Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Technologies For Which I'm Thankful

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001

Vol. 9, #98 - Nov 24, 2009 - Issue #406

 Technologies For Which I'm Thankful

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Technologies For Which I'm Thankful
    • Follow-up: Fighting or switching
    • Black Friday specials
    • Quotes of the Week
    • Definition of the Day
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Office 2010: It's Out There
    • Meanwhile, private testing begins for Office "Starter"
    • What's coming in IE 9? Will it Run on XP?
    • Windows 8: Coming in 2012?
    • Microsoft and NASA sponsor web site to help with Mars research
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to defrag all hard drives
  5. XP Security News
    • Older versions of IE are vulnerable to attack
  6. XP Question Corner
    • What's a good program for taking pictures of myself with a web cam?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • "Work offline" option is unexpected enabled
    • Troubleshooting hibernation and standby problems
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Kiss Your Antivirus Bloatware Goodbye

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 Editor's Corner

Technologies For Which I'm Thankful

Growing up here in the U.S., I always looked forward to the Thanksgiving holiday. It meant time with family, lots of good food, and in recent years, Black Friday sales. It also means taking a look back at the year and thinking about all the wonderful things in my life for which I'm thankful. Family and friends come first, of course, but I'm also reminded of the amazing technologies that I use every day, technologies that my grandparents would have found utterly amazing.

The third of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke's three laws of prediction says "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," and certainly many of the technologies that we take for granted would have appeared to be almost magical to those who lived just a few generations ago. The Internet itself is something that few would have imagined 100 years ago. After all, less than 150 years ago, mail was still being delivered by the Pony Express.

Today our population is increasingly made up of "digital natives" - those young enough so that they don't remember a time when computers and Internet connectivity were not a part of their lives. They see these technologies the same way those of my generation see telephone service or television - as just a normal part of life, not miraculous at all. It's hard to fully appreciate something you've always had. Yet I remember listening to my great grandmother talk about how amazed she was when she saw her first TV. And when you really think about it, the ability to transmit video images across the airwaves seems more miraculous than the ability to send text messages over a network of cables.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for all of those technologies: radio, TV, telephones, the Internet ... they all have their down side and can be overused or abused, but they have also brought us great blessings. They have the ability to bring together people who are far apart geographically and the ability to expose us to new ideas and knowledge we might never have known about without them.

So I'm thankful that I can turn on the TV and find out immediately if there's an earthquake in California or a plane crash in New York - especially since I have family members in both places. There was a time when such news wouldn't have made it to Texas for days or even weeks. And I'm thankful that after hearing such news, I can pick up the phone or zap off an email to my loved ones, to make sure that they're all right.

I'm thankful that if my car breaks down on a lonely road at night, I can call my husband and/or AAA. There was a time, in my lifetime, when I would have had to wait for a kind stranger to come along, or start walking. So every time I get annoyed by someone babbling on a cell phone in line at the grocery store or at the next table in a restaurant, I remind myself of all the benefits of the technology and that if there are problems, they're caused by the ways some people use the technology and not by the technology itself.

I'm thankful for another technology that is relatively new to ordinary consumers, although it's been around for nearly 50 years. Like the Internet, its use was first confined to government. I'm talking about GPS navigation, which is quickly becoming a commonplace tool built into cars and smart phones. Remember when getting someplace unfamiliar involved consulting a map (which you could never get folded up correctly afterward) or worse, stopping to ask for directions? Now you just punch the address into your device and it guides you, turn by turn, to wherever you're going. Oh, sometimes it makes mistakes - tries to send you the wrong way down a one-way street or gives you the dread "address does not exist" message when you know darn well it does. It's still a long way from perfect, but it has greatly reduced the number of times I've gotten lost and ended up being late to an appointment.

Some of those not-so-great experiences with the GPS, though, remind me that even though we should be thankful for the conveniences that our new technologies afford us, we should never become completely dependent upon them. I've seen far too many young people who can't do simple arithmetic because they've always had calculators to do it for them. Too many people - including many who are supposed to be professional writers - can't spell, because they've grown up depending on the computer's spell-checker software to take care of that. Cashiers are unable to make change if the cash register doesn't tell them how much to give back to the customer. Many businesses would grind to a halt, unable to sell their products or provide their (non-tech) services, if the computers went down.

So at the same time that I'm grateful for all of the technologies that make my life better, I'm also a little worried by our growing dependency. Most of my money exists today not as a bundle of bills stashed under the mattress but as electronic bits and bytes in a bank's computer system. That makes it safer in one way and more vulnerable in another. Most of the work by which I make my living depends on computers and the Internet. Even if I were able to mail in my weekly columns by snail mail, there is no way that the newsletters could be distributed to our readers without the 'Net - at least, not for free. My husband telecommutes; without the Internet, we would probably have to move hundreds or thousands of miles away.

My family recently lost my cousin to cancer. Along with the obvious emotional pain, her husband found himself dealing with a new dependency on the Internet, because she had set up many of their bills to be paid online. He found one of his utility services cut off because he hadn't paid the bill.

Of course, such dependencies are really nothing new. Prior to the Internet, we were at the mercy of the postal service in conducting our business, paying our bills, receiving checks, etc. We've long been dependent on the highway system and trucking companies to ensure that essentials such as food, gasoline and the various products we buy in our stores are there when we need them. We've been dependent on the banking system to take care of our money and to handle our financial transactions. When my dad passed away, he wasn't using the 'Net to pay bills, but my mom was just as lost about what to do as my cousin's husband is. The difference is that now most of those individual systems - banking, transportation, even the USPS - have become dependent, to varying degrees, on the Internet as well. Before, it would have been difficult to disrupt all of those systems at once. Now, if you were able to take down the networks, you would disrupt all of those systems and more.

So I'm also thankful that the Internet was created as a redundant system, emulating nature's method for ensuring survival. And I'm thankful that I live in a time when all of these amazing technologies are available. They didn't exist before, and there is no guarantee that they will be always remain affordable and so freely available in the future. Whatever happens, those of us alive today have been blessed to live in a world where science has created much magic.

Tell us what technologies you're most thankful for. And what amazing devices or services, not available today, do you look forward to being thankful for ten or twenty years from now? Do you think we're too dependent on the Internet? Is that dependency worth the benefits it brings? Do you feel comfortable with the reliability inherent in the Internet's redundant design, or does it seem like a fragile infrastructure that could easily be brought tumbling down? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forum:

Follow-up: Fighting or switching

In last week's editorial, I discussed the many options available to those who might be currently considering "life after XP." It sounds as if readers are pretty divided on whether to stick with XP for a few more years, upgrade to Windows 7 or go with a whole different OS platform.

To Wontolla, who said there were several errors in the editorial, I don't think so. Yes, many Linux distros are free - as I said in paragraph six. However, some aren't; there are a number of commercial versions available at varying prices. And yes, there are web forums available for support - as I also said in that paragraph. But there is no vendor support for most Linux distros, unless you pay for it. Where's the error?

To ITJuggler, who said, "you left out one of the important features to consider when deciding between moving from XP to Win7 or an alternative: Windows Easy Transfer" - actually, I didn't. See the next-to-last paragraph of the original article, which says "And although you have to reinstall your applications, you can use the Easy Transfer feature to save the configurations of those apps (along with your desktop settings and other Windows settings) so you won't have to spend hours getting all your individual preferences back."

To MikeEd, who said "If you know what you are doing and don't mine [sic] getting hardware that doesn't last long, Windows is fine," I have to laugh. The implication that all PCs "don't last long" is silly; I have Windows computers that are ten or twelve years old and still running fine. I have rarely replaced a PC because it "didn't last" - it's almost always because new programs need more RAM or a faster processor than it supports. I hate to tell you, but Macs have that same problem and, in the case of the low cost models, are often less upgradeable than PCs.

And to mcook2, who said, "I don't know any Mac users who would go back to Windows, though, or who even use Windows components on their Macs." Well, I'm one who has tried a Mac, three times now, and went back to Windows each time. My daughter just did the same thing, and I have at least three friends who have done the same. I also know many Mac users who are happy with their Macs, but it's by no means a universal reaction. And many of those I know who do like their Macs use Parallels or VMware Fusion because the Mac just won't do everything they want without some Windows software. And showing that it's not just people I know, we had at least one reader on the forum (christophar1) who said "After over one year of experimenting with Linux and Mac I came back to XP."

Finally, to DavidW, who is dual booting XP and Windows 7 and said, "Also virtual drives aren't that easy to set up for the average computer user. It takes some time to become comfortable with setting them up, and tweaking each OS the way you want. Personally, I'm not a fan of virtual drives. Most of the tech people I know who quickly jumped on the bandwagon when virtual drives first appeared are now only using them when absolutely necessary. If/when they fail, they tend to take both OS's and any data on the same drives with them." Actually, one of the big advantages of virtualization is that the virtual machine is treated as a separate entity and its failure does not affect the host operating system. It used to be true that creating a VM and installing an OS on it could be tricky. However, with XP Mode that is a free download for Windows 7, you don't have to worry about any of that. XP is already pre-installed in a VM for you. There is no need for the average user to deal with virtual drives (VHDs), which are for enabling developers to run multiple operating systems that can access the hardware.

In addition to the OS options discussed in the original article, just this last week another operating system took the spotlight as Google unveiled its Chrome OS. We'll take a look at that in next week's editorial.

As always, thank you to all of those who participated in the discussion. This year and every year, I'm especially thankful for all of my WXPnews readers.

Black Friday specials

The day after Thanksgiving, "Black Friday," brings many exciting deals on all sorts of products. Last year, my son stood in line all night to buy a laptop at a price that was hundreds of dollars less than usual for that model. I'm not quite that dedicated to getting a bargain, but I always enjoy checking out the specials. WXPnews readers will be getting a rare special offer from Sunbelt on Black Friday, too, so be sure to check your Inboxes.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

Computing is not about computers anymore. It's about living. - Nicholas Negroponte

Advances in computer technology and the Internet have changed the way America works, learns and communicates. The Internet has become an integral part of America's economic, political and social life. - Bill Clinton

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. - Carl Saga

Definition of the Day

Twitternoia: the irrational fear that you're not being followed.

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


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Improve your English writing skills with WhiteSmoke a smarter solution for high quality writing. Download the free trial version here.

 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Office 2010: It's Out There

If you're one of those who likes to be on the cutting edge and try out new software before it hits the shelves, here's another opportunity. Microsoft has released a public beta of Office 2010, the next version of its productivity suite. The beta was released first to MSDN and TechNet, and a few days later to the general public. It includes Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, InfoPath, SharePoint Workspace and Office Communicator. Beta versions of Visio 2010 and Project 2010 are also available separately. Find out more and get your copy here.

Meanwhile, private testing begins for Office "Starter"

In other Office news, private previews were distributed last week for the "Starter" edition of Office 2010, which will be a free suite that will be supported by advertising (a small ad space in the lower right corner of the application window). Starter only includes Word and Excel, and they don't have all the sophisticated features that the full fledged versions have, but the apps will provide a viable option to other free word processors and spreadsheets such as Google Apps, and for many users will do everything they need and more. Read more about it here:

What's coming in IE 9? Will it Run on XP?

At this year's annual Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) last week, Microsoft officially unveiled the next version of Internet Explorer, IE 9. The stated goals are better standards compliance and faster performance (accomplished in part by taking advantage of the graphics processing unit or GPU for page rendering):

But what new features will come with the new browser? Will it run on XP? Even though Microsoft has finally started talking about it, there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Stay tuned; as many details about the new browser become available, we'll let you know.

Windows 8: Coming in 2012?

If you're still using Windows XP, you might be considered two generations behind when it comes to operating systems, but well before extended support for XP ends, you'll probably be able to make that three. Microsoft's current plans have Windows 8 coming out in 2012, according to a product roadmap that was shown at the PDC last week. For those who think that's rushing things, it would actually put the next OS on the same timetable Microsoft used in following Vista with Windows 7, but of course release dates are never set in stone, especially this far in advance. This article opines that the direction Microsoft decides to go with Windows 8 may be influenced by whether or not Windows XP continues to hold on to market share. Read it here:

Microsoft and NASA sponsor web site to help with Mars research

If you always wanted to be involved in the space program, here's your chance. NASA and Microsoft have partnered to create a web site where visitors are asked to count craters in photos of Mars or match locations in photos. You even get points and can earn rewards for your work. The site is based on Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing platform and is hosted at Microsoft data centers. You can read more about the program here:

 How To: Using XP Features

How to defrag all hard drives

The XP defragmenter will only allow you to defrag one hard drive at a time. You have to wait for one to finish and then manually do another one. Wouldn't it be nice if you could start the process (for example, at bedtime) and wake up to find all of your hard drives have been defragged? Well, you can - by creating a batch file.
  1. In notepad, create a file with a line for each partition you want to defrag. For example, if you want to defrag drives c, d and e, your file would look like this:
    defrag c: -f
    defrag d: -f
    defrag e: -f
  2. Save the file in the \windows directory with the name defragall.bat
  3. To run the file, you can type its name at the command line, or navigate to it in the file system and double click it.
This will defrag the partitions, one after the other. The -f switch forces a defrag even if space is low.

 XP Security News

Older versions of IE are vulnerable to attack

Many of those who use XP are still using the older version of Internet Explorer that came with the OS (IE 6) or its immediate successor (IE 7) and haven't upgraded to the latest version of the browser. If you're in that category, be aware that a new exploit has been posted by a hacker that can be used to install unauthorized software on computers running the older versions of IE. Even if you have the latest service pack (SP3), this attack can still work. You can protect against it by disabling JavaScript. Read more here:

 XP Question Corner

What's a good program for taking pictures of myself with a web cam?

I have a web cam and want to know a good program (free would be best but if not, under $40) I can use to make videos. The camera has a built in microphone so I want to be able to get the audio too, to send videos of myself talking to my grandkids. Can you help? - Susan G.

I use a Logitech Pro 9000 web cam and have tried several different programs. I don't like the software that came with the camera, but I've had a great experience with Debut. You can make videos (with audio) with your web cam, take still snapshots, or use it to capture your computer screen (for example, if you want to record the steps you perform to use a program and send it to someone else to show them how to do it). There is a free version and also a "Plus" version that currently costs $34.20 on their web site (the usual price is $60).

Note that I do not work for the company that makes it (NCH) nor have they ever given me anything to endorse their product; it's just a program that I stumbled across a year or so ago and really like because of its low cost, stability, and simplicity. I like to use it to capture the desktop, because you record the entire desktop or you can specify a rectangular area to capture. I also use it take snapshots of myself (for instance, to use as a Facebook profile) and to record short video presentations. Check it out at

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

"Work offline" option is unexpected enabled

Windows XP gives you the option to work with files and programs offline when you aren't connected to the network. This is handy, but sometimes you might find the "work offline" option is enabled when you do have a network connection and don't want to work offline. If that happens to you, you may need to make some simple configuration changes. You can get the step by step instructions in KB article 913620 at

Troubleshooting hibernation and standby problems

Windows XP supports power-saving technologies that can save on battery life and/or your electric bill, but sometimes when you put the computer into a hibernated or standby state, you might encounter problems. Or the computer may go into the low power state without a hitch, but have problems when you try to resume working. For some ideas on troubleshooting these hibernation and standby problems, see KB article 907477 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.

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