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April 3, 2003 - Vol. 3, Issue No. 43
By Scot Finnie
IN THIS ISSUE
Based on input from SFNL readers Bruce Peary Solomon, Darren Blakham, David Chadderton, Don Tanner, Emil Bohach, John H. Miller, Mark Gottschalk, Robin L. Siebler, and several other people, including some who insisted on being anonymous, the following list of IE and Mozilla overlay browsers and alternative browsers is worth your consideration. In particular, I want to single out Darren Blackham for delivering a long list of these products with URLs -- which made my research job easy. Thanks, Darren!
I believe every single one of these browsers offers a tabbed-browser interface, meaning that you can open multiple Web pages simultaneously and switch among them as easily as you switch among running programs under Windows 95 and newer versions of Windows. It's so obvious, you have to wonder why Microsoft hasn't figured it out.
Among the listed browsers, the following got multiple recommendations from SFNL users, and that should be your guide in choosing which ones to try first: NetCaptor, CrazyBrowser, MyIE2 Online, SlimBrowser, Off By One Browser, and Phoenix.
I'm sure there are some I missed, so if you want to tell me about them, send me a note
Mozilla to Phoenix
The big browser news this week is that Mozilla.org announced it will be adopting the slimmed down Phoenix browser codebase over the fatter Gecko browser after Mozilla 1.4. Word also is that the XUL-based Minotaur email and newsgroup package is also being adopted as the future for Mozilla.
The primary difference is a major underlying shift of the development tool and programming language. Phoenix is developed with the XUL development toolkit. The Navigator browser is created with the XPFE toolkit. XUL, which stands for Extensible User Interface Language, builds software with standard Web technologies instead of platform-specific programming languages. The XUL toolkit, "is a compatible reimplementation of the XPFE toolkit," according to Mozilla.org.
So the biggest obstacle to the change could come from Mozilla's developer community, many of whom have substantial investments of time in, and an expectation of being able to leverage their experience with, the XPDE toolkit. In other words, some Mozilla programmers may be ticked and could drag their feet.
Another issue is that the Phoenix codebase is currently a 0.5 pre-release with a long set of milestones ahead of it. It's unclear when Mozilla.org will be able to deliver a "final" version of Mozilla 2.0, or whatever it will eventually be called.
Some of the major characteristics of the Phoenix browser include, speed and leanness, a greatly reduced feature set, utter cross-platform compatibility, and an easily extensible user interface. That last bit is key. Mozilla has decided that trying to build a single product to satisfy all interface needs just isn't a wise approach. Instead, it will build a small and light open-source platform that can be easily customized with add-ons developed by the XUL community or by major interest groups. One feature that Phoenix 0.5 does have is tabbed browsing.
I've been following Phoenix for a while, and have been looking forward to doing a first-look review of it. I can tell you that I personally prefer this browser to any existing version of Mozilla or Netscape. Pages that I have had problems loading quickly in Mozilla 1.2 and 1.3 are not a problem in Phoenix. I wouldn't call it blisteringly fast, but it's clearly superior to Mozilla in that department. And, frankly, I prefer the overall reduction in features. Phoenix does not have an integrated email package at this time. The features it does have are very well selected, however. I don't find myself missing anything.
Now that I've laid out the high points of Mozilla.org's decision, here's what I think about it: Bravo! This must have been a very tough decision, but it's the right one. My only concern is that Mozilla cannot afford another protracted development period before it delivers on its new goal. I would call for ironing out the bugs in what they've got right now, integrating it with the Gecko environment, and pushing it out the door. Perfection is not possible.
I am still looking at Opera and Mozilla, but to be frank, the page-rendering issues with Opera and the fact that the current Mozilla is a lame duck are leading me in a new direction.
Problems with specific websites and Opera 7.x keep rolling in. I asked SFNL readers to send me specific URLs for websites that load improperly in Opera 7.x (as well as pages the load slowly in Mozilla 1.2/1.3) in two recent issues, and you have delivered. Thanks!
If you didn't see that call and want to contribute, my focus is now on Opera only. If you know of a public Web page that Opera 7.x does not display properly (I'm talking about a significant issue), please send me the URL using this email link.
The good news is that Opera Software's CEO Jon von Tetzchner has been in touch to ask that I provide him this list of websites, which I plan to do in the near future. I will probably post this list on Scot's Newsletter website so that anyone can access it. But my main concern is that Opera gets this list.
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But during its first 36 hours, the SFNL Forums was plagued by two problems that would have kept many people from checking it out who may have wanted to.
The first was that my Web host went down for nearly 18 hours. It didn't have anything to do with Scot's Newsletter or its forums. The second was that there was an intermittent problem with the email-based validation for the member registration. About 20 percent of the people who signed up never received a validation message. Both problems have since been fully resolved. So if you tried and were unsuccessful, or you didn't get a chance to check out the SFNL Forums, please come back and try it now. I think we're ready.
Let me tell you about Scot's Newsletter Forums' superb moderating crew. Arena2045 is our lead moderator. And I would like to introduce Stryder, ThunderRiver, LilBambi, and Mike as our first moderators. They are an absolutely excellent crew, and we're very lucky to have them. In addition, there are several frequent posters who are helping out -- adding mightily to the spirit and character of the place. Thanks to everyone!
So what's on the Forums? It should all be at least familiar to you as an SFNL reader. Here are the:
Top 10 Best Threads at Scot's Newsletter Forums
The five primary forums are:
Note: You can drop in and read all you want at the Forums. To post, you need to register (nickname and email address are all that's required). There's a rapid email validation process that prevents someone from maliciously signing you up to the forums without your knowledge.
Moderating for SFNL Forums
I'm still looking for at least three additional moderators, including folks with interest in and experience with the Networking, Wireless, and Broadband; Firewalls, Spam, and Security, and possibly a new Hardware forum. If you're interested in moderating for Scot's Newsletter Forums, the best thing to do is spend some time in the Forums and post in the topic area you're interested in. You'll get noticed. Feel free to send me or any of the moderators a PM (private message, click "My Controls") letting us know of your interest.
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I think we need a new law. That new law should prohibit legislators and adjudicators from messing around in an area they just don't get: Computer technology. That was clear from the Microsoft antitrust trial, and it's even more clear with this insanity.
ZoneAlarm 3.7x Update
Zone Labs has quietly been cranking out incremental updates of ZoneAlarm over the last several months. The version number is in the 3.7x range now.
The company is working on a major upgrade, but they want my first-born before they'll let me tell you about it. [Editor's Note: Yeah, and you can bet he thought about it. You'd be surprised what lengths he'll go to in order to publish the inside track on a new version of cool software like ZA. --Cyndy.] But hopefully that big new ZoneAlarm upgrade is coming soon.
I asked StarBand's director of communications, Sheila Blackwell, to give me an update on where things stand with her two-way satellite company. She wrote: "Things are progressing well for StarBand in terms of Chapter 11 emergence. We're virtually at break-even, which places us in a very good position to emerge. Meetings are taking place on taking steps to emerge."
About the test phase and release of StarBand's next-generation product line, she said: "The new StarBand 480 Pro will be commercially available in the late second quarter of 2003. We're conducting a charter program for the product right now but we're charging folks, at a reduced price, because we intend them to be long-term customers. Charter member prices are: Equipment is $549. Monthly recurring charge is $99.99 and will go up to the launched price in second quarter. The commercial pricing is not finalized but may be similar to our Small Office service ($799 for equipment with a monthly charge in the $129.99 to $169.99 range)."
At this time, I don't have any details about performance levels.
Microsoft Boosts XP's Wireless Security
Early this week Microsoft posted a Windows XP update that improves wireless security by adding support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), The newest security standard approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance, WPA is intended as the replacement for Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), the weak wireless networking security measure in most existing 802.11x implementations. WPA features stronger encryption, the ability to generate keys automatically, and authentication of each user attempting to access a wireless network.
The update is downloadable from the Microsoft website and can be applied to both Windows XP Home and XP Professional.
Top 10 Malicious Code Threats
The top 10 malicious code threats as reported by Symantec Security Response for the month of March, 2003, are:
For more info on common threats, see Symantec's Security Response site.
Wireless Networking and Non-IP Networks
A dozen and a half SFNL readers who all manage networks in their homes or at their jobs responded to my request for input last time about experiences with wireless networking and non-IP networks. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here about configuration. If you're coming at this cold, please follow and read the link above first.
Here's what I learned from those 20 or so readers. Every person using a Linksys router (but one) has this problem. That includes me. (I'm in the midst of setting up a test with a non-Linksys router.) But others have the problem too. A couple people using wireless routers that keep track of individual PCs by the MAC addresses of their network adapters don't have the problem, though.
Linksys has actually acknowledged my request to talk to them about this, but the planned Cisco purchase of Linksys may complicated my efforts to speak with them about this issue. I'm still working on that.
What I would like to know from anyone reading this who uses a Linksys router (whether wireless or non-wireless), are you able to use NetBEUI or IPX/SPX as your file and printer sharing protocol over your wireless or partially wireless network? Such a network can have TCP/IP running on it too, but don't respond unless you have TCP/IP sharing disabled. Thanks!
Hello, Comcast. Goodbye, Comcast
Parts of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado were briefly Comcast "customers" before the company sold those markets to White Plains, NY-based Bresnan Communications on March 20. I've never heard of Bresnan, by the way, although I'm checking on it. Here's the press release about the sale. Several SFNL readers let me know this was happening to them. I hope it doesn't mean they have to wait for cable Internet service. But it could be a good thing, given Comcast's track record.
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10. The fact that many applications that could make good use of a Web browser-style Back button lack them.
9. Related functions, settings, controls that don't appear anywhere near each other.
8. Software that tries way too hard to automatically do things for you, and in the process, messes you up.
7. Software limitations that protect us from ourselves, because all they do is frustrate us -- and their real goal is usually to limit tech support.
6. Shareware products that nag you with excessively aggravating and frequent registration reminders.
5. Tiny control surfaces, such as scroll bars, X-boxes, the edges of windows, that require overly precise mouse movements. After years of all-day computing, these things can lead to repetitive-stress injuries -- especially on high-resolution displays.
4. The software gunk that gets left behind in the Registry, the hard drive, in temp folders -- wherever! -- after an uninstall.
3. Processes, notifications, automatic bring-to-front services that steal program focus, forcing you to lose your train of thought, find the window you were in, and play hide and go seek with the cursor or mouse pointer.
2. Programs that install adware, spyware, or anything else without your knowledge on your system.
And the all-time most annoying thing about software:
1. Any program, service, layer, update, patch, or tweak that cannot be uninstalled.
I feel certain that you, Dear Reader, may well be able to come up with other pet peeves about software. If so, I invite you to visit the Scot's Newsletter Forums, take a minute or two to register, and post your favorite annoyance in The Top 10 Most Annoying Things About Software thread in the Windows and Mainstream Applications forum. If we get enough suggestions for what we don't like in one place, I will publish the results on the Scot's Newsletter website as an open message to software makers.
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Answer: Even though that sounds like it's the right approach, it's not. Let me explain. I have about 50 email addresses. Many of those addresses forward-only or don't have SMTP privileges. So I need to be able to send out messages through my ISP's SMTP server with a different return address. That is a legitimate use of the service I get when I hire an email-service provider.
I'll give you the classic example: I work out of my home and my email from work is forwarded to my personal Internet email account to facilitate faster mail. I use my company's email address as my reply-to address, so that people know I am representing my company. But actually, I'm doing it from a personal account.
And I'm by no means alone, neither in this specific need, nor in many other perfectly legitimate reasons for using a different return address. ISPs know it's a common need, and many allow for it because it's the right thing to do. In fact, I would not sign-up with an ISP that did not allow this.
But, and here's the big but ... it's not the different return address that's the issue. It's who is doing the sending. If you reveal the full header information for any email message you receive, in most cases you'll be able to see where the message came from. Clever spam messages involve far more than just using a different return email address.
This story I wrote in TechWeb recently describes a problem I experienced personally when a spammer guessed enough information to spoof the SMTP server of one of my many domain accounts.
But there is an easy way that that both that problem and the simpler return-address issue could be solved. It doesn't involve changing the way people use email at all. And it's so patently obvious that you're going to slap your forehead and say, you mean they're not doing this?
That simple solution is that for anyone to send email, they have to login and validate who they are by password or some other authentication system. Some ISPs provide an interlock between POP3 and SMTP that prevents you from sending a message unless you login to your POP3 (inbound mail) server first. That's better than nothing. But in my experience it doesn't always work well or properly. It also prevents the ability to "send only" or send automatically, a feature offered by many popular email packages, so it has a tendency to frustrate users.
There are companies that sell secure email solutions to ISPs, or secure SMTP. One of my two Web hosts has this capability, and it's truly awesome. I can "forward" all I want from that server, so long as I verify that it's me sending an email with a different return address. That way the ISP has a record of who logged in and sent mail, and should any of their customers come under fire for sending spam, they will be able to verify who was authorized to send spam and either warn them or take away their service.
The one thing ISPs don't seem to be doing right now is investing in a secure email infrastructure. Putting an end to using email with a different return address isn't the answer. Even authenticating SMTP is only a small step. But computer users everywhere have got to realize that their way of doing things often isn't the only way. Reducing the "civil rights" of computer users to thwart spam is the wrong approach. We need accountability that traps spammers, not an erosion of the user experience. --S.F.
Question: I subscribe to Earthlink's dial-up Internet access, and I'm very satisfied with it. The company is advertising a new service though. For $7 additional per month, it offers what it calls EarthLink Plus, which it claims is up to five times faster than its standard dial-up service. The performance boost is based on Internet acceleration technology called "Propel." Apparently, Web accelerators have been around for quite a while. I don't remember seeing any of your reviews of newer accelerators. Can you provide some information about them? --Merle B. Massie
Answer: I'm not a big fan of Internet accelerators -- including Web accelerators and download accelerators. It's not that I don't like the idea, it's that the reality rarely lives up to the billing.
First of all, they're not much faster. If EarthLink's five-times faster is true, it's worth every penny. And while this one may be better than other Internet accelerators for reasons I'll come back to, don't believe the hype.
Second, these products, which always require a software program installed on your system, frequently cause secondary problems. For example, you may find that you suddenly can't access certain websites or that you're seeing older versions of frequently updated websites (such as news sites) than everyone else is.
Third, many of the most popular accelerator programs (probably not this EarthLink one though) have in past been riddled with adware or spyware -- doing things on your PC you probably don't want them to do, without your knowledge.
I spent some time on the EarthLink site looking at EarthLink Plus. I should reveal my bias about EarthLink. I have found it to be a company that is not 100-percent truthful with its customers about the services it delivers. In short, I would lump it in with other ISPs that tend to over-market and over-sell their services, especially to unsuspecting computer users, just to get them in the door. I'm talking about AOL and MSN, both of which do things verging on the despicable in my opinion. EarthLink is nearly as bad as those guys.
Now, back to the performance aspect. EarthLink gives very little information about EarthLink Accelerator and Propel, the stuff that apparently powers EarthLink Plus.
It's not 100-percent clear to me that EarthLink Plus has a server component to go along with the client you install on your system. It should state that plainly. From what I can glean, it appears that EarthLink Plus does work with a server component. If that's true, the service is probably at least a little faster than the standalone accelerator products that have been downloadable on the Internet for years. Is it worth $7 a month? I doubt it. If you try it, write us back and let us know. Note, though, that EarthLink Plus doesn't speed up anything but HTTP (the protocol behind Web browsing). It is unlikely to hasten downloads of things like MP3 files, and it will not make standard POP3/SMTP email faster if accessed with a traditional email client. It should make Web pages load faster though.
With all that in mind, I'd say your money would be better spent buying broadband if it's available in your area. A cable-Internet connection is usually only about $40-50 per month. This dial-up service is approaching $30 a month. There's no contest about what the difference of the experience would be between accelerated dial-up and broadband. It would be like night and day. --S.F.
Comcast's Big Increase
Question: I've used AT&T Broadband here in Orange County, California, for the last couple of years. I don't have (or want) cable television. I only take broadband Internet. About a week ago I received a letter from Comcast explaining that they were taking over from AT&T. They also told me that unless I signed up for one of their cable TV packages, they were raising my cable Internet service by $15 a month (from $45 to $60). I've already ordered DSL from SBC/Yahoo and plan to have it installed before my next cable bill cycle begins. Comcast no longer has my business. --Mike Parker
Answer: While I sympathize fully with your outrage at getting 33-percent rate hike, I feel it only fair to point out that most U.S. cable companies charge $10 more a month to non-cable TV customers for cable Internet service than to those who also have cable TV. If you were paying AT&Tb $45 without cable TV, someone made a mistake on your bill and you've been lucky. Or it may have been something your local cable operator decided to do in his/her area only. It's not the norm. In my region of the country, AT&T Broadband did charge $10 more if you didn't have cable TV too.
Like everything else Comcast does, charging $15 figures. That's more than I've heard anywhere else, but an extra charge is a fact of life for most U.S. cable Internet users. And I hope you're not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire with SBC/Yahoo, although I'm guessing it'll at least be cheaper! --S.F.
Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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And because I'm ever a geek at heart, forum moderator LilBambi's Link of the Week suggestion of a website called OldVersion.com instantly sounded good to me. Their tagline says it all: "Because Newer Is Not Always Better."
OldVersion.com lets you download older versions of applications, such as Acrobat, Ad-aware, AOL, DirectX, Eudora, ICA, Internet Explorer, KaZaA, mIRC, Morpheus, Nero, Opera, QuickTime, RealPlayer, Winamp, Windows Media Player, and ZoneAlarm. It also shows current versions (but doesn't link to them) and gives you something of a version history. Could come in handy. Currently is offers 345 versions of 44 programs.
I need your help! Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows or broadband related website that's a little amazing? Please send me the URL so I can check it out and let everyone know about it.
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THIS SPACE AVAILABLE! EMAIL FOR DETAILS.
If you're interested in learning about Windows XP Command Prompt commands, you need a reference. That's where this tip comes in handy. It opens Windows Help to a section that focuses on the Command Prompt. The page it opens to is called "Command-Line Reference A-Z," useful enough, plus there are other helpful documents in the neighborhood.
There are two ways to use the tip. Either way, start by selecting this string of text (but not its trailing space):
Now press Ctrl-C (or right-click it and choose Copy) to save a copy of it to the clipboard.
1. Open the XP Command Prompt by choosing Start > Run > Type "cmd" without quotations > Press Enter. (It is also available from an icon at Start > All Programs > Accessories.) Next, right-click anywhere in the open Command Prompt and choose Paste from the pop-up menu. Press Enter. The Windows Help file program will open in Windows and give you clickable navigation to the information it contains.
2. To make accessing the command list easier, make a shortcut for it by right-clicking your desktop and choosing New > Shortcut. Paste the special string above into the "Type the location of the item" field, click the Next button and type: Command Prompt Command List. Click Finish.
This tip only works for Windows XP, but if someone writes me with a similar tip for how to display command-line reference documentation for Windows 2000, I will publish it in an upcoming issue of the newsletter. Near as I can tell, this information just isn't included in the Windows 2000 Help system.
A final note: Given that the Windows Help system is based on HTML, wouldn't it be nice if you could bookmark (or "make Favorites") of specific pages in the Windows Help system? This entire tip is a workaround because you cannot do that. The next time Microsoft wants to add "Web features" to Office, maybe it should look at things like this.
I need your help! Do you have a Windows or broadband tip you think SFNL readers will like? Send it along to me, and if I print it in the newsletter, I'll print your name with it.
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