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August 2004 Archive

Show Recaps on this page
August 25, 2004   August 18, 2004   August 11, 2004   August 4, 2004 

For a full list of all archived shows, see the Archives page

 August 31, 2004 Show



The show was pre-empted for coverage of the RNC. 

 August 25, 2004 Show

Listen to the whole show
10 MB 


We did a bit of fund raising tonight. Our membership premiums are online here. For any pledge, we offered Hank's checklist for computer system maintenance, some of which was discussed on the show. There were no listener questions tonight. 

We are pre-empted next week due to coverage of the Republican National Convention. 

In The News

A problem with the DOS operating system in the NASA mars Spirit rover caused it to reboot.
   NASA: DOS Glitch Nearly Killed Mars Rover By Mark Hachman, ExtremeTech August 23, 2004 

Intel lowered the prices this week on the Pentium 4, up to 35%. No price change though on the two most popular models. Think of it more as a sale on overstock and discontinued models. 

Microsoft cut a deal with some universities for students to get software for free. Except for the Microsoft Office suite.
  University Offers Free Microsoft Software August 25, 2004 AP

Eliot Spitzer, the NY attorney general, filed a lawsuit with Priceline and Ramada to make their web sites available to the disabled.
   Priceline, Ramada to Make Sites More Accessible to Blind The Associated Press August 19, 2004

In a recent survey Apple was number one in customer satisfaction among computer companies. Dell was second.
  Study: Apple, Dell lead PC customer satisfaction index  Computerworld August 24, 2004 Improved technical support seems to have helped

Windows XP Service Pack 2 

Before installing SP2 have a full backup, not only of your data files but also of the entire OS and registry. Specifically, make a disk image backup. If you are not familiar with disk image backups, then don't install SP2. The risk of trouble is too high. 

Joe would rather live with the danger of the insecure system than risk having SP2 screw up your computer.  Hank checked with a number of Fortune 500 companies and they are all holding off on installing SP2 for now. Instead they are still testing it. Hank has been told that there is a magic CD to rollback SP2 on any system, but that it's a secret. A disk image backup enables the same thing, restoring the computer to exactly the way it was before installing SP2. 

How to remove Windows XP Service Pack 2 from your computer Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 875350

Almost immediately after the release of Windows XP SP2 there are two bugs reported that effect it, only one of which has a fix.
    IE Flaw Affects Windows XP SP2 Systems August 20, 2004 TechWeb News  

Microsoft released a list of at least 50 programs that have problems with XP SP2, including some Microsoft products. They also report on Programs that are known to experience a loss of functionality when they run on a Windows XP Service Pack 2-based computer (Microsoft KB Article 884130). 

This list includes Norton AntiVirus 2003, despite the fact that Symantec claims there are no problems with NAV. Microsoft says this about Norton AntiVirus 2003:  "At system startup, Scheduled Tasks in Norton AntiVirus 2003 does not automatically scan." In their SP2 FAQ Symantec says that Norton AntiVirus works fine with SP2.  

If you would rather switch than fight, AVG from Grisoft and avast are both respected, free anti-virus programs. 

The free CD with SP2 for dial-up uses will not be available until October. You can order it now however.
   Microsoft Makes XP Service Pack 2 Available Via Update And CD Information Week Aug. 25, 2004 

The firewall program in Windows is much improved in SP2, however it is still not nearly as good as ZoneAlarm. Joe likes ZoneAlarm Pro, one of the paid editions of the firewall. There is also a free version. 

Registry Cleaners 

There was some disagreement over the use of registry cleaners. If you don't know what you're doing, a Registry Cleaner can cause more harm than good. Hank knows of no good freeware Registry Cleaning programs. What you get for free is detection of junk in the registry. To actually clean it up, you have to pay for the software. 

The 9-11 Commission Report

Our democracy relies in part on the participation of informed voters. The World Wide Web has played a revolutionary role in making information available to average citizens who are interested in learning about specific issues. Sometimes however, the online documents are enormous and it can be difficult to find the information you want within them.

As a public service, the publishers of askSam ( have posted a FREE searchable version of the 9-11 Commission Report ( You can search, browse, and analyze the document in more detail than is possible using the original Adobe Acrobat PDF file provided by the government. The askSam version of the 9-11 Commission Report is available for online use or you can download an off-line version for use on your computer. The off-line version requires you to download and install a free viewer program. 

To repeat, there is no charge for the software or the information. 

 August 18, 2004 Show

Listen to the first half hour
Listen to the second half hour


In The News

Microsoft released a list of at least 50 programs that have problems with XP SP2, including some Microsoft products. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing at Microsoft. Joe suggested not installing Windows XP Service Pack 2 yet. Hank has had a problem with remote access to Windows XP Professional with SP2. 

In a review of Windows XP Service Pack 2 in the Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg said "SP2 falls way short of what Microsoft could have done to fix the miserable state of security in Windows." Free Security Update To Windows XP Has Value but Falls Short August 19, 2004

If you are thinking about installing Windows XP SP2, Michael suggests readin the last few issues of Scot's Newsletter by Scot Finnie. The August 12th issue has this advice for the actual install: 

A good tip to remember is to turn off or disable as many applications running on your machine as possible. Many notebook PCs, for example, have a lot of OEM-specific programs running in background. You might want to kill those processes before you install any major Windows upgrade. You should also temporarily turn off your software firewall, antivirus program, and any other major applications that may be running. The reason for this is that if a program is in the process of using a specific Windows system file, that file may be protected from being overwritten, halting the SP2 installation process.

Microsoft will be shipping a stripped down version of Windows XP (the Limited Edition) for $32 in some countries.  

If you use Yahoo's Instant Messaging software, there is a bug fix for it.
    Yahoo issues security patch for IM August 13, 2004 CNET

A new version of Ad-aware, called SE, was just released a few days ago. It has a serious bug so a new new version was released. If you downloaded Ad-aware recently, do so again. 
Lavasoft releases patched Ad-Aware software from 

 Linux For Non-Geeks 

Our guest was Rickford Grant, author of the just released book Linux for non-geeks from No Starch Press. The web site for the book is Quoting the Preface: "..I wrote this book so that a total non-geek, such as my mother, could use a pretty standard Linux distribution without much in the way of pain and grief..."

Hank said the book was well written, but the title was a bit misleading. The target audiences is windows users - not total newbies. It assumes some computer experience on the part of the reader.

The book comes with two CDs which have most of the Red Hat Linux Fedora Core 1 distribution. This lead into the issue of how and where to buy a new computer without Windows pre-installed. Compaq sells PCs with Linux. Walmart sells some machines without an operating system. Dell sells some servers without an OS.   

Hank asked if you can run DOS programs under Linux? Rickford said there is nothing built into any Linux distro for this. (Note: there is a free Windows 98 Virtual machine for Linux, but the name escapes me - Michael). After the show a listener wrote to suggest a program called DOSEMU. It runs a shell running FreeDOS. Many, but not all DOS programs run in FreeDOS (thanks Ralph). 

Scanners and modems are an Achilles heel for Linux. Most winmodems don't work with Linux. A winmodem depends on your processor and is cheaper than a true hardware modem which includes its own processor. True hardware modems will work with Linux but most of them are sold as external models. Most USB printers work well with Linux, especially HP and Epson. Very new models however may be problematic. 

When pressed as to his preferred Linux distributions Rickford said that Fedora and Xandros were the easiest out of the box, that is, they are very easy to install. Xandros has partitioning software so it installs well on top of an existing copy of Windows. 

Mandrake is also thought of as a beginners distro. However, Rickford said that during the install process Mandrake asks you some questions that even he did fully understand. A beginner would be truly lost. On the other hand, it comes with lots of software and works with lots of hardware. 

He has had the best luck with Fedora in general. In a network environment, Xandros was particularly easy. He has not tried Suse recently but was not happy with the older releases he used. Also, there is no free downloadable version of Suse. On his web site, Rickford answers the question of Which Distro Is Best?

If just want to get a taste of Linux, then use a Live CD. This refers to a copy of Linux that boots and runs off a CD; it does not have to be installed on a hard disk. Michael has found that some Linux Live CDs will write to your hard disk and some will not. 

Caller Questions 

Vanessa win 98 freezes often mcafee virus shield still running. Hank suggested  run checkdisk also 

Fergus asked about Linux screen readers for the visually impaired. Another caller suggested  

Dave asked about avast! a free anti-virus program. Hank said avast! does not require registration, while the other popular free antivirus program, Grisoft AVG does require it. Hank has heard no of no problems with avast!. 

Eric called to suggest VMware as a way to play with Linux on a Windows computer. Another version of VMware can be used to do the reverse, to run Windows on a Linux based computer. In this case, it runs a full copy of Windows, which you need to already own on a CD. Other cross-over software can only run a handful of Windows applications under Linux. VMware can run pretty much any Windows program under Windows under Linux. The Windows based version of VMware can run many different Linux distros under Windows. 

Danie wants to install a new driver for her network card but doesn't know the make and model of the card. We suggested two software programs, the Belcarc Advisor (simpler) or Everest Home Edition. Both are free. Simpler still is the Windows System Information utility that should be your first option. At least under Windows 2000 it does report this.  

 August 11, 2004 Show

Listen to the first half hour
Listen to the second half hour


In The News

After months and months of development and testing, Service Pack 2 for Windows XP was finally released by Microsoft. Due to the number of Windows XP users, Microsoft is releasing SP2 in drips and drabs. Service Pack 2 includes all the bug fixes in Service Pack 1, so it can be installed on any computer running Windows XP.  

There are two versions of SP2, a full version that you can download and a partial version, available via Windows Update, that only installs the patches needed for your specific machine and is thus a much smaller download. Hank tried the partial version via Windows Update and found it to be a 90 MB download (your mileage will vary). 

Even the partial version is most likely going to be too big for dial-up users to download. We suggested that dial-up users order a CD with SP2 on it from Microsoft (it should be free). 

The full version makes sense if you have a broadband connection and/or you need to install SP2 on multiple computers. After downloading the full version, you can burn it to a CD and make a friend of a dial-up user. 

Both Hank and Joe suggested you not install SP2 now. Every Microsoft Service Pack to date has been full of bugs and the smart approach is to wait a month or more until some of the not-yet-discovered bugs are found and fixed. This is even more true with SP2 than with other Service Packs. In addition to bugs it is very likely to cause problems with other, non-Microsoft, software.  

Along these lines, Microsoft is letting companies block their employees from installing SP2.
     Microsoft lets companies block SP2 upgrade August 11, 2004 CNET

Hank tried SP2 and had problems with his WiFi network - he got locked out of the network after installing SP2. Hank has two access points, one with WEP security on, one without it. After installing SP2 his computer would only connect to the access point without WEP and he couldn't force it use the one with WEP because that one had a weaker signal. 

Windows XP Service Pack 2 Network Installation Package for IT Professionals and Developers  
  This is the full version of Windows XP SP2 and is about 266 MB. 

When the CD with SP2 is ready, you will be able to order it here: 

Release notes for Windows XP Service Pack 2 from Microsoft 

There is lots of documentation on SP2 from Microsoft. Joe printed out what he called "lightweight" documentation and it was 150 pages.

Microsoft will sell a started edition of Windows XP dirt cheap in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. These countries are said to now be using pirated software almost exclusively. In effected, they are getting rewarded for stealing the software.
    Five countries to get cheap Windows XP August 10, 2004 CNET

There is yet another new variant of the Bagel worm and it arrives as a zip file attached to an email message. This variant is unusually dangerous - in Windows XP you can get infected just by opening the zip file.  

Roxio is changing their business model. Many people know Roxio as the company behind the Easy CD Creator package for burning CDs. The software actually started under Adaptec which spun off Roxio when they decided to focus on hardware. Recently Roxio purchased the new Napster and that will be both their new name and focus, they are selling their consumer software division. The thinking on the show was that there is not that much money to be made in CD burning software. iTunes, for example, includes its own CD burning software and, in general, it is a crowded market. 
    Roxio sells software division, focuses on Napster August 9, 2004 CNET

 Blue DVDs 

Current DVDs use red lasers, new ones, just coming to market, use blue (really violet) lasers. Why? Higher capacity. Blue has a shorter wavelength that red and thus blue lasers can deal with the smaller pits needed to cram more information on a disc. Current DVDs can barely fit a full length movie. For high definition movies, even two layers on a single is not enough - thus the need for higher capacity red laser based DVDs. 

The bad news is that there are two competing formats for red laser based DVDs. It is Beta vs. VHS all over again. The main reason for the conflict between the two designs is that the owners of the intellectual property behind the winning design will then be able to collect licensing fees, which could be a major financial factor.

One format is HD-DVD - High Density DVD, the other is Blu-ray (a.k.a. BD-ROM). 

Blu-ray is the early leader. It offers the largest capacity of any shiny round plastic disc - up to 50 GB (current DVDs are less than 5 GB).  

However, Hollywood prefers the HD-DVD format and Alfred suspects it may be the eventual winner. HD-DVD is better at protecting digital content. It uses MPEG4 compression and can fit any full length feature movie on a single disc thanks to compression. 

This is a new field though, and it's still in flux. Sony and Panasonic are already shipping red laser DVDs in Japan. On the other hand, Sony, a backer of Blu-Ray also owns a movie studio. 

Caller Questions 

A callers hard disk died. He bought a new one, but had no Windows XP CD, so he borrowed one from a friend. The question was about the activation code and the feeling of the guys on the show was that Microsoft would do the right thing and help him, assuming he had registered his copy of Windows XP. This whole mess could be avoided if you have recovery CDs, but many new computers come instead with recovery partitions on the hard disk. HP will prompt you to create backup CDs from the recovery partition on the hard disk. Do so. 

A caller asked how to do live video over the Internet. If you are using Windows XP, Alfred said the easiest way to go is to use Microsoft Messenger, which is part of XP and any web cam which sells for about $50 or so. You will also need a microphone, a headset type of mike can be purchased for about $15. In earlier versions of Windows, the same thing can be done using NetMeeting. 

Patrick asked how long an Ethernet cable can be - CAT5 cable can be up to 300 feet. 

A caller asked about converting audio CDs to MP3 files, a process that is officially called ripping. Joe uses Easy CD Creator from Roxio (as of yesterday) which does all this on it's own. Hank said Music Match will also do this and it's free.  

A caller asking about extending the range of a WiFi network. The links below (thanks Pete) offer an an antenna you can build for for ten cents. This was on The Screen Savers on TechTV a while back. 

Another caller asked about buying a laptop computer, specifically what brand to get. Alfred has been very happy with Toshiba and IBM. Hank like Toshiba and Compaq. Joe also likes IBM. Had Michael been there he would have suggested not buying a Dell laptop - see his Dell gripes

 August 4, 2004 Show



The show was pre-empted this week. 

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