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 Vol. 18  No.5 Supporting PC Platforms July-August 2002 Newsletter:. 2002
 CONTENTS 
 

Windows XP: As Good as it Gets

Ten Years Ago 

Final bytes 

Schedule 
 
 
 

 
 Early warning system’ for ‘spam’
By Bob Wallace

Several e-mail messages over the past two weeks were found to include a bit more information in the headers of each, noting that the automated message inserted into each message had identified an IP address that was passing along spam, otherwise known as e-mail ‘junk’ mail. This in messages arriving from my ISP, RCN.COM.

Going to the RCN address provided (www.mail.rcn.net/external/x-header/), found a page of information explaining "What is this X-Spam-Warning header?" Midway down that page were two sites identified that would give more information. SPEWS, the Spam Prevention Early Warning System, tells why some folks are referred to that page, usually following rejection of one or more messages from the sender at the receiver’s end. The second site identified by RCN’s page is named ORDB, or Open Relay Database, a site that details the sites on the Internet willing to accept messages from users not necessarily tied to that site, but who use that site to post e-mail messages for other users, usually spam.

What does this mean for the average user?  SPEWS lists IP addresses associated with users (individuals and/or organizations) knowingly posting (or allowing the posting of) messages that are spam. ORDB, on the other hand, is an automated system that tracks ‘open relay’ systems, mail servers that allow messages to be posted on a system not their ‘home’ ISP, allowing those messages to be forwarded without tying the sender directly to spam. For RCN users, perhaps for users on your local ISP as well, if you’re not one of their accounts, you will not be allowed to post e-mail messages.

One source of spam in my case came from getting tied to the YourBigVote Internet site (www.yourbigvote.com) and providing my e-mail address. Now that I know that this site is the ‘open relay’ sort of site, going back and unsubscribing from their site took only a minute. Their Unsubscribe button is at the top right of the home page if you need to detach yourself from their message system. Follow the page or two until you provide your e-mail address, then click on the button to submit that data to the server. With that step taken care of first thing this holiday weekend Saturday morning, no doubt there will be a "confirmation" message from that site, telling me that my e-mail account will no longer find their messages showing up. Good. That’s exactly what is desired!
 

On to other issues in this issue. One of the things you may notice with the arrival of this newsletter in your snail mail box is that postage to get this issue to you has increased, effective with the end of June. Mailing nearly 20 copies to the current membership database means the club is now spending 37 cents per copy, at least six times per year. Combine that cost with the expense of copying/collating/stapling the newsletter at Kinko’s, a cost that hinges on the number of pages per issue times the number of copies printed, you can appreciate the expense we’re faced with every other month. Add to it the dessert and coffee expense at each month’s meeting and you might imagine how quickly our annual dues fund can get depleted. For the moment, we’re taking a serious look at this issue, with the thought in mind that the annual dues will not be increased unless it becomes  absolutely  necessary.

While we’re looking at the ‘mailing page’ portion of the newsletter, a quick reminder that the top line always has the month your annual dues expires. A quick check of that top line will tell you whether your membership is about to lapse, or you still have a few months before that event occurs. Keeping abreast of that date will assist in keeping the club’s dues at their current level. Sending out renewal letters also eats into the club’s kitty, as you might imagine.
 
 



Windows XP: As Good as it Gets
Bass discovers few crashes, great performance, and a minimum of headaches with XP Pro

By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group 

Kvetching about an operating system is therapeutic. Believe me, I’ve done lots, saving regular visits to my shrink. But my complaining has almost bottomed out since I made the full-time switch to Windows XP Pro.

You caught that, right? I said almost. The reason is that even though I’m wildly pleased with XP, there are still a few features--and loose ends--I don’t like. I’ll describe a few of them in this and subsequent columns, and show you how XP has built-in ways to make the changes. (Of course, that’s one of my primary kvetches -- finding the spots to modify XP isn’t obvious and requires digging.) 

To play fair, I have to warn you that I’ll also do some proselytizing. I’m going to do my best to win you over, so to speak, for your own good. That’s because once you get over the hassle of Product Activation, and Microsoft’s annoying single license policy, I really think your computing experience will increase substantially.

I need another soapbox minute or two. Many of the PC World letters I receive complain,  sometime bitterly,  of  a Microsoft conspiracy to force you into upgrading your system. Readers go on to say that in order to use XP, they’ll need to replace some of their devices (printers seem to be the first one not to work), or stop using old, 16-bit programs written for Win 95. 
I’ll concede and agree with many of the readers that Microsoft should have done a better job with previous Windows versions, then we wouldn’t be stuck in the corner having to upgrade. 

But the reality is that if you want a slick operating system, one that’s likely to make your computing day smoother and your workday more productive, you’ll have to upgrade. [Set Soapbox to Off].

No More Stinkin’ Crashes

You probably know that XP is  a pretty interface hung on Windows 2000's architecture, so it  resists crashes extraordinarily well. That’s true for XP but not necessarily for programs that still plow headfirst into the bit bucket. For instance, Eudora, my e-mail program, locks up when I try embedding what it considers a too large image into a message. And Internet Explorer also has a way of choking and freezing on some sites, doing its best to imitate a deer in headlights. 

With Win 9x, the Eudora and IE crash could bring the system down; even if it didn’t, I’d reboot to clear out any leftover holes in memory. Win XP contains the crash and stops it from contaminating the rest of the system. Using Control - Alt - Delete, the three-finger, soft-boot  salute, calls up Task manager, one of XP’s shining lights. Click on the toasted app and it’s history. 

Crash Reports? No, Thanks

Of course, with Microsoft at the helm, nothing as cool as Task Manager’s handling of a crash can be left alone. Microsoft insists on meddling by sending itself the details of the crash. No doubt, the crash report does provide clues, often vital ones that you can review, to explain why a program crashes.
But once I’ve looked at a report -- say, Eudora’s paige32.dll bug that Qalcomm won’t fix -- I’m no longer interested in seeing it pop up. So I’ve turned parts of the feature off. (From Start, Control Panel, Advanced tab, Error Reporting.) This dialog gives me choices, and they’re good ones. I can get the report but not send it, opt to hear only about programs or XP’s errors, or even add specific programs to watch.

Zap, You’re Restored

GoBack was the first successful utility to save snapshots of a PC’s hard drive and let you restore the drive to a time when things were running well. It shouldn’t surprise you to see a similar feature in Windows XP.(Roxio’s GoBack, $40, download at www.roxio.com.) 

Quick aside: Many of Microsoft’s niftier features are from the brain trusts of third-party companies. Woody , creator of dozens of Office, and specifically Word add-ons, said that to me in a private e-mail recently. More in another column.

XP’s System Restore does just about everything GoBack does, just not as well. Nonetheless, it’s an improvement over the way it worked in Windows ME, and a handy tool. I create a Restore point just before installing a new application. If the installation goes kaflooey, I use System Restore to jump five minutes into the past and get my system going again.

I use it so often, I pinned it onto my Start Menu for easy access. Try it: Find System Restore in All Programs, Accessories, System Tools and right mouse click on the icon and choose Pin on Start menu. Easy, no?

System Restore’s Problems

The problem? System Restore isn’t perfect. While I haven’t had a problem in the 25 times I’ve used it, some reports on the Internet talk about DLLs that should be gone after a System Restore, are still on the system.

One thing Microsoft doesn’t tell you is that each Restore Point (and system checkpoints, those restore points XP does automatically) takes up disk space.

You can dump all but the last system  point by using XP’s Disk Cleanup tool. Open Disk Cleanup, by clicking Start, choose All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, select Disk Cleanup, and choose the More Options tab. (Shortcut: From Start, Run, type cleanmgr.)

In the next series of columns, I’ll show you other features built into XP that can keep you focused on productivity rather than rebooting two or three times a day or recovering from crashes.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter.



Ten Years Ago 

A look back at a column that deals with the transition to Windows in 1992. The title: "The Ongoing Windows Dilemma"

By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group 

If you’re like many computer users, you’re gradually making the switch to Windows. You’ve abandoned some of your DOS applications and forced others to work in Windows and maybe even found some neat replacements that are designed for Windows. 

If you play around with a few Windows applications, the advantages are easy to see. To begin with, Windows applications all adhere to the same basic interface. That means once you’ve grown accustomed to clicking the mouse on the File portion of the menu in one application -- for example, to Save, Open, or Print a file -- you’ll discover it’s in the same place on all Windows applications. That reduces the learning curve on new applications and, well, just makes each product easier to use.

From Here to There

You’ll also find out how easy it is to transfer data from one Windows application to another. That’s because all Windows products -- as opposed to DOS programs -- are generally made to work in the same way thereby allowing them to share data. And because Windows is a graphical environment, it means you can easily see things on the screen just as they’ll look when you print them out. 

Some adjustments, however, are harder to make. Because I come from a DOS environment, I rarely used the mouse. Unfortunately, Windows word processing programs are notorious in their attempt to make me use the rodent. When I write -- as opposed to working in a spreadsheet -- I like to keep my fingers on the keyboard. So along with learning to use the mouse, I’ve searched out keyboard alternatives to mouse clicks.  It’s not that difficult, but, as you may have discovered, not always a slick solution. Especially if you’re used to a series of DOS keystrokes. 

To get around the problem, I’ve taken advantage of the macro function of most Windows programs. A macro gives me the ability to assign numerous keystrokes to one or two key combinations, easily duplicating keystrokes from my old DOS programs. Now I know you’re going to laugh but the first Word for Windows macro I created was CTRL-T. 

1-2-3...Quattro

Borland’s Quattro Pro for Windows, the star of Windows spreadsheet programs, took a bold -- but obvious step -- in making the mouse more useful. If you’ve highlighted a spreadsheet cell and click on the right mouse button, for example, you’ll get a dialogue box allowing you to modify the properties within that cell. Pretty bright. Not only that, as you scroll across QP/WIN’s Speedbar, a brief description telling you what each icon does appears on the bottom of the screen. Boy, does that help in learning.
Overall, I think the most daunting part of switching to Windows is first facing -- and then choosing from -- the staggering number of Windows applications on the market.

The problem is they’re all solid contenders. (We should always have such problems.) In the last month, for example, I’ve tried to decide on a word processor. Because of my work with PC World (I have to test every user group tip so I’ve tried lots of software), I’ve played with Lotus’ Ami Pro and Microsoft’s Word for Windows. Both products are winners and each has half a dozen features I like. 

For example, Ami Pro’s Smart Icons -- shortcut buttons that help me get to many other features -- are a great help with navigating through the program. I can move the icons to just about any location, handy if I’m fiddling with some design at the bottom of the page. Ami Pro’s Icons are colorful, something I didn’t think was important until I compared it to Word for Windows’ monochrome Toolbar. 

But wait, Microsoft has some neat things too. Word for Windows’ Create Envelope feature lets me address and print an envelope in less time than it takes to lick a stamp. The outlining feature, something I’ve ignored in stand-alone programs because it was so hard to get to, was addicting. The Page Preview functions in Word for Windows are glorious. 

Too bad I can’t combine the best features of both and call it BassWord WinPro.

Need a Database?

The one program that I’m still up in the air about is a Windows database. 

The two software giants are slugging it out, each vying for my attention, trying to get me to buy their database. And if you played your cards right, you cashed in on the ridiculously low prices. I mean, Microsoft’s Access for $99 bucks. Hell, it’s almost like buying shareware. 

Then Borland, with its stock wallowing in the low twenties, (it looked like it dropped a point for every day Paradox was delayed), tempting you with user group specials. Paradox for Windows for $125 and, for another $55, Quattro for Windows. At the Borland meeting, one guy bought five copies and said he was a commodities broker. Sure, I’ll take a hundred pork bellies, a bushel of soy beans and a handful of PDX/WIN’s.

Look, the prices are low because there’s a lot at stake for both companies. Generally, the product you start with is the one you’ll stay with because you’ve spent so much time learning the keystrokes. So if they can get the product into your hands before the other guy, well, you get the picture. 

And we’re in the catbird seat because they look at user groups members as Influential End Users. They figure that if you buy one and like it -- and with any luck use it -- you’ll likely tell ten other users. Then if you like it and you’re MIS, well, they’ve really hit the jackpot.

But I Digress...

Hey, did I get off the subject? 

Both Access and Paradox for Windows are great products. Microsoft’s tempts you with Wizards and Templates while Paradox for Windows mesmerizes you with power, speed and, the best of all, familiarity. You already know Paradox, why learn something new?

So which one are you going to choose? It’s the perennial battle, the one you face with every program you see at Egghead. 

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter. 



Final bytes 
By Bob Wallace

Cranking up the WinAmp program late last week on Lois’s computer found a message that a newer version was available, so a quick download got it to the computer and installed. (When using a cable connection to download, it’s more like QUICK!)  Going from WinAmp 2.7 to 2.8 means adding WinAmp’s mini-browser to the screen, displaying information in that mini-browser while music is being played through your computer speakers.

Editing this edition of the SFPCC Newsletter means having the Internet version of KJAZ-FM going in the background, the only way one is able to listen to this excellent jazz station these days. On the other hand, it also means tapping into Highlander Radio, player of Celtic, Irish and Scottish groups and their music. If this sounds like a fun way to listen to different music, something that might interest your ears, open your browser and go to Celtic Radio (www.celticradio.net) to get a link to one of four players available for Internet radio. Choose the player you want, download and install your choice, then listen away. For the record, there are some number of other ‘stations’ available for your listening pleasure via your computer and Internet connect.

For those following the Linux world, even lightly, you might have missed the two-paragraph blurb in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Business section in the middle of June detailing how Disney Studios is upgrading their digital capability with new HP servers and workstations, and running them under Linux, thereby joining several other digital imaging organizations already on the Linux bandwagon, including Industrial Light and Magic.

(A visit to Dogpile.com this past weekend and searching for "linux" there brought up nearly a dozen pages of information about Linux, and clicking on their link to Linux Software brought up nearly as many pages. Linux, it seems, is here for some time to come and gaining in popularity in some interesting quarters.)

Programs noted in previous editions that have an update and/or URL change include: Mozilla, the alternative browser for Windows, OS/2, Linux and other platforms. Latest noted is the Mozilla v1.0 Release Candidate 2 available from www.mozilla.org. One other thing you can do with whichever browser you use is to visit Mozilla’s demonstration page (www.mozilla.org/start/1.0/demos.html)  to see what some of the native capabilities of this program include. Several links to other Internet sites are tied to that page to get you to those demos.

(One thing to note for anyone looking to use Mozilla: it does take a long time to load their program, even on one of Hank Skawinski’s Datawise systems. Mozilla does, however, allow for you to use the program as its own server, which should mean it loads quicker. If you use ZoneAlarm, or some other program similar to ZoneAlarm, you’ll have to tell ZoneAlarm to allow Mozilla to access the Internet, and click on the "Yes" button to remember that setting. At least for the current version.)

The e-mail program used here for the past several years and through some number of versions has changed web page URL. To get to the MR/2  ICE home page, use www.mr2ice.com and select the platform-specific version for your computer. For most computer club members, that would be the Windows version, a link for which is available on the page. This program does take a bit more setup than the average Win-based program, so be advised of that situation.

Working with our copy of Quicken Deluxe for Windows finds a bug of some magnitude, that being that the copy from one file to another that is supposed to weed out data from two or three years ago will not work as suggested by Quicken’s help file, or from their web site. A message was posted to Quicken’s site about a month ago advising of this problem. While we may  be able to live with this little imperfection in their code, it does mean having to put up with use of four diskettes now with which to back up our data. Barring some good fortune in a future version, we’ll be using five or six diskettes shortly, or finding some way of deleting older information manually, which doesn’t sound all that appealing, believe me!

Any suggestions for future meeting topics can be addressed to Judy Oliphant by way of her e-mail address: koolccg@yahoo.com. She has ideas for the next few months, but anything that might be of interest to your computing specifically should be sent her way.



Schedule

July 11:  MailShield

August 8:  Potluck  dinner

September 12: Tentative

October 10: Tentative

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