December 1, 1997
By Scott Lewis
It has been a bit busy around here. Not as bad as last month, though. The new job has settled in, and I have more time to do my regular programming efforts. Win 98 finally arrives, and I have had some more time to play with IE 4.0. We are rolling out a new version our software to about 500 users. Stick around and see what is going on at Scott's Site.
Yes, you read that right 2400 (2.4) baud. My phone company, Southwestern Bell, only guarantees 2400 baud performance for a residential phone line. Let's start from the beginning. I ordered a 2nd phone line a about 3 months ago. This was going to be for my computer and access to the Internet, which I clearly told the salesperson. I have consistently been getting connection speeds of 26.4 with the line since it was installed. This didn't bother me too much, but I was connecting reliably at 28.8 with my regular home line (1st line) at least 4 out of 5 times. I didn't give it a lot of thought, and lived with the mild performance penalty.
A few weeks ago my connection speeds were getting worse. I was frequently getting 14.4, 19.2, and 21.0 speeds. This was causing me to redial 2 or 3 times just to get a 26.4 connection. This line does not include unlimited local calls, and it was starting to bother me that these redials could start increasing my phone bill. Then a couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday, my connection speeds were between 7.2 (yes, 7200 baud) and 14.4. Over a dozen calls in one day resulting in nothing better than 16.4, and 4 incomplete connections. This was unacceptable performance.
So I called SWB. They said all they could guarantee was 2400 baud performance. I was furious. SWB advertises on radio and television getting a second phone line for a computer to access the Internet. Yet they only guarantee 2400 baud performance. I was not told this when I signed up for the second line. Also, SWB is an Internet Service Provider (ISP). I wonder how they can provide Internet access at a guaranteed speed of only 2400 baud.
By the way, on that same Saturday, I could plug my modem into my 1st phone line and connect at 28.8. Since the wiring in my house is new, I assume there is a problem with Southwestern Bell's lines. I cannot see the benefit of getting a 2nd phone line that gets worse performance than my 1st line. I am getting ready to ask for all my money back on the second line. It is not worth it.
So what am I to do for a phone line for my computer? I complained to SWB they are a monopoly, and I cannot get local service from anyone else. They say they are not a monopoly, but won't tell me who I can get local service from. So I check the phone book (what SWB told me to do) , and none of the phone companies offer local residential service. Are they a monopoly or not? They tell me no, but I can't find anyone else. It sounds like a monopoly to me.
SWB offers a 2nd residential phone line for $8.45 or $13.53 per month for my house. For 8.45 you get 25 phone calls per month, and then $0.08 per call. For $13.53 I would get unlimited local calling. There is also a one time installation fee of $55. To compare apples to apples... SWB offers unlimited Internet access for $19.95 per month.
Bottom line: $33.90 per month for unlimited 2400 baud (2.4K) access to the Internet, with a one-time investment of $55.
The next step up, as far as I can see, is ISDN. Let's look at that. SWB offers ISDN telephone service for Between $62.26 and $98.90 per month. (I will assume the $98.90 allows unlimited calling.) Of course, there is a one-time setup fee of $618 which includes DigiLine Connection, Inside Wiring, Adrant XRT Unit [terminal adapter], and XRT Install & cable. If I sign a two year contract, they will wave the DigiLine Installation of $250. For comparison, let's assume that I might not want this service for two years, or might move, that brings the one-time setup fee to $868. As an ISP, SWB changes $29.95 per month for a 64K connection, $49.95 per month for 128K. Both are for unlimited access.
Bottom line: $128.85 per month for unlimited 64K access to the Internet, with a one-time investment of $868.
Is there no in between. I mean really, why should I have to pay over a hundred dollars a month to access the Internet reliably at speeds above 2400 baud? Does this bother anyone else? Let me know.
Windows 98 (99 anyone)
Win 98 finally arrives. Last month I told you about the mishap with my Win 98 beta disc. Well I ordered a replacement, and the service representative couldn't understand that I only needed the Memphis (Win 98 beta) disc. She insisted on sending me an entire replacement shipment. She said they would go out 2nd day air. After 3 1/2 weeks I called back, and they told me they didn't have all the discs, some were on backorder. The entire order was held for the discs on back order. To shorten a long story, I got them to send just the Memphis disc.
Well I did not fair well with Win 98. It installed it on my test machine fine, but no network. I only looked at it for a few minutes, and could not figure out why Win 98 was unable to find my network. Then I had to reload the machine with Win 95 to for a testing an SMS push of a package I built. So Win 98 testing gets put on the back burner again.
Sorry. I will try again to load Win 98 as the holidays roll around. I am too busy with development efforts and fielding problems with rolling out a client server application to over 500 users in five locations countrywide. Not fun.
Building Software Packages
We use a development tool from Oracle called Express Objects for our client server application. Oracle does not provide any way for us to distribute the software across our LAN, short of sharing the installations files from the CD. So we build a distribution package ourselves.
In the past we used WinINSTALL. WinINSTALL is very good at capturing your environment before and after you setup a computer, and builds a package that can be pushed across the LAN. However, WinINSTALL has giving us a lot o grief when it comes to build versions. These are incremental upgrades to WinINSTALL to fix bugs. Our company has many versions in use, and it would be a monumental task to get everyone to upgrade their distributions to the same build version. We need build 19, but many applications are still using build 15. The problem arises when WinINSTALL runs on the client, it installs itself first. This self install fails when conflicting build versions are sent to a single workstation.
We briefly looked at Install Shield. Install Shield is very robust, but it does not have a capture facility. Also Install Shield is a language in itself, and the learning curve is a bit steep for the time frames we deal with here. If you have the time and patience to learn and use Install Shield I would highly recommend it. If you are not a heavy programmer, and are repackaging software for any reason, I would look elsewhere.
In comes Wise. Wise is a product that is similar to WinINSTALL. It has a capture facility (you need the Enterprise edition to get the capture capability), and is like Install Shield in creating a single self-extracting executable. No runtime libraries loaded to the client to cause problems, like WinINSTALL. I was able to build a first draft package in a couple of hours. In fact, it almost made it to production. But we decided to enhance the load to remove older versions of our software. Objects is not very forgiving with multiple versions of the client software on one workstation. WinINSTALL does not offer such a feature. In fact, we were able to put in conditional statements in Wise that would only delete the old software if it was there. We wouldn't want the install to fail for new workstations when the old software is not found.
Wise has proved reasonably successful. We still need to test a couple of things, but it looks pretty reliable so far. The only problems we are having so far is the load Wise built asks to reboot the workstation. We did not specify this when building the load, and have not been able to figure out how to stop it. Our software does not need to reboot the computer. Also, we are having conflicts with the Oracle software and a file CTL3D.DLL. This file is installed in the WINNT\SYSTEM directory on Win NT 4.0 workstations. When we run our application we are getting error messages about CTL3D.DLL and CTL3DV2.DLL. The second file we don't even use. I don't know why it is even being asked for. Deleting CTL3DV2.DLL solves the problem sometimes. Other times we have to delete stray copies of either of the files in directories other than the WINNT\SYSTEM. Go figure why the wrong DLL is being called.
Anyway, if you are looking for a package that can make fast, customizable, and reliable installation programs for pushing across a LAN or even to execute or download over the Internet, I give Wise a Highly recommended.
Site Of The Month
This months Scott's Site Award goes to Jaws - The Home Page. You may be thinking I have lost my mind on this one. Not really. I have been tinkering with web pages for a little over a year. Only for the last three or four months have I been serious. I have a personal web site (you are reading it), and have tried to get it to look professional. (At least the pages that are not about gaming.)
I think I am doing a decent job, but maybe you can tell me otherwise. Jake Gove is doing the same thing, and has his own personal web site. Jake has taken a topic he feels strongly about, and built a very professional web site around it. Since his site is not a business site, he can do whatever he wants, yet Jake has done a remarkable job of maintaining focus, and attention to detail that is rare in personal sites. Jake has the best personal web site I have seen yet. Congratulations, Jake. It is the most professional looking personal sites I have ever seen, and looks better than many professional sites.
If you know of a personal web site doing an outstanding job, let me know. I would love to give a Scott's Site Award to another personal site.
Game of the Month
This is easy. Age of Empires. This is Microsoft's latest real-time strategy game. If you are a fan of C&C, or Red Alert, then look toward Dark Reign. If you are a fan of Warcraft, then this is the best game in town, bar none. Highest recommendation.
Well that about does it this month. Next month I will try to have more info about Win 98, but I cannot make any promises. The holidays are upon us, and I may have the January edition out late. It looks like I will be going in for more sinus surgery in January too. Keep in touch.