Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ultimate Free Antivirus?

So I've spent all day trying to remove a never-before-seen virus from a small government office computer network. AVG didn't touch it. The virus laughed at AVAST! Clamwin turned tail and ran. So which package removed the nasty virus? Windows Live OneCare Protection Center! That's right, something from Microsoft worked admirably!

Even though the virus didn't have a name and wasn't detected by three different up-to-date scanners, the Windows online scan worked admirably. Although it couldn't identify the virus nor remove it, it did say that a certain file was infected. I booted from my trusty Ultimate Boot CD, went to the file that was pointed out by the Windows Live OneCare Protection Center, deleted it, then replaced it with an empty file with the same name to prevent it being recreated. Voila! Virus-free computer.

Maybe Microsoft ain's so bad, after all. Oh yeah, if the customer were using Linux or OS X, none of this would have been necessary. But then again, if frogs had wings . . .

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Still on a soapbox - Cable is better than DSL - at least in Edwardsville

OK, I know I promised I'd blog about software, but services have been on my mind lately. As I'm sure you've realized, I live in Saint Louis, and work in the surrounding area. Over in Edwardsville, Illinois, I've noticed a pattern in SBC's DSL sales and service.

First let me say this: the technicians that SBC employs to go on site and install or repair the wiring are top-notch. Always neatly dressed, they bear themselves professionally, work carefully, communicate well, and deliver what they promise.

The rest of SBC seems to have lost touch with this group's values. Salespeople seem to overpromise and underdeliver. In both examples that I have for customers, SBC promised DSL speeds starting at 384k and topping out at 1.2M. At one site, the service never, ever worked. At the other, 384k is top speed. 384k is fine for checking e-mail and reading the news, but downloading a 30 megabyte file takes 10 minutes. At most of my customers (which use cable, by the way) this download takes at most 2 minutes.

So site 1 never worked - but they paid for a months service that SBC says should have worked, but didn't. I checked and rechecked the internal wiring, and found it perfect. I moved the DSL modem to the demarcation point, and still no results. Calling SBC yielded the same pat answer - our automated tests show that the trouble is inside your building, so pay us a fortune to fix it, or have your technician (me) fix it. This seems to be to for the customers safety, but the representatives used it as a deterrent to the customers' persuing the issue further.

After the customer repeatedly called SBC, he reached a technician that knows me personally, and knows that I do quality work (Thanks, Tiny!), so he dispatched an SBC technician to the site. When the SBC tech arrived and hooked up his diagnostic machine, he informed the customer that DSL will never work there - the site is just too far from the central office to be any use. So then the customer is without Internet service for another month while we wait on Charter to deliver their service. Incidentally, the Charter service has worked quite well, with only minor hickups.

Site 2 is currently in the throes of a similar situation - the DSL is slow (support says we may be too far from the Central Office), and our supposedly static IP address has been anything but. When the customer called SBC Tech Support, we no longer reach a call center in America. Evey support rep has had an Indian accent - some more understandable than others. The customer says that the last one was consistently rude to her, and wouldn't even transfer her to his manager, saying that there is no manager for him to transfer her to. I'm going to go deal with this this morning.

So, the problems with SBC (AT&T) DSL that I perceive are:

  • Sales reps are too generous and optimistic in their assessment of SBC's potential offerings to a given customer based on their distance from the Central Office.
  • Support reps are all too eager to blame the customer, her equipment, and her premise wiring.
  • Support reps tend to be rude.
  • Support reps may not speak English as a first language.
What can we do about it? Complaining to your sales person may help - the sales reps have been somewhat helpful as they know that the support reps are making them look bad, but their abilities to affect a situation in progress are limited. They usually wind up being a diplomat for SBC and doing damage control.

Otherwise, I'm not sure. Cable seems like the obvious choice. Charter Communications is our local provider, and they have yet to disappoint me with respect to download speeds or service continuity. I've never reached a commercial support rep that didn't speak English as a first language, and they've always been professional, knowledgable, and polite. But the pricing is commensurate with the service - expect a 1.2M down with a static IP to cost at least $100 per month, while a DSL line may be half that.

Now, my other sites with DSL (a few in Saint Louis, Southern Illinois, and two in Indiana) have consistently high speeds (one, in Indianapolis, is an SBC customer) and seldom experience outtages. Why is Edwardsville prone to such failures in delivery?

So, if you live in Edwardsville, Illinois, the 1st question should of an SBC sales rep should be, "What is the length of the wire from the Central Office to my business?" If it's more than 10,000 feet or so, consider cable Internet instead.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Firefox On the News

So I'm watching the local coverage of the elections around 9 or 10 last night on Saint Louis Channel 2, and they were using Firefox 2's tabbed browsing feature to compare the candidates.

Too cool!

Why? Well, Internet Explorer 7 is out and easily available - Firefox 2 came out at about the same time. Both feature tabbed browsing, but the newscaster was clearly using Firefox 2. In your face, Microsoft!

HPTI Calendar

If you would like to get your own Google Calendar, go here:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Linux Vs. Windows

In a blog post (The World Just Isn't Ready for Linux) I read on ZDNET this morning, the author cites many good reasons for the average user to stick with Windows instead of moving to Linux. As things stand, I'm in 100% agreement.

The author cited Ubuntu as his favorite flavor of Linux, and said that there are too many flavors of Linux for the typical user to choose from - I agree. My own favorite flavor is Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED), which retails for around $50.00US per year. Some vendors sell the desktop license for less if you download the operating system yourself. If you're cheap like me, OpenSuse is available for free, and has most of the same applications as SLED, but fewer bells and whistles - mainly regarding the user interface.

The most obvious example of the difference between OpenSuse and SLED is the multiple-desktop switching - OpenSuse switched from desktop to desktop with no transistion effects - its like changing the channel on the TV. SLED "flips" from desktop to desktop with an effect like a rotating cube - check out some screenshots here. Some folks dismiss this as mere "eye candy" - but the effect is profound. It gives the user a frame of reference that makes more sense than "virtual desktops" by giving more natural visual cues.

Despite the ease of installation (which I guess is as easy as Ubuntu), the author of the aforementioned ZDNET article is again quite correct in that once its installed, the typical user won't know what to do with it. SUSE make finding and installing new packages a snap with YAST (Yet Another System Tool), but it only finds the packages that Suse is distibuting. Overall, there are four different ways to install applications in Suse that come to mind - and most DON'T involve YAST. There is not typically a simple setup program that makes things go then drops a nice icon on your desktop. Note to developers: a nice ./install that takes care of the particulars on any given flavor of Linux would be nice, but is likely too much to ask.

Which brings me to the most important point about Linux and the free software movement: don't ask for much - this stuff is FREE, the developers are likely uncompensated, so they have little incentive to personally support their application like a for-profit outfit would. Can't figure out how to make a program run? Tough, RTFM (Read the freakin' manual) is the typical answer - and rightly so - you're lucky to have the program at all since you didn't have to write it yourself or pay a bunch of money for it. The average Windows user may spend a fortune on software during the lifetime of his computer compared to a Linux geek, but the time and frustration saved by the Windows user is usually worth it.

Linux is a labor of love.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

AVG Antivirus licks the competition again!

The blog that I link to in the headline for this blog entry mentions AVG 7.1 has the lowest system resource usage, and says that:

Norton Internet Security 2006 was the worst resource hog, McAfee VirusScan Enterprise 8 was the second worst, but Norton Internet Security 2007 seemed to have improved to the third worst resource hog. Trend Micro PC-cillin AV 2006 was the fourth worst resource hog . . .

Good thing I sell AVG - if you don't have it and want to get it, give me a call. Mention this ad, and I'll throw in a free container of anti-static screen wipes.

Ultimate List of FREE Software from Microsoft!

So its a cold, dreary November day. I'm still recovering from some ailment or another involving lots of mucus. What do you think old Justin's doing? Worrying about that strange grinding noise coming from the dishwasher? No, I'm reading about free Windows stuff, of course!

Oh my Gosh, I've got to try the Microsoft Memory Diagnostic Tool! This is an excellent alternative to the RAM test utility that I described a month or two ago. That one involved burning a CD or creating a boot floppy and then booting from it, well this one does too - nope, being an elite computer tech ain't easy.

And my life would not be complete without the Windows Command Line Port Scanner! For those not in the know, this means that Microsoft made a tool that can return information about itself and other computers' networking states and capabilities. Sound complicated? It's not! Imagine you can't get your mail from and you're not sure that you have the right server - aim this tool at your mail server, let it rip, and see what services are really offered by that server.

The Windows Installer Cleanup Utility has saved my hide several times - this is useful when you uninstall an application, check, see that most if not all of it is gone, but still see its entry in the Add/Remove Programs dialog. I've gotten the most mileage out of this when confronted with HP All-In-One applications and drivers that won't reinstall after being uninstalled.