Table of Contents




Technology Today - February 2004
by Robert Sanborn

More from the Comdex File

I had a few more interesting things come out of the Comdex pile of stuff I brought home. Did you know that IT outsourcing is expected to become a $54 billion global market in the next five years. The obvious indicator is when you call a computer company and get a very nice English spoken with an Indian accent. 64 bit computing is being seen in a few places as AMD is selling the new AMD Athlon 64 (www.amd.com) and has a number of companies making motherboards already for it. Intel will soon follow with their version but at this time, most software still can’t take advantage of their Pentium IV with Hyper-Threading. It is a never ending chase but the benefit to us is higher performance at a better cost. One of the conferences talked about trends in South Asia and a comment printed was that Australia “is 85% Urban, more than the U.S.“ Think about that one and all those wonderful spacious pictures of the outback. Did you know that Amazon.com has 9 distribution centers and more than 13 million products in their catalog? Here is a new buzz word for you. OLED which stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. How about a roll up video screen or objects that can change colors and no, there weren’t any of these on the show floor. But then again, a quick search on Google shows it has been around for several years PC Magazine had an interesting article from June of 2003 that is worth taking a look at. 

In the Comdex Daily report, it listed the top 10 business trends for 2004 with number 1 being Viruses and Spam will get worse, not better. Well, that is certainly not that comforting at all. I have always tried to stress the need to keep your anti virus software up to date and if you don’t know whether it is or not, then you should make the effort to find out. Check it often as one of the things that a new virus will do is often disable the anti virus software. Trend number three is all about internet telephony and I have some interesting thoughts on that as I reviewed a TalkPro internet phone which you can see in this publication. It means more options, I now have three different phones and services to make calls on, and hopefully, lower prices as well. Trend five talked about the proliferation of wireless hot spots and networks. Look for more free ones out there as well. 

One interesting application I found was from Infommersion, www.infommersion.com. It is a product to as they call it, bring Excel spreadsheets to life. You use it to create interactive applications that allow you to easily use your spreadsheets. In a nutshell, it is a report generator for Excel datasheets but it really goes beyond that with some of the samples they were showing off. $195. 

One of the more interesting brochures I got my hands on was the “Showcase of Taiwan’s Best” from the winners of their national awards of excellence. You can find all of these winners at:: http://taiwaninnovalue.com. The first item in the catalog is from Giga-Byte Technology, http://tw.giga-byte.com and is a very elegantly designed presentation pointer that is mouse, memory card, remote control, and laser pointer all built into one device. Really cool.  

Having spent a few days before Comdex with friends traveling around Death Valley gave me time to take a look at the GPS systems they had and so I went looking for them on the floor. Found several that looked interesting. Pharos is one company doing this for quite a while and I will have one for next month’s issue as a review. Two others I saw at Comdex looked very interesting and both were from Korean companies. The first was Thinkware, http://www.thinkwaresys.com/, has a unique navigation system that uses a PDA in your car. Normally with most mapping packages, you see graphic representations of a map and the streets. With their package, you actually see landmarks, a birds eye view, and a really different way of viewing the map. The second Korean company is SysOnChip, Inc, www.sysonchip.co.kr.  Like Thinkware, they have a unique way of presenting the maps to you as you travel. They also have come out with a Bluetooth version to use with either their software or your own.  

ZyXEL Communications, Inc. 

ZyXEL is the kind of company you turn for to get seriously secure connections for you network or internet. They have been around since 1989 and in the past when ever I ran into one of their boxes, I usually realize two things. One is that someone has invested in some very good and reliably secure hardware for their network, and the second is that it is usually a complicated setup that is going to take me time to figure out. What I mean is that unlike other routers where you simply plug them in and hit your blue E for internet explorer, this one requires decisions and setup. So I enjoyed the chance to talk to these folks at Piero’s. In the past, they have targeted medium and large businesses but they have some new products that are directed to smaller home and offices that caught my attention.  What is new is their ZyAIR Hot Spot in a box kit. For $649, you can set up your own internet wireless hot spot gateway and with the software and hardware built in, can bill your customers on the spot for their air time. I mean, anyone can start their own internet café with this unit. The account generator and receipt printer that comes with the unit gives your customer a user name and password, and a line telling them how much time they just purchased. What is also great about this unit is the Layer 2 Isolation which really means that wireless and wired users on the network cannot see anyone else. It also uses SSL (Secured Sockets Layer, which is like the little padlock on your browser) to keep user ids and passwords secure as well.  With other business features like login page redirection and advertising links, this is a great package for a startup internet access business.  With some of their other home based offerings, it looks like they have done a lot to make their products easier to integrate in a home or office network and that is great news. 

Windows XP Event Viewer 

Windows XP has been out for quite a while now and I can easily say that it is far better than what ever Microsoft had before. Having said that, I can also say it certainly has its own frustrating moments and quirks built in. With XP, the good news is that it really does take the problem of software crashing to a much more safer level in that it will not hurt your computer when it does happen as it does a very good job of isolating those problems.  The bad news is that when Windows decides that all is not right, it can just simply shut it self down and leave you with very little alternatives to figure out what is going on. The dreaded “Blue Screen of Death” is gone in Windows XP and has been replaced with a cryptic and still blue screen that says your computer has been stopped for your own protection. Now sometimes, you can see what caused the problem by bringing up the computer into safe mode (still the same old way of continuously hitting the F8 key before Windows XP gets a chance to start up) and taking a look at a new tool built just for this, the Event Viewer. 

Click on Start, All Programs, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer (Windows XP Pro) or Start, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer (Windows XP Home). What it does is show you a listing of Application, Security, and System notes in the left pane. Click on one of them and you will see a detailed listing of everything going on in your computer. What you look for are the Warnings and the Red X alerts. They will give you all sorts of detail when you double click on them about the error that happened and sometimes, tell you where to go for more information. 

One such event happened to a computer recently. What happened is that the computer would suddenly start to reboot itself and would get into a loop where it starts to boot, shows the Windows XP splash screen, and then reboot. A never ending cycle. A look at Microsoft’s web site unfortunately didn’t come up with much but do a search on the News Groups on Google showed it to be quite a wide spread problem. Unfortunately it requires reinstalling Windows but what turned out to be the ultimate culprit was the hard drive. If you suspect the drive at any point, you can download disk diagnostic utilities from the manufacturer, and in this case, it was Western Digital Diagnostics and it found a problem with the drive.  In this case, we never had a hint that there was a problem with the drive but when things kept on failing big time, I thought, it just couldn’t be Windows.  

Short Takes 

Interested in building your own Radio Station? Want to get started quickly and easily with a kit package? One other Comdex goodie I saw which I must admit, wasn’t much for me to look at simply because I have no interest in being a producer, but this package allows you to build a professional radio station from a single box.  You need to take a look at their web site at http://www.worldvibrations.com/.  

Executive Software Diskeeper 

I help a lot of people with computer problems and one of the things I discovered that seems to take a lot of time is running a virus scan. As computers get larger hard drives and people continue to fill them with large programs, I have seen virus scans take over an hour to complete and in some cases almost two hours. I can’t imagine what it will do when people start to have 250Gig drives in the not so distant future. One solution to help this I have discovered is to use a defragmenter program on a regular basis. In the past, I have not really worried about it too much because unless you constantly add and remove software packages from your computer, things really don’t get that much fragmented so I would not really worry about it. Performance is another reason to defrag a system but it always seemed to be a real question as to how much you gained by doing it. It certainly makes life easier on your hard drive by not having to bounce all over the platters to get your data files but again, with longer lasting drives and faster computers, do you really see a difference?  So I decided to install Executive Software’s Diskeeper, www.execsoft.com, and see what it will say about my own computer. It comes in a variety of configurations from home users at $30 to enterprise versions. I know that Windows has a built in defrag program and I have used it but the information you get out of it is often limited. I also wanted a tool that monitors the system status on a regular basis to keep it in shape and so it seems like it was time to give this a try. 

Installing Diskeeper Pro is very straightforward. Start the CD and it goes on its own. You can go online to register but not to worry if you don’t because when you run it after you have installed it, it asks you to go online to check for updates and so you can get the latest patch. Start Diskeeper and it gives you an informative map of your system. You click on each drive and tell it to analyze the drive and each of its partitions. I have two physical 80 gigabyte drives on my computer and have the second drive partitioned into three drives. Once the drives are analyzed, you have several tabs of information to look at. The first performance tab tells you what to expect to gain if you defrag. On my system’s C drive, it tells me that in reading fragmented files, I could expect a 45% improvement and would see a 29% improvement in reading all my files. I am impressed already. The next tab is Reliability. It gives you an indication of how much fragmented your drive is (mine was 66%), and whether it thinks your drive is healthy or not. In my case, it marked it as critical as it told me that the master file table was fragmented into 268 pieces. Definitely a time for cleanup. The third tab is Fragmentation and it gives you a detailed report of the condition of the drive which you can either save or print out. It gives you information on your volume size, amount of free space, and a detailed report on the number of files and percent fragmentation on them. In my case, I had an average of 2.4 fragments per file on over 51,000 files. The Drive Map tab shows you a graphic picture of the drive and how it is fragmented with a legend showing you which files are system files, unfragmented files, reserved, and the like.  One of the things that probably doesn’t help my drive is the fact I use Partition Magic’s Drive Image to make images of my other drives and save them on my C drive. They take up 11 gigabytes of space and each time I back up the system, I delete the file and rebuild it. The last tab is the “Set It and Forget It tab to give you detailed notes on how you can set it to automatically schedule your defrag so it runs when you are not busy with your computer.  

Once the analysis was done with my machine, I had the defrag program take off and it finished drive C in under 3 hours. Great time considering how long I have waited in the past for it to complete. The report told me I should see a 20% improvement in disk access and load times and that I now have no fragmented files or segments anywhere. My Reliability tab shows a clean system and now that it does look much better, will run the disk image program to make a set of current backups.  The Set It and Forget It section is also easy to use. Click the tab and it will tell you what you need to do to schedule your defrag jobs. The way the intelligent scheduler works is that it will first check the drive and if not needed skip it each day. You can also set the schedule to work on a custom basis which is what I did. Normally, it will block out the times between 4:am and 10:pm but since I often work later, I can easily change it to block out between 6:am and Midnight and as badly as my drives were fragmented, six hours is more than enough time to do its thing. At least it should be as when you schedule it, I see that it sets it to the lowest system priority so it will take longer than normal but then again, at that time of night, there shouldn’t be much else running. With all the options, you can even set it to weekend mode, screen saver mode, or any other you choose. There are even power management modes so that if you are using a laptop and it is unplugged at the time, it won’t start to kill your battery.  There are a number of other performance options including telling it to do a more thorough analysis of your drive data. You can also tell it not to defrag certain files and folders if they need to remain where they are. The help files in Diskeeper are very good at explaining what it does and what each of these options are for. 

I really like this new version of Diskeeper and the interface. It is very clear and informative in what is presented to you and does an excellent job of keeping you informed as to the state of your disk drives.  

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com

Last Update:06/26/2007


Copyright © 1999 - 2012 PC Lifeline