NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2011
Moderated and reported by Jim Scheef, Director,
Danbury Area Computer Society, CT
October Issue, DACS.doc – A Computer & Technology Newsletter
jscheef (at) dacs.org (click to email author)

AskDACS is a Question and Answer session before the main presentation at the monthly General Meeting. We solicit questions from the floor and then answers from other audience members. My role as moderator is to try to guide the discussion to a likely solution to the problem.

D – This month AskDACS began as I futzed to get my laptop working as intended on the hospital wireless network. My goal is to have three virtual machines available to demonstrate potential solutions. These virtual machines run Windows 7 Professional, Vista Business and, of course, XP. Each machine is running with “undo disks” enabled to make easier recovery from mistakes. My problem was getting network access for Win7 and Vista. My home network happily gives each virtual machine its own IP address. The hospital network was not so generous, so I changed the network setting so the base machine would provide NAT (network address translation) just like a home router. This way the laptop issues IP addresses to each of the VMs. We can explore this at another meeting, if desired. Once I got this working, someone asked about the hypervisor software. I am using Virtual PC (VPC), the feature included with Win7 Pro and Ultimate. VPC will not host a 64-bit operating system regardless of the underlying version Win7. Using a 64-bit version of Win7 on the host machine allows for more than 4G of RAM. Virtual machines can only use physical RAM so the more RAM installed in the host machine, the more virtual machines you can run simultaneously and the more RAM you can allocate to each of those machines. With 6G of RAM in the base machine, I can run three modest VMs at the same time – so bring on those questions!

Q – I have a website and was viewing the site using a Macintosh at a public library using the Safari browser. How many people use Safari?

A – Safari is the browser supplied by Apple as part of the Mac OS-X operating system, so it is to Macs what Internet Explorer is to Windows. A survey of Mac users at the meeting showed that most used Safari for some to most of their web browsing. Most popular browsers are also available for the Mac, including Firefox, Opera, and Chrome. The website netmarketshare.com ranks Safari #4 at 5.16% of the overall browser market with Internet Explorer #1 at 60.4% (all versions of both). The bottom line is that any website that targets people who may use a Mac need to be sure that Safari users have a “good experience” when they visit.

Q – I’m helping a friend get online with an “older” XP machine with only 256M RAM. The ISP is Charter. I tried to download AVG antivirus and found that it does not support XP. Then I tried to get an email client. What is a good, free email client for XP? The machine seems to be made more complex by an OEM edition of Microsoft Works.

A – We had many suggestions. Someone suggested Avast as a better antivirus. A check shows both AVG and Avast support XP as well as Vista and Win7. The Mozilla Thunderbird email program was suggested as both free and easy to configure. Often the account wizard can figure all settings and render a useable configuration with no more than the user’s name, email address and password. There were more suggestions for email but first we got caught up in how Microsoft Works seems to be controlling access to all other programs including Outlook Express.

After much questioning, suggestions boiled down to completely removing (uninstall) all of Microsoft Works since it appears that it is not used. Then install (or reinstall) XP Service Pack 3 to ensure the Windows installation is close to current. I would then run Windows Update until it reports there are no further updates. From that point any email client can be installed and configured. To restore Outlook Express, use the Control Panel Add-Remove Programs applet (click Windows Components) to first remove and immediately reinstall Outlook Express to restore the default icon to the Start Menu. The Windows install CD may be needed to complete this process.

Perhaps the simplest approach would be to use the web-based email on the Charter Communications website to read and compose email. While it does leave the email on Charter’s server, the email is accessible from any machine with Internet access. There was concern that this ties the user to Charter, which is true. I then repeated my long-running plea that everyone end ISP tyranny by moving to an email account that is not tied to any ISP. There are many such services available for free, including AOL (or AIM, my current favorite), Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and many, many others. Most of these can be used with either a web browser or a “real” email client like Thunderbird (my current favorite). Note I do not suggest using the old AOL software. The “best” setup is AOL (or AIM) email using Thunderbird with the IMAP (internet mail application access protocol) which gives the best of all possible worlds. Your email messages are downloaded to your PC (even synchronized on multiple machines) and are still backed up on the AOL servers. This automatic synchronization is a feature of IMAP and can be used with any service that supports IMAP including Hotmail and Gmail. Right now I do not recommend Yahoo Mail because it lacks standards-based IMAP support.

Last item is to be sure that XP Service Pack 3 is installed as XP without SP3 is no longer supported on Windows Update. This applies to anyone running XP on any machine.

Q – If I have more than one browser on my computer, do I have to designate one of them as the default browser?

A – The short answer is “no” but it’s easiest if one of them is the “default”. The default browser is the one that opens when you click on an Internet shortcut on the desktop. It is easy to change the default browser (or email program) using Set Program Access and Defaults. This is in the XP Start Menu by default or is always available in the Control Panel Add-Remove Programs applet. Vista and Win7 hide this function in similar but different Control Panel applets.

Q – I’m having trouble with a floppy drive that seems to stop working if not used for several months. Any suggestions?

A – Since almost any floppy disk is bound to be many years old, it can be difficult to determine if the problem is the disk or the drive. The normal PC draws cooling air in the front of the case and exhales it thru the power supply. Newer machines add extra fans blowing out the back of the case. This means that air – and dust – is drawn into the floppy drive with attendant problems. Searching for “floppy drive cleaning kit”, I found several sources for drive cleaning materials. As long as you are using 3.5” floppies, new drives are still easy to obtain. The older 5.25” drives are another matter.

We then learned that the drives are Iomega Zip drives on both a Win95 machine and a Macintosh. The Mac can read and write a Zip disk but the Win95 machine cannot do either. Both drives have worked for years. Suggested debugging procedures included removing a printer that piggybacked on the Zip drive and setting the parallel port to ECP in the system BIOS. Also if both are external drives, swap the working drive from the Mac to the PC. Current drivers for Iomega Zip drives are still available on the Iomega website at tinyurl.com/367vcdm.

Discussion when turned to long-term storage. The best long term “media” is the cloud where you pay someone else to worry about drives crashing or obsolete rotating media. If you insist on local storage, I would start to migrate everything to Blue-ray disks, although no one knows how long these disks will last or when they will become obsolete. Since the question started about floppies, sometimes the way the disk is formatted is part of what must be preserved. For floppy disks originally formatted using something other than a Microsoft OS, like a Commodore, Atari or something running CP/M, there are imaging programs that copy the disk sector by sector to an image file that can then be stored on a modern PC. To restore the disk, the process is reversed. In some cases, special floppy controllers are required to image unusual formats like 8” or hard sectored disks. Media obsolescence has been a problem for longer than there have been computers. Most large corporations migrated mainframe tapes from one type of tape to another and then to still another format as IBM and others developed newer, faster, higher-capacity tape formats.

Q – What is the lowest cost source for Microsoft Office? I need all of the applications including Access and PowerPoint.

A – The Microsoft website has information on the various versions available and which applications are included in each (tinyurl.com/23oaj55). Only Office Professional meets the requirement of including the Access database program. Your favorite search engine can help find the lowest price, although even the discount seller I have used in the past does not discount Office. A member suggested buying the Microsoft Action Pack which includes all of the software needed to run a business, including Office. The Action Pack is a subscription product available only direct from Microsoft. You must be a Microsoft Partner (free at the lowest level) and meet a list of requirements qualify, like have an active website for your business. All the information starts on the Microsoft Partner Network at https://partner.microsoft.com/US/partner.

Disclaimer: Ask DACS questions come from members by email or from the audience attending the general meeting. Answers are suggestions offered by meeting attendees and represent a consensus of those responding. DACS offers no warrantee as to the correctness of the answers and anyone following these suggestions or answers does so at their own risk. In other words, we could be totally wrong!

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