NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2003
Siegel Reports
by George Siegel
PIBMUG's Special Correspondent
(click to email author)

This month George Siegel tackles dumb applications he can do without,
provides a way to prevent virus attacks,
and tell users how to avoid hoaxes.

The Sorry State of Software...
For the last six months or so, I've become increasingly irritated by the ever growing amount of junk that comes with every new software release. You know what I'm talking about--registrations, cookies, tray icons, background processes, pop-up screens, newsletters, affiliate programs, ad infinitum.

At first, I thought maybe it was just me; heavy workload and all that. Then, a couple weeks ago, I helped an old friend set up his new PC and I reinstalled all of his 1997-vintage software including PhotoShop, PageMaker, MS-Office, and a half dozen other major apps. I finished in record time. No hassles, no online anything, no sales pitches. It felt great.

Then, over the next few days, I had to deal with the following:

  • A PC that had suddenly slowed to a crawl after the installation of the 164MB printer driver. (Yes, 164MB of "full printing system" on a $99 inkjet printer). I replaced it with the 1.12MB lite version from the vendor's website and all returned to normal.

  • A cheesy checkbook program that analyses your entries in order to make recommendations on how to get out of debt, and apparently is in a position to offer you a bank loan. George Orwell would be proud.

  • A new computer that had no Internet Explorer and no Internet Connection Wizard. The two choices were to sign up for--and launch--the preloaded AOL or the preloaded DellNet. My cable- connected client didn't want either one. I finally found Internet Explorer as a hidden file and set up the necessary icons but it was a sad waste of 45 minutes. And of course there were the usual viruses, spyware, pop-ups, etc.

In the midst of all this, I realized the cause of my frustration. My role has traditionally been to "add" software and configuration elements to make a computer do that which a client needed. Today's software does too much, (When was the last time you needed to imbed a sound file in your Word document?) I now spend my time loading additional software to block or remove features that no one wanted in the first place. This is nonsense and we shouldn't be accepting it.

So here's where you come in. As user group members, you've probably tested more versions of more apps than most users. Make a list of the most recent, stable versions of all the various applications that don't have all the junk features. The minimum requirement is that they be Y2K compatible and run on 32-bit Windows. Once you have the list finished, you can make it clear to your computing buddies that there is simply no reason to ever pay for newer versions of those programs until--or unless--the junk is removed, and any real needed improvements in functionality are added.

Here's where to start:
MS-Office 97 does everything that most businesses will ever need. No reason to buy anything newer. If your new PC has Word 2002 bundled with it, remove it and load Office 97. You'll never have to spend another dime for an office suite.

Quicken 2000 (or thereabouts) It's just a checkbook!! Whatever version you have, keep it. If your new computer has a newer version bundled with it, delete it and load your existing version. It will run faster and work just fine.

Okay, you get the idea, right? It will give you a great opportunity to tick off software companies while enhancing your user group position as champion of the little guys.

Hey, Protect Yourself, Willya?
You may remember the last time we had a beer, we briefly discussed the general gullibility of new and untrained Internet Users, and our ability, through experience, to quickly see through most of the scams and ploys one finds on the Web.

Recently, I was at the office of a client with about six employees, all of whom recently received e-mail accounts. In no time at all, they were receiving all sorts of spam. I learned that they had all been engaging in various risky activities including sending each other email greeting cards on a regular basis, each trying to outdo the other.

I explained that things such as e-cards are a no-no because they exist primarily to gather names for spammers. I went on to say that no one would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to put up a sophisticated e-card system unless they had a way to recover their costs. And that even on the web, you can't get something for nothing.

Their response? The sites seemed friendly. Indeed, the sites themselves as well as the e-cards have been created with a disarming, warm and fuzzy feel.

Then the client asked me how to make the spam all go away. I had to tell them that it was too late. They had to either live with, and spend time and energy constantly fussing with spam blockers, or change their e-mail addresses.

I find that my admonishments to clients regarding safe practices are either ignored or rebelled against. It's probably that I'm pressed for time and tend to use a very direct approach ("Stop that, you idiot.")

The job of every user group member is to use your demeanor and verbal skills to present the best practices employed by experienced users in a positive, compelling way. Teach them what would be roughly the online equivalent of street smarts. The idea is to not only give users the needed information, but also to convince them that doing things correctly is much "cooler" than being duped by every ploy that comes along.

Hey, I got a virus!!
Want some golden rules to prevent getting a computer virus?

    1. Don't trust any attachment; scan each one. (But what else is new...)
    2. Update your antivirus signature today.
    3. Do a quick, free internet scan with http://www.commandondemand.com

Or, if you use MS-Outlook and are tired of playing this silly game, then download and install the Outlook e-mail security patch, by itself or included in one of several other service packs. It blocks all conceivable active attachments and is nicely described at http://www.slipstick.com/outlook/esecup.htm

Copyright 2003 by George Siegel. Reproduced with permission. Article reproduction coordinated by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group. George Siegel is a top-notch computer consultant specializing in networking, a long-time PIBMUG member, and advisor to the last four presidents.

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