The PC Radio Show|
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Our first topic was: Can you expect to buy a flat panel display with zero defects?
Flat panel displays and laptop computers both use a technology known as LCD in which there are billions and billions of little dots (pixels) built into the screen. Sometimes a few dots are less than perfect. To begin with each dot/pixel is really three dots, one for each of the primary colors. An sXGA screen, for example, consists of 1280 by 1024 pixels (1,310,720) and when you consider the sub-pixels, there are almost 4 million chances for one to be bad.
A switch can be stuck off, in which case you get a black dot, or it can be stuck on which results in a red, green or blue spot. Broken pixels can't be fixed. Sometimes the vendor will disable a broken pixel on the theory that a black spot is less objectionable than other colors.
You can't expect a perfect LCD screen. Many are perfect, but some broken pixels are considered acceptable and the vendor will not take back an LCD screen with a few bad pixels. Different vendors have different rules for what they consider a usable and broken screen. If vendors threw away all the screens with defects, the cost of LCD screens would rise dramatically.
The obvious conclusion is to purchase an LCD flat panel display from a retailer that lets you return it with no questions asked. Alfred said it more likely that a 15 inch flat panel monitor will be perfect as opposed to larger models.
PDAs also use LCD displays but the odds of a bad pixel are much lower. LCD based televisions are also more likely to be perfect because they run at a lower resolution than computer displays making them easier to manufacture.
What were the major events in personal computing in 2003?
Michael was impressed with the continued decline in the price of PCs pointing out that all the major vendors now sell PCs for under $400 (just the computer, no monitor or printer). Hank pointed out that new brand name laptops can be had for as low as $600 on sale, and very often found for $700. These are reasonably configured, powerful machines that should satisfy the computing needs of almost everyone.
Hank wondered why PCs are still being sold as large towers as opposed to much smaller units which are certainly possible. Alfred felt there is no demand for ultra-small, non-expandable PCs.
One big story, of course,
was the RIAA suing people sharing copyrighted published music. To get the name
and address of suspected copyright violators, the RIAA has to go to your ISP.
There was a recent ruling regarding this making it harder for the RIAA to get names and
Hank felt that SPAM
and viruses were big issues this year. Both stole a lot of time and effort this
year from people and companies. Michael begged listeners not to ever purchase a
product advertised in a SPAM email message. It only encourages more SPAM. Even
if it's a product you want, don't buy if from someone who sent you SPAM. None of
the experts expect the new law to have any noticeable effect on the amount of
Hank owned up to being a DITS (Domestic Internal Tech Support) in his household.
Another big story was, as Alfred said, "There's gold in them thar living rooms". Many major computer companies are getting into selling all sorts of consumer electronics. Gateway led this trend, somewhere around 40% to 60% of their revenues derive from selling flat screen plasma televisions. Dell and HP are now making big plays in consumer electronics as the PC market goes flat. The Windows Media Center version of XP is part of this too.
Outsourcing to off-shore companies (a.k.a. off-shoring) was also a big story this year. It is said the average computer programmer in the US makes $80,000 a year whereas the average programmer in Asia makes $20,000.
What are we projecting to happen in personal computing in 2004?
Joe expects there to be patches from Microsoft in January. Big stretch there. Hank told of someone using a dial-up modem who needed 52 patches applied to their computer. This is all but impossible over a dial-up line because of the size of many of the patches. The solution? Hank took the computer to his house to apply the patches using his broadband connection.
Michael wondered why Microsoft does not distribute patches every couple months on CDs and sell them at cost. If you are reasonably up to date on patches, the few you are missing can be downloaded even over a dial-up line.
VOIP is getting a lot of attention now. It stands for Voice Over
IP protocol and refers to making telephone calls over your Internet
connection. For a good summary of VOIP and links to additional information, see
Hank felt is was going to be very popular in 2004 as many large companies are getting into it, both phone companies and cable TV companies. Michael doubted that it would take off fearing that it would be too complicated and not reliable enough. VOIP phone calls are cheaper than normal phone calls for two reasons: they avoid the taxes and fees imposed on normal phone calls and the shared nature of IP technology makes it cheaper to implement. Regular phone calls required a dedicated circuit for the duration of the call, VOIP phone calls do not. Alfred voted with Hank, thinking VOIP will be very popular. Time will tell.
In the old days, VOIP required using a computer. No more. Now you get a black box that plugs into your router and you can plug any normal telephone into the black box. The latest version of Lindows includes VOIP software so you can plug a telephone into a Lindows computer.
Alfred felt that wireless would expand a lot in 2004, especially broadband wireless connections. New networks are being built that will provide much faster Internet connections over a broad area. Perhaps not as fast as a WiFi connection, but coverage will be measured in many miles rather than in feet as with WiFi. Fast wireless connections, anywhere, anytime will certainly be a big story. Alfred felt it will happen in 2004, Michael disagreed pointing out that this has been the next big thing for a while now. He also felt there were too many competing networks with different standards. Pricing too can delay widespread adoption. Again, time will tell.
Hank predicted a major push on Linux in 2004. Microsoft is losing trust, Linux is cheaper and it's open source as opposed to the closed proprietary nature of Windows. Many foreign countries are moving to Linux.
A few days after Hank's prediction, the cost issue came up in a
story about Israel not buying new software from Microsoft because they felt it
was too expensive. Instead, the are working with Sun and IBM in designing a
Hebrew language version of Open Office, a free open-source alternative to
The show was taped tonight, there were no caller questions. Instead, we answered some email questions. The first was about Spyware.
Alfred said that Spyware is the latest trick used by people trying to make a dollar off the Internet. Spyware programs run in the background on your computer and go out of their way to hide, so that you don't know they are running. They send information back to a service. The information they send might be the web sites you visit or perhaps personal information. The information about you is then re-sold for a profit.
Spyware programs can be installed by web sites on your computer without your realizing it. Some Spyware programs reconfigure your system, doing things such as changing the home page in your web browser and altering your default search engine. They also steal processor time and some of your Internet bandwidth and can noticeably slow down your system.
One example that Hank cited is the Weather Bug. A classic that Alfred mentioned was Comet Cursor, a free download that changed the cursor on your computer to all sorts of nifty icons. However, the license agreement for Comet Cursor says that you agree to let them collect information about you and this is done with a Spyware program. You think you are installing one program, but two get installed.
You detect and delete Spyware with dedicated anti-Spyware software. Alfred uses the free Ad-aware from LavaSoft, Hank uses System Mechanic. There are also two paid versions of Ad-aware with more features.
Another listener asked about defragmenting, he was experiencing a problem where the defrag process would continually restart and never finish.
Fragmentation refers to files on your computer being stored in small non-contiguous pieces. The process of defragging puts these pieces together again so they reside next to each other on the hard disk. This makes accessing the file much faster as the computer does not have to go to multiple sections of the hard disk. Excessive fragmentation can create a noticeable slowdown in the performance of your computer.
If you have programs running in the background at the same as the defrag is in-process, then the movement of files by these other programs confuses the defrag program which starts all over again from the beginning. Even if you run the defrag first thing after starting up your computer, there are likely to be other programs running in the background.
Older versions of Microsoft Office had a feature called Fast Find that ran constantly in the background and would confuse the defrag program. GoBack also is a problem, it should be disabled before defragging.
To deactivate all the background programs in Windows 95, 98 and Me, use Ctl-alt-delete and terminate all programs except for Explorer and Systray. Some versions of Windows have a program called "msconfig" that can be used to prevent programs from running automatically at startup time. The problem with this is that after the defrag, you have to back and un-do these changes to restore your computer to its prior state.
With Windows XP, 2000 and NT4 you use the Processes tab of Task Manager to see and cancel background programs. Determining which programs to cancel however, it not as easy as with Windows 98. One web site that lists programs that can be cancelled and those that should not is the Greatis Startup Application Database.
Make a complete backup before running a defrag and don't run defrags too often. There is no one right answer as to how often to run a defrag. Hank has some computers that run databases that need to be defragged daily. Alfred has some computers that he defrags only once or twice a year.
After the show a listener wrote with another suggestion, booting to Safe Mode and running the defrag while in Safe Mode. This prevents many programs from running in the background. Another listener asked about defragging files on an external hard drive. This is indeed possible, but as with defragging an internal hard disk, it's best to back everything up first.
Another listener has a laptop computer with a cracked, broken screen. He uses the machine with an external monitor but would like to replace the screen. Alfred said there are many companies that can replace laptop screens but it won't be cheap. One such company is Earth LCD another is Man and Machine which specializes in repairing laptop computers.
After hearing about Windows XP Media Center edition, a listener asked where it can be purchased. It can't. This version of Windows XP is only for sale with new computers. It aims to wrap up Tivo and stereo functions on your computer letting you control your entertainment center. Alfred pointed out that you can build your own computer using hardware and software from other companies that does just what the Media Center edition of XP does. There are many such add-on programs for Windows XP.
Is it possible to get rid of the header and footer on every printed web page? Yes, but how you do so depends on your web browser. With IE6, do File -> Page Setup. In the resulting Page Setup window, there is a section for Headers and Footers. The data that goes here however is special codes. Eliminating the headers and footers is done by erasing all the special codes. To modify the Header or Footer, read the IE Help for documentation on the special codes.
Another tactic is not to print an entire web page but instead to print just the desired text. This gets rid of advertising on the web page. You do this by first selecting the text you want to print, then click on File -> Print and opt to print "selection" rather than pages.
Why are characters chopped off on the right hand side when a web page is printed? This derives from the way the web page was coded and Hank and Alfred offered four suggestions:
Another listener asked about setting up a new large hard disk, specifically about how to partition it. The size of partitions is not as important as their purpose and intent. Alfred suggested keeping Windows and your applications on the C disk and segregating all your data files to a D disk. This makes it easier to back up the C disk with a disk imaging product such as Ghost.
Should you have to re-install Windows XP, you can opt for either the FAT32 or NTFS file system. NTFS is far and away better than FAT32, but the one advantage FAT32 has, is that it can be read by older versions of Windows. Hank suggested www.bootdisk.com as a great web site to obtain boot floppy disks.
Hank wants a new computer for Christmas, but does not want a large tower
case. He wants a small footprint, well constructed, desktop chassis. The Compaq
Evo comes close to what he wants, so too does the Shuttle and the EZgo MiniPC (a miniature computer produced in Taiwan by
Atoz Technology). Alfred
said that full size tower computers are being made because people (unlike Hank)
want them, that's what they are buying. There are some small footprint desktop
machines, but they don't sell as well as tower models. After the show, a listener suggested these small form factor computers:
Hank is also considering playing with a Lindows computer. Lindows is a version of Linux which originally was touted as being able to run Windows programs. No more. There is a software product that lets you run some Windows programs under Linux, but this program is not included in the current release of Lindows. Lindows is a rare version of Linux in that it comes pre-installed on some new computers. Wal-Mart, for example, sells new machines with either Lindows or Lycoris pre-installed. The cheapest Linux machines Wal-Mart offers are only $200.
After the show a listener nicknamed Kyo, posted this about the Shuttle computer and Lindows.
In The News
IBM reportedly may move scores of tech jobs overseas Associated Press. December 16, 2003. IBM pans to move up to several thousand skilled software jobs from the United States to India, China and other countries, which could amount to one of the biggest such actions yet in the technology industry. Internal documents show as many as 4,600 people could be affected. IBM had no comment on the story.
A Senator from Delaware has proposed that residents of states with a sales
tax should be charged sales taxes when they make purchases over the Internet.
Delaware has no sales tax and, in the days before the Internet, residents of
neighboring states would drive to Delaware to make purchases and save on sales
taxes. Delaware merchants benefited in ways they no longer do.
The first national anti-spam bill was just signed by President Bush. Michael predicted it would not be enforced and no one felt it would decrease SPAM in any noticeable way. The opt-out provision is per company sending SPAM. Should you receive SPAM from 346 companies, you would have to opt out 346 times (likely with many different opt out procedures). Then too, how likely is it that every company will honor your request?
After the show, this story came out:
Our guest was David Perry of Trend Micro, the makers of PC-cillin. Their main market is the "enterprise", a.k.a. large companies.
Up to and including the 2003 version of PC-cillin it was an anti-virus program and a firewall. No more. With the 2004 edition, the product has been expanded. It now includes anti-spam, anti-Spyware and anti-Adware features. There is also content security which can block sensitive personal information from being transmitted off your computer. The anti-virus and firewall are still part of the 2004 edition.
The big problem with anti-spam products is false positives, messages incorrectly flagged as spam. David said PC-cillin testing showed it had only one false positive per 80,000 messages. If you get 100 spams a day, that is one false positive every two years.
Current owners of PC-cillin can upgrade to the 2004 edition for $25. The product is not in retail distribution, you can order it from Trend's web site. There is a 30 day free trial, the product sells for $50.
They have a real-time scanner for Spyware and Adware that blocks the programs from being installed on your computer. The new version works with all current versions of Eudora, which the prior version did not. There is no change to the Trend Micro online Housecall service. The product does not block pop-ups.
Their anti-spam product runs on your computer and tags spam messages after they reach your computer but before your email program sees them. If you are an EarthLink customer, their anti-spam product tags spam on their email server, before it reaches your computer. Many Trend Micro customers run their anti-virus and anti-spam products on the server, rather than on each individual desktop computer.
David felt that for 2004, spam would be a bigger problem than viruses.
David pointed out that their firewall has default rules, unlike some other products that ask the user questions they may not know the answer to. You set the level of protection - low, medium or high. Despite the default rules, the firewall is just as customizable as any other.
Bob needed advice on purchasing his first computer. Michael suggest a full size (a.k.a. desktop) computer rather than a laptop because it is cheaper and more upgradeable. His advice was not to spend more than $500 for the computer itself. On top of this, you will need a monitor, printer and possibly extra software. Michael felt that the largest mistake you can make is to spend too much money on the computer itself. Alfred suggested starting with an entry level package from one of the major vendors. A bundle typically includes the computer, monitor and printer. David's advice was to join a user group - a club that meets once a month - where you will meet people willing to help you.
As for choosing a vendor, Michael warned that Dell's customer service was going
downhill. A few days later, this article appeared on CNet.
Joseph asked for advice purchasing a new notebook computer. David's a big fan of notebooks but warned that they go obsolete faster than desktop machines. Alfred said not to buy a refurbished unit but instead look to a new low-end notebook. The cheapest new notebooks with Windows XP are about $700. Michael teaches a class Buying and Owning a Laptop Computer.
Danny asked about viruses on a Mac. David said there used to be Mac viruses back in the early 1990s and there is still some anti-virus software for the Mac. Trend Micro however, does not have a Mac product.
Jose asked about upgrading the hard drive on a very old computer. Older machines may not be able to deal with newer, larger capacity hard disks. When in doubt, ask the vendor. You can force a new hard disk in an older computer by adding a second IDE controller. Michael mentioned that he has done this with a 1996 computer that shipped with Windows 95 and a 2 GB hard disk. It now also sports a 40 GB disk that is connected to a second controller that plugged into a PCI slot. The second controller has it's own BIOS and thus overcomes any BIOS limitations the older computer might have. Michael used a Maxtor hard disk and a Maxtor controller. Alfred suggested calling Promise and giving them the exact make and model numbers of the computer and hard disk to insure the upgrade will work
In The News
Bell South, SBC and Verizon offer a slower and cheaper version of DSL (DSL Lite) with speeds around 256K downstream (from the Internet to you). There is a full page ad in today's New York Times from Verizon touting their DSL service for $30 a month. The ad didn't say, but this a promotional price only available for the first three months. The regular price for Verizon DSL (for consumers) is $35 a month.
Hank said the break even cost for many of the Baby Bells is $27/month and they are forced to compete on price because more and more people are opting for cable. In the Northeast, there are almost 3 cable modem subscribers for every DSL customer. A broadband cable connection is usually, but not always, faster than DSL.
Congress approved a new anti-spam law known as the Can SPAM law. Hank doesn't like it because it forces you to opt out of receiving spam from each and every company that sends you spam. There is no way to prevent a company from sending you the first spam message and they must provide a means for you to opt out of additional messages from them. Considering the number of different companies that send spam, this is not likely to succeed.
Michael noted that much current spam comes from overseas where U.S. law does not apply. Should the bill pass, he figures that more and more spam will originate from overseas making the law irrelevant. John Dvorak felt the law would do nothing.
Our guest was John C. Dvorak from PC Magazine. His most recent book, released in October, is Online! The Book, written with Chris Pirillo and Wendy Taylor. Amazon.com sells it for $18, Borders and Barnes and Noble also carry it. You can read his PC Magazine columns or visit John's personal web site www.dvorak.org. The web site for the book, www.onlinethebook.com is a work in progress.
Because the Internet doesn't come with a manual.
The book tries to cover everything there is to know about the online world: IRC, blogging, making your own web site, how to pick ISPs, FTP, Spyware and Key loggers, Usenet and much more. The target audience is not raw beginners, rather it's for intermediate users. It starts with the more fundamental material and works its way to the more advanced topics at the end.
As for Cable vs. DSL, John prefers cable because it's so much faster. It may be more expensive than DSL on a monthly basis, but on a speed basis, it's cheaper. Interestingly, John runs both because he doesn't trust the reliability of broadband providers.
Mr. Dvorak felt the extra speed offered by a cable modem, while not needed for everyday web browsing, is needed for a whole host of other online applications. For example, VOIP from companies such as Vonage, requires at least 700 Kbps.
Michael asked about AOL and John said the book mostly covers version 8. Version 9 he felt was designed by committee. Up until this month, the email program in AOL v9 had no forwarding function. It has since been put back, but everyone forwards email messages all the time. John felt that version 3 was the best version of AOL.
Hank refers to it as "America Off-Line" and while no techie would recommend using AOL, Hank often tells clients to get a copy of the AOL v8 CD. It has a full version of Internet Explorer and for those on a dial-up connection, it can save hours of download time.
As for WiFi, the book recommends the "g" flavor which is faster than the "b" flavor and has more penetrating power than the "a" variety.
Andy asked about web browsers. John is a big fan of Mozilla which handles the forced enlarging of text on web pages much better than IE. And it's free. He is currently using the Mozilla email program which has spam filtering built into it. The spam filters work, not great, but "pretty good". He used to use Eudora and is looking forward to trying the Opera email program of which he has heard good things.
One big plus of Eudora is the fact that everything it needs lives in a single folder - all the program executables, DLLs and data files. This makes it extremely easy to migrate to a new computer, all you need to do is copy the folder. On the new computer a formal installation is not needed. He felt this is the way software should work. Mozilla does not work this way, making it harder to migrate from one computer to another.
Mike asked John Dvorak about Linux. John sees a bright future for the OS: it's free, the applications are getting more mainstream, Open Office is a "fabulous" product, the GUI is pretty much like Windows, it's high quality, bullet proof and resistant to the thousands of Windows viruses and worms. If he owned a company with thousands of PCs, he would put everyone on Linux.
John was asked what happened to his radio show. He's not doing it any more and hasn't for the last couple years. His radio show was on the air for 10 years.
Anthony gets an error when he runs a faxing program - not enough memory. He found this puzzling because he has very large capacity hard disks. John felt it was a RAM issue, Michael felt it was a virtual storage issue. One way to tell if the "memory" in question is virtual is to re-boot and run the program just after Windows starts up. If another program has a memory leak, it won't effect the faxing program immediately after booting.
In Windows 2000 you adjust the swap file size and location using:
Paul asked about retrieving the license key from a Windows XP computer. Hank knew of a free program to do this, the Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder. It retrieves your Product Key (CD key) used to install windows from your registry. It can copy the key to clipboard, save it to a text file, or print it. Keyfinder works on Windows 95, 98, ME, NT4, 2000, XP, Server 2003, Office 97, and Office XP. Another such program is ViewkeyXP which is also free
In The News
The department of Homeland Security wants companies to tell them their
computer defense strategy. The administration is reconsidering its support for a plan that would require publicly traded companies to describe their
hacker defenses to securities regulators.
Current DVD recorders use red lasers. To get more data on a disc, the next generation of DVD burners will use blue lasers which have a shorter wavelength.
There are competing standards for blue laser DVDs, also called HD DVD. The DVD Forum endorsed a Toshiba/NEC standard called
AOD. It competes with another
format called Blu-Ray from Sony, Philips and others. None of this is relevant to current DVDs. Alfred said the story behind the story is
that the NEC design has advantages in Digital Right Management so that Hollywood studios prefer it.
To clear up an issue from last week, Microsoft was not aware of the seven new bugs in Internet Explorer. When they were announced to the public is when Microsoft heard about them.
41 more sued over music downloads USA TODAY December 3, 2003
Dave Chan, a consultant, reviewed the Pharos GPS product. Global Positioning Satellite systems tell you where you are. His product connects to a Windows PDA such as an iPaq. It took over 2 minutes to get its bearings. In a car it took a half hour to lock in and get a map. The unit requires maps to be in your computer that you transfer to an iPaq. He felt it was not practical. The list price is under $250. It speaks and tells you where to turn and warns you if you are off route.
Alohabob moves applications, files and settings. However, it won't move Windows Media Player, anti-virus programs, Internet Explorer and CD burning programs.
Hank said it comes with 2 cables, a crossover Ethernet and a parallel. It can only move to an equal or greater OS. For example, you can't go from Windows XP Pro to Windows XP Home Edition. Also, you can not migrate from Windows 98 SE to plain old Windows 98. You don't need this program for moving data files. Hank prefers to re-install applications on the new computer. The product sells for about $60.
Alohabob was reviewed in PC Magazine in June 2003: Alohabob PC Relocator Ultra Control 126.96.36.199. The magazine reviewed a handful of migration utilities and preferred Desktop DNA Professional 4.5, from Miramar Systems.
James gets errors about missing and corrupted files when he tries to boot his HP laptop. Hank suggested calling HP and getting a Windows CD. With this disc, you can do a repair install of Windows. Hank also has an HP laptop and his experience has been that although they don't come with Windows CDs, HP will send you one if you ask for it.
A caller wondered if their computer would run faster with the swap file on a different hard disk from Windows. Hank said it would, but that you have to be sure the two hard disks don't share the same channel in the IDE controller. It does not matter if they are Master or Slave, but they should not share the same channel. Alfred does this on his computer.
Patrik's computer is sluggish - there seems to be something using all the processor horsepower. Hank suggested System Mechanic from Iola. In addition, scanning with the two popular free anti-Spyware programs was recommended. These programs are Ad-aware (www.lavasoftusa.com) and SpyBot Search and Destroy (www.safer-networking.org).
Kevin had the home page on his web browser changed. It was suggested that he run a firewall program, such as ZoneAlarm and also run both the previously mentioned anti-Spyware programs.
Webmaster: Michael Horowitz Page Last Updated: January 29, 2004