April 2005
Napa Valley Personal Computer Users Group
Computer News
April 2005
Volume 22, Issue 4
Inside This Issue
President’s Message
2
Membership News
3
NVPCUG Officers
3
Surviving a Hard Drive Crash
4
NVPCUG Calendar
4
Cost-Efficient Software
6
Linux Moves In
9
Digital Camera Scene Modes
10
RSS Feeds
11
The New, Best, and Worst
12
Browser Doohickeys
14
Tech News
16
The Napa Valley Personal Computer Users Group has served
novice and experienced computer
users since 1983. Through its
monthly meetings, newsletter, online forum, special interest groups,
mentor program and community
involvement, it has helped educate people of all ages. The
NVPCUG provides opportunities
for people to find friends who
share common interests and experiences. Through its Computersto-Schools program, members
refurbish used computer equipment for donation to local schools.
Since January 2003 the NVPCUG
has donated more than 277 computers and 102 printers.
Using Mail Merge in Microsoft Word Will Be
Discussed at NVPCUG Meeting April 20
The Napa Valley Personal Computer Users Club will meet Wednesday,
April 20, 7:00-9:00 p.m., at the Napa Senior Activity Center, 1500 Jefferson Street, Napa.
Our April general meeting will consist of only two of our regular meeting segments: Random Access, an open-floor question-and-answer period, and Computer Tutor, a session in which you can learn how to accomplish specific tasks.
Each of these segments will be much longer than usual, allowing more time for
discussion.
In the Computer Tutor session, Michael Moore will continue his series of
presentations on Microsoft Word special features by discussing
mail-merge. This valuable feature allows you to prepare personalized form letters, envelopes, mailing labels and name
tags, as well as customized documents and file labels, by using
data such as names and addresses (or whatever else you want)
stored in a list. This feature, which is also available in WordPerfect and other word processing products, can save you a lot
of time, especially if you need to do a mass mailing or will
need to do the work again.
Mike is a Computer Studies instructor at Napa Valley College, where he teaches
Microsoft Word, Excel and Access courses at NVC. Prior to teaching, Mike had a
varied and long career in industrial computer system design until he resigned from
Westinghouse as the president of one of its high-technology subsidiaries. He is
also the NVPCUG’s Computer Tutor Coordinator.
During the Random Access period, which will precede the Computer Tutor
session, you can ask questions about specific issues you have encountered in using computers and computer-related products and receive helpful information
from other meeting attendees. Questions may be submitted in advance of our
meeting by e-mailing them to Random Access Moderator Jerry Brown at [email protected]
Would you like to get practical information on how to make better use of
your computer? Come to this free meeting! Guests are always welcome.
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 1
President’s Message—
Steps to the Future
by Orion E. Hill
Although our group is going though a difficult period
due to the critical duties of several key vacant officer positions not getting sufficient attention, I=m very
pleased to report that steps have and are being
taken not only to continue but also to improve the
educational activities and member services of our
group.
$
Efforts to find volunteers willing and able
to handle the duties of the vacant offices
are continuing..
$
Presentations on topics of current interest
to computer users are being arranged for our general meetings.
$
Our newsletters and Web site are being improved.
Editor James Stirling has significantly increased
the educational content of our newsletters by making better use of all of the available space. Webmaster Ron Dack has improved the user interface
at our Web site, making it easier to find information and complete online forms.
$
A special interest group (SIG) for people interested in digital photography has been successfully
reestablished after a two-year lapse. A SIG for
new computer users is now being formed.
$
Plans for a member discount purchasing program
and for computer tune-up workshops are nearly
complete, but both of these activities are on-hold
pending more help with existing activities.
$
Arrangements are being made for a used computer
equipment sale, our major annual fund-raising ac-
tivity, on June 3 and 4. The net income from the sale is
expected to cover at least one-third of our group=s budgeted expenses for this year, keeping membership
fees low.
In addition, our Computers-to-Schools program
and our cosponsorship of the Napa County Computer and Electronics Recycling Event on June 10
and 11, our major community outreach activities,
are satisfying community needs and generating
much publicity and good will for our group.
Feeling Bad?
Have you been feeling bad because you have been enjoying the benefits of NVPCUG membership but have not
been contributing to our group? Well, here=s a sure-fire
way not only to alleviate your pain but also to have some
fun: Volunteer to serve as Vice President, Programs Director, or Special Projects Director or to assist any of our officers. We still need volunteers to help plan and administer
some of our group=s activities. Even if you can help for
only about one hour each month or connot help every
month, your support would be very valuable and very
much appreciated. To learn more about the many ways
you can help, contact me.
Sound Off!
Got a suggestion for improving an NVPCUG activity?
Want to help with an activity?
Send e-mail to
[email protected] or call (707) 252-0637. □
More Refurbished Computer Equipment Donated to Schools
by Orion E. Hill, NVPCUG President and Computers-to-Schools Program Coordinator
With the delivery of 30 more computer systems on March 16, the Napa
Valley Personal Computer Users Group
has now donated 277 refurbished multimedia computers to Napa County public
schools since January 2003. We've also
donated 102 refurbished laser and inkjet
printers, as well as a variety of other computer peripherals.
Additional equipment that does not meet school standards
has been donated to local nonprofit organizations or given
to disadvantaged youths and adults.
The latest delivery consisted of Pentium 3 and Pentium
4 computers with 17-inch monitors, the current school
standards. Twenty-four systems were given to the Napa
Valley Unified School District's technology department
for distribution to several district schools, including El
Centro Elementary School. The remaining six systems were given to the
Napa County Office of Education for
use in its Wintun and Liberty community schools
About 36 more Pentium 3 and Pentium
4 computers are nearly ready for delivery. Most of these computers will be donated this month
to the Saint Helena Unified School District for use at
Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School.
We are most grateful to Dey, LP, a Napa-based producer of pharmaceutical products for the treatment of respiratory diseases and respiratory-related allergies, for providing most of the used computer equipment we have
re.ceived. Additional equipment has been provided by
(Continued on page 3)
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 2
(continued from page 2)
the City of Napa, County of Napa,
and numerous local businesses and
residents. Also dozens of computers
have been recovered for reuse at the
Napa County computers and electronics recycling events we cosponsor
each June
The following NVPCUG members have picked up, cleaned, inspected, tested, reconfigured, and delivered equipment since the beginning
of this year: W. L. [email protected] Buchanan,
Hal Bunnell, Elmer Harris, Orion E.
Hill, Linda Kemp, Roger Lewis, Ray
McCann, John Moore, Ellwyn
[email protected] Olmstead, Corinne Rau,
Tom Rhyme, Rob Richards, Ray
Riley, Don Robertson, and Bill
Wheadon. We were also very fortunate that James onverse, husband of
NVPCUG member Charlotte Converse, could assist again by providing
their large flatbed trailer for an equipment pickup and delivery work party.
If you would like to help at a Computers-to-Schools work party or have
computer equipment to donate, please
send e-mail to [email protected] or
call (707) 252-0637. Also, watch your
NVPCUG e-mail for weekly work party announcements. Regardless of
your experience, skills, or physical
strength, we can use your help. Onthe-job training by our team of experienced volunteers will be provided to
all neophytes. Come, contribute to a
worthy cause, learn new skills, and
have an enjoyable time working with
other dedicated volunteers. □
Membership News
By Dianne Prior, NVPCUG Membership director
The Napa Valley Personal Computer Users Group welcomes
Davina Rubin and Priscilla Dillon as new members who joined in March.
Our group also welcomes back five members reinstated with the payment
of dues in March—Jane Daugherty, Matt Tulsky, Linda Price, David Toboni, and Tom Rhyme. Total membership now stands at 107.
And we always make room for more.
Napa Valley Personal Computer Users Group
Officers for 2005
Board of Directors
President
Vice President
Secretary
Treasurer
Orion E. Hill
252-0637
(Volunteer Needed)
Julie Jerome
224-6620
Roy Wagner
253-2721
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
Other Directors:
Dianne Prior, John Simcoe, James Stirling
Appointed Officers
Computer Recycling
Bill Wheadon
Coordinator
Computer Tutor
Mike Moore
Coordinator
Computers-to-Schools
Orion E. Hill
Program Coordinator
Facility Arrangements
Steve Siegrist
Coordinator
Greeter Coordinator
Bob Simmerman
Librarian
Marcia Waddell
Membership Director
Dianne Prior
Mentor Program
Hilton Des Roches
Coordinator
Newsletter Circulator
Jim Hearn
Newsletter Editor
James Stirling
Product Review Coord.
Marcia Waddell
Programs Director
(Volunteer Needed)
Publicity Director
John Simcoe
Random Access Moderator Jerry Brown
Special Projects Director (Volunteer Needed)
Webmaster
Ron Dack
224-3901
[email protected]
255-1615
[email protected]
252-0637
[email protected]
[email protected]
259-6113
252-2060
252-1506
224-6170
224-2540
944-1177
252-2060
258-8233
254-9607
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
Computer News (ISS 0897-5744) is published monthly by the Napa Valley Personal Computer Users Group, Inc. (NVPCUG), P.O. Box 2866, Napa, CA
94558-0286. Subscriptions: $30 for one year (12 issues ). Editor: James Stirling, [email protected] All material in Computer News is intended for
noncommercial purposes and may not be reproduced without prior written permission, except that permission for reproducing articles, with authors properly credited is granted to other computer user groups for for their internal, nonprofit use only. The information in this newsletter is believed to be correct. However, the NVPCUG can assume no responsibility neither for errors or omissions nor liability for any damages resulting from the use or misuse of
any information. The NVPCUG is an IRC 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit educational organization (EIN 68-0069663) and is a member of the Association of
Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization. Donations to the NVPCUG are tax deductible as charitablr
donations to the extent allowed by law. Copyright © 2005 by NVPCUG.
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 3
Surviving the Crash
What to Do When Your Hard Drive Takes a Dive
by Chris Jackson (from Smart Computing, April 2005, Vol. 16, issue 4)
For many people, thinking about
their hard drive failing is like contemplating their own mortality. Some
never give it a serious thought, while
others obsess over the reasons and the
timing. And unfortunately, it's a matter of when, not if. Coping with a hard
drive disaster doesn't need to be a
traumatic event; a little planning and
foresight can help mitigate the amount
of damage you incur.
Why Hard Drives Fail
Hard drives fail for a number of
reasons. Manufacturing flaws take
their toll, as do environmental factors
such as poor airflow in your computer
case. Sometimes drives fail when they
are dropped accidentally or when your
computer's power supply fails to
properly regulate the electricity powering the drive. Regardless of the reason for the failure, a hard drive crash
doesn't need to be the end of your irreplaceable data. Depending on the
severity of the crash and the size of
your wallet, you can usually retrieve
your data with a little patience, luck,
and know-how.
first thing you should do is back up
your computer. It may be a tedious
task, but like any insurance, when you
need it you'll be thankful that you
invested the time and effort.
Early Warning Signs
The first symptoms of a failing
drive can be quite subtle. Sometimes
you'll restart your computer, only to
be greeted by a cryptic message telling you that there is "No Fixed Disk
Present" or "Disk boot failure, insert
system disk and press Enter.” Other
times you'll hear the drive "spin up"
but quickly "spin down" during the
boot process. You may also have files
that mysteriously disappear. The
worst symptom is usually a clicking
or grinding noise. Each of these is a
sign that you need to take immediate
action to preserve the data on the
drive. Unfortunately, when a drive
fails, your options are limited to salvaging as much data as possible off
the drive before it becomes completely inaccessible. If
there's a
Golden Rule for coping with hard
drive problems, it's probably "Don't
Procrastinate."
allowing the drive to function in a
degraded fashion. If you hear abnormal sounds from your hard drive,
such as clicking or a rough gravelly
sound, one of your hard drive's components is probably failing.
A clicking sound usually indicates
that one of the actuator arms or read/
write heads is striking a platter on the
drive. Ignoring this will eventually
result in a catastrophic loss of data.
Platters usually spin at velocities of
over 4,200 rpm, and any metal striking the platter will quickly wipe out
any data on the platter.
If you hear a rumbling, gravelly
noise from your hard drive, the bearings in the drive motor or the motor
itself is probably failing. This won't
necessarily damage the data on your
drive, but if the motor fails completely, you won't be able to retrieve
this data without the expensive services of a company like DriveSavers.
Sometimes the failure is so severe
that your computer won't be able to
boot from your hard drive. This is
usually indicated by a message from
the BIOS (basic input output system).
The text varies according to the BIOS
vendor, but "Hard Disk Failure" or
"Hard Disk Controller Failure" are
two common error messages.
Don't Forget Your Backups
Although backing up your computer is considered a given by many
computer professionals, the average
consumer typically doesn't devote as
much attention as he should to backing up his computer. Unfortunately, it
seems as if there's a karmic relationship between backing up your computer and the likelihood of a drive
crash. After reading this article, the
Diagnosing the Crash — Physical
Failures
The first thing to do when you're
experiencing any of the above symptoms is determine whether you're experiencing an incipient problem with
the hard drive's physical components
or whether the problem is more critical. Physical problems can manifest
themselves in many ways, while still
Wednesdays 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
April 4 7:00 p.m.
April 11 5:30-7:30 p.m.
April 13 7:00 p.m.
April 20 7:00-9:00 p.m.
June 3 & 4, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
June 10 & 11 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
Computers-to-Schools work parties. To volunteer contact Orion Hill.
Board of directors meeting, Piner’s Nursing Home, 1800 Pueblo, Napa
Investment SIG, 23 Skipping Rock Way, Napa
Digital Photography SIG, Piner’s Nursing Home, Napa
General Meeting, Napa Senior Activity Center, 1500 Jefferson St., Napa
NVPCUG Used Computer Equipment Sale (location to be announced)
Napa County Computers and Electronics Recycling Event, Napa Valley College
Coping With Physical Failures
If your computer won't boot, the
first step is to try and boot the system
again. Listen carefully for any of the
aural clues we described, and watch
for any error messages that may be
displayed on your monitor. If you
NVPCUG Calendar
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 4
get one of the BIOS errors we described, unplug your computer and
make sure that the power and data
cables for your hard drive are properly connected. Due to its design, it's
rare for a power cable to become disconnected, but the ribbon cable carrying your data is not as securely connected. After checking these connections, try to reboot your computer
again. If the symptoms persist, you
might try replacing the ribbon cable
as well as using an alternate power
cable. Finally, you can try connecting
the ribbon cable to a different IDE
(Integrated Drive Electronics) or
SATA (Serial Advanced Technology
Attachment) connector on your computer's motherboard.
After exhausting these options, you
may still be faced with a drive that
won't boot. Essentially, your computer simply can't read data from the
drive. This means that System Restore and other applications that take
a snapshot of your hard drive won't
work, since they rely upon access to
your failed hard drive. Your next
course of action depends on both
your budget and your proficiency
with hardware. If the data on the
drive isn't essential, you may simply
want to replace the drive and reinstall
Windows and your applications. Be
sure to contact your vendor if your
computer is still under warranty.
If you can't afford to lose the data
on your drive, you have several options: freezing your hard drive, using
a company such as DriveSavers or
attempting to revive the drive with an
aftermarket tool such as IBM's Drive
Fitness Test (www.storage.ibm.com/
hdd/support/download.htm). This
tool will conduct a series of diagnostic evaluations to try and determine
what ails your drive. Although the
tool is limited to evaluating IBM
(now Hitachi) drives, most PC vendors can provide similar tools to assist you.
If you're able to boot your computer, but your drive is exhibiting the
abnormal behavior that we've described, take prompt action to avoid
losing your data. First, back up your
system if possible. Try to minimize
the number of times you restart your
computer, because your drive experiences the most stress when it is first
turned on and its motor spins up.
To back up your entire drive, you'll
want to use a tool like Norton's Ghost
($69.95; www.symantec.com). Ghost
can create an exact copy of your
drive. You'll need a second drive to
store this copy, but you can temporarily store it on a home network if you
don't have a second drive available.
Another option if you don't need to
back up your entire drive is to copy
the data from the failing drive to a
network share, to a removable hard
drive, or to CD or DVD. Regardless
of the final destination, you don't
want to delay backing up your system. If you're uncomfortable with
backing up your system, most computer stores will transfer data from
your old drive to a new one for a fee.
Although prices vary depending on
the store, you should expect to pay
from $50 to $100 for this type of service. If your computer is still under
warranty, your vendor may replace
the drive, but the company may require that you return the defective
one. Before doing so, make sure that
you've retrieved as much data from
the drive as possible.
Software Solutions
You may also encounter a situation
in which your drive is functioning
mechanically, but some or all of your
data is unavailable. Drives store data
about your data (metadata) in files
that can become corrupted or damaged. Windows uses this metadata to
find a specific file it needs for booting or when you try to open a file.
When this occurs, your best solution
is to try one of the many data recovery tools such as Stellar's Phoenix
FAT & NTFS (www.stellarinfo.com
$149) programs. Phoenix FAT &
NTFS can often retrieve lost data
from your drive. You can also
download a free evaluation version of
Phoenix. (You can't recover lost files
with the evaluation version, but you
can use it to see if your data is retrievable before investing $149)
Phoenix is designed to recover data
from a damaged or defective drive
and transfer it to another. To use this
type of utility, you must first install
the damaged drive as a second or
slave drive on a working computer
and then install Phoenix on the working computer. In addition to Stellar’s
Phoenix program, there are numerous
other applications, such as ERD
Commander (www.winternals. com),
that are aimed at professional users.
Although these applications are powerful, they may be too complex for
the typical user. With the high price
of such utilities, it’s worth checking
with your local computer store to see
what it would charge for a similar
service. The important thing to keep
in mind is that your drive is on its last
legs; don’t delay moving your data to
a new drive.
Inevitable But Not Unbearable
It’s not unusual for a hard drive to
run properly for years or even decades. Today’s drive manufacturers
have managed an incredible engineering feat in creating the spacious,
speedy drives that we take for
granted. Yet even the best mechanical devices eventually fail, and hard
drives are no exception. Fortunately,
when your drive begins to show its
age, salvaging your data need not be
a daunting task. □
Reprinted with permission from
Smart Computing.
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 5
Something For (Nearly) Nothing:
Outfit Your PC With Cost-Efficient Software
by Joseph Moran, from Smart Computing, March 2005 (Vol.16, Issue 3)
It doesn’t seem like that long ago
that the cost of a decently outfitted
PC—even an entry-level model—
would set you back many thousands
of dollars. These days, good-quality
basic PCs are available for as little as
$400, and even premium models can
be had for barely more than $1,500.
But being productive with a new
PC isn’t just about the hardware. The
real value of a PC lies in its software,
and depending on what capabilities
you need, you may find that the cost
of a handful of applications can approach or even exceed what you paid
for the computer in the first place.
And while most PCs come with several bundled name-brand applications,
they’re often little more than marketing vehicles, set to expire in a fairly
short period of time in the hopes that
you’ll soon ante up for the full-priced
version.
However, you don’t have to shell
out a pile of money for good applications. We’ll look at a number of software categories that offer fine lowcost choices, including shareware and
freeware that cost less than comparable products from brand-name publishers. All the applications highlighted are compatible with Windows
XP, and in most cases, with earlier
versions of Windows, as well. They
also come with uninstallers (except
where noted) so you can remove them
fairly easily.
Most of the programs listed are
developed by small firms or individuals, and their products may not always
offer the same breadth of features or
level of technical support provided by
comparable products from wellknown vendors. Having said that,
people generally use a relatively small
number of a program’s capabilities, so
most users likely will find these
choices suitable. And because even
the big vendors often provide limited
support these days, you may find a
small publisher or programmer offers
a level of personal service you’ll
never get from the big guys.
Anti-Spyware
Some of the software categories
we list may or may not be relevant to
your situation, but unless you plan on
never going online, anti-spyware utilities are something you’ll want to—
nay, must—have.
Lately, it seems that there are almost as many anti-spyware applications as there are spyware programs,
and some of the heavy-hitter publishers have recently thrown their hats
into the ring, either with standalone
utilities or as part of more comprehensive security suites (at $30 and up).
However, you don’t have to pay
much, if anything, to keep intrusive
and malevolent spyware at bay.
One is Ad-Aware SE from
Lavasoft (http://www.lavasoft.com).
This shareware utility is adept at
sniffing many of the pop-up generators, search toolbars, and other nefarious items that tend to attach themselves to your system over time. Better yet, there’s no time limit on the
shareware version, so you can continue using it indefinitely at no
charge. (That said, donations are accepted, and the company offers an
enhanced version of the utility for
$26.95.) One downside is that after
Ad-Aware identifies harmful or questionable items, you can’t bulk-select
them for deletion. Then again, indiscriminately removing uncertain components from your system can often
cause more problems than it solves, so
manually perusing the list isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Another worthy utility is Spybot
Search & Destroy (http://www.safernetworking.org). Like Ad-Aware, Spybot is free. (The author accepts donations via PayPal at his site.) Spybot
adds a component called TeaTimer
that helps keep you one step ahead of
spyware by monitoring your Windows Registry and configuration settings, which prompts you to confirm
any changes that are made behind the
scenes.
Antivirus
These days, spyware tends to make
headlines more than viruses. But that
doesn’t mean the threat from oldfashioned viruses has passed. Antivirus software is a must for any PC
you want to keep secure and in good
working order. An annual subscription to antivirus software from major
vendors such as McAfee or Symantec
will cost $40 or $50, but there are
shareware utilities that do a good job
for less.
A good option is AVG Anti-Virus
7.0 Professional from Grisoft, which
is available for a 30-day trial The
interface takes some getting used to,
but the utility scans system files and
e-mail for viruses and lets you schedule automatic scanning. Registering
AVG Anti-Virus 7.0 Professional
costs $33.30. That’s a bargain, but it’s
even more so considering that the license entitles you to program and virus definition updates for two years.
Grisoft has a freeware version of
AVG Anti-Virus that has most of the
capabilities of Professional but is licensed for home use and doesn’t provide support.
Firewall
Now that spyware and viruses are
taken care of, security is finished,
right? Well, not quite, because a software firewall can help protect you
from all kinds of Internet-related
threats.
The Sygate Personal Firewall Pro
(http:!www.sygate.com) can be
downloaded on a 30-day trial basis
and offers an easy-to-use interface
that lets you view your PC’s incoming
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 6
and outgoing communications and
running applications. It also provides
a feature that will let you test your
firewall settings via the Sygate Web
site, which can be handy if you make
any configuration changes and want
to ensure they don’t open any holes in
your protection. Registering Sygate
Personal Firewall Pro costs $39.95 a
year, or $47.95 if you want to be able
to get new versions of the software
during that time.
Another firewall worth looking
at is the Adorons Firewall from
Enigma Software Group (http://www.
enigmasoftwaregroup.com), a free
download with no registration fee.
The Enigma Firewall will monitor
your applications’ access to the Internet and let you create custom rules to
control Internet access to and from
your computer. It also has the ability
to determine access based on the time
of day or day of the week.
If you’re running WinXP, another
option is to be sure that you’ve installed Service Pack 2, which includes
a built-in firewall. The Windows Firewall is not as full-featured as most,
but it provides basic protection and
won’t cost you a dime.
Office Productivity Suite
Few PC users could get much done
without an office suite. You can use
Windows’ WordPad word processor
in a pinch, but it lacks basic features
such as a spell checker and word
count. Besides, there’s no similar
spreadsheet or presentation application built into the operating system.
A copy of Microsoft Office will
lighten your wallet significantly—
between $150 and $300, depending
on which components you need and
whether you qualify for upgrade pricing. But for a mere $79.95, you can
purchase the StarOffice 7 Office Suite
from Sun Microsystems. You can also
download a full-featured 90-day trial
version at http://www.sun.com/
software/star/staroffice.
The StarOffice user interface is
similar to that of Microsoft Office; in
fact, at a glance, you’d be hard-
pressed to tell the difference. This
suite offers word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database, drawing,
and HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)-editing capabilities. (It doesn’t
include an e-mail client such as Outlook, however.)
Each StarOffice module is compatible with current and past versions
of its Microsoft counterpart, and
StarOffice also includes a built-in
PDF (Portable Document Format)
writer, a feature Microsoft Office
doesn’t offer.
If $79.95 is too rich for your
blood, check out OpenOffice.org. This
suite is completely free and provides
most of the same features as StarOffice—in fact, both suites are based on
the same code and thus virtually identical. You do lose a few features in
OpenOffice.org—namely the database, some fonts, document filters,
and a collection of clip art—but most
users won’t miss them.
Both StarOffice and OpenOffice.org are compatible with Windows
98 or later (unlike Microsoft Office
2003, which runs on Windows 2000/
XP only). Both applications require
(and include) Java for full functionality.
PDF Creator
As mentioned earlier, both
OpenOffice.org and StarOffice include the ability to output a document
to PDF format. But if you’re already
using a productivity suite you’re
happy with, there are stand-alone PDF
converters available, as well.
Consider Easy PDF Creator, available for a 14-day trial period from
PDFDesk Informatique (http://
www.pdfdesk.com). This simple, unobtrusive utility installs as a printer on
your system and allows any Windows
application to output to a PDF document. Easy PDF Creator also lets you
control what attributes a PDF file will
receive (for example, to prevent editing or printing) and can passwordprotect PDF files with 128-bit encryption.
At $139, the registration fee for
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 7
Easy PDF Creator isn’t exactly
cheap, but it’s still less than Adobe
Acrobat Standard’s $299 price tag. In
addition, PDFDesk also offers a pure
freeware version available called
WinPDF. WinPDF limits you to creating PDF files one at a time (Easy
PDF Creator will automatically create files in batches, if desired) and
can’t convert an existing PDF file to
HTML the way Easy PDF Creator
can. (It also lacks an uninstaller.)
Photo Editing
For those of us with a penchant for
taking digital photographs, some kind
of image-editing application is practically de rigueur. Both Microsoft and
Adobe make excellent utilities, but
the cost for either is quite steep.
From a company called Power Of
Software comes Photo Pos Pro
(http://www.photopos.com), which
can be an economical alternative to
the aforementioned vendors’ offerings. It’s suited to both expert and
novice users—it includes many advanced editing features but also provides step-by-step instructions on how
to perform common tasks such as removing red-eye or changing an image
background. The application supports
numerous file types and can also convert between types. You can
download Photo Pos for a 30-day trial
period and register it for $29.90,
which gets you all future program
updates.
Screen Capture
Sometimes you may want to capture all or part of your Desktop image
to include in a document, and although Windows’ built-in tools make
this possible, they certainly don’t
make it easy.
One utility that does is CaptureWizPro from PixelMetrics (http://
www.pixelmetrics.com). This program
consists of a small and unobtrusive
toolbar that lets you capture a Desktop window, the entire screen, or anything in between. During the 30-day
trial period, CaptureWizaPro doesn’t
(Continued on page 8)
(Continued from page 7)
put a watermark on saved images as
some shareware screen capture tools
do. You can register CaptureWizPro
for $29.95. If you don’t need advanced features such as the ability to
capture the mouse pointer or extremely large areas that require scrolling, you can opt for CaptureWizLite
for $19.95.
Internet Service Provider
Major ISPs (Internet service providers) such as America Online,
EarthLink, and MSN charge more
than $20 a month for unlimited dialup access. However, there are cheaper
options that still won’t limit the
amount of time you can spend online.
One option is PeoplePC (http://
www.peoplepc.com). For $10.95 a
month, the company provides unlimited access, and unlike many ISPs,
you can try PeoplePC for 30 days
without providing your credit card
information. You also get a number of
security features, such as e-mail virus
scanning, pop-up control, and spam
filtering, along with 10 MB of e-mail
storage.
Another good low-cost ISP,
NetZero (http://www.netzero.com),
offers a similar unlimited access service, but for a buck less a month.
(NetZero’s $9.95 doesn’t offer a popup blocker, however.) NetZero also
offers a no-charge access plan. The
catch is that you’re limited to 10
hours of access per month, get only
2MB of e-mail storage, receive no
off-line access (i.e. Outlook Express)
to email, and have to look at ads. But
if you plan to go on-line sparingly,
you can’t beat the price.
For an additional $5 per month,
NetZero and PeoplePC both offer accelerated Internet access, which uses
compression and caching technology.
This upgraded access doesn’t make
files download any more quickly or
enable you to view higher-quality
streaming media, but it will speed up
the load time of many Web pages.
If you’d sooner have a root canal
than surf via dial-up, you may be able
to get broadband access from your
cable or phone company for as little
as $30 if you bundle it with other services. Check with your carrier for
details.
Web Editor
If your Internet plans include accessing Web sites and developing and
maintaining them as well, you can
shell out about $200 for Microsoft
FrontPage or twice that amount for
Macromedia Dreamweaver.
Before you do that, you might want
to check out Coffee Cup HTML Editor 2005 from Coffee Cup Software
(http://www.coffeecup.com), which is
available for a 30-day trial. It has a
few peculiarities such as some unnecessary sound effects and buttons that
say "Cool!" and "No Way" in place of
the standard OK or Cancel, but it’s as
easy to use as FrontPage and includes
helpful tutorials. And at $49, the registration fee for Coffee Cup HTML
Editor 2005 is less than either of the
aforementioned products.
That $49 will also buy you a copy
of SiteSpinner from Virtual Mechanics (http://virtualmechanics.com).
SiteSpinner is an HTML editor comparable to Coffee Cup, and it’s also
available as a trial download (but only
for 15 days of usage).
CD and DVD Burning
WinXP includes built-in support
for writing to CD-Rs (CDrecordables), but it doesn’t provide
any way to create recordable DVDs.
Roxio’s Easy Media Creator is a
good choice, but budget-minded users
have other options.
One is Easy CD/DVD Recorder
from Paragon Software Group (http://
www.paragon.ag ). It’s free to try and
uses a simple design. (There’s also an
expert mode for more advanced users.) Registering the software will set
you back only $24.95.
Another utility called Droppix Recorder (http://www.droppix.com) has
a flashier user interface—its wizards
feature an animated wizard character.
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 8
It also has many advanced features,
such as the ability to automatically
download and update the firmware for
many popular DVD-R (DVDrecordable) drives. The trial period
for Droppix Recorder is 30 days, and
the registration fee is 39.90 euros,
which at press time was equal to
about $52.
But Wait, There’s More
Although Windows includes software for things such as e-mail
(Outlook Express), Web browsing
(Internet Explorer), and digital audio
conversion and video playback
(Windows Media Player), there are
usually a few no-cost alternatives to
the built-in Windows components.
Web Browser
If IE’s security issues have you
feeling uneasy, give the popular
Mozilla Firefox (http://
www.getfirefox. com) a spin. It’s free
and impervious to most pop-up ads
and many other pests that tend to occur with IE.
Another excellent alternative
browser is Opera (http://
www.opera.com). You can download
the software free, but you’ll be forced
to look at ads unless you ante up a
$39 registration fee.
E-mail
If you feel much the same way
about Outlook Express as you do
about IE, check out Mozilla’s Thunderbird e-mail clien t (http//
www.mozilla.org). It doesn’t yet have
all the bells and whistles of OE, but
like Firefox, it is less susceptible to
the security issues that often plague
Microsoft’s products.
A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned
As you can see, you don’t have to
spend a lot on name-brand applications to be productive. By choosing
the software shown here, you can outfit a new PC for a fraction of the price
charged by major publishers. □
Reprinted with permission from
Smart Computing.
Linux Moves ln
By Orv Beach, Vice President of the Simi-ConejoLinux Users Group, orv©orvsplace.net
An “operating system” is the collection of software programs that runs
computers, including your PC. Once
upon a time it seemed inevitable that
everyone would use Microsoft software. How things can change! The
increasing utility and usability of
Linux have caused many people to
look at it seriously. Those looks have
led to an explosion in the use of
Linux. The robustness and openness
of this twelve-year-old software
“phenomenon” are well known in the
computing community. Uptimes of
over a year are considered unremarkable when you’re running Linux!
Originally used mostly as a server
platform, Linux has improved so
much that many companies are now
looking to deploy it on the desktop.
The GUI (Graphical User Interface)
has improved in usability and looks
(leading to the phrase “eye candy”).
Its increasing ease of use and simplified installation and configuration are
making it more attractive for home
desktops, too.
Unlike Microsoft OSs, many applications you’d need to buy come with
Linux. Things like OpenOffice, a complete suite of great desktop applications compatible with MS Office; a
great graphics program GIMP, to rival
Printshop, and many other applications all come with the CDs, at the
same low, low price! When you do a
Linux installation they’re all installed
and can be found on the menus for
your use.
Yes, Linux is inexpensive. It can
be had for as little as nothing, by just
downloading the ISO (CD) images
from the net. Or, if you’re relatively
inexperienced, buying a copy of a
Linux distribution at your local store
is a good way to start, as you get
some great documentation with the
CD’s.
There are specialized versions of
Linux, too. If you’re interesting in
trying Linux, you can try it without
even loading it on your hard disk.
Knoppix Linux is a Linux that runs
right off of a CD. You can get your
feet wet with Linux without making a
commitment. Knoppix Linux is found
at http://www.knoppix.net.
There are specialized versions of
Linux. Some are designed to run
strictly as a firewall for your household. They’re fast and easy to install
and configure. Search Google for
Smoothwall, lPCop, or ClarkConnect;
I use the latter, and it was fast and
easy to install and configure. I burned
a CD, booted with it, answered a couple of questions about what type of
incoming line I had (PPPoE, DHCP
or static lP?) and turned it loose.
Twenty minutes later it was up and
running, protecting my household
network!
What kind of hardware do you need
to run Linux? In the famous words of
Anonymous, “it depends.” If you just
want to use an old PC as a firewall,
you’ll need a PC with two Network
Interface Cards. The firewall will run
nicely on a Pentium 100 with 32
Megabytes of RAM and 500 Megabytes of disk space. On the other
hand, if you want to run a workstation, with a high-resolution screen
with deep color depth, it takes more
CPU power to move those windows
around on the screen. Still, for good
performance Linux doesn’t require as
much horsepower as WindowsXP (for
example). Good results can be had
with a 600 Mhz PC, 128 Megs of
RAM, and 3-4 Gigabytes of disk
space (a bit more if you go crazy and
click on “load everything”).
And if you don’t feel comfortable
with the idea yet of switching out
your whole operating system, you can
experiment with OpenSource software
in the comfort of your Windows computer: OpenOffice is available for
Win32 as well as Linux. (http://www.
OpenOffice.org.) GIMP, the Photoshop replacement, has been ported to
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 9
Windows. Http://www.wingimp.org
and GAIM, the GNU Instant Message
program that’s compatible with AIM,
is found at gaim.sourceforge.net. It’s
improved so much recently that many
people prefer it over AIM. It’s also
multilingual, speaking AIM, ICQ,
MSN, and several other instant messaging protocols.
And if you burn CDs with these
programs, feel free to share them with
your friends; they’re under the GPL
(GNU Public License), and can be
legally copied.
If you start working with Linux and
need help, there are many LUGs
(Linux Users Groups) around the
Southland. Their members are happy
to give you a hand. You can find your
local LUG at ssc.com:8080lglue/
gjoups/.
Additionally, the Southern California Linux Exposition, a nonprofit,
community organization, holds
SCALE (the SoCAl Linux Expo)
every year. SCALE is a show where
commercial Linux vendors, Linux
enthusiasts, and academia demonstrate the many facets and features of
Linux to a curious public. The first
SCALE was held last November, and
was so successful that the 600 attendees overflowed USC’s Davidson
Conference Center.
SCALE2X will be November
22nd, at the Los Angeles Convention
Center. For information, including
complete lists of speakers and sponsors, check socallinuxexpo.com.
Come and see why Linux is so attractive. But be warned — it’s seductive in its power and utility! □
Reprinted with permission from Smart
Computing. Visit smartcomputing.com/
groups to learn what Smart Computing
can do for you and your user group!
Digital Camera Scene Modes - What are all those symbols for?
By Larry Horn, Editor & Review Coordinator, [email protected]
PC Users Group of South Jersey, www.pcugsj.org
You went out and purchased a
digital camera for Christmas and now
you have to learn how to use it. The
instruction book mentions “Scene
Modes” and you see a lot of funny
icons on one of the dials of your camera, so what are they and what do they
do?
The first thing to remember is that
this is a still a camera, and you get a
picture by having the right amount of
light hit the film (or light sensor in a
digital camera). You do this by adjusting the size of the lens opening
(aperture), or the length of time the
shutter is open (shutter speed). How
you adjust the two of these in tandem
will make a difference in your picture.
Without going into a long photography course, I will briefly explain what
each of these does.
The Aperture controls how much
light is hitting the sensor at any instant and the depth of focus. If I want
everything in the picture to be in focus, both near and far objects, I will
choose a small aperture. If I want
selective focus, for example, taking a
portrait with a blurred background, I
adjust the camera the other way.
The Shutter Speed controls how
long the shutter is open, so the light
can get to the sensor. For a sporting
event where you want to stop the action, you would use a short shutter
speed, but if you want to blur the
movement to imply motion, you
would use a longer shutter speed. You
would also use a very long shutter
speed for night shots with motion you
want to capture, like fireworks.
How does this relate to Scene
modes? In its default setting, the camera guesses at the best exposure, adjusting the aperture and shutter speed
without really knowing what you are
taking a picture of. It goes for an average setting. By selecting a “scene” on
your camera, you are telling the camera what you are taking a picture of so
it can make a better choice of how to
set the camera. It generally gives
more accurate and pleasing results
than the default Auto mode.
What are some of the more common Scene Modes? I have listed them
below.
P Program or Auto: This is the default where the camera makes all of
the settings, based upon an average.
A Aperture Preference: Here you
set the aperture according to the effect
you want, and the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed.
S Shutter Preference: You set the
shutter speed—fast for sports or slow
for a motion-blur effect, and the camera sets the appropriate aperture.
M Manual: With this setting you
select everything with no help from
the camera. Reserve this for experienced users who want to get creative.
•
My Mode: This is an Olympus
term which lets you set everything
manually and then save those settings.
This is useful if you are frequently
taking pictures in a set location and
lighting setup. An example would be
if you frequently sell items on eBay
and want to include pictures, so you
set up a “stage” where you take your
pictures and want to easily remember
the correct settings.
• Movie: Many digital still cameras
can now take short movies, limited in
length by the size of the memory card.
They are low resolution and generally
limited to only 1 or 2 minutes or less.
•
Night: This sets a slow shutter
speed to capture the available light
and may also allow for the use of
flash for a subject close to the camera.
•
Landscape: This setting is selfexplanatory.
•
Action/Sports: This is really a
shutter priority mode, setting a high
shutter speed to freeze the action.
• Portrait: Used for taking pictures
of people with the background
blurred.
•
Play: This is usually a triangle,
similar to the play button on a CD
player. It is used to view the pictures
you have taken on the LCD screen.
•
Macro: You would use this setting to take close-up pictures.
Some cameras, like my Nikon
CoolPic 4100, do not have all of
these icons on the main dial, but
rather have a setting that says
SCENE and that brings up a menu on
the LCD screen where you can set
them. The Nikon even has scene
modes for Party/Indoor, Beach/
Snow, Sunset, Museum, Fireworks
and others. The Nikon also has an
additional feature they call Assist
Modes. These modes actually place
lines over the image in the LCD
screen to assist you in positioning the
subject in a more pleasing way and/
or line things up for panoramas or
architecture. You might even find a
Burst or Multi-Shot mode for firing
off a set number of pictures in .
rapid succession. I used this to get
some great action shots at a bull riding competition last year.
I suggest that you pick up a good
book on basic photography when you
get your camera. Even with the camera’s help, good pictures require the
picture taker to understand the basic
principles of photography and graphic
composition. We have reviewed several in the Cache. Digital or Film, it
(Continued on page 11)
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 10
RSS Feeds
By Greg Lenihan, Editor, Pikes Peak Computer Application Society, Colorado http://ppcompas.apcug.org/
posted, these sites are able to “feed”
their updates to you. All you need is a
news reader or what is called an RSS
“aggregator.” This is a program that
collects and organizes these feeds
periodically so you can read them
when you want. Then you can subscribe to these sites and automatically
get these new postings. It's like creating favorites or bookmarks, except
you don't have to continually go
there. They come to you.
I started by going to http://
reviews.cnet.com/4520-10088_75143460.html to read reviews and to
gather recommendations. I found
more options and more reviews of
readers at http://email.about.com/cs/
I believe I am an information
junkie. I get more e-mail and subscribe to more newsletters than I can
read. And yet I'm still searching for
more. A few months ago, around the
time of the presidential election, I
discovered the world of Blogs (or
Weblogs). These are on-line journals
where authors post opinions and commentary and often link to the articles
they are discussing. These often track
back to more Blogs, and more authors
worth reading, and before you know
it, you can spend a good deal more
time than you can afford searching for
obscure opinions and facts.
After collecting a number of these
sites as favorites in my browser, it
became difficult to keep up with
them. There are all kinds of subjects
to choose from, but my favorites are
news sites, political sites, and especially technology sites. Most of these
sites had icons, which I knew had
something to do with "feeds," so I
decided to find out how to obtain the
reader software necessary to subscribe to these feeds (or “channels”).
RSS stands for “Really Simple
Syndication” or “Rich Site Summary.” RSS is a text-based format
(XML, actually) that contains various
tagged items like a title, summary,
and a link to a URL. Instead of you
having to continually go from site to
site to see if there have been updates
There are many different readers;
some free, some not, with different
goals. Some are stand-alone, others
work with Internet Explorer, and one
worked with Outlook. But the one that
caught my eye was free and did not
require a software installation. Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com) is
Web-based, which means I can access it from any computer with an
Internet connection. I could be at
home, at work, on the road, and I
could still get my info fix.
The signup was quick at the
Bloglines.com site. I was just asked
for a username (e-mail address), password, time zone, and language. A
(Continued from page 10)
is still photography. Additional suggestions Check camera and printer
manufacturers’ Web sites. They frequently have lessons and tips.
Kodak is an example. Go to:
http://www.kodak.com, then click on
the Taking Great Pictures box on the
top of the page.
Olympus also has lessons that are
more geared toward their cameras for
examples, but they are still informative: (olympusdigitalschool.com/
photo_lessons/index.html).
I like a monthly magazine called
PC Photo (www.pcphotomag.com ).
PC World Magazine (pcworld.
com) has newsletters that are very
informative.(pcworld.com/resource/
newsletters). One of the newsletters
by Dave Johnson was the inspiration
for this article.
I hope I have given you some
enlightenment as to what scene modes
are and what they do. I encourage
everyone to read their camera’s man-
confirmation message was then sent
to my e-mail account. I simply
clicked on a link they provided, and I
was confirmed. In addition, the site
posts the top Blogs people enjoy, and
with the click of a button you can
subscribe. Of course, you are not limited to their selections. Any Blog or
site with an RSS feed can be added to
your aggregator. That is how you can
use those XLM icons. If you click on
one you'll see a lot of tagged text,
much like HTML. But it supplies the
link that enables you to subscribe by
pasting this link into your aggregator.
Once you have your aggregator
and get it running, all that is left is to
find sites or Blogs whose content you
are interested in. The site where you
obtain your aggregator will probably
offer you a number to choose from.
To get an idea of what is out there, go
t o http :// www. b log s treet. co m/
search.html and see the number of
topics to pick from. I frequently subscribe to something that looks interesting, and if it is not what I expected,
it only takes a matter of seconds to
unsubscribe. But actually right now, I
have more feeds than I have time to
read.
□
rssfeedreaders/tp/top_rss_windows.htm.
The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User
Groups brings this article to you.
ual to see what is available. Then use
the scene modes, because when you
tell the camera what you are doing, it
can use that information and do it for
you. You don’t have to know the details of how to adjust the settings. The
end result is more successful pictures
that you will be proud of. □
The Editorial Committee of the
Association of Personal Computer
User Groups brings this article to
you.
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 11
The New, the Best, and the Worst
Collected by Pim Borman
SW Indiana PC Users Group, Inc., Indiana
Alternatives Revisited
Last September I wrote about alternatives to Microsoft programs. I specifically recommended the free
(Mozilla) Foxfire as an alternative to
Internet Explorer, and OpenOffice.org
as a free replacement for MS Office. I
also recommended the Linux-based
Linspire operating system and programs library to replace MS Windows
and virtually eliminate risks from
MS-targeted viruses and worms. Linspire includes OpenOffice and Foxfire
as well as dozens of excellent multimedia, photo editing, productivity and
entertainment programs. Hundreds of
more specialized programs are available by subscription to its extensive
library. Linspire is the most userfriendly of the many Linux distributions available and requires absolutely
no knowledge of Linux on the part of
the user.
The column was reprinted in several other PCUG newsletters and finally caught the eye of Microsoft. I
received a letter from Aaron Coldiron,
manager of Mindshare, the MS connection with the User Group community. The letter is too long to reprint
here, but is available on our Web site
at http://swipcug.apcug.org/special/
MSalts.htm. Following are some
quotes from the letter and my comments.
Coldiron wrote: “I’m concerned
that some user groups are pushing
members to adopt software that they
ultimately won’t be happy with.”
Pushing? Heaven forbid! Suggesting
maybe.
Quote: “First, Windows XP Service Pack 2 is available on CD for
free, and has been since August. The
CD order form may be found here
<http://www.microsoft.com /
windowsxp/downloads/updates/sp2/
cdorder/en_us/default.mspx>.” Microsoft’s issuance of XP-SP2 to cor-
rect weaknesses in Windows XP was
not unlike a car company issuing a
recall – for free - for a potentially
dangerous brake design. Later in 2004
we received a supply of the CDs from
the Mindshare program that we distributed to our members who asked
for them.
Quote: “Also, you may not know
that Microsoft provides free technical
support for Service Pack 2 should a
user have any problems installing.”
That is good to know.
Quote: “Finally, you mention various incompatibilities with SP2. This
isn’t actually quite true. As you may
know, Microsoft eliminated certain
ways programs may access various
resources throughout the operating
system; we did this to tighten security
and close loopholes that aren’t officially supported programming functions. As a result, some programs
which aren’t designed to run under
the tighter security protocols of SP2
may not function correctly (or at all)
until the program is updated to a
more recent version. There is a list of
about 35 known incompatibilities on
Microsoft’s help site here <http://
support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?
kbid=884130&product=windowsxpsp
2>.” It is a point well taken, although
it doesn’t help if your peripheral or
program suddenly doesn’t work any
longer.
Mr. Coldiron appended a copy of a
letter he wrote earlier in response to a
review of OpenOffice. In it he writes:
“For instance, we created the Works
Suite of applications for consumers
who don’t need to do spreadsheet
functions and can use the free Outlook Express. Works 2005 can be
bought for as little as $69 at major
internet shopping sites.” Well, yes,
but OpenOffice is free, and in addition
to its MS Word-compatible word
processor it includes an Excel-
compatible spreadsheet, a PowerPoint-compatible presentation manager, and simple database and drawing features. And as far as compatibility is concerned, I notice that Word
2002 needs a conversion utility to display older versions of Word, including some available in Works.
Also: “Microsoft Office is the gold
standard in interoperability. I’m sure
you could think of a long list of features you love given a few minutes.
Here’s a few of the ones I like. As I
type this I’m using Word as my e-mail
editor, allowing me to use advanced
word processing functions if I want.
Icons appear next to names in the
“to” bar telling me if they are on or
offline and allowing me to instant
message them. I use OneNote which
allows me to drop in meeting dates
and times directly into my note files. I
can also send my scribbles from OneNote as the text of an e-mail – in my
own handwriting if I want. I can copy
and paste PowerPoint Slides whole
into other applications like e-mail.
For that matter, I can drop Excel
spreadsheets into PowerPoint and
even link them so that the PPT file
updates automatically if I change the
spreadsheet in Excel.” Impressive,
but few of us need that sort of software acrobatics.
Furthermore: “Several studies have
shown that Microsoft Office has a
lower total cost of ownership than its
free or open source competitors. It
has a higher up front cost, but the
additional productivity and lower
support cost more than offset the
higher up front cost.” Maybe for a
corporate office, but not for individuals.
Finally: “I really hope that consumers choose the suite that best fits
their needs, whether it is MS Office
2003, Works 2005, or one of our
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 12
competitors’ products. I just wanted
to point out that it isn’t just a case of
the price out of the box. There are a
lot more factors to consider.” I agree.
All of that without fear of being attacked by worms and viruses. Seeing
is believing – I add a photo taken by
my wife Pat.
The Bottom Line
Few will argue that Microsoft Windows, with its built-in Internet features, is the Cadillac of operating systems. Not everyone needs or can afford a Cadillac and a less expensive
brand may be preferable, maybe even
a foreign make. The customer has the
choice, based on his pocketbook and
his needs. When shopping for a computer from a major manufacturer other
than Apple, it is impossible to avoid
having to pay for the installation of
the Microsoft Windows operating system and usually at least one of its
software suites. Last September I
wrote that Dell would start selling
computers, in Europe only, without an
operating system, leaving it to the
buyer to add his own. It never happened. According to rumor, Microsoft
threatened Dell that it would no
longer make Windows available at an
especially low, OEM price. That may,
or may not, be true.
Currently only a few minor, obscure computer manufacturers, often
outside the U.S., sell systems with
one of the Linux distributions preinstalled, or nothing at all. You can order one on the Wal-Mart web site and
find others through links on the Linspire or Xandros Web sites. Of
course, you can also go to a local
computer builder, or build your own.
It may take a long time to break
the Microsoft monopoly in the U.S.,
where the Microsoft Windows and
Office programs are deeply entrenched and anti-trust laws seem to
be a quaint footnote to history. But
overseas, and especially in rapidly
developing countries such as China,
there is greater open-mindedness to
This article represents only the opinions of the author and not necessarily
those of the Southwestern Indiana PC
Users Group, Inc.
http://swipcug.apcug.org/
□
The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User
Groups brings this article to you.
Pim Borman
ward new ideas, and Linux is making
rapid inroads. It also helps that the
open-source nature of Linux allows
foreign governments to make sure the
software doesn’t contain backdoors
for access by spy organizations.
I own three Wi-Fi connected computers. The newest, a 3.1GHz Dell
Inspiron laptop uses Windows XP
Pro. I update the operating system,
MS Office, spyware, virus, and firewall programs with great regularity. I
use it mostly for photo editing and
financial programs, as well as to
maintain the SWIPCUG Web site,
because I am familiar with the programs. My older desktop, a 600 MHz
Dell Dimension runs Windows ME
but is mostly used to evaluate various
Linux distributions on a dual-boot
basis.
The computer I use most is an old
600 MHz Celeron Inspiron laptop
running Linspire 4.5 – Linux laptop
edition. It sits on a small roll-around
desk stand next to the La-Z-Boy in
my den. It connects wirelessly with
the router on the other end of the
house. At any time I can check e-mail,
get the latest news from all over the
world, look up crossword puzzle clues
with Google, maintain my checkbook
file, and play FreeCell or BreakOut.
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 13
Tech News
By Sue Crane, Big Bear Computer
Club, California
Microsoft Authentication Changes
Again
Customers who find themselves
reinstalling Windows XP should be
ready for a headache: Microsoft will
no longer support activation over the
Internet for PCs with Windows preinstalled. Intended to curb stealing
and selling of Certificates of Authenticity, the new security measure will
initially be limited to the Windows
XP software preinstalled on systems
shipped by the top 20 PC sellers.
New Laser Chip
Intel has created a chip containing
eight continuous Raman lasers by
using fairly standard silicon processes
rather than the somewhat expensive
materials and processes required for
making lasers today. The lasers emit
a continuous stream of light that can
then be modulated, or chopped up,
into a stream of impulses that can
represent data. Cheap optical parts
could not only lead to faster computers but also to less expensive and
more accurate medical equipment..
Browser Doohickeys, Doodads & Gizmos
by Vinny La Bash, [email protected]
Member of the Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., Florida www.spcug.org
Most people change their surrounding to suit themselves. Your desk probably has some pictures that trigger
pleasant memories. You may have added some new plants
to your garden. Whether you have engaged in something
as monumental as redecorating your house or as trivial as
changing the default ring on your cell phone, your general
point is to make your surroundings look and act they way
you want them to, not the way someone else thinks they
should.
Tweaking your internet browser isn't any different. Due
to the number of software add-ons available, you can
change or add many different features. Some allow you to
change the appearance of the interface; others help you to
retrieve information more quickly. Several of them may
even make using the Internet easier. Despite their sophistication, most install quickly, and the majority of them are
free.
Almost everyone who searches the Web uses Google,
Yahoo or both. There are many other search engines, but
these two dominate the bulk of the traffic. Switching between the two sites gets old quickly, so why not try
Google's toolbar? It maintains a link to Google's Web site,
allowing instant access to many of Google's features, no
matter where else you may be on the Web. You can
search, spell-check, block pop-ups, even turn UPS tracking numbers into Web links.
Yahoo's toolbar has similar features, and it lets you
search on-line yellow pages. You can check local movie
and TV schedules. Yahoo has a nice e-mail element, and
it's very strong in financial features. You also get an antispyware tool.
Yahoo's toolbar is easy to find. Go to http:/www.yahoo.
com. Look toward the upper right-hand corner of your
browser window, click on the link, and follow directions.
For Google's entire bag of goodies, direct your browser
to http://www.google.com, and then click on the “more”
button. You may need to scroll down the list of other tools
to get to it. When you're finished, make a trip to http://
labs.google.com and enjoy the feast. This is Google's technology sandbox. These are prototype projects Google is
currently working on, meaning they are not quite finished
yet. Even if you're not particularly adventurous, try the
new Map feature. You may be so impressed you'll never
use Mapquest again.
I do a lot of research on-line, and I have become a fan of
Net Snippets because I can straightforwardly save a snapshot of a Web page or any part of the page. The utility lets
me save these "snippets" to organize for off-line viewing.
This eliminates the need to search for the same page multiple times, and it is a godsend if the site ever goes off-line.
Net Snippets is the kind of tool you never knew you
needed, but now you can't live without it. There is no one
thing that grabs you, but a host of little things like the ability to highlight and annotate that make Net Snippets a
"must have" tool. Get it at http://www.netsnippets.com.
RSS readers are rapidly emerging from obscurity to necessity. Depending on whom you ask, RSS stands for
"Rich Site Summary", "RDF Site Summary", or "Really
Simple Syndication." RSS is a dialect of XML, and its
"geek-speak" nature has probably contributed to its slow
acceptance; but its benefits are undeniable. The technology notifies you whenever something on your favorite
Web sites changes.
The original RSS was designed by Netscape as a format
for building portals of headlines to mainstream news sites.
It has rapidly evolved into something far different and
much more useful. Get news headlines, stock quotes or
alerts when an item you've been waiting for is available.
You can save yourself a lot of time because you don't have
to visit individual web sites to see what's new. A large bonus is that RSS feeds can't be tampered with. What that
means is they are immune from attacks by spyware, viruses, Trojans, and other assorted evil-intentioned software.
In Windows, Pluck is the most popular RSS add-on. It's
easily downloaded from http://www.pluck.com. If you're
still using the basic plain vanilla browser, try at least one
of these tools to boost your web experiences. □
Copyright 2005. This article is from the April 2005 issue of the
Sarasota PC Monitor, the official monthly publication of the
Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., P.O. Box
15889, Sarasota, FL 34277-1889. Permission to reprint is
granted only to other nonprofit computer user groups, provided
proper credit is given to the author and our publication. For
further information about our group, email: [email protected]/
Web: http://www.spcug.org/.
The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups brings this article to you.
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 14
NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 15
Tech News
By Sue Crane, Editor, Big Bear Computer Club, CA
Molecular Computer Would Be Faster, Smaller and
Cheaper.
Researchers from Hewlett-Packard have created devices called crossbar latches that can be used to perform
calculations in microprocessors, the same function silicon transistors now have. Crossbar latches--which consist of a grid of microscopic wires linked by molecules
at their intersections--are far smaller and, potentially, far
cheaper to make because they are produced using processes more like inkjet printing than the etching processes required for today's chips. HP has already shown
how crossbar latches can be used in memory. "This is
the final piece of the puzzle for building a molecular
computer," said Phil Kuekes, senior computer architect
and primary inventor at HP's Quantum Science Research (QSR) unit.
Faster Hard Drives
Dataslide proposes to abandon hard drive rotation in
favor of vibration. A new prototype drive has a rectangular plate coated with magnetic storage material. A
second plate hovers above with an array of lithographed
heads on its surface. The lower plate vibrates from side
to side at 600 times per second, a process that delivers
data 10 times faster than a 15,000 rpm rotating disk
drive. Dataslide envisions tweaking the product to increase the vibration to 100,000 a second -- equivalent to
a disk rotating at 12 million rpm.
Your Cell Phone Could Infect Your Car!
A report by IBM Security Intelligence Services predicts that viruses spreading to mobile phones, PDAs and
wireless networks could infect the embedded computers
that increasingly are used to run basic automobile functions. The average new car runs 20 computer processors
and about 60 megabytes of software code, raising more
opportunities for malfunctions.
New Technology Could Bring Sight to the Blind
A small camera mounted on spectacles and connected to the optical nerve could restore the sight of
thousands of people suffering from deterioration of the
retina, European scientists said Monday. The technology
could also help people with the retinal disease macular
degeneration, which can lead to loss of fine-detail sight
and which is one of the leading causes of visual impairment in the United States. A camera mounted on glasses
sends images to an electronic device implanted behind
the eye and stimulates the optic nerve, which passes the
information to the brain.
Edible Origami by Canon?
The Canon i560 inkjet printer doesn't just print
menus for the Moto restaurant in Chicago; it prints
menus you can eat. Homaru Cantu, the executive chef,
prints menus and many other items onto edible starchbased paper. Instead of using the typical CMYK inks-cyan, magenta, yellow, and black--Cantu has filled the
cartridges with edible solutions. Think SSSB: sweet,
sour, bitter, and salty. Cantu uses combinations of these
four liquids on the edible paper to create dishes unlikely
to be found anywhere else, such as "baked map of
Alaska" and a type of maki sushi that he wraps in flavored paper bearing images of sushi, instead of seaweed.
Antispam Tools Initiate New HIV Vaccines
At the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic
Infections in Boston, workers for Microsoft Research
said they have been using database and antispam software to identify previously unseen patterns in genetic
mutations of HIV. The researchers said their work illustrates how medical experts can use machine-learning,
data-mining and other software methods to sort through
millions of strains of HIV and improve vaccines. By
seeking out genetic patterns that could be used to train a
person's immune system to fight the virus, they are already making headway, the researchers said. The group
reported that the first of its proposed vaccine designs is
already undergoing laboratory testing. □
The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups brings this article to you.
Napa Valley Personal Computer Users Group
P.O. Box 2866
Napa, CA 94558-0286
Address Service Requested
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NVPCUG Computer News, April 2005, Page 16
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