Main Line Computer Users Group


November 2003 Issue 258

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER, ROOM 110 MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - NOV 8 th
THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
UPCOMING MEETING:

Following time for some Q & A and announcements, we plan to continue with the "initial setup" of the Windows XP partition on the new club BTO PC.

We've been taking ALL of the steps in our monthly meetings - which slows the process markedly - but, this provides the best chance for all the attendees to observe the process, hopefully get a better understanding of what we recommend doing, why we so do and to ask questions to clarify the process in their own minds.

As of this point, we installed XP in a clean ~5 GB partition, installed the drivers provided with the motherboard (for the chipset, NIC, sound and viseo primarily. We got the NIC running to give us internet access thru the Villanova LAN. And imaged the partition for swift backup or restoration. Last time, we ran "Windows Update" from the Microsoft website to install all (28) "critical" patches that MS has released since Sep. 2002 (when they issued the cumulative patch called Service Pack 1).

This month, we'll recheck Windows Update, then install our security software (Norton Anti-virus 2002 and the Zone Alarm firewall) and get it working. This will also be a good time for a significant drive image to preserve all the work so far. Then, we should be ready to really start using the PC for real work!!! ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ NO MORE SUPPORT FOR WINDOWS 98/98SE?

I thought that this recent query to John Fried, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist was very timely:

Q: Please explain the impact of Microsoft's decision to discontinue support for Windows 98. Will I be able to continue to use Windows 98 without Microsoft's support? - Serneed2@aol.com [continued]

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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OUR NEW WEBSITE - thru the good offices of Mr. Rich Goldberg, operator of the Bee.net local ISP, the club has been provided with a new website host and a new (we hope, easy-to-remember) domain name - mlcug.org! So, now we can be found on the web at: http://mlcug.org

Spread the word around to folks you know who are computer users of all experience and skill levels. We want to continue to help each other become more fruitful users. In this era when computers are becoming more complex and software is getting loaded with "features", the beasts are becoming both more capable and more frustrating (especially, for the new users). Our user group can be a source of assistance in this environment!!! Oh yes, our faith-ful webmaster, Pete Whinnery, will be most appreciative of ideas to improve the useability and value of this website; so don't hesitate to suggest!

RENEWAL SEASON! - is upon us. So, it is time to haul out the checkbook and go for another year with MLCUG. The Steering Committee has reviewed our financial situation - following the purchase of the new club BTO PC. We are in good enough shape that we have decided to HOLD THE $15 DUES.

We do hope you WILL be amongst those who feel the group is worth these low dues. And, you can use the form on p.8 for your renewal (or copy it and keep your valuable issue intact).

AID FOR NEW USERS - learning the basics of computer useage and working your way thru the software has a rather steep learning curve (in contrast to what the vendors would have you believe); so most folks who are new to the game could use some early help.

Do you know of a local organization that offers beginning computer users real hands-on training? If so, we'd like to hear about it - place, times, content and cost - to prepare a reference list (maybe for the website?) to provide to folks who contact us for early help.

As an example, I'll offer this one: West Chester Area Senior Center offers a series of 4-session courses in computer basics, as well as graded courses in the "standard" applications like Works, Word, Excel, etc. Classes are small (6 students max) and very hands-on, each student has a computer for each session. The cost is $50 per course. I'll have a complete list at the meeting. Now, how about a source near YOU???

REGULAR REMINDERS - 1) our email mailing list is run for the member's benefit; so please do not hesitate to post notices or problems to it. If we can't solve the problem remotely, we can be alerted to it ahead of a meeting where hands-on may do the job.

NOTE: there may be a change coming up in the management and operation of the list, as a result of our new website. So, watch your email for any announcements...

2) 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 a CD-R/RW) and get it done there, either before or after the main meeting.

3) 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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MLCUG LISTSERV

We have a web-accessible, sorted and indexed archive of the mailing list. Please check it out and send any feedback my way. The archive has no pointers to it; so it can only be reached by accessing its URL directly. That's to minimize non-members accessing the info. [Pete Whinnery, webmaster]

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LAST MONTH'S MEETING

For the October 11th meeting, we had 19 folks attending. I was pleased at the turnout since we had some very lively discussions!!! The meeting started about 09:35 and we did not get to the main program until almost 11:00; so you can see what I mean by the foregoing comment...

A big topic was "updates" or "patches" from Microsoft for problems with Windows or the bundled MS applications (like Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, etc.). Since updating XP was the meeting topic, the discussion was VERY timely! A key piece of info was the announcement from MS, the day before, that the next Service Pack for XP and Server 2003 would be aimed at "fixing" (we should hope) the major flaws that have been the continuing target of hackers and have created nightmares for system admins and users alike. Dealing with the results of these flaws has cost the computer community untold millions of $$$, not counting the misery that has been inflicted on them (which is mighty hard to quantify, but very EASY to feel)...

Our treasurer, Stew, reported that we continue to be solvent and that renewals have started to be significant. I sincerely hope that most, if not all, our current members will renew. I think our $15 dues is the best bargain in the region (every other club I know about has dues at $5-15 more!). As the newsletter noted, we did get 3 new members, one of whom made it to the meeting. I hope the others will come and get the benefit of the socializing and knowledge transfer. We did have some fun today - not decreased by the presence of Tasty Kakes (thanks to Jack Ryan!)!!. This occurrence is not a guarantee of future such treats.

Another topic was product activation. This tool for reducing software piracy was started by Microsoft, as you know, with the introduction of Windows XP/Office XP. About a year ago, Intuit said they were going to go that way with TurboTax 2002. as it turned out, they really did not use true "activation", just registration that was enforced by a covertly installed piece of spyware. That maneuver apparently cost them so many customers that they've decided not to do it this next year. In the future???

However, Symantec has announced that with the intro of Norton Anti-Virus 2004, they will use true product activation. And, that day, Layton Fireng brought us a notice that Adobe plans to do the same with Photoshop. I think it is clear that the major vendors (who can afford the computer horsepower to work this approach) will do so on more and more big selling products. We'll hear lots more about "activation" - watch for it...

After going round the table, we turned to the new club PC, which has a freshly installed copy of Windows XP Home Edition that we activated at the last meeting. So far, we have done nothing else to it - we are stepping our way thru the kinds of things that a user could/would/should do. We want to observe these activities and give folks the chance to learn about them - with "instant" Q & A.

Since we still do not have any security software on the Windows XP install, we had the PC set up behind a Linksys combo router and 8-port ethernet switch (loaned by Emil - replacing the Airport unit that John Murphy loaned us last month). A quick check showed that it had done its job and the PC was running nicely net connected thru the VU LAN.

So, we: clicked START clicked Windows Update

and were promptly taken to the Microsoft Windows Update website. Then, we clicked the "scan the computer for updates" option, which the site promptly did. The result of the scan was that we needed to install some twenty-eight (28) critical updates (with about 40 MB of files!).

It was clear at that point that this is no easy job for a user who has only a dialup connection, as each update has to be downloaded and installed and then the computer may have to be restarted. The size of the task alone is likely to deter folks from doing it!

We scanned thru the list to see what there was - much too numerous to describe here - and, on the advice of John Murphy, we adopted the process of installing 3 patches at a time, then restarting. After restarting, we checked to be sure the computer was still working . We confirmed that each update added an item to the "Add/Remove Programs control panel" and it also added a restore point to the System Restore utility that XP (and Win Me) uses.

So, we stepped thru the process nine times:

loop until go to Start>Windows update scan for updates select the latest 3 download/install restart the computer until none left

It all proceeded smoothly (helped quite a bit by the fast net connection we have at VU). Emil did all the clicking while the rest of the folks watched, kibitized, talked, visited the head, etc. until we were done.

At that point, we called it a day, bundled up the hardware and headed off to lunch (well, at least, five of us did the latter).

Next time, we'll check for new updates, then start the security/privacy software installs.

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WINDOWS XP TWEAKS

Continuing from October, here are the final tweaks for Windows XP from Fred Langa:

9) Take The Brakes Off Your Network Settings - XP's default network settings for Maximum Transmission Unit, Receive Window, and such, may or may not be ideal for your circumstances. The only way to know is to take a close look: For example, DSL Reports and SpeedGuide have excellent free information, online tests, and even one-click tweaks that can automatically optimize all or some of XP's internal plumbing for high-speed connectivity. DSL Reports also offers a free, simple network tweaking tool called DrTCP that lets you instantly and easily adjust a variety of parameters; this tool makes iterative testing a snap, as you experiment to find the best settings for your particular setup.

(Incidentally, when WinXP-specific solutions aren't offered, use those for Windows 2000; that's the closest match for XP.)

10) Lock The Door - XP has a built-in desktop firewall, but it's turned off by default. To turn it on: Right click on My Network Places, Properties, right click on your connection (e.g. Local Area Connection), select Properties again, then Advanced, and then click the box for Protect My Computer.

But note that the built-in firewall is very basic, as the free LeakTest tool will demonstrate for you. A third-party firewall (such as ZoneAlarm will do a much better job than XP's built-in firewall.

And whatever you use for desktop security, be sure to test your system using any of the safe, free, online security scans. Be sure to follow any suggestions the sites make to close security holes detected by the tests. For example, there are excellent tests available at:

Shields Up DSL Reports Port Scan DSL Reports Full Scan

We've also discussed many other security services in earlier columns, such as this one.

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COMPUTING HELP?

In addition to training classes (see item on p.2), there are tons of books, tutorial tapes, CD/DVDs and whatever! One such item that I've got a couple dozen copies of for my weekly computer help forum is entitled: "Computers for Seniors". I think there is a good possibility that some MLCUG folks may be interested in it. So, I'll bring a copy to the meeting, for folks to look over to see if there is any interest. If so, I'll take names and add them to the developing re-order that I'm building up to. The book will run about $8.50 (incl. tax and shipping); so it won't break the piggy bank. [Emil Volcheck]

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My 2 Cents on New Stuff

This item relates to my recent email exchange with Reid Goldsborough about his 10/23 column in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Reid - your "When is it time......." column was very helpful. However, a small quibble with one point re your statement about the new software side:

"..... latest software, which typically has more features and is easier to use than older programs ....."

I conduct a computer help forum at our local senior center and run a computer club, too. So, I have a lot of dealings with novices, ordinary users and some experts. These experiences have shown me that the increasingly feature-laden software offerings are increasingly difficult to use. For the average, or novice, user, the new "features" generally have little or no value; but they make things more difficult to use to get their less demanding jobs done.

In addition, the new features increase the program size (seemingly out of proportion to what they add); so that many apps have become gross. They take longer to load, offer more opportunities for glitches and bugs (and are usually accompanied by unfortunately frequent bug fixes) and increase the demands on the system (so as to induce folks to buy new hardware to get their old jobs done???).

I'm assisting more and more folks who have got Windows XP, since they can't have anything else on a new PC. This OS is supposed to be more user-friendly, intuitive, with lots of new features to make computing easier. But, to the novices who first get faced with it, it is totally bewildering! Absolutely the opposite of what it is touted to be!

And, even for the experienced user of Windows Me and earlier (but not for NT or 2K users), many functions that were easy to handle have been much obscured by the multi-user interface choices that XP provides. So, even these folks have a pretty significant learning curve.... My 2 cents, Emil Volcheck ...

Here was Reid's prompt response:

"Thanks for sharing your views. Though many people have had very positive experiences with XP, what you say about bloatware makes sense, as with some of your other points too". Reid Goldsborough, syndicated computer columnist, Philadelphia Inquirer

At least a little bit of agreement! {Emil Volcheck]

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WINDOWS 98 SUPPORT?

[continued from p.1]

A: When a company discontinues support for an older product, it is saying that you will no longer be able to get phone or e-mail technical support for it.

That can be disastrous if the publisher does not have an adequate, searchable online database where you can find articles about the product.

Fortunately, Microsoft's massive Knowledge Base keeps articles back to the dawn of time.

There are articles that deal with issues that relate only to Windows 98, just as there are articles that include references to almost all Windows versions.

The Knowledge Base is often puzzling, and sometimes downright arcane. But with practice and patience, you can learn to coax it into yielding an answer.

To get a handle on it, read the tips that Microsoft offers for using it. At the Knowledge Base site, scroll down a bit to see the links to the "help" tips.

Another source of help is discussion groups, which are easily searched with Google.

At Google, click on the Groups tab, then enter search terms in the Google Search box. One of the terms should be Windows 98. Thus, if you want to know why 98 is crashing a lot, enter something like Windows 98 crash as your search term.

Be careful, however.

Look for posted comments from Microsoft MVPs, who are sort of unofficial tech advisers, or from tech-support people associated with software and hardware companies. Anyone else's advice, take with a grain of salt until you see two or three other people offer similar suggestions or until you run across a posting that indicates an answer really worked.

More search tips follow.

On the Web: http://support.microsoft.com

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NTFS vs. FAT32

Folks new to Windows XP sooner or later get faced with something called NTFS - that refers to the type of file system that it uses compared to what we may have heard of in earlier Windows versions, namely; FAT or FAT32. So, they ask, "which is better or what should I do about it?". Here are some comments in an exchange on the MLCUG listserv:

On Tuesday, October 7, 2003, at 08:13 PM, Layton Fireng wrote: "A question. Is there a benefit in keeping NTFS partitions to a given size? In FAT32 clearly there is an advantage in limiting cluster size, is this true in NTFS?, Layton

Not until you get to partition sizes that exceed 300 GB. NTFS uses a different algorithm for managing file allocation. In fact, when you create an NTFS partition using the tools in NT or Windows 2000 you can specify the cluster size up to 64K. I don't know if XP has the same facility.

There are two major reasons for using NTFS partitions on a home system:

1. To create individual files that are larger than 4GB.

2. Security - NTFS allows you to set permissions on individual files and directories. This can be useful on a system that has multiple users, like a family. You can protect system files and other sensitive files from other users.

If you plan on creating or manipulating large files, like Photoshop images or DVD images, then a larger cluster size will give you better performance and less fragmentation. On my Windows 2000 desktop system I have two data partitions, one formatted as FAT32 and the other as NTFS. I use the FAT32 partition for normal files, like documents, MP3s, etc. I use the NTFS partition to store large files like CD and DVD images, system backups, scanned images, etc. The NTFS partition is 48GB and has a cluster size of 64K. I find that I need to defragment the FAT32 at least weekly, while the NTFS partition can go for a month or more before defragmenting is needed. Hope this helps... [John Murphy]

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 the St. Augustine Center, 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  2003  Steering Committee Meetings

			October 11			October 22 *
			November 8			November 19 **
			December  13 		December 17 **

	* = FOURTH Wednesday	** = THIRD Wednesday at Tom Johnson's home
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EDITOR:  Emil J. Volcheck, Jr.   1046 General Allen Lane    West Chester, PA 19382-8030
(Produced on a home-built PC: 233 MHz Pentium, 128 MB RAM, 20 GB hard drive, Epson Stylus Color 740 printer, HP Scanjet 6300C, CD-RW drive, DVD-ROM drive and 250 MB Zip drive, using Appleworks 5.0.3)

      MLCUG LISTSERV: for members only...
                 WWW: http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mlcug/
           PUBLICITY: Robyn Josephs 610-565-4058
   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/AMIGASIG: 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