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Scott's Column
Windows XP SP2, Free WiFi, Spam

October 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

This month I want to tell you about the WiFi testing that went unfinished from last month and some things on Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Win XP SP2

Last month I told you that I burned the ISO download from my MSDN subscription to a CD for my friend (who also has an MSDN subscription, so this is perfectly legal). He only has dial-up and downloading the ISO would be impossible.

When he tried installing Windows XP he received an error shortly into the "windows" part of the install. The "windows" part comes after the first reboot and you are in a graphical environment. He looked up the error on the Internet and everything he read said that it was a badly burned CD. I figured I would try again to burn the disc. The first time I burned it I was getting the ISO image off of my wireless network (I stored the ISO on my server). This second time I copied the ISO to my laptop then burned it at 4X to insure the best possible results.

My friend used that disc and still got the same error. Now I had to wonder if it was me or him. I also wondered if maybe the download was bad. I was going to download the ISO image from Microsoft onto my wife's laptop and burn it to CD from there. This would eliminate my laptop as a problem.

Before I had a chance to do that I thought maybe I could test it out myself. If you recall I currently have three operating systems on my desktop computer. Windows 98, Windows 2000 & Windows XP Professional pre Service Pack 1. Windows 2000 is the primary operating system and the one where all my software is installed, including games (more later). I also have a 4th partition empty on the hard drive that I was going to use for Linux, but I just haven't bothered.

I decided that I could wipe out the partition holding Win XP and install XP SP2 there. This would allow me to keep Win 2K as my primary operating system, but I could still check out XP SP2. So I ran Partition Magic to delete the old XP partition, and then created a single 4 GB partition (that still left 2 GB not used in case I want to use Linux). I let Partition Magic format the new partition.

I burned another copy of the XP SP2 image (my friend still had the ones I gave him). I did one thing different when I burned the disc. I selected the option to do a "disc at once." I forget the details but this basically allows you to never add more information to the disc. This also makes the disc as backward compatible as possible with older CD-ROM drives.

I installed XP SP2. After the first reboot I received an error about an HAL.DLL file being missing or corrupt. I wondered if this was the same error my friend was getting. I search the Internet from my laptop (it always pays to have a working computer connected to the Internet when building a system). I found a few references to boot.ini files and other stuff. Nothing that said I should have a bad burn.

I don't know why I did this, but I started over and this time I let the XP installation delete the old partition, create a new partition (this time I used the entire 6 GB of unused space) and format the partition. The rest of the installation was completely uneventful. I didn't have any trouble. I did have to dig out the CD that came with my motherboard to install all the drivers for sound, video and Ethernet. Once that was done XP worked just fine.

I installed Partition Magic under Windows XP so I could activate Windows 98. The Boot Magic program that allows me to pick an operating system at startup is installed under Windows 98 (the first OS on the hard drive). However, when I reboot I received an "invalid disc" error. Nothing I did would get the system to boot. I happen to have a "rescue" diskette for both Partition Magic and Boot Magic. They all worked, but didn't really fix anything. They said they did there thing, but I could not get Windows 98 to boot. I tried to make the Windows 2000 partition the active one so I could just run like normal. I still received the disc error. I was starting to worry. I fiddled with a couple of things, and the error message changed, but I never could get the computer to boot. I couldn't even get Windows XP to run anymore.

At this point I was getting frustrated. I decided to bite the bullet and install Windows XP SP2 as the only operating system. I put the CD in and reboot. I deleted the partition with Windows XP, recreated the partition, formatted the partition and installed Windows XP SP2 without incident.

That's the way I left the computer running. At this point I installed the major applications that I need, and spent some time recovering all the files I needed to have my e-mail working. I had to make the Win2K partition "visible" so I could search for the WAB (Windows Address Book) file that had all my contacts. 

Once I got my e-mail addresses restored I delete the Win 2K partition, and the Win98 partition. For the moment I have left that 3.5 GB as unused. I also moved the main Win XP partition to the front on the hard drive. It is times like this that I am glad I have a D drive (another partition) that holds all my data.

Zuma

If you recall from last month I was delaying installing XP SP2 because I didn't want to buy the game Zuma again. When you buy this game from CapCom you are allowed 5 renewals on the install. I used those up. I did the unthinkable and bought the game again. This will keep the rest of the family happy.

Games

I keep wondering if I will ever get back into gaming. Seeing the latest version of Doom come out has me thinking. I remember Doom and Doom II very well. It was the first game I ever played online... modem to modem. A couple of my friends and I would play each other. When the first person shooters started increasing online I fell behind. I no longer had the hours and hours it took to get good. I remember getting slaughtered the first few times I tried to play those games on the Internet.

I would hope that Doom 3 will make a great single player game. I don't have the time it takes to get good enough to play online, but love the challenge of playing the computer. I have read that Doom 3 is not revolutionary in its gaming, but is incredible to look at. That's what I want. A game that is as much fun to play as Doom 2 (I liked it quite a bit better than the original Doom) that I can enjoy working my way though the levels. Intelligence in the monsters would be nice. I would really like a game that is a nice blend of shooting everything, sneaking around and creative thinking.

Will I buy Doom 3. Not for a while. I already know my graphics (Intel Extreme Graphics built in to the motherboard) are not up to the task. I will need to save up for a new graphics card. I will also want to upgrade my CPU to something more than the 1.7 GHz Celeron that it has now. And.. I will need more memory, I am squeaking by with only 256 MB now.

If I could spare about $500 I would get a 3.0 GHz Pentium 4, a good video card and at least another 256 MB of memory. Unfortunately I don't have an extra $500 laying around to upgrade my computer, and I would kick myself for doing it if I didn't get into gaming enough to justify the upgrade.

Free WiFi

My friend finally got Windows XP SP2 loading onto his computer. When he did he was able to quickly and easily connect to one of his neighbor's WiFi networks. Performance was good. However, the next day performance was spotty. A couple of things are noteworthy here. First, when he loaded Windows XP SP2 he only saw one WiFi network. Previously under Windows 2000 he saw 4 networks, one with WEP enabled. The fact that he later only saw one network means he is getting the same information I was getting when I went over his house with my laptop. Second, one of his neighbors moved, and very well could have taken one of the networks away with him. The neighbor that moved lived across the street. When I brought my laptop over I received the best signal when I went to the front most part of his house (on the upstairs). It is possible that the neighbor that moved not only took a WiFi network with him, but took the best one.

Within another day or so another WiFi network appeared. It seemed to be new, but we can't be sure. He has been able to successfully connect to it or one other network in his neighborhood ever since. Once in a while he will get poor performance, but it is always better than dial up. In fact, he regularly gets 30-60 KBps throughput. Not bad for free. He usually gets two "bars" on the performance meter that Windows uses to display signal strength. Overall he is happy with the free broadband access. Though he still keeps his dial-up account in case he ever needs it.

Spam

I can't explain this yet, but ever since I installed Windows XP I have not received any spam. I started using ChoiceMail about two to three months ago. This is a "white list" program that treats all mail like it is spam. If you don't approve an e-mail sender then their mail goes into the great abyss.

When I loaded Windows XP SP2 and setup Outlook Express I did not reinstall ChoiceMail. ChoiceMail puts hooks into OE that override the way it looks for mail. With ChoiceMail installed OE is actually "downloading" or retrieving e-mail message from ChoiceMail. ChoiceMail will have previously downloaded your mail from your ISP's server. Since I didn't install ChoiceMail, Outlook Express looks directly to my ISP for my mail.

Before I installed ChoiceMail I received at least 10 spam messages a day. Many of these were viruses that were stripped of the virus. But my spam started increasing with one of the SoBig viruses. I received 79 spam messages in one day. It was hard to find the 3 legitimate e-mails I had. That caused me to try ChoiceMail. However, I didn't like that ChoiceMail puts a "trailer" in every one of my outgoing e-mails. I guess that is what you have to expect for using the free version.

I was planning to remove ChoiceMail. I found instructions for using Outlook Express itself to filter spam that seems like it should be quite effective. I found it on Black Viper's site. You can read about his spam eliminating tactics yourself. I was impressed enough with his techniques that I wanted to try it myself.

Check it out... it's worth reading.

But maybe I don't need to filter spam anymore. If I don't get any then maybe I have XP SP2 to thank. However, I have read a fair amount about XP Service Pack 2, but nothing I have read indicates that it should stop spam in any way. Do you have any ideas?

SPAM Returns

Well, I guess I spoke too soon. I went a total of 6 days without a single piece of spam. I don't know why. My wife received a piece of spam at home. This is rare for her. She does not sign up for anything and doesn't have her e-mail address on a web page like I do (you can see the link to mine on the left). However, her e-mail address starts with the same two letters than mine does and the spam she received was sent to many people all starting with "sc" and ending with satx.rr.com. Since our e-mail addresses are close enough alphabetically I was surprised I did not receive the one spam she did. Go figure! I guess the spammers can't spell.

Well, now I am getting spam... like life should be if you are a marketing weenie. I will start using Black Viper's techniques soon. I will tell you my results next month. For the moment I am going to try and count the spam to get an idea. At quick glance I am getting about half what I did before the SoBig viruses. I think it is about 5 or so spams a day. Much better than what drove me to use ChoiceMail.

For some unknown reason, I spent six days in the great blissful state of not knowing what spam was. I long for those six days. We'll have to see if they return.

Conclusion

I am liking my e-mail much better now. I like the way it runs without ChoiceMail, and I will make it spam free once more. Feel free to e-mail me with any comment. I am sure to easily read it now.

Later...
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