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
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.
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
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
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.
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 (http://192.168.1.254). 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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
user interface improvements that make page management and editing easier.
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
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.
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.
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.
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>.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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. This is what Microsoft is being slapped for.
So how can this situation be corrected, even after the company is
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?
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, 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.
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. *****
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. ****
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! *****
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. **
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.
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
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?
7 ships much sooner than the other developer tools and allows
Microsoft to provide faster Service Packs based on developer needs.
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."
Microsoft to market it to the strengths of the product. (see
will not be part of the possible negative perception of .NET.
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.
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.
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
there is a great potential to position this product in two ways.
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).
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.
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.
Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. - George Hewell
journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step - Chinese
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.
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.
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.
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.
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>
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.
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.
RAS Life Goals:
a college education (accomplished).
married to a wonderful women (accomplished).
a family with 4 children (accomplished).
all 50 USA States (see US States Visited
my face in the wind of a hurricane.
a live volcano with flowing lava (accomplished).
an earthquake greater than 3.0 on the Richter Scale.
a tornado live (have seen several funnels, but none have touched
a difference in the lives I touch (ongoing).
young enough to enjoy it.
happens when I finish with all these goals? Chances are real good that I
will set some additional ones before this ever happens!
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
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.
So how tired are
you of Election 2000?
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?
is Elizabeth Dole when we need her the most?
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>)
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.
will people understand that polls are meaningless?
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Hello, my name is Rick Schummer and I live in Sterling Heights. I
wan to get DSL connectivity in my home.
address shows that you are in range for our 144/144 package, it runs $69 a
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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
$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 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.