Monday, January 4, 2010

XPNews Yesterday and Today: 7 Years of Technology Trends

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001

Vol. 10, #103 - Jan 5, 2010 - Issue #411

 XPNews Yesterday and Today: 7 Years of Technology Trends

  1. Editor's Corner
    • XPNews Yesterday and Today: 7 Years of Technology Trends
    • Follow-up: The Kitchen of the Future
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • It walks like XP and it talks like XP, but is it really a clone?
    • What's the best Windows version for netbooks: XP or Windows 7 Starter?
    • Geeky gadgets of 2009
    • XP is still Windows 7's biggest competitor
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to get rid of the "New Items" highlight in the Programs menu
  5. XP Security News
    • Should you or shouldn't you exclude some files from virus scanning?
  6. XP Question Corner
    • How do I get rid of things in Autocomplete?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • How to save a search query in XP
    • Display and use the Power Meter icon in XP
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Drive Manager - Protect Your Drive from Failure, Create a Disk Images and More - Save 40%

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 Editor's Corner

XPNews Yesterday and Today: 7 Years of Technology Trends

The beginning of a new year always causes me to think about where we've been, where we are, and where we're headed - not geographically, but in terms of goals and accomplishments, expectations and the unexpected, hopes and fears. That applies not just to my personal life, but also to the world of technology in which I work. It's a good time to take a look back and it's also a good time to start looking ahead. This week, I'll focus on the past, including some of the hot new trends of years gone by that did or didn't prove lasting. Next week, we'll skip ahead to the future and make some predictions about what we'll see in the decade that's just beginning.

I've been writing WXPnews now for more than 7 years, since November 2002 (my husband, Tom, did it for the year preceding that). That time has gone by amazingly quickly, but we've seen many changes in personal computing over those years. In some ways, though, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Looking back at the editorial headlines in those early years, it strikes me that many of them address the same issues with XP that we're seeing in today's headlines about Windows 7. We discussed things like how to pick the right edition of the OS (many folks think XP came in only two flavors, but actually there were four: Home, Pro, Media Center and Tablet editions), whether XP's security mechanisms went too far in protecting you from yourself, Digital Rights Management (DRM) and copy protection in XP, how to protect XP from hackers, and so on.

On the other hand, some of those headlines you'd never see today. For instance, there were articles regarding whether you should switch from dial-up to broadband for your Internet connection. Today, almost everyone who can do so has done so. Sure, there are still 56K modems out there, but their users make up a much smaller percentage of total Internet users. Most are either in rural areas where broadband (other than expensive, relatively slow satellite) isn't available, or they're on extremely tight budgets that don't allow for the added expense.

In some cases, that latter reason is losing ground. The cost of maintaining a landline is so high in many areas that people are dropping telephone company service altogether in favor of cable or DSL Internet service and Voice over IP (VoIP) for telephony, and paying less than they did for a landline plus a dial-up ISP. There is a growing consensus in many parts of the world that Internet service is a utility, similar to running water and electricity, that should be available to everyone at reasonable cost. In the U.K., for example, ISP BE Broadband recently cut its price almost in half:

While base rates get cheaper, though, the latest trend for Internet service providers is bandwidth caps - limits on how much you can use your connection without paying extra. In 2002, this was almost unheard of in the U.S. with broadband services, although it's been standard operating procedure in other countries such as Canada and Australia. While this might result in lower rates for light users, it's not so good for those who like to download hi-definition movies and other large files. And as for dial-up, we may soon see the day when it isn't even an option. AT&T recently acknowledged that the "Plain Old Telephone System" (POTS, aka PSTN) is obsolete and will eventually be completely replaced by wireless and IP-based networks.

There have been many other changes. In September 2003, I wrote about Microsoft's decision to turn their MSN chat rooms into a paid service, ostensibly in an effort to identify chatters through their credit cards and thus deter inappropriate behavior in the chat forums. Whether it was a money issue or the fact that chat participants weren't willing to give up their anonymity, it was less than a resounding success; in 2006 Microsoft shut down MSN Chat, following a "significant decline in new users."

The old technologies are quickly replaced by new ones, though. As chat rooms began to disappear from the online landscape, a new type of Internet interaction started rising in popularity: social networking. A few years ago, it seemed to be a fringe phenomenon used only by the young. Today, most of my friends and acquaintances, including my 70+ year old aunts, have Facebook pages and almost everyone I work with is connected through LinkedIn.

Some ideas have been slower to gain wide acceptance. In December 2003, I wrote about the new RFID chips that could be implanted under your skin to be used in place of ATM or credit cards. Six years later, although I know many people whose cats and dogs have implanted ID tags, to my knowledge none of my human friends have them. The idea hasn't died completely, though. Last summer, a Barcelona nightclub was "chipping" their patrons:

In January 2004, I wrote about my favorite new toy: a Gateway Media Center PC that ran the new Windows XP Media Center Edition. Since then, we've gone through several iterations of WMC and three different Media Center machines. Now that Media Center is a standard feature in Vista and Windows 7, we have multiple media centers on our home network and almost all of our TV watching consists of shows recorded on WMC, most of them in HD. We've come a long way, baby, on that front.

In May 2004, I noted that it seems inevitable that biometric identification would be a requirement in the future. There have been moves in that direction; many countries are now incorporating biometrics into their passports (usually in the form of fingerprint data), and Microsoft's latest client operating system, Windows 7, has built in support for biometrics (fingerprint readers). However, biometric authentication has not been adopted nearly as quickly nor as widely as many believed it would be - in large part because of privacy concerns, especially in regard to government usage:

Several times over the last years, I've asked the question of whether electronic books will replace the paper variety. The answer from readers has generally been a great big "no." Since then, Amazon released the Kindle (in 2007) and it has opened up the world of ebooks to far more people than before. Despite its popularity and the "save the trees" movement from the "green" contingent, print books still don't seem to be at risk of becoming obsolete anytime soon. One reason for this is the industry's lack of understanding of its market:

In June 2004, I asked if wireless broadband was in your future, following the approval of standards for WiMax long-range wireless. Today, the wireless WAN is a reality; mobile phone providers such as AT&T and Verizon offer cellular-based broadband cards for your laptop (and some laptops come with them built in) and Sprint has invested in a 4G WiMax network and plans to unveil a Windows Mobile phone with WiMax capabilities at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) later this month.

As 2004 came to an end, I was speculating about hack attacks on cell phones that were increasingly morphing into full fledged handheld computers. At that time, I was carrying a Samsung i730 Pocket PC 2003 phone, but only the most techie of my friends had smart phones. In 2007, Apple released the iPhone and changed all that. Now people who have no tech skills at all are carrying computers in their pockets - whether iPhones, the latest Windows Mobile phones or the new Android phones. Throw Palm and Symbian into the mix and you have a plethora of very smart phones to choose from. Surprisingly, viruses and attacks on phones haven't yet become a huge problem, but it's probably only a matter of time:

One of my most controversial articles, and one that got the most responses (including an invitation to appear on a national radio show) was January 2005's "Rebate Hassle" editorial. At that time, most electronics store advertisements listed prices in big print that didn't reflect what you actually had to pay at the time of purchase, but rather your net after receiving a mail-in rebate. Unfortunately, such rebates often took weeks or months to get back, if you ever got them at all. Readers were justifiably furious about the practice, and retailers listened and changed their ways. Today you see far more "instant rebates" that are applied at the cash register, and many stores started providing for online processing of their "mail in" rebate requests to make it easier on consumers. Several of the computer and electronics stores we talked about in that article have gone out of business, and the surviving ones rely far less on misleading rebate-based advertising to lure customers in. The rebate issue was taken up in many different venues, but I like to think that WXPnews and its readers contributed at least a small part in bringing out that change.

There were many more interesting topics that we discussed between 2002 and 2009, far more than I can address here. WXPnews has been a big part of my life, as I've spent every weekend coming up with new subjects, researching them, sorting out my thoughts and putting them down in writing, fifty weeks out of every year (only taking time off at Christmas and New Year's). During the holiday break, it feels funny not to be writing an editorial and ferreting out how-to topics and technology news items to share with readers. Of course, I get many of my ideas from you - from your emailed suggestions, your questions and now, your discussions in the online forums.

Windows XP may be getting a little long in the tooth, and we all know that sooner or later, it will be edged out by newer technology. However, there are still many of you who've told me that it still serves your purposes well and that you intend to stick with it for a while longer. I look forward to continuing to bring you this newsletter for as long as you deem it useful, and I thank you for sticking with me for all these years. Please let me know what topics you'd like to see addressed in 2010, and if you have the time, browse our archives and let me know which of my past articles were your favorites:

As always, we invite you to discuss this and any other relevant topic in our forum at

Follow-up: The Kitchen of the Future

In the last newsletter of 2009, I took a look at the state of the culinary arts, at least in regard to high tech gadgets and appliances, and asked why those predictions about the high tech kitchen of the future haven't come true. The same theme permeated the replies from a number of readers: some activities are made easier or more enjoyable by computers, and some aren't. Many of you said (and the marketplace seems to agree) that cooking is one of those things that's not as easily enhanced by new technology.

On the other hand, some readers so see value in smart appliances - if they're smart in the right way. Suggestions included warnings of failure (refrigerator or freezer stops cooling), accident prevention (pot boiling over or grease fire) and prevention of overcooking, or the ability to communicate remotely with the oven to turn it on to preheat.

Quite a few of you said you see the kitchen as the last haven where you can escape from all the techno gadgets and enjoy one another's company. Playing devil's advocate here, I have to ask if you wouldn't be able to focus on other people even more if technology did more of the work for you. I know beyond a doubt that having the kitchen computer keeps my husband in the kitchen with me more, when he would otherwise be running off to check his mail or look up something on the web.

I agree with one reader's implication that high tech kitchens are on the way - but I think the technology will gradually become more sophisticated so that we won't even really notice until the kitchen of the future is here. And as another reader said, looks matter - and people want their kitchens to look traditional, not like something out of a sci-fi movie, so the tech needs to be incorporated more subtly than it was in those 2007 appliances. This discussion also makes me wonder if, when electric appliances were first introduced, there were the same sorts of protests from traditionalists who felt that the kitchen just wouldn't be the same without the wood burning stove and the icebox that depended on a delivery from the ice man.

For those who fear "blue screens of death" on their appliances or having to reboot the refrigerator, please realize that kitchen appliances would almost certainly run proprietary single purpose operating systems - just as cars do (how often do you have to reboot your vehicle's computer or even notice that it's there). On the other hand, the one big concern about a fully computerized kitchen that I see as valid was Bruceslog's fear that those computers could be used to monitor our eating behavior and allow more intrusion by the government, employers, insurance companies, etc. into our lives.

Bottom line: it's probably inevitable that kitchens - along with the rest of our homes - will become more and more computer-dependent. That will have both advantages and disadvantages. It's great that we can think through and prepare for the eventualities beforehand, and I thank all those who commented on the this topic.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". - Harry S. Truman

"When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be." - Molly Wizenberg

"An optimist stays up to see the new year in. A pessimist waits to make sure the old one leaves." - Bill Vaughan

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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

It walks like XP and it talks like XP, but is it really a clone?

Attesting to the ongoing popularity of the XP interface all over the globe, now Chinese software pirates have created a version of Ubuntu Linux that looks almost exactly like Windows XP. At the moment, though, you'll need to be able to read Chinese to use it. You can read more about it and get a link to screenshots here:

A Microsoft rep was quoted as saying the usual piracy laws may not apply, since it doesn't use XP source code; however, other copyright protections might be applicable:

What's the best Windows version for netbooks: XP or Windows 7 Starter?

The first netbooks - low cost, low powered laptop computers - ran Linux, but many who bought them (including me) wiped out that OS and installed Windows XP. Then when vendors started releasing the small portables with XP pre-installed, they quickly took over the market, and by January 2009, 90% of netbooks in the U.S. were shipping with XP, although world-wide, Linux still had a 32% market share. Now that Windows 7 is out, many are asking whether the low-end edition (Starter) is the best choice, or should you stick with XP? This article addresses the pros and cons of both flavors of Windows for the netbook crowd:

Geeky gadgets of 2009

Despite the recession, technology companies have continued to innovate, and some pretty interesting new electronic gadgets were released in 2009. The list includes high tech mice, flexible folding keyboards, the "world's fastest digital camera," various new cell phones and musical instruments, and more. Check them out and see if you agree that these meet the "coolness" test:

XP is still Windows 7's biggest competitor

Windows 7 has been embraced enthusiastically by Vista users, who are upgrading in droves. It has also won back some Windows fans who deserted for Mac or Linux - but the new operating system's biggest competitor is its own "grandfather," Windows XP. Technology analysts at Gartner say it will take another two years for Windows 7 to edge out XP, and that's just in the business world. Many home users, with tighter budget constraints and less need for new features, are likely to hang onto their old "tried and true" OS for even longer.

 How To: Using XP Features

How to get rid of the "New Items" highlight in the Programs menu

When you install a new program in XP, it will be highlighted in orange in the list of programs. This can be useful for helping you to notice what new programs have been installed, but if you'd prefer not to have new programs highlighted, it's easy to get rid of this feature. Here's how:
  1. Right click an empty space on the taskbar.
  2. Select Properties.
  3. In the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box, click the Start Menu tab.
  4. Click the Customize button.
  5. Click the Advanced tab.
  6. Uncheck the box labeled "Highlight newly installed programs."

 XP Security News

Should you or shouldn't you exclude some files from virus scanning?

Obviously the safest option would be to scan every file on your computer for viruses, but that can slow down performance significantly. It's like doing a full body pat-down of every airline passenger; it might increase safety, but at the cost of many delayed flights. Is it really necessary? Microsoft has recommending excluding some files and folders from virus scans, but Trend Micro says it puts users at risk. Other security researchers disagree. You can read more about the controversy here:

 XP Question Corner

How do I get rid of things in Autocomplete?

I like the autocomplete in Internet Explorer and I don't want to turn it off. But there are some things that I've typed wrong and IE saves them too, so that when it gives me the choices those wrong ones are always there. Isn't there a way to get rid of them, without clearing the autocomplete history and starting all over? Thanks! - Nick M.

Yes, indeed, you can easily get rid of autocomplete entries you don't want, without affecting those you do want to keep. If you're still using an older version of IE, just type the first letters to display the autocomplete list, then press the Down arrow to get to the entry you want to remove, and hit the Delete key. If you've upgraded to IE 8, you'll notice that when you highlight an entry in the autocomplete list with your mouse, a red X appears at the end of it. You can delete the entry by clicking that X.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

How to save a search query in XP

If you think you'll be searching for the same thing again, you don't have to repeat the steps of your search process. You can save your search query in XP and use it again in the future. KB article 308885 tells you how to do it and how to use your saved search queries.

Display and use the Power Meter icon in XP

You can display the power meter icon in the XP notification area (system tray) to give you quick and easy access to the power management features on your laptop or netbook. By default, this icon appears when you're using battery power but not when the computer is plugged in. KB article 909606 explains how to make the icon appear at all times.

 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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 About WXPnews

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