Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are You Getting Gouged Online?

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Vol. 8, #63 - Mar 23, 2009 - Issue #371

 Are You Getting Gouged Online?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Are You Getting Gouged Online?
    • Follow-up: The Great Linux vs. Windows Debate
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Linux and Windows side-by-side
    • Will Microsoft abandon Windows?
    • It's all about IE 8
    • Microsoft Translator widget
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to hide a user account on the logon screen
  5. XP Security News
    • Hacker says Safari is the easiest browser to exploit
  6. XP Question Corner
    • Where is my USB drive?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Regsvr32 Error Messages
    • How to reset the password in XP Home without a password reset disk
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • FeedForAll makes RSS Feed Creation and Management a Snap!

My Antivirus Is Killing My Netbook - Now What?

Traditional antivirus products can be terrible resource hogs, literally grabbing hundreds of megabytes in RAM, and maxing out the smaller Netbook CPU. But you cannot leave Netbooks unprotected either. VIPRE Antivirus + Antispyware is the AV you want to run, with it's now famous low resource consumption and practically invisible malware protection. VIPRE now is officially the fastest antimalware on the planet! Get your 30-day eval here and experience VIPRE on your Netbook for yourself:

 Editor's Corner

Are You Getting Gouged Online?

Everyone knows that shopping online can save you a lot of money. From kitchen utensils to giant flat screen TVs, you can often find a better price at Amazon or some other Internet retailer than at a local "bricks and mortar" store. Their overhead is lower since they aren't paying a bunch of expensive salespeople and maintaining a nice storefront, and payment processing is less expensive since it's automated. The customer gets a better price and the business still makes money.

The same thing goes for doing other business online. The Internet has changed the entire bill-paying process. I remember that my grandparents usually paid their bills in person. Even with the water bill or electric bill, they would go down to city hall or the nearest payment office, usually with cash, and hand over the money to a clerk. They liked that they immediately got a receipt as proof of payment, and didn't have to trust the post office to get it there on time.

My mom and dad, on the other hand, paid almost all of their bills by mail. Twice a month, dad would sit down with the checkbook and write out all the checks, address and stamp all the envelopes, and trek down to the post office or just leave them in our home mailbox to be picked up. Those were the days when your mailbox was on your front porch, not out at the curb where any and everyone could steal your mail. Dad believed that the Postal Service really lived up to its motto - "the mail must go through" - and back then, for the most part, they did. He was satisfied with his cancelled check as proof that he'd paid, even though it took a while before he got it back.

Today, many of us rarely ever write a check. We pay with credit or debit cards or authorize automatic bank withdrawals. I know some folks who never carry cash. We sit at home (or in a hotel room hundreds or thousands of miles away from home), log onto our computers, and pay our bills without having to write checks, buy stamps or use gasoline. Due date is tomorrow? No problem (at least with many accounts) - there's still plenty of time to pay it and avoid late charges.

Meanwhile, the payee doesn't have to worry about whether your check is good, and doesn't have to pay someone to do the time-consuming work of processing a hand written check. It's more convenient for them, it's more convenient for you, and everybody saves a little money. It's a win-win situation. Except when it's not.

There's one bill that I don't pay online; when it comes to my water bill, I still mail in a check even though the city has an online payment option. Why? Because they charge a ridiculous $2.50 processing fee for online payments. My electric company, gas company, credit card company and others that I pay online charge nothing extra to do so. A couple of times, with various one-time bill payments, I have run into minimal processing fees, on the order of 25 or 50 cents. The whole idea of online payments is that it automates things and makes it less expensive, so why is the city charging a premium to use their system? Is it because they think the people who would pay online probably have more discretionary income and therefore won't mind getting hit up for a little extra? Did they contract with some service to handle the processing and they're getting charged this fee to do it and passing it on to the customer? I don't know, but I know I'm not paying it.

Speaking of getting gouged, when I pay all those other bills online, I do it by credit card (except, of course, for the credit card bill itself). One reason to use a credit card is to get the cash-back rewards (it goes without saying that you also need to pay off the balance of the card at the end of every month so you don't get charged interest). But there's another reason: I've heard too many horror stories from people who authorized automatic payments directly from their banks, and then were unable to stop those payments when they cancelled the service. A friend of mine found that six months after cancelling a membership, the company was still withdrawing that money from her account. When she tried to cancel it through the bank, they told her that the company the payments were going to would have to cancel it, and that the only way she could stop it was to close her bank account and open a new one.

Of course, there are other ways to get gouged online. As mentioned, you can often find low prices from online outlets - but be sure you figure in the total cost. Some unscrupulous web retailers fail to show you the shipping and handling charges until you get all the way through the payment process and have already input your credit card information. That's like asking you for a blank check; in a few cases, I've seen shipping and handling costs that were four times the price of the item itself.

Something else to be careful about when you're buying online is to find out exactly what you're buying. There are some online camera stores that are notorious for advertising incredibly low prices on popular DSLRs, hundreds of dollars lower than the price of the same item on Amazon or at other legitimate outlets - but there's a catch. Sometimes the camera is a "gray market" import (sometimes euphemistically referred to as "international versions"), which means the manufacturer intended them to be sold in other countries where prices are lower. And what that means to the buyer is that the manufacturer won't honor the warranty, and you may find that the on-screen menus and the manuals are written in a foreign language.

Even if the camera is a "genuine U.S.A. model," some online retailers use another scam. That low, low price they quote, when you read the fine print, is for the body only. At an above-board store, "body only" means the lens doesn't come with it, but most digital camera bodies come with various accessories such as the battery and battery charger. These scammers take that stuff out of the box and charge you extra for it - which in many cases raises their price for the whole package so that it's equal to or higher than that same package from a more honest seller.

The key to protecting yourself from these types of scammers, without passing up the truly good deals that you can find online, is to carefully check out the reputation of any company you're considering doing business with, especially when you're spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for an expensive piece of electronics, jewelry or other high-dollar merchandise.

Online auctions are a frequent source of Internet fraud. Many of these sites only provide a venue to bring seller and buyer together. They don't take responsibility for verifying that the seller actually has the merchandise being advertised or that it means any kind of quality standards, nor do they take responsibility for whether the buyer is paying with a real or stolen credit card or whether the buyer has sufficient funds in the bank to pay for the purchase, etc. Some sites provide ratings systems where buyers and sellers can report on their bad or bad experiences with one another. However, positive ratings may have been planted by the person being rated, or negative information might be posted by a competitor. Realize, too, that many states' consumer protection laws don't apply to an individual seller (although if outright fraud is involved, police may pursue criminal charges - if you can even find the seller). Since you can't see and examine the items before buying, be very careful about buying expensive items through an auction site. You can find more safety tips about dealing with online auctions here:

Tell us what you think. Have you ever been gouged online? Do you avoid paying some bills online because of outrageous extra "processing fees?" Have you bought something advertised at a low price only to find that the shipping and handling charges more than made up for the discount? Have you bought a "too good to be true" item only to discover that basic accessories normally found in the box weren't included? Have you ever had a bad experience with online auctions? Tell us all about it at feedback@wxpnews.com

Follow-up: The Great Linux vs. Windows Debate

Last week, I really opened up a can of worms when I jumped into the middle of the ongoing debate on the TechRepublic web site about whether Linux is sure to "triumph" over Windows. The OS wars always bring out a lot of passion, and readers on both sides wrote to share their opinions. Meanwhile, this article came out last week on ZDNet, stating that Linux is losing ground on the netbook front as customers increasingly prefer the Windows-based models:

Bill T. was first out of the gate on Monday, with this to say: "I have been using computers since 1972. I drudged through DOS, IBM Word Processing, and original DBase. Each generation of Windows has made my life easier. I never have a problem getting a fix--everyone understands and can work on Windows. Every application I have ever used has a version and drivers for Windows. Vista is a great system it incorporates every feature I want to use and I did not have to do any tinkering to make it work. Why would I return to 1972 drudgery with LINUX?"

Some Linux advocates say that those who don't love it have never tried it. That doesn't seem to be true. Stephen F. said, "I used to teach Linux in a commercial school. Most of the students came from local banks. My biggest headache was what distro and what version to teach? If I had a class of 12 I got questions about other versions that the one I was teaching. I tried to stick to leading free distros but I was never satisfied with the class. Add to that problem was the number of versions of each distro. I began to think it was a pretty chaotic situation. What did/do I use at home? Windows XP and soon Windows 7."

Alan B. said, "I think Vista is fantastic, a lot better than XP, linux doesn't run the programs I want to run, except after a lot of hassle." And Nick wrote, "I'm basically a windows user, I was trained on DOD3:1 and have travelled the new MS OS path and will continue. I have A Linux PC and 2 Apple PCs and they are in my storage room and get them out to use when someone has a tech/software query, but that's rare these days. To me Windows is always easier to use, 'tis called familiarity."

Terry W. gave Linux a try and reported: "Although I really did want Ubuntu to be a viable replacement for my Microsoft OS, I have decided that my operating system will have to remain Windows. While Ubuntu's application selections are disappointing, it is the difficulty of completing a task as common as setting up a home network that is the killer for me."

Not everyone agrees. David S. wrote: "As for businesses not ready for open source - just look at some of the major organisations who are adopting it. The Frech Police service for instance - they're managing it with Ubuntu and Open Office, and saving €50million into the bargain. And as a final clincher - in these cash strapped couple of years we're now into, you'll finding paying for software becoming so 'last-year', as users of all shades opt to stay with current systems, and find lower cost solutions where new is necessary. IMO opinion this is all a win-win-win for Linux. Safer, lower cost, more usable, and so 'now'."

Bob M. wrote: "Linux is not only an OS, it is a mind set. 'In a world without walls and fences who needs windows and gates?' I WILL have control of MY computer to do as much or as little with it as I please." And Larry M. said, "In my opinion (with a grain of salt) Linux and the next generation of users who are more tech savy, could give Redmond a real run for their 'money'. I think it's time for a new business model."

Stephen C. said, "Your statement 'with free distros, you're on your own' is not quite true. There are several big names you can turn to for support, like IBM, HP, Booze-Allen Hamilton, etc. In fact, Cononical, the folks who produce Ubuntu lists paid support offerings on their web site." Well, umm, yeah ... but then it's not free anymore, is it?

Mike Z. says it's all good: " I use Linux and Windows. Linux is easy to install. It is just as easy as the install for Windows. The only thing that keeps me using Windows is printing. Linux is very user friendly especially Gnome which is stabler than KDE. The other thing that keeps me using Windows is that the installs work easier, though Linux is getting better at that." Then there are those who believe the whole OS issue is going to be consumed into the cloud. Joe L. said, "According to everything I read, in a few years we won't care or maybe even know what operating system we're using. It won't be on our computers, which will just be dumb terminals that get their OS and apps from some server out on the Internet." And Tony G. wrote: "Actually, I think the debate is becoming irrelevant as we move inexorably to Web 2, SaaS. The next OS is probably Google Chrome."

Tony and several others also pointed out that "What most people have not spotted is where they already have Linux boxes - the NAS, maybe the ADSL router, the hardware firewall - I can see about 4 of them on the shelf in my small office." That's true - but that's not what the debate is about. A Windows machine can function as a router but that's overkill. There's no reason or need to run Windows on small, dedicated devices that do just one thing. On the other hand, the DVR provided by my cable company is Linux based. The GUI is awkward and slow and hard to navigate, and on a regular basis it just "forgets" all the programmed settings and I have to redo all my scheduled recordings. Windows Media Center is light years ahead in useability (but doesn't record in HD as the cable company box does).

What is the one big issue that does turn people toward Linux? Howard P., after noting his general satisfaction with Windows, wrote: "BUT, every time there is an article about DRM and its benefit to Hollywood, and hardware disabled as a gift to the RIAA, I look again at Linux or BSD or any OS that remembers that we bought the computer. Over the years, Microsoft has displayed an attitude that can only be described as arrogant. Every time they forget it is my money not theirs, I look for an alternative." I have to agree that if Linux does somehow win, it will be because of the copy protection issue.

Terry T. wrote to say that in listing Microsoft operating systems, it seems I forgot about Bob. Unfortunately, Microsoft Bob was pretty forgettable - and wasn't an operating system but a GUI that ran on top of Windows 3.1 (technically also a GUI that ran on MS-DOS) and Windows 95. Bob was actually a pretty sophisticated piece of software, but far too "cutesy" for most users' tastes.

Finally, Dale S. summed it up this way: "This whole debate is useless. It's been going on for 15 years and nothing has changed. Windows was the dominate force then as it is now and will be in the foreseeable future." And that was more or less my point.

Thanks to the many, many folks 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

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Quotes of the Week

When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns--or dollars. Take your choice--there is no other. - Ayn Rand (1905 - 1982)

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money. - Senator Everett Dirksen (1896 - 1969)

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons. - Woody Allen (1935 - )

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


The perfect stimulus plan to rescue your slow computer has just been signed. Bail out your slow PC now - save through March 31st

Registry First Aid 7.0 - New Release Is Faster, Safer and Even More Effective

Turn your webcam into a CCTV with alarm and email notification! Try it before you buy it:

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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

Linux and Windows side-by-side

With all this talk of Linux vs. Windows, some people are asking "why not both?" A trend in portable computers is the use of an "instant on" Linux installation that gives you quick access to very basic functions like a media player and maybe a web browser. You can boot into that when your needs are limited, or boot into Windows if you need to do more. This article discusses two products that create this dual environment, HyperSpace and SplashTop:

Will Microsoft abandon Windows?

I don't think so, but here's an interesting post over on an Italian Linux web site speculating that, in order to compete with Linux, the company will throw the Windows name under the bus after Win 7 and start calling their client product "Microsoft Desktop." What do you think?

It's all about IE 8

Many of us have been using the Internet Explorer 8 beta for months, and finding it to be a big improvement over IE 7. Now Microsoft has released the final version of IE 8 for XP and Vista 32 bit and 64 bit editions (but not Windows 7). If you've been dealing with IE 7's stability problems but love the tabs, IE 8 might solve your problems. You can download it here:

Microsoft Translator widget

One exciting thing that came out of last week's MIX09 conference for developers was the Microsoft Translator widget that web developers can put on their web pages. It lets visitors to the page instantly switch to a different language. There are 12 languages included. This sounds like a feature that will be greatly appreciated by bilingual folks, those who share a computer with someone with a different native language and those who are in the process of learning a foreign language. Read more here:

 How To: Using XP Features

How to hide a user account on the logon screen

Maybe you created a user account on your XP computer so your nephew could use it when he was visiting you. Now he's gone home and you really don't want to see that account choice every time you log on to Windows, but you also don't want to just delete the account because he'll probably be back again next year. Here's how to hide an account from the logon screen:
  1. Before editing the registry, back it up just to be safe.
  2. Open the registry editor and navigate to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Microsoft \ Windows NT \ CurrentVersion \ Winlogon \ SpecialAccounts \ UserList
  3. In the right pane, you'll see a list of items that correspond to the user accounts that exist on the computer but are not shown on the logon screen. You'll probably be surprised at how many there are.
  4. Right click an empty space in the right pane, select NEW and DWORD value.
  5. Right click the new value and rename it to the exact name of the user account you want to hide.
  6. Close the registry editor.
Now the account name won't show up on the logon screen. You can unhide the account at any time by deleting the registry key you created. Your nephew can still log onto the account while it's hidden. Just press CTRL+ALT+DEL twice in a row at the logon screen and you'll get the logon dialog box that allows you to type in the username.

 XP Security News

Hacker says Safari is the easiest browser to exploit

The Vancouver security researcher who recently won a hacking contest by breaking into a fully patched MacBook in a few seconds tells us that Apple's Safari is the easiest browser to break into - especially on a Mac. He says IE 8, Firefox and Chrome are hard to exploit, but leaves no doubt that it can be done - so regardless of which browser you use, it's still important to practice safe surfing habits. Read more here:

 XP Question Corner

Where is my USB drive?

Hi. I bought a USB 2.0 hard drive, 500 GB, and when I plug it into my XP computer I can't find it in the My Computer list. It did the "your device is installed and ready to use" thing when I plugged it in. Is it a problem with the drive or is there something else I need to do to use it? Thanks! - Nora B.

This sometimes happens if Windows names the drive letter to something that was already in use by another device. See if you can locate the drive and change its drive letter, using these steps:
  1. Right click My Computer and select Manage.
  2. In the right pane of the Computer Management console, go down to Storage and expand it if necessary, then click Disk Management.
  3. It may take a few minutes to populate the right pane. When the disk information appears, your USB drive should show up in this list.
  4. To change the drive letter, right click the drive in the list and select Change Drive Letters and Paths...
  5. The currently assigned letter will be displayed in the dialog box. Click the Change button.
  6. From the drop down list, pick a drive letter that is not being used by any other device and click OK. You'll get a Confirm dialog box; click Yes.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Regsvr32 Error Messages

The Regsvr32 utility is used to register and unregister DLLs and ActiveX controls and is often used in troubleshooting problems with Windows and some of its programs. For a list of some common Regsvr32 error messages and their causes, see KB article 249873 at

How to reset the password in XP Home without a password reset disk

Microsoft advises that you create a password reset disk to make it easy for you to log onto XP if you forget your password. But if you ignored that advice and now you've forgotten the password to your user account, there still may be hope. You can reset the password by logging on in Safe Mode with the administrative account. To find out how, see KB article 894902 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

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 About WXPnews

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