Connected Home EXPRESS, August 20, 2003

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Windows Scripting Solutions


1. Getting Connected
- Looking at Linux on the Desktop

2. News and Views
- Microsoft Chooses ATI for Next-Generation Xbox
- Sports Invade Game Consoles
- HP Launches Electronic Blitz
- Gateway Delays Pocket PC
- Courts Rule Against Record Industry

3. Announcements
- Get the eBook That Will Help You Get Certified!
- Try Windows & .NET Magazine!

4. Quick Poll
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Digital Music Services
- New Poll: Linux on the Desktop

5. Resource
- Tip: Keep Your System Up-to-Date

6. Event
- New--Mobile & Wireless Road Show!

7. New and Improved
- A Stylish Cordless Phone for Your Teen

8. Contact Us
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.

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==== 1. Looking at Linux on the Desktop ====
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]


Connected Home EXPRESS readers have a variety of technical skills, and with a topic as complex as Linux, I like to err on the safe side. Installing, configuring, and using Linux is a lot easier now than it was even a year ago and is incomparable to the experience I had in 1994 when I first tested this open-source phenomenon. But working with Linux still isn't for the meek. If you're not interested in getting down and dirty with your PC, Linux is still very much the Wild West of computing and not necessarily an obvious alternative to Windows. But if you're a bit adventurous, have an older extra PC lying around, and like to get your hands dirty, Linux can be the high-tech Promised Land. Let's take a look.

Introducing Linux
So what is Linux? Purists will tell you that Linux is simply a UNIX-like OS kernel, the core code that underlies a true OS. Although this statement is technically true, most people think of Linux as an OS similar to Windows or the Macintosh OS. Linux comes in distributions--collections that include the Linux kernel as well as a host of end-user-oriented software, utilities, and other applications, much of which will be familiar to users of other OSs. For example, most Linux distributions ship with graphical environments, text editors, developer tools, games, networking utilities, and multimedia applications; some distributions even include office-productivity suites.

Linux is free (i.e., developers and end users alike can download the underlying source code for Linux or the compiled binaries, copy them, modify them, and give them to others). However, Linux's license requires that individuals and companies that modify the Linux source code give those modifications back to the Linux community at no charge so that others can benefit from their work. This egalitarian system might sound kind of hokey, but millions of people worldwide have adopted it and can become quite defensive and protective of their technology. As a result, Linux users tend to be fiercely independent and suspicious of commercial software companies, especially Microsoft.

Although Linux is free, companies can sell Linux and associated products and services. For example, Red Hat, my preferred Linux vendor, makes a good bit of money each year by selling support for its Linux products. Other companies sell software that runs on Linux. The Linux ecosystem isn't as rich as the Windows system, but it's improving all the time as companies figure out ways to make a buck selling free software. It sounds crazy, but it works.

So What's Linux Good For?
Thus far, Linux has had its biggest success with two groups: computer enthusiasts made up largely of programmers and other technical people, and so-called infrastructure servers in small-business environments. Linux is an excellent low-cost solution for Web servers, DNS servers, DHCP servers, and even Windows-compatible file and print servers. Because Linux looks and acts like UNIX, the OS has found great success in markets that UNIX once dominated and appeals to people who cut their technical teeth on UNIX. Today, Linux can be found in everything from embedded devices to set-top boxes to notebook computers to high-end database servers. You can even get a version for your Sony PlayStation 2. Soon, Linux will be a viable competitor to Windows in virtually every market imaginable.

Linux on the Desktop
The one market Linux has had trouble cracking is the desktop market, which Microsoft with its Windows systems such as Windows XP and Windows 2000 dominates. Linux's failure to make any inroads on the desktop is a complicated subject. Part of the problem is Windows' maturity. Although Linux caught up relatively quickly on the server side, end users expect a desktop system that's simple, easy to use, and, above all, compatible with what they're already using. XP is the result of more than 15 years of Microsoft GUI experience, and although modern Linux distributions have matured dramatically in just a few years, few offer XP's ease of use and none offer its combination of performance and compatibility.

However, Linux does offer an interesting middle ground between XP and Mac OS X. Although Linux provides little in the way of Windows application compatibility, ala the Mac OS, it does have many advantages when compared with Mac systems. First, Linux is compatible with the millions of PCs and compatible hardware people own and can run on the same PCs and notebooks that XP runs on. You can even install it in a so-called dual-boot configuration, which lets you choose between Linux and Windows when the system boots. Or you can simply repurpose an older computer for Linux, taking further advantage of your hardware investments. With the Mac, you must buy a new, more expensive, system, essentially giving up all of your old hardware and software.

Second, Linux offers a variety of UI choices, many of which you can configure to look like Windows or any other system with which you're familiar. Linux's highly configurable nature is desirable to many people and stands in sharp contrast to the nonconfigurable Mac OS X, which uses the bubbly Aqua UI whether you want it or not.

Third, because Linux is free, an astonishing collection of free software applications and servers has grown up to support the system. You can get excellent, free Linux office-productivity suites, such as and Mozilla Firebird, many of which are unavailable or inferior on the Mac. Although Apple Computer has paid lip service to the open-source movement by creating a stripped-down Mac OS X version called Darwin, Linux walks the walk, and the entire system is free and open.

Installing Linux
In the old days, horrific text-based setup routines, floppy-disk-based installations, and almost nonexistent hardware compatibility made installing Linux a nightmare. Today, modern Linux distributions such as Red Hat Linux 9 are surprisingly more elegant than anything Apple or Microsoft supplies, and the hardware support is incredible. Gone are the days of manually installing device drivers; today, virtually everything is Plug and Play (PnP), including even wireless networking.

Old Problems Remain
Linux can have problems, of course, and--in sharp contrast to Windows--where to turn when something does go wrong isn't always clear. When the OS doesn't recognize your hardware, when applications don't supply an elegant installer or offer up a default installation location, or when you want to update your system to the most recent security patches, being a bit savvy really pays off. You don't need to have all the answers, but you do need to know where to look for them. Linux users tend to be a lot more technical and less patient with Linux rubes (or newbies, as they're called) than Windows and Mac users are. As a result, you can easily feel overwhelmed--and even insulted by Linux experts--when things go wrong and you ask for help.

My advice is to spend some time on Linux-oriented Usenet newsgroups, first lurking around a bit to get a feel for the types of discussions people are having. On the Web, start with obvious, which offers tutorials and documentation, and Google, where you can search for virtually anything. But most important, don't be afraid to ask questions. Linux will no doubt be the source of some of your most embarrassing technical defeats. But if you give it time, Linux can also be the source of your greatest accomplishments.

==== 2. News and Views ====
An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman

Microsoft Chooses ATI for Next-Generation Xbox
Here's a follow-up to last week's news item about next-generation video game consoles. Additional details about Microsoft's next version of the Xbox have emerged. Microsoft has selected graphics maker ATI Technologies to be the supplier for graphics and related technologies for the next Xbox. For the current product, the software giant relies on NVIDIA, one of ATI's main competitors, but after a bitter fight over pricing, no one is surprised that the two companies won't be working together again on the next-generation console. Rumor has it that Microsoft is also considering using a special version of the Intel Pentium M processor in the next Xbox. The interesting twist in the ATI/ Microsoft relationship is that ATI technology also powers the Nintendo GameCube. Nintendo was and still is expected to use ATI for its next-generation console. Could Microsoft's new relationship with ATI possibly lead to a Microsoft/Nintendo relationship? The two companies' combined resources might be exactly what they both need to beat market-giant Sony. Either way, expect the next-generation battle for your living room to be pretty exciting.

Sports Invade Game Consoles
Speaking of video game consoles, we've reached that wonderful time of year when all the major publishers start releasing their new sports titles. The major players this year include the popular Electronic Arts (EA) Sports series, Sega's newly branded ESPN Videogames series (formally SEGA Sports' 2K series), and Microsoft's new XSN Sports series. EA Sports has chosen not to support online gaming on the Xbox platform because the company doesn't believe in Microsoft's business model with Xbox Live, which involves Microsoft controlling and centrally managing the online servers. Instead, the company will support online gaming on Sony's PlayStation 2 with its EA Sports Nation online servers. EA Sports will release titles for the Playstation 2, GameCube, Xbox, and--in some cases--the PC and Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. The company has already released college and NFL football titles and will release "NASCAR Thunder 2004" (due in September), "NHL 2004" (September), "Tiger Woods Golf 2004" (September), "FIFA Soccer 2004" (October), "NBA Live 2004" (Fall 2003), "Rugby 2004" (release date unknown), and "NCAA March Madness 2004" (release date unknown). Sega will release its ESPN Videogames for only the PlayStation 2 and Xbox and will support online play on both platforms. In the past, Sega has supported the GameCube but decided not to this year for obvious reasons. ESPN Videogames include "NFL Football" (early September), "NBA Basketball" (fall 2003), "NHL Hockey" (fall 2003), and "College Hoops" (fall 2003). Microsoft will release its XSN Sports series, which will feature online support, exclusively for the Xbox. The online support will include an update to the Xbox Live Dashboard that will let users set up games with friends and view their rankings. The XSN series includes "Amped 2" (snowboarding, due during the 2003 holiday season), "Links 2004" (golf, 2003 holiday season), "NBA Inside Drive 2004" (October), "NFL Fever 2004" (late August), "NHL Rivals 2004" (fall 2003), and "Top Spin" (tennis, fall 2003). Fall is going to be a busy time for video game players. Sports titles account for a large percentage of console gaming sales.

HP Launches Electronic Blitz Hoping to simplify the "digital revolution," last week, HP rolled out 150 new products ranging from printers to new notebook computers. The product rollout includes a partnership with Microsoft to test "experience centers" at retail stores, including Circuit City, CompUSA, J&R Computer World, and Micro Center. The new experience centers will let customers interact with technology and ask specialized sales staff technical questions. The wide-ranging new products from HP include digital cameras, photo printers, photo paper, deskjet printers, all-in-one printer devices, and scanners. The company will support the rollout with a $300 million advertising campaign titled "Enjoy more."

Gateway Delays Pocket PC
Gateway recently decided to focus almost entirely on the "digital revolution" with a wide range of consumer electronics, a strategy that Apple Computer and Sony previously embraced. The computer maker hopes to end its financial troubles with a huge shift in focus. Part of that shift will include the introduction of its first PDA, which was going to be a Windows Mobile for Pocket PC 2003 device. But after expecting to launch the product in mid-July, the company recently put its plans for a PDA on hold. According to reports, problems with software and accessories delayed the release. Now that a lot of vendors have released PDAs based on Microsoft's new mobile OS, Gateway believes it might have missed its launch window. The company will still launch 50 other new products this year, including high-end TVs, digital cameras, and DVD players. But Gateway's PDA plans are now up in the air.

Courts Rule Against Record Industry
In the ongoing and never-ending battle of the recording industry versus the rest of the world, a federal judge in Massachusetts finally handed the industry a defeat in one of its battles. The judge ruled that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston College don't have to comply with subpoenas that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) issued to obtain information about students it suspects of file sharing. The schools argued that because a Washington, DC, federal court issued the subpoenas, they couldn't be served in Massachusetts. The judge agreed. The ruling could significantly slow down the RIAA's attempted crackdown on individual file swapping by requiring the association to file subpoenas in courts all over the country rather than in one location. This episode won't be the last you'll hear of this battle, unfortunately.

==== 3. Announcements ====
(from Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)

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==== 4. Quick Poll ====

Results of Last Week's Poll: Digital Music Services
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Are you using a digital music service to buy music online?" Here are the results from the 139 votes:
- 9% Yes, I use Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store
- 2% Yes, I use
- 33% Not right now, but I probably will sometime in the future
- 56% No, and I don't plan to

New Poll: Linux on the Desktop
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you have a Linux desktop machine running in your home?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, b) No, but I plan to install Linux on a desktop machine, or c) No, and I have no plans to install Linux.

==== 5. Resource ====

Tip: Keep Your System Up-to-Date
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Given the recent widespread problems the MSBlaster worm has caused, ensuring that your computer systems are up-to-date with security fixes and making sure that they stay that way is a good idea. If you run a modern Windows OS, you can use Windows Update to manually download what Microsoft calls Critical Updates. If you run Windows 2000 or a later OS, you can use the Automatic Update service to ensure that these updates not only are automatically downloaded but also are optionally installed when you're not using your system. Broadband users, especially, should strongly consider turning on this service.

Macintosh users shouldn't feel too complacent just because their systems aren't attacked as often as Windows is attacked. Fortunately, however, Mac OS X's System Preferences contains a handy Software Update tool that offers new software updates, including security updates, on a regular basis. If you'd like your system to be automatically updated when new software updates are available, you can enable this feature by selecting just one check box. Again, as with Windows users, using the Software Update service is a great idea for broadband users.

Whichever system you run, be proactive with security. The Internet is a dangerous place, and you should do everything you can to keep your system up-to-date.

Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.

==== 6. Event ====
(brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine)

New--Mobile & Wireless Road Show!
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==== 7. New and Improved ====
by Jason Bovberg, [email protected]

A Stylish Cordless Phone for Your Teen
VTech Communications announced its Vtech gz2434 Teen Phone, a stylish 2.4GHz cordless phone marketed directly to the teen market. The Teen Phone offers six distinctive pop-song ringer melodies, and teens can program an additional seven favorite songs as ringer tunes. And for late-night privacy, the Teen Phone offers a silent, flashing visual ringer display on the antenna and keypad. The Teen Phone has a trendy look and color scheme, and its changeable faceplates come in five fashion colors and patterns. The phone's basic features include call waiting, caller ID, 30-channel operation, 50-name phonebook directory, and a universal 2.5mm output jack. The Teen Phone costs $59.95. For more information, contact VTech on the Web.

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==== 8. Contact Us ====

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