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October 31, 2001 - Vol. 1, Issue No. 15
By Scot Finnie
IN THIS ISSUE
F-Secure today raised the alarm level of the latest variant to the powerful Nimda virus. The company raised its warning to level 1, the most severe. On Monday F-Secure advised about the new variant, Nimda.e. At that time it appeared the proliferation might not become as widespread as the original Nimda worm, with initial outbreaks in Sweden and Germany only. Since Monday Nimda.e has appeared in the U.S., Spain, Norway, Finland and China, and continues to spread.
According to F-Secure, infection could bring a massive slowdown to a PC and potentially to an entire network. In one case with Nimda.a, a radio station actually stopped broadcasting because its schedule was on an internal network that became infected. Simply reading a Nimda-infected e-mail message can result in an incursion of the virus onto your system. You don't even have to open an attachment.
F-Secure makea F-Secure AntiVirus for Windows and Linux as well as several other security products.
Symantec's SARC security response site has also recently upgraded Nimda.e's threat level to category 3 (highest threat).
Although Trend Micro (makers of PC-Cillin) has not updated its Nimda.e risk assessment (it remains "low risk"), the company's Nimda.e page is instructive.
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Tweak UI XP (version number 2.00.0.0) is significantly updated in this version, which, by the way, is the first to run as an .EXE file instead of as a Control Panel. Not only won't you recognize it, but it has many features designed to support and control features specific to Windows XP. There are also recurring favorites, like removing the "Shortcut to..." appended to the label of newly created shortcuts, the ability to automatically logon, and several ways to control Document History. I'm very impressed with this version of Tweak UI.
Another improvement is the PowerToys installer, which uses an Office XP-style selective install/uninstall. This means you can easily install all 11 PowerToys and selectively remove the ones you don't care for after you try them out. The 11 PowerToys are Tweak UI 2.0, Virtual Desktop Manager, Super-Fast User Switcher, Open Command Window Here, Alt-Tab Replacement, Power Calculator, Image Resizer, CD Slide Show Generator, HTML Slide Show Wizard, Taskbar Magnifier, and Webcam Timershot. You'll find brief descriptions at the PowerToys URL (above).
Notes: Microsoft does not provide technical support for the XP PowerToys. Also, although it doesn't say this anywhere specifically, the XP PowerToys do not work on previous Windows versions. I specifically tried to install them under Windows 98 Second Edition and received an error message.
Win XP users, let me know what you think of the XP PowerToys after you try them out.
People who purchased new machines with XP or retail copies of the new Windows have been surprised by the bevy of downloads available from Windows Update beginning on October 25. Microsoft pushed several updates, patches, device drivers, and other downloads onto Windows Update. All told they measure about 20MB. Some of these downloads fix bugs, and one is a "critical update" collection of security patch. Here's a list of some of the more important updates:
Two companies -- Cyberlink and Intervideo -- are offering high quality MP3 encoders that plug into Windows XP's Media Player. DVD Decoders are also available from these companies at the same links. But they're not necessary for systems that already have a software DVD Decoder or most systems with hardware DVD decoders.
Finally, I'd like to thank Scot’s Newsletter reader John Cogan for pointing out yet another XP ... well it's not exactly a download, but close enough. This is an online tool that adjusts ClearType, a Windows XP feature that improves the look of text on your screen.
Have you found a useful download or website for Windows XP? If so, let the rest of us know about it.
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Well blast me if you're for product activation -- because I very definitely am not. Microsoft has every right to defend its intellectual property from unlicensed copying. Because of that, I have chosen not to publish any information about cracks to the product activation technology. Instead, I'm holding out (probably in vain) for Microsoft to realize the error of its ways. You see, the way Microsoft has implemented privacy protection will be especially aggravating to power users over time. And whether you know it or not, anyone reading this newsletter is either already a power user or a power user in training.
I also take issue with Microsoft's software license. I believe that it should be one man (or woman), one copy of the operating system. Microsoft believes that there should a copy of the OS for each PC you own. I personally own 10 PCs. No one uses them but me. Should I have to buy 10 separate copies of Windows? Microsoft believes so. Again, this penalty hits power users the most.
For those of you who believe I've given up the fight because I'm covering Windows XP in SFNL, please get real. SFNL is a newsletter about Windows and broadband. Some 50 percent of the readers are in process of or planning to move to Windows XP. I will cover Windows XP, because anything else would be a betrayal of what this newsletter is about. Product activation annoys me a good deal, but there are many good things about the new Windows.
I've put together an SFNL "Best Of" page containing links to all the best Windows Product Activation articles I've written -- many of which link to other resources. If you want to get up to speed on this, and really know what you're talking about, this is the place to start:
But I also have a shortcut for you. If you want to understand more about the workings of WPA, read:
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XP and Internet Connection Sharing
Question: What about Internet connection sharing. a-la Win98SE? Hate to have to pay double the money just to occasionally use my 2nd PC. Will the home version of XP support ICS? --Robert E. Jensik
Answer: Yes, both versions of Windows XP (Home and Pro) provide Internet Connection Sharing (ICS). ICS is a very simple NAT (Network Address Translation)-based software solution that allows you to share a single Internet connection (typically, broadband) with several other computers. To achieve this feat, you need to install two network cards in a primary PC, and that PC must be both connected to your Internet access device (cable modem, DSL bridge, so forth) and the other computers via an Ethernet or other type of network. ICS was designed to work in a peer network environment like Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows 2000, and Windows Me. Windows XP includes this functionality.
But I don't recommend ICS. It is a pain to maintain and many people have problems with it -- especially in mixed Windows version environments. Spend the money to get an inexpensive hardware alternative, such as the Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL router (or something like it). It works, you can forget about it, and it has at least one other advantage over ICS and other software solutions: You don't have to have one computer on at all times for other computers to access the Internet.
In my opinion, most broadband-equipped home computer users who share Internet access among two or more PCs would be better off spending their $100 on a NAT/DHCP broadband router like the Linksys than on Windows XP. The payback is higher, and there are no aggravations. --S.F.
Opera on Windows XP
Question: Scot, what's the story on Opera in regards to XP? Please include info on this in your next letter. --Martin R. Fors
Answer: To answer your question, I installed Opera 5.0 on XP. I also sent a message to Opera Software's head honcho, Jon Von Tetzchner, who promptly answered that yes, Opera runs fine on XP. I'm still checking about what versions run on XP. Probably any version that runs on Windows 2000 does. -S.F.
How Product Activation Works
Question: On the subject of Windows XP Product Activation codes, if given a valid code on one day, why can't it be used on another installation on another day? In other words what prevents the same product activation code from being used more than once on different computer systems. If the codes are date dependent somehow, would changing the BIOS date to the date the code was first given resolve the problem. --Ron Sliwinski
Answer: This is a complex topic. It's not date dependent, and there's nothing you can do in BIOS. In a nutshell, activation is tied specifically to the hardware on your PC. There is software in XP that analyzes your hardware configuration and creates a Hardware ID that identifies your PC uniquely among all the millions of computers on the planet. That number is further integrated with the product ID number of your copy of Windows XP. Then that number is validated by Microsoft's product activation servers, whereupon a Confirmation ID number is produced and stored on your PC. That's what allows you to boot Windows XP after your initial 30 days.
Earlier in this issue, I offered a link to the first issue of Scot’s Newsletter and a section called How Product Activation Works. Recommend you check it out. --S.F.
Product Activation and Drive Imaging
Question: Thanks for a continuing great newsletter! I currently use Drive Image Pro 4.0 for backup purposes (great product) and frequently make CD images of my system in case of crashes or whatever problems may occur. The product activation issue bothers me about upgrading (currently using Win98SE). Once I upgrade (or clean install if I elect to go full version) and go through the initial product activation can I make a CD image of my system as I have been doing and use that image to restore? Additionally, if I can restore will I be asked to reactivate once the restore process is complete? --Kurt Akin
Answer: In your setting, I think you'll be okay. So long as you're wiping your Windows directory, and replacing it with a previously activated version of your Windows XP directory, you should get no prompt to reactivate. The data that tells Windows that it is activated and keeps track of your PC's hardware signature is stored right in Windows. So long as the same data is there, no problem. Where things begin to get gray is if you're restoring to your computer and there's been a major hardware shift -- or if you've had to reactivate since you've made your image because you did a major hardware upgrade. If you tried to restore to a different PC, you would undoubtedly have problems because the hardware information would be vastly different. --S.F.
Upgrading XP RC1
Question: I have setup my machine with a dual boot of Windows XP and Windows ME. The copy of Windows XP I have is Release Candidate 1 (Professional Edition), It says I am required to upgrade to only the Professional Edition. Can I install an upgrade version over it or do I have to buy the full version? --Davin Peterson
Answer: If you read the Computer Savvy section later in this issue of the newsletter you'll get a repeat of the answer to this Question: Never upgrade over a beta. Is it possible to do this? Yes, I think it would work. But it's a very bad practice. Bite the bullet, Davin, and do the job right now. Otherwise, somewhere down the road you will have a problem. Beta software is never permanent. Also, be advised, RC1 will time out in the near future. --S.F.
Upgrade to XP?
I am a convert from Mac (20 years worth of Apple desktop!) I'm Now running an Athlon 1G machine purchased with Win ME on it for home use only. Should I stay here, upgrade to XP Home or find 98SE? After a year of ME, I'm ready to blow the dust off my Mac and buy OS X. What say? --Wayne Daniels
Answer: Well, I'm still trying to get Apple to send me an evaluation machine with OS X.1. So I can't advise you there. Increasingly, Mac marketshare is dwindling though, which doesn't bode well for future software development. What I've read about OS X I like, if that's any help. About Windows Me vs. Windows XP Home vs. Windows 98 Second Edition. First, Windows Me is a terrible OS. So don't stay there. Presumably your PC is one year old, which means that you could make the change to Windows XP. Be advised that 128MB of RAM is minimum for XP. It'll function there, but you might not be 100 percent happy with it. I recommend at least a 500MHz CPU too. Also, a downgrade to Windows 98 SE would probably go a bit more easily than an upgrade to Windows XP Home, because the ME hardware is more like the 98 hardware.
That said, which one appeals to you more? Personally, I prefer the 98 interface. Windows XP Home is totally optimized for newbies. Frustratingly so in my opinion. I also find the networking functionality harder to manage. But XP is far more stable. If reliability is a big issue for you, go with XP. If not, or if your hardware might not be top drawer, I'd go with 98SE. --S.F.
Upgrade to XP II?
Question: I use my computer mainly for gaming and general Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on. My 98SE configuration is very stable, will remain so without rebooting for days on end if I want. I've customized auto-running programs on start-up to reduce or eliminate the resource drain. I get 96 percent free system resources prior to starting a game. Given the above, is there any compelling reason for me to switch from 98SE to XP? --Roger Siemers
Answer: First of all you sound like the typical Scot’s Newsletter reader, which is to say you're a power user, or a power user in training. In your case, you lean toward the former. Secondly, the simple answer is "No." Stability and reliability are the main reasons to upgrade to Windows XP. The new OS does provide a boatload of new functionality in terms of support of a wide range of new technologies. But all in all, it is a minor upgrade of Windows 2000 with an emphasis on software compatibility. Anyone who is more or less happy with Windows 98SE should probably stick right where they are. The next new PC you buy or build, that's when you should ask yourself this question again. --S.F.
Should Elderly Parent Upgrade to XP?
Question: My Dad is 80 and doing very well. I turned him on to computers two years ago as a way to stay in touch via email. He plays games only occasionally, and uses his computer for email and Web access. I do all of his "support," by phone and hands-on twice a year. I have automated all things I can for him with 98SE, e.g., scandisk, defrag, etc... He will not actively update his system - so would (what I've heard) of XP's "auto-update" feature be good for him? Should I advise my DAD to upgrade XP? --Roger Siemers
Answer: My first thought is, God no! But let's think this through. First, I'm not a huge believer in Windows Update. The Microsoft service has improved markedly over the last 18 months. And the features in XP are good for some people. But I'm not one of those who believes that it's important to religiously update Windows with every little bell, whistle, or patch. Update with care is my motto. Still, it is possible to turn the auto-update feature off, and it might be a good thing for you.
But there's a second feature that might be even more interesting. Microsoft has provided a way for you to remotely access your father's PC via the Internet so that you could take control of it to diagnose and fix problems. (The feature is called Remote Assistance.) That sounds like something that would be very useful to you. But there are a couple of caveats: 1. You both have to be using XP. 2. There are issues with Remote Assistance when you have firewall protection running (but it's possible the Remote Assistance patch in Windows Update will take care of this problem). Also, your father would have to initiate the Remote Assistance process, something you'd probably have to teach him how to do, although it's not terribly hard.
Besides these two advantages, there are numerous disadvantages. The biggest one is that you would need to be there to install it, and the second biggest one is that your father would have to get used to a different interface. You could make that a lot easier for him by customizing the default interface. You can make it look and work almost the same as Win98. But it's not exactly the same. After three paragraphs, I'm still thinking: God no! --S.F.
Send your burning PC or broadand question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue. If your question is specifically about Windows XP, send it to me here.
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OSLO, Norway - Oct. 26, 2001 - Opera Software ASA today welcomed Microsoft's quick about face on denying millions of Opera users access to [its] main Web portal, MSN. Microsoft's abrupt change of mind came after hostile reactions were reported in the media from many Opera users who had tried to access the site.
Microsoft claimed that Opera users were denied entry because the Opera browser "doesn't support the latest XHTML standard," according to Bob Visse, MSN's director of marketing.
"Opera's XHTML standard is of the highest quality," says Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera Software ASA. "In fact, Opera is internationally acclaimed and renowned for its strict compliance with all international Internet standards. Maybe Microsoft should take a look at its lack of respect for the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) international Internet standards before bad-mouthing others."
To check on this, I emailed Microsoft's Bob Visse a copy of Opera's release. Here's Bob's response:
Last week, we launched a new version of MSN.com. When we developed the site, we tested it against the most popular browsers on the market. For people with browsers that could not access the site, we recommended that they upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer before they could visit MSN.com. After receiving complaints from people who reported problems accessing the site, we looked into this issue further and determined that we had wrongly classified some browsers as "unknown." This classification is normally reserved for very old browsers which are known to not work on MSN.com.
We have now fixed this problem, enabling everyone to access MSN.com. The decision to block anyone from the site was clearly in error. We want to make sure that anyone can take advantage of the great services on MSN, regardless of which browser they are using. MSN.com will be available to everyone, effective immediately.
We apologize for the inconvenience that this has caused, and we wish to reiterate our strong support for the Web specifications developed and supported by the World Wide Web Consortium and the software industry. While it is difficult to be compliant with every published Internet standard, we focus our efforts on doing the best job we can to support the latest recommendations and deliver useful and exciting services for our customers.
I don't think Microsoft is a perfect company (as most SFNL readers know). But I know some of the people involved in this one, and I think it was an honest mistake. The last thing a Web portal wants to do is limit the number of site visitors. Yes, they want to increase Internet Explorer's marketshare. But turning people away from the MSN portal doesn't accomplish that. Still, I'm glad everyone in the Opera and Netscape communities spoke up about it.
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It's too early to say what the EchoStar/Hughes merger will mean for two-way satellite users. The deal with still have to leap over anti-competitive hurdles.
Sprint ION Dies
Also in the news recently is the fact that Sprint pulled the plug on Sprint ION, the fast DSL and voice service it had been rolling out in a large number of cities across the U.S. Back in May of this year, I did a report on it.
I have not been able to glean whether Sprint's fixed wireless service, called Sprint Broadband Direct, might also be discontinued. So far it appears that it will soldier on.
To learn more, read the Sprint press release about the discontinuation of the ION service.
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What follows are links to some of the places on the Internet that criticize Gibson's efforts. I'm providing a full course of anti-GRC links. Read them if you're interested and decide for yourself.
The truth is that the alternative media have been roasting GRC and Gibson for quite a while now. But the heat began to get hotter when Gibson began attacking the raw-socket connectivity in Windows XP. Several months ago he began claiming that the launch of XP would make the Internet unstable. Bottom line: Gibson has a point about this. Raw sockets installed on millions of PCs -- especially on the PCs of inexperienced users -- do offer a new potential to hackers who would initiate distributed denial of service (a.k.a. "zombie") attacks. On the other hand, it's not like there aren't plenty of security holes that can be exploited in all existing desktop and server operating systems.
Another thing you'll find in the links above is several allusions to collusion between Gibson and the top brass of the folks behind ZoneAlarm. Gibson has repeatedly published on his site that ZoneAlarm is the only firewall for him and the Internet masses.
I don't know if there's any hanky panky going on there. What I do know is that Scot’s Newsletter ranks ZoneAlarm as a Top Product. I use it on my own PCs. I arrived at that determination on my own. I also found that Norton Personal Firewall (a part of Symantec's Norton Internet Security package) to be equally as good in protection. Each has protective strengths and weaknesses the other lacks. ZoneAlarm gets a slight nod from me because I think it's easier to use that Norton Personal Firewall. Ease of use is more important in personal firewall products than many others because the user plays a key role in managing the security.
With Norton Personal Firewall having released an upgrade recently, and ZoneAlarm 3.0 due toward the end of the year, I plan a three-way battle of the firewalls. The third product I'd like to test this time is BlackICE Defender.
Despite using Shields Up and LeakTest in my firewall test suite, I have to admit to being somewhat disillusioned by the lack of follow-through on all the products and Web services GRC claims to be working on. Shields Up has never been an important part of my test suite. There are several other scanners out there that do a much better job than Shields Up. But an improved LeakTest, or something much better from other quarters, is something I would be very interested in. LeakTest is a very simple program. To be honest, as a test, it's not very credible. The idea is to simulate a Trojan-style program seeking to phone home, or worse. And the trouble is that even ZoneAlarm, which actively monitors and can curtail outbound activity only works as well as the person sitting at the computer. The only point of LeakTest is to show whether firewalls actually monitor outbound Internet activity. That's all it shows. But I have tested quite a few firewalls that really don't monitor outbound activity -- something I feel is important.
I'm always on the hunt for better firewall testing tools. If you know of either a free or paid service or tool you think I should try, let me know about it.
Do you have a contrary opinion about GRC and Steve Gibson? Send it my way. Constructive opposition to the opinions linked to or expressed in this article is welcomed.
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This is the fourth installment in the series. You'll find the previous three Computer Savvy rules here:
Rule #4. Never Upgrade over a Problem
It's classic. People write me all the time with this one. "I installed SE because I was having problems with Win98 original crashing, but it didn't help." Not only didn't it help -- and it almost never does -- but you've now created a mess on your system. The title of this one says it all. If you have this problem on your PC, I recommend a clean install of your operating system. And remember, next time, fix your problems before upgrading your operating system (and this includes Internet Explorer upgrades for Windows users). If you can't fix a problem, then a clean installation (or a hybrid clean install, which does not involve reformatting your disk) is the recommended action.
It may be human nature to upgrade over a problem. A lot of people assume that an upgrade is like starting fresh. With Windows, Linux, and many other operating systems, that's very definitely not the case.
When you run across an unusual problem in Windows, (a recent one for me was "Com port already open" but no Communication or Fax programs were running), I suggest using MSCONFIG.EXE (available in Win98 and SE only) and unchecking all the programs (leave Explorer and SysTray checked) running in the background. Restart Windows and see if problem disappears. If things are now OK, recheck the programs in MSCONFIG.EXE (System Configuration Utility) one at a time to see which one is causing the problem. --Chuck Quenzler
If you've got a solid rule of thumb for computing, send it my way.
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On the other hand, when Harry left I had a signal strength of 55. In the two weeks since he came, it's already eroded to an average of 33, which is just above the minimal level. So I'm going to have to get Harry back to install the bracing bar that he suggested. But, bottom line, my signal strength problems are a local issue -- in case that wasn't clear.
A lot of people have written me asking about the StarBand's new model 360 satellite modem. Do I have it? Have I tested it? What do I think of it. I do have it, but I haven't tested it. I can't test two satellite services at once without snaking in another pair of coax cables. The first pair took hours, so I haven't tried a second time. But the bottom line on the 360 is that it's a convenience improvement only. There's no performance or reliability improvement. It has an Ethernet port that can be used instead of the USB port for connecting to your PC. It's also much smaller than the old "pizza box" model 180 modem. I haven't noticed either a positive or negative trend from the people who are using the 360 over those using the 180. If you have the StarBand service, I do recommend that you upgrade. One of the benefits is a newer ROM version.
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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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