David Snell

Microsoft Eats Humble Pie

Microsoft eats humble pie and announces Windows XP support to be extended to 13 years!

Microsoft took a large bite of humble pie this week, announcing that it will continue to support Windows XP until 2014. That’s an unprecedented 13 years from the operating system’s release, a new record for Microsoft’s support of an operating system. It will take the form of critical updates and security patches, but there was no mention of major service pack releases.

Hinting at Microsoft’s embarrassment over the announcement, the news was released via a letter sent from Microsoft senior VP Bill Veghte to customers, rather than a formal press release. Within the letter, Mr Veghte claimed that “Our ongoing support for Windows XP is the result of our recognition that people keep their Windows-based PCs for many years”. Sounds nice, but the truth isn’t quite as charitable. The fact is that Vista simply hasn’t penetrated businesses as quickly as Microsoft would have liked, with many choosing to stick with the proven stability and lower hardware demands of Windows XP.

In an extraordinary case of double speak, Mr Veghte confirmed that as of June 30, Windows XP will no longer be available at retail, and will also no longer be licensed directly to major PC manufacturers. Yet in the same breath, gave the cryptic explanation that “…customers who still need Windows XP will be able to get it.” (In the absence of any further explanation from Microsoft officials, we’re sure BitTorrent will fulfil many people’s needs for years to come.)

A major segment that is relying heavily upon this continued access to Windows XP is the ultra low-cost PC market. The flagship ultra low-cost PC, Asus’s Eee PC, is a prime example of why – it simply doesn’t have the oomph to power the resource-hungry Vista. With this market set to boom, the only other alternative – shipping with Linux – obviously doesn’t meet with Microsoft’s plans of continued global domination. I’m still trying to figure out how these low-cost manufacturers are going to “be able to get ” XP. Shifty guys wearing XP-laden trench coats, offering their illicit wares on street corners and back alleys?

For the immediate future, it looks like we’ll have to wait for Vista’s successor (currently code named Windows 7) to see any real improvement in the Microsoft operating system. Thanks Microsoft – and the beat goes on!

To add insult to injury….. Pirated Windows more impressive than the real thing!
The latest version of TinyXP has hit the pirate boards. SP3-integrated and with more tools than you can poke a stick at, it gives XP a new lease on life. Shame it’s illegal.One of the annoyances with installing a fresh copy of Windows XP these days is that the driver set is six years out of date, and there’s been a LOT of new hardware emerge since then. It’s one thing to install the latest graphics driver, but it’s another to have to set up everything from the chipset to the storage drivers. Sometimes you feel that after having spent half an hour installing XP, you’re spending twice that much time again to just get it functional.

Check out the rest of the story:
http://apcmag.com/pirated_windows_more_impressive_than_the_real_thing.htm

Bill Gates is Moving On

The End of an Era?
For more than 30 years, Bill Gates has been at the helm of Microsoft. All that changes as of Monday June 30th, 2008.

In some respects, this week won’t be terribly different for Bill Gates than the previous 1,712 weeks he has spent working full-time at Microsoft, the company he co-founded as a teenager. The 52-year-old icon has some one-on-one meetings scheduled with a few of his top technical executives. He has some customer meetings. And, as often happens, he’ll go to the television studio on Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus to tape a few messages for events he won’t be able to attend. In addition, he says, “I hope to write a few memos.” But normalcy will be an illusion. Everybody knows that when the week ends, Bill Gates will walk out of his office for the last time as someone on the clock for Microsoft. (On that final day, the routine will be shredded, and the staff has planned some internal commemorative events.) He’ll take a break this summer (including a sojourn to the Beijing Olympics), and beginning in September the new focus of his work life will be the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization he began with his wife in 2000. With a current $37.3 billion endowment, it’s the world’s richest philanthropic institution.

Gates leaves at a challenging time for Microsoft, but this is the final step in a painstakingly planned process that began four years ago. It was spring 2004 when the Gateses began discussing the possibility that if Bill increased his role at the foundation—making as big a donation in brainpower as he has in dollars—he could save or improve many lives. Gates formalized the move in June 2006, when Microsoft announced a two-year transition period scheduled to end, well, right now. “I don’t know of any retirement that’s been as carefully thought through,” says Gates.

The paradoxical aspect of this period has been that while Gates has consciously been stepping back in some areas (almost no one reports to him, and he has limited his tech focus to a few key areas like search and the next version of Windows), his passion for the software world is as intense as ever. “Bill comes to every meeting like he’s going to be here for the next 10 years,” says CEO Steve Ballmer. So no one really knows how much culture shock will set in when Gates leaves the campus this Friday. Though he will remain the chairman of its board of directors—assuring him a huge voice in any big decisions—and plans to spend the equivalent of one day a week on company business, the idea that he won’t be there seems unreal. Microsoft without Bill Gates? It does not compute.

Gates does have some specific ideas, big and small. At the suggestion of Warren Buffett—who will donate billions from his fortune to the foundation over the next few years—Gates intends to work on an annual letter, in the same spirit as Buffett’s yearly missive to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. To learn more about areas the foundation is working on, he is doing intensive reading on education and science, and has monitored online college courses in geology, history and microparticle physics. He is fully engaged on several problems already. “People know I have a particular fascination with AIDS and malaria,” he says. One obsession is an AIDS vaccine, and Gates was disappointed when a trial indicated that a promising candidate for a solution, made by Merck, was not effective. Discussing the vaccine, an intense Gates cites research that implies that a variation might be more effective. Clearly, he’s viewing the process the same way he views software development—maybe version 3.0 will do the trick.

Gates understands that his identity as a philanthropist will be drastically different than his role as the king of software. “We don’t have a CES on malaria, so you don’t get 50,000 people converging on a city and saying, ‘Oh, Bill’s keynote on malaria is coming’,” he says. He realizes that working on the issues of the foundation could make him more of a lightning rod than he was as the head of the digital Borg. “The new world is more controversial than the old world,” he says. “We do family planning. We fund research on crops, and some people think that you shouldn’t take science to help the poor people. This whole thing about which operating system somebody uses is a pretty silly thing versus issues involving starvation or death.”

Treading on uncertain ground like that underlines the difficulties Gates may face in leaving the job he has loved so much. “It may be more of a change than he thinks,” says Paul Allen, recalling his own departure from Microsoft in 1983. “You don’t always realize how dramatic that transition is going to be when people aren’t depending on your decisions day by day.”

“In no sense would I say, ‘Oh, I’m making a sacrifice because it’s something my mother told me I ought to do’,” Gates says. “I am doing something my mother told me I ought to do, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. And I feel good about the impact as well.” As for Microsoft, there’s always e-mail.

Here’s a funny You Tube Video of Bill’s final days.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr5w3X4R8b4

FIREFOX v3 RC1 now available

Mozilla Corp., of Mountain View California has released Version 3 of their very popular Firefox browser. This update is more secure, easier to use and more personal. Among Firefox 3’s new security features is one-click access to site info to allow users to quickly see information on who owns a given Web site and whether the connection is protected from eavesdropping.

What’s New in Firefox 3
Firefox 3 is based on the Gecko 1.9 Web rendering platform, which has been under development for the past 33 months. Building on the previous release, Gecko 1.9 has more than 14,000 updates including some major re-architecting to provide improved performance , stability, rendering correctness, and code simplification and sustainability. Firefox 3 has been built on top of this new platform resulting in a more secure , easier to use, more personal product with a lot more to offer website and Firefox add-on developers.

More Secure
• One-click site info: Click the site favicon in the location bar to see who owns the site and to check if your connection is protected from eavesdropping. Identity verification is prominently displayed and easier to understand. When a site uses Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates, the site favicon button will turn green and show the name of the company you’re connected to. ( Try it here! )

• Malware Protection: malware protection warns users when they arrive at sites which are known to install viruses, spyware, trojans or other malware. ( Try it here! )

• New Web Forgery Protection page: the content of pages suspected as web forgeries is no longer shown. ( Try it here! )

• New SSL error pages: clearer and stricter error pages are used when Firefox encounters an invalid SSL certificate. ( Try it here! )

• Add-ons and Plugin version check: Firefox now automatically checks add-on and plugin versions and will disable older, insecure versions.

• Secure add-on updates: to improve add-on update security, add-ons that provide updates in an insecure manner will be disabled.

• Anti-virus integration: Firefox will inform anti-virus software when downloading executables.

• Vista Parental Controls: Firefox now respects the Vista system-wide parental control setting for disabling file downloads.

• Effective top-level domain (eTLD) service better restricts cookies and other restricted content to a single domain.

• Better protection against cross-site JSON data leaks .

Easier to Use
• Easier password management: an information bar replaces the old password dialog so you can now save passwords after a successful login.

• Simplified add-on installation: the add-ons whitelist has been removed making it possible to install extensions from third-party sites in fewer clicks.

• New Download Manager: the revised download manager makes it much easier to locate downloaded files, and you can see and search on the name of the website where a file came from. Your active downloads and time remaining are always shown in the status bar as your files download.

• Resumable downloading: users can now resume downloads after restarting the browser or resetting your network connection.

• Full page zoom: from the View menu and via keyboard shortcuts, the new zooming feature lets you zoom in and out of entire pages, scaling the layout, text and images, or optionally only the text size. Your settings will be remembered whenever you return to the site.

• Podcasts and Videocasts can be associated with your media playback tools.

• Tab scrolling and quickmenu: tabs are easier to locate with the new tab scrolling and tab quickmenu.

• Save what you were doing: Firefox will prompt users to save tabs on exit.

• Optimized Open in Tabs behavior: opening a folder of bookmarks in tabs now appends the new tabs rather than overwriting.

• Location and Search bar size can now be customized with a simple resizer item.

• Text selection improvements: multiple text selections can be made with Ctrl/Cmd; double-click drag selects in “word-by-word” mode; triple-clicking selects a paragraph.

• Find toolbar: the Find toolbar now opens with the current selection.

• Plugin management: users can disable individual plugins in the Add-on Manager.

• Integration with Windows: Firefox now has improved Windows icons, and uses native user interface widgets in the browser and in web forms.

• Integration with the Mac: the new Firefox theme makes toolbars, icons, and other user interface elements look like a native OS X application. Firefox also uses OS X widgets and supports Growl for notifications of completed downloads and available updates. A combined back and forward control make it even easier to move between web pages.

• Integration with Linux: Firefox’s default icons, buttons, and menu styles now use the native GTK theme.

More Personal
• Star button: quickly add bookmarks from the location bar with a single click; a second click lets you file and tag them.

• Tags: associate keywords with your bookmarks to sort them by topic.

• Location bar & auto-complete: type in all or part of the title, tag or address of a page to see a list of matches from your history and bookmarks; a new display makes it easier to scan through the matching results and find that page you’re looking for. Results are returned according to their frecency (a combination of frequency and recency of visits to that page) ensuring that you’re seeing the most relevant matches. An adaptive learning algorithm further tunes the results to your patterns!

• Smart Bookmarks Folder: quickly access your recently bookmarked and tagged pages, as well as your more frequently visited pages with the new smart bookmarks folder on your bookmark toolbar.

• Places Organizer: view, organize and search through all of your bookmarks, tags, and browsing history with multiple views and smart folders to store your frequent searches. Create and restore full backups whenever you want.

• Web-based protocol handlers: web applications, such as your favorite webmail provider, can now be used instead of desktop applications for handling mailto: links from other sites. Similar support is available for other protocols (Web applications will have to first enable this by registering as handlers with Firefox).

• Download & Install Add-ons: the Add-ons Manager (Tools > Add-ons) can now be used to download and install a Firefox customization from the thousands of Add-ons available from our community add-ons website . When you first open the Add-ons Manager, a list of recommended Add-ons is shown.

• Easy to use Download Actions: a new Applications preferences pane provides a better UI for configuring handlers for various file types and protocol schemes.

Improved Platform for Developers
• New graphics and font handling: new graphics and text rendering architectures in Gecko 1.9 provides rendering improvements in CSS, SVG as well as improved display of fonts with ligatures and complex scripts.

• Color management: (set gfx.color_management.enabled on in about:config and restart the browser to enable.) Firefox can now adjust images with embedded color profiles.

• Offline support: enables web applications to provide offline functionality (website authors must add support for offline browsing to their site for this feature to be available to users).

• A more complete overview of Firefox 3 for developers is available for website and add-on developers.

Improved Performance
• Speed: improvements to our JavaScript engine as well as profile guided optimizations have resulted in continued improvements in performance. Compared to Firefox 2, web applications like Google Mail and Zoho Office run twice as fast in Firefox 3, and the popular SunSpider test from Apple shows improvements over previous releases.

• Memory usage: Several new technologies work together to reduce the amount of memory used by Firefox 3 over a web browsing session. Memory cycles are broken and collected by an automated cycle collector, a new memory allocator reduces fragmentation, hundreds of leaks have been fixed, and caching strategies have been tuned.

• Reliability: A user’s bookmarks, history, cookies, and preferences are now stored in a transactionally secure database format which will prevent data loss even if their system crashes.

The only caveat affecting Microsoft Windows users thus far:
• A Windows Media Player (WMP) plugin is not provided with Windows Vista and some other versions of Windows. To view Windows Media content, you must install this plugin by following these instructions . After installing you may need to check for Windows Updates before the plugin will show content properly.

Windows Operating Systems
Windows 2000
Windows XP
Windows Server 2003
Windows Vista

Minimum Hardware
Pentium 233 MHz ( Recommended: Pentium 500MHz or greater)
64 MB RAM ( Recommended: 128 MB RAM or greater)
52 MB hard drive space

Mac Operating Systems
Mac OS X 10.4 and later 

Minimum Hardware
Macintosh computer with an Intel x86 or PowerPC G3, G4, or G5 processor
128 MB RAM ( Recommended: 256 MB RAM or greater)
200 MB hard drive space 

Linux Software Requirements
Please note that Linux distributors may provide packages for your distribution which have different requirements.

Linux kernel – 2.2.14 or higher with the following libraries or packages:
glibc 2.3.2 or higher
XFree86-3.3.6 or higher
gtk+2.0 or higher
fontconfig (also known as xft)
libstdc++5

Minimum Hardware
Intel Pentium II or AMD K6-III+ 233 MHz CPU ( Recommended: 500MHz or greater)
64 MB RAM ( Recommended: 128 MB RAM or greater)
52 MB hard drive space

One Laptop Per Child now with Windows XP

OLPC Adds Windows XP To XO Laptop

Microsoft said Thursday that it has reached a deal with the One Laptop Per Child project to make its Windows XP operating system available on the group’s low-cost notebook computers for distribution to students in developing countries.

“By supporting a wide variety of affordable computing solutions for education that includes OLPC’s XO laptop, we aim to make technology more relevant, accessible, and affordable for students everywhere,” Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, said in a statement.

Microsoft will charge OLPC a highly reduced Windows XP licensing fee of $3 per unit under a program it calls Unlimited Potential. OLPC’s goal is to make the XO widely available to students in poor nations for a total price of less than $100.

OLPC said it now plans to offer XO models with both the Windows XP and Linux operating systems. “Today’s announcement, coupled with future plans for a dual-boot version of the XO laptop, enhances on our ability to deliver on this vision,” OLPC chairman and founder Nicholas Negroponte said in a statement.

Negroponte added that OLPC would work with “third parties” to port the XO’s open source Sugar user interface to Windows XP. Sugar features numerous tools and miniapplications that students can use to create content and music, interact with friends and teachers, and browse the Web.

The plan isn’t without controversy.

Sugar was developed by Sugar Labs. Founder Walter Bender recently left the OLPC project over differences with Negroponte concerning the project’s direction. The rift could hinder OLPC’s plans to port Sugar to Windows XP. “There’s a lot of engineering and it’s not clear that it’s the best use of engineering resources,” Bender stated on Friday.

However, some educational officials said adding Windows to the OLPC XO is a practical move. Windows support on the XO device means that our students and educators will now have access to more than computer-assisted learning experiences. They will also develop marketable technology skills.

Microsoft said OLPC is planning to start testing Windows XP on the XO starting in June. Here’s a picture of what the XP Laptop looks like.

It’s still not clear as to why Microsoft will be licensing their “discontinued” operating system in an effort to help those less fortunate. Perhaps, it’s the means to get their hooks into young computer users who will be forced to continue using Windows based technologies since it is what they were originally introduced too and understand how to operate. Anyone for world domination?

One Laptop Per Child
http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php

The XO Laptop
http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/explore.php

Would you like to donate to the OLPC cause? Bring the light of learning to a child who would otherwise be left without adequate access to information and education with a donation of one or more XO laptops. A donation of $200 will pay for and deliver one XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, $400 will pay for and deliver two XO laptops, and so on. Your entire contribution will be tax-deductible.

The mission and goal of OLPC is to provide a laptop that costs $100 to manufacture. The current “real cost” is around $180 per unit – still an excellent value for the money.
http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/give-a-laptop.php

User Names and Passwords: How to Manage the Keys to the Kingdom

With all the sites that require sign-in passwords — and all the havoc that could be visited upon your life should some thief crack them — effective account access management is a top job for the savvy computer user.

Naturally, you should avoid the obvious choices when setting a password. However, you should also never be obvious when setting up that password reminder failsafe device that asks you for Mom’s maiden name.

Creating and remembering strong passwords — like backing up the important files on our computers’ — is something many of us know we should do, but never get around too.

Who can blame you? Having to come up with user names and passwords for virtually everything we do on a computer is enough to tempt anyone to use “Magic123” over and over. I’ve even witnessed people who keep lists of passwords taped to their computer screens.

With a little time and some discipline, you can create strong passwords and do a better job managing them. Of course, no matter how many precautions you take, no password is ever 100 percent secure. By the same token, you don’t have to follow all the advice in this column to avoid password theft.

Be Obscure, Be Weird
By now, most people know that you shouldn’t use personal information such as your name, birth date or address in a password. It’s also not a good idea to use something obvious such as “1234” or “password.” Passwords should be at least seven or eight characters in length. The longer the password, the stronger it is.Next, choose a password that would appear as nothing more than a random list of characters to someone else. Use both uppercase and lowercase letters and, if possible, use punctuation marks from all over the keyboard.

One technique is to take a phrase that means something to you or a line from a favorite song and create a password by taking the first letter of each word of that phrase or line. Make sure to add in some symbols. For instance, you could replace an “a” with “@” but use this technique sparingly in your password.

Although you should never use the same password to secure highly sensitive information on more than one site, it’s probably OK to use the same password for low-risk areas, such as news or sports Web sites.

Get Creative
You should never give out real information in the password helper sections. So for your mother’s maiden name, make up a name you can remember. Use your favorite vacation spot instead of your place of birth.  Substitute the name of a pet from a TV show or movie for your real pet.

This may seem a little extreme, but if an online vendor that’s storing your personal information gets compromised, then hackers could use that personal information to piece together details about you and access your account on another site.

Into the Vault
However, since most people need passwords to secure lots of important information, remembering more than one or two long passwords is difficult. That’s where password managers come in. These programs typically are encrypted and act as a vault to store all of your user names and passwords. You only need to remember one master password to open them up.

There are also lots of downloadable password managers, such as KeePass Password Safe, RoboForm and PassKeeper.I’ve personally tested and use KeePass, which is free and Open Source, and found it to be easy to install and use. Once you’ve set up the program, you create a database for your passwords. KeePass lets you organize passwords into groups, and it can generate secure passwords for you. Once the passwords are set, you can copy and paste them into Web sites or drag and drop them.

I’ve been told that RoboForm is also good but the problem I have with this program is I’ve found it installed by hackers on systems that have been hacked. Call me skeptical… but I’m not too comfortable using a password manager that hackers like to use in their sneaky little ways.

If you are the only one using your computer, you can have your Web browser automatically remember them for you. However, this shouldn’t be the only place you store passwords, because when data from your browser is cleared (or if your computer dies), your passwords will vanish.You can also download and install KeePass on portable media, such as a USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive, so you can have access to your passwords when using another computer. Make sure to copy your KeePass database from your computer to the USB drive. With KeePass Portable, I can quickly access all my regular websites from my office computer, my home computer or any public system I have access too.

KeePass Password Safe Portable
http://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/keepass_portable
http://keepass.com

RoboForm Password manager
http://www.roboform.com/php/land.php?affid=gocg0&utm_source=google&utm_medium=ppc-content&utm_campaign=roboform

Password Safe
http://passwordsafe.sourceforge.net/

PassKeeper
http://www.passkeeper.com/

Lastly, if you’ve run out of good passwords try this FREE password generator – you chose the number of characters (remember 8 should be the minimum), what characters to use in the password and how many different passwords you would like generated. We’ve used this tool on a number of occassions when we wanted to assign a really secure password for someone.
http://www.pctools.com/guides/password/

With The Release of SP3, it's time to say goodbye to Windows XP (maybe?)

It’s time to say goodbye to an old friend. Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), due in the second quarter of 2008, will be the final XP service pack, according to Microsoft. XP SP2 shipped over three years ago and the company has since shipped hundreds of hot-fixes for the OS, giving users a painful updating experience, with multiple reboots when there been the need to reinstall Windows XP. SP3 will consolidate all of these fixes into a single package and, surprisingly, add a few new features, including some that–go figure–debuted first in XP’s successor, Windows Vista .

Q: What is Service Pack 3?
A: Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) is the final Windows XP service pack, a collection of previously-released fixes and product enhancements, as well as a few new features that are unique to this release.

Q: Does SP3 include everything from SP1 and SP2 or do I need to install those first?
A: Though XP SP3 aggregates all of the previously-released XP fixes, Microsoft now says that you will need to install at least SP1 on XP before installing SP3. The company recommends installing SP2 first as well, though that is not required.

Q: What versions of Windows XP will work with SP3?
A: You can apply Service Pack 3 to Windows XP Home Edition, Professional Edition, Tablet PC Edition (any version), or Media Center Edition (any version).

Q: What about Windows XP Professional x64 Edition?
A: SP3 does not apply to the x64 version of Windows XP. Instead, that operating system is updated via service packs aimed at Windows Server 2003. The latest Windows 2003 service pack is SP2.

Q: Windows XP SP2 was released over three years ago. Why the delay on SP3?
A: While Microsoft is an enormous company with over 77,000 employees worldwide and over $50 billion in annual revenues, its organizational structure actually constrains which products are actively developed in some cases. For example, while a large team of developers, product managers, and program managers are involved during the ramp-up to any major OS release, Microsoft then pushes the product into its support organization for follow-up development in the form of hot-fixes, service packs, and so on. Other teams work on out-of-band updates that are typically shipped via the Web and, eventually, a new or existing team is constituted to work on the next major release and the entire process begins anew.

With Windows XP, however, Microsoft was forced to temporarily halt development on XP’s successor, Windows Vista, in order to complete XP SP2. That’s because this release, though provided to customers for free as a typical service pack, was in fact a major OS upgrade and was developed outside of the company’s support structure, a first for any service pack release. After XP SP2 was completed, the people involved with that project moved onto other things, typically Vista or Windows Server 2008.

In the case of Windows XP SP3, Microsoft simply dedicated every available employee it could to completing Windows Vista, which by that time was years behind schedule. So it’s only been since the beginning of this year that anyone turned their attention back to XP’s next and neglected service pack.

Q: What are these new features I keep hearing about?
A: Windows XP Service Pack 3 will not include any major new features, but it will include four minor new features that improve the system’s reliability and security. Contrary to reports, Microsoft has been very up-front about these functional additions for quite some time now.

These new features include:
Network Access Protection compatibility. Announced years ago, this feature allows Windows XP machines to interact with the NAP feature in Windows Server 2008. This functionality is built into the RTM version of Windows Vista as well.

Product Key-less install option. As with Windows Vista, new XP with SP3 installs can proceed without entering a product key during Setup.

Kernel Mode Cryptographics Module. A new kernel module that “encapsulates several different cryptographic algorithms,” according to Microsoft.

“Black hole” router detection algorithm. XP gains the ability to ignore network routers that incorrectly drop certain kinds of network packets. This, too, is a feature of Windows Vista.

Q: That’s it? Is there anything else?
A: Nothing major. Some features have actually been removed, like the taskbar-based Address Bar option.

Q: Why is Microsoft even bothering to release this update? Isn’t everyone moving to Windows Vista?
A: Given the relative security, stability, and reliability of XP with SP2, and the subsequent release of Vista , XP SP3 may seem like a pointless update, but nothing could be further from the truth. Many businesses will roll out new XP-based PCs in the coming years, and as anyone who’s had to update an XP SP2 system can tell you, the 100+ updates that Microsoft has shipped since SP2 can be a nightmare to deploy. If you’re already running XP and have been regularly updating your systems all along, the release of XP SP3 will be a minor event. But if you have planned XP deployments in the future, look very carefully at this release and consider it the baseline for your next generation of PCs. Or, you could always consider Vista , which will of course be updated with genuine new features far longer than will XP.

Q: When will Microsoft ship XP SP3?
A: Microsoft finalized Windows XP Service Pack 3 on April 21, 2008 and will release it publicly to the Web on April 29, 2008.

Here’s the complete Windows XP SP3 release schedule:

RTM (release to manufacturing): April 21
Windows Update (optional update): April 29
Microsoft Download Center: April 29
MSDN/TechNet download: May 2
Windows XP SP3 fulfillment media (CD-based): May 19
Volume license customers download: June 1
Windows Update/Automatic Updates: June 10

Q: So with users now being forced to buy computers with Windows Vista only, what’s a person to do if they still need Windows XP?
A: Some vendors Dell, HP, Fujitsu and others, will be selling systems with Vista as required but allow the purchaser to “downgrade” the system to Windows XP.

Dell’s option is shown below:
Windows Vista ® Business offers new features designed to help you focus more on what’s important – your business. However, some businesses may not be ready to transition away from Windows ® XP, and Dell can help ease the transition. Below are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions on this topic.

Is there any way to get Windows XP after June 30th?
Customers may continue to get Windows XP Professional by exercising Downgrade Rights that come with Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate licenses. Dell has the ability to exercise “Windows Vista downgrade rights” on your behalf in the factory if your business is still reliant upon Windows XP and you’d prefer to have Windows XP Professional preinstalled on your PCs.

So, what are Windows Vista “Downgrade Rights”?
Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate have what Microsoft calls “Downgrade Rights.” Downgrade Rights means that anyone with a Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate operating system can downgrade to Windows XP Professional provided they have the media for Windows XP Professional. Customers may use one operating system at any single point in time (cannot run both operating systems simultaneously unless an additional license is purchased). For customers who decide to exercise Downgrade Rights on their own, however, please note that Dell will only support the factory-installed operating system. Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium do not have this option, as they are not capable of downgrading to Windows XP.

EARTH DAY 2008

As we become more dependent on electronic products thus making life more convenient, the stockpile of used, obsolete products continues to grow. Although used electronics represent less than two percent of the municipal solid waste stream, as we continue to replace old or outdated electronic equipment at our current rate, that percentage will continue to grow.

Computer monitors and older TV picture tubes contain an average of four pounds of lead and require special handling at the end of their lives. In addition to lead, electronics can contain chromium, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, nickel, zinc, and brominated flame retardants. When electronics are not disposed of or recycled properly, these toxic materials can present problems. Extending the life of your electronics or donating your most up-to-date and working electronics can save you money and saves valuable resources. Safely recycling outdated electronics can promote the safe management of hazardous components and supports the recovery and reuse of valuable materials. This site offers

1: Basic Information about reducing electronics waste
2: Frequent Questions and answers about electronic waste
3: Regulations/Standards for handling electronic equipment
4: Publications that offer valuable information about electronic waste
5: Related Links that include resources for recycling and donation programs
http://www.epa.gov/ecycling/index.htm

Do the PC Thing: Donate
Pass It On!
A working computer is a terrible thing to waste. Donating computers to those who need them is a win-win situation for business and the community. Reusing computers benefits communities, helps us use valuable materials wisely, and keeps working PCs out of the trash.

Do the PC Thing for Businesses:
http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/plugin/pdf/pcthing-bus.pdf

Do the PC Thing for Consumers:
http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/plugin/pdf/pcthing-con.pdf

Finding a Local Program
Our own MASS DEP agency has a full list of companies offering recycling resources.
http://www.mass.gov/dep/recycle/reduce/electron.htm

Earth 911
Earth 911 is a comprehensive communication medium for the environment. Earth 911 has taken environmental hotlines, web sites and other information sources nationwide, and consolidated them into one network. Once you contact the Earth 911 network, you will find community-specific information on eCycling and much more.
http://earth911.org/electronics/

My Green Electronics
Provided by the Consumer Electronics Association, this site is a resource for consumers wishing to purchase green products and/or searching for local opportunities to recycle or donate used electronics.
http://www.mygreenelectronics.org/

Electronic Industries Alliance’s Consumer Education Initiative
The Electronic Industries Alliance’s eCycling Central Web site helps you find reuse, recycling and donation programs for electronics products in your state.
http://www.eiae.org/

TechSoup
TechSoup has compiled a comprehensive body of information to promote computer recycling and reuse. This site provides resources for those who would like to donate hardware, those who would like to acquire recycled hardware, and refurbishers.
http://www.techsoup.org/resources/index.cfm?action=resource.view_summary&resourcelist_id=144&style=recycle&set=products

 

April Showers Bring… Thunder Storms

Get Ready, Electrical Surges are on the Way!

As we move steadily towards spring and summer’s increased threat of violent thunderstorms, it’s time to talk about protecting your computer equipment from the damage caused by power fluctuations. This primer will help you choose the correct uninterruptible power supply (UPS) device for your system.

There are a number of potential electrical problems to be aware of and protecting your computer equipment against surges, brownouts, over voltages, and blackouts should be your goal.

Power Surges
Power surges are an increase in the voltage that powers electrical equipment. Surges often go unnoticed; often they are quick (1/20th of a second) and absorbed by the power supply of a device. Stronger surges will go through a power supply, damaging any circuits as it moves along the grounding line.

Surges come from utility power systems that have become unstable or unreliable. Power grids often generate surges as they switch between sources to generate power. Local surges can occur when power is suddenly added or taken away from a local area. Good examples are if someone starts up an electrical motor or a fuse blows. In the case of a fuse blowing, for a moment there will be more power available to the rest of a house. This sudden excess power can cause a surge.

Lightning can send a spectacular power surge along any conductive line. This is more than just a standard surge — no surge suppressor in the world will survive a direct lightning strike. By choosing the right power protection, your surge suppressor will take the hit, ending up melted, but your equipment will stay protected. Don’t forget that telephone lines are also highly conductive.

Brownouts
Brownouts are periods of low voltage in utility lines that can cause lights to dim and equipment to fail. Also known as voltage sags, this is the most common power problem, accounting for up to 87% of all power disturbances. Brownouts can also be caused by damaged electrical lines, or equipment that draws massive amounts of power (hair dryers, air conditioners, laser printers).

When line voltages are lowered, electrical equipment pulls more current to compensate and generates more heat in the process. Over time, this can contribute to equipment failure.

Brownouts are often caused when utility companies must reduce their voltage output to deal with high power. Demand for power exceeds the supply of power. Brownouts are also referred to as undervoltages; there is power, just not enough to meet the demand of equipment using it. Brownouts place undue strain on power supplies and other internal components, forcing them to work harder in order to function. Extended brownouts can destroy electrical components and cause data glitches and hardware failure.

Overvoltages (spikes)
Undervoltages are often followed by “spikes,” which are also damaging to computer components and data. Voltage variation can be the most damaging power problem to threaten your equipment. All electronic devices expect to receive a steady voltage (120 VAC in North America and 220/240 volts in many other parts of the world) in order to operate correctly. Overvoltages burn out power supplies and other components and can cause massive damage to electronic hardware. Extended overvoltages can even cause fires as electronics “fry” in the extra electricity.

Blackouts
Power failures, also known as blackouts, are the easiest power problem to diagnose. Any temporary, or not so temporary, interruption in the flow of electricity will result in a power failure which can cause hardware damage and data loss.

Blackouts can be caused by many things — weather, overburdened power grids, or the severing of a power line. Power failures are more than simply inconvenient and annoying. Because most computers use a volatile storage method (writing to memory prior to saving on to a hard-drive), information is lost when power is removed. Data can become corrupted, and some devices can be damaged by the sudden loss of power. Just as overpower occurs with brownouts, when the power comes back, spikes can occur that may cause even more damage.

Line Noise
The term “line noise” refers to random fluctuations — electrical impulses that are carried along with standard AC current. Turning on the fluorescent lights overhead, a refrigerator, laser printers, working near a radio station, using a power generator, or simply working during a lightning storm can all introduce line noise into computer systems.

Line noise interference can result in many different symptoms depending on the particular situation. Noise can introduce glitches and errors into programs and files. Hard drive components can be damaged. Televisions and computer monitors can display interference as “static” or “snow,” and audio systems experience increased distortion levels. Noise suppression is stated as Decibel level (Db) at a specific frequency (KHz or MHz). The higher the Db, the greater the protection.

UPS Sizing
To correctly size the proper UPS for your needs, all you have to do is add up the total power draw of the equipment and select a unit from the UPS technical specification page that can support that load for the amount of time desired.

First, which pieces of equipment need UPS support. Typically, only the CPU and monitor are supported to cut down on power draw to the UPS, but you may wish to include peripheral systems like modems or inkjet printers. Laser printers should never be plugged into a UPS.

List the nameplate wattage ratings for all supported equipment. Manufacturers vary in how they express draw so you may have to convert numbers to determine VA load.

If the power draw is expressed in AMPS multiply by your nominal line voltage (North America = 120, Europe = 230, etc.)

If the power draw is expressed in WATTS , multiply by 1.4 for VA load

Example:

Computer #1 –

230 watt power supply (x 1.4) = 322 VA load

Monitor #1 – 0.7 amp (x 120) = 84 VA load

 
Computer #2 –

2 amp power supply (x 120) = 240 VA load

 
Total: 746 VA

 

Once you have calculated the total VA draw of the equipment, look for a UPS that is rated equal to or higher than the number generated. Do not overload UPS systems! UPS systems that attempt to support excessive loads will pop their circuit breakers and provide no runtime at all.

UPS Runtime
To determine runtime, calculate the total VA required by your equipment and compare against the full- and half-load run times listed for the UPS. Fully loaded, you can expect any UPS to give between 5 and 10 minutes runtime.

The VA rating of a UPS is considered full load. Half load is simply a VA load that is half of that figure. Smaller UPS loads lead to ever longer runtimes. And since most equipment doesn’t pull its full VA load all the time, your run times may be significantly longer.

One or Several UPS’s?
There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach. You should first determine the proximity of the equipment to the UPS. Running extension cords to power remote equipment will affect warranty and may be against local electrical codes.

Some people feel there is a pricing advantage in purchasing a single, large UPS, but this is becoming less and less the case. Price competition in the 400 – 675 VA range has driven prices down to the point that multiple UPS systems are now within everyone’s price range.

MySpace Launches New Music Service

MySpace

MySpace

Social networking site MySpace is launching a new music service backed by three of the world’s biggest record companies. Users will be able to listen to songs and watch videos free and buy downloads from the site.

MySpace Music has done a deal with Universal, Sony BMG and Warner. EMI, whose artists include Robbie Williams, Coldplay and KT Tunstall, is not part of the deal though.

The service will make money through music download sales, advertising and sales of concert tickets, artist wallpaper, t-shirts and ringtones.

MySpace users will be able to customize their chosen content into playlists and will be able to buy tracks from the MySpace Music home page, on each of the site’s five million artist profile pages or on individual user home pages. It can’t get mush easier or more interactive than this – you see the artist, watch the video, listen to the tracks and buy just the ones you want.

According to MySpace, the music will not have copy protection on it which means you should be able to load it onto your MP3 player. The company has not said yet whether ALL the music will be copy protection, or DRM, free. That will most likely be up to the music label or perhaps the individual artists

Launch this year
MySpace CEO and co-founder, Chris DeWolfe, said: “Today represents the beginning of a new chapter in the story of modern music.

“We’re proud to announce the marriage of the world’s biggest collection of music content to the world’s most popular music community.”

The move is likely to worry Apple whose iTunes store is the market leader and currently, eight out of 10 songs sold online are purchased through iTunes.

The MySpace entry could mean cheaper downloads as competition heats up. MySpace has a readymade market of more than 100 million users and is likely to be more popular than services like SpiralFrog. www.spiralfrog.com

MySpace Music will be launched later this year.

Here’s the current link to MySpace Music where you can listen to music tracks and watch the videos – keep checking the site for changes coming later this year.
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=music

MediaFire – FREE file and image hosting.

April 1st , 2008
Why use MediaFire?

MediaFire is the simplest way to host files and images and share them with others.

MediaFire is a free and unlimited file and image hosting web site with no strings attached. Our goal is to help make the internet a more interesting and media rich place by provide the fastest and most simple to use tool for sharing all kinds of files in almost any way imaginable. Registration is completely optional and every feature of the service is available to you whether you choose to create an account or not. If you choose to, creating an account is easy and free, allowing you to quick and secure access to your saved files from any computer.

Organize Your Files and Images

Create folders, instantly sort, search, move and browse your uploaded files with a fast Ajax powered file system.

Creating folders on MediaFire is easy! You can create an unlimited number of folders and sub folders to store, organize and share your files and images. MediaFire also provides easy to use privacy tools allowing you to keep some files hidden as private and other files downloadable as public. You can even set passwords for your sensitive files allowing you a flexible and adaptable free file hosting system.

Uploading your files couldn’t be easier – choose up to 10 files at a time using their simple point and click interface and you’re off and running.

Share Your Files and Images

Easily share large files and images by Email, Instant Messenger, and on your web site or MySpace page.

With MediaFire’s easy to use sharing tools and embedding links you can share entire folders of files and images by email, instant messenger, or on your MySpace page, blog or forum. Folders also double as image galleries so sharing all your vacation photos or graphic design work in one place just got a whole lot simpler.

MediaFire currently has a file size limit of 100MB because bandwidth for serving downloads is the most expensive part of running a file hosting service. For example, 200MB files are 2x more expensive to serve to downloaders as 100MB files, 1GB files are 10x more expensive to serve than 100MB files, etc.

By limiting the maximum file size to 100MB, MediaFire can offer features that no other single file hosting service offers for free:

Unlimited disk space
Unlimited bandwidth to serve any files under 100MB
Unlimited downloads of any files under 100MB
Unlimited uploads
No waits, lines, or queues to download files
No daily download limits
No download speed limits
Support for most popular download managers/accelerators
Multiple simultaneous downloads

In Q2 of 2008, MediaFire will be launching a subscription based service that will let you upload much larger files and provide a Flash uploader with additional bells and whistles. Yes – this will be a paid for service. The FREE accounts will be maintained and continue to be advertising supported.

MediaFire was rated one of the Top 100 Undiscoverd WebSites by PC Magazine. To learn more about MediaFire from their FAQ’s :

http://support.mediafire.com/index.php?_m=knowledgebase&_a=view

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