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.....technobabble .....for the week of January 29, 2001

.....technobabble.....I must be one of the few PC enthusiasts who is an incredible skeptic when it comes to upgrading operating systems. It seems that so many PC wonks are in the biggest of hurries to upgrade their systems to the latest and greatest operating system every time a new one is released. For me, if my current operating system works, I don't see any real reason to upgrade it. I am still running Windows 95 OSR2 on my main machine, and I have felt little temptation to upgrade to Windows 98 or Windows ME. I suppose I just don't see what the great benefit is that justifies taking up hours of my time and potentially destabilizing my system. That's not to say that there aren't some advantages to newer operating systems. For example, Windows 98 would give me more complete support for my USB ports, so I am considering an upgrade for that reason. My point is that you should carefully consider both the pros and cons of an operating system upgrade before you make the plunge. The marketing droids will try to convince you that the latest version of <whatever> is so much better than the previous ones. Frankly, with Microsoft putting out a new OS every year, it's hard to differentiate between them in many ways.....

.....Windows ME has, in particular, seemed like a big yawner to me since it was released. A casual inspection of the retail box shows even Microsoft struggling to identify much that differentiates it from Windows 98 Second Edition! There have also been a host of incompatibilities and other problems reported with the new operating system (yes, I know, you're shocked too. ;^) ) If you want to read more about the experiences of some Windows ME adopters (both good and bad) you may find this PC World article interesting.....

.....if you are a football fan, you may recall the deluge of ads purchased by various dot-coms during Super Bowl XXXIV, a year ago. This was near the height of the dot-com mania, where companies with no real plan, low sales and dubious business concepts were worth billions due to the greed of speculators and the foolishness of bandwagon-jumpers. Would you be surprised to learn that there will be, uh, fewer dot-com ads this year? :^) That's right, no more sock puppet, since Pets.com was one of the most wild-spending of the now defunct dot-coms around. There's an article on this on ZDNet.....

.....wow, this is pretty amazing stuff. It seems that for some time now, there has been an all-out electronic battle raging between DirecTV, the satellite TV provider, and hacker/pirates who have created special cards for receiving the satellite broadcasts without paying for the service. First, DirecTV tried to send signals down that would alter the hacked cards to make them useless; the hackers responded by write-protecting the cards. Then DirecTV started sending code to reprogram receivers not to accept hacked cards, forcing the hackers to make the cards writeable again. Last week, DirecTV revealed that it had spent years slowly planting a special logic bomb in a particular series of these hacked cards, and that it had "detonated" the bomb last week, making thousands of these illegal receivers useless. Fascinating stuff, and described in more detail in this article at Excite.....

.....the DirecTV business is fascinating for a number of reasons. It is reminiscent of the cat-and-mouse games played by software authors and software pirates, or virus and anti-virus authors. But there's a bigger issue here. I have written before that as a content producer, I feel that content protection is important. I personally think that anyone who takes satellite service is a thief, and deserves to be shut down. However, I must wonder at the tactics being used here. Is it a good thing for companies to be attacking the hardware of people who are pirating? More, I worry that this may set a precedent in the PC world. Do we want to see software producers taking these sorts of "electronic counter-measures" against users? What happens the first time somebody goofs with these counter-measures and causes data loss or damage to an innocent party? Could we see software that detects a pirated version of a software program and corrupts the system registry, or formats the hard disk? Oh, probably not, but how many things have come to pass that we never thought would?.....

.....the woes of the PC hardware industry have been well-explored in this column. Last week, Intel announced that it would cut microprocessor prices by 20 to 40 percent, as described in this ZDNet article. Of course, it's very hard to tell what the cause of any given price drop really is. Chip prices decline on a regular basis even when the industry is going gangbusters. At the same time, it seems pretty obvious that Intel is trying to cope with a sluggish market, and also deal with increasing competition from its rivals, such as AMD.....

.....now, some more replies to general comments on feedback from The PC Guide Reader Survey. I continue to get a "mixed bag" of comments about the search engine. Some folks seem to find it quite helpful, while others find it rather helpless. :^) I will find a replacement for it eventually. I have also had a couple of people suggest a mailing list for the site, with tips and other information. I have mixed feelings about this, as it strikes me as something that will drain much more of my limited time while just duplicating what the site does right now. I'll certainly listen to more feedback on that issue.....

.....that's all for now. Did this column make you smile, or was it just vile? Give me your feedback, please! And if you like the column, please tell others. Only 1% of the visitors to The PC Guide read this column..... ;^)


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