Monday, February 2, 2009

Beta Software: Cool Freebie or Unpaid Work?

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Vol. 8, #56 - Feb 3, 2009 - Issue #364

 Beta Software: Cool Freebie or Unpaid Work?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Beta Software: Cool Freebie or Unpaid Work?
    • Follow-up: Cost, Convenience, Performance - it's a Toss-up
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Microsoft warns that SP3 users may not be able to roll back
    • Google goes wild
    • Share MP3s on Twitter with Songly
    • Office 14 Alpha screenshots
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to open files and folders with a single click
  5. XP Security News
    • Web browser security smackdown
    • Obama worm "mostly harmless"
  6. XP Question Corner
    • How can I remove Service Pack 3?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Command prompt runs file as program instead of opening it
    • Can't start XP after converting drive to NTFS
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • It's a Perfect 10! Brand new PerfectDisk defrag

VIPRE and AVG Resource Usage Shoot-Out

Many of you asked how VIPRE compares to the popular AVG. Well, we ran the tests and posted the results. The numbers tell the story. VIPRE deep scan time is 3.5 times faster in minutes. VIPRE takes only 38% of the CPU compared to AVG, and AVG takes 1.5 times the the Memory compared to VIPRE. In short: both AVG "Free" and "Paid" use A LOT more resources to do the job, which can slow down your PC dramatically. Here are the details and the graphs:

 Editor's Corner

Beta Software: Cool Freebie or Unpaid Work?

The software development process consists of several stages. The "pre alpha" stage refers to the time period that ranges from when developers start to write the code until it is more or less "feature complete." During this stage, it's being tested by the developers and different features are being added or removed.

The "alpha" stage comes when most of the features are in place, but the software is still rough around the edges. All of those features may not work yet, and the software generally isn't considered stable enough to risk installing it on a machine that you use for daily productivity. The alpha version is the first version distributed to people outside the group of developers and software engineers whose job it is to develop the software, but it's usually only available to other people within the company or within a limited group.

The beta stage is that period when the software has most of its features working (although not necessarily perfectly) and it is stable enough to be distributed to users outside the company for widespread testing. Often there are private betas first, restricted to selected beta testers, followed by one or more public betas that are available to the general public. As the group of testers expands, the software gets tested on more and more different types of hardware and software configurations, so that problems can be caught and fixed before the Release Candidates (RC) versions that will be the final product unless some large last-minute problem is discovered.

This is a simplified description; within each stage there are typically many "builds," or new compilations of the program that fix bugs or make minor changes. But it's at the public beta stage that most computer users first have the opportunity to get their hands on a new operating system or application. The software vendor may distribute the beta by handing out discs at tech events, or more often puts the beta out on the web for download.

Downloading the beta gives you a chance to get a program for free that may end up costing hundreds or (in the case of server software) even thousands of dollars when it's finally released. Of course, beta software may also be buggy and unstable (although in many cases it's as stable or more stable than some other programs are in final release). Often, too, the beta software will work for only a limited period of time. When it expires, you'll no longer be able to use it. If it's an operating system, you'll need to go back to your old OS or install the final release (or later beta). Usually a beta is set to last until the next beta version or the final release is expected to come out.

Betas can stir up lots of excitement among computer users - and sometimes lots of controversy, as well. The Windows 7 beta, which went public last month, had been so eagerly anticipated that Microsoft's servers were overwhelmed as would- be testers all attempted to download it at the same time. Microsoft originally planned to limit the beta to 2.5 million downloads but lifted that limit when it proved to be so popular. The beta will continue to be available to the public until February 10th, and will be available to TechNet and MSDN subscribers until August 1st.

Windows 7 has been praised throughout the industry for its stability and performance. Of course, no matter how stable they may be, beta versions of software are not intended to be used in a productivity environment. Many organizations ban the use of beta software on their networks. For example, Georgetown University put out a warning to students and faculty not to install the Win 7 beta on the school's computers:

Many people don't seem to understand the purpose of beta software. They install it and then complain that it has bugs. Well, yeah. The reason software vendors release betas is so folks can find the bugs. Half the fun of running beta software is filing the bug reports. So when you find something wrong, that's a good thing; it means you're helping to make the software better when it does hit the shelves.

I've even heard folks whine that when software companies put out betas, they are "expecting us to do their work for them for free." The truth is, no matter how much testing a company does in house, they simply won't encounter all the different creative configurations that you come across out there "in the wild." The beta gives them a chance to observe how the program behaves on your system, which may be unique, and address any issues that appear with that particular combination of hardware and other software.

After all, it's not as if anyone forces you to try out beta software. If you want everything to work perfectly all the time, by all means don't run betas. As a matter of fact, if you want everything to work perfectly all the time, maybe you should just stay away from computers altogether. That's just not the nature of the beast. But if you enjoy trying out new things and don't mind putting up with a few glitches, beta testing can be a lot of fun.

It's also not as if you're paying for the software. Installing a beta is always at least a bit of a gamble. It might run smoothly. It might not install at all. It might work just well enough to be frustrating, providing you a glimpse of a great new world but one that is, for example, silent because there are no drivers available for your sound card. And it might trash your hard drive and delete all your data, too. That's why you should always back up anything you have that's important before you install a beta - or better yet, install the beta on a separate physical computer that's set aside for testing or in a virtual machine environment.

Of course, I don't necessarily follow all of these "best practices" myself. I installed the Win 7 beta on my primary workstation and I'm using it every day as my main OS. But I did take some precautions. My data is always saved to the server, so it's not endangered by anything I do to my workstation. And I installed Win 7 on a different partition from Vista so I could dual boot in case there was something that didn't work on 7. I got lucky. Everything works great and I haven't looked back.

What about you? How do you feel about beta software? Are you one of those folks who rushes to download and try out the latest beta as soon as it's released? Or are you one of the ones who swears a beta will never, ever impinge on the purity of your machine? Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle, trying out betas within the safety of a VM. Do you look at beta software as a cool freebie from the software vendor, or do you resent software companies for asking you to be an unpaid tester? When you install a beta, do you take the testing role seriously and send bug reports, or do you leave that up to someone else? Let us know what you think by writing to

Follow-up: Cost, Convenience, Performance - it's a Toss-up

In last week's editorial, I discussed the tradeoff between cost, convenience and performance - specifically, how it plays out when it comes to computer hardware or software.

Many of you are quite sure of which quality is most important to you. Dollyce B. wrote: "PERFORMANCE! Whereas I like convenience, aren't the higher quality, high performance items also more convenient to use in the end? I shop pricing for the very best quality. But in the end, quality is more important than price. $159 for a lesser quality item can be $159 down the drain. Whereas if I'd spent the extra $70 for a higher quality, I would still be ahead. The $229 item would be a good expenditure. You get what you pay for. If I can't afford the $229, I won't get the item at all at any price."

Paul T. has a similar opinion: "My priorities are the basic functionality with NO hassles in execution. A simple computer glitch can easily require an investment of 1 or 2 hours to resolve, if not a day in the case of something unusual. At my charge-out rate, I pay scant attention to price and focus instead upon reliability/convenience together with sufficient performance."

On the other hand, Walter S. said, "What I tend to do is buy 1 or 2 steps below whatever the "latest & greatest" is because there's usually not that much difference in performance and always a big difference in cost, so I guess I tend to lean toward cost."

Mark N. put it this way: "I think that need is the first consideration. When something is nice to have, I think it over to see if I really need it. If I determine that I need it, then performance comes first and then price. Convenience is not normally a consideration for me. It is hard to determine convenience, since it is an opinion, whereas price and performance are relatively hard facts."

David H. takes this approach: "It is a matter of balance. If you need it for work, or your life depends on it then performance outweighs everything else. On the other hand why pay for something you may only use occasionally and not all of it. Nero used to be just a great little CD/DVD burning program but the upgrades want to take over my PC and run my life. I still use an old version; it works fine, why I should buy a new!"

Kenneth F. has a whole different top priority: "Between the three, I opt for a fourth, compatibility, as my most important criterion. That's why I've not desired to run Vista and took special action to ensure that the portable computer that I bought, just under two years ago, ran XP and not Vista. XP runs all of my software, and Vista cannot run Word for DOS, which is important to me."

And Bernie P. offered this somewhat sobering perspective: "I am 57 years old, have several chronic illnesses, and come from a family whose members tend to die younger than average. Time is important to me. Tech items that save me time are important. Not just fast gadgets and components, but things I don't have to relearn."

Finally, Judy K. had a question instead of an answer: "The editorial 'Cost, Convenience or Performance' prompted a thought. If cost was no object what would be your personal choice of a laptop for Vista/Windows 7?" Well, first I have to say that when it comes to a laptop, my priorities are different from what they would be if I were buying a desktop machine. What I personally want in a portable is the smallest form factor that still allows me to be able to touch type, with the most power/system resources possible. That's why I lean toward the small Sonys. Although the itsy bitsy P series models are cute, I like the TT series, where you can get a 2.87 pounder with an 11.1 inch display, 4 GB of RAM, a 256GB dual channel SSD drive and a 320 GB SATA drive, with up to 7.5 hours of battery life, for almost $3974. If someone told me tomorrow that I could go out and get any laptop I wanted at no cost to me, that's probably the one I'd pick to replace my current Sony TX (about the same size but with lower all-round specs).

On that note, thanks to all of you who wrote!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called VistaNews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Quotes of the Week

What some people mistake for the high cost of living is really the cost of high living. - Doug Larson

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. - Henry David Thoreau

If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd all be millionaires. - Abigail Van Buren

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your PC. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example; Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, The Sunbelt Personal Firewall looks carefully at the data leaving your computer, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, phone numbers, and social security number do not get stolen by hackers!

 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


Rip DVDs for your iPod/iPhone or Apple TV. Bundle includes video converter too! Try it free!

It doesn't take much to bog down Vista. Advanced Vista Optimizer will tweak Vista for Max performance.

Backups? We don't need no stinking backups! Syncronization is easier, faster and much more current than backups!

Spotmau PowerSuite Professional 2008: Fantastic! All the tools necessary to fix most common computer problems. Clone and backup too!

Print Screen Deluxe is the realistic upgrade of the Windows version. You can crop - before the capture! Very quick!

One password gives automatic, secure access to all my online passwords and usernames. The autofill feature is a major time-saver! Not a widget.

 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Microsoft warns that SP3 users may not be able to roll back

If you haven't yet installed XP SP3 and you're considering doing so, be aware that Microsoft has once again issued a warning that if you've installed IE 8 beta 1 or 2 and then install XP SP3, you may find that you are unable to roll back to IE 7 and you also can't uninstall SP3. Read more here:

Google goes wild

If you happened to be trying to do a Google search last Saturday morning, you may have seen a scary sight: every site that came up in the results was flagged with the tag "This site may harm your computer." This was true regardless of what web browser you were using. Wow. Apparently a glitch in Google's safe browsing API caused the whole web to be identified as malware. Luckily, it was only temporary; a few hours later Google was back to normal. Read more about it here:

Share MP3s on Twitter with Songly

If you're a Twitter fan, now you can include your favorite songs in your "tweets" by using Songly, a free service that shortens the URL of an MP3 posted on the web and puts it into a Flash package so the recipients can play it without downloading it first. Find out how it works here:

Office 14 Alpha screenshots

The next version of Microsoft Office is code named Office 14, even though it's the 13th version (the company skipped 13 in the same way most hotels omit the 13th floor). It's expected to be released in late 2009 or early 2010, but an alpha build was recently distributed to a limit number of testers and screenshots have already been leaked to the web. You can see them here:

 How To: Using XP Features

How to open files and folders with a single click

By default, clicking once on a file or folder in My Computer or Windows Explorer highlights it; you have to double click to open it. But if you're really lazy - er, efficiency-minded - and want to be able to open items with just one click, you can configure XP to do so. Here's how:
  1. Click Start | My Computer
  2. In the My Computer console, click Tools | Folder Options
  3. Under "Click Items as Follows" at the bottom of the General tab, select "Single-click to open an item (point to select)
  4. Click OK
Now you can save energy by eliminating dozens or hundreds of clicks per day!

 XP Security News

Web browser security smackdown

There are a plethora of web browsers to choose from: IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari ... not to mention less well known offerings such as Maxthon and Avant. But which is the most secure? Roger Grimes recently tackled that question, and his conclusion may (or may not) surprise you.

Obama worm "mostly harmless"

A new infection that displays an image of Barack Obama on users' desktops on a weekly basis is annoying to conservatives and may rile government conspiracy theorists, but according to security experts, it's not doing anything more malevolent under the hood and is likely to be a student prank. Read more here:

 XP Question Corner

How can I remove Service Pack 3?

I just installed Service Pack 3 on my XP Pro computer. Before that everything worked fine. Now some of my programs are flaky. I want to get rid of it? Can I and how? Thanks! - Jeana K.

If you installed the beta of IE 8 before installing SP3, you may not be able to roll back (see the News item above). Otherwise, there are a couple of ways to do it. The easiest is to use the Add/Remove Programs item in Control Panel, but if that doesn't work, try this:
  1. Click Start | Run
  2. Type : c\windows\$NtServicePackUninstall$\spuninst.exe
  3. Click OK
  4. This should start the Service Pack 3 Removal Wizard, which walks you through the steps of uninstalling the SP
If these methods don't work, first restart the computer and then use System Restore to roll back to a restore point that was prior to the time you installed the service pack (this will also undo any other changes that you've made since that time).

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Command prompt runs file as program instead of opening it

If you try to open a file that doesn't have an executable file name extension at the command prompt, Windows might try to run the file as a program, rather than opening it in the program with which its extension should be associated. There's an easy workaround: in the command, specify the program for Cmd.exe to use to open the file. To find out how to do that, see KB article 811528 at

Can't start XP after converting drive to NTFS

If your XP computer's drives were formatted in FAT32 and you used the command line convert utility to convert them to NTFS, when you restart Windows it's possible that you may get an error message saying the follow file is missing or corrupt: System32\Drivers\Ntfs.sys. Ouch! To fix the problem, you have to replace the Ntfs.sys file. Find out how to do that in KB article 822800 at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

It's a Perfect 10! Brand new PerfectDisk defrag

PerfectDisk 10 has officially arrived and everything you need to make your system so much faster and cleaner is ready to take out for a free evaluation. If you've ever used PerfectDisk in the past, or any other defrag tool, you will not believe how much system performance you'll gain after running PerfectDisk 10 just once. Customers already using the new release tell us they absolutely love the brand new look and can't believe how much faster everything is. Windows 7 support, new virtualization support, and more. Save today with our special offer.

 About WXPnews

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