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February 10, 2004 - Vol. 4, Issue No. 54

By Scot Finnie


  • Problems with Latest IE 6.0 Patch
  • Scot's Newsletter Early RSS Beta Test
  • Q&A: Windows Longhorn and XP SP2
       - What Big Changes in Longhorn?
       - SP2 Includes SP1
       - Why You Should Like Win XP SP2
  • Bits and Bytes from Redmond
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - More on IBM ThinkPad T Series Notebooks
       - Shopping Savvy
       - News from the Pipelines
  • It's That Time Again: Call for Contributions
  • Poll Results: What's Your Next Operating System?
  • Reader Poll: Linux Yes or No?
  • Broadband Chronicles: DSL Hell at SBC
  • Tips for Linux Explorers: The Vi Editor
  • In Coming Issues
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Subscription.

    Problems with Latest IE 6.0 Patch
    If you haven't installed Microsoft's latest patch for Internet Explorer 6.0, then don't. The patch disabled the use of my company's implementation of its content management system, and I'm hearing from IT managers and consultants that they've encountered problems too. The patch in question is described this way in Automatic Updates and Windows Update:

    "Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1 (Q832894)" released Feb. 2, 2004.

    If you've installed this thing, it is easy to uninstall. You'll find an entry in the Add or Remove Programs Control Panel that reads:

    "Internet Explorer Q832894"

    Simply click the Change/Remove button. You'll need to restart your PC at the end of this brief process.

    Note: Your system will be at increased risk for the specific security flaws the patch addresses if you choose not to install it or remove it your system. There's a chance Microsoft may issue an update to this patch in the future. This TechWeb story implies that it may have done so already, in fact, though I can find no evidence of that in tests on my systems.

    I do not recommend deciding never to install this patch. Moreover, the problems with the patch -- which appear to affect Web authentication and Java apps -- may not affect you at all. But on my systems, because of the work-related issue, I am delaying Q832894's installation.

    For more information about the Q832894 patch:

  • Microsoft's Knowledgebase Article Q832894
  • Microsoft Security Bulletin MS04-004

    Back to the Top

    Scot's Newsletter Early RSS Beta Test
    I'm dabbling with RSS.

    I can't promise this will be a good use of RSS, that the newsletter will appear the way it should, or that I will continue this test beyond this issue of the newsletter. I can't even promise that I will eventually roll out an RSS feed. In other words, this might disappear never to be seen or heard of again.

    However, because some readers are interested, I'm dabbling with RSS. The solution I am employing (for the moment) requires absolutely no extra work for me. And that's the main reason I'm trying it. (If right about now you're thinking, "What the heck is RSS?", read this, then come back here.)

    I would ask SFNL readers who try this *not* to unsubscribe from the newsletter. There is no business model for me at all in RSS. If I lose subscribers, I'll eventually be forced to stop producing the newsletter (unless some RSS business model suddenly emerges). But I also request that you do not unsubscribe because, as I say, I make no promises about the continuing availability of this RSS feed. But here it is:

    Those of you who try it, please pass along your feedback. But don't expect any changes in presentation. This is pretty much as-is. If I do this, it's going to have to be low maintenance. So the question then becomes, is this sort of pretty poor use of RSS -- in addition to the continue of the HTML and Text editions of the newsletters -- worth doing at all?

    Because some of my readers are extremely RSS savvy, I'd like to spend a little ink explaining how this feed works. I'd welcome feedback about whether experienced RSS hounds think this is a good solution to use. I'm using a free service from iupload called MailToRSS (sign-up page).

    Here's how it works: I email the HTML version of the newsletter to a special email address. From that email, iupload automatically creates an XML version and adds it to the RSS feed that it hosts for me. The theory is that I'll be able to add that special email address to my HTML newsletter list. Then, whenever I send a new issue of the newsletter, the XML version and RSS feed will be created automatically.

    Talking with iupload's David Carter, I learned that the company is looking to make it possible to use their free hosting service just as a pointer to a Web page. For that way of working, authors would access their RSS Feed control panel and insert the headline, link, and abstract for each item, and it would generate an RSS feed that points back to the author's website. Although it adds a step, this is much more attractive to me.

    I do have some qualms about MailByRSS. Iupload is hosting my feed, great. They're also accepting and republishing my content, effectively, which could pose some copyright issues. Although I can delete an entire entry, there's no way to edit the existing XML.

    If you're knowledgeable about RSS feeds, what do you think of this solution? I'm also considering both buying and installing Movable Type and the TypePad service (both provided by the same company). Do you know of other solutions worth investigating? Remember, I'm looking for simple solution that requires no more than five minutes to use after it's configured.

    Back to the Top

    Q&A: Windows Longhorn and XP SP2
       - What Big Changes in Longhorn?
       - SP2 Includes SP1
       - Why You Should Like Win XP SP2

    Some very interesting questions about Windows Longhorn and Windows XP Service Pack 2 have come my way from readers of Scot's Newsletter and also the recent stories I've written in PC Today magazine about Windows Longhorn.

    What Big Changes in Longhorn?

    Question: I read your article in PC Today magazine called "Getting a Grip on Windows Longhorn," and I have a question for you. You say that Windows Longhorn represents a bigger change than from DOS to Windows 3.x or from Windows 3.x to Windows 95. Can this be quantified in any way that's easier to understand? Is it that we are going from 32 bit to 64 bit? Or is that not it? I'm very interested in the big change from 32 bit to 64 bit in the future and wonder if that is what is implied in your article. --Wil S. Wilcox

    Answer: First this isn't about the change from 32-bit to 64-bit software. There is already a 64-bit version of Windows, it just tends to be used solely for high-end business functions, not on desktops. It's not even clear whether 64-bit Windows will ever rule the desktop, although I wouldn't bet against it either. That would be like having bet against 100GB hard drives 10 years ago.

    There is no single change you can put your finger on about how large a step Windows Longhorn represents. Microsoft has described the change as being as large a step as moving from Windows 3.x to Windows 95. I think they don't want to overplay how ambitious Windows Longhorn is for two reasons: They still have to get it out the door, and just when they're going to be able to do that is not yet clear. It's important to them that the delivery date doesn't appear to be slipping. The second reason is that enterprises and experienced users are already concerned about the leap to Longhorn being too large in terms of a variety of possible cost-oriented obstacles, such as training, hardware requirements, software compatibility, and so on.

    To answer your question directly, I think you'll find the answer when you stand back and look at all the things described in the PC Today column you mentioned, as well as PC Today's March 2004 Longhorn cover story, which I co-authored. It's just not summed up in a sound bite. There are so many fundamental changes being planned by Microsoft to core areas of the operating system -- video/multimedia subsystem (including a new scripting language), APIs, communications, .Net/XML support baked in, new driver model (again), vastly upgraded version of the existing file system, to name some of the most notable changes -- that together they form a whole that's larger than the sum of its parts. It's just the sheer number of changes to key areas of the operating system that make this so large a change. Windows 2000/XP was also ambitious. So ambitious, Microsoft broke it into two parts. Windows Longhorn is twice as ambitious.

    I will give you the seed of something that very few people have written about or grasped about Windows Longhorn. Potentially, the changes to the file system alone could go a long way toward rejuvenating the application development community for Windows. There are potentially breakthrough ideas to be developed by third-parties making use of deep underlying functionality in the WinFS file system. This won't happen overnight in a broad way since it will absolutely require Windows Longhorn to have a large installed base (probably not until close to the end of this decade). The way I read the tea leaves, this could have very significant returns for both third-party software makers and, of course, Microsoft.

    Even so, I don't want to overstate the effect of that blizzard of changes on everyday users of the next version of Windows. It's really too soon to say. And Microsoft is completely aware that it's possible to make too many changes too fast. The company is going to great pains to avoid requiring a huge leap of faith on the part of its customers. For example, it is planning to support both the old video subsystem (GDI) and the new one (codenamed Avalon). That emphasis on backwards compatibility with software and hardware is being repeated with every major advance planned for Longhorn. Or at least, that's what Microsoft currently intends.

    As a result, Longhorn is apt to be a huge OS with a lots of components. I expect issues with performance, size on disk, and possibly reliability. I hope for everyone's sake that Microsoft takes its time in the beta phase to really hammer out the kinks. And checks them twice.

    Fifteen years from now, we may look back on Longhorn as the stepping-stone OS. The one that bridged the old with the new. I believe that the next desktop Windows after Longhorn will be a seriously great OS -- perhaps the first Windows in a long time that people actually come to love. (OK, so I'm an eternal optimist.) --S.F.

    SP2 Includes SP1

    Question: Just a quick observation. I liked your article about the upcoming Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), but I have one question that wasn't addressed by your story. When SP2 comes out, will Microsoft require you to have installed SP1 before you install SP2? --Hugh Muir

    Answer: Good news. You will not be required to have Windows XP Service Pack 1 previously installed in order to install SP2. In fact, all Microsoft Windows service packs supersede all previous service packs. In other words, they contain the updates of previous Service Pack releases. (This doesn't mean they contain every patch or update that Microsoft has ever released, mind you. Just the ones that make it into Service Packs, which are usually the important ones.) I'm glad you asked this question. --S.F.

    Why You Should Like Win XP SP2

    Question: I have been a subscriber to your newsletter for several years, and generally enjoy your viewpoints and opinions. However, I would disagree with your preview of the upcoming Windows XP Service Pack 2 in two areas:

    1. The fact that Microsoft intends to turn on Windows Firewall by default might cause problems with those of us who run third-party firewalls [such as ZoneAlarm]. There better be an option to turn it off!

    2. I also don't want to run Windows Update automatically. I decide when to install updates, and check the Microsoft site routinely. I have on a number of occasions waited for the dust to settle on a this or that security update before I installed it. One or two updates I bypassed entirely until Microsoft got the bugs worked out. I'd prefer to put my blind trust in the firewall and antivirus software I run than to rely on Microsoft to patch the OS quickly enough and well enough to keep my system safe.

    Whatever happened to the PC user being the captain of his or her own PC? Perhaps for the general public, Automatic Updates is a good idea. But I've been in IT for almost 20 years, and I don't want to give up control of my PC to anyone. I have seen too many stability problems around software installation to ever do anything, including security patches, without first having a good backup and restore point. Keep up the good work. Steve Abel

    Answer: I'm not sure we wholly disagree. In fact, I completely agree with your instinct that an experienced user should retain control of his or her own PC. Clearly, Steve, you're one of those people. And the good news is that Microsoft agrees too.

    You may recall that I called out the two areas you bring up -- Windows Firewall and Automatic Updates -- as potential problem areas for IT managers. However, I do agree with Microsoft's decision on both things. Before I tell you why, let me explain some things about the functionality of the two features that I think will allay your fears.

    It is patently easy to turn both of these things off. And, in fact, with Automatic Updates, Microsoft doesn't even force you to turn it on. Here's how it works.

    When you get done installing SP2 you have to reboot. As the machine comes up for the first time after rebooting, you're presented with a one-time blue window that looks a little like the Windows Product Activation screen. (This link opens a large screenshot of that blue Window.) The entire point of this screen is to urge you to turn on Automatic Updates. It doesn't require you to do so, though. You can choose the "Ask me again later" option and it will leave Automatic Updates off. If you choose to leave Automatic Updates off, you get a second blue window that is purely a second confirmation. It's gist is: "Are you sure? I'd turn back if I were you." If you confirm the choice again, Windows finishes loading, and Automatic Updates is turned off.

    These screens are designed for people who never turn on Automatic Updates, who never use Windows Update, and who never think twice about security. And more than anything else, Microsoft is simply raising awareness about it. It may sound annoying, and it is slightly so. But this is a one-time thing. It only occurs on the first reboot after you install SP2.

    Microsoft has also reworked the standard Automatic Updates configuration dialog too (see screenshot). SP2 makes it a Control Panel item for the first time. So it's much easier to find that it was before. The Automatic Updates Contol Panel gives you four choices. They are effectively the same four choices you have on the Automatic Updates tab today (in the System Properties Control Panel, they've been simplified. Boiled down to their essence, the four choices are:

    1. Automatically check for, download, and install updates (on this schedule that I've configured).

    2. Automatically check for and download updates, and let me know when they're available to install. But don't install without my permission.

    3. Automatically check for and notify me when updates are available, but don't download or install them without my permission.

    4. Disable Automatic Updates entirely.

    By the way, it's important to note that the only Windows patches that Automatic Updates handles are the ones Windows Update terms "Critical Updates." In other words, important security patches, for the most part. It does not offer you "Recommended Updates," drivers, new screensavers, or anything like that. It doesn't replace Windows Update; it just greatly reduces the number of times you'll need to use it.

    Even power users like you and me, Steve, should turn on Automatic Updates. Most of us just aren't going to want to set it to the first option. I prefer number 3, which provides automatic notification only. Whenever Microsoft releases a new critical update, Windows displays a system notification icon with a little text window announcing that an update is available. You can get details about an update before you install it. You can also tell the Auto Updates notifier not to give you reminders about an update you've decided you don't want. You can even change your mind about that later on and decide that you do want to install an update you previously dismissed. My only criticism about the Auto Updates process is that user interface for this notification mode of operating is unchanged from the original version of XP, and it's overly tilted toward trying to get you to install updates. It should make dismissing notifications (but saving references to them) much easier. And you should be able to read details about the updates before you take the first step toward installing them. But everything I described is possible; it's just not all that intuitive.

    So much for Automatic Updates. What's called Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) in the beta, but which Microsoft intends to rename Windows Firewall, does look like it'll be turned on by default. I agree that could present some possible issues. But before you get a head of steam worked up about it, Windows' little onboard firewall is significantly improved, much easier to find, and a cinch to turn off. So, while there is a possibility that it might conflict with something previously installed on your PC, you can just turn it off.

    It's easier to find because Microsoft has created a new Control Panel program for it. It's also discoverable in several other logical areas. For example, if you've configured your network properties so that a network icon appears in the notification area of the taskbar, when you right-click that icon, you'll find the context-menu option to Configure Windows Firewall. That's also opens the Control Panel. Either way, the first thing you'll see is a dialog that gives you three options that equate to On High, On Medium, and Off.

    So why do I like what Microsoft is doing? We need to make it easier for the millions of computer operators who don't know enough to secure their PCs. They're are scary lot from a security perspective; they don't just threaten themselves and each other, they threaten everyone connected to the Internet. If we don't do this, every MS Blaster that comes along is going to drag us down. Security threats that stage attacks from thousands of "zombie" PCs are no longer a giddy science fictional specter. It's a reality. Didn't MyDoom prove that again? Those of us who do know enough to protect our PCs will quickly find ways to change these new Windows defaults to the settings we prefer. It's not hard. Microsoft is doing its job. It's doing the right thing. And I think once you try Windows XP SP2 for yourself, you'll see what I mean. --S.F.

    Send your burning question to the newsletter, and look for an answer in a future issue. But if you're in a hurry to get a technical question answered, perhaps other Scot's Newsletter readers can help. Visit the Scot's Newsletter Forums, and post your question in the Q&A forum

    Back to the Top

    Bits and Bytes from Redmond
    Odds and ends emanating from Microsoft for insiders, compiled by Scot's Newsletter Forum MVP ThunderRiver and Scot:

    Happy Valentine's Day!
    Don't give your lover something stupid like two-dozen long-stemmed red roses or a giant box of Ghiardelli chocolates. How passé! Last week Microsoft released a new animated Happy Valentine's Day screensaver that you can download for free. Sneak onto your significant other's PC and install the new screensaver. Then customize the giant on-screen message with an embarrassingly personal expression (be sure to include proper names and specifics) that professes your love. Make sure to tilt the angle of the monitor so everyone can see it. It's best to do this on your loved one's office PC, by the way. (Dear Abby always used to say you should send those flowers where your sweetheart will receive them in public.) She'll love you for it! [Ed's note: Don't ... even ... think about it! --Cyndy]

    Windows XP SP2 App Compatibility Woes
    Microsoft is working through application compatibility issues with Windows XP Service Pack 2. One good example is WeatherBug from AWS. Apparently, Microsoft has ported some of the codes from Windows 2003 Server family into SP2. (WeatherBug 5.02 doesn't work under Windows Server 2003 either.) We've heard that version 5.03, which came out recently, solves the problem.

    Another good example is the private alpha of Microsoft's own PC Satisfaction Trial, which includes Antivirus and Firewall components that are in fact having conflicts with SP2. An email from the PC Satisfaction development team stated: "We recommend you do not install Windows [XP] Service Pack 2 Beta on a machine that is running the PC Satisfaction Trial. If you have already installed both programs on one machine, please contact PC Satisfaction Support through any of the options identified on the PC Satisfaction website for assistance. -PC Satisfaction Staff"

    Speaking of the PC Satisfaction trial, Microsoft started the PC Satisfaction alpha program about one year ago, and it's now coming to an end. This concept program is comprised of integrated antivirus, firewall, data backup, and security update features. The idea is clever, and doesn't need lot more testing. There's no telling if there will be a beta for PC Satisfaction. Our best guess is that some of the fundamental features will be integrated in either Windows service packs or Windows Longhorn.

    Multiple Remote Access Sessions with XP SP2
    Recent rumors have claimed that concurrent sessions of Remote Desktop Connection are hidden in beta 1 of Windows XP Service Pack 2. We tested it, and yes, it works perfectly with the Registry key from Windows 2003. More evidence that Microsoft ported certain Windows Server 2003 code to the beta of Windows XP SP2. In Windows XP SP2, only one computer is allowed to connect to a host PC using Remote Desktop Connection at a time. Server editions of Windows and Terminal Server Editions can handle multiple connections.

    Testers running Windows XP SP2 can test it for themselves by opening this Registry key:

    HKLM/System/CurrentControlSet/Control/Terminal Server/Licensing Core

    Create a new DWORD entry "EnableConcurrentSessions" and assign a value of 1 to it.

    Many Windows enthusiast websites have reported that Microsoft will implement concurrent sessions in the final version of SP2. Although we're a little skeptical about that, some facts do support the notion. Microsoft recently revealed the Windows Media Center Extender. In order for the Extender to work, concurrent Remote Desktop sessions are needed. More likely, though, is that the feature will be enabled only in Windows Media Center 2004, not the rest of the XP family. So far as we know, Microsoft hasn't made any public announcement about this yet.

    What's in a Name?
    Microsoft recently started a new beta program named the Windows Longhorn Developer Platform. It's aimed at bringing developers closer to Longhorn technology. Microsoft made a list of Longhorn subsystem names that beta testers could vote on. Here are the options. The first name in each group is the current codename:

    Windows Presentation Subsystem
    Windows Presentation Services
    Windows Graphics Services
    Windows User eXperience Subsystem
    Windows User eXperience Services
    Just keep in as Avalon

    Windows Makeup Language
    Windows Declarative Language
    Windows Design Language
    Just keep it as eXtensible Application Markup Language

    Windows Storage Subsystem
    Windows Storage Services
    Windows Storage Management Services
    Windows Data Subsystem
    Windows Data Services
    Windows Data Management Services
    Windows Information Subsystem
    Windows Information Services
    Windows Information Management Services
    Windows File System
    Just keep it as WinFS

    Windows Communication Subsystem
    Windows Communication Services
    Windows Network Subsystem
    Windows Network Services
    Just keep it as Indigo

    Windows Deployment Subsystem
    Windows Deployment Services
    Windows Distribution Subsystem
    Windows Distribution Services
    Just keep it as ClickOnce

    Back to the Top

    NetSwitcher keeps you going when you switch network connections!
    paid advertisement

    60-Second Briefs
       - More on IBM ThinkPad T Series Notebooks
       - Shopping Savvy
       - News from the Pipelines

    More on IBM ThinkPad T Series Notebooks
    Last edition's long-term review of the IBM's ThinkPad T40p elicited several messages from readers who said they were in the process of buying a ThinkPad T40 or T41, presumably spurred on in part by the review.

    I also received a link to a small ThinkPad mailing list where the review had been, shall we say, a lively focus of discussion. They raked me over the coals for my preference for the 1024-by-768-pixel LCD over the more expensive 1400-by-1050 LCD, whose high native resolution made everything teeny-tiny on the 14.1-inch screen. I stand by that assessment. But it's not the high resolution that concerned me. That resolution is really meant for connecting an external monitor (but it had probably better be a CRT, not an LCD). My real problem was the poor quality of the software interpolation at lower resolutions on the notebook's screen. IBM could do a better job there. Now I've said it twice.

    There are a couple of other minors niggles that I didn't bring up in the review:

    1. The AC cord is too short from the brick to the computer.

    2. The AC cord connection to the back of the unit has a tendency to wiggle out on its own. That's a problem that can cause your batteries to run down if the unit is left on unattended. In general, I feel that all notebooks should have positive locking or strain relief with their AC connections. This ThinkPad's is just looser than most.

    3. It's a small thing, but I like to configure my notebooks so they hibernate when I close the lid and wake-up automatically when I reopen it. This ThinkPad is the only notebook I've used in recent memory that doesn't have a setting that permits the wake-up part of that behavior.

    I continue to love my (well, IBM's) ThinkPad T40p, though. It's absolutely the best notebook I've ever owned (well, evaluated). This one has to go back to the manufacturer soon. I would dearly love to buy a replacement for it, but we can't have everything.

    Because so many people seem interested in buying ThinkPad T Series notebooks right now, I wanted to let you know that there are two models I now think are the sweet spot. (These replace the models I suggested in the last issue.) Both are the lower-res versions. Both are T41s with 1.6GHz Pentium M processors, 400MHz front-side bus, Gigabit/100Mbps/10Mbps RJ45 LAN connection, built-in Wi-Fi wireless, 512MB RAM, 40GB hard drives, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, and Windows XP Pro. The first one (2379DKU) adds Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g support.

    The second one (23747FU) is actually more expensive from IBM, but it's an older model that has 802.11b-only Wi-Fi and an onsite warranty (meaning IBM will come to you to fix it, part of why it's more expensive). You won't find this older model in wide retail distribution, and it probably won't be around much longer from IBM either. Its main advantage is that you can find it right now on eBay selling as "brand new, unopened box" in the $1,700 range.

  • IBM ThinkPad T41 2379DKU (current list price, $2,059)
  • ThinkPad T41 2379DKU from (current price, $1,979)
  • IBM ThinkPad T41 23747FU

    There are also numerous variations on these models that may suit you better. For my money and personal preferences, however, the 2379DKU is the perfect ThinkPad T41. The only items I would add to it are an extra AC adapter and 512MB more RAM.

    Shopping Savvy
    Where do you shop for computers, electronics, and software? And how do you find the best prices? Here are some of my favorite online shopping sites. I've tried all these sites (most of them many times), and I recommend them:

  • Price Grabber

    This site, DealNews, offers links to other price-comparison tools.

    I trust Price Grabber's store ratings above all others. You should too. In fact, I'm making Price Grabber a Scot's Newsletter Link of the Week. It has deserved that status for years.

    Here are some online stores where I've had good purchase experiences recently. For me, it isn't all about price. I also look for a store that offers good customer service and doesn't misrepresent the items it sells:

  • is as close to perfection as you can get. It has at or near-lowest prices and excellent customer service and buyer ratings. The only downside is that its website is a pain to browse.

    Do you have computers, electronics, or software price-comparison or online store websites that you've personally used and/or purchased from that you'd like to recommend? Send them my way.

    News from the Pipelines
    You may recall that I have a day job. I'm an editor with My primary focus at TechWeb for the last year+ has been on dreaming up, launching, and running a series of "Pipeline" websites. Pipelines offer technology-specific content; they're small online magazines that focus on hand-picked, hot-button IT subjects, like security, mobile & wireless, storage, and networking.

    We're up to eight Pipeline sites now, and more are on the way. In fact, among the next wave of sites, launching later this month, is a Pipeline that I'll be closely associated with. It's called Desktop Pipeline. And I'll tell you more about it in the next issue of SFNL. Suffice it to say, all 45,000 Scot's Newsletter subscribers are apt to find Desktop Pipeline interesting.

    At Security Pipeline, we're also rolling out the first RSS feed for a Pipeline site. Be among the first to try it. Load this in your RSS aggregator/reader:

    By the way, these days I'm using FeedDemon as my preferred RSS client. I had been using AmphetaDesk. Interestingly, FeedDemon was developed by the same programmer, Nick Bradbury, who brought us HomeSite (which is now owned by Macromedia).

  • Bradbury Software's FeedDemon

    Here's a list of the eight TechWeb Network Pipeline sites that are currently operational:

  • Small Business Pipeline
  • Linux Pipeline
  • Security Pipeline
  • Mobile Pipeline
  • Networking Pipeline
  • Storage Pipeline
  • Server Pipeline
  • IT Utility Pipeline

    Back to the Top

    It's That Time Again: Call for Contributions
    I've waited and waited to do this. Because the newsletter is less frequent these days than it used to be, and because it didn't seem fair to hit you up for contributions to Scot's Newsletter before the holidays, or right after the holidays for that matter, I've held off. But the coffers are bare, and the tax man cometh.

    So I'm putting out this call. If you've been a regular reader of Scot's Newsletter, and you've never contributed to the cause, would you please take a moment to send me a contribution of whatever you can afford?

    You can send it to me by conventional postal mail. You can send it to me via PayPal. You can also just use PayPal to pay to: If you're not a PayPal member and want to become one, use this link to sign up.

    PayPal does not work as well from many overseas locations as it does from North America. Plus some people just really hate this company. But I've been using PayPal for about three years. It's worked well for me, and I have never had a problem. If you use a credit card when you sign up, PayPal will charge your credit card (optionally) if you don't have sufficient funds in your PayPal account to cover any payment. That gives you a way to send money electronically via Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. There are charges for doing this, but they're all paid by the person who receives the money, not the one who sends it.

    Oh, and a message to the small corps of generous people who send me contributions almost every time I ask for them (you know who you are): Please don't this time. I'm calling for regular readers who have never contributed before to pay their due right now.

    Thanks for your support!

    Back to the Top

    Poll Results: What's Your Next Operating System?
    I was floored by the results of last edition's What's Your Next OS? reader poll. For one thing, it had the lowest response of any reader poll Scot's Newsletter has conducted in more than two years. Total responses numbered about 2,000. This may be because it ran on January 5 of this year, and many people may have been on vacation. (If so, they also missed a pretty great issue of the newsletter.)

    What's also interesting is how those 2,000 people responded. A clear majority, more than 50 percent, said they have no plans to update their operating system by any means, any time soon. For all intents and purposes, the other 50 percent spoke clearly in favor of upgrading to Windows Longhorn whenever it becomes available (late 2005 at the very earliest, and don't count on that date).

    Here's are summary of the answers followed by the exact vote counts:

  • No plans to upgrade my OS any time soon: 1012
  • Windows codenamed 'Longhorn': 958
  • Windows XP Pro and Home: 18
  • Linux: 14
  • Windows 2000: 5
  • Other: 4 (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, or Win9x)
  • Mac: 3
  • Windows Server 2003: 0

    What's it mean? The newsletter's recent What's Your Primary OS? poll showed that about 60 percent of Scot's Newsletter readers are running Windows XP now.

    Here's how I read the numbers: Scot's Newsletter readers have made the switch to Windows XP. They're more or less happy with this version of Windows, and they'd rather fight than switch (to paraphrase the tag line of an old commercial written by an advertising man who recently passed away). I also think that SFNL readers are split about Windows Longhorn. Half are going to be early adopters, and the other half are just not interested in yet another OS, especially one that may change things up quite a bit.

    My takeaway is that this newsletter's mandate is to cover Windows Longhorn. I will also continue to treat Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows 98/ME. That latter group represents about a quarter of the newsletter's readership.

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    Reader Poll: Linux Yes or No?
    I've invested some time and energy in Linux coverage, as you know. Despite the steady stream of positive feedback I've received from a variety of people, it doesn't appear from the operating system polls conducted recently that Linux has captured the attention of a large percentage of my reader base. My belief is that a large core of SFNL readers has been, is, or will be interested in Linux -- if for no other reason than that they've grown weary of some Microsoft practices or simply out of curiosity. But maybe we should test the theory.

    So, please take a moment to answer this very simple question with either the Yes or No response.

    Have you ever tried or do you plan to try Linux?      YES           NO

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    Broadband Chronicles: DSL Hell at SBC
    Scot's Newsletter reader Chris Marcellus wrote recently with his unfortunate experience with SBC's DSL service, which I'm printing almost verbatim. Broadband customer service has improved markedly in the last year or two, but the problem isn't solved, as Chris can readily attest:

    I've been an SBC customer with my home phone service (for as long as I can remember) and with DSL for the last three years. Until now the only glitch has been an unexpected price increase. When I first signed up for DSL I was given an introductory offer of $39.95, which I was told would be my monthly rate for as long as I kept the service. After 16 months the rate was increased to $49.95 a month. I called SBC (then known as Southwestern Bell) about that; the response was that all DSL customers were sent via the US Postal service a notice that their monthly rate, regardless of what they had been paying, was being bumped to $49.95 a month due to 'cost overruns.' I never received the notice, but I continued paying the $49.95 a month because at that time there was no broadband alternative in my area.

    The service worked well until the middle of last December when I decided to consolidate my home phone, cell phone, and DSL into SBC's Total Connections package, which would save me approximately $50 a month, including a reduction of my DSL bill to $26.95 a month. I also agreed to change my home phone from a metro line to a flat-rate one-party line, saving an additional $18 per month. And that was the change that caused a lot of heart ache. I was told by SBC that my DSL service would not be interrupted when the change was made, and I never thought twice about it. Instead, my DSL service was turned off, and so began my three-week ordeal.

    I phoned SBC Internet Services on Sunday, December 21, to report that my DSL was down. After 45 minutes on the phone with a support person, I was informed that I would have to call back the next morning (Monday) and talk with someone about connecting new service because my change of phone number had terminated my existing DSL service. Being a computer tech, I understood, and dutifully wrote down the case number the support person read to me. I was told the case number would save me from having to explain the whole problem again.

    On Monday morning, I spent two-and-a-half hours on the phone with SBC DSL support. During that time I was given five additional case numbers by five different support technicians as they passed me around the company in what seemed like a giant game of pass the buck. Eventually I was promised that my DSL service would be connected by Wednesday evening, Christmas Eve.

    I waited until Friday, but the DSL service still didn't come on. I called SBC Internet Services again, repeated the whole explanation all over again, now for the seventh time -- even though I had a case number to back me up. The tech said it should be working, but he ran a line test that showed I was right. He had no idea why it was not working, so he transferred me to ASI, the outside company that handles DSL lines for SBC. They ran tests and promised it would be connected by Monday evening. Well, Monday came and went and still there was no DSL.

    I waited until Wednesday afternoon, which was New Year's Eve, to call ASI back. The ASI tech set up a three-way call with SBC, and still no one knew why my DSL service wasn't working. The ASI tech took my number and promised to call me back in the next couple of hours with an answer. I was not home when he called, and his message was that he'd spoken with someone in SBC billing and that the order would be posted by midnight, and therefore my DSL should be working by then. If not, he told me to call back the next day and speak with any of the other ASI techs -- but he had New Year's Day off. By now I wasn't surprised at all to learn that I still didn't have service the next day. So I called ASI. The tech rep couldn't understand why DSL wasn't working for me. His solution was to send an ASI tech out to my house on Saturday, as they were booked up before then. I was supposed to work on Saturday, but I took the day off to get the problem solved. And by now, you won't be surprised that the field tech never showed up.

    I was at my breaking point. I service two websites for clients, and neither had been updated in over two weeks. My focus turned away from solving my broadband problem to getting caught up with my work. On Tuesday I came home at 9PM to a voicemail from the original ASI tech stating that ASI had found the problem and that my DSL service should be turned on that evening. I started the computer and for the first time in three weeks my DSL service was working. As soon as I connected, the phone rang; it was the ASI tech checking up. Despite all the time and frustration, I was impressed that he had taken the trouble that late in the evening to make sure his fix had done the trick.

    Although my technical problems were over, the story didn't end there. When I received my January bill, I was charged the same $49.95 I'd been billed previously. Enraged, I waited until I'd cooled off the next day to call SBC. I got an extremely helpful and courteous support rep. He adjusted my billing to $26.95, but when I brought up the three weeks I did not have DSL and the fact that I should be credited for it, and also that I was charged $49.95 for January, his response was that the reason I didn't have DSL was my fault and therefore I would have to pay for it. I did a slow count to ten as I was taught to do in elementary school, and explained to him what really happened. He put me on hold for a couple of minutes, and when he came back he said they would credit my account for not only the $23 difference between the old an new rates but also for three weeks of $49.95 service, roughly another $30. So in the end, SBC did the right thing. But what I had to go through to get there was outrageous.

    Every SBC support person I spoke to was very courteous and helpful, but the company has a bad case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. If I'd been told that by changing my home number I would have to go through the reordering process, I would have reconsidered doing so -- or at the least gone into it knowing what to expect. But I was reassured at the point of decision that my DSL service would be uninterrupted. In all, I spent almost eight hours with a phone to my ear, was issued seven different case numbers, and one 'magic ticket' number from ASI. Perhaps the funniest thing, though, is that during my third call to SBC, the tech sold me a new DSL modem at a deeply discounted price (mine was three years old and I felt at such a low price it was worth upgrading). That was December. It's February now and the modem never arrived. I also haven't been charged for it. But I'm left wondering whether it might someday materialize on my front porch. By then, broadband modems will probably be displayed in the Smithsonian alongside the rotary phone and the 500MB hard drive. --Chris Marcellus, Arlington, Texas

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

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    Tips for Linux Explorers: The Vi Editor
    All Linux configuration files are written in plain English, easy to read and to adapt. You use a text-editor to write or make changes to such files. The two most popular, powerful, and unfortunately "difficult" text editors, both of which are found in every Linux distro, are Vi and Emacs.

    Most GUI-based editors, such as Kedit, are easier to manage. But don't make the mistake of thinking that a GUI-based editor is all you need. There are situations that crop up with Linux that require a text-mode editor -- in other words, when you don't have the luxury of accessing a GUI desktop at all. Vi and Emacs are the only tools that come with every Linux distro that work in text mode, so learning one or the other is mandatory. (For Windows and DOS aficionados, think MS-DOS's Edit and Edlin programs.)

    Which one's better? Vi and Emacs fans are fond of waging war on that question. In this edition of Linux Explorers, we're picking your text editor for you. This one is all about the Vi text editor, because that's the one we prefer. Vi was originally developed by William Joy at Berkeley University and first officially included in AT&T System 5 Unix. It started out as a line-oriented editor for dumb terminals. The Vi editor, or Vi iMproved (VIM) is an enhancement by Bram Moolenaar; it's the version that people use today.

    Getting Started
    To start Vi, open a terminal or console and simply type "vi" (without the quotation marks) followed by the name of any existing file or a new file you want to create.

    Vi works in two main modes, one for editing text and the other for giving commands. To switch between the two modes you use the I and Esc keys. The program opens in the Command mode, which is used for cursor movements, delete, cut, copy, paste, and saving changes.

    The Insert mode is what you'll work in most of the time. You use it to make changes in an open file. Enter the Insert mode by pressing the I key. Newer Vi versions will display the word "INSERT' on the bottom line while you're in Insert mode.

    Press the Esc key to switch Vi back to Command mode. As soon as you hit the Esc key the text "INSERT" on the bottom line disappears.

    You save your changes to the open file from the Command mode. Press Shift-ZZ to save.

    If you make a mistake when saving a file, such as pressing Ctrl-ZZ or closing Vi before saving the file, you'll end up with a swap file (akin to a DOS/Windows temp file) in addition to the original file. Usually the swap file will have the .swp extension. The original file will not contain the recent changes you made; attempting to reopen it will result in an error message.

    The swap file is not readable but can be recovered by typing a command like this at the $ prompt and pressing Enter:

    vi -r {your file name}

    In some extreme cases, recovery is not possible. But in most cases, such as closing Vi before saving, a system crash, or a power failure, recovery works very well. After you recover, you must manually delete the swap file using a command like this at the $ prompt:

    rm .{your file name}.swp

    12-Step Vi Program
    Once you get used to it, using Vi is as easy as eating French fries. Try this exercise to get started. (Please follow all the instructions to the end.)

    1. Make a new file called "tessst" by opening a console and typing this line after the $ prompt and press Enter:

    vi tessst

    2. You'll get an empty console screen since Vi will start with the empty new file. Remember, Vi always starts Command mode, so press the I key to enter the Insert mode. If you're ever not sure whether you're in Insert mode, you can always just hit I again.

    3. Next, type this line:

    "The quick brown fox."

    4. Press the Esc key to return to the Command mode.

    5. Save the file by holding down the Shift key and pressing the Z key twice: ZZ.

    6. Vi should close and you should see your $ prompt back in the console.

    7. Check to see if your additions to the file were correctly saved. At the $ prompt, type:

    cat tessst

    The Cat command lists the file's contents. You should see:

    "The quick brown fox" line, exactly as you typed it earlier.

    8. Next, reopen the file you created. At the $ prompt, type this and press Enter:

    vi tessst

    This time Vi opens up to the text in your file, not a blank screen.

    9. Put Vi back in Insert mode by pressing I and add another line of text:

    "The sleepy dog did not notice the clever fox."

    10. Now save the file again by pressing Esc to enter the Command mode and typing Shift-ZZ.

    11. Have a look at your changes again by using the Cat command at the $ prompt:

    cat tessst

    12. Repeat the entire process again, adding yet another line to your file. When you've done that, review the file contents of your home directory by typing this at the $ prompt and pressing Enter:

    ls -a

    There should be only one file called "tessst." If there's more than one, no matter what the extension, you made a mistake somewhere along the way. Delete all the tessst files repeat the steps from Step 1. This command will delete swap files you may have created:

    rm .tessst.swp

    If you made no mistakes, go have some French fries.

    Common Vi Commands

    Press Key(s):*   Function:
    IInsert text before the cursor
    AInsert text after the cursor
    :Switch to ex mode
    $Go to last place on the line
    ^Go to first place on the line
    WNext word
    BPrevious word
    Shift-GLast line of the file
    20 Shift-GGo to line 20
    YCopy. (Note: Y3W = copy 3 words; Y3J = copy 4 lines.)
    XDelete character under the cursor

    * Note: Only capitalize letters preceded by "Shift-".

    Related Links
    For additional information on Vi, see:

  • Scot's Newsletter Forums, All Things Linux - Tweaking Vi
  • William Joy's An Introduction to Display Editing with Vi
  • Marisa Luvisetto's Introduction to Vi
  • Thomer M. Gil's Vi Lovers Home Page
  • Paul Sheer's Vi
  • Dan Kegel's The Vi Text Editor

    Disclaimer: To those who know their way around Vi, yes we're aware of "Ex mode," with its roughly 10 pages of additional commands. We're just trying to keep things simple. The related links will help readers explore Ex mode if needed.

    Most of the material you find in Tips for Linux Explorers comes from Bruno of Amsterdam, one of the moderators of the popular All Things Linux forum at Scot's Newsletter Forums.

    Bruno is helped by All Things Linux co-moderators Peachy and Teacher, as well as other forum members who have posted in the highly useful Tips for Linux Explorers thread (from which and the Linux Explorers section of Scot's Newsletter are adapted). Previous installments of Tips for Linux Explorers can be found at

    Tips for Linux Explorers is content-edited by Cyndy. (Scot copy edits.)

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    In Coming Issues
    I never promise what I'm going to write about in future. (Sometimes I plan to write things and never get around to it.) But I feel especially determined to write about the things on the list below. The first three are definite, and probably in the next issue:

  • Broadband Review: Comcast Cable Internet vs. Verizon DSL
  • Take 2: Spam and the RSS Option
  • 4th Annual Broadband Reader Poll
  • Windows Longhorn Coverage
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 Coverage
  • More software firewall reviews
  • Notebook, handheld, and entertainment hardware reviews
  • Program of the Month!

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    Newsletter Schedule
    The next issue of Scot's Newsletter is scheduled Friday March 12, but that date is subject to change.

    You can always find out when the next issue of Scot's Newsletter is scheduled to appear by visiting the Scot's Newsletter home page?

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