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Old RAS.Commentary

New Computer Purchase 2002

I recently purchased a new notebook computer from Gateway. I have been wanted a new machine for almost a year and decided now was the time to make the jump. So after much research I settled on the new Gateway 600X notebook. I looked at Dell and IBM machines as well this time around. This is my third Gateway notebook. I have made it a tradition with the Sterling Heights Computer Club over the years to share my story, so here it is.

My first notebook was a 166mhz machine with a 12 inch screen, a 2GB hard drive, 40MB RAM, and a CD-ROM. It priced out at $5000 complete with the docking station and 17 inch monitor. I used this machine for 2 years and I still use it for a test machine and the kids use it almost daily for homework. It has been solid except for one crashed hard drive and recently the CD drive decided not to shut. It has been used almost daily for the better part of five years.

My second notebook that I have just retired to a test machine and a platform to play with Linux, is a 450mhz machine with 15 inch screen, a 10GB hard drive, 128MB RAM (upgraded to 224MB) and a DVD player. I used this machine almost all day, every day, for 3 years. It cost $4500 with a 19 inch monitor and docking station. It has been a great machine. The only real problems is that I have run out of drive space and the mouse pad has rubbed a spot into the screen (more on that later).

This machine is really loaded. It has a 2ghz processor, 512MB RAM, a 15.7 inch screen, 40GB hard drive, built in wireless (802.11b), and a DVD/CD-RW drive. With a docking station, external speakers and rebate, the entire package was $2600. I love computer economics. I wish cars could find a way into this business model.

So I get the new machine 2 weeks after I order it, which was before Gateway promised it.

It is a beautiful box, completely redesigned titanium silver. What I really like is the way they finally put the various ports and jacks in the correct place. The Ethernet and modem jacks are in the back, with the usual video, serial port, parallel port, PS2 mouse port, and power. The two USB ports are on the right side, but toward the back so they do not get in the way of the mouse. The PCMCIA slots are on the left side, also toward the back so anything I would plug into it will not get in the way. This is the first time I do not have any of the PCMCIA slots filled. All the normal stuff I used them for in the past (network and modems) are in the base unit. The microphone, external sound, etc. are on the left side toward the front. I rarely use these, but they are in a place that won't get in the way of the mouse, at least for right-handers. The screen is beautiful and runs at 1280x1024 which is my favorite and maximum resolution, even when connected to a 19 inch monitor.

The box is a half inch wider and deeper than my previous notebook. It is a quiet box except when the fan runs occasionally. Plugging into the docking station is weird; you snap it in by pressing on the top. I wonder of this is good for the screen? I hope so since it feels strange pressing on the top to get it docked. Undocking is not problem, just press the eject buttons on the station.

The machine is fast. It is running a 2ghz Pentium 4M, designed for mobile computers. Even Windows XP Professional boots fast! The CD burner rocks. Having one on a laptop is so cool, especially when working at a client site. In the past I was using a Zip drive for transferring lots of data, or a program that I created for them. These days are over. Watching DVDs is a treat. I was sick over the holidays and watched the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring in bed one night. The system ships with InterVideo's WinDVD 4 which is the product I was using on my old notebook. I really like this program. The internal speakers are pretty decent (when they work, see problem later).

I took 24 hours to uninstall a bunch of software I will never use (AOL, Money, Picture It!, Works, and Real Player) and then installed 64 packages I need on a regular basis. After I installed 50+ packages I noticed that my sound was not working. Wonderful.

So I called Gateway technical support. They had me reinstall the sound drivers numerous times and said it was probably a package I installed that killed the driver. They wanted me to reformat the drive and start over (losing 24 hours). No way! I knew the sound system was blown. I could hear a popping sound when I muted and unmuted the sound. So after explaining to the support guy my time problem they volunteered to send me a new drive to swap in and test. That drive arrived five days later. No operating system (which was promised to be loaded), so it took six hours to load the OS and base software to find out that I still had no sound. Support finally came to the same conclusion that I did almost 2 weeks before, the sound system was blown.

So they said they would replace the chassis with a refurbished unit. No way! I just paid for a brand new computer. I told the support guy that I would send the machine back, order a different one (or possibly order a machine from a different manufacturer). I told him to reconsider his offer because I was not in the mood to talk to the guys who wanted me to get a Dell. If I did that I would be out a machine for another couple of weeks and that would not please the customer. He did the right thing and I now have a new chassis from Gateway. I swapped the hard drive from one machine to another and whamo I have sound (with the exact same applications installed). It is a newer design as well, version 2 of the same machine.

One interesting difference between the last time I ordered a new machine and this time was the ability to track it on the web via the UPS website. I could see that it shipped from Taiwan to Alaska to the continental US, through Louisville, KY, and into the metro Detroit area. It was cool seeing all the stops it was making. Once delivered, I was able to see almost immediately online that I accepted the package. This is a cool use of the web.

So now that I have my new machine all up and running I take my previous notebook for service. The mouse touchpad started rubbing a rectangle on the screen within months of the purchase. I took it in several times to the Gateway Country store to be looked at. Each time they wanted a week to get it fixed. So I decided to wait until I had my new machine. I took it in with 1 day left on the warranty. They took the machine and I went to work. Thirty minutes later I get a call from the service department saying that it was considered normal wear and tear. No way!

So I made some calls and sent an important email to an important person at Gateway. This individual was kind enough to remember that this was a problem on my model and put me in touch with someone to get it fixed. Gateway sent out a delivery person from Airborne to pick up the laptop, overnight it to Texas to get the screen swapped out. They also replaced the offending touchpad with a version that is not "bumped-up". It is flat to the surface of the keyboard. This took one day and it was sent overnight back to me. While it took me a lot to get it fixed, it is fixed and working. The screen looks nice once again.

So what was the lesson learned this time around? Be persistent with the technical support people. If you are not satisfied with one, try another. If the second person does not help, ask for the second tier support. Persistency pays off most of the time. I am a very satisfied Gateway customer because a couple of service people went the extra mile to make sure I was happy. I also feel that using a larger computer manufacturer gives me the type of integration and support I have come to expect in the computer industry.

What is Wireless Computing?

There has been much press in the computer trade magazines and on the news about wireless connectivity. Many consumers hear “wireless” and immediately think about cell phones, some think about personal digital assistants (PDA), and some think about connecting a network of computers with a wireless local area network. This article will focus on the wireless local area network, and in general what it takes to get computers to talk to each other without copper cables using the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) standard.

Four months ago our company decided to lease office space in an old mansion in Detroit. We lease much of the third floor and the biggest issue the landlord noted is that he did not want us to alter the walls in any way. These walls are covered with old woodwork and they did not want a bunch of geeks cutting holes and dragging cable. We also did not want cable hanging along the floor ready to trip employees or customers. Our solution was to go wireless.

What you need

So we went to the computer store and purchased 5 wireless cards and a wireless access point (WAP). There are a number of brands and models. It is outside the scope to compare all of these. I will mention that at home I have a Linksys Ethernet WAP with a built in Cable/DSL Router, and 4 port switch. What this means is that I can connect my DSL line into the router portion (bypassing the ISP router), connect up to four computers to the network with copper Ethernet cables, and all share access to the internet. Additionally I can connect to another hub which connects more computers via Ethernet cable. This demonstrates that you can ease into the technology without converting all the network connections all at one time. The WAP will additionally support 256 computers (how practical this is I am unsure), definitely enough for homes and small offices.

You need to install the wireless card in the desktop or notebook computer. The card you buy will depend on your configuration and the type of slots available (or sometimes more importantly, what is not available). Notebook computers must have a PCMCIA slot free. Desktops can get normal network type cards with wireless capability via a built in antenna. Some desktop wireless cards have a PCMCIA slot built in, which requires you to purchase a notebook wireless card. So buyer beware, do your research. As far as the wireless access point, again it depends on your needs. If you already have a network set up, you might just need a plain old WAP, nothing fancy. If you are just starting out and need to connect other computers with various network cards performing at different speeds, you might need a switch built in. If you are like me and wanted to other computers to share one Internet connection, you might research the DSL/Cable router feature as well. There are drivers to be loaded so the operating system can communicate with the new device. I have found Windows XP to be a true joy with this technology. It understands wireless networking. Other OSes will also work, but check for compatibility issues. My only experience is with Windows 2000 and Windows XP (the easier of the two).

One thing I can definitely say about Linksys is that they provide nice diagrams on the boxes of their products. It diagrams the capabilities so people like me who know little about the inner workings of this hardware can see what they need. Naturally it also recommends their hardware, but even if you do not buy Linksys, it gives you an excellent idea of what you might need. If you are confused, hire a professional to help you out, or maybe you can find an expert in the user group that can assist you (that would not be me).

How it works

I am not an electric engineer or computer engineer, so I will not get to deep into discussing how this works. The WAP sends out a signal just like your wireless phone does from the base station. All the WAPs I have seen have two antennas that send out the signal. This creates a bubble around the WAP (depending on how you point the antenna). This bubble can range from 30 to 90 meters indoors and from 150 to 450 meters outdoors with a standard WAP. The signal strength degrades the further you get from the WAP. The signal is transmitted over the airwaves on the 2.4-gigahertz (GHz) frequency which is the same frequency as some wireless phones and some microwave ovens. The computer and the wireless network card look for that signal. They connect and the rest works just like being connected with copper wires.

Just so you know, there are a number of wireless standards. The most common is the IEEE 802.11 standard. Within this standard are a number of substandards. The most popular one is 802.11b. Under 802.11b, devices communicate at a speed of 11 Mbps whenever possible. If signal strength or interference is disrupting data, the devices will drop back to 5.5 Mbps, then 2 Mbps and finally down to 1 Mbps. Though it may occasionally slow down, this keeps the network stable and very reliable. Distance does make a difference. In the home arena, you will likely get 11Mbps almost everywhere, unless you run into some interference. In our office we have the wireless networking and a phone system that work on 2.4Ghz and they co-exist with no problem.

You configure the WAP via a web browser by browsing a TCP/IP address ( Minimally you will need to configure the ESSID (the name you give your network). This is what is broadcasted to wireless enabled computers. I also recommend enabling WEP security (see disadvantage section later in this article). Depending on your ISP and broadband capability, you might have to configure the login to the ISP to make the connection. That is all. The setup literally took me 30 minutes because I read the instructions, you mileage might vary.


I can literally use my computer and be hooked up to the network to get email, surf the web, and copy files to and from other machines. I can do this from anywhere in the house, in the yard, and even down the street (although the signal gets weaker and performance goes down the farther you get away from the WAP). If you are using Windows XP (the OS I use on my main machine) it auto detects the wireless card and the wireless network as I get in range of a WAP (see security issues under disadvantages).

No more need to fish a line through the walls of my house or office. If our customers have this technology installed I can literally walk into their offices and be on the network without having to search down a wire. This can be important if you have a multi-level home or in a college dorm, or any place that is not conducive to dropping wire.

There are also a number of “hot spots” being developed in major cities that allow mobile computer users to connect to public networks in coffee shops, restaurants, college campuses, and public buildings like libraries. There are even private companies making wireless networks available to people who get inside their bubble.


In my case, the network maxes out at 11Mbps which is nine times slower than wire networks running at 100Mbps. If you use a 10Mbps network, it is obviously faster. The performance is only really noticeable when copying files between computers (which is how I do backups). It does not slow down even the fastest access to the internet since cable modems and DSL typically max out at 1.5Mbps. When I need the higher performance I plug in the wire.

There is a security exposure that is available with a WAP if you do not use encryption. With a wired network, only those plugged in can access the network, the computers, and the Internet connection. Wireless users can literally see any wireless network that they bump into. This means anyone inside the bubble can possibly have access to your computer, other computers on the network and Internet connection. There are a number of ways to lock others out. The Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) makes sure that only users with a key can access the network. This is the simplest way to lock others out. You generate a key that each computer needs to have in the wireless connection. It is simple to enter in because you are prompted the first time you connect to the WAP, although it is a long string of letters and numbers. For stronger techies, you can also specify specific computers via network card MAC addresses. I also highly recommend setting the administrative password on the WAP to something other than the default so someone cannot hack their way in and change your settings. All this is well documented in the user manual and is easy to set up. Some WAPs have the ability to enable firewall protection. Mine had the ability to license ZoneAlarm Pro and PC-Cillin for anti-virus.

New standards are evolving all the time. The 802.11a is available which improves the speed even though the letter on the standard went backward from “b” to “a” (they never make this easy do they). Jumping in now means that you might have to purchase new WAPs and cards later to get the better performance. If this is important, I suggest you hang out on the sideline a little longer.

The last disadvantage is that I have experienced that occasionally the WAP will lose its mind, and you will lose your connection. Overall I have found the network to be very reliable, with only minor glitches.


I have been really impressed with this technology even though it really is considered to be in the infancy stage. I also expect it to be improved rapidly over time like the rest of technology.

Attack on America

One side effect of the Attack on America that I worry about more than Anthrax, more than another terrorist attack, more than the deaths happening in Afghanistan, is the pain it is placing on charity and the trickle down economics to the people and causes they serve.

I do not want to downplay the pain to the people and families affected by the sick biological attacks that have happened across the country. I do not want people to think I am discounting the possibility of another terrorist action. I do not want people to think I do not care about the innocent lives affected by the military action in the mideast. This is not my intention in this commentary. All of these are scary in their own right and get plenty of press time in the media and around the water coolers of America these days. And rightly so.

What I would like to comment on here is my concern for all the charities that will suffer because so much effort is being made financially  to the victims in New York City. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to the various causes set up to support the victims of the tragedies. Once again, the true spirit of mankind shines in this respect.

My curiosity in this matter is this: are people giving from their hearts in addition to the usual donations, or are they diverting their contributions to another cause? Not that this is any of my business. Giving is such a personal thing.

The reason I started thinking about this is the case of a charity, breast cancer research. They were offering 10% of the contributions made during a recent pledge drive, to be offered to the firefighter families. This has got to be a first! A program as important as breast cancer research should not have to divert any pledge money. Curing breat cancer is an important cause that affects millions of people (the women who have the cancer and their loved ones). So why are they giving up 10% of the money donated? My guess is that they needed a way to get the attention of the donators, a way to distract them from watching CNN for a minute without the guilt of not participating or paying attention to the crisis. They needed a way to still ride the wave of patriotism, and make sure that they could get some of the money that would have come their way if we did not have a higher profile issue at hand. Again, this is my perception, not the official reasons (I have no link to the inside of this organization).

I am curious to know if religious organizations, food kitchens, medical research (like breast cancer research and Jerry's Kids), caregivers like hospice and Salvation Army, and the like are seeing incoming donations slowing down?

I hope not.

I am very worried that this is the case. The media recession (media projecting that the economy was worse than it really is) that proceeded the events of September 11th and now the terrorist recession (people tightening up financially to weather the terrorist actions) might cause people to think twice about spending money on things they need, and definitely how they will donate to causes they support.

Please do not interpret my concerns as a statement of not caring for the families of the firefighters, the workers from the Pentagon and in or near the World Trade Center, or the innocent people on any of the planes that were intentionally used as weapons and crashed. These people need our help as much as any charitable organization. The Red Cross is a super organization and help so many people.

I'm merely asking people to think of the others, and not to forget the causes that were so important to us before September 11, 2001.

Microsoft Office XP

In June Microsoft released its latest and greatest MS Office. So is Office XP worth the price of the upgrade? Is it a painless upgrade? Do you need Windows XP to run Office XP?

To answer the last question first, no, Office XP will run on Windows 98/Me/NT/W2K and XP (but not Windows 95). You will need a Pentium 133 (I would guess that this is a bit slow), around 300-500MG of free disk space depending on the configuration, a CD-ROM drive, and run in VGA 800x600 with 256K colors with a mouse or other pointing device.

Almost every person that I have talked to about Office XP has asked about the stupid Clippit the Paperclip Office Assistant that allegedly is there to help you use the products. Most people hate this and Microsoft, a company not afraid to make fun of itself, decided to wage a campaign (publicity stunt) against the animated characters. They marketed that Clippit was out of a job. Wrong, but he is shut off by default (and now I am wondering why I referred to it as "he"? <g>). Personally I liked Einstein and he is gone from the Office Assistants installed.

More details on feature sets and requirements of Office can be found at Microsoft's Office Site.


I've upgrade from Office 2000 Premium to Office XP Professional with FrontPage. I had no issues other than the installation loading an image editor. This image editor remapped the file association for JPG and GIF files from Internet Explorer to this new applet. It was a pain to undo it. I changed it in the registry and it still changed it back. I ended up tracking it down and uninstalling the useless applet.

Things I Like

Backward compatibility: the files created in other versions of Office open in XP and the files created in Office XP open in previous versions. This is especially important with MS Access databases, which was not the case in the past except through importing and exporting. It is common to pass around Word documents and Excel spreadsheets as well, and it is nice to know that the files created by a friend at home on a newer version can be read on that old clunky version still at the office.

Office Clipboard: Office apps still integrate with the Windows Clipboard, and have an added capability of the Office’s Clipboard which retains the clippings of the last 24 things cut or copied. You can also paste things from any of the 24 slots, rearrange them, and paste multiple items.

Recovery: Office apps have been pretty good at recovering items not saved when the PC crashed. The recovery capability seems more sophisticated in Office XP and definitely makes it easier to determine if you want to recover a specific item or several items.

Smart Tags: This feature has gotten some bad press, but I find it quite useful. Smart tags are an extension of the spelling/grammar recognition (green squiggles under words misspelled) from past versions. The squiggles indicate something wrong and allow you to right-click for specific options. Smart Tags (purple squiggles) extend this to recognizing items like mail addresses, emails, websites, a recent pasted item from the clipboard, and other things. You click on the tag and get options on the item that is highlighted. These Smart Tags can be customized by you or others to extend features of the Office app. This is way cool.

Outlook: One of the nicest things in Outlook is the easier management of Contact Folders and the auto-complete on names when entered in the To, CC, and BCC. This feature is similar to the auto-complete in the Internet Explorer URL address. I also like colorized appointments and ability to dismiss multiple reminders (from to do tasks) at one time.

Word: How much more can one add to a feature complete word processor? The single most important feature added is related to Smart Tags. If I paste text into one Word document from another I automatically got the formatting (fonts, bold, style) from the original document. This still happens, but a clipboard Smart Tag shows up and there is a menu option associated with it allows me to have the current document style formats applied. This saves me tons of time.

FrontPage: Many user interface improvements that make page management and editing easier.

Crash Reporting: Each application that crashes fatally now gives you the option of sending messages to Microsoft with details of the crash (see Dot-Oh bugs in section below). While some people might be nervous that they are sending important personal information, it gives one great pleasure to tell Microsoft that the app crashed (at least I get some pleasure). I send a copy of every problem. The nice thing is that Microsoft gets needed information to fix recurring problems. If something you report has a fix, or a workaround, or is recognized as a problem, reporting it will get a response to a website with a whitepaper of details. This requires an Internet connection

Things I Dislike

The Dot-Oh bugs: Oh yes they do exist. I can regularly crash Outlook by generating an email from the Contact Folder. Word occasionally crashes for no apparent reason, but thanks to the improved recovery functionality I rarely lose anything in the process of getting crushed. The biggest headache is opening a document for the first time and having the Open dialog going behind the application and not being the active dialog. This works fine when used for the second time and later.

Fast Search: This feature was automatically loaded...argh. Basically this feature indexes every single file on the hard drive so you can use the built in Fast Search within Office. I don’t use this feature; I use a nice search capability in PowerDesk. The app starts up the indexing when the machine is idle for a minute as long as it is not running on batteries. I found this quite annoying and killing every task on the machine (including all System Tray apps) did not stop it. The indexer never registers itself as a task. Fortunately this can be shut off in the Option dialog in Word. This took me six weeks to figure it out.

Installation Activation: This is suffering for others cheating. Basically it stops the installation of the same CD on multiple computers. You can load it on a desktop and laptop, but anything after that will be questioned. The registration is linked to Microsoft via the web or a phone call. Entering all these numbers is a bit much and I understand the need to curb piracy, but make it easier on those that do not cheat and harder on those that do.

Speech Recognition: It is cool, but still needs a lot of work. I played with the training section a number of times and I cannot get it to work for a complete sentence. Probably a user problem <g>.

Email Security: Tighter security with Outlook causes legitimate email automation to display a message that delays the actual sending. It is nice to stop viruses, but a pain for developers automating email for our customers from their custom applications. Seriously broke the nicest thing in Outlook from an application developer standpoint.

Worth It?

In my opinion, yes. While some of the dislikes are painful, I have found that the new features I have grown accustom to be no longer luxuries, but now necessities of day to day workings with my computer.

Microsoft Antitrust or Revenge?

Today justice was finally served in the Microsoft Antitrust case. A huge decision was delivered by U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. A two edged sword. Both sides claim a bit of victory, and most of all I think consumers are the big winners.

This is not the first commentary on this topic published on this website
(see The Microsoft Decision).

I have debated with numerous people that Microsoft is not a monopoly, especially with competitors like AOL/Time Warner, Sun Microsystems, and IBM. I understand that Microsoft has not always used the best business tactics in their dealings with OEMs when it comes to Windows and Internet Explorer. Microsoft is not angelic in the computer software market. I also feel that they should be punished financially for breaking the rules of the Sherman Anti-trust act for anti-competitive practices, not split up. Have them pay off some of the national debt, or make a difference to a number of charities, or medical research. Why make them the number 1 and 3 software giant and fragment the standards that we have all become accustomed to with our computers?

I have disagreed with the Judge Jackson's ruling to split the company in two. I have debated numerous times that the judge hearing the case against Microsoft was unable to determine if Microsoft was being innovative or restricting the competition (from a technical point of view) and is biased against Microsoft. Here is a quote that says it all that I grabbed off the ABC News website:

"I think he has a Napoleonic concept of himself," Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in a magazine article.

In a magazine article? Are judges even allowed to talk about the cases over a dinner table with their family? Yet he is publicly commenting about Bill Gates and Microsoft in a magazine article before the case has made its travels through the appeals process. Several interviews with reporters resulted in a public confession that Judge Jackson was very biased against the software giant.

So who do the anti-Microsoft  contingent have to thank for this misfortune (at least in their eyes). Themselves, because they have allowed their deep hatred for Microsoft's success to cloud the way this case was handled. Evidence was presented to bring down Bill Gates. CEO after CEO sat and told another sad story about how they could not compete with the Microsoft juggernaut. Judge Jackson (obviously part of the anti-Microsoft group), tainted by his biased feelings for Microsoft did not rule with an unbiased opinion. In essence he cheated. Just as the CEOs claimed Microsoft cheated in the business world. Hypocritical. Sad.

This is why I am happy with the current decision in this case. I also think that this decision is in the best interest of consumers. It also proves that the justice system works.

The case is not over either, there will either be a settlement between the DOJ and Microsoft, an appeal to the Supreme Court, or another judge's ruling on the penalty Microsoft will have to pay for their anti-competitive practices.

Anti-competitive practices. This is what Microsoft is being slapped for. So how can this situation be corrected, even after the company is financially penalized?

Compete, compete, compete. This is the name of a free market. If Microsoft is not delivering solid products or the best products they will eventually suffer as all other companies. If IBM can almost falter and drop from greatness, surely Microsoft will. IBM got to big and started ignoring customer needs and made questionable business decisions and now are rarely mentioned in the same breath as Microsoft when it comes to software giants (even though they are very large). Ask some executives at GM how they dominated the industry with over 50% of the market share and now struggle to get to 30%.

If someone builds a bigger/better product (or maybe a smaller more agile product) to compete with Microsoft Office or even something like Windows, consumers will make business decisions that will either make Microsoft re-evaluate their practices or cause them to suffer the same fate as millions of companies that have failed before.

What are your thoughts?

I have installed Microsoft Office XP and have had some fun experiences with this Dot-Oh product. Next time I'm hoping to share some of my experiences with this much ballyhooed product.

Software Review (Spring 2001)

Software, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Recently I have loaded new versions of several software packages. Some of them are minor updates; some of them are major jumps. This commentary/review is what I have recently liked and what I have found to be a disappointing. Each review gets the RAS Asterisks, up to a maximum of 5. 

The Good

Copernic 2001 Plus
I have been using Copernic for more than a year now and I find this one of the most useful PC web-based applications available. What is your favorite web search engine? Find that the return results are more than a bit overwhelming? Ever wish that you could do the same search on multiple search engines and get the best results all in one place? This is exactly what Copernic does. It takes the search criteria and hits multiple sites at one time and then presents the best hits from each engine in one easy to review list. There are numerous categories and numerous techniques of searching the world wide web. Results can be viewed in the Copernic browser (a decorated Internet Explorer) or in your personal favorite. Also comes in watered down free version at www.copernic.com. *****

Instant Messenger
If there ever was a program or software tool that I was skeptical about, it had to be Instant Messenger. There are several flavors of this, the most popular is AOL's. I have started to use Microsoft's IM and have found it to be most useful. My partners and I have very diverse locations with our homes in the Detroit area. The closest any of us are to each other is over 20 miles. This means long distance calling via our wonderful Ameritech land lines or to use precious cell minutes. With Instant Messenger we have eliminated the majority of need for using the phone. This program is a "chat" program. Basically it logs into a chat server and allows people who have pre-registered with each other (commonly referred to as a buddy list) to know when you are online and available to chat. It is instantaneous and works around the world based on the connection to the internet. In fact, one of my partners was recently in Amsterdam and we had a "conference" call and it was like we were here in Michigan. Cool technology. Only problem is that the various chatters have not conformed to a standard so AOL and Microsoft IMs do not work together. ****

ZoneAlarm 2.6
If you are not running a personal firewall and have access to this page from your computer then go get this product. It is free for personal use and only costs $30 for the professional version. It keeps people who have no business snooping around your computer from doing so. I personally used this even when I had a dial-up line and had people try to get to my computer via my connection. This product keeps people out, has an intuitive interface and is simple to set up. I'd give ZoneAlarm 6 stars if it made mathematical sense! *****

The Bad

Symantec Cleensweep
I received Cleensweep for free when I purchased TurboTax. It was worth every penny I paid <g>. This product monitors installation of other software and logs the changes it makes (like files added, registry entries made or changed) during the install process. It then allows you to uninstall the software based on these logs. Conceptually a terrific idea. I had seen older versions of this tool and was impressed. I immediately loaded the package and installed another piece of software. Granted, I did not read the user guide, but found the software difficult to use and found the interface unintuitive. This is the true barometer of good software in my opinion. It should only need a help file for more detailed explanation of how it works, not to tell you how to use it. Cleensweep is not easy to use and in my opinion is the worst package in this regard since LapLink 4 for DOS. I immediately swept it from my PC. *

I promoted the X-Drive.com website during a presentation on computer backups at the SHCC in May 2000. This site offers free space to copy files from your computer to the web server. You start out with 25 megabytes and can earn more free space with usage and referrals. If you want you also can buy space for a reasonable fee. So why the turn of heart on this site? I recently went to use it after not visiting the site for quite some time. It let me log in, but failed to upload a single file. The error message it displayed was not very descriptive either. I emailed the technical support people and was given a very terse response. I guess I had not been to the site in 6 months so my account expired. So I asked for it to be reactivated. Nada. Their policy is to not reset the login id. You have to sign-up for a new account and lose all your accumulated space. You also need a different email address. Too bad, and I was just starting to test out the new Explorer FTP client to upload files directly as if the website is a mapped disk drive. FreeDrive.com is a competitor that is worth a look. **

Future of Visual FoxPro Brightens

Microsoft announced recently that they will be taking Visual FoxPro 7 out of the Visual Studio.NET product and shipping it as a standalone product. I am excited about this new development.

One thing that I have pointed out to several developers is that this was a FoxPro Community influenced decision. The VFP Team at Microsoft asked the developer community if they wanted to participate in .NET or not. They queried developers at the Advisor DevCon in September 2000, and watched a discussion on the Fox Wiki and UniversalThread.com Forums.

Microsoft is a big company and has a reputation to do things that are best for them and not the consumers. The decision to make VFP a standalone developer tool was completely opposite. I have a strong faith in the VFP team at Microsoft and have always liked the way they operate. This team is small for a product that is used by so many people. This team cares about VFP and have a close relationship with the community that they serve.

So what are the pros and cons?

The Pros:

  1. VFP 7 ships much sooner than the other developer tools and allows Microsoft to provide faster Service Packs based on developer needs.

  2. Still plays in the COM world, integrates with the other developer tools, and will be improved to work with improved OSes. Here is a quote from the Microsoft site that says it all:

    "Future versions of the product will directly address the most popular customer requests, as well as support enhancements coming in future versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system and Microsoft Office."

  3. Allows Microsoft to market it to the strengths of the product. (see discussion below).

  4. VFP will not be part of the possible negative perception of .NET.

The Con(s):

  1. I might have to purchase both Visual Studio and Visual FoxPro, where I only had to pay for one product in the past. This will not bother us developers that have a MSDN Universal Subscription since it contains every Microsoft developer product. 

  2. Some developers might think the perception of VFP being removed from VS.NET is going to look bad. We might hear the doom and gloomers start talking about the demise of VFP. I think not. Personally I am not seeing VS.NET being received well in the developer community and trade magazines. It is for all purpose a v1.0 product. Microsoft is well-known for taking three times to get things right, so they have two more cracks before .NET is solid.

The Questions:

How will Microsoft market VFP now that it is no longer part of VS.NET? While it was part of the developer suite it was only marketed as part of the package. All the success stories and strengths that the product brings to the developer community needed to be advertised within the context of Visual Studio. Therefore, VFP needed to have a reason to be a participant within Visual Studio. I feel that this is the reason VFP was positioned as a middle-tier component player (which it is very good at doing), instead of the new position Microsoft is already noting:

"Visual FoxPro is an extremely powerful application development tool. Its data-centric, object-oriented language offers developers a robust tool set for building database applications deployed on the desktop, as client-server solutions, or on the Web via components and Web Services. Visual FoxPro is optimized for building fast database applications and components."

I think there is a great potential to position this product in two ways.

The first is to position it as a premier database application development tool. This is not a surprise to the developers that use it. The types of applications include both file server based application (traditional VFP apps) and client-server application (with connections to a backend database server).

The second marketing potential is in the web arena. I have developed a couple of web solutions with VFP and see some cool potential in this area.

The only other question I have is how big the budget will be for marketing and how much control the VFP team will have with respect to marketing?


I am very excited by this new development. I look forward to the future of Visual FoxPro and the continuing evolution of the product and the potential solutions I will be able to provide my business customers.

Planning Your Future

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. - George Hewell

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step - Chinese proverb

The turn of the millennium was quiet, which gave me some time to do a bit of personal reflection. I have always found that having goals, and objectives to accomplish these goals has lead me to success. So I took some time to review some of my goals and evaluate the objectives to see if they are in line with what I want out of life. 

People have asked me how I have so much in my life. The answer has always been by setting goals, dedicating myself to getting there, surrounding myself with smart people, and getting the necessary resources to reach them.

How important are setting goals and establishing objectives? Ultimately, it is one of the most important things one can do, both personally and professionally. I have seen several companies fail or come close to failing because they have not planned more than a couple of weeks into the future. Look at the dot-coms. They are failing left and right. My guess is that most do not have a serious business plan. While I was working at EDS I saw a repeated pattern of quarter to quarter thinking. Always attempting to meet the Wall Street Analyst expectations. This lead to cost cutting moves (usually releasing people and making sure nobody ordered pencils) which was short-sighted. After all, the company was still producing a good profit, just not as big as the one the analysts (who knew little about the computer industry) predicted. Successful companies plan years in advance. Setting corporate goals, finding customers that help meet those goals, understanding their market, creating and adjusting their budgets for good times and down turns, and finding new ways of generating revenue. A key to this is working with the employees to set their individual goals and objectives and make sure these are in line with the company goals. If the two do not meet, then they should go their separate ways.

Planning improves your chances for success. It is a continuous process. So many people feel that the set goals are chiseled in granite. This is far from the truth. Circumstances can change. Therese and I wanted to have four healthy children. When we got pregnant with our son Paul, we saw this dream coming true. Unfortunately he was born with Trisomy-18 and only lived for a couple of months. We have adjusted to this situation and realigned some of our goals. Life has a way of throwing you a curve. Wait for the right pitch and hit a homerun.

How many people are going to continue to tell me that I cannot do the things I set out to accomplish in this lifetime? More! I will also continue to prove these individuals wrong. <g>

Never let anyone tell you that your goals are too lofty or that it is impossible to accomplish them. I once worked for a man who said I was crazy thinking that I could buy a house at the young age of 23. Fortunately I had supporting family who helped Therese and I realize this dream. Even if you struggle to achieve lofty goals, the fact will remain that you will be closer to getting there than you would setting lower goals.

Life Goals, short-term goals, and the ongoing To-Do list. Make sure you take the time to establish goals on all three levels. I have lapsed on my short-term goals in the last few years, which I feel I have likely missed some serious opportunities in this time.

Some RAS Life Goals:

  1. Get a college education (accomplished).

  2. Get married to a wonderful women (accomplished).

  3. Have a family with 4 children (accomplished).

  4. Visiting all 50 USA States (see US States Visited page).

  5. Have my face in the wind of a hurricane.

  6. See a live volcano with flowing lava (accomplished).

  7. Survive an earthquake greater than 3.0 on the Richter Scale.

  8. View a tornado live (have seen several funnels, but none have touched down).

  9. Make a difference in the lives I touch (ongoing).

  10. Retire young enough to enjoy it.

What happens when I finish with all these goals? Chances are real good that I will set some additional ones before this ever happens!

Palm Technology Rocks!

There is plenty of new technology toys on the market this holiday season, what is the hottest? In my opinion, it is something that has been around for quite some time, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). These computers are priced between $150 and $700. Even the low end models have super functionality and meet the needs of most people.

I have used my Palm III for over two years. This small hand held computer weighs in ounces, not pounds like the Franklin Planner that it replaced. It keeps track of the business meetings, school and scout meetings, and family get together events that are time specific in the date book. It also tracks a number of to-do list items that need to be accomplished. These features are part of the base functionality of the Palm. The to-do list feature alone saves me more than 15 minutes a day because I do not need to move the items I did not accomplish to another day in the future. I use to spend the first 15 minutes of each day reviewing what I did not get done and moving it forward. Even if I saved 10 minutes each work day I would be saving 20+ hours a year just managing my daily to-do list. Wow! There are other tools included in the base Palms as well like a contact list, calculator, and notepad. Many of my friends use Palms as well and we can beam (via infrared transfer) any of these items to each other. This means that I can schedule an appointment in my Palm Pilot and transfer it to the boss' Palm computer. If he downloaded a cool application and thinks I should evaluate it, he can beam it to me. 

So how do the programs and information get to the Palm? Each hand held computer requires a docking mechanism to a PC or Mac. Most hand helds have a docking station that connects to a serial or USB port. The hand held computer replicates the information to and from the "mother computer" via a process called HotSyncing. The information can be HotSynced to the native personal information manager (PIM) that is provided with some hand helds or can be synchronized with your favorite PIM like Outlook or ACT! This allows me to make changes either on the Palm or in Outlook and the HotSync process will make sure the other tool gets the update.

There are some great sites available for programs, news and reviews, magazines, and a local user group for the Palm on my Favorites page.

I have purchased a number of programs that have enhanced the Palm experience. The one I find most helpful is AcctMgr from Handmark (formerly Mobile Generation). This tool serves only one purpose, to track ids. I use it to track all my online passwords for various websites and email accounts. It also is customized to handle credit card information, bank cards (ATM), checking account numbers, medical cards, frequent flyer mile accounts, and allows you to generate others. These numbers are numerous in my life and easy to forget. I refer to this information almost daily.

The other indispensable applet I use daily is To-Do Plus from Hands High. This applet can be run in conjunction with the built in to-do application since they use the same data. The advantage of the To-Do Plus app is that is allows you to have recurring items. Therefore, when you complete a task that needs to be completed ever week (or other intervals) it schedules the next instance. I have plenty of volunteer tasks for user groups and scouts that need to be done each month. To-Do Plus saves me from moving dates or making new entries. Great app! 

The Palm is an indispensable tool I use every day. I just wish I had one with 8MGs of RAM so I could load books and additional references.

Election 2000

So how tired are you of Election 2000?

Here in Michigan we have had an abundance of advertisements because we live in a Presidential "undecided state". A key battleground state. Each of the candidates have been within the polling margin of error. So we see plenty of ads in the newspapers, on the radio, and on the television. Frankly, this is a waste in my opinion. I am very curious how much is being spent by the two major players in this race. What is the cost per vote? How much good could come from taking this money and investing it in the schools or a homeless shelter, or could be invested in the Social Security fund so there is something for me when I retire?

Where is Elizabeth Dole when we need her the most?

The same goes for the federal senate seat. Debbie Stabenow and Spence Abraham literally run back-to-back-to-back ads each night. Where does all this money come from? (Yes this is a rhetorical question <g>)

Conflict of interest alert
 The media is polling a "close" race. Could be Wednesday morning after the election before we determine a winner. Who is getting the bulk of the money from the candidates to advertise on their stations and in their print? The media. This is only one fishy conflict I see.

When will people understand that polls are meaningless?

Are you sick of the negative ads? I am, big time. Same pain in my head every single election. Why do we allow the negative ads to work? Why don't we send a message to these losers that we want positive ads outlining what they stand for?

What about all this soft money advertisements? The candidates do not even control this garbage for the most part. This is completely unregulated and typically is the most aggravating of ad time.

Then there is the confusing Proposal 1 and Proposal A here in Michigan. Who the heck came up with this one? As a geek, A=1. Therefore I did not know the difference initially. Previous elections always used letters to note the proposals, this year we get letters and numbers.

All this said, my biggest beef is at least half of the people eligible to vote on November 7th will not participate. This is criminal in my opinion. Then they typically complain about the morons running the various government organizations in this fine land. How many suppressed individuals on this blue marble wish they could participate in the process. My guess is that there are people in Cuba that would send Castro packing.

Get out and VOTE!  It is your right and your privilege. I even encourage the people who are voting opposite of every candidate that I am voting for. And no, I am not going to publicly note who I am supporting.

One thing is for sure, there is no reason to send me email convincing me to vote for your favorite candidate or proposal. I have already cast my opinions via an absentee ballot. Unfortunately this year I will not be able to walk into the fire station and mark up the ballot. It seems kind of anti-climatic to vote in the comfort of ones own home.

DSL Delivered!


After complaining that I was being artificially limited from DSL technology I am happy to report that broadband connectivity has reached the Schummer household.  For the last month I have been surfing the web via my 144kbs connection from Voyager.net and Covad.  I must admit that I was more than a little nervous with some of the horror stories floating around, but all is now well here in Sterling Heights.

I have been vocal about the "artificial restriction" to connecting to the web via broadband technologies.  I have said that the holders of the access to the web have set costs too high for the connection.  In my case they were charging more for the 144/144kbs package than they were for the 384/128kbs or the 608/128kbs packages.

So it is time to give the DSL providers their due and promote what I feel is the best deal available to date.  Naturally this deal may be better for me, it should be noted that your budget may be different, as well as the need to connect to the web.  Also the deal I have might not be available any longer.

Many of my friends and colleagues have noted that I have had an opportunity to connect to the web via a high speed connection for several years.  Certainly the Comcast Cable service in my area has offered cable modem access for years.  But I have enough trouble keeping the TV signal clear and frankly the customer support from these folks leaves more to be desired than to be respected.  Sharing another network hub does not sound appealing.  Despite all these reasons, the biggest reason I refuse to go with Comcast is the fact that they use smoke and mirrors to provide the "high speed".  In talking to a tech it was noted that they cache many of the popular sites on the Comcast computers.  If you go somewhere unpopular you might experience the same speed as a good modem.  I tested this right in the Comcast offices in Warren.  Not a pretty site.

So I have waited patiently for DSL.  Competition is good and at this moment in time, the competition for your web access should work in your favor.  I frequently called my ISP (Voyager) and kept asking if I was in range.  A typical conversation went something like this:

RAS: Hello, my name is Rick Schummer and I live in Sterling Heights.  I wan to get DSL connectivity in my home.
Voyager: Your address shows that you are in range for our 144/144 package, it runs $69 a month.
RAS: So what you are saying is that I have to fork out $20 a month for one-third the performance of the standard DSL service?
Voyager: Um...yes.
RAS: So can I talk you folks into giving me the service for the same price as the slower speed?
Voyager: Well sir, that is not our policy.  The technology is different and their are different costs involved, blah, blah, blah... (thinking: when will this guy stop bothering us!)
RAS: OK, thanks for your time, I hope you consider my suggestion, I'm guessing that you would get a truckload of customers if you changed your pricing.
Voyager: Thanks for calling.

As I noted in a previous RAS.Commentary (Getting Broadband in the Big City), I live too far from an Ameritech Central Office by DSL standards.  This regulates me to have to accept the slowest of the DSL offerings.  Distance is the big factor in determining what speed of DSL you can get.  Finally in July my calling paid off.  They lowered the price to $49 a month with only a one year commitment.

Speed was not that big of a concern since we have a 414kbs ADSL line in our office.  It is also shared by 20 people.  At best I can expect 414/20, but reality checks in download speed shows that I get 150kbs on average.  I find this performance quite acceptable.  After all, it is 6 to 7 times faster than my dial up connection (thanks to the garbage phone lines in northern Sterling Heights (which belongs to the Utica exchange).

So I have been happily surfing with only a couple of glitches along the way.  An added bonus is that I retain a dial up account so I can dial in when I am outside of my home with my notebook.  All four computers are connected and can simultaneously surf without the appearance of a performance degradation.

Price Comparison:

DSL vs. Dialup:
$49 includes ISP charges that were $17 a month before DSL as well as removing an Ameritech phone line that was averaging $28 a month.

Difference is 28+17=$45 vs. $49 for DSL service (including dialup option).  Loss is second phone line convenience 

Cable vs. DSL:
Cable is $40 which includes the modem rental, but you need full basic cable.  Since I have Broadcast cable at $16 a month, I would be adding $14 a month to my cable bill , plus the $40 for a total of $54 additional.

With DSL I own the equipment, with a rebate in my pocket, at $49 a month .

I also want to note that I know several people who are not as lucky as I have been.  My parents struggled for weeks to stay connected (through Voyager).  Other friends of mine have had similar stories with not being able to keep a solid connection. But my connection has been a pleasure, as several others I know.  Getting email, doing research, hitting video sites, listening to music/radio, and updating my web page has never been faster from home. 

What I did on my Summer 2000 Vacation


There are many things that one can ponder while sitting under a mountain in Colorado.  While on vacation I saw many things that made me go hmm...

Gas prices in Indiana, Illinois, and Kansas were anywhere between 10 and 25 cents cheaper than Michigan.  Even 100 miles west of Detroit while in Michigan was 20 cents cheaper.  I smell a serious rat.  Colorado was priced about the same.  Wyoming was slightly higher, South Dakota cheaper, Minnesota cheaper, and even Illinois cheaper.  We get back to Michigan and we are down 20 cents.  Pays to leave <g>.

Campgrounds are getting smart in the marketing department.  Many better campgrounds offered modem access so geeks and investors can get online with notebooks to get email and check on their stocks.  In talking to one owner, there are numerous retirees that are cruising the nation and need to get in touch with their grandchildren and see how Intel stock is doing. <g>

There are many differences between Michigan and everywhere else.  The first is cars.  Being from Motown and a byproduct of a GM family (dad worked for the same company for 30+ years which is amazing), I noticed that other parts of the USA drive old cars.  I mean really *old* cars.  Even in states that suffer from weather that is the same or worse than the weather we have in Michigan.  I am talking about cars that are 15 years or older.  First of all these cars were in great shape.  Secondly, it was not an occasional relic, they were numerous and everywhere.  I guess the automotive capital of the world is not the norm, at least in this case.  These classics brought back some great memories as well.

I love the mountains!  They create their own weather which is not a surprise to most people and they really can throw a monkey wrench into a fast moving storm as well.  We saw so truly spectacular lightning shows while in Colorado. The storms like to hover just over the peaks. Something I learned while riding up the side of Pikes Peak (14,110 ft) is the fact that it has the second most lightning strikes per year in the entire country.  Hopefully we got the photo that proves this <g>.  What is the first?  Tampa Bay Florida.  

Things to see in Colorado Springs:
1) Pikes Peak
2) Royal Gorge
3) Garden of the Gods (free)
4) Air Force Academy (free)
5) Olympic Training Center (free, go for the inspiring movie)
6) Drive through the mountains (gas)

Things to see in Denver:
1) US Mint (coins)
2) Professional sport stadiums

Things to see in Estes Park:
1) Mountains, Mountains, Mountains
2) Anything to do with Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park
3) American Wilderness Tours (evening dinner ride)

Things to see in Wyoming and South Dakota:
1) Storms that started a forest fire, made corn go horizontal
2) Hunting for flint chips from Native Americans
3) Mt. Rushmore

Things to see in Minnesota:
1) Mall of America (surprised how nice)

Things to *not* see:
1) Kansas plains
2) Illinois (Pay to drive federal interstates *slowly*)
3) Crazy Horse up close (they charge to much for partially complete sculpture that you can see fine from the road)

I have always said that I have wanted to experience a hurricane.  The evening we drove from Laramie, WY to Custer, SD (near Mt. Rushmore) we came across the closest weather you can get to a hurricane hundreds of miles from any tropical location.  Just east of Lusk, WY on the road to Nebraska we drove through 78 mile an hour winds (according to the camp ranger which I think was a conservative estimate).  Hurricane force winds start at 74 mph.  The corn in the fields was literally going horizontal.  Fortunately we were in no-where-ville and there was no other drivers so the fact that I was all over the road was no big deal.

Fabulous vacation.  Cannot wait for the next one.

Viruses and the PC Mike Debacle


Sickos that create email viruses should be taken to the nearest jail and left to rot.  It has been a couple of months since the lovely ILOVEYOU virus and the different strains, but I need to address one bit of fallout from this tragedy.

I guess I was in the minority of the world and was fortunate enough to have avoided this aggravation/pain.  I guess I keep the right friends, or nobody cares to have my email address in their address book <g>. 

This virus was cruel.  Initial reports mentioned some MP3 and JPG files being erased.  This could be a killer for all those who have downloaded hundreds of music files.  But the brutality of this virus was much deeper.  It corrupted SCT files which are script files for the Windows OS and worse, form memo files (source code for screens) for Visual FoxPro developers.  One such developer in my office contracted it and we had to reformat his computer, it was that deep.  I heard from several people that did the same thing.  Hours and hours of lost time.  This is why the losers that write these little evil programs should be locked up for a very long time.

There are other losers as well.  Mike Wendlend, of PC Mike fame, hosts a weekend show on a local talk radio station (WXYT) and is a technology reporter on news radio (WWJ) here in Detroit.  He lead his listeners down the severe path on solving the email virus problem. He compromised common sense and took the hype road to get some ratings.  Unfortunately he falls into the stereotypical broadcast journalism role of hype before common sense.  Mike told  PC users to remove/disable the Windows Scripting Host from your PC.  That was *the* fix to solve the terrible loophole in Outlook.  He also said that everyone should do this, regardless if you used Outlook or not.  He noted this on his radio show and on his web site.

Granted, this will work. But so will the better advice to never open a file that is attached to a email message.  He only mentions this in passing later (and only on his website).

  He feels that the Windows Scripting Host should be removed from the Windows Operating System.  Nowhere did he mention the side affects of disabling Windows Scripting Host. As a software developer I have used this built in native tool to Windows for my customers and effectively he was telling them to break my applications without informing them of the ramifications.  Purely irresponsible!  For some reason, likely his visibility on the radio and news media, people take his word as gospel.  This is a big responsibility and I think he stepped over the line once again.  This is not the first time I have had to convince people that PC Mike's advice is totally wrong, flawed, or out of line.

While we are at it, maybe we should ban BAT files for all the world's DOS/Windows users. It just so happens that DOS is on all PCs and a BAT file could be more destructive than the brutal love bug. Same technique using DELTREE or FORMAT command in a BAT and people are in a world of hurt.

I emailed PC Mike my feelings on this subject and a few questions.  As they say in the news business, he did not return our inquires.  He has refused to have me on his radio program in the past when I wanted to correct a number of big errors he has spoken.  Why is he so afraid of getting correct information to his listeners?

Two lessons to be learned from this commentary...

The first is to never, never, never open any attachment to your email.  Even from a trusted source.  As the ILOVEYOU and Melissa viruses have proven, they can come from people you likely know.

The second lesson to learn, do your homework.  Ask the advice of several so-called gurus.  Research and read on every topic.  Get both sides of the story.  In this case, the so-called guru is not a guru at all.

Personally, I do not trust a single piece of advice from PC Mike!

The Microsoft Decision


The ruling by Judge Jackson to break up Microsoft into two companies is *not* in the interest of consumers. In reality, a few guys have lived the American Dream and one judge and a bunch of crybaby Microsoft competitors are attempting to squash it.  Another thing to consider: why is the economy doing so well?  It has nothing to do with Bill Clinton, it has a lot to do with the electronic revolution, driven by Bill Gate's vision and the Microsoft implementation.

Ask yourself these questions:
1) How often do you have to verify the Operating System requirements when you by current software?
2) Do you remember the last time you paid $500 for one software application?
3) How long has it been since you needed more than one computer to run all the current consumer software?
4) Is your phone bill cheaper today since they broke up AT&T?

Standards are so important.  In the past there were different operating systems on every computer manufactured.  Atari had one, TI had one, Commodore had their own, Apple was totally different, and IBM had DOS.  As time went on hardware vendors have become less proprietary, more companies delivered standard computers, and eventually the majority have settled on the Windows and Intel platform. This is the driving reason that computers are more powerful and far cheaper than they were in the past.  I no longer need one computer to do Desktop Publishing, graphic arts, and video editing, and another computer to run word processing, database apps, and business software.  One computer can do it all thanks to the improvement of standard hardware, Windows, and the ability for software vendors to write to a standard.  Consumers WIN!

Cheaper software is also a byproduct of this adventure.  Anyone who can write software today for the Windows/Intel platform knows that they can potentially have 250+ million customers globally.  This is the reason there are more software companies than anytime in human history.  Software no longer costs so much and as a side-affect, there is less piracy (although I wish there was no piracy).  I remember the days when a word processor or a spreadsheet cost $500 a piece.  Today you get entire office suite/bundle for $100-$300.  Most utilities and productivity software costs under $50; games are just as cheap.  Again, consumers WIN!

One of the anti-Microsoft arguments is that there is no competition on the OS market.  That there is no competition in the applications market.  That there is no competition in the Internet Browser market. I have 2 free internet browsers residing on my PC.  FREE browsers to access the FREE Internet.  Have we forgotten about the AOL/CompuServe/Netscape/TimeWarner/WhoEverIsNext juggernaut?  They are Microsoft's biggest competitor along with IBM (who failed miserably to compete with OS/2 Warp).  They have more access to people on a minute-by-minute basis than Microsoft.  They also have more resources and probably public sympathy.  Soon we will have very few choices in how we get access to the Internet via broadband access.  This concerns me more than if we should split Microsoft into Baby Bills.  And what about Linux and Palm?

The baby bells (once AT&T and now just smaller monopolies) are merging with cable companies and other phone companies and are re-forming into a bigger monopoly.  Only this time we are paying more and are having fewer choices than in the past.  My second phone line to call the Internet started out at $13 a month 4 years ago.  Today I average $28 (more than double) and the service is not better.  Inflation has been in check at less than 10% over the same period.  Standard Oil was broken up and instead of being #1, they were #1 and had 3 companies in the top five.  You think we could learn from past mistakes.

I know Microsoft has not been completely innocent in the computer industry.  I realize that they have had some questionable business practices in past.  I also realize that they should be punished for these practices.  The DOJ already had one chance to do this and went light.  But they do not need to swing the pendulum the other way this time.  Microsoft is very aggressive and it is this aggressiveness that is bringing so much attention to them.  They are also arrogant.  Let us hope that the appeals process comes up with a fairer ruling and that the consumers continue to WIN!

This is just one geeks opinion. <g>

Protecting Your Computer


You have reached this web page so it is very likely that you are surfing the web <g>.  If you are using someone else's computer then there is no need to place fear in your heart for what you are about to read.  If you are not using a protective firewall, you could be exposing your computer to a "hacker".  If you are lucky, this person could be friendly.  If not, this person might be out to get data or destroy files on your computer.

Anyone who knows me well understands that I hate hype!  So please do not take this lightly.  I did not know there was a problem with PC/Internet security until recently.  I had always heard that we did not need to worry about people trying to gain access to our computers unless our computers were connected to the web with a high-speed, broadband connection (like Cable Modem or DSL).  This is not a true statement.  Dial-up is just as accessible.

So how does one find out what is freely available for access from the Internet?  There is a site called Gibson Research Corporation, created by Steve Gibson (of SpinRite and "Trouble in Paradise" fame) that will check out your Internet exposure. This site has a program called Shield's UP and Port Probe.  This is a free check.  Go to this site and follow the easy instructions.  It is as simple as point and click.

I did this recently while dialed-up to my ISP.   The results were a bit more than scary.  The site displayed my computer name, displayed all the shared resource (drives, workgroup, and printers) that I have set up for my home network.  It could not get at data since I have the drives password protected, but this does not mean I was safe from a hacker.  There are automated "hacking" tools that can break passwords faster than you can say "Holy Bits Batman".  All this was done with access to the NetBIOS port which is commonly used for peer-to-peer networking with Microsoft Windows Operating Systems.  Fortunately, the Port Probe found all ports closed except for the NetBIOS, but it could still see them, which is a bad thing.

The next step was to surf the web for a personal firewall.  Firewall software runs on your PC and monitors Internet traffic going out and coming in.  This software restricts traffic that is not authorized.  I have several friends that are running BlackIce Defender and several others running ZoneAlarm.  There are several other packages in this category.  I selected ZoneAlarm because of the favorable reviews I have heard.  The other good news is that it is free for people using it for personal use (i.e., not to run a business). Each time I run software that accesses the web ZoneAlarm asks me if it is okay (unless I granted permanent permission previously).  Each time an outside source is accessing my computer ZoneAlarm "bubbles" me a message and logs the intrusion.  The software was easy to use and does not appear to slow me down.

Is there a catch or drawback?  Yep.  If you are running a home network, the firewall will stop other PCs connected legitimately from using shared resources like drives and printers if you do not have the firewall configured for this situation.  Also, for every security implementation, there is another "hack" trying new methods of breaking in.

So what is the morale of this story?  Check out what your exposure is.  Some ISPs already protect you from outside attacks by running a version of a firewall at their site so you may be just fine.  This is very typical for ISPs that offer high-speed lines.  A friend of mine who has DSL through Ameritech had no problems reported by Gibson Research.  What is your web exposure?  Don't wake up in a sweat at night; find out what you can do to thwart an attack.

Gateway Support


I recently had a problem with my four month old Gateway Solo 9300 video driver.  I called Gateway's support because I did not know where the driver was located on the Emergency CD. 

The first tech support guy was not helpful at all and "inadvertantly" lost our connection, but the second guy was outstanding and introduced me to a cool tool that comes with Windows 98.  It is called MSConfig and can be executed from the Start|Run dialog.  It is a great interface to the major setup files need by Windows including AutoExec.bat, Config.sys, Win.ini, System.ini and the Startup programs stored in the Windows' Registry.

There is one caution, you can disable the startup of the computer if you remove something incorrectly.  So be careful.

One of the cool feature is determining how the computer is going to restart the next time the computer is booted.  The options here are Normal, Diagnostic, and Selective.  You can create a backup of the settings (recommended before tinkering) and optionally restore them.

This cool applet allowed me to remove McAfee from the startup on the kids PC. I looked in all the typical startup locations, but did not find the culprit setting until I ran across this neat tool.

One's Reputation


How long does it take to establish or build a reputation? A lifetime. How long does it take to to have one's reputation trashed? One minute.

How long does it take to communicate great things to all your friends and family? How long does it take to get important information to the masses? 24 hours? Several days?

How long does gossip take to get around the office? About as much time as it takes to walk to the water cooler to get a fresh cup of H2O? Seconds? Nanoseconds?

It is my opinion that far too many people on this planet do *not* think before they talk or write. Far too many people speak with evil intentions. Far too many people have malicious tones and are out to hurt people.  People who work hard to volunteer their time and energy to a cause they feel strong in assisting along can have it all taken away in a heartbeat by one comment taken out of context in a sound bite. Funny thing (actually it is really sad), the people making the destructive comments probably know little about the individuals they are ripping. It is likely that they have never met them or hardly even know the people they are destroying with the back-stabbing remarks.

We see this happening all the time in the political campaigns. Good people refuse to run for public office to serve the people in the country they live in. These good people are a loss that we can never get back. Truly a shame!

I find it hard to believe in today's society that we allow evil people to get away with this. Gossip runs amuck, rumors fly around as if it is stated fact. I'm one person who will not stand for this kind of brutality.

Evil will always lose! Eventually and always!

Remain positive folks! Remember, only do things you are happy doing. Life is way to short to be unhappy. Do everyone a favor, think of the ramifications of the next comment you make about someone else, it may come back to haunt you, I guarantee this.

Who Really Wants To Be a Millionaire?


As I write this little blurb Regis Philbin keeps asking me if I want to be a millionaire. The answer is absolutely yes!  Some day <g>.

So what makes this show so darn hot?  I know the kids love it since they have the answers to many of the questions.  Is it the draw that everyone wants to never have to worry about where the next meal will come from?  Or is it the fact that they want pattern their life after Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island?

One thing is for sure, it is fun to guess when you don't know the answer.  What pressure this must be to be in the hot seat, having Regis asking you if you are absolutely sure your latest guess is really correct.

What the heck would you do with a million bucks?

One thing for sure is that I would be flying to Florida to see the next launch of the Space Shuttle. After that there would be college funds set up for all our kids, the nephews, and nieces.  Another for sure thing would be that I would be developing software the next day.  This is the great thing about my career, I would not give it up, even for a million bucks.

Getting Broadband in the Big City


I find it odd that living in Sterling Heights, the 4th largest city in Michigan, in a good neighborhood with plenty of computer and Internet users cannot get access to a DSL hookup.

I have called my ISP and other ISPs that are advertising DSL connectivity for $50 a month.  Sounds good since I can scrap the second line to Ameritech which saves me $30 and gives me my Internet provider.  Therefore, from my view I get 384K service for the same price as the slow 28K access that I currently get with modem dialup connections (which rarely connects faster than 26400).  Unfortunately I live 10000 feet to far from the phone company's central office. Argh!!!!

The alternative presented was IDSL which is 128K access.  Not bad, I could increase my speed 5 fold until they can get the technology improved or move the Ameritech central office <g>.  But they want $79 a month for one-third the speed of full DSL.  What is up with this??

Don't tell me to get a cable modem, because I refuse to give Comcast Cable any additional money.  In fact, I recently found out that we are one of 2 families on our street that still have cable from Comcast.  Their service department is terrible.  Ameritech's must be rocking.

Year 2000, A Year Before the Real Millennium


Was it just me or were you also tired of hearing about the new millennium or "end of the century" a year early?

There was plenty of media hype for sure.  I actually enjoyed watching the ABC 2000 with Peter Jennings.  They showed the new year being celebrated in most time zones around the world.  Best one was Paris.  This was interesting and much better than the usual Dick Clark with some musical groups.

Looks like a lot of people were mildly surprised to hear that the rollover to the new year went so smooth.  I for one was not.  One scary item that I did not know was that the Italians did not start looking at the Y2K issue until September, yet it has been reported that they did not have any real major issues.

Hope all is well with you and your families for the new year.


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Copyrighted 1998-2005 Richard A. Schummer
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This page was last updated on 02-Apr-2005