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Issue 79 - 1st July 2002
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FROM THE EDITOR
My professional relationship with Microsoft goes back almost 20
years, to when I started writing about IT issues in 1983. In
that time I've seen various important Microsoft technologies come
and go. But in recent years, the one technology that Microsoft
seems to accept as most important is the internet. All of the
company's development tools, for example, are being re-branded
as .NET and the emphasis is now on developing applications for
use over networks and not just stand-alone programs.
For reasons that I'll explain in a moment, I've spent the past
few weeks coding a new Web site. I've been writing a content
management system, which stores a large collection of text
in a SQL database and allows remote users to browse it. There's
also lots of additional code in the background to handle
various admin tasks, logging, accounting, user management and so on.
What might surprise you is that there's hardly any Microsoft
presence in the entire setup. The Web server runs Apache, which
is a freeware product that's currently more popular than the
Microsoft offering (IIS). And although there's been a high-
profile security patch for Apache issued recently, it's generally
considered to be more secure than IIS. And easier to manage too.
The code which runs the content management system doesn't use
any Microsoft proprietary technology either. It's mostly in
PHP and MySQL. All of which works just fine, and I don't have
to pay any licence fees to Redmond (or indeed to anyone).
No wonder Microsoft is said to be worried by the success of
MySQL and PHP and Apache at the expense of SQL Server and ASP
The recent release of OpenOffice, and StarOffice 6, probably doesn't
help either. Quite what Microsoft thinks about these competing
Office products, though, I'm not sure. I received an email
from Microsoft's PR agency offering comments on StarOffice and
OpenOffice, and promising to explain why these products aren't
as good as Microsoft Office. I requested a copy of said document
but it never arrived, despite me chasing it twice and receiving
assurances that I'd get it within 24 hours. So presumably
Microsoft has been unable to work out a convincing reason why
its expensive Office software is better than the free alternatives.
Interesting times are definitely ahead. I won't, though, be
at the helm of Tech Support Alert in order to comment on them.
I've accepted a position as Editor of a new Web site offering IT
security awareness training, which will be launched later this
year (hence the PHP and MySQL references above). It's still very
much a work in progress, so put www.securitysavvy.com in your
favorites list and stop by in a few weeks' time to see how it's
Meanwhile, many thanks to all of you for your support and feedback
over the past 3 years or so. Rest assured that Tech Support Alert
will continue. I've bequeathed it to Ian "Gizmo" Richards. Nothing
much will change - in fact Ian wrote the entire last issue which I
think you will all agree was terrific.
Like me, Ian is a gadget freak who started with computers in the
era of machines like the Altair, when today's PC was just a
twinkle in IBM's eye. You'll like Ian. Be nice to him!
IN THIS ISSUE
1. TOP SUPPORT SITES
- White Paper Collection
- Burning Question
- Biometric Resources
- Snadboy's Revelation
- ZoneAlarm Plus
- LANguard Security
- WebStyle 3
- WinGate 5 On the Way
- Eye Spies
- WebCompiler 1.6
3. BUGS, SERVICE RELEASES AND PATCHES
- Windows Media Player Megapatch
- Lots of Office Fixes
- New IIS Patch
- RAS Phonebook Plugged
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
- Microsoft Gets Into Hardware
- Project 2002
- Office XP/2 On the Way
- Free E-Book
- Online Credit Card Handling
- Find A Sound
- Where Eaglets Dare
5. TECH SUPPORT RESOURCES
- Linux on the Desktop
- Preventing Office Internet Misuse
1. TOP SUPPORT SITES
White Paper Collection
Some of the most useful technical articles on the Web exist
as free "white papers" on vendors' web sites. And now, someone's
finally put together a site which links to many of the best ones.
There are hundreds here, covering topics such as Web development,
network admin, security, .NET and much more too. Well worth a look.
Here's a great site with advice on what to do if you have
problems burning CD-R or CD-RW disks. It's been put together
by a major supplier of disks, so the company is well qualified
to explain all those weird error messages such as buffer
underruns and power calibration failures.
This excellent amateur site contains lots of useful information
about fingerprint readers, retina scanners, and many other
biometric authentication devices. Check it out if you're looking
for alternatives to passwords for logging users into your systems.
Here's a neat twist on the password cracking tools. When a
Web browser or other application displays your existing
password as a series of asterisks in a dialog box, have you
ever forgotten what the actual password behind those stars
really is? Here's a useful tool that will tell you.
The company which brought you the excellent free software-based
firewall and its big brother now brings you something in between.
ZoneAlarm Plus isn't free, and it doesn't have all the fancy
email-filtering and ad-blocking features of ZoneAlarm Pro. It's
basically a cut-down ZAPro, with all the firewall stuff left
in and the other stuff taken out. You can read more about how the
3 products compare here.
GFI has launched version 3 of its Security Event Log Manager,
which monitors networks for suspected security breaches.
One of my favourite tools is Webstyle, from Xara. It's a neat
Windows app that helps you create buttons, borders, headings
etc for use on your Web site. We've been a big fan of version
2 in the Tech Support Alert office, and version 3 has just been
released. It has loads more graphics templates.
WinGate 5 On the Way
Deerfield is about to release version 5 of WinGate, its software
router that allows the sharing of internet connections across
a LAN. If you have ADSL, cable modem, or any other external
connection that you want to share among other machines on your
home or office network, and you can't make the Internet Connection
Sharing system that's built into Windows work properly, you
need to get WinGate.
Alchemy Eye is a network monitoring tool which monitors your server
and can alert you by email, pager, cellphone or ICQ if a problem
is detected. The software runs on Windows but can also monitor
other systems such as Apache.
Oakley Software has launched an update to WebCompiler, its rather
clever app that bundles a collection of HTML pages plus a browser
into a single Windows executable file. This allows you to distribute
Web-based information easily to users, who simply run the program
to start browsing your information. It's an ideal way to distribute
online manuals and similar publications.
3. BUGS, SERVICE RELEASES AND PATCHES
Windows Media Player Megapatch
Microsoft has released a new patch for Windows Media Player
6.4 and 7.1, as well as the version bundled with WinXP. It's
being billed as a cumulative patch which bundles all previous
Media Player security fixes into a single file. But Microsoft
is being rather sneaky, because this patch also fixes 3 more
newly-discovered problems too. Either way, you need it.
Lots of Office Fixes
Microsoft has released 5 new fixes for Office 2000 and XP,
including security patches to prevent macros running under
Excel without warning. If you run Office, you should get these.
New IIS Patch
Microsoft has issued a new patch which fixes a security hole
in its IIS web server. More information is available on the Web.
RAS Phonebook Plugged
A security problem in the RAS phonebook, in WinNT, 2000 and XP,
has been fixed by Microsoft. The company recommends that you
download and install this fix as soon as possible.
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
Microsoft Gets Into Hardware
The Redmond crowd have been mostly a software company until now,
with the exception of mice and joysticks. But that's all about
to change, with the recent announcement of a range of Tablet PCs.
Microsoft Project 2002 is now shipping. If you're into
project management tools, this highly capable member of the
Office family will do everything you need.
Office XP/2 On the Way
Microsoft has unveiled details of the next release of Office,
which will be released in around a year's time. Among the new
features is a heavy dependence on .NET technology for making
Office fully internet-aware.
"Underground" tells the true story of the rise of the computer
underground, and "the elite hackers who took on the forces
of the establishment". You can read it online for free.
Online Credit Card Handling
I've spent some time recently checking out sites which offer
online credit card processing for subscription-based Web sites.
One of the better ones is Revecom, which offers all the features
I need and many more too. And if you need help, you can chat
online with their staff to sort out your problem. The system will
even email you a transcript of the conversation once you're done,
so you have a record of the information provided. If you sell
stuff online, check out these guys.
Find A Sound
Need a sound effect such as a twittering bird or a ringing
telephone? This Web site has links to thousands of them,
all ready for you to download for free. Handy!
Where Eaglets Dare
Somewhere in deepest Alaska, 2 eagle eggs recently hatched.
Watch this webcam and you can see live pictures of the babies
and their parents.
5. TECH SUPPORT RESOURCES
Linux on the Desktop
Is Linux a viable alternative to Windows on the home or even
the office desktop PC? Is the operating system easy to use,
and are the free/cheap Office suites any good? This article
by Julian Moss is one of the most popular features that PCSA
has even printed. If you didn't catch it the first time around,
here's another chance to get a copy free of charge.
Preventing Office Internet Misuse
How do you ensure that your staff don't misuse the
Internet at work? Are they sending personal email or
surfing porn sites when they're supposed to be working?
Read this article from PC Network Advisor and find out
how to monitor and/or control such things.
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