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December 2005 - Vol. 5, Issue No. 75
By Scot Finnie
IN THIS ISSUE
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Okay, so Microsoft isn't permanently cancelling Windows Vista Beta 2. But the big Windows news this month is that Microsoft has broken with long tradition and will not be releasing Windows Vista Beta 2 late in December or early January. Reviewers, analysts, IT managers, and technical beta testers will be getting another pre-beta 2 widespread release just prior to Christmas, according to Microsoft's corporate VP for operating system development, Amitabh Srivastava.
Surprisingly, the software giant has also committed to making Windows Vista feature complete on its internal builds by the end of the year. But the company has not made any announcement on when Windows Vista Beta 2 will come, and it says that it won't talk more about that before early January. The sense one gets is that Beta 2 might not arrive quickly.
So what does this mean? Well it depends on when Beta 2 actually arrives and also how far along it is. Just because the code might be feature complete in Redmond on Dec. 31, doesn't mean it's anything close to what Microsoft would ship. It could be "feature complete" but half those features might not be functioning at anything better than 25% of their expected finished levels.
Srivastava, speaking in a press conference on November 29, went to great pains to convey the point that Windows Vista is still on schedule to ship in "the second half of 2006," which is something of an unintentional joke. Microsoft will be lucky to finish it by late September, which is when it pretty much has to wrap up to get the new OS on store shelves for Holiday 2006.
Even so, I think you have to read the tea leaves with at least a thought that the announcement could mean Windows Vista will be delayed by half a year. When analyzed in light of Microsoft history, that's the conclusion you'd be likely to draw.
But Srivastava's second point of emphasis (if you buy it, and that's the way I'm leaning) is that Microsoft has radically overhauled its development process in a way that will help it deliver a better product in the same period of time. The CTP (Community Technology Preview) Vista releases, like the ones I wrote about in the October and November issues of the newsletter, are part of that fundamental change. Microsoft is seeking to get industry and user feedback much earlier in the development process, both to help it refine features and also to learn about problems as early as possible so it has more time to fix them.
I wrote about this a couple months back, when Microsoft released the first CTP.
I'm completely in favor of this change, assuming it works as billed. More widespread betas should mean final code that has fewer bugs and is better designed. When you have as many developers as Microsoft has, learning about issues eight months, seven months, five months, four months before a major new operating systems ships means that the company has a much better chance to assign a dev teams to them in time to do some good. The way Microsoft has handled Windows beta cycles for quite a while now, it got a steady trickle of beta reports on a large number of interim beta releases with essentially only a single giant wave of information back on only one widespread release. Thereafter it had only two or three check-ins late in the process, when it was really too late to do anything about fixes that might have caused new problems. The difference boils down to this: Microsoft is committing to an earlier, more frequent, and more widespread beta program for Windows Vista. That's a very good development.
All of you folks out there who have been complaining that Microsoft doesn't emphasize software quality ... it appears to me that this very significant change means that they're at least trying. I think we're going to have to wait for the final product before we judge.
Windows Vista/Longhorn Coverage
It's taken me a while to get around to doing this, but it occurred to me recently that I've written quite a bit over more than two years about the next version of Windows. And it might make sense to put all that information in one place.
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I'm not promising these will be the least expensive recommendations, mind you. But sprinkled throughout you'll find lower-cost alternatives. And in the higher-ticket categories, we definitely went for the price/performance sweet spots, not the most expensive product. All of our picks represent excellent values.
This was such a big undertaking that I teamed up with TechWeb to pull it off, so the story is co-authored by George Jones, past Editor-in-Chief of Maximum PC magazine (who recently authored TechWeb's "20 Years of Windows" feature story).
TechWeb's Feature Editor extraordinaire, Valerie Potter, was the story editor. TechWeb's top-notch Reviews Editor, Barbara Krasnoff, contributed much to this piece, as did TechWeb's Rose Circeo and Justin Launderville. I'd also like to thank our other significant advisors, including Fred Langa, Bill O'Brien, Fredric Paul, Mike Elgan, Brian Carlson, Jim Freund, Mitch Wagner, and many others. A lot of good gadget and consumer electronics minds gave us input on this one.
This feature story is quite long, so we're hosting it on Personal Tech Pipeline. But right here in the newsletter I'm announcing our 24 picks with links to the product write-ups (which in turn give street pricing and tech spec links). The story also has pictures, and there are several other "Honorable Mention" products, some of which are lower cost items. It's all in the TechWeb Pipelines' 2005 Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide:
Apple iPad nano 4GB - MP3 Player
If J.D. Power did initial buyer satisfaction on MP3 players, you can be sure the iPod nano would top the list and it continues to have the user interface to beat among all MP3 players.
Creative Zen Vision 30GB - Portable Audio/Video Player
This portable media player's slick interface, huge vibrant screen, and ability to play multiple audio and video formats is sure to please.
Nintendo DS - Portable Gaming Device
This portable game system offers dual screens, great games, and built-in Wi-Fi at a price that won't crush your holiday spirit.
Slingbox - Remote Access TV via Internet
The Slingbox is appealing for one simple reason: It allows you to watch your TV or TiVo anywhere around the globe via an Internet stream.
Palm Treo 650 - Smartphone
The finest PDA phone on the market today combines ease-of-use, excellent voice clarity, Palm functionality, long battery life, and more into one tidy package.
Bose QuietComfort 2 - Noise-Cancelling Headphones
These noise-cancelling headphones ooze quality, and while they can't quite turn off the sound of the first officer barking out the flight plan, they will significantly improve your overall flight experience.
The Crumpler Luncheon - Laptop Bag
Nifty styling, a choice of bright (but not too) colors, and ample internal pockets set Crumpler computer bags apart from the competition.
Garmin Quest 2 - Personal GPS Device
The Quest 2 portable GPS unit, which includes voice prompts and a complete map of the U.S., is a handy way to find your way around the roadways or the walkways.
Sony 50" Grand WEGA SXRD (KDS-R50XBR1) - Large Screen HDTV
This rear-projection HDTV uses cutting-edge LCoS technology to project crystal-clear images on a glorious 50-inch flat screen. The technology excels at HDTV, but also does a good job with standard TV.
Niveus Denali Edition HDTV - Media Center
The Denali is quiet, powerful, and combines a DVD player, large-storage digital video recorder, and HD tuner in one. What's not to love?
Optoma DV10 DLP Projector MovieTime - Digital Projector
This is the only home projector that comes with an integrated DVD player, which makes it perfect for movie night.
Logitech Harmony 880 - Internet-Updated Universal Remote
The Harmony remote is amazingly easy to program and operate, and unlike so many other universal remotes, it actually works as advertised.
Samsung Syncmaster 214T - 21" LCD Monitor
The 21-inch 1600 x 1200 LCD is the perfect size for business productivity, and the Samsung 214T is the perfect cross between high quality and reasonable cost.
Lenovo ThinkPad X41 - Tablet PC
Lenovo's ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC is fast and light, includes a fingerprint security system, and most importantly, sports a screen that feels like paper when you write on it.
Verizon FiOS - 15Mbps Broadband Internet Service
At 15Mbps for $50 or less per month, there's no better home broadband service on the market. The only catch is whether it's available where you are.
Canon EOS 20D - Digital SLR Camera
Canon's 20D is the best digital SLR for advanced amateur photographers, and even some professional uses, yet it's incredibly easy to use and has a full-automatic mode that makes it nearly a point-and-shoot.
Canon PowerShot A620 - Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera
The PowerShot A620 is perfect for anyone who's serious about taking digital pictures and short videos, but who wants to skip the hassle and expense of an SLR.
Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital Elph - Ultra-Compact Digital Camera
The PowerShot SD450 Digital Elph is very small and light, without sacrificing too much of what people really need from their cameras.
Canon Pixma iP8500 - Photo Printer
If you're a serious photophile who wants to print out the highest-quality images, Canon's Pixma iP8500 photo printer is a top choice.
Sony HDR-HC1 HDV 1080i Handycam - High-Def Digital Camcorder
Attention HD fans! This is the mini-DV cam for you...so long as you've got the disposable income for it.
Panasonic PV-GS35 30x Optical - Mini-DV Camcorder
If you're looking for the best mid-range mini-DV cam value this year, grab Panasonic's PV-GS35 and wrap it for someone special.
USB Glowing Aquarium - Silly USB Device
If the daily grind is getting to you, this glowing USB-powered aquarium can bring your blood pressure down as you watch two plastic fish swim back and forth, back and forth....
Guitar Hero - PS2 Game
This game's custom controller - a three-foot-long plastic guitar featuring five fret chords, a strum bar that simulates strings, and a whammy distortion bar - lets you unleash your inner Hendrix.
Nuvo - Robot
This cute little robot follows you around, plays music, dances, and keeps watch over your other gadgets while you're away.
Main Story Links:
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I recommend holding off, at least temporarily, on installing Firefox 1.5.
I had no trouble with Firefox 1.5 through the betas, but somewhere early in the Release Candidates I began to encounter problems. And I'm beginning to learn that I might not be alone in that. The issues people are reporting to me are highly varied. Some of the more dramatic problems have included damaged Firefox profiles and loss of right-button context menus. By far the more common issues have to do with CPU and/or memory usage though.
Linux Pipeline's Editor, Matt McKenzie, sent me a screenshot that showed Firefox 1.5's main process (firefox.exe) using 398,108K physical memory and 405,540K virtual memory. And he says the number was rising while he was sitting there watching it. On my system, a quick check showed Firefox 1.5 using about 27,000K on first launch, and between 50,000K and 60,000K after a couple hours hard use. That level of memory use is within bounds. (By comparison, IE6 used only 13,000K after initial launch on the same machine in the same session.)
But I don't think Matt McKenzie's problems are isolated. I've personally seen 100% CPU spikes will Firefox is laboring at something, a symptom that might be related. Several readers have written with concerns about memory leaks in Firefox 1.0.x and 1.5. A memory leak is an errant programmatic process that over time may gradually eat away at system resources. In worst-case scenarios, a memory leak may cause an application to become unstable. Under all Win 9.x versions of Windows, an application memory leak can also cause the operating system to become unstable. The truth is, all but the very simplest of programs have memory leaks. But some programs are much worse than others. In the 1990s I did a series on Netscape 2.x because it was plagued with problems, including memory leaks. So this is not without precedent. I can't speak with authority that a large number of Firefox users may be having issues with Firefox 1.5. That may not be the case. I am, though, hearing sufficient reports about trouble to be cautious.
It doesn't help that I'm personally seeing persistent issues with Firefox 1.5 myself. By and large, the problems I've had fall into two camps:
2. Freezing up after Firefox launch, during or just after Web page load, and very long launch times from links in other programs, such as from a hyperlink sent in email. These three symptoms were also commonly experienced by Firefox 1.0.1, 1.0.2, and 1.0.3 users. The problem appears to be back in Firefox 1.5.
In most cases the Firefox freeze-ups unstick themselves after a couple of minutes. But I have also experienced permanent lock-ups that have required me to kill the firefox.exe process. And I've even been forced to reboot Windows XP a few times.
PDFs are now a total adventure too. Sometimes they work, sometimes they never finish loading. And I'm using the latest version of the Adobe Acrobat Reader.
What's New in Firefox 1.5
The new Firefox 1.5 feature set is pretty modest overall, but all of the additions are good ones. The best new features are the automatic browser-updating functionality and the ability to check for multiple extension updates simultaneously. The new browser also automatically disables but leaves installed any extensions that don't explicitly support it. Other new features include the ability to drag-and-drop reorder tabs, a significant reworking of the Options user interface (although the actual configuration settings aren't that different), and you can one-click delete your private data (such as user names and passwords) if you think you're being attacked by a phishing scam.
TechWeb's Reviews Editor, Barbara Krasnoff, toured the new features in Firefox 1.5 Beta 1 for InternetWeek, and that article is still a good visual summary:
Perhaps the most important change since then is that many more Firefox extensions have recently added support for Firefox 1.5. For more on my favorite extensions and tweaks and whether they support Firefox 1.5 see my recently updated Best Firefox Extensions and Customizing Tips site.
I'm a confirmed Firefox user, an ardent supporter of this excellent open-source Web browser. But that doesn't mean I'm a lemming. Right now I think you might be better of hanging back if you haven't installed this puppy yet especially if Firefox is your main browser. There are enough issues people are contending with that, well, who needs the headache? It'll probably all get sorted out. At least for the time being, keep using Firefox 1.0.7, or one of the other Web browsing options.
Watch for my review of Firefox 1.5 after I've learned more about the issues.
Are You Using Firefox 1.5?
With that business out of the way, all those of you who are already running Firefox 1.5 or who aren't taking the advice to hold off, please write me with details about how well Firefox 1.5 is working for you? I'm just as interested in hearing from people who are using Firefox 1.5 several hours a day with no trouble as I am to learn the details of troubles you may be having. My only goal is to get the right word out. about all the details of what's wrong with the browser on your PC. I need your help to research a fair and honest real-world review. I like the new features in the 1.5 version already. But is it ready for prime time? What do you think? And please tell me why.
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Now all but one of my many test computers (not including notebooks) have a 21-inch (or larger) LCD display. For my main computer I bought a Samsung 243T 24-inch LCD in 2004, getting a good deal on a new-in-box unit on eBay. Over the years I've evaluated a wide range of LCDs from about a dozen manufacturers. In 2004, though, I settled on the Samsung 213T 21-inch and 243T 24-inch displays. They represented the sweet spot for good all around quality at a very low price. Nothing all that fancy, but nothing truly annoying either. The Samsung displays, which come with a three-year warranty, rarely have dead pixels.
So, when Samsung contacted me to say it was revving both monitors, I was very interested to see whether it would be a big departure or a small one. I soon learned the answer. The new 244T and 214T take all the best from their predecessors, including the low price points, and make them better.
The three most important improvements shared by the 244T and 214T are improved brightness, contrast ratio, and response times. Improved brightness and contrast are instantly noticeable on both monitors. This is especially useful for playing video or DVDs. Most people actually prefer a little less brightness when Web surfing or using business applications. Nevertheless, it's always better to have the power there when you want it; just turn it down the rest of the time.
Both new models offer picture-in-picture (PIP) and picture-by-picture capabilities, allowing users to view two sources of video at the same time. The second one appears in small box that you can configure to appear in any of four locations around the screen. To help support PIP, both monitors offer new video inputs. The 214T provides composite (RCA jack) and S-Video inputs. The 244T offers those ports, and adds separate video component inputs as well. The 244T also sports a two-port USB hub on one side of and just behind the screen.
Both monitors come with a new set of software for controlling color, tuning, and screen pivoting. I prefer the new MagicRotation software to the software that came with the 213T and 243T. So far, I've found that it works with a minimum of fuss and overhead. Once the software is properly installed and configured, just twist the screen into the portrait orientation, and after a few seconds, hey presto, the proper orientation appears.
244T to a T
The most improved of the two displays is the larger 244T. Like its predecessor, the Syncmaster 243T, the new model is a 24-inch (measured diagonally) LCD display with DVI and VGA inputs. Its native resolution is 1920-by-1200 pixels. That's a 1600-by-1200-sized monitor that is stretched on the side to give it a 16:10 (widescreen) aspect ratio, which is great for playing widescreen DVDs. It's also absolutely ideal for multiple-program window business applications. Also like its predecessor, the Samsung 244T also pivots from landscape mode to portrait mode, which can be a great way to surf the Web.
Samsung's previous generation 243T had a chunky surrounding bezel that was deeply beveled at the edges. On my 243T unit, the bezel is separating in places at the edge of the screen. It still works great. But the new 244T looks smaller beside it with its trimmer bezel and more sculpted bevel design. The 244T also appears less imposing, and its fit and finish exude overall impression of higher quality. Yet the size of the image area is exactly the same.
The 244T is HDTV-ready, meaning that it's capable of supporting High-Definition resolutions, including 720p, 1080p, and 1080i. In some households, that could be a major advantage when connected with a Windows Media Center PC.
The 244T's basic specs include 400cd/m2 brightness (up from 300 cd/m2 in the 243T), 1000:1 contrast ratio (up from 500:1), and 10ms response time (down from 25ms).
In use: I love this thing. Its street price is lower than I paid for my 243T, and its new features and revised industrial design raise its quality level at least two notches over the 243T. Samsung's Syncmaster 244T is a winner, an incredible value, and a Scot's Newsletter Top Product.
214T Offers Real Value
Many of my comments about the 244T apply equally to the 214T. The new 21-inch LCD offers 1600-by-1200-pixel resolution. This specific screen size and resolution offer the very best cross-section between cost and productivity. It's the ideal sweet spot. While $700 isn't inexpensive, there is a giant productivity gap between a 19-inch 1280-by-1024-pixel LCD and a 21-inch 1600-by-1200-pixel LCD in terms of efficiency and usability. In other words, it's worth paying the difference in price between the two sizes, though that price delta can be considerable.
The trick is to choose a 21-inch LCD that delivers value without cutting corners on the essentials and that doesn't run up the price with frilly extras you don't need. That's the Samsung 214T. It's a sensible 21-inch LCD.
The display quality improvements in the new 21-inch Samsung are attractive. Brightness is 300cm/m2 (up from 250cd/m2 in the 213T), contrast ratio is 900:1 (up from 500:1), and response time is 8ms (down from 25ms). The new brightness and contrast levels are immediately apparent when you compare the two side by side. As mentioned above, the 214T comes with PIP plus S-Video and composite inputs.
The 214T's 4:3 aspect ratio is not well suited to widescreen DVD playback. (Though it's fine for standard-width "fullscreen" DVDs.) With widescreen DVDs, you'll see letter-box black bars across the top and bottom, reducing the image area of the displayed movie. If widescreen DVD playback is your primary mission, and you can't afford the 244T, look for a 1680-by-1050-pixel LCD. Gateway has one selling for $599 that I haven't tested. I don't recommend 1680-by-1050 external displays for most people. There's less screen real estate. If you're weighing this, ask yourself this question: How many hours do you spend looking at DVDs on your computer screen compared to surfing, answering email, working, etc.? Unless DVD playing is at least 50%, opt for 1600-by-1200-pixel resolution with a new 21-inch LCD.
Although differences in the 214T and 213T case designs are not all that apparent, Samsung did revise the 214T with a more rounded-corner bevel and it pushed the button controls to right side of the bottom of the bezel (a change also found in the 244T). The stand, although it appears to be carried over from the previous model, does a better job of holding the display up at its highest setting.
The best thing about the 214T is the price, which is very reasonable. The 214T can be had online for around $700 if you poke around, and I expect the price will come down a bit in a few months. Like the 244T, the 214T is a Scot's Newsletter Top Product! and I strongly recommend it to anyone considering a large-screen LCD display.
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To find out more about the rich backstory, check out TechWeb's 20 Years of Windows, authored by George Jones and edited by Valerie Potter.
My big problem is that in the process of doing this, Microsoft has literally done away with entire "File menu" system that we've been using for years and years. They're gone! The File menu remains, but it bears little resemblance to the one you're already used to. There are also no toolbars (which, frankly, I'm not so sad to see go). The toolbars, though, have an analog in the new user interface. They turn into new graphical tabs. And, in fact, their new rendition is a much better design than the toolbars of old. But again, there is some rigidity in Microsoft's thinking. You can't turn these tabs off, either selectively or at all.
One of the reasons that Microsoft software has climbed to prominence over the last 15 years is that we could always "have it our way," to borrow on the Burger King ad campaign. (By the way, does that new Burger King life-size "King" doll shown in U.S. TV commercials freak you out as much as he does me? He gives me the willies. But maybe it's something like how James Spader has a phobia of clowns on that TV show, Boston Legal ... ?) In other words, in most MS apps, there are several ways to customize, with several options for how you accomplish something to suit your personal preferences.
There's nothing I think more supremely arrogant than a software company that decides there's just "one true way" for users to follow a process in its programs. Message to all software heads of development: The minute your design teams start thinking this way, you should shake them all up and start over. It's not healthy. One size never fits all. And they always
Frankly, these decisions so overshadow what's new and cool in Office 12 that I have a hard time even thinking about them, much less writing about them. I'll let my friend Rick Scott tell you what's new in Office 12, based on Beta 1.
Eudora 7.0 is just more of the same. The big new feature is the addition of X1 search functionality, replacing Eudora's glacial search facility with something that is finally fast, once the index is built. The trouble with the X1 search in Eudora isn't X1's fault. X1 needs to index, and that becomes a background operation that now needs to occur whenever the program loads because it needs to re-index your Junkmail, trash folders, and new mail, since those always change between sessions. Eudora 7 can take literally FOREVER to load now. Again, this is not really X1's fault. Eudora has been moving that way for a while, and it's worse in this version. And its system resource usage is higher than ever. So, while I like X1 quite a bit, I'm not a big fan of pudgy Eudora (which I nevertheless continue to use).
One of the most annoying things about Eudora is that can only do one thing at a time. Everything's modal. The Windows-oriented technology is all circa 1993. It acts like a 16-bit Windows app. You can't open a message while you're sending/receive, for example.
I'm giving serious consideration to switching to PocoMail, the only email product I know of that approximates Eudora's underlying power. Because, sluggish though it is, Eudora is exceedingly powerful. Now if there were only an anti-spam utility designed for PocoMail like Barry Jaspan's Spamnix that would make the jump easier to take. A return to POPFile or any proxy-server based anti-spam package is less attractive to me.
Viamatic foXpose Firefox 1.5 Extension
Remember the new "Quick Tabs" feature that Microsoft is adding to IE 7? I wrote about this in the last issue of the newsletter in the section titled New Internet Explorer 7 Features Revealed? Well, the addition of the new 8K Viamatic foXpose extension by Vivek Jishtu for Firefox 1.5 gives you the same functionality.
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The most important Z60m attribute, hands down, is its gorgeous and extremely usable 15.4-inch LCD display. This screen may be the size that all notebooks should be designed around. It's as ideal working through your business day as it is playing a DVD on the plane. The 1,680-by-1,050-pixel resolution lets you really spread out and get work done. The slightly shorter, wider screen also fits better on the tray table in coach class.
Some of the more important features include an Intel 2GHz mobile Pentium M processor, 1GB RAM, 100GB 5400-rpm hard drive, 128MB ATI Radeon X600 video, fingerprint reader with secure chip, and a jumbo 9-cell lithium-ion battery. This Z60m unit, whose model number is 2529-EAU, comes fully equipped with Windows XP Pro, Bluetooth, 802.11a/b/g wireless, 1GB Ethernet, and a CDRW/DVDRW drive. For more details about this specific model, check out its essentials:
Other dividends paid by the Z60m include larger speakers mounted on either side of the keyboard, where they won't be muffled by your lap (one of the few downsides of Lenovo's ThinkPad T series 14-inch and 15-inch notebooks). Combine the improved sound with the cinematic wide-screen display, and you have an excellent DVD-playing notebook PC.
The Z60m has connections. It offers three USB ports, a FireWire port, and a three-in-one card reader. There's also a PS/2 mouse port, something that's missing from some other notebooks.
Lenovo is the only maker of notebooks whose built-in pointing device is good enough for me to leave behind my desktop scroll-wheel mouse. The UltraNav pointing device has a very usable solution for replacing the scroll wheel. I've long since grown so accustomed to the UltraNav that I don't even realize I'm using it. Sometimes I find myself wistfully extending my thumb for the UltraNav when I'm typing at my desktop computer.
IBM is noted for making the very best keyboards, and Lenovo is using the same designs, so the Z60m has an excellent notebook keyboard that most touch typists will adore.
Many people will find that with this particular portable computer, they don't need add-on devices like an external display, external keyboard, and external mouse. When you're weighing price and value, keep that in mind.
The Z60m's lid-closing mechanism triggers standby or hibernation at about a 25-degree-closed angle, as opposed to the under-10-degree angle that triggers power-management features on most notebooks. Or let me put it this way, the notebook screen has some 4.5 inches of travel left when the screen blanks out. Because I prefer to set the action of a closed lid to hibernate (both to save power and protect against heat build up), I have more than once accidentally triggered unwanted hibernations.
The excellent UltraNav TrackPoint three-button pointing/scrolling system has a cheaper feel, and it's narrower fore and aft by a few millimeters just not quite up to the standard of the business-class ThinkPads I've tested in past. The difference is minor, though.
I continue to be less than a fan of Intel wireless networking hardware. With the Intel 2915 a/b/g wireless networking mini PCI card that comes with the Z60m model reviewed for this story, I experienced frequent disconnects, especially coming in and out of hibernation. After messing around with the 2915's settings (available in Device Manager), I finally found a configuration that makes the card work properly 98% of the time. I have had multiple doesn't-work-at-all experiences with Intel's lower-cost 2200BG wireless networking card in the past. I don't recommend buying that wireless networking mini-PCI card on any computer. I'm not sure about whether it's available for the ThinkPad Z60 series, but it is possible to specify the IBM 802.11a/b/g card for T series notebooks, and it works perfectly every time.
Taking Its Measure
The wide screen gives the Z60m a different footprint. It's just over 14 inches wide, only 10.3 inches deep, and just over 1.5 inches high. The larger screen also dictates a beefier hinge system, forcing the unit to tip the scales at over 6 pounds in most configurations. The unit I tested, model 2529-EAU, has an extremely strong pewter-colored titanium top cover that adds about four-tenths of a pound to the overall weight. With the larger 9-cell battery, this model tops out at 6.8 pounds. There are Z60m models that weigh just under 6 pounds though.
So, this isn't the notebook for all you card-carrying members of the actively mobile workforce. Lenovo's X series notebooks and its competitors are for folks perennially on the go. But if you work at home or only bring your notebook home from the office on some weekends, the Z60m is worth consideration.
For the same reasons, it's ideal for many people who work in small businesses, where it's more common to combine business and pleasure on one PC. When you think of it that way, it's a near perfect compromise just so long as regular travel isn't part of your gig.
The ThinkPad Z60m is also the perfect computer for home users. It's large enough to be useful, even without an external display, keyboard, and mouse but small enough to close up in a drawer or take out on the road now and then.
At $2,229, my top-of-the-line 2529-EAU Z60m test unit is very well equipped but pricey. Cost has long been an issue with ThinkPads. You pay for the best designed, best executed products. And when you list out the pros and cons, the Z60m is a very good value for someone who wants it all. There's nothing at all to upgrade. Lenovo won't say this yet, but I can tell you that, as equipped, the 2529-EAU will run Windows Vista just fine. When price is a bigger concern, Lenovo also has 15.4-inch LCD Z60m models selling for as low as $1,199.
I never would have thought I could place a 6.8-pound notebook on Scot's Newsletter's Top Product list. It's the weight, overall, that's the big negative about this ThinkPad. You don't want to schlep this thing around much. But many people buy notebooks for occasional portability, with the main goal being to make them less obtrusive than a desktop PC when they're on the dining-room table. This is the best computer I've ever used for that purpose.
Note: This review appeared on Desktop Pipeline and several other online publications on the TechWeb Network.
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I've also experienced a common problem with NAV2005 multiple times over the last year: It suddenly stops working and needs to be reinstalled. This usually happens after it asks you several times to "re-activate" the product for no apparent reason. I know from SFNL email that I'm not alone in experiencing this problem. It's rare, in fact, that I get a positive message about Symantec products.
For nearly six months, I've been seriously testing (on my main PC in a production environment) alternative anti-virus products. I will share with you that I'm on my third real-world test. The product is Alwil Software's Avast! Antivirus. I'm even using the free for personal use Home Edition. There are some annoyances with this product (pop-up windows and voice notifications). And configuration screens are not as clear as they might be. But overall, I find that I like Avast, almost against my will. And it has done a good job of detecting viruses on my system. The user experience is much better than Norton Antivirus, though I must hasten to add that I haven't tried NAV 2006, which Symantec didn't even send to me.
I don't have a hard recommendation on the best antivirus software package yet. When I'm through testing a bunch of them, I'll come back and tell you what I think.
One thing I should add, I still very much like a small handful of Symantec programs that are contained in Norton Utilities, which is only available as part of the $99 overstuffed Norton SystemWorks Premier package. I'm also a big fan of Norton PartitionMagic.
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I did, however, acquire evaluation versions of a long list of popular anti-spyware products, and I've been using several of them ever since. Recently, I had the perfect occasion to test them out in a typical real-world scenario. A relative sent me her notebook PC because of a problem with the display. I quickly replaced the damaged display, but another problem was a lot tougher. The computer was riddled with spyware and adware, including some notable bad guys, like one of the less potent variants of CoolWebSearch.
It took me about three days to eliminate all the spyware on this system. Thankfully, it wasn't so bad that I had to wipe the disk and start over an option many people wind up resorting to.
The process of eliminating over two-dozen serious spyware programs and scores of mostly minor adware instances reinforced something that I've strongly advised in the past: There's no one anti-spyware program you can trust to get that job done all by itself. You have to team up several products. Install your full suite of anti-spyware tools. Then run all your scans, one after the other, vanquishing all suspicious hits. Restart the ailing computer after each set of scans and rescan it again. You are not done until you get a completely clean sweep of all your scans. Even then, you need to be vigilant.
I used a suite of products that I've come to consider my anti-spyware toolkit. Each has different strengths and weaknesses. In terms of overall detection and success in eradication of spyware, I prefer Webroot's Spy Sweeper ($30).
This product has a nearly terrible interface. (Dear Webroot: I would be only too happy to recommend about 20 major things you should to do change Spy Sweeper's user controls.) But the power is there. And, most importantly, the product does the best overall job of ridding your computer from a moderate level of spyware. It's still apparent that no anti-spyware utility nor even a suite of such utilities is truly equal to a full-bore, especially nasty spyware infection.
I've been a Safer Networking's Spybot Search & Destroy (free) user for several years now. I still use this product, which has improved a bit this year. I would place it as a distant second, behind Spy Sweeper, in terms of its ability to find and rid a computer of spyware that's already slipped by your defenses. Keep in mind, this is a subjective rating.
I still use LavaSoft's Ad-Aware SE Personal (free) to check for and rid a computer of pre-existing spyware and virulent adware. Tt does a so-so job of detection. Its best feature may be its excellent user interface and fast deep scan. It's another check for me, though perhaps less important than the others. It might be better if updates came more frequently and covered more spyware. But like all the others, it unearths some bad stuff the others do not.
Microsoft's AntiSpyware Beta (free), which is in process of being siginficantly updated and renamed Windows Defender, is notable for several important advantages. Microsoft acquired the product by buying its original maker, Giant Software. Microsoft AntiSpyware has the very best interface of any anti-spyware product I've tested. The product is weak at eradicating pre-existing spyware. It's a common problem with anti-spyware products that they tell you they've removed a spyware program when they, in fact, have not. Or, more specifically, they have removed most of the the bad code, but there's left of it that it regenerates on the next reboot.
But the Microsoft product has one strong suit. It offers the only real-time scanner that I can stand to have running on my system. I now install it on all the machines in my care for that reason. [Editor's Note: The jury is still out on whether *my* computer is in "his care" or not. --Cyndy] [Right, even though you got a brand new, shiny, more powerful notebook after you fried the last one earlier this year? With all your apps and data intact? How quickly you take my services for granted! By the way, I promise you all that I will pay for bringing this up. And I ask you, is that fair? Scot]
Microsoft AntiSpyware also automatically updates, does scheduled deep scans, and may be optionally connected to Microsoft's anti-spyware network of users, which helps with early detection of new spyware. So, as a before-your-PC-gets-spyware-sick form of protection, it's an excellent choice.Were I only going to install two anti-spyware products, they would be the ones from Webroot and Microsoft.
Another indispensable tool for more experienced users is HiJack This (free). Read up on this product before you use it, and also, check with the resources the author offers you before doing anything you're not sure of.
Finally, although I haven't tested this product recently, Computer Associates' eTrust PestPatrol ($30) has probably the largest database of spyware and adware signatures. I don't know, however, just how well it's been kept up to date since CA purchased it a couple years back. I'm also a fan of Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy ($20), which, like Microsoft AntiSpyware, is a Giant Software derivative.
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Even though Verizon didn't offer DSL service in our town, I managed after months of effort to get it installed through a third-party DSL provider Covad and a nationwide DSL ISP, Speakeasy. Eventually cable Internet came to my town and I acquired and tested two different flavors of satellite Internet service, Pegasus Express (which was a re-labeling of DirecWay) and Starband.
In the summer of 2002, AT&T Broadband bought out my dysfunctional local cable company and I finally got fast cable Internet installed. In the spring of 2003 Verizon offered a low-cost DSL program in my area, so I signed up for that service and reviewed it. A few months later, AT&T Broadband, which had been purchased by Comcast, was subsumed into the largest U.S. cable Internet provider, and I wrote about that experience.
A year later, I ran an extensive comparative review of Verizon DSL and Comcast cable Internet. Comcast won because of a single overriding factor: superior downstream data-transfer rates. I still get upwards of 4Mbps download speeds from Comcast, while my Verizon DSL service is speed-limited at just under 1.5Mbps. (Some people who are wired shorter distances from their local phone company central office, a.k.a. "CO," get much better transfer rates from Verizon DSL.)
I still subscribe to both Verizon DSL and Comcast cable Internet services.
About Verizon's FiOS
For more than a year, there hasn't been much to write about on the broadband front at least not in terms of what I can actually get my hands on to test.
Over the last several weeks, however, Verizon has been stringing new fiber-optic lines on my street. And other neighborhoods nearby are ready to go. My town should soon become part of the ranks of "Verizon FiOS" towns. The large Baby Bell is running fibre-optic lines not just on all the streets but directly to all subscriber homes. FiOS delivers 5Mbps, 15Mbps, and 30Mbps service levels. The $45-$50 15Mbps service will significantly up the ante on Comcast (and other cable providers) in the performance area on the order of four to five times faster for almost exactly the same price. It's doubtful that Comcast will have a trumping play in the price/performance wars. And, meanwhile, Comcast is raising its prices in January (at least, in my area). Not smart. And not at all "Comcastic," as the company's ads like to say.
FiOS is a sea change for consumers. It isn't just fast broadband Internet access. It also entirely replaces the "copper" running to your house. Look Ma, no wires. In fact, it requires a battery back-up to run the phone lines in your house in the event of a power outage something that may concern some of us. So FiOS will carry both the Internet and phone communication. And it doesn't stop there. FiOS is fully capable of delivering cable-TV-style high-def digital television, called FiOS TV. Currently FiOS TV has 330 channels, including 20 HD channels and on-demand programming. It also delivers Tivo-like capabilities.
The first wave of FiOS, the broadband Internet service, is only available in a handful of towns in 15 U.S. states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia. FiOS TV is only available in three towns at the moment; it was first launched on Sept. 22, 2005, in Keller, Texas, and has just been rolled out in Herndon, Virginia and Temple Terrace, Florida.
FiOS TV has a long way to go before it can compete well against the cable TV companies, but there can be no doubt that fiber-optic technology blows away the coaxial cabling used by many cable companies. And on paper, at least, FiOS Internet service is an order of magnitude more powerful than all of the existing competition.
FiOS for SFNL Labs
Expect a review of FiOS sometime over the next year. I recognize that many of you don't have access to this service, and may never have access. Verizon serves 28 U.S. states. But FiOS is the leading edge of a trend that's coming to the U.S., and not just from Verizon. This is the prototype service, and SFNL readers should know about the all the broadband possibilities.
Verizon hasn't announced a delivery date for FiOS in my home town. From a reliable source, I've learned, though, that it is being unofficially made available to people on some streets in my town. My street has fiber-optic lines run, but the terminals have not been installed (the junctions that allow lines to be run to individual homes). And it appears they've been working on some sort of control box in my area. According to Verizon sources, January could be a likely month when the service is officially launched here.
Whenever it becomes available to me, I will install it and write about the experience.
Want to know whether FiOS might be coming your way? The Verizon FiOS website let's you check out whether it's available to you by typing in your phone number. But chances are it'll say "No." To get a much better feel for where Verizon is going with FiOS such as whether it has already rolled out near you consult these press releases, which announce all the towns in which Verizon had introduced the service. For more info, call Verizon: 888-GET FIOS (438-3467).
Food for thought: If you don't live in a market that Verizon serves, it's not like Verizon has a corner on fiber-optic technology. Many other broadband Internet providers offer fiber-to-the-curb and fiber-optic hub services that effectively bring the CO closer to you to improve access to DSL. And how long before the other phone companies catch up? I have no answer to that question, but I think Verizon is giving us a glimpse of the eventual future at least in the more populace areas of the U.S.
What's your broadband story? Whether it installed like a dream or was an utter nightmare, tell SFNL readers about your experience.
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What's the Places bar? It's the gray column on the left side of the File > Open, File > Save, and File > Save As dialogs in Microsoft Word, Excel, and so forth. The column contains icons that give you shortcuts to common folders and containers on your computer where you might like to open or save documents. The customizations you make for the File > Open dialog will also apply to the File > Save As and File > Save dialogs. They will also apply to other Office applications that share these common dialogs.
There are a lot of possible variations on this tip since it applies to the last three versions of Office. The specific steps I'm offering are for Office 2003 and Office XP (a.k.a. Office 2002). Microsoft offers several technical documents that seek to explain the tip, as well as another set of directions for Office 2000. I've included links to those docs at the end.
In Office 2003, the default File > Open and File > Save As dialogs offer shortcuts to My Recent Places (called "History" in Office XP), Desktop, My Documents, My Computer, and My Network Places. Especially on computers that use large-screen displays, there is plenty more room in these user-resizable dialogs to add new folder destinations.
I have at least three folders within My Documents that I open from and save to frequently: One is for business documents, another is for personal documents, and a third is for this newsletter. I would also prefer to start in Drive C: or Drive D: than in My Computer, when I'm poking around the file system. Saves waiting for My Computer to open. So I like to add my drive or drives to the Places bar.
In Office 2003 and Office XP, Microsoft added basic user-interface-based controls for customizing the Places bar. Follow these steps to add a new folder or any container to your Places bar in those versions of Office:
1. Open the File > Open or File > Save As dialog. Navigate to the folder that contains the folder you want to add to the Places bar. (For example, to add Drive C:, open My Computer.) Then click once on that folder to select it without opening it.
2. Click the "Tools" item in the mini toolbar on the top, right side of the File > Open or File > Save As dialog box, which opens a drop-down menu.
3. Select the "Add to 'My Places'" menu item.
That's all there is to it. Repeat for other folders you'd like to add.
You can change the order of the icons on the Places bar by right clicking them and choosing Move Up or Move Down from the context menu. You can also delete any icons you add by right-clicking them and selecting Remove. (You can't, however, remove the Places containers that Microsoft includes by default.) There's even a Small Icons option on the context menu that does just what you'd think. It lets you cram more folders into the same space on the Places bar.
The process is a bit more complex in Office 2000, and yet it's still possible to accomplish. See the links below.
In the next installment of Tip of the Month, we'll look at how to modify Windows common dialogs (which control similar dialog boxes for Notepad, WordPad, and other Windows applets) in the same way.
More Resources on this Tip
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 next issue of the newsletter will probably arrive the week of January 9. The release date for Microsoft's next beta of Windows Vista Beta 2 could very well affect the publish date of the next newsletter.
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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