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November 25, 2002 - Vol. 2, Issue No. 35

By Scot Finnie


  • Review: Linksys's Firewall Router *Top Product!*
  • Why Hardwired Cat5 Instead of Wi-Fi
  • Update on the Symantec NIS 2003 Review
  • Fully Uninstall Software Firewalls
  • Software's Business Model, Part II
  • The Nex IIe MP3 Player
  • Q&A
  • Link of the Week: Paul Graham's Plan for Spam
  • Tips of the Week: NetBEUI, ClearType, SourcePath
  • Scot’s Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.

    Review: Linksys's Firewall Router *Top Product!*
    More than two years ago I wrote my first review of Linksys's low-cost EtherFast series of broadband router products, making the 4-port BEFSR41 a Top Product! It's still on the Scot’s Newsletter Top Product! list today.

    The Linksys product line has evolved since to include about dozen models, not including the similar wireless product line. I haven't tested them all but have tested several of them. I'm fond of the 8-port version of the standard router, since my network always seems to be growing.

    I've reviewed several firewall routers in the past, including SonicWall and Netgear products, although none recently. My reviews of previous hardware firewalls left me believing you need a software product to be adequately protected -- unless you want to spend thousands for enterprise-grade hardware.

    But that attitude on my part may be changing. I'm very impressed with the Linksys Firewall Router's ability to secure my environment. In fact, it aced my tests, doing just a smidge better than ZoneAlarm 3.1 Pro, Sygate Personal Firewall 5.0 Pro, and Norton Internet Security 2003. My security products testing includes Gibson's Shields Up tests, PC Flank's Stealth, Trojans, and Exploits test, AuditMyPC, Hacker Whacker, and E-Soft's SecuritySpace. Please read more about my testing procedures at the Scot’s Newsletter Firewall Test Suite and Methodology page.

    Let me be clear that I would not classify the Linksys Firewall Router as more secure than the best software firewalls. In fact, I still believe that firewall software with application controls running on each PC behind NAT/DHCP-based hardware is your safest bet. But this Linksys model is the first inexpensive hardware product I can actually recommend for people who just doesn't want the hassle of running a software firewall. If you're willing to risk a reduction in security for a modicum of convenience (ie, less hassle), then this is the product for you. And at $80 on the street, it's a pretty good value.

    Tunneling In
    Now that I hope I have your attention, let me tell you more about the Linksys Firewall Router. It's a four-port 10/100-Mbps model designed to connect via an Ethernet connection to your broadband modem or bridge. You can either connect up to four computers to it or use one of its ports to connect a switch or hub and connect three computers directly to it. It can serve a maximum of 253 computers with linked switches. I tested it linked to a 24-port Linksys EtherFast II 10/100 24-port switch serving more than a dozen computers and it performed flawlessly. (By the way, I really like the Linksys switch too.)

    The Linksys Firewall Router offers an expanded version of the Linksys Web-based configuration screen, which is still among the better broadband router configuration tools around. It supports PPTP and IPsec VPN connections in either direction, and can handle two IPsec tunnels at once. It's compatible with all versions of Windows since (and including) Windows 95. It supports PPPoE connections. I tested with both DSL and cable Internet. The cables plug in the back. The LEDs are on the front. Hardware setup is straightforward.

    So what's more convenient about a hardware firewall? Well for one thing you don't have system-resource-intensive firewall software running on your PCs. Even under Windows XP, ZoneAlarm and its ilk may exact a performance hit. But even better, there are no menus that pop open and there isn't much to configure. (This is also a symptom of its weaknesses.)

    Outbound security, meaning protection from Trojan horse malware, which seeks to fool your computer into allowing illicit programs to run on your machine that in turn outwardly access the Internet usually with malicious intent, just aren't provided with a product like this. Or to put it another way, the Linksys Firewall Router lacks application-specific controls. With a product like this one, you really need a potent email-monitoring antivirus program (such as Norton AntiVirus 2003) and you should think about getting separate anti-Trojan horse protection software (a category of software I haven't covered in great detail yet, mostly because I've yet to find an example I truly liked).

    Software firewalls are also far more configurable. That can be a real advantage with some types of software that access the Internet in unusual or non-standard ways. Although the Linksys's configuration screens will in all likelihood get you by.

    Another sticking point with the Linksys product is the firmware. As originally received, I had problems with connection drop-offs and there was a serious problem with FTP that rendered my FTP client inoperable (and I wasn't the only one). Initially when I reported these problems, Linksys was at a loss to fix them (this was several months ago, right after the product was first available in stores). But a few weeks later they sent me new firmware, and that did do the trick. That same firmware version, 1.43.3, is downloadable (U.S. Version) from the Linksys website.

    More than likely, even if you buy this product next year, it will still have the 1.43 firmware that has problems.

    Parting Thoughts
    If you're going to rely on hardware only to arm yourself against hackers and malware, you need to be more on the ball about security. Spend some time learning how to configure your Linksys product for how you use the Internet. There's a Firewall tab in the configuration Web software where you should start. Linksys offers 24-hour tech support. It may take a while to get through, but don't be bashful about calling them. Be sure to change the password for accessing the configuration software from the default. Check the built-in firewall report and logs. Don't enable a lot of things that sound good without checking them out first. If you don't understand a setting, don't change it.

    The Linksys firewall is ideal for a small network of computers sharing a DSL or cable modem broadband connection that currently isn't using any sort of firewall. You need a router anyway, and the security is a plus that doesn't really cost any more. If you decide to move up to a software firewall later on, you can also disable the Linksys Firewall Router's firewall features.

    All in all, the Linksys BEFSX41 Firewall Router is a top-notch product that performs very well within its purview. So long as you understand that, it's well worth your money. It's also clearly worthy of Scot’s Newsletter Top Product! status.

  • $80 (before $10 rebate), EtherFast Cable/DSL Firewall Router (BEFSX41), Linksys, 800-546-5797

    Back to the Top

    Why Hardwired Cat5 Instead of Wi-Fi
    So long as I'm on a networking-related theme let me take a small space to tell you why my house is now almost completely hardwired with Category 5e Ethernet cable, despite the fact that I spent a good part of 2001 reviewing wireless networking products in this newsletter, and will probably do so again now that newer versions of the 802.11 wireless spec are in the offing and a more mature generation of wireless products has been on the streets for some time now.

    Wireless networking just isn't what it's cracked up to be, at least not for someone who is used to and expects to get a full-bore 100-Mbps network connection and bullet-proof broadband Internet access. In fact, this entire method of networking is a little on the finicky side. (End points, the wireless NIC you insert in your computer are the most notoriously finicky part of the whole equation.) Wi-Fi works fine most of the time. But no one is paying me to be a network administrator in my own home, but time and again I found myself having to tinker with my wireless network on the weekends, and I just got sick of it. [Editor's note: He doesn't complain about the hours he spends testing and fine-tuning his own equipment. It's only when said tinkering breaks my wireless connection that somehow it all becomes a chore. --Cyndy.]

    My wife uses it though. She prefers to be, well, as untethered as possible when she uses her notebook in the evenings or weekends. And, while I don't think he's aware of it, my 11-year-old boy is also connected via a wireless connection. I have a series of wireless access points located strategically throughout the house so that my wife, who likes to roam around, is covered in the areas she tends to work. Because of that, she never complains about it. I've implemented the information technology in a way that makes it seamless for her. But note, to do that, I had to run hardwired Ethernet cable to two rooms in my house just for that purpose. Because there was no way to make it work reliably otherwise -- at least, not without spending gobs of money at the time. Of course, installing the Ethernet cable wasn't cheap. I paid a pro to do it.

    D-Link recently upgraded a product that's in my test queue in a way that would have been useful to me. It can amplify an existing access point's range by essentially linking to it. The product is the AirPlus Enhanced 2.4GHz Wireless Access Point (DWL-9000AP+). With a free firmware upgrade, it gets this ability to serve as a repeater to another D-Link AirPlus access point, effectively extending overall range by 50 percent according to the company. That's pretty cool.

    But even with that solution, I would have hardwired Cat5e into the remote areas of my house anyway. Because I've also noticed problems with network file-sharing performance. If my Wi-Fi wireless networking connection is good (or my wife's is), Internet connection performance feels just as fast to me as with a hardwired connection. But what is more variable is the performance of large blocks of file copies over my LAN. For security reasons, I use a different network protocol for LAN networking than Internetworking. Usually I'm running either IPX/SPX with NetBIOS or NetBEUI. And for some reason, Wi-Fi just doesn't work that well with these network protocols on a peer network with multiple versions of Windows. It likes TCP/IP much better.

    Finally, there's the problem of security, which is two-fold. If you live in an urban area, you can literally be giving away your Internet bandwidth to poachers living next door without knowing it. It happens all the time. In fact, there's an underworld of folks who literally "chalk mark" areas of the world sometimes called hot spots where it's easy to just walk up and gain access to someone's network and broadband connection. The second "fold" is that by gaining access to your network, they may also gain access to your data, or could even do something malicious to your PC.

    Some other techies I've talked to have come to similar conclusions to mine. They either don't use Wi-Fi, or like me, they use it on only part of their network. I also know experienced networking folk who swear by Wi-Fi. And I'm aware that many SFNL readers have purchased and prefer their wireless network. It's a personal choice, and one I can understand because it's a pain to be dragged down by cables -- especially with a notebook.

    One day, they'll figure out a way to let you roam around with your PC while getting AC power wirelessly (or at least, that's my pipe dream), and by then, a wireless mouse and wireless networking won't be annoying anyway. And we'll be truly free of the wall for hours and hours without worrying about batteries or access points or whatever. While I'm dreaming, might as well throw in the mind-control interface based on brain waves or something. Okay, Scot, get a life.

    Back to the Top


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    Update on the Symantec NIS 2003 Review
    Last time I did a large review on Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2003, placing it on the Top Product! list. Some factual details came to light in the first 24 hours after I sent the November 8 issue you need to know about. I'm going to write the short form here, but I actually updated the original review in several small ways on the SFNL website. Overall, the changes are mostly good, and nothing that alters my largely positive conclusions in the least. Here are the three things I want to update you on:

    1. Subscription Pricing Is Less Expensive. Due to an honest communication error between myself and Symantec, I gave you the wrong price for the cost of resubscribing to all the annual subscription items in NIS2003, which include NAV2003 virus definitions, the firewall's intrusion-detection signatures, program updates, and a few other things. To reiterate, you get the first year of subscription services as part of the purchase price of the product. After that, it's $25 a year for everything. NAV2003 signatures and updates alone cost about $15 a year, so this now seems reasonable to me.

    Some of you have written complaining that ZoneAlarm charges the same way. It's not quite the same. Zone Labs does not use a signature-based system for updating its firewall protection. When you purchase ZoneAlarm, you're getting a perpetual license to the product, and you're entitled to all program updates and tech support for 12 months. After that 12 month period, you'll be forced to purchase the product again in order to get a newer version and to continue tech support. Personally, I think both the Symantec and Zone Labs models make good sense.

    2. There was a typo on the Rebate. I made a simple typo on the $30 rebate for NIS 2003. I said that rebate was good until 1/12/2002. The correct expiration date is 1/12/2003. Also, since November 8th, Amazon has lowered the base price on NIS2003 by $5.

    3. Uninstall before installing, and problems with NIS2003. I should have written this into my initial review: Everyone should approach installing Norton Internet Security 2003 (or, indeed, any software firewall product) by uninstalling any previous version of Norton Personal Firewall, Norton Internet Security, and Norton AntiVirus first. You should also uninstall any other software firewall product (more on this later in this issue). The uninstaller that comes with Symantec's 2002 and 2001 products work well. Use them first.

    Several Scot’s Newsletter readers have written recently that they've gotten into trouble with NIS 2003, and I believe that more than half of them hit potholes because they didn't uninstall older versions first. There have also been postings in forums about various problems with NIS 2002 and NIS 2003. I have NIS 2003 installed on about half a dozen machines now. Most of them also had NIS 2002 installed on them previously. I've had no problems. I'm not saying that other people aren't experiencing trouble. I am sure they are, in fact. And there may yet be some bugs that Symantec needs to fix. In most cases, though, these sorts of problems affect small minorities of the people who use a product. Usually under 10 percent. We just hear about them more because people who encounter difficulties tend to speak out; people who are having no trouble have no reason to say anything.

    By the way, the notion of uninstalling before installing a newer version applies not only to NIS 2003 and all software firewalls, it applies to virtually all software. It especially applies to beta software, by the way. So, when in doubt, uninstall apps before installing newer versions. Those of you who have been reading this newsletter long enough to remember the Computer Savvy series (which may make a come back in the near future), will remember this is one of my rules of thumb. To be sure, there are exceptions to this rule. Qualcomm's Eudora is one example; you are actually better off installing new minor versions (at least) of this program over an existing installation. But the rule is still a good one. In the case of most Symantec apps, though, the rule is paramount.

    If you're having trouble with NIS 2003, I would suggest uninstalling it and reinstalling it as a first course of action just to see if that helps.

    About Symantec's end of things: I think the company should just plainly state this advice to uninstall first in the installation instructions for all its products. It would save everyone a lot of grief. It's a mistake to omit this because Symantec feels it would be criticized for not providing an easier means of installation. Bite the bullet, and tell it like it is.

    People also complain vehemently about Symantec's tech support, and from my experience those complaints are justified. I don't think this is intentional on Symantec's part. I think that the company's products are complex enough that the tech support personnel have a hard time being well versed on all the issues -- especially with newer versions of products. If you encounter a problem with a Symantec product, and you've tried honestly to work with Symantec's tech support and struck out, I would be happy to relay a message from you to Symantec. This has sometimes worked where everything failed in the past.

    What I need from you if you is a detailed description of the problem you're having with Symantec Norton Internet Security. Save your invective and anger for emails to your friends or newsgroup posts. If you want help, just the facts are what's called for. Be sure to specifically name your operating system version, all Symantec products currently installed on your PC, any previous Symantec products, and whether you uninstalled them before installing the newer versions. Give details about what's wrong. Don't say you got an "error message." Write down what the error message says. I can't promise anything. But I will do my best to get you more help.

    Back to the Top

    Fully Uninstall Software Firewalls
    As long as I'm talking about issues with previous versions of firewalls, I'd like to point out something many people are unaware of. You should not run two personal firewall programs (or even an intrusion-detection program with a firewall) on the same PC. Before you installing any software firewall, you should uninstall all previous firewalls. I have personally experienced firewall issues -- including loss of security functionality -- when a different program was either installed or had been previously uninstalled, but perhaps not properly. In one case, I was completely unaware that there was a problem with my current firewall installation that was eventually traced back to an incomplete uninstall of a competing product. And this isn't just a problem of competing products; it sometimes occurs with previous versions of the same product.

    Unfortunately automatic uninstallation, of the sort provided by Add/Remove Programs, may also not be enough. You may need to follow specific instructions for manually uninstalling a specific software firewall -- even after to all appearances it uninstalled successfully.

    I have most frequently seen this problem with ZoneAlarm and BlackICE. Zone Labs, Norton, and Sygate are the most upfront about this problem. Zone Labs and Norton in particular offer good instructions for fully removing their products. If you poke around, you'll find some sort of instruction page or utility that helps you uninstall most popular firewall products. Here are some links to those instructions. Be sure to look for instructions that are specific to both your version of the firewall and also your Windows version.

  • ZoneAlarm
  • Sygate Personal Firewall
  • Norton Internet Security 2003/Norton Personal Firewall 2003
  • Norton Internet Security 2002/Norton Personal Firewall 2002
  • Norton Internet Security/Norton Personal Firewall Using RNIS Utility
  • BlackICE
  • Agnitum Outpost

    If you have found other similar instructions or better ones, please drop me a line and I'll update this section in a future issue of the newsletter.

    Back to the Top

    Software's Business Model, Part II
    Last issue's foray into software's business model, which was touched off by the software license agreement for the intriguing ActiveWords utility, has drawn a lot of interesting responses.

    Some SFNL readers are ardently in favor of open-source software and believe all software should be free. Others believe the annual subscription model is the best one, although many of those same folks talk about paying far less per year than the $30 ActiveWords currently charges. One reader suggested the annual price for subscription software should be in the $1 to $3 range per year. Still others -- and this describes the lion's share -- are angry about any notion of subscription pricing at all. They want perpetual licenses. And many people agree that software licenses should be per person, not per machine.

    What impressed me most about the letters I've received is how much thought and care went into writing them. Many are quite rich in detail, making several points to support their case.

    Here's a cross-sampling of some of those emails, including one from Lockergnome's Chris Pirillo. There's also an official response from Pete Weldon of ActiveWord Systems that you won't want to miss.

    No Perpetual License, No Way
    I like the system used by UltraEdit (a great editor). You purchase the software with free updates for one year. After the year is up, it costs about half the original's price for a newer version, but the old version doesn't stop working. You just don't have the latest and greatest with all the bug fixes. That's the way this should be. I am removing ActiveWords from my computer tonight. It's worth $30, once, per user, not $30 a year. --Evan E. Engstrom

    Thumbs Down on Activation and Annual Subscription
    I'm a software developer by profession, so these issues are near and dear to me. I'm pretty much with you on this one, Scot. I don't like the idea of product activation in any form. If I've paid for it, it should keep on working.

    Besides Microsoft software, I have one other piece of software that uses product activation: Alert Bookmarks by Viable Software. I worry about Viable Software's, ah, viability one, two, three years down the road. I have a different worry with Microsoft. It might decide my copy of Windows XP is too old to support and then pull the plug on it. Or, once we've all accepted its more or less benign form of product activation, it might start collecting more and more personal data and use it in ways most of us would prefer it didn't. (Microsoft would never do a thing like that, would it??)

    As for subscription-based software, again, I agree with you. In concept, it's not altogether bad. If you use a program for five years, then that program must be worth more to you than if you used it for only one year. But even conceding that, I worry about how that concept is implemented. What is to prevent a company from increasing the subscription fee every year? Even if you have a guarantee that says they won't, what are you going to do if they break their word? Sue them in small claims court across state lines? And again, what if the company goes out of business or is acquired and the policies change or the product is abandoned? It just doesn't seem right that software I've paid for could stop working, and that would be out of my control.

    Just one other thing -- this idea of "one license, one PC" really irritates me. If I pay for a copy of a program, I want to be able to use it both at work and at home or wherever else I may be. --David Salahi

    Here's How to Do It
    Because I work for a software company, I sympathize with points on both sides of this issue. I think a balance is really needed for software companies to succeed and their customers to be satisfied, which should be the ultimate goal.

    I personally get upset with the annoying and scary product activation schemes from Microsoft and others. My biggest question about those types of schemes is, what happens when, down the road, the company goes under, arbitrarily decides not to support a product, or stops activating it. Maybe they get greedy and want to force an upgrade, for example. Plus, you don't have the resources to fix a problem yourself when your fate is tied to another company's availability and/or willingness to re-activate your software. I avoid using any products whose business model works this way. I resent Microsoft's bullying attitude toward customers and other developers.

    On the other hand, unprotected software is often pirated and a software company can have a hard time getting a good return on investment if it doesn't protect its interests. In the past, our firm has used protection schemes (i.e. timed demos and software activation per machine), but we've long since abandoned those methods because the technology is far from perfect.

    Our firm currently tries to take a more balanced approach. We offer a software subscription, but it's optional. That subscription fee provides users all upgrades that come out over the course of the year at a discount on what normal upgrades would cost. The prepaid funds guarantee our sales. It renews automatically, unless the user specifies otherwise. We usually have at least one major upgrade per year, and sometimes minor ones. But no one has to buy this payment method. In any event, the product they originally bought has a perpetual license.

    This scenario works well because we have an obligation to continuously provide upgrades of real value to our users so that they will continue to pre-purchase the upgrades via subscription or standalone. It also benefits users because they save money, stay current, and avoid problems, such as when older software doesn't work on a new computer. Also, we limit our support to the current and one prior version (although we are often nice and still support older versions when possible). This also encourages users to stay up to date.

    Our license agreement is a bit different than most others, as we allow use of the software on two computers for the same person. There's an added license fee for additional users. We don't rigorously enforce this; it's basically on the honor system. But we find that most users try to be honest in this regard. Of course, support and upgrades are really only available to valid, registered users. In cases where pirating has occurred, eventually it becomes a nuisance for those folks to keep getting upgrades. I'd prefer not to give you my name or company name, but I can tell you that all this is working well for my company. --Name Withheld

    From Lockergnome's Chris Pirillo
    I agree that the ActiveWords model is flawed. If it were $5 a year, I think more people would be inclined to jump aboard. But $30 for ONE program every year?! Nope. Plenty of cheaper alternatives.

    Now, take a look at Stardock's Object Desktop Network. $50 for all of their programs is not a bad deal ... *IF* you're into customizing your UI. It's a niche market -- and there's a stronger perceived value added to Stardock's product line. Ya really can't do "it" anywhere else without fundamentally "hacking" your system.

    Brad [Wardell, a principle at Stardock] has lamented that he'd love to add new programs to the set, but can't afford to do it. That's where I believe the "sweet spot" lies: give the user a choice. Tiers: Gold, Silver, or Bronze subscriptions. Added a few new products or services? Cool, set up a Platinum subscription and offer current subscribers a discounted upgrade.

    ActiveWords could sell it at a "one time" price and ALSO offer a subscription model. People are used to paying again for major point revisions, anyway. Sign 'em up for a subscription and they could get unlimited point upgrades, add-in packs, and other fancy stuff regular "one timers" don't get. There is a happy medium. --Chris Pirillo

    Subscription Model Okay, Pricing Isn't
    If the subscription price is not too steep -- say $10.00 per year --that would not be so bad. Microsoft should learn from this! Charge an upfront fee, such as $40.00, to purchase the product and then starting one year later, charge an annual subscription fee of $10.00. Look at how much more money they would make. But the idea of $20 - $30 per year per product is too much! I'm not gonna opt for that sort of price range. --George Culp

    Disappearing Acts
    My biggest problem in paying for some of the newer products, after the trial period, is that on several occasions these companies have just disappeared. Example I subscribed to and paid for JobGator. They had a new release, to which I upgraded, that was full of bugs. When I inquired when it would be fixed the company had disappeared. Now I have a useless, buggy program and no way to remedy the problem. I don't mind paying for products that I use but disappearing acts are making me more likely to look for freebie products instead. --Mike Dubost

    From An ActiveWords Renter
    I agree with you article about ActiveWords. I have bought the subscription, but whether I keep it will depend on the value of the product. Otherwise, I will simply uninstall the program and cut my losses. Software makers should get a fair return for their product, but they should price it for sale at an appropriate level. Rentals are usually out of proportion to value unless one is able to use the product to its highest potential for a long period of time. --Vernon Henning

    Try ActiveWords 1.6 Instead?
    I agree with your thoughts on ActiveWords on two fronts: that the program is an excellent utility and that the subscription business model just isn't worth it. I'm keeping ActiveWords, however, as I decided to stay with version 1.6, which I licensed for a one-time payment. I didn't see anything in the upgrade that made me believe version 1.8 was worth the annual fee. ActiveWord Systems provides information on version 1.6 on its website. --Gary Petersen

    Response: It appears this version is not available to would-be new owners of ActiveWords. --S.F.

    Nerds Are Cheapskates
    You have the best newsletter in the industry. Regarding paying for software, computer nerds are cheap. They make a big deal about spending $20 for something that lasts forever, and want support and free updates. They scream and cry over a cold, uncommunicative free Hotmail account. I would rather have to pay Gates $20 a year for customer support and have someone to talk to when Outlook Express starts acting. Why are people willing to spend $28 on raw fish at a trendy Japanese restaurant, but unwilling to ante up when Lavasoft asks for a $15 donation?

    Part of the problem is that the Internet at first was the world's only successful form of communism: It was free for everyone, like health care in Canada. Now, PopUp Killer wants only $19.95 for lifetime use and people scream. Had we been paying all along, it would have blocked the growth of adware, spam, and pop-up ads. --Andrew Malmed

    Trusting in Open Source
    I've thought long and hard about pricing models, and wanted to bring up an alternative viewpoint to your view of freely distributed open-source software. I just finished reading the book "Multitool Linux," by Michael Schwarz et al. Schwarz has an almost opposite viewpoint, eloquently stated in the afterword. Go read it in a bookstore, for a much brighter view on open source.

    His main point is that software isn't physical property, and characterizing it as intellectual property puts the emphasis on software as a product. Open Source software, on the other hand, allows software to showcase technique.

    He compares software development to a surgeon's technique: by sharing and publishing algorithms (source code), everybody benefits. The software is improved by having more eyes looking at it. People can have more confidence in the software, or customize it as they see fit. There is no artificial shortage of "technique," as expressed in source code.

    The long term result of this is that the software "industry" disappears, but software developers become professionals, like architects, doctors, lawyers, etc. He sees a world where software professionals customize computers and get them to do what people want them to do, to solve particular problems. Contrast this to generic "solutions" being sold by the current software industry, which has a financial incentive to create more problems that they can sell more solutions for.

    I must say, if Schwarz's views come to pass, those of us who can create good solutions using computers have a bright future, indeed! --John Locke

    Response: Contrary to what you might have surmised, I don't take a dim view of open-source software. I just don't think open-source will work for all kinds of software, nor am I completely sure that all its developers will be able to keep contributing their time so freely for the rest of their lives. At some point most of us have homes and families to support. Michael Schwarz's point of view is interesting, but I'm not convinced. How are software developers going to make money like doctors and lawyers? And how are end-users going to be able to pay them like doctors and lawyers get paid? This may well work for businesses. And I think open-source will work with software that's also a platform, such as Linux, where the product gets packaged, value-added to, updated, sold, resold again. IBM, Sun, and Red Hat are just some of the companies that *sell* Linux. But open source is not going to work for the majority of single-purpose products out there. I'll pick up the book though. --S.F.

    From ActiveWord Systems' Pete Weldon
    To readers of Scot’s Newsletter:

    We respond to Scot’s observations about the operation of ActiveWords software here.

    We respond to his comments about our current licensing structure as follows.

    Please read the license to understand our current terms for individual customers.

    We used to sell ActiveWords with a hardware lock to a single PC for $49.00 (you send in a code from the installation and we send you matching information). We would manually fulfill requests for a second license at no charge. The actual "term" of this type of license is not expressed in the license agreement and is not known. As a practical matter it depends on whether the ActiveWords version you purchased continues to work with the version of Windows you use and with other software you might add to your system. It also depends on ActiveWord Systems providing new unlocking information when you get a new computer or reinstall Windows (something we committed to do and continue to do for these customers, so there is no reason to fear that you are somehow at our mercy as Scot suggests).

    We found this license model, while front-end loaded with revenue, is highly back-end loaded with costs to meet unpredictable ongoing support needs and expectations. A basic personal email response two, three, four years after a sale costs real time and real dollars. This model also results in uncertainty for customers who depend on ActiveWords as these back-end expenses could make it impossible to afford the effort required to continue to develop and support the product. It is a two-way street.

    As a result of these realities we decided to seek customers for whom the value of using ActiveWords is worth $29.95 a year. We promise these customers a full-service relationship; no restrictions on their use of ActiveWords, no cumbersome unlocking requirements, unlimited personal e-mail support, free updates and upgrades, free access to our extensive add-on functionality, and a no-price-increase guarantee. We think this is a fair two-way street and many customers seem to agree, especially active computer users who receive their first year's purchase price returned in the form of increased productivity by the time the free ActiveWords 60-day trial is up.

    Scot and others have expressed concern about this licensing approach, believing that a one-time purchase price would cost less over time than a stream of annual license payments.

    We think the annual license we have structured constitutes a fair balance between our need to stay in business and our customers' need to rely on us for support and product development. We also think Scot’s cautious suggestion of a higher first-year price followed by a lower price in subsequent years makes sense.

    What pricing and license structure for ActiveWords do you find acceptable and why? Please read the license, try the software, and let us know. We want to meet the needs of computer users who want to use ActiveWords.

    Peter J. Weldon
    ActiveWord Systems, Inc.

    Final Thoughts
    Pete Weldon and I are working on scheduling another phone call to talk about all this again. I don't know if anything will come of it, but I'm still hopeful that SFNL readers (and all would-be ActiveWords users) will be given better options, including a perpetual license payment option that isn't hardwired to one PC installation. I don't know if that'll happen, but I haven't given up on the idea.

    Just in case you're still not weary of this subject, someone posted a few paragraphs from the last issue of Scot’s Newsletter to the WordPerfect Universe forum, and set off a pretty good thread on the subject. You might want to get in there and help them rake me over the coals. ;-)

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    NetSwitcher keeps you in connection when you switch network settings!
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    The Nex IIe MP3 Player
    Back in July I asked Scot’s Newsletter readers for their recommendations on the best handheld MP3 players money can buy. I had several prerequisites. I wanted a very lightweight model suitable for running, it had to accept removable CompactFlash memory, it had to have a large backlit LCD display, and it had to be under $200 (give or take a few requirements).

    I suggested Frontier Labs' Nex II. What I got back was a very similar product, e.Digital's MXP 100, and two divergent models that came with excellent recommendations: Digitalway's lipstick-sized MPIO DMK and Archos' Jukebox, which is huge, but extremely flexible. The Archos is not for running unless you're putting it in the treadmill's cupholder. The MPIO DMK's memory isn't expandable.

    Thought you might want to know what I wound up deciding. I recently bought Frontier Labs' new Nex IIe, a modest upgrade over the Nex II I told you about over the summer:

    The primary differences between the Nex II and IIe are that the newer one comes with an AC power adapter and it can also power itself through the USB cable. Both functions cut down on battery usage.

    The "jog lever" is cool. What it does is give you one button to control the most common player functions. It's a bit hard to describe how it works. Picture a small wheel protruding from one side of the player, something like the sort of wheel that both turns on controls the volume on your average (pre digital) portable radio. What's different about the jog lever is that, while you can roll the wheel up or down when you let go, it automatically rolls back to the center position. Roll it up to move back to the previous track. Roll it down to advance to the next track. Pressing the entire wheel toward the player from the center position turns on the player when it's off, and performs other functions in context.

    I found the physical controls easy to master. What's more, unlike some other players I've tried, the menu system makes sense. Once you figure out how to use the Nex IIe, you won't have to figure out how to use it all over again the next time. Using the Nex IIe with one hand to navigate between songs and without even having to look at the screen is a more likely proposition than with most other MP3 players I've tried.

    The sound quality is good. Forget the cheap headphones that come with this unit though. In fact, what I've found is that a pair of excellent quality headphones is absolutely essential to good sound with MP3 players. I've never even turned the Nex IIe's volume up all the way. You should be careful doing so too. Protect you hearing!

    The Nex IIe has none of the copy-protection stuff that many name-brand MP3 players now come with.

    It runs on two AA batteries. That makes it far more expensive to operate (unless you use rechargeables), but it has a major advantage. When you run out of battery charge, you don't have to wait however many hours to charge it. Just pop in a new set of batteries.

    The Nex II/IIe connects to your computer via a proprietary USB cable. You can drag and drop files to the Nex using Windows Explorer. This device automatically comes up as a new driver in My Computer.

    The Nex is made in Hong Kong, and all tech support is email-based and located in Hong Kong. Tech support is quite good. In most cases, I've received responses in 24 to 36 hours. The responses are terse, but they answer your questions.

    There are several things I don't like about the Nex IIe, though all are minor. Surprisingly, I was a little disappointed in the display size, brightness, and the legibility of the characters. Most of the reviews of this product praise it in this area, so this was unexpected.

    The battery door is flimsy, difficult to operate, and is likely to break.

    The documentation is terrible. In some areas, it's just downright incorrect.

    The playlist functionality is pathetic. It's difficult to understand how to use, and in the end, the functionality is only marginal.

    The Nex II/IIe's biggest shortcoming is that it doesn't offer any provision for controlling the order in which songs play. Songs play in the order that they're copied to the Nex. No amount of monkeying around with naming makes a difference. What's more, unlike other popular MP3 players, there's no third-party MP3 software (such as MusicMatch, which is my favorite), that offers built-in device support for the Nex.

    There is a solution to the problem, though. Matthew Fowler's 18K freeware CopyNex software solves the problem. It copies folders before files (another issue), copies the files alphabetically (so you could rename each track by starting it with a number to control order), and it also supports .m3u playlists, and then copy the files in that order.

    I hear that e.Digital's MXP 100 has a better display than the Nex, but also that it has even more software issues. I'd like to try one someday and compare it to the Nex II.

    Let me know if this kind of coverage interests you. It's pretty far afield of what I usually do, so if enough people say it's either a good idea or a bad idea, I'll probably take the view of the majority to heart.

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    How to cope with both righties and lefties under XP, is Windows overpriced and engineered not to work properly, and what about unsubscribing the text version of Scot’s Newsletter if you prefer the HTML version?

    Your Left, Your Left, Your Left, Right, Left
    Question: I have a question about left- and right-handed people using the same computer. My wife likes to use her mouse with her left hand (buttons reversed appropriately), and I like to use the mouse with my right hand (with the left button being the primary click). We use Windows XP Pro. Someone suggested using two logons with different mouse preferences, one for me and one for her. I haven't tried that yet, but the drawback to this approach, if it works, is that it's not much quicker than changing the mouse preferences. For us, there is no other reason to change. Plus the idea of having two mice, one for each hand, is appealing to us. Any suggestions? --Stan Reynolds

    Answer: Stan, the advice you got was good advice. I would not try to make two pieces of hardware work. This might be possible, although my guess is that you'd be better off putting one in the PS/2 port and one in the USB port (if your machine is so equipped). I know this is what you would prefer to do, but (without actually testing it) my gut reaction is that it's not gonna work well for you.

    There is some good news though. Setting up two users in Windows XP is not only easy, but it's a lot more convenient than you probably realize. While you say you have no other reason to do this, my bet is that if you did do it, you would each find many ways to take advantage of having your own Windows XP desktops. Also, Windows XP has a very fast Switch Users feature that is considerably faster than making the Mouse Control Panel change. What's more, everything stays running in each user area. So you can switch back and forth very rapidly between your Windows XP user area and your wife's, and there's literally no downside, no interruption. I think it would be the most convenient way to handle the problem.

    I tested the left-handed and right-handed settings of the mouse in two user areas under Windows XP Pro, and it worked fine.

    I recommend giving this solution a try. I think you'll be surprised at how fast and convenient it after you set up the new user initially. To use the Switch User feature once you have two or more users, click Start > Log Off > Switch User > and click the name of the user you want to open. It takes about five seconds to switch from one to another. Multiple users and this fast user switching may be the single best new feature in Windows XP. --S.F.

    Windows' Planned Obsolescence
    Question: Don't you think it inherently wrong that so many sites are devoted to trying to find fixes to the many screwy things with Windows and the price keeps going up? --Chester Hobbs

    Answer: Yes and no. Right off the bat, the yes part for me is that the increase in cost for Windows XP isn't something I support. Microsoft does put in significant upfront research and development funding for each version of Windows. This was especially true of Windows 2000 and to a lesser extent Windows XP. Even so, the premium the company is charging for Windows XP hurts consumers, and Microsoft's recently debuted licensing policies for enterprises are widely regarded as being greedy.

    But there is another side to this question. Computers are still in their infancy really. It is true that they could be much better than they are, but if they were, the would cost a lot, lot more, and many of us couldn't afford them. The Mac has a proprietary hardware environment. That makes it a bit better. But because it's so proprietary, there's a LOT less software for it. And it's more expensive. The reason Wintel-compatible computers have been so successful is that their hardware is open architecture. Zillions of hardware companies compete so prices are low. The low prices have fueled a huge market share, which in turn has spurred software development. But all those ultra-competitive companies searching for any way to cut costs has added up to a user experience that isn't what it should be. We buy PCs because they're a better value than Macs, for example. But we end up paying for that value with a reduced user experience.

    It's become fashionable to blame Microsoft for this, but it's not all Microsoft's fault. Trouble is a natural part of the computing experience, even in a proprietary environment. With 300 million (or a lot more? we don't really know) Windows installations in the world, there are so many environment variables that it's quite impossible for any software or hardware maker to test for them all in advance.

    Any time you get a product this popular, tens or hundreds of thousands of people experience any common problem, while thousands experience less common ones -- even though they may be quite serious. And there are literally thousands and thousands of individual problems. There's just no such thing as trouble-free software or hardware. The reason computers get into trouble is that they're so darn flexible. You wouldn't ask your toaster to make your coffee right? But you very well might ask your computer to manage your money, help you write the great American novel, and also communicate with your daughter in Detroit.

    Of course, that doesn't mean there's no room for improvement. There's lots of room. The Macintosh experience is far better than the Windows experience overall. (But don't believe for a second that people with Macs have no problems. They're not all "saving Christmas" every day as the Apple ads would have you believe. And when Macs have problems, they are in my experience much harder for the average person to fix.) For more on how I think the user experience could improve, see Build a Better User Experience ... or Get Out of the Way.

    It's indeed possible to do a lot better than what we have now. Linux is more reliable than any version of Windows. Windows XP comes close to Linux, but Linux is still a bit more rock solid. It's also more reliable than the Mac, by the way -- though Mac fans may howl at that. Linux's reliability is an advance. So is XP's. I think we will eventually get there. But there's still a long, long way to go, and PCs will never reach computing perfection. It's the nature of the beast. --S.F.

    Unsubscribing the Text Edition of SFNL
    Question: When you first provided the HTML version of SFNL it was considered as "running alongside" the Text version and we should expect to receive both versions for the beta period. I notice at your Web-based Newsletter Subscription Center that HTML and Text message formats are fully supported, so I'm assuming the beta HTML period is over. Forgive me if I missed that. I wish to unsubscribe from the Text version but I am hesitant in case I might lose the HTML version as well. Could the Subscription Center provide details on this point? Or do you plan to remove duplicate subscriptions automatically? By the way, the 11-08-2002 edition of SFNL was an excellent read and you deserve much praise if you can keep future issues close to that standard. --Derek Godsell

    Answer: Hi, Derek. Thanks for the kind words about the Nov. 8 issue. Yes, the HTML version's trial period is over. The announcement about that was made in May. Anyone who beta tested the HTML edition who hung on to his or her Text subscription (and that was what I advised you to do at the time) should feel perfectly free to unsubscribe the Text edition (or the HTML edition, for that matter). Here's where you can do that

    You raised some other points in your question, Derek. Let me try to answer them. The HTML and Text lists are wholly separate. From a database point of view, it's as though they were two different newsletters. When you use the Subscription Center's Change of Address/Format page, for example, you're actually just automating the process of unsubscribing and resubscribing.

    Bottom line: There is no possible way that you could unsubscribe from the HTML edition by unsubscribing to the Text version. The unsubscribe page only allows you to check Text or HTML. You can't even check both at once! So you needn't worry about losing your subscription entirely. I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear before.

    I don't to remove duplicate Text and HTML subscriptions automatically. In fact, some people like getting SFNL in both formats. From the outset of the HTML Beta program I asked everyone to be responsible for unsubscribing their Text versions when I made the HTML version official. As always, if you try to subscribe, unsubscribe, or change your address and you have difficulty, I'm glad to help. All I ask is that you try to do it on your own first.

    By the way, since I instituted the new Web-based Subscription Center, the number of requests for help with any aspect of managing a subscription has dropped by something like 90 percent. Apparently most people are finding it easy to subscribe, unsubscribe, and change address or message format. Not long ago I made some changes to the Subscription Center to eliminate the few problems people are still having. I am always open to suggestion, and will continue to improve upon this process. --S.F.

    Send your burning question to the newsletter and look for an answer in a future issue.
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    Link of the Week: Paul Graham's Plan for Spam
    I'm of two minds about this one, so I'll let you decide. But if ever there were someone out there who deserved recognition for a significant, public plan for how to get rid of spam, that person is Paul Graham. In his A Plan for Spam, Graham details a means of using a "Bayesian filter" to identify spam messages. He claims it will result in zero false positives, and that alone gets my attention. But I will confess to being skeptical about using any sort of content filter to accomplish this goal. My gut feeling (and I've come to trust my gut over time, especially about technology) is that a content filter will always be playing catch-up with spammers. What's more, with the zillions of emails sent every day, any sort of spam identifiers and statistical analysis seems to me to be very subjective and without enough data because of its very limited universe of sample material.

    One thing I do like about Paul Graham's approach is that he's building a tool that will identify both spam messages and non-spam messages. I think having both of those things is an excellent way to approach this.

    Whatever you ultimately decide about Graham's proposed approach, the Plan makes for interesting reading. And I salute his initiative in working on it and making it public. It's clearly a deserving Link of the Week.
    As a result of my coverage of free email services over the last couple of issues, I continue to get a lot of suggestions about services. Over the last three weeks, I've received more suggestions to check out than any other free email service, and although I've only just signed up for it, I can see why.

    HotPOP is very similar in terms of service levels to FastMail (which I talked about in the last issue). But HotPOP also provides SMTP services (sending mail out), and has large mailbox sizes. There's a free version with ads, and then five other services levels ranging from $10 to $50 a year. Here's a look at the different account types the company offers.

    I'm no lawyer, but the users license seemed reasonable to me, and the company has stated policies against email harassment, spamming, mailbombing, and the like. There's also a good privacy statement.

    But there's one thing I definitely did not like. To sign up to the free version, they ask you a long list of demographic questions, including type of dwelling, marital status, ethnic background, age, income, and more. I would skip this one as a free service.

    Still it's attractive as a paid service.

    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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    Get StarBand and start enjoying lightning fast Internet speeds.
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    Tips of the Week: NetBEUI, ClearType, and SourcePath
    Published Jan. 21, 2003, Scot’s Newsletter. Revised February 23, 2003.

    In the last issue, I offered a tip about adding NetBEUI to Windows XP instead of using IPX/SPX with NetBIOS as a local-area-networking protocol. The tip prompted Microsoft MVP Doug Knox (whose website is a past Link of the Week) to drop me a line with a follow up tip. Here's what he wrote:

    Just a comment on your tip of 11/8/2002 about installing NetBEUI. I feel as you do [about NetBEUI vs. IPX/SPX], and use NetBEUI for File and Print Sharing, unbinding TCP/IP from those functions. However, I've found that the version of NetBEUI that ships with XP doesn't work well with the versions that shipped with Windows 95/98/Me/2K. The XP version has significant problems (my experience) connecting to computers with older versions of NetBEUI. Many, many "Network not available" and other errors occur when trying to access network resources while mixing them. For many people there may be an easy fix though. If they are available to you, locate the NETNBF.INF and NBF.SYS from a Win 2000 CD or hard drive installation, and use those versions instead. --Doug Knox

    Now that's a good tip. In fact, soon as I clear away some time, I intend to revert the entire SFNL Labs network (some 17 nodes or so) back to NetBEUI. I've been running Microsoft's IPX/SPX with NetBIOS for more than a year now, and I'm ready to go back.

    For Win XP: Turn on ClearType
    Every Windows XP machine I own or use sports Microsoft's ClearType. A few years back, Microsoft touted this technology as being the best thing since automatic hardware detection. It ain't that cool. But it does significantly improve the legibility of type (alphanumeric characters) printed on a computer screen. In a nutshell, I find that ClearType improves the Web-surfing experience, and helps keep my eyes from getting tired with long word-processing sessions, and so forth.

    The beauty of this tip is that it's very easy to accomplish because of Microsoft's ClearType activation Web page. The online tool uses an ActiveX applet, so you'll probably need to accept the applet's installation. But once you do, the rest performs like a Microsoft wizard, stepping you through everything you need to do to enable ClearType on your Windows XP PC (this does not work with other versions of Windows) and choosing a darkness level that appeals to you. The ClearType Tuner has been in existence for more than a year, but Microsoft recently updated it for Win XP SP1. (Although ClearType does work with some CRTs, it is primarily designed to work with LCD displays.)

    To turn on ClearType manually, go to Control Panel > Display > Appearance > Effects and click the checkbox for "smooth edges of screen fonts," making sure that the pop-up menu reads "ClearType." Reverse the process to turn it off.

    For more information about ClearType, see the ClearType Information page.

    For Win 9x: Edit the Default Location for Windows Setup Files
    This tip is written for Windows 95 and Windows 98, but variations of it (not presented here) will work under all versions of Windows since Windows 95.

    Here's the problem it solves: You originally installed Windows from drive D, but since then, you've added a hard drive, and now your CD is drive E. But whenever Windows prompts you to insert your Windows CD in order to add a network protocol, driver, system files, or whatever, it's still expecting to find that information on drive D. A worse version of the problem is that Windows used to be able to install these files automatically without prompting you because your Windows .CAB installation files are on your hard drive. But for any of a variety of reasons, the path to those setup files has changed, and now you're being prompted each time.

    This tip involves a very minor edit to the System Registry. Launch the System Registry Editor (C:\Windows\Regedit.exe) and navigate to this location in the Registry:


    Click the Setup folder entry on the left pane of the Registry Editor, and then search the right pane of the editor for the "SourcePath" entry.

    If you don't find a SourcePath entry, right-click the white background on the right pane of the Registry Editor. Choose New > String Value. A new icon will appear with red letters "ab." The name of the icon will be highlighted, and it will read "New Value #1". Rename it to read "SourcePath" without the quotation marks.

    To insert the correct path to your Windows installation files, double-click the SourcePath icon. Insert the correct pathname to your Windows setup files in the Value data field. Note: You must conclude your pathname with a backslash (\).

    If you're using a Windows 98 (or other version of Windows) CD, the path statement should include both the correct drive letter plus the correct subdirectories on the CD to reach the .CAB setup files. Typically (but not in every case), the path would be:

    {CD drive letter}:\win98\

    If your setup files are on your hard drive, they are commonly placed in this directory:


    A better place for your setup files would be on a second physical hard drive, by the way. Something like:


    That way you can more easily reinstall Windows, and especially, clean install Windows, should the need ever arise.

    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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    Scot’s Newsletter Schedule
    Just a quick update about the schedule for future issues of this newsletter. The next SFNL is slated for Monday, December 9. The issue after that will be Friday December 20th. After that I will be taking off an issue for the holidays, so the next issue is expected to arrive Thursday, January 16, 2003.

    Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

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