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October 11, 2002 - Vol. 2, Issue No. 33

By Scot Finnie


  • Security Bulletin for Outlook Express Users
  • Sygate Personal Firewall 5.0 Pro *Top Product!*
  • Product Beat: ActiveWords, Better Looking Linux
  • Windows XP SP1 Issues, Part II
  • Reader Poll Results: Your Next OS
  • Rant of the Week: Bigfoot Is Bad News
  • Let's Fight Spam, Part III
  • Link of the Week:
  • Tip of the Week: SendTo Secrets and OSK
  • Newsletter Schedule: Next Issue on November 8th
  • Newsletter Updates
  • Call for Contributions
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.

    Security Bulletin for Outlook Express Users
    Because so many Scot’s Newsletter readers use Outlook Express, I'd like to draw your attention to a security bulletin that Microsoft issued yesterday. Looks like the infamous and ubiquitous unchecked buffer problem could compromise the PCs of OE 5.5 and 6.0 users. Microsoft deems this a "critical" vulnerability. The general fix is to install IE 6.0 Service Pack 1. For more details, please see Microsoft Security Bulletin MS02-058.

    Back to the Top

    Review: Sygate Personal Firewall 5.0 Pro *Top Product!*
    Let's not mince words, Sygate Personal Firewall Pro has improved dramatically over the last 18 months or so. The software firewall and intrusion-detection product tested as well as Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm 3.1 from a pure firewall perspective, while delivering the same sort of intrusion-detection and automatic-block features provided by Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2002. In terms of sheer protection, I have to give a small edge to Sygate Personal Firewall Pro over either the Norton or Zone Labs products. And that's saying something, because those competitors are excellent in their own right, and they've already found homes on the Scot’s Newsletter Top Products list. But they're going to have to make room for a third Top Product in this category.

    I've spent the last five or six weeks testing Sygate Personal Firewall (SPF) Pro and standard (the freeware version). I've lived with it. I've installed it, uninstalled it, tweaked it, learned its foibles and its strengths. The 5.0 product line has been out since February, although it was freshened again in May. I tested builds 1137 and 1150 (the current build).

    There are huge pluses and minuses to SPF 5.0 Pro from the usability perspective. One of its best features is VPN connectivity. You don't need to know a lot about setting up VPN with Sygate Personal Firewall Pro. VPN just works. And it supports a long list of open standard and proprietary VPN solutions. I've only tested a couple of them, but the experience was 100 percent transparent. ZoneAlarm lags far behind in this area.

    Although it doesn't offer anything like the automatic application scan with default application settings found in Norton Internet Security and Norton Personal Firewall, it uses a train-as-you-go prompt system, similar to ZoneAlarm, to configure application permissions. The functionality is more than adequate for anyone who's used either Norton or ZoneAlarm, although it's a half-notch harder than ZoneAlarm to use, and a full notch plus harder than Norton.

    Sheer Protection
    So Scot’s raving about Sygate's protection, well what does that mean? Clearly it means the product aced my Firewall Test Suite. But there's more to it than that. Sygate's protective features include anti-MAC (unique Ethernet adapter identification code) and anti-IP spoofing, OS fingerprint masking (hides your OS type to prevent hackers from prying into OS-specific vulnerabilities), broadcast traffic filtering, denial-of-service and IP fragmentation protection, application-checksum verification and DLL authentication, pre-OS-service start protection (in other words, it starts working before other programs on your system), e-mail notification, and automatic temporary blocking of intrusive IP addresses. Sygate is by no means alone in offering these features, but some are unique to the personal firewall space. Some of this stuff isn't even turned on by default, but if you got into a situation where you were being attacked, you'd have some extra tools to fight with. All in all, it's an excellent set of protective armor. The best I've seen at this level.

    For more information about the protective mechanisms SPF 5.0 Pro offers, see Sygate's What's New page.

    Why I Use Security Space
    I'd like to take a moment out to praise the superb Security Space Standard Audit test, a regular part of my firewall test suite. Why? Because it proved itself during the testing of SPF in a way no other online security test did.

    Although installation SPF 5.0 Pro appeared to go just fine on my benchmark testing PC, and the product operated perfectly as far as I could tell, it was not protecting me properly. The problem was apparently caused by a previous firewall installation on the same PC.

    The firewall products that had been previously installed and uninstalled successfully on that PC prior to SPF 5.0 Pro's installation were ZoneAlarm 3.0, Norton Internet Security 2002, BlackICE, and Sygate Personal Firewall 5.0 Standard Edition. One of these products (and I suspect ZoneAlarm 3.0) left behind things that can cause problems with succeeding firewall installations. (ZoneAlarm 3.1, by the way, is much better about uninstalling itself fully.) It's a lesson to learn, and something I'll be covering in a future issue: Fully uninstall any firewall before installing a new one. Most firewall makers (including Zone Labs) have detailed instructions for doing so that go beyond using Add/Remove Programs.

    In the event of my testing, I ran more than half a dozen online security tests against Sygate. But only one test showed correctly that there was an invisibly failed installation of Sygate on my benchmark test machine. When I contacted Sygate about this, there ensued several days of them testing using Security Space on their part, conference calls, and legwork on my part. Long and short, I uninstalled Sygate, spent a whole lot of time making sure that all other firewall code was stripped from the test system, and then reinstalled Sygate. The problem went away. Since only Security Space detected the problem, I want to point that out to everyone. If you want to test your PC for security the right way, expect to pay a little, but check out Security Space.

    What's Not to Like?
    The folks at Sygate have created a product that protects exceedingly well, but when it comes to interfacing with the human element, there's a lot to be desired. Remember how I harped on ZoneAlarm 3.0's interface? ZA makes Sygate look like chaos (and not Chaos Theory, either).

    I'm not talking about the fact that Sygate's UI is all gray in most areas. I could care less about that. I'm talking about the fact that almost nothing is explained, there's almost no useful context-sensitive help, and there's a lot of buzzwordy sort of terminology in the interface that's not great about helping users figure out how to use the product.

    There are a some obvious UI goofs too. Most annoying to me is the fact that the Applications window (where application limits and permissions are displayed for manual configuration) can't be manually sized. And it's tiny. There are five columns of information in this window, but you'll be hard pressed to display any more than two columns at a time with each column spread to a width that actually shows all the information you need. To use it, you have to scroll side to side a lot. I hate scrolling. But I especially hate east/west scrolling. It's a little thing. But it makes me want to just chuck the product. Apparently, Sygate's programmers don't think my application permissions are important enough to make it easy for me to work with them.

    As with other products of its ilk, Sygate gives you very little information in its pop-up application prompts either. Should you allow Windows' Host Server Protocol or IPX/SPX NWLink Protocol access to the Internet? If you don't know already, you'll have no idea using Sygate. And yet, you're going to have to answer Yes or No or put up with a barrage of pop-up prompts. This problem is apparent in both Norton Personal Firewall (NPF) and ZoneAlarm too. NPF has an automatic scan with default settings that makes some of these decisions for you (although more experienced users may well quibble with some of those decisions). And ZoneAlarm has built information about the programs into a clickable link that's provided with the pop-up message. Both solutions are preferable to what Sygate offers, which is nothing.

    SPF's Advanced Rules section needs a kit bag of commonly advanced settings that users can pick from a menu, or a wizard, or both. For example, to use Windows XP's Remote Desktop, I had to custom configure a TCP port permission. There are no instructions about how or where to do that, and the UI in the Advanced Rules area is designed strictly for experienced users.

    I also spent a long while looking for how to stop SPF from loading at startup in the options area, only to discover that that option is check control on a menu item. Why?

    I've made my point: SPF 5.0 is not very user friendly, and it gives very little leg up to inexperienced firewall/IDS users. If it had that kind of polish, it would stand a chance of knocking Norton Internet Security off the Scot’s Newsletter Top Products list.

    There's another drawback worth noting. The free version of Sygate Personal Firewall 5.0 is nowhere near the product the Pro version is. So, unlike ZoneAlarm, I don't recommend using the standard version as a poor-man's substitute. In fact, I recommend using ZoneAlarm instead.

    I'm not real fond of a three-way tie in a category of SFNL's Top Product list. But here's the thinking. ZoneAlarm is the best classic firewall on the market. Norton Internet Security is the best value, because it includes Norton Antivirus and basic intrusion detection. NIS is also especially easy to use, making it the right product for firewall newbies. Sygate has all the protective functionality of NIS and ZoneAlarm (except antivirus) -- and then some. So each product occupies a different niche. As new versions of the three products come out, I'll retest them. Norton Internet Security 2003 is out, and slated for review, most likely in the next issue. As time goes by, I'm going to whittle away at least one of these three products. I'll also be testing Agnitum Outpost, and tell you why using Windows XP's Internet Connection Firewall is not a good solution.

    Back to SPF 5.0 Pro ... rarely does a product improve as much and quickly as this one has. The company behind the product has gone through a lot of changes. Not long ago it was focused solely on home networking and basic firewall solutions. Now its primary mission is enterprise security. That change in direction shows up in the 5.0 personal firewall. The question is, will the company devote the resources to making the product not only easy to use, but easy enough to configure that users don't create security problems for themselves.

    Experienced users are the ones most likely to gravitate to Sygate. And I say this: Pony up the bucks for the Pro version, it'll be money well spent. In the hands of someone who understands it, SPF 5.0 Pro is best personal firewall/IDS product on the market.

  • $39.95 (single user), $99.95 (three user), $149.95 (five user), Sygate Personal Firewall 5.0 Pro, Sygate Technologies, 510-742-2600

    Back to the Top

    VCOM announces the acquisition of the Ontrack PC Utility products. SystemSuite, Fix-It Utilities and PowerDesk Pro now join System Commander, Partition Commander, Web Easy, DVD PhotoPlay and AutoSave. Imagine what you can do!™ Visit us today!  V Communications

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    Product Beat: ActiveWords and Better Looking Linux
    This week there are lots of product announcements worthy of note, but I'm compelled to start with a utility for Windows called ActiveWords that deserves attention and praise.

    Published Oct. 11, 2002, Scot’s Newsletter. Revised February 6, 2003.

    Not five minutes after I installed ActiveWords I was completely bowled over by it. I also knew I was never going to uninstall it. Like so many of the best ideas, ActiveWords is slap-your-forehead obvious once you see it at work. The Windows utility literally builds keyboard shortcuts for everything you do on your PC. Use it for a week, and you'll have created your own customized user interface that works anywhere in Windows and all your programs as rapidly as you can type a short "active" word and press the F8 key.

    It takes very little time to install, and I quickly configured ActiveWords to launch a new instance of Internet Explorer whenever I type "ie" followed by the F8 key (the activation key, which is user selectable). You start with basic commands, like name (inserts your name), write (opens your word processor), and close (closes the active window). You can assign any word to actions such as launching a program, typing a URL, opening a document, inserting boilerplate text, sending an email to a specific someone, opening a specific Windows folder. Plus you can build your own customized actions from ActiveWord's built-in advanced command set.

    The first aspect of this product that I instantly knew that would get heavy use on my desktop is the ability to launch specific websites with a couple of keystrokes. I already have an extensive list of commonly visited Web destinations mounted on Internet Explorer's Links bar. To save space, each has a two- or three-letter abbreviation, such as sfn (Scot’s Newsletter), tw (, kb (Microsoft Knowledgebase), and goo (Google). With ActiveWords, I can create scores of website shortcuts. You don't have to have an IE window open; just type "goo F8," for example, and you're at Google.

    So how does this thing work? ActiveWords configures itself to monitor the entire stream of input coming from your keyboard. It can also insert text into any program that accepts text as an input. It reminds me of voice-control user interfaces, but instead of voice being the input, typed text is. There's an automatic active-word-creation routine (in ActiveWords Plus) that is triggered by repetitively typed events. The application is well thought through.

    The only real barrier to entry with ActiveWords is that, to fully appreciate it, you should be a touch typist. Once over that hurdle, computer novices and experts alike will adore it. It's been at least a couple of years since I've seen a Windows program that is not only as fresh as this one, but which has a huge potential to transform the way people work with their PCs. While Microsoft has been monkeying around with the social interface and .Net, ActiveWord Systems has delivered what amounts to a graphically independent text-association interface that works the way many people think. It's a little ingenious.

    ActiveWords Plus costs $29.95 [per year], but it's available in a 60-day trial version. Don't even try this one if you have no hope of coming up with the 30 bucks after 60 days. It's that good.

    Better Looking Linux
    Three recent Linux desktop products are striving to improve Linux's user interface, which sorely needs improvement. Red Hat 8.0's new Bluecurve desktop and interface is the most recent introduction. Lindows 2.0, which also improves Linux's usability (but still doesn't appear to offer some of the vaunted Windows application support features the company first promised) is out there now, if you want to pay $99 to be a beta tester (something I refuse to do).

    Then there's something really interesting, Xpde. This website was forwarded me by an SFNL reader whose name I've misplaced, or otherwise I'd give him credit for it. Xpde is Windows XP-lookalike user shell for Linux. See several screenshots of Xpde.

    I wrote about this subject on TechWeb. Please check that out. You'll find more background there, including links to all the new Linux desktops.

    OpenOffice 1.0
    A while back I promised to review Sun's StarOffice business application suite, and I'm still trying to find time to do just that. But if you were interested in that, you should be just as interested in OpenOffice 1.0 for Windows, Linux, and the Mac (in beta). The first complete version debuted quite recently, it's available free for download (50.5MB) or you can order it on CD. OpenOffice is based on the same codebase as StarOffice; it's forked and being further developed in an open-source environment.

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

    Back to the Top

    Windows XP SP1 Issues, Part II
    It troubles me quite a bit that I'm getting a lot less information from Microsoft about ongoing Windows XP SP1 woes than has been usual in the past. But I've been through enough of these upgrade snafus to know some things right off the bat.

    First, I got quite a few messages from SFNL readers saying, effectively, "What problems with SP1 are you talking about? It works fine!" A lot of people, including me, had no problems at all with SP1. What's more, a trickle of people have reported that the installation of SP1 solved an annoying device driver or software issue they were having. For example, Michael Squire reports that a problem with ZoneAlarm 2.1.395, wherein ZoneAlarm automatically launches his dial-up Internet connection (a known problem with this version of the program) disappeared after he installed SP1. Others wrote to tell me that pre-existing problems with video or audio subsystems vanished after SP1 was installed.

    Keep in mind that the vast majority of people who don't have any problems with a new piece of code have little reason to write to a newsletter author about that. All the volume comes from people who are having problems, even though they may only account for 5, 10, 15, or 20 percent of the whole.

    Having said that, though, the numbers and types of problems I'm hearing about -- many of them having to do with application woes -- are much, much larger and wider than you expect to hear about with a service pack. SP1 is definitely problematic in several areas, and I think Microsoft needs to get off its duff on this one, not only to communicate what it's going to do, but also to do it. The problems with Outlook Express, for example, go deeper than I've reported on. But so many people have reported the OE identities problem that it's clearly very common if not universal. One SFNL reader, William Cantrell, wrote me to say that he called Microsoft tech support about the OE issue. They knew what he was talking about, but they demanded $45 to fix it for him. He decided that was pathetic and refused. Go William.

    I mean, come on, Microsoft! He installed your patch and it broke something on his PC (that, by the way, is also your program), and then you want to charge him $45 to fix it? This is what's so wrong at Microsoft -- an arrogant disregard for customers.

    But let me take a moment to remind you that it's for just this sort of reason that I have long recommended against using Outlook Express. It's not really a supported Microsoft application. To Microsoft, OE is freebie afterthought. If you have to use a Microsoft email program, cough up the money for Outlook. Or spend the $30 to $40 for Eudora. Or check out PocoMail, which I've come to admire quite a bit.

    What You Should Do
    If you remember nothing else from this discussion, please take these words of advice to heart:

    1. Windows XP SP1 is not an essential install. Microsoft has made all (or most) of the critical security patches in SP1 available separately. And, in fact, there have been several released since SP1. If you install the critical updates on Windows Update or AutoUpdate, you are covered (but see the note that follows). I'm not saying no one should install SP1. I am saying that if you do so, you should be prepared for possible problems. And if the thought of potential difficulties makes you uneasy at all, hang back. Install all the critical updates on Windows Update instead. You can always install SP1 next week, next month, or next year.

    Note: Steve Gibson disagrees with me about whether you'll get all the critical updates you'll need if you don't install XP Service Pack 1 because of specific patch in SP1 that Microsoft apparently didn't deem worthy offering as a separate patch on Windows Update. And I'm not really disputing Steve's point. But he offers a little utility called XPdite that solves the problem for folks who don't have SP1 installed. You'll find out all about this on the Gibson Research XPdite site.

    2. If you do go ahead and install SP1, whatever you do, make sure to choose the SP1 installation option that allows you to uninstall the service pack. That costs you disk space on your PC (the actual amount varies), and it's not a trivial amount for most of us. Don't do the SP1 upgrade if you can't spare the disk space for this step. It's not worth it.

    3. If you get into trouble with SP1, don't use (or try to use) System Restore. Decide instead that SP1 isn't for you, and uninstall it. Most people report that problems they encounter disappear after uninstalling the service pack. Don't make things harder on yourself than you have to.

    Many OEM PC makers and large corporations are choosing not to install Windows XP Service Pack 1. From past experience, they've learned that the first service pack to a new version of Windows often encounters difficulty with a higher percentage of PCs than later service packs do. The safest course, in my opinion, is to follow their lead on this.

    Finally, I picked out a few reader messages I think everyone might benefit from scanning:

    Windows Update Leave Behinds

    Question: Scot, I have a question that many other readers may also want you to answer. Since installing SP1 via the CD, previous Windows XP patches and updates listed in Add or Remove programs have disappeared leaving only the option to uninstall XP SP1. But there are still 58 folders using some 25MB of disk space in the Windows folder pertaining to those previous patches. Can these folders be safely deleted with Windows Explorer? I still have the CD with XP SP1 available and I CAN NOT use the normal method of removing (uninstalling) those folders. --Bill Quinn

    Answer: It's likely that many of those folders are abandoned code that's not really needed. However, at least for the time being, I would strongly caution you not to delete those folders. There are enough problems for some people with SP1 that it's probably wise not to make a lot of changes until we find out whether there are problems we don't know about. It's also at least possible (although I think it unlikely) that some of these folders might be needed to successfully uninstall SP1. Long and short, 25MB is not enough of a reason to mess around with your Windows installation. In fact, more people get into trouble attempting to weed out their Windows installation than you would believe. For most people, it's just best to leave well enough alone. --S.F.

    Which Java Virtual Machine?
    It can be very difficult to know what version of Microsoft's Java VM is running on your machine. A tip passed along by an anonymous SFNL reader gives this simple step to check what version of the Java VM is current on your PC. Open Windows' Command Prompt. Type jview. Press Enter. The JVM version number appears on the right side of the first line that's returned. The latest version is 5.00.3805.

    I'm adding to the tip here: If you don't have the latest version of Java installed, use WinZip to open the XPSP1.EXE file. You'll probably only find this file on your system if you chose to download the much larger Network Installation version of SP1. It's also on the CD version of the upgrade. Then extract the MSJAVX86.EXE to a new folder on your hard disk. Double click that file to run the installation for Microsoft's 3805 version of its JVM.

    Please read an update to this tip in the December 23, 2002 issue of the newsletter.

    SP1 Issues with HP and Compaq PCs
    Several readers pointed out that there are issues with SP1 and some HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario 6300 PCs. See this document for more information. HP has developed a patch to SP1 that solves the problem. Thanks to Steve Ockinga for the link.

    Back to the Top

    NetSwitcher keeps you in connection when you switch network settings!
    paid advertisement

    Reader Poll Results: Your Next Operating System
    Because of the way I structured the What's Your Next OS? poll, only 1,125 of you responded. That's ok. I was looking only for people who thought they would probably switch or upgrade their primary PC operating systems during the next 12 months.

    That probably leaves a whole lot of people out, including many of the nearly 58 percent of SFNL readers who are already using either Windows XP or Windows 2000, according to the What's Your Primary OS? poll results, reported in the last issue of SFNL.

    What isn't a surprise to me at all is that 65 percent of those who responded are planning to upgrade to either Windows XP or Windows 2000 (with the vast majority targeting Windows XP).

    What is something of a surprise and the biggest headline derived from the data is that fully 27 percent of the respondents to a poll conducted by Scot’s Newsletter (which, let's remember, covers Windows primarily), are planning what's probably a switch to Linux within the next 12 months. That's a very large number. I think it indicates more a dissatisfaction with things Microsoft is doing than a strong preference for Linux over Windows (although Linux very definitely has some notable advantages over Windows).

    The price hike for Windows, the end-user license agreement, product activation, the whole push toward .Net (or what people understand of that), the security problems with current Microsoft applications, the way Windows is distributed with new PCs, the lack of perceived software quality, the Microsoft antitrust trial's apparently toothless outcome, the continued bundling of Microsoft apps with Windows, perceived privacy issues ... these are some of the many reasons why a larger number of Windows users are searching for alternatives. I'm actually surprised the number isn't higher. I'm convinced that if Windows XP weren't as good as it is, the number would be much higher.

    Here's a report of the raw data from the poll:

    Windows XP: 617
    Linux: 307
    Windows 2000: 113
    Mac OSX: 44
    Windows Me: 11
    Unix: 6
    Windows 98SE: 5
    OS/2: 1
    Other OS: 21

    Way-Out-There Analysis
    What I'm about to write not only isn't statistically valid but it's based on several assumptions that really aren't technically assumable from the available data. So take this with a giant grain of salt. If you match up the data from the last poll with this one, you might conclude that 58 percent of folks are already running Windows XP/2000, and of the rest, 65 percent are planning to move that way over the next 12 months. Some quick math would place the projected total number of Windows XP/2000-using SFNL readers at 85 percent by October of 2003.

    That seems ridiculous, and it probably is. But when you compare the difference between the level of quality and usability that Windows 9x/Me delivers with that of Windows 2K/XP, it's really not so outlandish. Windows 2000 and XP are just clearly superior. A lot of us complained bitterly about the long series of knock-off, marketing-and-P&L-statement-driven Windows upgrades Microsoft issued in the wake of Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0, such as Windows 98, 98 Second Edition, and especially ME. We're not hearing those noises any longer. After Windows 98 was released, Win 9x captured a huge market share among desktop operating systems. The same is likely to occur with the NT-derived Windows OSes, currently led by Windows XP.

    About Other Operating Systems
    Only about 20 folks said they would be switching to other operating systems not specified by the poll. About two thirds of those were from people pledging to use their current OS (most mentioned Windows 2000) "until I die!" The other third said they would switch to one or another variant of the next version of Windows, which is codenamed "Longhorn." Only one or two people mentioned other operating systems. As always with new Windows versions, I'll be covering Longhorn as we get closer to it.

    Future Polls
    For the last couple years, I've offered a reader poll about the broadband options available in your location. That's traditionally been an end-of-year topic, so stay tuned for the third annual broadband poll in the near future. And start nosing around about what's available in your town so you're prepared. Thanks!

    Do you have a poll topic suggestion for Scot’s Newsletter? Is there an issue I should ask everyone to weigh in on that most of us really don't know the answer to already? Send your suggestion along.

    Back to the Top

    Rant of the Week: Bigfoot Is Bad News
    It's been over a year since I first reported that decided to charge $20 a year for the free email address service that had for years been marketed as "Bigfoot 4 Life." I recommended that all Bigfoot users drop Bigfoot like a stone.

    But a strange thing happened. I didn't take my own advice, at least not fully. I cancelled all my Bigfoot accounts but one, and for that one, I wound up paying the $20. That address is my public personal address. I use it to sign up for Web registrations, newsletters, for anything where the address might eventually become public.

    Over the last year, I've had some complaints from SFNL readers about how terrible Bigfoot's service has gotten. Well, they're right. Not only are they charging now, but their service, if you can call it that, is abysmal. There used to be real people who knew what they were talking about if you emailed them. No longer. Now there are people copying and pasting boilerplate responses, and there are only about a dozen responses.

    The worst of it came on August 22 this year. Bigfoot sent me this message:

    Dear Subscriber,

    Your [Bigfoot] email address has exceeded the limit that comes with your subscription. Our system has rejected your excess emails. However, our mail server will retry delivery for several days. To avoid mail delay, please upgrade now.

    To upgrade, please follow this link and login with your Bigfoot email address and password. If you forgot your password, please click here and we will email it to you. With Bigfoot Email Forwarding, you have a choice of Premium membership at $9.95 quarter, which allows a member to forward a maximum of 150 mails daily sent to your Bigfoot address to any email account or Ultra membership at $19.95 per quarter for a maximum of 500 mails daily. Plus other POWER FORWARDING features such as Distribution, Filtering, Auto-Responder, Anti-Spam, Consolidation and PermaWeb.

    Please forward any questions to or email me at

    Thank you.


    Faith Ponte
    Product Manager
    Bigfoot Communications

    Let me count the things wrong with this: 1. This message is aimed at people who have the free, spam-me version of Bigfoot. I have the paid Premium version. 2. This is my first notice that they need me to pay them again after a year of service. 3. They waited until I starting losing mail to contact me, because, after all, my mail isn't important, right? 4. This is also my first notice that Bigfoot has voted itself a 100-percent increase in price over what I paid last year. $10 a quarter equals $40 a year; I paid $20 last year. 5. I replied to Faith Ponte, but she never responded. I eventually got someone from to reply to me. Here is that response:

    Dear Scot,

    We always look forward to hearing from our customers.

    The over quota notice is system generated that alerts you once you reached the email limit.

    I hope this answers your query.

    Heather Edwards, Customer Support (JL)
    Bigfoot Communications LLC

    It was at the moment I read those words that I knew it was time to extricate myself from Bigfoot, because otherwise I was a Big Fool.

    My first step was to pay Bigfoot the $10 it was demanding. I had no choice; it was holding me up for my mail. My next step was to decide on a new public email address. I've looked at literally dozens of free email services over the years, and written frequent stories about them (usually recommending Bigfoot ... arghh!) Many of them have gone out of business or no longer offer email addresses.

    The only free email service I've heard of in that time that has come highly recommended and whose policies, actions, and services mesh well with what everyday people need from a free email address is, which is owned and run by Novell and NetMail.

    I use MyRealBox as a mail-forwarding service. But it also can be used in two other ways. You can use it as a Web-mail, that is, you send, receive, read, and manage email in folders you access via your Web browser. There's also a Web-based address book. I'm not a big Web-mail fan, although it's a convenient adjunct to a regular email account when you travel. And for some people, it's the right approach.

    The third way you can use MyRealBox is as a POP3/SMTP account with an email program. Simply turn the forwarding off (if it's even on), and then follow the directions. That's a major advantage. Many other free email sites (such as Yahoo), charge you for POP3/SMTP services.

    One of the best things about MyRealBox is that it has very strict antispam policies, and even attempts to levy charges against spammers for each message they send. I have so far received little or no spam mail via MyRealBox, and I've had the account for about six months. Read the sign-up policies for more detail.

    There's only one drawback to MyRealBox I'm aware of. To quote the company's website: "The NetMail engineering team uses MyRealBox as a test-bed to try out new versions before releasing them as part of the NetMail product. This means that from time to time, MyRealBox users will experience downtime due to installation of new software or the engineering team debugging a new feature." There's more info on the site about this. But, bottom line, it isn't stopping me.

    Just a couple days ago I heard about an alternative that I don't know much about personally. Shirl Willis let me know about. The company is called

    It uses an especially easy ChoiceMail-like online verification process that senders must go through once in order to qualify themselves as not being spammers. MailCircuit bills itself as being 100-percent spam free. It also virus scans messages before they get to your mailbox. Like MyRealBox, MailCircuit offers Web mail, mail forwarding, and POP3 (but not SMTP, so you can't send messages out through MailCircuit). All in all, I prefer MyRealBox, but MailCircuit has some advantages. It's not a "test bed," and the method of spam protection may be slightly better than MyRealBox's. On the other hand, it costs $20 a this year, and who knows what it'll be next year.

    Two solutions for you, both relatively spam free, both low cost, and both offering solid features.

    My final step in getting out of Bigfoot is the most painful. I'm already a month into the process of changing literally hundreds of newsletter subscriptions, website registrations, webstore logins, and address books of friends and acquaintances. That job will surely take the better part of a year, and I'll be paying Bigfoot all along. But my Bigfoot account is on borrowed time. And I can't wait to stomp on it.

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    Let's Fight Spam, Part III
    With everything else going on in this issue, I didn't get a chance this time to do a full update on the Let's Fight Spam series [Read the previous installment in the I Hate Spam series | Read the next installment.]. Let me assure you my commitment to this subject is absolute, and I will come back to it. There are several things I'm checking out.

    Two things I'd like to draw your attention to. The first is that ChoiceMail 1.4 has been released. I haven't had time to test it, but the long list of improvements is encouraging. I am considering a re-test of it, although I'm growing leery of proxy-server-based antispam solutions.

    The second item is a note about this part of the Cloudmark SpamNet's end-user license agreement (EULA):

    You agree that Cloudmark may use any e-mail messages or digital signatures that you submit using the Software for any purpose whatsoever, and hereby assign to Cloudmark any and all right, title, and interest that you may have (including any intellectual property or proprietary rights) in and to any such e-mail messages and digital signatures thereof."

    When I asked Cloudmark's Tricia Fahey about it, this is what she said:

    I can see how it sounds scary, but if we don't say this in no uncertain terms, spammers could sue us for the rights to their messages, and/or anyone can play [legal] games with us and think of some reason to sue us. That said, I do want to soften the language a bit because the user is protected and the messages don't go anywhere at all, or get looked at, or anything else. The EULA, as you know, is just to protect us from being sued.

    The only time content represented by a signature ever goes to our database is when you use the block button -- something you only do when you're submitting spam. You don't have to use the block button if you're afraid you're going to send a personal email. We will still catch more spam automatically even without a person contributing to the network. But, if you accidentally block a personal or business email, you would then unblock it and the message is immediately and completely deleted from our system. In that event, we would have no record of the content, and there would be no need for concern. Already, 90,000 people are using the service without concern about the EULA. The system is designed to protect you, not harm you.

    My brief two cents on the subject: I'm absolutely convinced that Cloudmark's only concern is protecting themselves from lawsuits by spammers. The legal wording does sound ominous -- and I have urged the company to modify it -- but I don't think it was intended to do anything harmful at all to non-spamming Cloudmark users.

    SpamNet remains one of the most interesting anti-spam solutions out there, and one I don't think you should miss trying just because of the EULA.

    Read the previous installment in the I Hate Spam series | Read the next installment.]

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    Link of the Week:
    Longtime Scot’s Newsletter readers may recall that both PC911 and Jason's Toolbox have been Links of the Week in past. Both sites share the heritage of the extended Windows Magazine and family, of which Scot’s Newsletter is also a part. (In case you're weren't aware, I was for several years an editor at Windows Magazine, and this newsletter grew out of the ashes of two newsletters -- Windows Insider and The Broadband Report -- which I wrote for that magazine.)

    But back to the Link of the Week, Jason Levine's PC911 is an excellent PC-user website overflowing with helpful information for everyone from newbies to power users. The useful and lively forum at PC911 grew, in part, from the user forums, since many of the knowledgeable forum regulars at also frequented PC911. Jason Levine, the programmer and Windows expert who ran Winmag's forums has just taken over the role of running the PC911 forums so that PC911's principle, Alex Byron (good guy and friend of SFNL), can focus on the website.

    That's the backdrop, but here's why you should care, and why is the Link of the Week. The Computer Forum there has over 18,000 posts, and most of them are tough technical questions about PC computing with sometimes several informed answers by others -- including a passel of forum regulars who really know their stuff. If you've got a tough technical question, is the place you want to take it. No question. Everyone should have this one bookmarked.

    Other Excellent Winmag-Related Links
    Other websites include (Fred Langa), (Mike Elgan), (Dave Methvin and Martin Heller), (James E. Powell), (Serdar Yegulalp), (Karen Kenworthy), (John Woram), (Paul Schindler), and Every one of these sites offers an amazing newsletter, Web column, blog, online service, free software, or a combination from a past Windows Magazine or editor or author. Taken collectively, they represent a huge part of the brain trust of Windows Magazine, still plugging along, turning out incredible pull-no-punches content.

    Windows Magazine fans often ask why these folks haven't linked together as a federation of websites. An "ought decade" version of a Web ring. It's a good question. The notion has been talked about more than once. Most or all of us would be game to try, but none has the free personal bandwidth to do the considerable legwork needed to organize and implement such an association. Plus, much as we hate to admit it, Windows Magazine is in the past. We've all moved on.

    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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    Windows and Broadband Information You Can Use!

    Tip of the Week: SendTo Secrets and Onscreen Keyboard
    Whether you're using 9x or NT derived Windows, Tip of the Week has you covered.

    For Windows 9x/Me/NT: Four Ways You Send Me
    "Yooooo-oo-o-oo, send me." That's Sam Cooke. But chances are you're not getting sent under Windows because you're under-utilizing Windows' Send To feature. Here's a four-pack of my favorite Send To tips:

    1. Make shortcuts to your Start Menu (C:\Windows\Start Menu) and Programs (C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs) folders, and place them in your SendTo folder (C:\Windows\Sendto). When you come across an icon you wish were on the Start menu or Programs menu, right-click it and choose the appropriate Send To destination.

    2. In most settings, Send To is a Move operation. When you want to reverse that to a copy operation, select the icon by clicking it once, press and hold the Ctrl key, then right-click the icon and choose Send To and the appropriate destination. Got that? Ok, take it to the next level. When your destination folder is on a different disk drive, Windows makes the default Send To operation Copy instead of Move. To reverse that and make it a Move, hold down the Shift key and follow the same steps.

    3. This may be my favorite one. Make a shortcut of the SendTo folder (C:\Windows\Sendto) and place the new shortcut inside the SendTo folder! That way, you can customize Send To by adding destinations to it on the fly.

    4. Speed up the process of moving objects to your desktop by adding a quick desktop-destination shortcut to your Send To menu. Open the SendTo folder (C:\Windows\Sendto). Right-click the background and choose New > Shortcut from the pop-up menu. When the Create Shortcut Wizard window appears, type C:\Windows\Desktop in the Command line field and click the Next button. Give the new shortcut the name Desktop and click Finish.

    Note: Variations of most of these tips will work just fine under Windows XP/2000 too, although there are some additional variables (and minor behavioral changes). But generally speaking, most things work the same way, and you'll find your SendTo folder here: :\Documents and Settings\\SendTo You'll also find the Desktop folder sharing the same parent folder as SendTo.

    For Windows XP/2000/ME: Try Windows XP's On-Screen Keyboard
    There's a little-known onscreen keyboard built right into later versions of Windows. It was designed for folks with mobility impairments, but it may also be useful for people using tablet-style PCs, or whenever you spill coffee into your keyboard. (As someone who used to torture-test notebook PCs for PC Computing, let me tell ya, if you pour coffee into a notebook keyboard, you're in trouble. Turn the keyboard upside down right away!) [Editor's note: It's true about the notebook torture testing. I saw it firsthand. It wasn't pretty.]

    To launch the onscreen keyboard, choose Start > Run > type osk > press Enter. See what it looks like for yourself. This is what it looks like.

    With its default settings, you point and click with the mouse. But there are other ways to use this thing. There's a hover-selection feature that allows you to point and tarry the mouse pointer over any key for a selectable amount of time, and when you do so, it clicks automatically. It's also possible to use external input devices with this software. Check the Help file for more details.

    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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    Newsletter Schedule: Next Issue on November 8th
    Because of unexpected travel, I'm forced to skip the next issue of the newsletter. SFNL will be back on Friday, November 8th. Thereafter the newsletter will return to its every-other-week publishing schedule until just before the end-of-year holidays. Those dates are November 8, November 21, December 5, and December 19. The schedule hasn't been set for the new year yet, but I usually pause for one issue during the holidays.

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    Newsletter Updates
  • The Growing HTML Edition
  • Printing the HTML Edition
  • Broadband Users' Changing Domain Names
  • Advertising Updates

    Over the last couple weeks, I've spruced up the SFNL templates, the website, and especially the subscription center. Lots of minor changes, mostly aimed at making it easier than ever to subscribe, unsubscribe, change your email address, or change your message format. You may notice new "Fine Print" info at the bottom of the newsletter, and next time you use the newsletter's subscription center, you'll notice a slightly improved look, plus a lot more guidance.

    The Growing HTML Edition
    It's been about five months since I made the HTML edition of the newsletter officially available (it was in beta testing for some months before that). As I write this, there are 6,325 subscribers to the HTML edition, and it's growing much faster than the Text edition is. I've had fewer than 10 complaints about the HTML edition, even during the couple of months when it was in beta testing. I get message after message from HTML subscribers praising it. The overall rate of new SFNL subscriptions has increased since the HTML edition was launched, in fact. That was my overall goal. So it's a success.

    So why am I telling you this? I believe most people reading the text version of the newsletter would prefer the HTML version, if they could compare them side by side. It's shorter, it's much easier to read, and you can navigate within the newsletter by clicking the issue contents headlines and the "back to the top" links throughout the newsletter. It's easier to scan, skip past stuff you're not interested in, and quickly jump to stuff you do want to read. Let's face it, this is a long publication. It's almost like a mini-magazine. I want you to have a better experience reading it.

    Of course, an HTML newsletter isn't for everyone. If you have HTML mail turned off in your email program, if you're using an old version of AOL (newer versions display HTML email fine), if you use an older Lotus Notes version, CC:Mail, or any of several other enterprise-oriented email packages that don't support HTML, you're not a good candidate for SFNL's HTML edition. But most everyone else would benefit from changing their subscriptions to HTML.

    I suggest a test drive. The SFNL Subscription Center has never worked better than it does right now. You could switch for one issue and switch back. Or subscribe to both versions (you can do this with the same email address if you want), and compare the two. Make your own call. Here's the part of the subscription center where you can change your message format.

    One solution for people who aren't good HTML candidates is to use the "Read the neater website version of Scot’s Newsletter" link at the top of every plain text version of the newsletter. It takes you to the website version of the newsletter. The only thing I ask is that you do not unsubscribe from the newsletter to use this website version. What little business model I have is predicated on newsletter subscriptions. I don't hold out much hope for getting any payback from the website.

    If you have questions or concerns about the HTML version, send 'em off to me.

    Printing the HTML Edition
    It's come to my attention that some people are having trouble printing the HTML edition. If you're using Internet Explorer 5.0 - 6.0 (and other browsers too), you can adjust the margins of the browser page to solve the problem. Set them to a quarter of an inch (or ".25") on either side. Some older printers can't print that close to the edge of the page, but most can. I'm not going to be able to solve all printing problems, but if you're still having issues after trying this tip, I want to know about it.

    Broadband Users' Changing Domain Names
    I could use your help with something. Do you have friends who have AT&T Broadband addresses or who used to be Excite@Home customers? Many of these broadband customers went through forced changes of email address earlier this year. Thousands of them were SFNL subscribers, many of whose old email addresses are still on the list. These folks have stopped getting the newsletter, but they may not know how to find their way back. So tell a friend where to change his or her address to Scot’s Newsletter.

    Advertising Updates
    With the recent rise in interest on advertising in Scot’s Newsletter, and two advertisers on contract, I've also completely reworked my advertising materials to make it easier for people to understand both the services and the costs, including frequency discounts. If this is something you're interested in, please check the Scot’s Newsletter Advertising Information page and the links off of it.

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    Call for Contributions
    Despite the ads that have begun showing up lately, I still need your support with contributions. I use the money you send primarily to pay for the newsletter's distribution, which costs several hundred dollars a month. You might wonder why I pay so much for that? Well, paying a professional list services company (my distributor is ensures we stay spam free and have reliable subscription services. And when problems arise, I have someone to contact to get them fixed. Your donations cover a lot of other expenses for the newsletter too, like telephone calls, product testing equipment, and web hosting just to name a few. Without your financial support, I would have had to give up on SFNL long ago. It makes a big difference.

    Bottom line: I could use your help. But only if you've never donated to this newsletter before, or haven't done so for at least a year. There's a small number of very generous patrons of SFNL who repeatedly send money when I call for it. To those folks: You've done enough. I'm looking for first-time contributors. Please send what you can afford. Whether it's a little or a lot, it's always appreciated. Here's how:

  • Donate via PayPal
  • Sign-up for PayPal
  • Donate via Letter Mail

    Thanks in advance for your generosity.

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    The Fine Print
    If you like this newsletter, I need your help spreading the word about it. Please share it with friends and co-workers, and encourage them to sign up! It's free.

    Visit the new Scot's Newsletter Forums.

    Subscribe, Unsubscribe, Change Email Address or Message Format
    You can unsubscribe at any time; I don't believe in captive audiences. The website subscription center is the easiest way to manage your Scot’s Newsletter subscription. Changes take only a minute or two. You must select your message format — Text or HTML — even for address changes or unsubscribes.

  • Unsubscribe
  • Unsubscribe Help and Options
  • Subscribe
  • Change Email Address or Message Format (HTML or Text)

    To help with the cost of creating and distributing the newsletter, I accept contributions via PayPal and Letter Mail. For more information on donations:

  • Sign-up for PayPal (if you don't already have it)
  • Option #1: Donate via PayPal
  • Option #2: Donate via Letter Mail

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