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September 2004 - Vol. 4, Issue No. 62
By Scot Finnie
IN THIS ISSUE
The change in plans does not signal a shift away from what Microsoft had intended to do with Longhorn. It's about logistics. Microsoft wants to commit to a 2006 release of Windows Longhorn on the desktop, and this is the only viable way to do that.
The loss of WinFS is a disappointing blow for Windows Longhorn. What's going away isn't one feature, but a core functionality that supported scores of features sprinkled through almost every facet of the operating system. Among the more ballyhooed of such features was the new search-based interface. Microsoft may still offer some semblance of this based on lesser technologies, but it won't be the same. However, that stake in the ground may prove useful later on.
The software giant is talking about incorporating WinFS in the Longhorn release of Windows server (planned for about one year after the Longhorn client release). And that makes good sense. But there's also talk of an upgrade release (possibly a large download or a distributed disc) that would add WinFS functionality to the Longhorn client at around the same time. My strong suspicion is that, if that happens, it will be basic WinFS support without any real harnessing of the new power there into the Longhorn client's user interface.
There is a grand user-experience vision that requires WinFS that is reported to be strongly supported by Bill Gates. That vision is not dead, it's just being deferred. In the interim, for the initial ship of Longhorn, I think you can expect the software giant to look around for more whizzy bells and whistles (read: light-weight visual stuff they can market) to bulk up the upgrade. Enterprises in particular are apt to be less keen for the new Windows.
On the other hand, based on early pre-release versions, WinFS was also the most problematic bit for Microsoft in the alpha releases I've tested. It didn't appear to be fully hooked up, it needed a lot of work, and system performance wasn't good. The fact that the search-based interface powered by WinFS would have leveraged database technology hooked up to the user interface on millions of desktop computers ... well, I was skeptical about performance ever being worked out along with everything else Microsoft had set in its sights for Longhorn. The search-based interface is a good idea that needs a lot of refinement. Longhorn was such an ambitious OS previously that it was highly unlikely that it would be done properly between now and late summer of 2006 when Microsoft needs to ship another client or face the ire of its stockholders.
So what's left in Longhorn? It's not all bad news. Personally, I've been more excited about the graphics module, codenamed Avalon, which will not only vastly improve image rendering both in terms of quality and performanc) but should also raise the bar on application interface quality. Avalon will be a major plus for everyone, even if it doesn't sound particularly impressive on "paper." My glimpses of Avalon came at Microsoft's PDC 2003 last October and in the alpha builds I've played with since. But until the first full-fledged beta arrives next year, we'll have to imagine. I have seen enough to know that Avalon is for real, and very welcome improvement.
Another part of the recent change-of-plans announcement from Redomond is that the company intends to release Avalon and the new communications module, codenamed Indigo, as separate upgrade packs for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. That's actually excellent news for the marketplace because Indigo, which supports Web Services, is needed now. We'll take Avalon too. Getting these upgrade on as many desktops as possible as soon as possible will drive application development a lot faster. Microsoft is trying to give Longhorn app development a running start.
The long and short of Longhorn as it exists now is that it is no longer the ambitious OS it once was. I believe that it will take until the next major rev of the Windows client (which probably will be only three years after Longhorn is released) before we see the full realization of the original vision for Longhorn. So in an ideal world, I guess that's bad news.
Break It Down
But in the real world where all of us actually live, Microsoft is simply facing facts now. It's being honest with itself and its giant customer base. I've said all along this was a hugely ambitious undertaking. Now, while it's still a much larger than average upgrade of Windows, it's not the impossible dream. There's still a lot that's new in Longhorn, it's still a building-block edition of Windows, and you need those every 10 years or so or the market stagnates. Look for Longhorn to tie into hardware from Intel, AMD, and others in ways that we haven't seen a lot of in recent years. Look for support of new technologies and specifications. And you can continue to expect that Windows Longhorn will probably require very recent or brand new computer hardware.
Microsoft will talk about new "experiences" with photo centers and stuff like that. Sometimes I think they think the average user is vapid. What hopefully will be truly interesting about the next version of Windows is what it will let third-party software and hardware makers improve the overall user experience. Software, and especially the operating system, has been lagging behind the capabilities of hardware for a long while now. It's time for that to change. Let's hope Microsoft builds out the plumbing to make up for the software inadequacies of the past. Because if they do, it will spur new development, and hopefully help build demand and drive down prices. And, oh yeah, generate a little excitement.
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To put this in perspective, let me share with you my personal experiences with SP2. I've installed it on eight or nine computers, including the two PCs that I use most often. I've logged well over 100 hours of personal use with SP2. The biggest problem I've had so far:
There are two websites that I routinely log into that no longer save my username and password (i.e., they don't "remember me") the way they used to. I have to type my username and password every time I log in. I hate that. (For those of you who will feel compelled to diagnose this, I have tried all the obvious things, including the new Security permissions for authentication and adding the domain names of the sites in the Privacy area. But I haven't gotten around to searching the Microsoft Knowledgebase yet, so maybe there's something there.)
The point I'm trying to make is that the worst gotcha for me in SP2 is a problem I haven't even bothered to really try to fix. Basically, the only thing that concerns me personally in SP2 is the new site-by-site protections.
Those eight or nine PCs I've installed SP2 on include two machines I upgraded from the RC2 installation of SP2, one where I uninstalled a pre-release version first, and at least four others from the "interactive" online install. I have several XP machines turned on at all times to see when Microsoft might offer SP2 to them, and about a quarter of them have been offered SP2 so far. Bottom line: It's been painless, painless, painless. Literally, it's been a non-event on my PCs.
You know that I have complained about the online interactive installation (not just of SP2, but in general, I'm not a big fan of online installations). In case the worst happens and you find yourself with a botched Windows XP SP2 installation, this Microsoft KB article is the one you need to check out.
Also, if you have any doubts that Windows XP 2 is jam-packed with updates, bug fixes, and security protections, consult this document from Microsoft:
The biggest problem for most people with Windows XP SP2 is application compatibility. Before you install Windows XP SP2 for the first time, you should consult Microsoft's list of applications that aren't fully compatible with SP2.
The latest warning from Microsoft is that you should sweep your computer for spyware before you install SP2. If spyware has already taken hold, it could cause SP2's installation routine to freeze before completion. Spybot and Ad-aware are the two products I have recommended in past. Make sure to upgrade to the latest versions of these two products, SpyBot 1.3 and Ad-Aware SE 1.03 or Pro 6.
Most SFNL readers reporting their SP2 experiences sent email to me within 24 hours of installing and had encountered no problems with SP2 installation or operation. Several of these messages came from readers who are IT pros who have installed SP2 on multiple PCs without issue. But here are some of the real-world troubles some SFNL readers stumbled upon:
On the first day that it was available, I downloaded the network install of SP2 from Microsoft. I copied all of the files, documents, and favorites to another drive before doing the install. Just like the experience of Ron Fleischer, whom you wrote about in an earlier edition of Scot's Newsletter, everything went well at first. After about 10 minutes, I noticed that nothing seemed to be happening. I waited 10-15 more minutes and nothing had changed. I tried Ctrl-Alt-Delete without success and then I turned off my system -- which was a mistake. When I turned on the system again, it would start to boot and then just before it should have opened the desktop, the screen would go blank. I tried booting in Safe Mode but got the same thing. Eventually I got out the XP CD and did a clean install. I ran SP2 before I loaded any drivers or applications and it installed without problem.
Works great on all three of my PCs with one very minor exception. There is a problem with Promise remote-Raid reporting that is not related to the firewall. Promise is reported to be working on it.
I had no major problems upgrading two Windows XP Pro computers. But a friend tried to upgrade Windows XP Home edition and had the system fail to work after the reboot. He was unable to access his hard drive and eventually went back to his Windows XP Home distribution disk to regain control of his system.
After installation on the first restart, several hardware devices were not correctly recognized. However, another restart fixed the problem. The installation also changed my wireless networking settings. Specifically, it enabled IEEE 802.1x authentication for a wireless connection where it was previously not enabled. Once I discovered this and changed it back I have had not trouble.
My computer seems to be a tad slower in just about everything (though Doom 3 works the same). After turning off Windows Firewall, it appeared some parts of it were still active. In Control Panel > Windows Firewall > Exceptions tab, there's a list of programs and services, some which have checkmarks next to them. After I had turned off the Windows firewall (I use Zone Alarm Pro), the Windows Firewall came up with a info box wondering about letting Connection Manager access the Internet. This happened only once, but I went into the Windows Firewall settings and unchecked that choice. No recurrence.
You may already know that XP2 does something to Outlook Express, you cannot connect to the links when you click them in your emails. All you get is a white page that says refresh page or go vendor. Also I cannot access my network connection folder in Control Panel. Are these "normal" problems with XP SP2?
I downloaded and installed the network install and have had the following issues, three negative and one positive. 1. After the install a reboot is required. My Dell Inspiron 8200 refused to shut down; I had to hit the power button. Not a major problem, but annoying. 2. After reboot, Windows Media Player 9 simply refused to start. Following a reinstall all is well. 3. I have had ongoing random crashes of Firefox 0.9.3. Am I being overly paranoid in thinking that MS has it in for this upstart? 4. On the positive side, I had an issue prior to SP2 where the KB835432 (I think) fix was constantly announcing itself as available to install via Windows Update. I must have reinstalled this update 10 times or more just to stop the nagging. Whether this has been fixed by v5 of Windows Update, or SP2 itself I don't know, but it's a relief.
The major problem I've had after installing the SP2 upgrade is that Internet Explorer 6 jams almost every time I open new windows. It gets so bad that I have to use the Task Manager to shut down IE6 because it fails to open or jams on the new window. If anyone has experienced this problem I'd be interested to know. There are other small problems -- such as very slow download of emails (resulting in time-outs from my ISP) -- but those seemed to improve once I shut off the Windows Firewall. I already have another firewall and also antivirus protection installed.
Wayne R. Hainsworth:
I downloaded the 266MB version and have installed in it on 10 machines so far. The first machine (custom build) I loaded it on had a pre-release version of SP2 on it. The installation killed this machine. The second machine was a newly rebuilt Dell with Windows XP SP1 and all critical security patches/updates. That installation went smooth as glass. The next four machines (all big Dell boxes) were in-service machines in different departments (CAD, Accounting, Customer Service). All of these machines had XP SP1 with all subsequent critical updates. All of these installations went well.
We use a lot of enterprise applications that require heavy configurations and none of them were affected except our McAfee ASAP. I couldn't install it until educating IE on allowable pop-ups. I rebuilt a friend's eMachines PC with XP Home. That also went well. Finally, I updated my main admin machine which also was running SP1 and all critical updates. That went great. Nine out of 10 XP SP2 successful installations is pretty good. I went against most of the pros recommendations, too, when I tried my first upgrade on the machine with a late pre-release of SP2. I wasn't surprised when it crashed. Rebuilding the machine and going straight to SP2 gave me a 100% success rate with SP2 installs. I like the product so far. I've seen no problems with any of our enterprise applications and expect no user problems when we finally get around to updating all our XP boxes.
Upon automatic download of SP2, Internet Explorer was not operational at all. Computer lockup continued no matter what, so I reverted the hard drive back to SP2 pre-release version 2149 and everything returned to normal meaning it all works as it should. I will wait to see more info before I try installing again.
I emailed a week or so ago about problems with SP2 and three different computers that failed to restart after installation (with either a blue screen or spontaneous reboot). I have since resolved those problems, which proved to be caused by the A4Tech mouse drivers. A4tech mice are probably the most widely used mice in New Zealand so this will affect many users here. The problem is solved by removing the drivers and using the default windows mouse drivers, which limits functionality. A4tech has yet to provide an update or even publicly acknowledge an issue.
I have installed SP2 on two machines (laptop and PC). In both cases I lost Internet connectivity although each machine can access its wireless network. Any idea what I can do? I have disabled the Firewall already.
This is just a small sampling of the feedback I've gotten. If you've had a serious problem with Windows XP Service Pack 2, I want to know about it.
Some Other Issues
The version number I reported in an earlier issue for Windows XP Service Pack 2 was incorrect. I gave you the actual build number. But version numbers in Windows are often "vanity," in that Microsoft assigns a different version number on the shipping code. So, the actual SP2 version number is:
Version 5.1 (Build 2600.xpsp_sp2_rtm.040803-2158: Service Pack 2)
By the way, the easiest way to check the version number on Windows these days is to follow these simple steps:
1. Click Start
2. Select "Run"
3. Type: "winver" and press Enter.
Several SFNL readers have noted that the Windows splash screen no longer says "Windows XP Professional" or "Windows XP Home" on system startup after installing SP2. It just says "Windows XP."
A commonly reported software compatibility problem was Ahead Software's Nero CR-RW/DVD burning utility. Ahead released a fix for this issue very quickly, however.
Windows Security Center Issues
In past issues of the newsletter I've detailed common security products that Windows Security Center either did or did not detect properly with the RC2 version of XP SP2. At this time, both Norton AntiVirus 2004 and ZoneAlarm 5 are properly detected by Windows Security Center. I found that to be the case with ZoneAlarm 5.1 a few weeks back. Also, if you're running Norton AntiVirus 2004, you need to run the LiveUpdate utility manually to get the "WMI update." Once that's installed, NAV 2004 is also detected properly by WSC. I have not retested some of the other products that weren't properly detected, such as Panda's Titanium 2004 or Agnitum Outpost, but Microsoft is working with all these companies, and I suspect within only a few months this will be a moot point.
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Windows Security Center (WSC) doesn't detect every antivirus program and software firewall, and only detects the most recent versions of most of them. So even though you might be fully protected, WSC may indicate that you're not. One solution is to upgrade to the latest version of your security programs, in most cases these upgrades are free, and some-including the update for Symantec's Norton AntiVirus-will come down automatically via the Internet when you run the company's update program. (In the case of Norton AntiVirus, Automatic LiveUpdate only updates antivirus definitions. You have to run LiveUpdate manually in order to check for program updates.)
For more experienced users who fully understand the security situation on their computers-and whose PCs are fully protected-there are two ways to get rid of Windows Security Center's potentially annoying warning messages. The first is to open the Windows Security Control Panel and click the "Change the way Security Center alerts me" hyperlink. Remove the checkmarks beside some or all of the alert options there.
But what if you just want this thing off from your system? Not using any system resources? There are two easy ways to accomplish that, both of which you can reverse if you ever change your mind.
1. If you're familiar with the Windows Command Prompt, open it (choose Start > Run > type: cmd > press Enter) type these two lines in succession:
sc stop wscsvc
sc config wscsvc start= demand
(Note: The space after the equals sign is required.)
To reverse these steps, use these two commands entered the same way:
sc start wscsvc
sc config wscsvc start= auto
2. The second method uses a graphical process. Choose Start > Run > type: services.msc > press Enter. That opens the Services box. On the right side, click any name in the Name column. Type S to scroll the list quickly. Look for the "Security Center" entry and double-click it to open its properties page.
Toward the bottom in the "Service status" area, click the Stop button. Just above that, open the "Startup type" dropdown menu and choose "Manual." Click OK and close the Services window.
To reverse the steps, click the Start button and choose Automatic from the dropdown menu.
Note: This tip was originally published in the Scot's Take column of PC Today's November 2004 issue. The column offers several other ways to configure and manage Windows XP Service Pack 2 that you'll want to know about.
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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The only information I was able to glean about what wireless hardware the fellow has is that it's "802.11g." But if you've been looking at wireless products lately, there's a bewildering level of wireless connection rates beyond the basic 802.11b 11Mbps rate. The standard rate for "G" wireless is 54Mbps, which I reported on in my review of Netgear's 54Mbps 802.11g product line about a year ago.
Nowadays, many of the vendors -- including D-Link and Netgear -- are offering products that support up to 108Mbps transfer rates. D-Link has the best offerings for the average home user, both in pricing and feature set (although I haven't tested the hardware well enough to make a recommendation about it yet).
I wondered whether the 108Mbps rate would really matter to most people. Some basic testing bore out my original supposition that it wouldn't be much of an advantage. If you use your wireless connection for frequent large-file transfers on your wireless network, you may want to consider equipping your entire network with 802.11g 108Mbps equipment. You'll see some improvement. But for Internet access, including large-file downloads, the wireless network is not bottleneck -- that's your Internet access data-transfer rate. Making your wireless access faster doesn't help.
There's another problem with 802.11g wireless access that I came across while testing D-Link's DWL-2100AP 108Mbps 802.11g wireless access point. You can force wireless access rates to 108Mbps (thereby excluding all computers that aren't able to connect at this rate) or you can allow computers whose wireless cards are limited to 54Mbps or less to connect, but when you do that forces even 108Mbps-enabled PCs to run at 54Mbps also. So, unless all the computers on your network are 108Mbps-equipped, there's little point in moving up to a 108Mbps router or access point. And most notebooks that come equipped with wireless don't support 108Mbps. It's a disappointing truth.
Bottom line: 54Mbps is currently the effective wireless standard.
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Symantec's Fall Line-up
Every year at this time, Symantec offers all new versions of its consumer security software product line. This year that includes the release of Norton AntiVirus 2005, Norton Internet Security 2005, Norton SystemWorks 2005, Norton Personal Firewall 2005, and Norton AntiSpam 2005.
Norton AntiVirus 2005 has been in wide availability for a few weeks now. The big emphasis in this new version is covering a wider array of threats. The NAV 2005 includes basic inbound port-blocking firewall features to provide better Internet worm protection. It also includes a faster pre-installation scanning routine. When it receives new LiveUpdate antivirus definitions, NAV 2005 also performs a quick scan to check to see whether your system is already infected.
Symantec emphasizes the fact that NAV 2005 also provides protection against spyware, adware, and keystroke loggers. While it added some protection against these threats in the 2004 edition, the company is pumping up its support in this area by promising to bolster the back end -- the people working at Symantec who focus on creating anti-spyware/adware definitions.
Symantec has added a new licensing version of its software designed to be used by three users instead of one. The pricing is reasonable. For example, the three-user version of NAV 2005 is $89.95. The one-user version of NAV 2005 lists for $49.95. (They also offer 5-packs and 10-packs.)
Norton AntiVirus 2004 has been a Scot's Newsletter-recommended product. It's too early to say whether the new 2005 will have the same recommendation.
Norton Personal Firewall 2005 won't be available for about a month. The new features appear to be pretty minor in this revision. If you turn the firewall off, say to install a major new application or Windows upgrade, there's a new off-timer feature that turns the firewall back on automatically after a user-specified amount of time. There's also new protection for confidential information, a feature that was previously only available in Norton Internet Security. Symantec's Norton Internet Security product manager Craig Lane says that Norton Personal Firewall 2005 has been redesigned to pop-up fewer question dialogs.
Norton Personal Firewall 2004 shares Scot's Newsletter-recommended product status with ZoneAlarm 4.5. It's too soon to say whether the 2005 version will continue to be recommended by the newsletter.
Last year Symantec introduced Norton AntiSpam. I tested it and recommended against it. In particular, Eudora users had trouble with Norton AntiSpam. Apparently Outlook Express users were less troubled.
New features in Norton AntiSpam 2005 include: New email spoofing and phishing by watching for fraudulent URLs and tagging them as spam. It can now filter out sexually-explicit spam so that it never reaches the inbox. It scans outbound mail to help build its whitelist. It lets users block incoming mail by language. It also now supports Yahoo Web mail.
Norton Internet Security 2005 may be the most improved product in Symantec's 2005 line-up. I recommended against the 2004 version last year, based solely on the number of complaints I'd received about both the 2003 and 2004 versions. NIS looks like a great value, but the problem in past has been ... well, problems. There's a lot going on in this package, and on some computers, it has created havoc. Hopefully Symantec has rectified them in this edition.
Norton Internet Security consists of Norton AntiVirus 2005, Norton Personal Firewall 2005, Norton AntiSpam 2005, Norton Privacy Control, and Norton Parental Control. So all the new features in the previous products make appearances in this one too. Other new features in NIS 2005 include the new "Outbreak" feature that notifies users of rapidly spreading threats.
Norton SystemWorks 2005 is due soon, by Symantec didn't brief me on that product yet, so I'll cover it in a future edition of the newsletter.
Does your company have a new computer product of interest to this newsletter's readers? Submit it to Product Beat.
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"Will my existing hardware work under Linux?"
The answer is "It depends."
You might not be aware of it, but these days lots of hardware is supported in Linux. The general rule is: don't be the first on your block to get the latest hardware, as it takes a few months for hardware companies to make Linux-compatible drivers -- generally they focus first on Windows drivers.
Run a Live CD
The best way to see if your existing hardware is compatible with a specific distro is to run a Live CD. These are distros that run from a CD. Nothing is written to your hard drive so there's no installation. It is nonetheless a fully functioning operating system.
By downloading the Live CD file and burning it to a CD, you can have a Linux desktop running on your system in no time at all. Just interrupt Windows when it loads, and boot from the CD. The really BIG advantage is that you can check if your Internet connection, network card, monitor, keyboard, mouse, soundcard, and other hardware are working properly. If they are, you can be sure that the installed version of the distro will support your hardware as well. For links to Live CDs by distro, see this Scot's Newsletter Forums post.
Pick a Distro, Any Distro
There are other ways to check hardware compatibility besides booting into a Linux distro. Below we list online databases to check compatibility of modems, fast Ethernet NICs, and other hardware. Keep in mind that these resources aren't the final word in compatibility. With each new version of the hardware and its drivers, and with each update of individual distros, the playing field changes. In fact, it's ever in flux.
Here's a sampling of Distro-provider-maintained hardware databases for more popular distros:
And here are some independent hardware databases:
Your Hardware and Linux
"Can I still browse the Internet?" Sigh. It's sad but true that most of us can't let go of the Internet, even long enough to discover a new (and possibly better) operating system.
But yes, of course, you can still browse. There are some things you will have to take into account, though.
Dial-Up Modems: High on the list of incompatible hardware in Linux are dial-up modems such as WinModems or so-called software modems -- though printers and scanners take a good second place. Software modems are internal PCI-card modems that fully depend on Windows drivers to make the connection. These drivers are not Open Source. For more information about why WinModems don't work well with Linux, check out this site.
For what it's worth, Scot's Newsletter and its predecessors have been recommending against WinModems for years and years.
Under Linux, the best solution is an external modem to dial your ISP. Not all external modems will run 100% in Linux -- most of them do however there are exceptions. The best advice is, before buying a modem check the Modem Database of tested modems. You can also check the hardware database for your distro. You'll find more info on Linux drivers for WinModems at LinModems.org.
For PC-Tel and Conexant there are sometimes experimental Linux drivers available, but installing them can be extremely hard and in most cases they are only compatible with older kernel versions. So do yourself a favor and stay away from them, because every time you'll upgrade your distro you will run into the same problem over and over again.
Cable and DSL Modems: If you have cable or an ADSL Ethernet-modem, all the problems mentioned above won't affect you. In fact, you should be good to go -- with a couple of exceptions. The Conexant PCI ADSL is not compatible with Linux. Also the Speedtouch USB modem can be made to work with some hacking, but there are easier to use choices. USB modems, in general, have issues with Linux so it's probably best to avoid them. (And, again, Scot's Newsletter has long recommended against USB modems with cable and DSL connections.)
Fast Ethernet Cards: a modem is only part of the solution to getting connected. Then there's networking. Here is a list of Linux-supported Ethernet Cards (network interface cards or NICs).
Laptops: It's possible to run Linux on a laptop computer. Here are a couple of Web sites to get you started:
Printers: For help with your printer, try this resource.
Scanners: Scanners can be tough, so check out this database.
We'll provide additional hardware coverage in a future edition of For Linux Explorers.
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 LinuxClues.com and the Linux Explorers section of Scot's Newsletter are adapted). Previous installments of Tips for Linux Explorers can be found at LinuxClues.com.
For Linux Explorers is content-edited by Cyndy. (Scot copy edits.)
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Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows or broadband related website that's a little amazing? Please send me the URL so I can check it out and let everyone know about it.
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Next month's issue date is a bit up in the air right now. I have both personal business and also quite a bit of business travel over the next five weeks. I may be early, late, or I may even skip the October issue.
You can always find out when the next issue of Scot's Newsletter is expected to appear by visiting the Scot's Newsletter home page.
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I'm still looking to reinstate the links I'm losing in the left column. So more changes are probably on the way. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a note with any suggestions or feedback about the redesign of the HTML Edition.
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