Main Line Computer Users Group


October 2002 Issue 245

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER

MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - OCT 12 th

We'll get going on Time!


THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
MAIN LINE COMPUTER USERS - Room 110

With an on-time start, we'll have a few announcements. Then, follow that up with a round table on tidbits, problems and problem-solving. While we spent the last 2-3 meetings on security and privacy, it will not be abandoned; so if you have followups, we'll cover them here.

Then, we'll move to NETWORKING - which we have hit a few times in the past. BUT, a whole lot has happened in those intervening months. Networking is in the headlines everywhere, and the shelf space devoted to the huge variety of hardware has expanded enormously in the local computer stores!

The variety of technologies now available has only added to the confusion. The multiplicity of needs that networking can tackle also adds to the difficulty of making a choice. Not to mention the big spread in costs!!

Member John Murphy will be the foil for this session. He'll start with "Why Network at all?". This is YOUR chance to get the info to help you decide on what, if anything, you might do in your home.

Think it over ahead of time, get your questions prepared. If you already have some home networking in place, please come prepared to share your experiences for the benefit of others.


Message from Microsoft

The following is an email recently sent out to many folks (likely including some of you) from Steve Ballmer, the President of Microsoft. I think you'll find it interesting:

Subject: Connecting with Customers (Oct. 2, 2002)

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how Microsoft can do a better job of serving its customers. I'm convinced that we need to do more to establish and [cont'd]

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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THE NEW YEAR! - yes, believe it or not, another year has rolled by, MLCUG is still in operation and we think we are ready to tackle yet another. So, if you agree, please send your $15 dues (use the form on the last page) to "Stew" Stewart, our treasurer, soon. The sooner we get your renewals, the sooner we'll know that we have the membership to continue.

You'll note that we have NOT had to raise the dues, since our major expenses (this newsletter and the BBS phone-line) have been covered by the $15 level. If we should get any increases in those costs, we might have to go up - but NOT this time round. So, make Stew happy and send in the $$$ !!!

THE EMAILING LIST - for those members who have provided an email address, we have subscribed them to the MLCUG listserver (operated most graciously by Pete Whinnery and the UPenn system). This is a way to catch early announcements, hear about problems (and solutions?) between the meetings. You can get (and give) help. A useful tool we feel; so when renewing, consider including your email address in that spot on the form.

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C=HUG's "DEMISE" - the following note came with an exchange newsletter we received a couple of weeks ago.

"Enclosed is the final issue of C=HUG's GAZETTE. Effective Sept. 1st, 2002, the Commodore Hayward User Group is no more.

We voted to disband for two reasons - the first is the Hayward Park Department's new liability insurance requirement; our club is too small to afford the fees.

And the second reason is that we saw club membership slowly shrink to the point that all of the club's chores were being handled by just two or three members.

So, it's time to close the book on our club. Good news, however, is that we'll still meet as a social group, cont-inuing the friendships made over the years.

C=HUG has enjoyed swapping disks and newsletters with fellow user groups. We hope that we have also provided your club with helpful Commodore information and entertainment, as you have for us.

Best wishes, keep your 64/128's workin'! Commodore Hayward User Group"

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REGULAR REMINDER - Attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room! So, if you have a very large download, you could bring along a zip disk (or maybe a CD-R) and get it done there, either before or after the main meeting.

LUNCH - a half dozen or so of the regular attendees, usually partake of lunch at the Villanova Diner after the meeting. Why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just to have fun talking about our common interests. The food is quite good, too!

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Windows XP Update Is Set as a Part of U.S. Deal

By JOHN MARKOFF

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 27 In an effort to comply with the terms of an antitrust consent decree agreement with the Justice Department, Microsoft said today that it planned to distribute its first major update to the Windows XP operating system some time in the next 10 days.

The company will make a slight change in the desktop appearance of Windows XP, which was introduced last October. A new feature will enable computer manufacturers to selectively hide or display Microsoft's integrated programs displayed on the start menu of the operating system, including the Internet Explorer Web browser, Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger programs.

During its federal antitrust trial, Microsoft argued that such a change would cripple the Windows program. [the fact that it does NOT makes one wonder about the accuracy and trustworthiness of the rest of their testimony!!:ejv]

The change will make it possible for hardware vendors to customize their systems by striking business deals to include alternative programs from companies like America Online and RealNetworks. It will also permit computer users to reselect the hidden Microsoft programs, if they choose.

The change is part of a series of steps Microsoft said it would take as part of the consent agreement it signed with the Justice Department last November. Separately, it has agreed to document its program publicly, license certain protocols and establish an education and compliance effort within the company.

Microsoft also said it would again distribute its version of the Sun Java software engine. It removed the program in June 2001 as a result of its legal dispute with Sun Microsystems, which created Java.

In addition to the efforts to comply with the consent decree, Microsoft executives said today that the new operating system update, known as Service Pack 1, is part of three important office and consumer efforts intended to move computer capabilities beyond the desktop PC.

The company said it planned in the fall to introduce Windows XP Media Center, software for PC's that adds television and other digital media functions; Windows XP Tablet PC, for portable computers to support handwriting application; and Windows Powered Smart Display, for portable screens intended to work remote with a desktop PC via a wireless connection.

"We are extremely optimistic about the future of the personal computing market," said John Pinette, a Microsoft marketing executive.

The new software release which will be available: 1) online as a free download, 2) through computer hardware vendors, 3) from Microsoft on compact discs for $9.95, and 4) in October through retailers as part of the complete operating system. It contains security patches and bug fixes, as well as a series of new features.

In addition to Microsoft's version of the Java Virtual Machine, Service Pack 1 will include an updated version of Internet Explorer 6, software to support its new .Net online services initiative (watch out for this one:ejv), and support for version 2.0 of the Universal Serial Bus standard, which is used to connect hardware peripherals.

The company has also decided to offer modest license discounts on additional installations for home and small-business users. An online license option will be available at a $15-to-$30 discount from the usual price, which typically ranges from $160 to $260. [generous! :ejv]

Original from The New York Times Company

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Windows XP

Well, folks, speaking of XP, since the last meeting, Emil took the plunge - invested in a new (lowish-end) PowerSpec PC from MicroCenter. It came with Windows XP Home Edition pre- installed.

I say low-end mainly because the model I got had no bundled software, just what Microsoft provides with XP and a bit of extra stuff (which I have not yet looked at) from PowerSpec itself.

It has an Athlon 2000+ (1.67 GHz) CPU, 256 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive (no burner, no-DVD, and such-like).

It is NOTICEABLY faster than my present home-built PC which I put together about 2.5 years ago.

I have just got it set up and running (you have to do some stuff when XP starts up for the first time, much as any pre-installation of Windows required). It looks like PowerSpec did do the Product Activation (since there has been no message about that yet).

So, I'm getting my first look at XP from the very beginning. As MS provides it, all you see on the desktop is a (nice-looking) background, the task bar (showing only the Start button and the clock) and one desktop icon - the Recycle Bin. NOTE: the Recycle Bin is located in the lower right hand corner of the screen (does that say anything to you Mac users?).

The PC is properly using our home network and getting to the internet that way (like all our other machines). It was NOT super intuitive getting that up...

'Nuff for now. But, I'm getting ready to better handle XP-related questions, folks. [Emil Volcheck]

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DIGITAL DEFENSE TEST

Here's a security test to have a go at:

http://defense.zdnet.com/

It's on cybersecurity, with online tests for home and corporate users. I took the home test, got an A. The ZDnet guy who did a column got a D! Here's his story:

http://cl.com.com /Click?q=57-YJBXII0AFAaOiw7FnutD9RMG

How about taking the test & recording your score? Then we can share results and see what holes we still need to fill. [John M] ****************************************
LAST MONTH'S MEETING
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The September 14th meeting of the club was attended by 18 (recorded) folks - and we had seats for all! I think VU put a few more chairs in .

Our faithful setter-up/taker-down, Marty Caulfield, was back from the shore; so he had everything ready for us. The meeting started ON TIME! Thanks, Marty.

We started with a fairly short set of announcements by yours truly. Then we did our usual tidbits, questions and problem-solving roundtable for the next hour or so.

SPYWARE
We had a very brief reminder discussion on spyware. Folks were urged to make sure that their "spyware finder/remover" (like Lavasoft's Ad-Aware) is also kept up-to-date. Short term experience indicates that this happens only about monthly. The spyware phenomenon is much more a privacy than a security issue, as the spyware producers are mainly interested in tracking what you do and feeding (selling) that info to marketers who want to push goods and services to you.

ANTI-VIRUS
The main program included a follow-on to last month's installation of Norton Anti-Virus 2002. At that meeting, we had done the original install, then ran the "Live Update" feature twice to bring the installation up to snuff for the changes that Symantec had wrought since last September 2001, when the install CD was produced.

This time, we wanted to run what would be the normal live update which is much quicker once your installation has had its original update. We were able to observe the various steps that the "Live Updater" utility does. Member John Murphy noted that he has the systems at his workplace doing this regularly and has observed that Symantec normally updates their website info a couple of times a week. However, when there is a virus problem running amok, the updates can be daily (or even more often)!

What this demonstrates, unfortunately, is that the "malware" community is alive, well and thriving (and has nothing better to do than makes life more difficult for the rest of us)!!!

[Note added at press time: this last week brought us the next in line after the nefarious Klez worm - the BugBear worm! It has been spreading pretty rapidly, reinforcing the need to keep your AV software up-to-date. SPECIAL NOTE: if your AV software does not catch this worm before it is activated, it will disable the AV software and prevent its being detected in the future!!!]

FIREWALLS
The last part of the program time was devoted to a discussion of firewalls, both hardware and software. The latter have been the main focus of our previous discussions (and industry activity, including the firewall utility that is included in Windows XP).

However, hardware-based firewalls, usually in the form of local area network (LAN) routers have grown markedly in the last year. This increase has been driven by the growth in homes (and businesses) that now have "always-on" internet connections. These make locating and re-locating your home system much easier for the hacker community. The hardware makes your computer itself essentially invisible to the internet - only the router can be seen from the outside and there is nothing the outsider can do to get thru.

The software-based systems perform the same function (perhaps adding some additional flexibility because they are more user configurable), So, you may ask - if I have a router-based firewall, why bother with extra software.

One answer is that "redundancy is a virtue". A second is that software-based firewalls also prevent programs that are installed on your system (like SPYWARE!), from getting OUT to the net. The hardware firewalls do not do this (nor does the Windows XP firewall); so having a good software firewall is a real asset. And, with freeware products like Zone Alarm, it is very easy to get that extra layer of protection.

If members want to cover anymore on the topic of firewalls (or any other subject), let us know. You can either contact any steering member (see p.7) or post your interest to the club's email listserver.

Oh yes, for the first time in months, one member availed himself of the high speed download capability that we try to make available to folks who have dial-up at home and a big file to grab. In this case, they were just a couple of 11 MB files, but they came down about 20X faster than his normal at-home performance. The downloaded files were quickly burned to a CD-R which he brought in. So, if you have a normal dialup internet access at home, you may want to try this route for a big job.

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Message From Microsoft

[continued from p.1]

maintain broad connections with the millions of people who use our products and services around the world. We need to more thoroughly understand their needs, how they use technology, what they like about it, and what they don't. I'd like to share with you some of what we've recently begun to do and are planning for in the future to better connect with our customers.

First I should give you some context on why I am sending you this email. This is one in an occasional series of mails that Bill Gates and I, and periodically other Microsoft executives, will be sending to people who are interested in hearing from us about technology and public- policy issues that we believe are important to computer users, our industry, and everyone who cares about the future of high technology. This is part of our commitment to ensuring that Microsoft is more open about communicating who we are, what we believe in, and what we are trying to achieve.

If you would like to hear from us in the future, please go to http://register.microsoft.com/subscription/subscribeMe.asp?lcid=1033&id=155. If you don't want to hear from us again, you needn't do anything. We will not send you another of these emails unless you choose to subscribe at the link above.

SOFTWARE AND SNACK FOOD In my career, I've worked at only one other place besides Microsoft. I marketed brownie mix and blueberry muffin mix for one of the largest consumer products companies. I'm glad I decided to join Microsoft 22 years ago, when it was a little software startup, but I have great admiration for successful consumer businesses, and I believe Microsoft can learn from them. Behind the leading brands are companies that really know their customers. These firms devote a great deal of time and energy to gaining an intimate understanding of consumers, their reactions to every aspect of products, and how those products fit into their lives. Even so, not every new grocery or drug-store item succeeds. But by using the huge volume of data that feeds back from the daily purchase decisions of millions of consumers, marketers manage over time to figure out what consumers want in cake mix, soft drinks, shampoo, and so on. And these same products often go on satisfying consumers for decades.

Satisfying customers is what it's all about with technology products, too. And customers expect the same high quality and reliability in computing devices and software as they do in consumer products. But meeting their expectations is much harder, and not just because information technology is more complex and interdependent. The challenge has more to do with the flexibility of technology and its continual, rapid advance. To take advantage of this and expand what people can do with hardware and software, computer products must constantly evolve. As a result, products are seldom around long enough in one form to be fully time-tested, let alone perfected. And customers continually come up with new uses for their technology, new combinations and configurations that further complicate technology companies' efforts to ensure a satisfying experience, free of hiccups and glitches.

If technology products are to approach the satisfying consistency of consumer staples - and clearly they should - then we in the industry need a more detailed knowledge of customers' experiences with our products. We must do a better job of connecting with customers. For a company such as Microsoft, with many millions of customers around the world, the connections must be very broad. While we are working to deepen our relationships with enterprise and other business customers, we also need to make innumerable, daily connections with the very wide array of people who use our products - consumers, information workers, software developers and information technology professionals.

In the past year, we specifically identified some near-term objectives on the road to further product improvements and greater customer satisfaction. Among them:

- Obtain much more feedback from our customers about their experience

- Offer customers easier, more con- sistent ways to update their products

- Provide customers with more effective, readily available support and service

We have a long way to go, but we're excited about the results so far from some of our recent efforts. I'd like to share just one great example, and then I'll tell you how you can learn more about what we're doing along these lines.

A NEW PIPELINE FOR CUSTOMER FEEDBACK Let's acknowledge a sad truth about software: any code of significant scope and power will have bugs in it. Even a relatively simple software product today has millions of lines of code that provide many places for bugs to hide. That's why our customers still encounter bugs despite the rigorous and extensive stress testing and beta testing we do. With Windows 2000 and Windows XP, we dramatically improved the stability and reliability of our platform, and we eliminated many flaws, but we did not find all the bugs in these or other products. Nor did we find all the software conflicts that can cause applications to freeze up or otherwise fail to perform as expected.

The process of finding and fixing software problems has been hindered by a lack of reliable data on the precise nature of the problems customers encounter in the real world. Freeze-ups and crashes can be incredibly irritating, but rarely do customers contact technical support about them; instead, they close the program. Even when customers do call support and we resolve a problem, we often do not glean enough detail to trace its cause or prevent it from recurring.

To give us better feedback, a small team in our Office group built a system that helps us gather real-world data about the causes of customers' problems - in particular, about crashes. This system is now built into Office, Windows, and most of our other major products, including our forthcoming Windows .NET Servers. It enables customers to send us an error report, if they choose, whenever anything goes wrong.

There are risks in offering this option to have software "phone home" like E.T. One risk is that error reporting could compound a customer's irritation over the error itself. We therefore worked hard to make reporting simple and quick. We developed a special format, called a "minidump," to minimize the size of the report so that it can be transferred in a few seconds with a single mouse click.

Also, customers may wonder what we do with their reports and whether their privacy is protected. We use advanced security technologies to help protect these error reports, which are gathered on a cluster of dedicated Microsoft servers and are used for no other purpose than to find and fix bugs. Engineers look at stack details, some system information, a list of loaded modules, the type of exception, and global and local variables.

We've been amazed by the patterns revealed in the error reports that customers are sending us. The reports identify bugs not only in our own software, but in Windows-based applications from independent hardware and software vendors as well. One really exciting thing we learned is how, among all the software bugs involved in reports, a relatively small proportion causes most of the errors. About 20 percent of the bugs cause 80 percent of all errors, and - this is stunning to me - one percent of bugs cause half of all errors.

With this immensely valuable feedback from our customers, we're now able to prioritize debugging work on our products to achieve the biggest improvement in customers' experience. And as the work proceeds based on this new source of systematic data, the improvement will be dramatic. Already, in Windows XP Service Pack 1, error reporting enabled us to address 29 percent of errors involving the operating system and applications running on it, including a large number of third-party applications. Error reporting helped us to eliminate more than half of all Office XP errors with Office XP Service Pack 2.

Work continues to find and fix remaining bugs in these and other existing products, but error reporting is now also helping us to resolve more problems before new products are released. Visual Studio .NET, released last February, was one of our first products to benefit from the use of error-reporting data throughout its beta testing. Error reporting enabled us to log and fix 74 percent of all crashes reported in the first beta version. Many other problems were caught and eliminated in subsequent testing rounds.

And we're not keeping this great tool to ourselves. We're working with independent hardware and software vendors to help them use our error-reporting data to improve their products, too. Some 450 companies have accessed our database of error reports related to their drivers, utilities and applications. Marked decreases in some types of errors have followed. Those involving third- party firewall software, for example, have dropped 67 percent since the first of the year. Also, we've created software that enables corporations to redirect error reports to their own servers, so that administrators can find and resolve the problems that are having the most impact on their systems.

THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING We're working to make error reporting a much more supple tool that provides helpful information to customers while enabling us to improve their experience in new ways. As we understand more errors, we're adding an option for customers to go to a Web site where they can learn more about and even fix the errors they report. In the future we want to enable customers to look up the history of their error reports and our efforts to resolve them. And we're trying to create easy ways for customers to send us more nuanced feedback about their experience with our products - not only about crashes, but also about features that don't work the way or as easily as people would like.

Microsoft Error Reporting is just one of the ways in which we're trying to create broader customer connections. Another is through our software update and management services, which make it easy for customers to keep their software current. We're also making significant changes in our product service and support to enhance their value, and to speed the resolution of customer problems. Soon we will commit to a new policy that will give customers greater clarity and confidence about our support for products through their lifecycles.

There's much more I would like to share with you about these and other initiatives on behalf of customers, but I wanted to be (relatively) brief. If you would like to know more, you'll find information and links to help you drill down even further at http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/execmail/2002/10-02customers2.asp.

Ultimately, we're trying to change how software developers do their jobs on a daily basis. We're working to establish more of a direct, interactive connection between developers and customers, leading to better software and happier customers. To get there, we intend to listen even more closely to our customers, consult with them regularly, and be more responsive. This is the message I am sending to all of Microsoft's employees, and it is my commitment to you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, Steve Ballmer

For information about Microsoft's privacy policies, please go to: http://www.microsoft.com/info /privacy.htm DIRECTIONS FOR ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER MEETING ROOM

Meetings are in the St. Augustine Center at Villanova University. The regular monthly sessions will be meeting in Room 110.

[Map goes here!]

Enter from the ITHAN AVENUE main gate, then proceed to the 2-level parking building adjacent to St. Augustine, on the Ithan Avenue side of the building.

NOTE: maps on our webpage - http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mlcug/

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PC/128/64 Meetings  2002  Steering Committee Meetings

                      October 12                        October 16
                      November 9                        November 14 **
                      December 14                       December 18

     * = first Saturday     ** = second THURSDAY at Tom Johnson's home
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EDITOR:  Emil J. Volcheck, Jr.   1046 General Allen Lane    West Chester, PA 19382-8030
(Produced with C-128D/SCPU 128, RAMlink, HD-40/85, 1571, FD-4000, THE WRITE STUFF 128, XETEC
Super Grafix, Canon BJ-200ex, Swiftlink and Motorola 288 modem)

           MLCUG BBS: 610-828-1359 ( 300 --> 33600 bps ), 24 hr/day
                 WWW: http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mlcug/
           PUBLICITY: Robyn Josephs 610-565-4058
         DISK ORDERS: Charlie Curran 610-446-5239
   VILLANOVA SPONSOR: Prof. Frank Maloney, Dept. of Astronomy

MLCUG STEERING COMMITTEE:

PRESIDENT: Emil Volcheck      610-388-1581   SECRETARY: Charles Curran    610-446-5239
TREAS/MEMBERS: Dewitt Stewart 610-623-5145   SYSOP/AMIGA SIG: John Deker  610-828-7897
INTERNET/Linux:Peter Whinnery 610-284-5234   DATABASE: Layton Fireng      610-688-2080
AT LARGE: Tom Johnson         610-525-3440   AT LARGE: John Murphy        610-935-4398