Up because it saw the test as an intrusion. I emailed Symantec and asked how to configure NPF so that I might run Shields Up. The company's answer was to disable NPF. Well if you do that you have no firewall and Shields Up will report all sorts of holes in your system. Is there a way to set NPF so that it won't interfere with running the Shields Up test? --Dick Kling
Answer: Hi, Dick. You have to disable the "Intrusion Detection" feature. You can still run NPF though. The Intrusion Detection feature shuts down all access to any specific IP address out there that NPF determines to be a potential hacker. That shut down lasts for 30 minutes, but it repeats on subsequent intrusion detections. Okay, here's how you find that setting. Open the main program, and click the Personal Firewall tab on the left. That opens several submenus. Click the "Intrusion Protection" submenu. Remove the checkmark beside "Enable AutoBlock." That should do it. --S.F.
Question: I have a Netgear RT314. I run ZoneAlarm 2.6. I used the GRC.com website to "probe my ports." Several (25, 79, 110, 113, 139, 143, and 443) came back as closed, but not stealth as per your article. I downloaded GRC's IP agent and ran it from inside my PC and all the ports showed stealth. I changed the default address in the Netgear Router as suggested in your article. All ports now come back stealth from both inside and outside. Was my system secure before changing the default in the Router? --Ron Spruell
P.S. -- I was able to make the ports stealth by configuring the Netgear router as shown below, where 192.168.0.199 is not an actual computer. The instructions Netgear provided to SFNL for inclusion in the newsletter's review of the Netgear FR314 weren't very clear, and it took me a while figure this out:
Menu 15 - SUA Server Setup
Port # IP Address
01. Default 192.168.0.199
02. 0 0.0.0.0
03. 0 0.0.0.0
04. 0 0.0.0.0
05. 0 0.0.0.0
06. 0 0.0.0.0
07. 0 0.0.0.0
08. 0 0.0.0.0
09. 0 0.0.0.0
10. 0 0.0.0.0
11. 0 0.0.0.0
12. 1026 RR Reserved
Answer: Technically your system was secure because the ports were blocked. That's what a firewall does. But your system wasn't invisible. It's best to both be invisible and blocked. If I were only going to have one or the other, it would definitely be to be blocked, though. --S.F.
Question: In the 6/12 issue of your newsletter you answered a reader's question about whether or not to purchase their own cable modem. One thing you left out that I think is very important is to recommend that the user purchase a DOCSIS-compliant cable modem. Every large cable company is supporting the DOCSIS standard with the eventual goal of making cable modems as universal as phone line modems are. This would prevent the user from experiencing the regional proprietary specs of some older cable modems. --David Boring
Answer: David, it's a good point, but I'm not sure it's perfect blanket advice. The best advice, in my opinion, and which I've given before in Broadband Report, is to ask your cable modem company what modem to purchase. If there's any doubt at all about whether a new DOCSIS modem might supplant the current model ... then the best course is to keep renting until that change occurs. --S.F.
Question: When I try to open a new URL in my browser frequently nothing happens. I might resend that request five to 10 times before I finally see the message "website found, waiting for reply". Is this caused by IE5.0? Is it caused by my ISP? --Jeff Jones, Oregon
[I sent Jeff the following response, which did the trick for him.]
Answer: Check something for me. Open your Windows folder and look for the file HOSTS (without an extension at all). You have to have Windows' Hidden Files entry set to "Show all files" and the "Hide file extensions for known file types" off under any folder's View > Options > View dialog. Back to the HOSTS file. You'll find a HOSTS.SAM file in the Windows directory. Ignore that. The only one that matters is HOSTS without any file extension. It's possible you don't have that file, but if you do have it, open it. If it contains anything at all, close the file and rename it HOSTSHOLD. Restart Windows. See if your problem goes away. Also, have you installed any sort of Internet accelerator? You might want to try uninstalling anything like that. --S.F.
Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows- or broadband-oriented website that everyone should know about? Please send me the URL, and let me know why you liked it.
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A lot of people get confused when they start working with files on Windows PCs because Microsoft makes it hard to find system files. It also hides file extensions from you. All this is done with the intention of saving you from yourself, but it can sometimes be very confusing.
There are two Windows Explorer (or folder window) settings that you should check and change right now. If you're sharing your computer with children, maybe think twice about this one. Or if you go on file deleting sprees every now and then, again, you might not want to do this. But everyone else, please follow these steps (written with a Win98 focus):
1. Open Windows Explorer or any folder window.
2. Open the View menu and choose Folder Options.
3. Click the View tab.
4. Under "Hidden Files," click the circle beside "Show all files."
5. Remove the check mark beside "Hide file extensions for known file types."
6. Newer Windows versions also make you remove an additional check to see important system files.
7. Click the OK button.
When you have completed these steps, most every file on your system will be visible, as will be all file extensions. Microsoft's intentions were good, but over the years I've found that even for less experienced users, this condition is the better one. What's more, most Windows tips are written under the assumption that all files and extensions are visible.
A Net for Webmasters
As a professional Webmaster I always create backups for all my work. One day though I somehow deleted my backup for the menu of one of my sites, and then I killed off the live version! I could have spent an hour reconstructing it, but then I remembered Google's most compelling feature: Most search results on Google offer cached versions of their links. So if a link turns out to be dead, clicking on the "cached" link lets you see at least the main page of the site more or less intact. I searched for my own website, found the cached version of the menu, copied and pasted it into my Web authoring software, and presto! Problem solved. --Shel Swartz, Registered Microsoft System Builder, Florida
Do you have a Windows or broadband tip you think SFNL readers will like? Send it along to me, and if I test it and print it in the newsletter, I'll print your name with it.
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