Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What Vendors Give, Vendors Can Take Away

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001

Vol. 10, #14 - Apr 6, 2010 - Issue #424

 What Vendors Give, Vendors Can Take Away

  1. Editor's Corner
    • What Vendors Give, Vendors Can Take Away
    • Imagine you had an 'Internet Butler'.
    • Follow-up: Cutting your phone bills
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Windows Live Wave 4 expected not to support XP
    • Make your XP (or Vista or Windows 7) computer look like Windows Phone 7
    • A better idea than saving XP?
    • No Office for iPad
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to do a diagnostic for DirectX problems
  5. XP Security News
    • Watch out for malicious PDF files
  6. XP Question Corner
    • How can I do a search and replace on File names?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • XP shuts down because UPS service is started
    • "Bad Command Structure" error message
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Driver Genius Professional 9.0: Are your Outdated Drivers Slowing Down your PC?

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 Editor's Corner

What Vendors Give, Vendors Can Take Away

Last week, our reader Matt V. wrote to me about a Sony firmware update for the PlayStation 3, released on April 1, that seemed like a cruel April Fool's prank to some customers. What does it do? It removes the option to "install other OS" that was on the console's menu and previously made it possible for users to load Linux and use the PS3 - which, after all, is a computer - for other computing tasks besides playing games.

Now it's one thing when you buy a device, knowing that it can only be used as a game console. It's quite another when you make that purchase based on the belief that you can use it for more than that, with the vendor's blessing, and then have that functionality taken away. Some PS3 owners are very unhappy campers. They feel it's a lot like buying a new car that comes with leather seats, and then having the auto maker come to their homes in the dead of night to rip out those nice seats and replace them with cheap cloth.

Sony says the update is completely optional. Oh, but there's a catch. If you opt not to install it, you won't have network functionality, which means you can't use PlayStation Network, chat or browse the PlayStation Store. And what's the point of removing the option, anyway? Some speculate it's because people were using the other OS to watch pirated movies, but many folks say they used it so they could use a better web browser, as they didn't like the Sony one. In any event, such a drastic removal of functionality to prevent piracy that might or might not happen seems a little like taking our cars away from all of us just in case we might break the speeding laws with them, or banning tire irons because after all, it's possible to use one to commit assault.

Of course, Sony isn't the only company that has ever removed functionality from one of its devices. In 2007, an Apple software update famously "bricked" an unknown number of iPhones that had been "unlocked" by their owners so they could be used with a cellular carrier other than AT&T - taking away all functionality.

Apple also reportedly forced the developers of Stanza, an ebook reader app for the iPhone, to issue an update that would remove the app's ability to transfer ebooks to their mobile devices with a USB cable. Interestingly, Lexcycle, the maker of Stanza, fielded questions by staying they were "forbidden from discussing the specifics of our conversations with Apple on this matter," although they did confirm that the feature was removed in accordance with Apple's demands.

And last December, Microsoft issued an update for Office 2007 that removed the ability to read Custom XML elements contained within .docx, .docm or .xml files - but it wasn't exactly a voluntary action. The company was ordered by U.S. Federal Court of Appeals, which found in favor of Canadian developer i4i when it claimed the feature infringed on its patent, to remove the XML editing technology.

Is it legal, then, for hardware and software vendors to change your devices and programs after you buy them? Unfortunately, if you read all the fine print in the End User License Agreement (EULA), you'll probably discover that you agreed to that very thing when you clicked the "Accept" button during the installation or setup process. The Sony PS3 EULA, in section 3 ("Services and Updates"), says: "Without limitation, services may include the provision of the latest update or download of new release that may include security patches, new technology or revised settings and features which may prevent access to unauthorized or pirated content, or use of unauthorized hardware or software in connection with the PS3(tm) system." and "Some services may change your current settings, cause a loss of data or content, or cause some loss of functionality."

You can bet the vendors made sure their attorneys had covered their behinds before they issued these updates. Don't remember ever clicking to accept the agreement? It doesn't matter, because section 9 ("General Legal") says: "By using or accessing the System Software, you agree to be bound by all current terms of this Agreement." and what's more: "SCE, at its sole discretion, may modify the terms of this Agreement at any time, including any terms in the PS3(tm) system documentation or manual."

It does make you wonder just how far that clause could be taken. Can the vendor come back and say, "Oh, we've decided that instead of granting you an infinite license to use this software, we're changing the terms of this agreement so you only get to use it for six months. If you want to use it longer, you have to pay for it again"? Apparently they could.

Interestingly, I did not find such an overt clause permitting the terms of the agreement to be changed in the Windows 7 EULA. However, section 23 ("Entire Agreement") says: "This agreement (including the warranty below), additional terms (including any printed-paper license terms that accompany the software and may modify or replace some or all of these terms), and the terms for supplements, updates, Internet-based services and support services that you use, are the entire agreement for the software and support services." If you parse that language carefully, you'll see that they're saying they can modify or replace the terms of the agreement by issuing "additional terms," which can be but wouldn't have to be printed-paper terms accompanying the software.

Want to know what's in the EULA of any other Microsoft products? At least they've made that information easy to find all in one place:

Of course, we've talked about heinous EULA terms before, but the clauses that give them the right to change any and everything (including those terms themselves) has to be the worst. In essence, that one clause negates any and all rights that might seem to be granted to you by the agreement, since the vendor has the sole discretion to change any part of it at any time.

Tell us what you think. Should vendors be allowed to remove important functionalities from their devices or software after you paid for that same functionality? Should they only be allowed to do it when under a court order, as Microsoft was with the XML editing issue? Should they have to refund part or all of your money if they make significant changes that cause you to no longer want the device or program? Or should they be able to make any changes they want, since after all, you agreed to it? Should, at the very least, changing the terms of the agreement be prohibited? Have you ever had features you wanted removed by an update? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forum at

Imagine you had an 'Internet Butler'.

Imagine you had an 'Internet Butler' in your PC. Tell us what that things that 'butler' would do for you automatically, instead of you having to do it yourself?

Follow-up: Cutting your phone bills

Last week, I wrote about the evolution of our phone service, from landline to Lingo VoIP for six years and now, given recent problems with Lingo, to my "pilot program" with Skype. Readers had lots of comments and suggestions, and what quickly emerged from the discussion (both on the forum and in email) was that the same solutions are not going to be right for everybody.

One reader noted that cell service is unreliable where he lives and "Relying solely on a cell phone means no service 1/2 the time." It made me very grateful that in my area, I've never failed to get a cell signal in the last five years with Verizon, indoors or out. On the other hand, I have a friend who lives in the next suburb over, who is unable to get any service at all inside his home with his AT&T iPhone.

Another reader suggested, "Why not just keep your DSL line, which you can use as a regular phone line, and use your cell for everything else. Usually your DISH or DIRECTV system requires a line for them to access your reception boxes, so the DSL line can be used for that also." For those who have DSL and DISH or DirecTV, that sounds like good advice. It's not at all applicable to our situation. We have FiOS Internet service, which is far faster than DSL, but even if we wanted it, we're too far from the CO to get DSL. And we don't have DISH or DirecTV, so there's no need for a landline for that.

Other readers use other solutions. Some use their cable company's phone service. Others mentioned MagicJack and Ooma. These two are super low-cost alternatives: MagicJack costs $20/year (after a $40 initial hardware cost), and Ooma costs $250 for the hardware and then there are no monthly charges for basic service. There is a "premier" service that costs $99/year and gives you a second outgoing line, three-way calling, and forwarding of calls to your cell or other backup number, as well as call screening and voicemail-to-email, blacklisting and anonymous call rejection, custom ring patterns and other services beyond what you get with the basic service. Both have been around for a while, but I haven't personally tried either of them. I'll be checking into them further in the future, after the enthusiastic recommendations they both got. Other suggestions included ACN VoIP, Toktumi, voipo.com, and Google Voice.

That last one confused me a little, as it seemed at least one reader was suggesting it as an alternative to other phone services. Unless it's changed, it is actually an addition to other services, as you have to have an established phone number to activate it. If you can get inbound calls with Google Voice only, I'm not aware of it.

To answer kurtneus's question: "MagicJack is cheap but it requires that you leave your computer on all the time. That can cost $15/mo. for electricity (at 7¢/kwh & 300w power supply)! How is this cost effective?" If you don't already have a computer that's always on, that's a valid consideration. If you run servers, as we do, that remain on 24/7 anyway, you just plug the device into one of them and there's no extra power cost.

Based on the number of responses, this is a topic that resonates with many people, and it was interesting to see how many of you have also dropped your landlines, either in favor of some iteration of VoIP or cellular only - although there are a few who vowed to hang onto their landlines forever. And Scott W. brought up the subject of adding up your total cost for various types of connectivity: phones, Internet, TV, cell phones, satellite radio, On-Star, home alarm system, movie rental, etc. I don't use all of those (I've never been interested in satellite radio and I dropped On-Star after two years and am seriously considering dropping the alarm monitoring service) but even so, the total number is pretty scary.

I enjoyed reading about your experiences trying different phone solutions and it was also eye-opening to find out how much prices can vary for landline service in different parts of the country. As always, thanks to all of you who participated in the discussion.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

"The telephone is a 100-year-old technology. It's time for a change. Charging for phone calls is something you did last century." - Niklas Zennstrom

"I stay away from the telephone if at all possible." - Lee Trevino

"The Internet is a telephone system that's gotten uppity." - Clifford Stoll

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


MediaWidget is the quickest and easiest way to transfer all of your music, videos, photos, podcasts, and more from your iPod to PC. Check out the cool Youtube demo and download the trial here:

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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Windows Live Wave 4 expected not to support XP

We already know that Internet Explorer 9, the next version of Microsoft's web browser, isn't going to support Windows XP. Now comes the news, from Mary Jo Foley, that there is a high probability that Live Wave 4 - the next generation of its Live Mail, Live Writer, Messenger, Photo Gallery and other free applications - won't support XP either. We won't find out for sure until the public beta comes out (reportedly in June) and of course, even then there will still be time for changes before the final release (reportedly scheduled for August). If true, this is apt to make some XP users very unhappy.

Make your XP (or Vista or Windows 7) computer look like Windows Phone 7

You can't yet buy a phone running the new Windows Phone 7 operating system ("Series" has been dropped from the name, thank goodness), but the user interface has been demonstrated and has the tech world buzzing. And if you just can't wait, there is an application that you can install to make your XP (or other Windows) desktop look like the phone UI. It's called Omnimo and you can read more about it, and find a link to download it, here:

A better idea than saving XP?

Warning - this article is a bit, shall we say, tongue in cheek. Check the date it was published before you take it too seriously. But it's still a fun read, and I would be willing to bet there are at least a few folks out there who really feel this way:

No Office for iPad

If you're one of the many who celebrated April Fools Day by rushing to the Apple Store to buy an iPad, don't make plans to run Microsoft Office on it anytime soon. According to Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's Business Division, the company has no current plans to make a version of their popular productivity suite for the new Apple device. Is this the right decision? Or is it, as many tech commentators seem to think, a big mistake? Only time will tell, but let us know what you think, and whether you're at all interested in the "giant iPhone sans phone" that went on sale last week.

 How To: Using XP Features

How to do a diagnostic for DirectX problems

If you have performance problems with video games or other 3D applications, you might want to run the DirectX diagnostic tool in XP to track down the source of the problems. Here's how:
  1. Click Start | Run
  2. In the Open box, type dxdiag
  3. Check the System tab to find out what version of DirectX is installed and get other general system information.
  4. Check the DirectX Files tab, which will show you in the Notes section at the bottom if any of your important DirectX files are missing. If you have missing files, you may need to reinstall DirectX.
  5. Check the Display tab to run DirectDraw and Direct3D tests, which will tell you whether DirectX is running properly and allow you to disable acceleration if needed.
These tests will go a long way toward helping you find the root of your DirectX problems (or confirm that DirectX isn't the problem). Just follow the instructions in the dialog boxes.

 XP Security News

Watch out for malicious PDF files

Most computer users consider PDF files to be pretty safe, unlike executables or even Word documents that can contain macros. After all, it's just a way to present a two-dimensional document, right? Well, maybe not. Recently a security researcher discovered a way to embed code in a PDF and launch it using Adobe Reader or Foxit, just by opening the file. The good news is that, at the moment, it's still in the "proof of concept" stage (meaning nobody has actually released such an attack in the wild) and the makers of the PDF readers have been notified. The bad news is that it's not exploiting a vulnerability in the software, which makes it harder to come up with a "fix" for it. Read more here:

 XP Question Corner

How can I do a search and replace on File names?

I have a directory that has many files (hundreds) with file names that start with the same word (Smith) and then additional descriptions, like this: Smith birthday photo.jpg, Smith vacation1.jpg, and so on. What I want to do is replace "Smith" with something else, my first name instead of my last, so that they're named Lisa birthday photo.jpg and so forth. Is there a way to do this in one big operation (like how you can search and replace in Word) to replace "Smith" wherever it appears with "Lisa?" Hope this makes sense. Thanks. - Lisa S.

XP has built-in functionality for renaming a group of files with sequentially numbered file names; for example, you could select the group, choose rename and type "Lisa," and your files would be named Lisa(1).jpg, Lisa(2).jpg, etc. but that's not very descriptive and I don't think that's what you want. However, you can do a search and replace within file names if you use a third party utility like FileMonkey. It will run on XP, and they have a tutorial on their web site that shows you how to search and replace in file names. The downside is that there is no "undo" so once you've renamed the files, you can't go back to the original names easily (unless you've backed them up first with the original names, which I highly recommend just in case it doesn't turn out like you expected).

Check it out here:

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

XP shuts down because UPS service is started

If you start the Uninterruptible Power Supply service on your Windows XP computer, and you don't have a UPS attached to your computer via a COM port (or if you, but it's not working), Windows will shut down either before or after you log on. That's a problem, because you can't get into Windows to turn off the UPS service. The solution is to start in Safe Mode and then follow the instructions in KB article 818197 at

"Bad Command Structure" error message

If you try to extract files from a compressed folder, you might get an error message that says "Compressed (zipped) folders was unable to create the specified directory. Ensure that the directory does not already exist, and that the path entered is valid." This happens because you didn't type the entire explicit path for the folder name. The solution is simple: type in the complete path name. See KB article 291779 for more information:

 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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