November 1, 2002
By Scott Lewis
I was unable to convince my wife to let me spend a few hundred dollars to get the parts I wanted to build a server. She made me fix my 67 Camaro Convertible (read this month's Car Corner).. Oh Me, Oh My, stop twisting my arm! But I needed to add reliability to my home networking environment. I picked up a floppy and CD-ROM drive and loaded up Windows 2000 Professional. Also, I decided to take a look at the security patches available for Win 2K.
With money tight as the holidays approach, and having to spend over $600 to replace the transmission in my 67 Camaro RS Convertible, I was unable to build a server... yet. My environment at home is a Windows XP laptop connecting to a Windows 98 desktop. Win 98 was basically acting as a "server." This was proving less and less reliable. I would frequently have to reboot the laptop when it would fail to run properly connect to the desktop.
I previously wrote a program to help me run Outlook Express on the two computers. This program saved me a lot of headaches, but was just pointing out the deficiencies in my setup. I needed a real server. But I could not afford one.
Over the last few months I have had trouble reading CD-ROMs from my desktop. I mostly blamed this on the kids an their constant handling of the CD-ROMs. It seemed like I had to clean every disc before putting into the drive. But the drive has been working less and less lately. I bought Kid Pix for the kids, and the computer would not read that disc... fresh out of the jewel case. I eventually got it working by booting the computer with the disc in the drive. But when I tried that trick again it didn't work. The drive was worthless.
The floppy drive also stopped working. I went to install Partition Magic to see if I could partition the C: drive to allow me to boot more than one operating system. Since the computer could not read or write to the floppy drive I gave up.
So, with a computer that does not run stable enough to act as a server I needed to get it running better. I went to a computer show and picked up an Asus 52X CD-ROM drive for $24 and a generic floppy drive for $10. I put those into the computer and they worked just fine. However, my network card stopped working. I tried to uninstall it (in case I bumped it swapping drives), but it would not work. I uninstalled and reinstalled the drivers for it, but it still wouldn't work. I tried everything so I eventually gave up. I figured I would just start over.
I grabbed my Windows 2000 Professional CD and popped it into the computer. I reboot and it started the install. I wiped out the C: Drive and partitioned it into three drives. I gave 8 GB to the first partition, for Win 2K Pro. Then I split the rest of the the drive into two 4.5 GB partitions. That should be plenty of space for Windows 98, Linux, Windows XP, or anything else I want to try. Keep in mind I have a 60 GB D: drive that holds all my data.
The Win 2K install went flawless. It took a while, but it ran almost completely without my help. Except for a couple of questions and the partitioning the whole thing went perfect. All my hardware was detected... except the network card. So I tried to manually setup the network card. When I told it I had the disk it would not show any available devices... even when I told it where the drivers were. I eventually gave up.
I grabbed a spare network card I had (still new in the box). Since I was going to be opening up the computer again I grabbed the 256 MB memory module I had laying around (also new in the box). I was saving the memory to use in a server I was going to build from spare parts. Well, that's not going to happen so I might as well use it in my desktop.
When I turned the computer on Win 2K recognized the network card and installed the drivers for it and even connected to my Linksys Router/HUB without asking me a single question. Everything was working.
It took a lot of tricks to get the computer to finally install the drivers for my HP Photosmart Printer. I ran the HP install, but it never got past the part where it told me to plug in and turn on the printer. After some diligent searching of the directory where the HP software was I was able to find the drivers myself and manually install them. Thanks for nothing HP.
I shared the printer and some directories from the D drive. Back to the laptop. I mapped the printer and at some point it popped up a dialog box asking for a User ID and password. That was odd since I setup the shares to provide full control to "everyone." I entered the user name I created under Win 2K and it connected. When I reboot the laptop to see if it would continue to connect I was prompted with the User ID and password dialog box.
I created an account on the laptop that matched the ID on the desktop. This time it was able to connect all shared resources without any trouble. OK. Back to the desktop and create a User ID that matches the ID we normally use on the laptop. I gave that ID Power User privileges, instead of the default administrator privileged. Back to the laptop, reboot, login as normal, and voila... everything connected just fine.
Performance and Usage
Performance on my 450 MHz Celeron with 384 MB of memory running Windows 2000 Professional has been fine. I can't complain so far. I haven't loaded Warcraft III yet. That will be the ultimate test. I will report on that next month. Overall I am very please with the way the computer runs. I should have done this a long time ago. I didn't because I have a couple of really old computers at work (in the 400-500 MHz range) that run quite slow with Win 2K, so I was always skeptical about loading it on my "slow" machine at home.
I am also using this time as a chance to test a few things. I am only loading software on an "as needed basis." Until I need something I don't load it. This is contradictory to they way I have loaded a machine in the past. Normally I will load all the basic applications I use (Office, Money, WinZip, Paint Shop Pro, Games, etc.) when I load the operating system.
I did not last too long before "needing" Paint Shop Pro. I am so addicted to using it for all my digital pictures that I don't know if I will ever be able to switch to another product. Highly recommended if you like a lot of control over your images.
I did have a bear of a time getting my digital camera to work. The software install went fine, but it would not see the camera. I checked Kodak's site and found the latest download for using my camera with Win 2K and USB. I installed that, but now the camera doesn't even show up as an installed device. Weird. It shows up in Win 2K's applet for plug able devices.
As it turns out I needed to install both the original software THEN the Win 2K software. In that order. This would have been totally intuitive had I gone to the instructions page for the download. So much for not "reading the freaking manual."
I want to emphasize something here. I am running a computer over 4 years old and it is still good enough for most everything I do. The only time I do see an issue with performance is with some games. This is a testament to how long current computers can be useful. At 450 MHz I wonder how much faster a 2.4 GHz machine will "feel." I will let you know as i am preparing to perform some scripted performance test when I get my new computer (in February). Stay tuned...
I am still have some trouble connecting the laptop to the desktop. It is more reliable than when I was running Win 98, but I still have to reboot the laptop once in a while. Maybe the LAN card is shutting down at some point to save power... unnecessary since we mostly leave the laptop plugged in. Maybe I need a real server still. Time will tell. The desktop has been super reliable. I have not had to reboot it at all except when I install something that makes me reboot.
Just before I posted this article, I narrowed down my problem. It is either the LAN port on the laptop or the cable we plug into it. I noticed it seemed a little loose. I don't know how much "give" is built not the port from the factory to move... or if it is not supposed to move at all. My wife noticed it was not connecting. I replace the 25' cable with a 6' cable and it instantly connected. I put the 25' cable back and it stayed connected.
I had to run a new line in my house just before posting this. I will tell you about that next month. In the mean time running the line required that I get some CAT5e cable. So I will create a new patch cable for the laptop and see how that works. I'll let you know next month.
Now that I have Win 2K Pro I figured I better check out Microsoft's security updates. Just for fun I downloaded ALL of Microsoft's updates for Win 2K since Service Pack 2 (which is the particular version I installed). I do not want to install Service Pack 3 due to some of the controversy over some of its new policies (read more here). But I wanted the security patches. There were a total of 21 patches that added up to over 27 MB worth of files. Ouch! Remember, these are only security patches, no driver updates or application compatibility patches... just security.
iPod Preparation & Shoutcast
I have not been dropping too many hints about wanting the iPod. I am up to my eyeballs in "toys." I bought a 67 Camaro this past summer, and it needed a new transmission just a month and a half later. As you read this I should be getting ready to bolt in a fully rebuilt transmission I will be getting from my brother-in-law's bother. Add to this I want to get another computer and I don't see the iPod purchase happening soon.
But eventually I want to get the iPod... or something similar if something better comes out (The new Creative Zen is looking mighty good). The big thing about using an iPod is the synchronization it provides. It will sync up any changes you make to your play lists as well as new songs you add to your computer. To get ready I have been trying to build up a decent collection of playlists for my music collection.
I remember when I first started playing with Shoutcast (many years ago it seems) that I tried to build a web site around it. That didn't work too well as it was impossible to maintain a solid link to a disk space only web site updated by FTP from the tools that Shoutcast supplies.
This time around I am just using Shoutcast to stream my playlists so I can listen at work. I take notes at work as I listen. I then use those notes to make changes to the playlists. Ultimately this should allow me to build a good collection of playlists for different moods or whatever. And that is the biggest part of the iPod, being able to store enough songs that you NEED plenty of good playlists. Plus, I can throw a playlist together fast in the morning before going to work, and then make notes to "polish" the list at work. Overall I am excited about it.
The playlists will be very useful when my server is up and running playing MP3s through speakers in my house. Finally, I was thinking about trying to find a stereo for my 67 Camaro that has a front mount auxiliary input so I can plug the iPod into it for the long drives to and from work. Either that or a CD/MP3 player.
I won't be building a real server for a while. I will probably do it when I get a new computer, but I am not completely sure. I really want a server in my closet so I can get the printer off my desk. Also, so I can hook up my old HP LaserJet 4L. Finally, I want to start playing music through the house.
Next month I plan to play around with Partition Magic, Linux, etc. I also want to see how far I can go with a computer with only free software. I am going to try and do it with Windows and Linux. Of course the Windows version means that the OS was not free, but most computers come with an OS. I think it will make for an interesting experiment.
Once I get my system to boot multiple operating systems I want to try an experiment to see how fast applications run under Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. I will come up with a series of tasks and time them under each version of Windows... all on the same computer.
Finally, I am going to be testing Virtual CD more thoroughly. I have mentioned in the past that I want an external CD-RW drive for my next computer. This is to clean up my desk. But I have been noticing that I don't burn that many CDs anymore. I have a CD-RW in the laptop, and that might be all I really need (though it is slow at 8X write speed). However, if Virtual CD works well enough I may use it instead of getting a CD-RW drive at all in my next computer. I could just use Virtual CD and hide the computer away and not even need to have a CD drive on my desk.
OK. I have a lot to get to, until next time...