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June 6, 2002 - Vol. 2, Issue No. 27

By Scot Finnie


  • The Lowdown on Windows XP Service Pack 1
  • In the News: Windows XP Sells 32 Million Copies
  • Product Beat: At Long Last Mozilla 1.0
  • Review: Macromedia's HomeSite 5.0
  • In Praise of Toshiba
  • Q&A
  • Broadband Usage Charges Everywhere
  • Link of the Week: Startup Problems
  • Tip of the Week: Ditching Windows Mess Forever
  • Errata
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Your Address.

    The Lowdown on Windows XP Service Pack 1
    Last year Microsoft and President Bush's new Department of Justice quickly hammered out a settlement on the Microsoft antitrust trial. The fate of that agreement, and counter remedies proposed by nine U.S. states who didn't go along with the settlement proposal, are still being considered by a federal judge.

    In the meantime, Microsoft is taking the first publicly visible step in making good on its end of the bargain with a service pack upgrade to Windows XP. But don't expect much; the settlement is pretty toothless, and so are the changes Microsoft is instituting.

    Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) will, according to Windows XP product manager Mike Coleman, make it possible for both PC makers and end users to "disable" five Microsoft applications: Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Windows Media Player, Windows Messenger, and Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine.

    For people who prefer not to be saddled with some or all of those in some cases quite large Microsoft applications or services, this really is too good to be true. Because SP1 is not going to let you uninstall any of them. What "disable" means is two things: 1. Remove icons from desktop, Start Menu, and program folders. 2. Make it possible for competing applications to become the default program of their application type. For example, Netscape 4.7x, 6.x (or 7 when it arrives), could be configured as the default browser type that would load automatically, say, when you clicked a URL in an email message.

    In other words, all Microsoft is really doing is deleting several shortcut icons and making some very minor registry setting changes. All of its programs will remain installed just as they always were, taking up multiple megabytes of disk space. Moreover, the ability to set non-Microsoft programs as the default application for common program types -- such as HTML editor, email, newsgroup reader, Internet phone, calendar, and contact list -- has been available in most versions of Windows for more than five years. (To see how to do this in Windows XP, open Control Panel > Internet Options > click the Programs tab. Other versions of Windows have it in the same location, with slightly different menu item names.) The only catch is that applications must have been programmed to inform Windows as they're installing that they are an HTML editor, for example, and would like the user to have the option to make them the default HTML editor. Macromedia's popular HomeSite HTML editor (reviewed in this issue of SFNL) still hasn't learned this trick, but many programs do.

    It's long been possible to switch browser defaults too, but Microsoft made that a bit harder. Other Web browsers must specifically prompt users to make them the default browser on a system. Both Opera and Netscape have learned to do this. But you may need to turn on the ask-to-be-the-default prompt on one of your browser's preferences screens.

    According to Coleman, the user interface for accomplishing the icon removal in the SP1 version of Windows XP will be a new item on the Start Menu labeled "Set Program Access Defaults." It will open a window with four selectable modes: Computer Manufacturer, Non Microsoft, Microsoft, and Custom. When Non Microsoft is selected, all icons and Start Menu items for the five Microsoft applications will disappear. The Microsoft setting reinstates the Microsoft icons. The Computer Manufacturer option reverts a PC back to the program and icon dispositions originally configured by your PC maker (if Windows XP came with your new PC). And Custom allows you to mix some Microsoft applications with some non-Microsoft apps.

    So why isn't Microsoft offering the option to uninstall IE, OE, WMP, Windows Mess, and the JVM? Well in part because it managed to convince the DOJ that it wasn't necessary. But the claims of Bill Gates and others that applications like IE and OE can't be removed from Windows are purely and simply bunk.

    Every operating system should have an onboard browser window. I don't mean the huge Internet Explorer application (which is spread out in dozens of small pieces, like a programmatic shell game). But your basic browser is a feature that every operating system should offer as a service to the applications that run on it. Internet Explorer, the full-blown application, should be uninstallable. It's no service. A small, unbranded HTML-rendering browser pane is the only thing that should be left behind. That's not how Microsoft coded Windows though. As perhaps the checkmate of the browser wars, Microsoft purposely knitted Internet Explorer 4.0 and subsequent versions into Windows.

    Since that aspect of the Microsoft antitrust trial wasn't effectively pursued by the prosecution, IE as both an application and service in the operating system is more or less grandfathered legally. Once you accept that notion, I believe that Microsoft has an argument that IE should not be uninstallable. I don't like it; but better to have IE than to have no browser service at all, I guess.

    Along similar lines, Outlook Express requires IE to run, and there are certain features that Outlook Express brings to the party that IE needs in order to run fully. Bottom line, I would also grudgingly concede that in the current operating system, leaving both IE and OE installed but inaccessible is probably the right way to go.

    Microsoft argues, though, that all five of these programs need to remain on the PC because some third-party applications are using them as services. That's quite true of Internet Explorer. Many email programs use the IE browser window to render HTML mail, for example. Coleman told me that third-party programs are using Windows Messenger APIs for messaging duties, though, which I find a little hard to believe. The lightweight Windows Media Player 6.4 was an acceptable onboard media player. Windows Media Player 8.0 in Windows XP is, like IE, a full-blown application. The Java Virtual Machine is available all over the Internet, and is free for download from Sun, its maker. There is absolutely no reason why Microsoft should leave its version of the JVM in place if a user chooses to install a different version. In fact, the versions offered by Sun and bundled optionally with Opera, Netscape, and Mozilla are newer than what Microsoft provides.

    In the end, it doesn't matter what I think or what Windows users everywhere think. Because Microsoft already convinced the DOJ, and no Microsoft apps are coming off.

    The Rest of SP1
    So that's the legal "compliance" feature of SP1, which is perhaps the most interesting, but by no means the largest. The largest is the .Net Framework code base. This code, needed to support client-side aspects of future .Net applications, has for sometime been freely downloadable and will probably be distributed with other applications. .Net Framework is thankfully an optional part of SP1. USB 2.0 support, which is also already available, is also included in SP1.

    SP1 will include every critical update previously released for Windows XP, and some less than critical patches may also be included. Microsoft is reviewing exactly what patches and updates to include, a process the company goes through with every service pack it releases. This is nothing new.

    One aspect that is new is application compatibility updating. Windows XP includes built-in error reporting. When an application crashes or runs into some other trouble, Windows XP offers to send basic data about the negative event to Microsoft. You can prevent it from sending this info, by the way, but I recommend allowing it to go. Microsoft uses the information to track common application problems and provide updates designed to alleviate them. There has already been at least one major application compatibility update available for Windows XP via Windows Update. Microsoft will include many other less widespread program fixes in Service Pack 1.

    Changes to Product Activation
    Windows XP SP1 introduces two changes to Windows Product Activation (WPA). I've written pretty extensively about WPA in the past. If you're a new subscriber, I can sum up my view of Product Activation in three words: I hate it. Here's the stuff I've written on the subject, which includes detail about how Product Activation works.

    I disagree not only with Microsoft's decision to go after casual software sharing, but more importantly with the underlying premise of the Microsoft End-User License Agreement (EULA). In my opinion, the license should boil down to this sentiment: One Man or Woman, One Copy of Windows. Instead, Microsoft licenses Windows by the machine. If you own two or more PCs, the Microsoft EULA specifies that you have to pay for two or more copies of Windows.

    Interestingly enough, the Microsoft Office team has a different take. Their license agreement allows each copy of Office XP (and previous versions of Office) to be installed on two machines: A desktop PC and a laptop PC.

    Bottom line: Product Activation penalizes power users. Microsoft freely admits that power users are the most likely to run into trouble with the anti-piracy measure. But it really has done little about that. Like everything else about Windows XP, decisions have been made that favor corporations and utter newbies. The rest of us take a back seat.

    So back to the SP1 changes. The first concerns the circulation of "super product keys," which are, after all, corporate versions of Windows XP. With such a product key, you can install one copy of Windows XP either a specific large number of times, or in some cases, an unlimited number of times. Microsoft has become aware that some of these super product keys have been circulated on the Internet. It has decided to address that problem by preventing Windows installations that used one of these product keys from being able to upgrade to SP1. Nothing bad will happen to the person or PC who tries to upgrade to SP1, other than that the upgrade will be halted.

    The second change is the institution of a three-day grace period in the event WPA decides that your hardware configuration has changed so much that perhaps Windows XP has been installed on a different machine. In that event, it will require you to reactivate your Windows installation, and will almost surely require you to call the WPA support center to plead your case. Normally, this would only happen if you changed a large number of your internal components, like say, everything but your power supply and hard drive. But what if you made this hardware change at the top of Mount Everest without a satellite phone and, of course, no Internet connection. In the original version of Windows XP, WPA would shut down your system then. The three-day grace period provided by SP1 gives lets you get down off the mountain and either connect to the Internet (which probably won't help you anyway) or call the WPA support center for a new 45-digit Confirmation ID number that you can enter into the Activation screen. This feature is probably a good idea, but 99.44 percent of us will never have a reason to use it. The three days also, by the way, gives you a chance to go out and buy an honest-to-goodness legitimate copy of Windows XP when yours is not. That's probably the real reason for instituting the change.

    SP1 Details
    The antitrust compliance feature that lets you "disable" Microsoft applications will also be made available to Windows 2000 users with the release of Win2K SP3. I don't have a timeline on SP3's release yet, but Microsoft is working on it. Microsoft has no plans to release the antitrust compliance feature for any other Windows versions, including Windows Me, Windows 98, or Windows NT. In case you haven't noticed, Microsoft has effectively abandoned Windows Me, which wasn't well received by the press (including yours truly). It probably should be releasing a Windows Me service pack, but it isn't.

    So, when will Windows XP SP1 be out? I'd have to guess sooner rather than later. Microsoft has just changed the official word from "second half of 2002" to "late this summer." I expect this baby by late August. There are a number of reasons for that. Microsoft is slated to ship other operating systems later in the year, XP Pro for Tablet PC Edition, FreeStyle, and Mira -- all of which will be based on SP1. What's more, PC makers will want to sell this new version for the holiday selling season, and to do that comfortably, they would like the code in September.

    The fact that SP1 beta one was just released earlier this week to 10,000 beta testers adds to the likelihood that we'll see it relatively soon. I'll be getting my copy of SP1 beta 1 next week, and hope to report anything notable next time.

    When you add up all the megabytes of all the possible options in SP1, you're talking about a healthy piece of code. What's more, it's possible that Windows XP users will have already installed three-quarters of this stuff in the form of Windows Update patches, .Net Framework, and USB 2.0 support. That's why Microsoft intends to provide an incremental download that will both ask you what options you want in advance and also check to see what you have installed already, and then download only the code you need. Like previous service packs, Microsoft will make SP1 available on disc via an Internet-request page for a small charge to cover cost of the CD and postage (price wasn't set at press time, but $9.95 is a good bet).

    Microsoft's Coleman also notes that a new version of Windows Media Player, code-named Corona 2, will be offered before the end of this year. Among other things, the new player will offer digital video playback with pause and resume buffering playback.

    Back to the Top

    In the News: Windows XP Sells 32 Million Copies
    So, you think Windows XP is a flop? Not according to Microsoft. It says Windows XP is the fastest-selling version of Windows ever, with 32 million copies sold to date. Of course, that figure includes both OEM PC maker sales (probably something like 90 percent of the total) and retail sales. Many people buying new PCs probably would have bought Windows 98 if they'd had a choice. Most PC makers do offer a choice: Windows XP Pro or Windows XP Home. And, of course, both versions are included in the count.

    The 32 million sales number also includes corporate sales of Windows XP, although by most accounts, corporations have not adopted XP in droves. But it's possible they might do so beginning next year. Larger companies that have volume licensing arrangements with Microsoft don't have to deal with product activation. And you can bet they don't have to pay $399 for a full version of Windows XP Pro either. It's consumers who are taking it on the chin with Windows XP.

    But even in a year when PC sales are off, Windows XP is doing quite well. The new Windows sold 17 million copies through the 2001 holiday season -- the biggest selling season of the year. Since then it's sold another 15 million copies. And that's the strongest indicator it's doing well. The second quarter of the year is traditionally slow for PC and operating system sales. Yet XP is doing well. But that doesn't really surprise me.

    The truth is that PC makers, corporations, and end-users like us know the real McCoy when we see it. I wish I had a dollar for every email I've received from SFNL readers saying they fully expected to hate XP, but just can't. Those emails have come to me since I wrote that I, too, had become a reluctant XP convert.

    Product activation warts and all, I expect XP sales to continue growing rapidly. This is no ME-too Microsoft-investor-pleasing bogus OS update. Microsoft worked toward Windows XP for a decade. Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect. There are a lot of things I would change, if they let me. But the stability is baked in, and it's hard to beat. Expect XP to do well. Very well.

    Back to the Top

    Product Beat: At Long Last Mozilla 1.0
    It's been some four years in the making, but Mozilla 1.0, which among other things contains the "gecko" browser engine used by Netscape, is finished. wrapped it on Wednesday. You can download Mozilla 1.0 for free. Read that page carefully. For Windows, I recommend the talkback-enabled Full Installer, (direct download link).

    I tested a late prerelease candidate and found Mozilla 1.0 to be intriguing, worthy even. Although it still doesn't display pages as faithfully as IE 5.x does. AOL already appears to be adopting the browser for its next version, which makes sense given that it owns Netscape. (For reference, was launched in 1998 as an offshoot of Netscape, prior to the AOL purchase of Netscape.)

    Try the finished version for yourself. I welcome your thoughts about it. You can expect a review of it down the road right here in Scot’s Newsletter.

    In fact, if I get enough comments, this might be the time to launch the Interactive Review I mentioned several issues ago.

    Back to Mozilla 1.0: Savvy browser reviewers and engineering types (including yours truly) urged Netscape to build an embeddable browser back in 1996-1997. If Netscape had started the Mozilla project a few years earlier, and hustled it along, the browser wars just might have ended differently. Or at least more equally. Because Gecko is truly an embeddable browser technology. Microsoft hid behind that notion in bundling IE into Windows. It's still hiding behind it, or trying to. I wish we lived in a world where Gecko could be the optional browser service for Windows, instead of Mozilla being the also-ran browser application that 15 percent of us will install.

    In case you're more interested in Netscape, the version of Netscape, Netscape 7.0, is in beta. It's expected a little later this year. I'll keep you up to date on that too.

    Does your company have a new computer product of interest to this newsletter's readers? Submit it to Product Beat.

    Back to the Top

    Review: Macromedia's HomeSite 5.0
    It's like WordStar (which I'll date myself by revealing that I learned under CP/M), XyWrite, Quicken, Microsoft Word, or any other product that folks like me in the press like to describe as being "venerable." Macromedia HomeSite is the best HTML editor around. And it's been the best for ages now. Ask anyone who builds Web pages for a living. HomeSite is the main tool.

    HomeSite was the brainchild of a man named Nick Bradbury, who is now the head dude at Bradbury Software, makers of TopStyle, a cascading stylesheet utility that's still bundled with HomeSite. Nick is a good guy. But in 1996 he wisely sold HomeSite to Allaire, where he worked for the next three years. Macromedia bought Allaire over a year ago, and it released a bug-fix release not long after, HomeSite 5.0.

    There's a lot to like about HomeSite, but I would have to say that its usability has gone downhill over the years. Although some good refinements were added during the Allaire days, a lot of erstwhile perfect features were also messed up with over-engineering. Then in 2000, the releases, mostly minor updates, began to get buggy. By Allaire's last 4.5x release, there was clearly a memory leak in the product. Oddly, the reason why HomeSite bested its biggest competition from 1994-1997, Sausage Software's HotDog, was that HotDog was a notorious system hog with several memory leaks. A memory leak is an application process that inadvertently chews up system resources over time, until eventually an OS like Windows 9x will become shaky and topple, requiring a reboot.

    Macromedia didn't quash the memory leak introduced in the later 4.x versions of the product. Even under Windows XP, HomeSite will eventually suck up system resources. I believe the bug is related to the browser-proofing feature. It's one of the features I like best about HomeSite, so I use it a lot. HomeSite offers an internal browser that uses zero screen real estate. It uses a tab system to let you alternate between seeing an Edit view of the page you're working on or a Browse view. Same page, same data, but see it as a displayed Web page or as the HTML behind that page with a single click. You can, of course, also send the page to an externally spawned browser window. In fact, you can configure HomeSite to proof with any browser you like, and even pick up among a list of configured browsers. No HTML editor I know of makes it easier to see what the page will look like in Opera, Netscape, IE, whatever.

    HomeSite also has a very strong search and replace feature set. In fact, no other HTML editor comes close (okay, HotDog maybe). You can search and replace to all open files, to all files in the current folder, or to "projects," that is, user-configured sets of files.

    HomeSite's user settings also provide a huge range of flexibility, as do the customizable toolbars. Keyboard shortcuts are both extensive and user configurable. You can also create reusable boilerplate code called "snippets" and insert them at will. There's built-in spell check, HTML validation, link checking, style editing, image mapping, and a wide range of other tools and utilities. Now that HomeSite is owned by Macromedia, there's new linkage to Dreamweaver. Trust me, it's all in there.

    HomeSite isn't a WYSIWYG build-the-code-for-you-automatically HTML editor, like FrontPage. It's designed for people who already understand HTML, but who want some help building or revising it quickly and efficiently. Scot’s Newsletter's HTML version and website are 100 percent coded with HomeSite 5.0. I can't find anything I like better. And I've been looking for years.

    Now the Bad News
    But that doesn't mean HomeSite is perfect. Far from it. I already mentioned the memory leak, which is perhaps the most serious problem with HomeSite. But there are several other issues. Here are some of my biggest pet peeves:

    1. There appears to be some sort of app conflict with Eudora Email. I have learned not to run both applications at the same time for long stretches. One, the other, or both programs will freeze up or crash if I do. Before switching to Windows XP, this incompatibility would also bring down Windows 98SE. HomeSite is capable of wigging out all by itself, though. Eudora only abets the problem.

    2. Since the 3.0 version (before Allaire), HomeSite has had non-standard rendering of Windows mouse movements. The best example of that today is that HomeSite pages don't scroll the same way others do with a scroll mouse wheel. HomeSite's pages scroll but a lot more slowly. Scroll wheel users find this maddening. In the 90s, I had disagreements with Nick Bradbury about HomeSite's font rendering and mouse movements. There are also non-standard mouse cursor behaviors with text selection. I've long maintained that HomeSite (or any HTML editor) should model its mouse and cursor handling after Microsoft Word. It's just what most Windows users are familiar with. Most other text-editing applications have adopted that standard. All of them should, including HomeSite.

    3. Instead of an awkward cascading Recent files opened, HomeSite should offer a Microsoft-Word style Most Recently Opened file list at the bottom of the File menu. Again, it's what most people know.

    4. The product overly relies on the file/folder navigator, which takes up way too much screen real estate. It's not just the space on screen that's the problem, it's the assumption throughout the tool that people will be opening files with this proprietary interface. Wrong assumption. Using the File menu to access files is what everyone already knows. And it takes up no extra space.

    5. HomeSite should remember the last folder you opened a file in and offer that directory to you first on the next File > Open command. The product is capable of remembering the last folder in which you opened a file from your last *session* of HomeSite. But it won't remember the last folder you opened five minutes ago until you exit HomeSite and relaunch it. Again, that's not how most other file-editing applications work. It's also just really super annoying.

    6. The projects feature is terrible. It's too folder oriented. What if I want to set up a project that involves files in multiple directories? Every time I try to use this feature, I find another bug in it that prevents me from using it. In older versions of HomeSite, the projects feature was excellent. But early on in the Allaire era it got messed up and hasn't been upgraded much since. It's a great idea hamstrung by a lousy implementation. I find I unusable as it is.

    7. Despite having many excellent editing features, there's one HomeSite lacks: You can't split the screen and compare two different HTML files. You can split it and look at two different locations in one file, but not two files. When you load multiple files, each one gets a tab in the HomeSite window, akin to the way Excel shows worksheets. But you can't select two or more files and act on both of them. When you have enough files open that you have to scroll side to side to see all the tabs, you can't move a tab to be next to another one. So, overall all, file to file comparisons are given short shrift in HomeSite. It's a lacking that doesn't match the thoughtfulness of many other aspects of the tool.

    8. I've received some error messages installing HomeSite on Windows XP machines. Although the installation works okay once you ignore the error messages, Macromedia needs to test its product under XP and release a compatibility update. My testing for this story was carried out equally under Windows 98SE and Windows XP. According to the company's system requirements, the product does support Windows XP.

    So what's my recommendation? Unfortunately, the HTML editor software marketplace dried up just like the desktop publishing boom did a decade before it. As imperfect as they are, automatic WYSIWYG HTML editors, like FrontPage (which, trust me, creates mangled HTML code), provide what most people want. That makes a pure HTML editor like HomeSite a niche product in a niche. Most of its competition has disappeared or is seriously languishing.

    Of the field, HomeSite is hands-down the best. (If you think you have a better one, tell me about it. But I warn you upfront, I've looked at most of them at one time or another.) HomeSite is the one to get if you code all day. But it's not without flaws. Some of them pretty serious; some of them just pathetically ill-advised.

    It's an imperfect world. When it comes to HTML editors, your best bet is clearly an imperfect option. But it'll continue to be the one I use, probably for a long time to come.

  • $99, HomeSite 5.0, Macromedia, 800-457-1774

    Back to the Top

    In Praise of Toshiba
    It's the stuff of PC user fairy tales. But it began with a nightmare. Late last year I bought a Toshiba Portege 7200 CTe from PC Connection for $999 plus the cost of extra memory and some accessories. It's a Pentium III 600 notebook PC with a 13.3-inch active matrix LCD. On paper, it doesn't sound very remarkable. But I had used an earlier very similar Portege and knew the form factor was perfect for me.

    It weighs under 5 lbs and is barely half an inch thick. The screen is large enough that I don't have to squint at 1024 x 768 resolution (not so on all these newer thin and light notebooks with 12-inch displays). It accomplishes this by making both the CD and floppy drives external. Or in the lingo, the Portege 7200 series is a single spindle model. While I wish it had either two USB mouse ports or a PS2 port and perhaps, a built-in Ethernet port, and the eraser-head style pointing device and buttons were as well designed as those on IBM ThinkPads, the Toshiba Portege is the perfect-around-the-house PC. [Editor's note: And trust me, it's been *all* around the house. --Cyndy] Best of all, it was cheap for a notebook. Who needs more than 600MHz? I really don't for most applications.

    Everything was hunky dory until one night about a month ago in one of those freak accidents I couldn't repeat if I tried, I managed to spill a half glass of red wine square into the Portege's keyboard. Instantly I shut it down, turned it over, and gently pounded out most of the wine. But it was too late. After about half an hour of trying, it became clear that the Portege was shot when it started making a loud hissing noise and Windows XP gave me the error message that the USB port was "using too much power" (it had a short), and would be turned off. I turned the thing off, pulled the battery, and the next day called Toshiba's repair center. My unit was still under warranty, so they overnighted me a shipping carton with a prepaid shipping label. I followed the instructions and sent back the damaged unit the same day.

    A couple of days later I got a very polite call from Toshiba repair letting me know they were sorry but spilling wine in your notebook isn't covered by the Toshiba warranty. The cost of repair, they said, would be $685 in total because it involved a new motherboard, new USB port, new keyboard, and other components. I'd been looking around for ways to replace the Portege, but Toshiba no longer makes this model and it has become impossible to find. I don't like the newer models as much. I already have a spare battery, an accessory CD-ROM drive, and extra RAM for my Portege. Since the repairs would be much cheaper than a replacement, I decided to pay them. A few days went by, and no word on the unit. It was supposed to be back in my hands by then. Turns out there was a snafu. The original support rep had taken down my credit card number incorrectly (with three wrong digits). That added extra days while my credit card wasn't verifying, and they delayed working on my Portege as a result. It was supposed to have a 48-72 hour turnaround.

    That's where the nightmare ends and the daydream begins. All told it took over a week to get my Portege back, in part because there was a holiday, in part because it was a big job, and part of because of the earlier snafu. But when I got it back, it worked perfectly, and looked brand new. I didn't pay much attention to the paperwork that came with the unit at first. Two days later I scanned it quickly before filing it. There was a letter from Toshiba's Aaron Harding, whom I'd spoken with while the machine was being repaired. The letter said that Toshiba had decided to treat my out-of-warranty repair as "in warranty," meaning that it would be free of charge. My jaw dropped. The charge had been made to my card before this decision was made, but a quick call to Aaron revealed that Toshiba was in process of reversing the charge.

    At least some of you, I know, will wonder whether Toshiba somehow caught onto the fact that I'm a longtime reviewer of computer products, work for, and write Scot’s Newsletter. But there's no way they could know that, and I certainly never told them.

    The truth is that Toshiba monitors its repair service, and it simply felt I hadn't gotten the level of service it's accustomed to delivering its customers. Good move, Toshiba. That kind of customer service deserves recognition.

    Do you have a good-news computer product customer support story? Tell me about it, and I'll tell everyone else. Companies that do the right thing deserve some notice for their efforts.

    Back to the Top

    An important correction from the last issue, and three new nuggets of information for you.

    Eliminating XP's Multiple-Boot Menu, TAKE II
    In the last issue of SFNL, a horrible merging job of two replies to Ron Perry resulted in a response that not only could have confused people, but could have gotten them into trouble. Pertaining to a PC that ostensibly has a multiple-boot XP plus 98 installation, with Windows XP on Drive D, I wrote:

    You should also check that your D drive is set to active, and that it's the primary partition.

    That is flat out wrong, and if you try it'll get you into trouble. Even though Windows XP is on drive D, so long as you also have Windows 9x (or whatever) on drive C with a Windows XP-created multiple-boot configuration, drive C must remain primary and active, which is another way of saying that it should be the boot disk. There are other situations where what I wrote is correct, though. And in later mail with Ron Perry, I discovered that one of them might be the case. When I hurriedly grafted my two responses together, we had a big old doozie of a mistake. Thanks to Dean Adams and two other readers who pointed this out. My apologies to anyone this might have misled.

    Picking a Printer
    Question: I need to get a new laser printer for home use. It must be dependable and within about $200-$350 price range. We do print more than the average family (we homeschool and print a lot of worksheets and so on). Plus I lost my job and print out resumes. We're concerned about ongoing toner cartridge costs. But I'm out of touch and don't know what to get. I have an HP 1100a but it is broken. What do you advise? --Glenn M. Nelsen

    Answer: Even though the company's bureaucratic approach to tech support has infuriated me at times, I'm still using the HP LaserJet 5MP I bought it in 1995. It prints like it was new. In my opinion, HP still makes better printers than anyone else.

    The LaserJet 5MP has long since been discontinued, but after a quick look on the HP site, I think the $399 LaserJet 1200se comes closest to being inexpensive and, based on the specs, the least likely to get you into trouble.

    I'm guessing you can can get it for $350 on the street if you poke around. HP printers are more expensive than most. Among the other manufacturers, I would consider Lexmark, Okidata, Brother, NEC, and Epson. Probably in that order. Epson and NEC are about equal. Some additional points and recommendations:

    1. You don't need PostScript unless you've got a Mac (even then it's not required).

    2. Don't get a "Windows printer." Another way to think of that, is don't get a printer that lists Windows as a system requirement.

    3. Make sure your version of Windows is listed among the versions the product supports. Windows XP support is a good idea. A good printer can last a lot longer than a PC.

    4. When in doubt, get the better one. Over the long run, it'll be money well spent over the long run.

    5. Print speed doesn't mean a whole lot. It's like horsepower.

    6. 300 dpi is all you need for business correspondence; higher numbers are gravy, and may be useful if you print graphics over very large point sizes.

    7. You should get PCL 5 or better compatibility. Your printer should support PCL, which is the HP Printer Control Language.

    8. Find out how much the toner cartridge costs, how many pages it's supposed to print (on average), and figure out what the price per page will be. Some manufacturers list this.

    9. A 50- or 100-sheet paper tray isn't enough for you. You want at least 200 or 250. --S.F.

    Get Rid of IE 6.0
    Question: Concerning the article "Which IE for your PC", I would like to go back to IE 5.5 sp2, but my computer won't let me! I can't download it because it says it detects a newer version, and setup cannot continue. When I try to uninstall my IE 6, I can't because the option button to roll back to a previous version or installation is grayed out. The only option given is to" repair", or "add a component." --Kirk Williams, Texas

    Answer: Kirk's OS isn't Windows XP, so he is technically able to go back to an older version of IE. The standard reply to this problem is to try reinstalling IE 6.0 and then uninstalling it thereafter. When that didn't work for Kirk, he visited the Microsoft Knowledgebase and did some poking around. He hit pay dirt with a truly useful KB article that I'm guessing could help many SFNL readers, How to Remove Internet Explorer 6.0 or Outlook Express 6.0 Before You Reinstall Windows (Q312474). This worked for Kirk. He did have to reinstall his version of Windows over itself afterwards, and this required Registry editing. But it's a nice set of instructions to have. --S.F.

    Upgrade to SystemWorks 2002?
    Question: On my Windows 2000 PC I have Norton SystemWorks 2001 Pro. Should I eventually upgrade to 2002 when my virus protection service expires and if I do, should I go with the Pro version? --Roma Nowak

    Answer: First, everyone should know that Roma Nowak was the Managing Editor of, and she's one of the best people to work with I know. To be honest, I'm not really recommending SystemWorks 2002. It's not really worse than SystemWorks 2001. It's a little better in some ways, but I prefer Norton AntiVirus 2001 to NAV 2002. And since it's that component that most people care most about -- it's a split decision.

    There are some good things about NAV2002 too. The best of these is that it automatically checks for and installs virus updates. That one feature alone may be worth getting the 2002 version for. But there are other solutions out there that may be better, including PC-Cillin and Panda.

    On balance, here's what I think: The new subscription is cheaper than making a jump into the new version. Might as well wait for NAV 2003. You are no less protected with NAV2001 (according to Symantec), than you are with NAV2002 -- so long as you remember to update.

    About the Pro vs. Standard versions: Whenever Symantec issues a new version of its SystemWorks product line, it usually offers a more expensive version that comes with a different bundle of "extra stuff." I can't ever recall a Pro version that offered more antivirus security than the Standard version. The extra stuff is usually a program, or it may be a newer version of a commonly bundled program. But if antivirus is your main concern (and it should be), then get the Standard version. But check out that extra stuff and see if there's something in there that's important to you. --S.F.

    Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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    Broadband Experiences: Usage Charges Everywhere
    I didn't have time to write it up for this issue of the newsletter, but it's clear to me that Bell Canada isn't the only company that's charging broadband usage chares for customers who go over a specified amount of downloaded data, as I reported last time.

    Numerous SFNL readers using broadband providers in Australia and Canada wrote me that their companies do the same. Some have been doing it for years. While I can't easily verify all these reader reports, I intend to print some of them in the next issue to give other readers a sense of what this is about and how it works.

    In the meantime, one news article in the U.S. talks about the same phenomenon coming to the states.

  • AT&&T-Comcast Merger May Cost Data Hogs - The Star Ledger

    What's your broadband story? Whether it installed like a dream, or became an utter nightmare, tell SFNL readers about it.

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    Link of the Week: Startup Problems and ProcessViewer
    Last time I awarded Link of the Week status to Startup Content, and the excellent Jim Eshelman, a Microsoft MVP who runs the Windows Support Center, whose rich content has earned multiple Link of the Week awards, made a follow-up recommendation to last issue's Startup Content Link of the Week Award.

    Jim writes:

    Your recommendation of Startup Content interested me. It's one of two sites I recommend for this sort of information on my Startup Program Loading" page. A similar site, which I find more accessible and which seems to have as good a batch of information is Startup Problems. The information on the What Loads At Startup and the What To Uncheck At Startup pages looks very good. I regret to say that the section called Memory Use By Windows appears to have some errors, but that doesn't detract from the startup program loading sections.

    I checked it out, and I agree with Jim. The two -- Startup Content and Startup Problems -- go together. Each has it's good points. Startup Problems does a good job of explaining things with images and step by step.

    SFNL reader Dan Short suggests a downloadable 97K freeware mini-program, called ProcessViewer, that gives you more detailed information about programs that are currently running in Windows. This program, written by Igor Nys, supports Windows XP/2000/NT/Me/98/95. Although it provides a little less detail than either Startup Content or Startup Problems, it is a useful tool. One worthy of a place in your arsenal.

    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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    Tip of the Week: Ditching Windows Messenger Forever
    Last issue's Tip of the Week offered a means of uninstalling Windows Messenger (the successor to MSN Messenger), which is bundled with Windows XP and is accompanied by annoying nag screens. The tip worked fine for me on multiple PCs. What I liked about it especially was that it's quickly and easily reversible.

    The tip has also worked fine for the majority of people who responded about it. But it's come to my attention that it doesn't work for everyone. In fact, about half a dozen Scot’s Newsletter readers said it was no-go on their PCs. Another dozen or two messages arrived with alternative ways of accomplishing the deed. I'm going to give you the best methods I've come across, all supplied by SFNL readers.

    I've tried all these approaches, but as I should have stated last time, one man's results never apply to the entire Windows nation. In other words, your mileage might vary. That's why I'm giving you multiple tools to get the job done. I'd like to publicly thank these people who took the time to write me with helpful information: Doug Knox, Tom S. Bair, Carl Siechert, Sirraj Fechter, Ian Lepko, Alan Draper, Wayne Adams, and many others.

    Instead of writing all the instructions out, I have something novel for you. Microsoft has done two methods for me in a Knowledgebase Article Q302089: How to Prevent Windows Messenger from Running on a Windows XP-Based Computer.

    What becomes clear when you read this document is that Windows XP Pro users have a decent way to kill off Windows Messenger. And this is the message I recommend to Pro users. (Read to the end, though, because there's another tip there that'll help you with OE performance too.) But Windows XP Home users, by Microsoft's lights, are left to the "disable" tip I ran in the Q&A section in the last issue.

    Except, as Carl Siechert pointed out to me, I missed a step for anyone who uses Outlook Express. You see, even if you disable Windows Messenger as I described, when you launch Outlook Express (OE), it bypasses that. Since I don't use OE, and recommend against its use, I missed that one.

    But what if you're using Windows XP Home Edition and you don't just want to merely disable Windows Mess? Microsoft MVP Doug Knox, whose tips and excellent solutions have appeared more than once in Scot’s Newsletter as recently as last issue, has a very automatic way to kill Windows Messenger dead. He offers a downloadable VBScript that does the deed. Doug's site also gives instructions on how to perform this manually.

    Windows Watcher columnist Tom S. Bair wrote me to offer his version of Doug's tip, which has two advantages. The first is that it's more step-by-step for people who'd like to try doing things manually, but who need more help. Secondly, Tom added a Registry tweak that helps with Outlook Express performance (if you have the Contacts pane open) after you yank Windows Messenger (scroll to the "MSN Messenger Update" subhead).

    Tom, by the way, apparently had the same experience I did of testing the first tip and having it work fine for him, only to discover later that it didn't work for everyone. (We columnists stick together, right?)

    So, anyway, one way or another you're going to lose Windows Messenger. I promise.

    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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    I think the last issue of SFNL set the record for the most number of errors. AOL users got an issue that had the entire text of the message with a blue underscore, as if it were one big hyperlink. Text recipients found that many of the email links went to an invalid address for the first 15 hours after the newsletter went out. My friends in Canada who emailed me about broadband usage charges noticed that I spelled "Canadian" without that pesky second A. (Sorry.) In the HTML edition and on the website, the Reader-to-Reader section had a repeated paragraph. (Hey, I was just testing you.) Then there was the error in Q&A.

    Overworked, underpaid newsletter author? Well, yeah. But the main thing was that I tried to do way too much in two weeks. Changing domains, launching a new subscription center, changing the newsletter's official email address, and putting out my usual magazine-length newsletter collectively defeated me. Some little (and not so little) things broke down. I hope I've learned my lesson: Don't take on so much at once. Dang, and I thought I was perfect too. ;-)

    [Editor's note: ... oh, why bother. It's just w-a-y too easy. --Cyndy]

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