August 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis
As we hoped (and I kind of expected), we sold our house in a flash. We are apartment dwellers now, soon to be connected to the net through ADSL. I wanted to load Windows 2000 Professional to setup a true web server, but that is not going to happen. Read on for this month’s trials and tribulations with Windows & Office 2000 and personal firewalls.
Windows 2000 Professional
I am playing around with ASP (Active Server Pages) and wanted to turn my home computer into a true web server. I wasn’t planning on actually serving up anything for the public, but it would be good experience to maintain a real server.
Alas I was unable to make the jump. Windows 2000 Professional does not support the two most important peripherals I own, HP’s P1000 Photosmart printer & Kodak's CD 280 Digital Camera. HP is supposed to get Win 2000 drivers some time in September, but that may only be through the parallel port. Until then they suggest using the generic DeskJet drivers. Kodak’s web site for the DC280 doesn’t even mention NT or Win 2000. I assume I would have to muddle through with the serial connection for the camera.
Neither of those options was attractive to me. So I decided to blow off Windows 2000 for the time being. I have also heard stories that CD-R & CD-R/W drives don’t work well under Win 2000. This is supposed to be due to software running under Win 2000. Since CD-R is my only form of backup at the moment, it's another reason to hold off on the upgrade.
I had already upgraded FrontPage 98 to FrontPage 2000. I really didn’t see myself upgrading to Office 2000 since I have to exchange documents with Office 97 users, including my in-laws and sister-in-law, whose computers I built. Since I didn’t want to upgrade them as well, I had written off the Office upgrade to a later date.
Unfortunately my wife suddenly got the urge to use Publisher. A co-worker of hers told her about it. I had a copy of Publisher 97 Deluxe, but have not loaded it on my machine since the last time I reformatted my hard drive. I wasn’t using it and my wife preferred Print Shop Deluxe. It is much easier to do the things she likes in Print Shop. Publisher is a better tool for doing complicated and advanced tasks, but at a cost of a steeper learning curve.
My wife was determined. I installed Publisher 97 Deluxe, but it would not run. I never was able to determine the reason, but it probably conflicted with Office 97, or some other application. Publisher 97 came out before Office 97, and Publisher 98 looks more like the Office 97 applications. I assumed the order they were installed might be part of the problem.
I had a copy of Publisher 98, but it was not the deluxe version. Installing the copy revealed it was a demo and would expire after 30 days. I decided to upgrade to the resource hog champ... Office 2000 Premier Edition.
Since my computer was already showing signs of Windows slowing down due to installing and uninstalling software, I decided it was time to reformat the drive.
After backing up my hard drive (more in a moment), installation of Office 2000 was slow but painless. I have not had a lot of time to explore the mammoth suite, so I will save that for another time. For the moment it is stable and seems to be running without a hitch.
Except for my original reason to upgrade to FrontPage 2000, I have not seen a compelling reason to upgrade to Office 2000. Further testing will be necessary before I make a final recommendation.
I backed up my hard drive on CD-ROMs. It is the most convenient way for me to backup large quantities of data. It took 15 CDs to backup all my MP3 files, and another four discs to backup the rest of my data.
With boot floppy in hand I reformatted the drive and loaded up Windows 98 Second Edition. That is an upgrade for me. I only had the first edition of Win 98 until now. I then proceeded to load all my critical applications. I am still using Money 95 (also referred to as version 4.1) even though I bought Money 2000 quite a while ago. I installed the Office 2000 Premier Edition (as stated above). I including most of it except for Outlook 2000. I have gotten used to Outlook Express at home and didn’t want the resource problems with running Outlook 2000 in the background all the time to check my mail.
So far everything is working beautifully. I have not had any trouble. With my MP3 collection offline I have a lot more room on my hard drive. However, I don't like having my MP3s offline and have been dropping hints about needed a new drive to my wife. Best Buy just advertised a 30 GB 7200 RPM drive from Maxtor for $169. I can probably beat that price online. Maybe after we are settled in the apartment. I also saw a 62 GB 5400 RPM drive advertised for $299. Good thing we got full asking price on the house. I see an upgrade in my future.
BlackICE vs. Zone Alarm
I started playing around with Zone Alarm for firewall software. I have turned off Microsoft Networking so I am pretty safe from attacks from that standpoint. I bought BlackICE Defender a few months back, but I like the extra protection Zone Alarm gives for applications on my computer that try to "get out."
I had downloaded Zone Alarm 2.0 because it was offered as a free download. Having already paid for BlackICE I was not interested in changing just to spend more money. I heard version 2.1 of Zone Alarm was not a free download. So I loaded up version 2.0.
Zone Alarm is even more annoying than BlackICE at getting your attention. It pops up a message every time a computer tries to access mine. This is very annoying after a while. BlackICE has a blinking tray icon which is also annoying, just less annoying than a pop up message. I wish BlackICE had a an option to stop the blinking. Zone Alarm offers you the chance to stop the pop up messages, but then you would not know anything about possible attacks on your system.
Most of the messages were port probe scans coming from my own ISP. I assumed they were looking for servers or security compromises. The fact that my own ISP was scanning me was not a problem. That it caused such a number of pop up messages was becoming a problem. I did the unthinkable and told Zone Alarm to stop displaying the messages. This left me with no way of knowing if anyone is trying to get in. Zone Alarm 2.0 doesn't log information, so it left me flying blind in the name of security.
After a couple of weeks I decided I liked Zone Alarm enough to buy the next version. I found out that version 2.1 added logging. That was the only problem I had with Zone Alarm. So I went to their web site. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it is still free for personal use. I downloaded and installed version 2.15. Its logging is just the ticket for me. I periodically check the logs and leave the annoying pop ups turned off.
There is still one thing that bothers me about Zone Alarm, it doesn't tell me what kind of probe is trying to access my computer. BlackICE would tell me what kind of probes were knocking at my virtual door. When I first installed BlackICE, if I received a Trojan horse or SubSeven probe (looking for Back Orifice or similar program) I would do a trace on the IP address of the attacker and report him to his ISP. I had only limited success with this. I received word that one of the people I reported had his account terminated, and another was determined to be a compromised computer that was performing scans without the owners knowledge. I was thanked for the information and felt like I was doing my part to help police extremely bad practice on the Internet.
Zone Alarm doesn't tell me enough to report people. Alas, the last few times I reported people with the information from BlackICE I never received any feedback from the ISPs and had giving up on the situation. My feeling is that this kind of "kiddie script" scanning of computers is being overlooked as not worth investigating. Personally, I think if more people did reported these minor attacks it would be much more difficult for people to perform the Denial of Service attacks. I had given up on reporting people anyway, so I suppose it doesn't really matter if Zone Alarm tells me the type of attacks, just so long as it keeps people out.
The House & The Apartment
As I mentioned last month, my wife and I have moved into an apartment. It is a two bedroom - one bathroom setup with about 900 sq. ft. It is small compared to our 1747 sq. ft. house, but it will make moving into our 2800-3000 sq. ft. house seem all the more luxurious next year.
The apartment is a brand new, state of the art complex. I was shocked when we looked at the place. Although it was slightly above the price range we were looking at, we decided to check it out just because it was new. Most of the apartments in our area need a serious makeover.
The apartment complex has ADSL and DirecTV connections in every apartment. There are phone jacks in every room. The apartment we settled on has a two-car garage. Actually, it is 32 feet long (13 ft. wide), so it is basically two cars deep. Since one of our "cars" is a Suburban, so both of our "cars" would not fit end to end. I consider it a 1-1/2 car garage. Hopefully it is large enough to hold our stuff and the Suburban. We got rid of our storage unit (10 x 20) and saved $103 a month.
As for state-of-the-art... they have a movie theater room with a forward projection TV, DVD, VCR and DirecTV. It holds 22 people and is free to use. It just has to be reserved in advance, and is only available from 5:00 to 11:00 PM. They don’t want to disturb the general business of the apartment during the day. That sucks for me, I have Fridays off and would love to just watch a DVD a week in the theater room while the kids are in school.
They have a "business center" that has two computers with ADSL connections, and a fax machine. All that is free, including long distance faxes. They also have a U shaped swimming pool with 25-meter (maybe yards) lanes for swimming laps. There is a fitness center that has free weights, machines, treadmills, bikes, and aerobic classes. They serve continental breakfast every Saturday morning. There is a gathering room that you can use anytime up till 11:00 PM with a pool table, fuss-ball table. No reservations are allowed; just use it as a community area. All this is free to residents. The office has a full kitchen and is open with the office is open. I raid their refrigerator whenever I am buy the office.
It is such a nice place. Nobody has lived in our apartment before us. They even have icemakers in the refrigerators and built-in microwaves. This is the first time I have ever seen an icemaker in an apartment. Washer and dryer hook-ups are there, a godsend for us coming from a house. And the bathroom includes a huge oval bathtub. Nice touch!
It will be tough not living in a house, but this apartment is so wonderful that we may not want to move out.
When I called to have the ADSL hooked up in the apartment I was told that the apartment is practically right on top of the switch office. They say it is less than 1000 ft. ADSL performance is based on the distance from the switch office. My provider will not install it at distances farther than 18,000 ft (one of the reasons I didn't have it at my house), because they cannot guarantee a minimum speed of 384Kbps beyond that distance. Being less than 1000 ft. away should provide the best possible performance available. I should hopefully be able to soak up that 1.5Mbps speed for all its worth.
Unfortunately, they cannot hook up the ADSL service until the phone is active for an entire week. So I will be without broadband Internet service for a about a week. I borrowed my old 28.8 (Yuck!) modem back from my in-laws so I can at least dial up to retrieve e-mail while I wait for the ADSL equipment.
That about covers it for this month. We had a major falling out with our designer and the plans I previously posted will not be built. This set us back a ways, but hopefully we will get back on track soon. Whatever you do, don't hire Elegant Home Design in San Antonio. Next month I will describe his poor business practices and why we ultimately had to walk away and take a $1400 loss.
Next month I hope to have more on Office 2000. So far Office 2000 is stable. Other than wanting Publisher, I have not seen anything in Office 2000 that would have you thinking about upgrading. Office 97 with Service Pack 1 is more than good enough. However, once you get used to FrontPage 2000 you will like it a lot better than FrontPage 98. I do.
Expect a future Feature Article on Cable Modems vs. ADSL. I wrote about them a year ago, and will do it again with experience using both. Next month I will tell you the tales of my creative e-mail account juggling.
Until next month...