Monday, October 27, 2008

NVIDIA Driver Update Error 800705B3

This morning Windows Update wanted to install several updates, including one for my GeForce 8600 GT graphics card. I let the updates proceed. All updates installed correctly except this NVIDIA driver. According to Windows Update, the installation failed with error code 800705B3. Microsoft's Windows Update description of the failure is shown at the bottom of this post.

Microsoft has no information about this error, nor does A quick internet search with Google didn't help much either.

My computer runs Vista Ultimate 64-bit. I suppose it's a 64-bit problem - neither Microsoft nor the 3rd party vendors have fully committed to 64 bits yet - it's always the last thing they do when developing software or issuing an update. But I don't know how to fix the update error, 64-bit problem or not.

AHA! End run. I went back to and downloaded driver version 178.24, the latest drivers for the NVIDIA 8-series running 64 bits. That download was 99 MB, much larger than the Windows Update download for some reason. It installed without error. When Windows Update next runs, we will see whether it wants to try to update the NVIDIA driver again. I expect that it won't.

The web site is very easy to navigate, and there is even a tool (beta release) which can figure out which hardware and software you have, hence which driver update you need. I'm impressed so far.

NVIDIA Driver Update Error.  Click to enlarge, BACK to return here

Monday, August 4, 2008

HP Laserjet P1005 Review

A few weeks ago my ancient HP Laserjet II (20+ years old) expired, so I looked around for a low-cost replacement. The HP P1005 fit the bill - at that time HP was selling them with an on-line rebate which reduced the price to $49.99 with free shipping, less than the cost of one of its print cartridges. Click to enlarge, then BACK to return here At this writing HP's price has gone back up, but Newegg has them for $49.99 plus shipping. Perhaps others do too. At that price, how could it really go wrong?

So far so good. It installed fine on Vista x64 and the LAN-connected Vista and XP computers, despite some confusion on my part caused by the serious lack of documentation, see below.

I've used it for a couple of weeks now. Unlike the old Laserjet II, the P1005 is absolutely silent until called upon to print something. Then if it hasn't printed recently it warms itself up for a few seconds (HP says 8.5) and prints at a rate of up to 15 pages per minute, four seconds per page, and in a quick test it did print a 3-page document in 12 seconds. Some reviewers have complained about the 62 dB noise, but in my low-duty application right next to my desk it hasn't bothered. It won't interrupt conversation. If others were using it frequently, I would place it farther from my desk or at a different computer.

  • Paper: Letter, legal, postcards, transparencies and "tough" (plastic) paper, #10 envelopes, smaller sizes.
  • Up to 15 pages per minute, four seconds per page.
  • Good black-and-white print quality.
  • About 1500 pages per print cartridge, which cost about $50-$60, or 3 to 4 cents per page.
  • Input tray 150 sheets, output 100.
  • USB 2.0.
  • Win 2000, XP, Server 2003 32/64 bit, Vista 32/64, Mac OS X several revs.
  • Small and light, 10.3 lb, hence modestly portable.
It does NOT have:
  • COLOR. The biggie.
  • Its own networking of any kind, except through an attached computer of course. The only connection available is USB 2.0.
  • Automatic double-sided printing. It does have manual double-sided printing, sort of, see below.
  • Selectable input trays.
  • High duty cycle - 1500 pages per month is the recommended max, 5000 absolute max.
  • Any printed documentation whatsoever.
Things that are lame:
  • Printed Documentation: none. HP has apparently given up on solving the multiple-language problem and just doesn't include any printed material except how to unpack it and how to find your local HP office anywhere in the world. There is a CD-ROM with no instructions on it which, if you play it, gives information on installation. It's a bit obtuse but we got there.
  • Manual Double-Side Print: It prints the first side of all pages, then instructs you to re-insert the stack and push the GO button. But on the P1005 there is no GO button or any software button to click - maybe you need a P1006 or P1500 to get that. The workaround is to briefly lift the lid to the printer cartridge and set it back down, after which the backs of the pages will print. But HP doesn't offer that solution - you have to get there by trial and error. They may offer a downloadable fix for the software, but I've checked and not found it.
Despite those minor issues it's a mighty good printer for the price of $50. Probably for the regular price too. It's very suitable for home use or for a small office, but for color you'd need an inkjet as well.

Made in Vietnam.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The "new" computer has 4 GB of RAM, which is a lot, but I have disk paging turned off, and Windows Vista has warned me more than once that I was down to 15% of memory remaining. In each instance Googe Earth was running, but I like Google Earth and I'm sure that other applications will come along which can also benefit from gobs of memory. That's the future of computing.

Furthermore, the exact memory that I used for the first 4 GB (G.Skill 4 GB dual channel 800 MHz) now appears to be out of production by G.Skill (technology moves along) and is on sale at NewEgg. It works perfectly and has a Windows Experience Index Subscore of 5.9, the highest possible. So I ordered 4 GB more, which is all that my Intel DP35DP motherboard is rated to handle. Full up.

But I got an unpleasant surprise at boot time. While my nice new home-built computer had routinely booted in about 60 seconds with 4 GB, from power-on to display of the desktop, it now took over three minutes, sometimes almost four. Yikes! Why would that be? Memory test: no problems. Swap new memory with old: same problem with 8GB, no problem with 4 GB. Huh.

Google provided the answer. The Intel DP35DP BIOS had two software bugs, one affecting only boards with 8GB and running in 64-bit mode, and the other affecting boards with 8 GB and no disk in the DVD drive. Either way I had a problem, but either way the fix required only a simple download and "express" installation of updated BIOS. Now it boots up in 60 seconds with 8 GB, as it darn well should, and the Windows Experience Index Subscore for memory is still 5.9.

4 GB Memory 8 GB Memory

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mozilla Sunbird Calendar Works Great!

Better than Microsoft's Windows Calendar.

Here are my specifications for a good calendar system:
  • A nice application window with several views, including day, week, and month;
  • Compatible with on-line calendars such as Google Calendar;
  • But it must continue to work when there is no internet connection;
  • Calendars sharable within my own network;
  • Reliable pop-up reminders of calendar events; and
  • The same application should work on all of the computers on my network.
After I discovered Windows Calendar on my new Vista 64-bit machine, I set it up with several different calendars, moving all of that information off of an older machine which I then shut down. It sort of worked, and I found it useful, but with these issues:
  • It only worked on my Vista machine, not on XP machines, so I couldn't use it to maintain a central calendar accessible from all machines.
  • It was unreliable, in two different ways:
    • Reminders did not work unless Windows Calendar was running, regardless of the setting of the option called "Reminders should show when Windows Calendar is not running."
    • Windows Calendar didn't always start when Windows started. That meant that I couldn't depend on reminders, period, because I can't depend on myself to notice whether it's running every time the computer restarts.
  • Setting an appointment (event) for later in the current day was quite awkward: As soon as I clicked on New Appointment, I would get an immediate "reminder" because the default time for the reminder was prior to the current time. The reminder had to be dismissed before any other information could be entered into the new appointment. Yuck - don't they ever try their own software?
  • After a new event was set up, there was no way to know whether it had been published. No final "save" command or "appointment saved" acknowledgment.
  • HELP on Vista Calendar is worthless. Clicking on Help gives one page of instructions for doing those things that are patently obvious anyway. There is no overview, no explanation of the difference between an "appointment" and a "task," no instructions for keeping the calendars in a folder of MY choice (one that will be backed up frequently).
Windows Calendar isn't a bad application, but it isn't good either. It's Microsoft.

A quick Google search produced Mozilla Sunbird, an open-source cross-platform multi-language calendar which runs on Linux, Windows, Mac, and a few other systems. It resolves most of the problems mentioned above:Screenshot of Sunbird running on Windows XP
  • It works on both Windows Vista and XP;
  • It has been quite reliable so far although, as with Windows Calendar, Sunbird must be running for reminders to work;
  • It's much easier to set up a new event, especially on the current day;
  • There is no question when the new event has been published.
It does NOT have a help file, however, except an on-line help which works with Mozilla browsers (Firefox) but not with Internet Explorer. The people who do Mozilla must really hate IE! Maybe I'll install Firefox and take a look at that help file someday. And who knows, maybe I'll like Firefox.

Getting Started with Sunbird:

Here is the web page for downloading Mozilla Sunbird. Installation on Windows was uneventful on my systems.

Sunbird supports two kinds of calendar files: (1) Its own internal data base, not accessible from other computers; and (2) iCalendar (.ics) files, a standardized format in which each file is a separate calendar, accessible from other computers if located in a shared folder. Sunbird will create the first kind of calendars, but it will not conveniently create the second kind, unless I've missed something.

I have a main computer (the one I built) and a laptop, and others in my family also have computers, so I needed sharable iCalendar files. Here is how I created all of my calendar files:
  • Some of my calendars already existed in Windows Calendar, so I simply "published" those to .ics files in the folder of my choice.
  • For the rest, I created an empty file with the extension .ics in a folder of my choice as follows:
    • Right-clicked in that chosen folder, clicked New, then Text Document.
    • Renamed that file "calendarname.ics," where "calendarname" is the name I wished to give that particular calendar. When Windows asked if I really wanted to change the name extension, I answered Yes.
  • In Sunbird, I clicked File, then Open Calendar File, then
  • Navigated to the file I created, clicked on it, and clicked Open.
  • That calendar then appeared in my calendar list, so I added events, and also edited the calendar's properties.
  • I actually deleted the default calendar called "Home" because there was no need for it.
Why would anyone want more than one calendar?

Because (1) It may be convenient to organize calendars by topic or activity, e.g. one for taking medicine (daily reminders), a different one for business appointments, and yet another for repeating things that don't change, like birthdays; (2) With several calendars all displayed at once the calendar window may get quite busy, so it may be helpful to be able to temporarily suppress the information from one or more calendars to better view the other calendars; and (3) Some of the calendars that show in my window may belong to someone else, from another computer on the network or from the internet, such as a calendar of US holidays.

Examples of calendars that appear on my Sunbird window:
  • Medicine reminders;
  • Business and other appointments - anything that may come up;
  • Repeating events such as birthdays, backup reminders, tax payments; and
  • US Holidays.

To make Sunbird ALWAYS start up minimized at bootup on XP and Vista:

Windows XP: XP - Click to enlarge
  • Put a shortcut to Sunbird on the desktop so that it will be handy. If there is not a shortcut there already, click the Start button, then go to Programs, then Mozilla Sunbird, RIGHT-click Mozilla Sunbird, drag it to the desktop, and click "copy here."
  • In Windows Explorer, navigate to c:\Documents and Settings, then User (whichever user wants startup at boot), then Start Menu, then Programs, then Startup.
  • Move the Sunbird shortcut from the desktop into Startup.
  • Right-click the Mozilla Sunbird shortcut, click Properties.
  • Change "Run:" from "Normal Window" to "Minimized." Click Apply. Click OK.
Windows Vista: Vista - Click to enlarge
  • Put a shortcut to Sunbird on the desktop so that it will be handy. If there is not a shortcut there already, click the Start button, then go to Programs, then Mozilla Sunbird, RIGHT-click Mozilla Sunbird, drag it to the desktop, and click "copy here."
  • In Windows Explorer, navigate to c:\Users, then User (whichever user wants startup at boot), then AppData, then Microsoft, then Windows, then Start Menu, then Programs, then Startup.
  • Move the Sunbird shortcut from the desktop into Startup.
  • Right-click the Mozilla Sunbird shortcut, click properties.
  • Change "Run:" from "Normal Window" to "Minimized." Click Apply. Click OK.
That will do it - anything in that Startup folder will be started at bootup, and you have told Windows to start it minimized. Reboot and try it out.

Remaining Problems:

Help File: Neither Windows Calendar nor Sunbird has a useful help file built in. If you use the Firefox browser, then you may have a help file for Sunbird - I haven't tried it.

With both calendars, reminders will not work if you close the application. If you use reminders, then DO NOT EVER click on the X in the upper right corner of the window. Minimize the window instead. I hope to find a fix for this issue in Sunbird. I'd also like to move it from the main taskbar to the notification area (system tray), though I think this is a bit beyond my expertise at the moment.

Comments are invited.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vista Still Sucks

This post is a brief rant about Microsoft and their latest attempt to provide an "operating system" for regular PC users. It's the opinion of one semi-technical user - read it at your own risk.

Vista has been out for over a year and a half now. One major update later (Service pack 1), nothing has changed on my system. Nothing. Every original complaint is still there. I have found workarounds for some, but not all. I don't have the performance problems that so many others complain about for some reason - but then again I have never made the exact comparison by loading XP or Ubuntu on this speedy new home-built hardware. It boots up in seconds. I chose Vista Ultimate 64 because it supports 64-bit addressing, allowing more RAM memory, which (as always) is the future of computing. But that's the best I can say for Vista.

Microsoft has always been a paragon of mediocrity in the technical arena. I have not been exposed to anything that they have done with excellence, ever, except marketing. They have, of course, applied their marketing muscle with skill, arrogance, and disdain to force their inferior products into markets where excellent products already existed, to the detriment of the customer and certainly to the companies offering the superior products. Vista may yet be another Microsoft marketing success but, so far, it's a technical flop.

A few of my specific complaints:
  • Vista forgets folder settings. This is a well-documented bug which doesn't seem to appear on all systems, but I sure have it. Just now, for example, I opened my Contacts folder to find that it had been reset to a folder type of "all items," (the default) rather than a folder type of "contacts." Because of this, the contacts were not sorted in any useful way. This happens to all folders, even the recycle bin. I set things back as they should be, but I know that they won't be that way after the next reboot. Here is a web site that offers a fix, but in my experience the fix lasts for only a few days to a few weeks.
  • Vista is unstable. Several times now Vista has failed catastrophically, something that never happened on Windows XP. Most recently I had almost finished a fairly complex email, and suddenly the create-mail window froze. I could still perform a few windows functions, but every application which was dependent on explorer.exe was stuck. That's a lot of applications, and apparently the "create mail" function in Windows Mail is one of them. Reason enough to use a different mail client, I guess. I lost my work.
  • HELP is AWFUL!!! What on earth are they thinking? If you ask for help from within an application, you will get an unordered list of things that might help. But if you try to change or narrow the search you will get Google-like results from the entire universe of Microsoft products, most having little or nothing to do with the application you are using. It's useless. Actually, Google on the web is much better! What happened to an application-specific help facilitiy with a table of contents, index, and word search? The new help must save cost for Microsoft, but it's very little help and another example of technical mediocrity, in this case very deliberate.
There is so much more, but this will do for now. What's the point of complaining - I don't get any warm feelings that Microsoft ever listens.

I wish I had the courage (and time) to just switch to Linux.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Windows Vista Service Pack 1

No problems.

Unlike the service packs for Windows XP, Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) is an AUTOMATIC install. That means if you have Windows Update set to perform updates automatically, SP1 will be installed whether you choose it or not. That almost happened to me today, but I was able to delay it until I could do a disk-image backup. See a previous post "RAID Backup" about that process.

Then I allowed the update to proceed. This computer is a medium-high-end system with dual 2.7 GHz processors, RAID 1 SATA disks, 4 Gb of memory, and Vista Ultimate 64-bit. The update took 27 minutes, from start until I was logged on again. It rebooted once during the install.

I have so far discovered no problems at all. I've tried lots of applications, including IE, Word, WordPerfect, Windows Media Center, anti-virus, graphics editors, and many more. SP1 has been running for only a few hours, but so far so good.

Here are some possible improvements:
  • Microsoft says it's a little faster, and it does seem a little more lively, though this computer was pretty quick before, and
  • Before the update, memory usage tended to build up throughout the day until it reached 55 or 60%. Now it seems to sit at about 35%, going up or down slightly as applications are opened and closed.
That's all I have noticed, and those are just perceptions, not measurements. Here are some annoying Vista "features" that have NOT improved:
  • The select zone that extends all the way across the main window of Windows Explorer instead of being limited to the file name,
  • Windows Calendar reminders still don't work if Windows Calendar is closed, even though I have selected the option that should make reminders work,
  • Windows Task Manager still asks for permission to continue, when I ask it to display all running processes, even though I'm logged on as Administrator, and
  • All of the other Vista annoyances.
After the update was completed, a popup asked whether or not I would like to contribute to the "Windows Customer Experience." This was a click YES or NO, with a "read more" link. I clicked on "read more" and was taken to a very obtuse page about personal information and Microsoft's use thereof; that page had nothing to say about Windows Customer Experience. I opted out, of course. Why contribute when they won't even tell us what it's about?

Nevertheless, bottom line, SP1 works fine here, or at least as well as Vista worked before. I'll install it on another computer without a qualm. On the other hand, if I were managing an enterprise network I'd do a lot more investigation before installing.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Desktop iCalendar Lite

Cute but buggy. Almost a product.

I love the look of this cute little calendar. Windows Vista now comes with an almost-competent calendar called, not surprisingly, Windows Calendar. It has its own set of bugs, but it almost works well enough. In particular, it can subscribe to calendars in ICAL (.ics) format which are on the web or on the local network, and it can also publish a calendar in that format locally or on the web.

Since I have two computers, it's convenient to maintain the calendar on the Vista desktop and have the XP laptop "subscribe" to that calendar. Unfortunately, though, Windows Calendar does not run on the laptop, and the Microsoft calendar that IS on the laptop is not compatible with the ICAL format. So a search ensued for a compatible calendar that will run on XP, preferably a free one.

Desktop iCalendar Lite was released less than two weeks ago, and seems to have all of the features that I want. Best of all, it's free. I've installed it on both computers, and it seems to work exactly the same on Vista x64 as it does on XP x32.

What I like the MOST is the cool appearance. The screenshot shows the desktop of the XP laptop computer, with the calendar in the upper right-hand corner on top of a busy desktop theme (breakfast!). It shows even more clearly against the black background that I normally use. Click to enlarge, BACK to return here This is a transparent "skin" (appearance), which I especially like, but the calendar also has opaque skins of various motifs and colors. The text size, placement, and colors are almost completely adjustable. Days with scheduled appointments or tasks are in color, while days without are white. Hover the mouse over any day, and up pops a little window showing the events of that day. On both of my computers I have told iCalendar Lite to subscribe to the calendars published by Windows Calendar on the Vista desktop computer, and that part seems to work.

Here is a list of installation issues:
  • On initial startup, an error appeared with a US Holidays problem. Click to enlarge, BACK to return here This was solved by adding a new US Holidays calendar from Google Public Calendars, then deleting one of the US Calendar entries.
  • HELP did not work, either from the program (right-click and Help) or from the HELP shortcut in Start Menu. This was solved by renaming the file Desktop iCal Lite.chm to Help.chm. Now it works from both locations.
  • The calendar kept prompting me for a Google username and password, even though I do not use Google Calendar. I set up a dummy Google Calendar and eventually the problem went away, though I think a reboot was part of the solution.
  • Initially when I clicked on the "setting" function, the program reported an illegal integer value. Click to enlarge, BACK to return here That problem eventually went away.
  • The hourly time announcement is optional. If you select it, the default sound file is in the folder c:\WINNT\Media, which folder does not exist on either XP or Vista. I changed the default to point to a file in c:\Windows\Media and then it worked.
  • It has a setting called "Run the program at start up." If this is NOT checked, iCalendar nevertheless runs at startup anyway. I deleted the offending registry entry, which was disclosed in MSCONFIG, and that issue went away.
Ongoing issues:
  • The HELP file discusses a "weather" function, which does not seem to exist in this "lite" version of the program. In addition, the HELP file is very, very skimpy.
  • IMPORTANT: The REMINDER function does not seem to work properly. For example, if the reminder is for 5:00 pm iCalendar may or may not chime at that time. Further, it may show a popup at the correct time, or perhaps later, and the popup seems to disappear almost instantly. I can live with the other bugs, but this one is serious. If you set a reminder, you need to be confident that you will GET the reminder at the set time, not one minute sooner or later.
Windows Calendar has this same failing, by the way. It has a setting in Options labeled "Reminder should show when Windows Calendar is not running." But the reminder doesn't always appear, even with that setting checked. I think it always works if Windows Calendar is minimized, but of course that unnecessarily consumes taskbar space.

Rant: I've had a calendar with reminders working on a real-time computer (HP 1000) for over 20 years. I wrote it myself; it's NOT difficult! Is this a problem with Windows, or did two different calendar authors both screw up? Either way, Microsoft certainly screwed up. Why is Microsoft always such a paragon of mediocrity? Heaven knows they have enough money to do the job right the first time if they care to.

The non-Microsoft author might be excused, but not Microsoft for Heaven's sake. If they're going to act like the big boys they should do the job right, but somehow I doubt they ever will. End of rant.

Perhaps the solution to the buggy iCalendar is to try the "full" version; it's only $20 if it works, otherwise nothing. I like the look so much, I'll probably do that. I hope it has a simple digital clock too; I'd like to move that off the taskbar.

Still no response of any kind from Brigadoon Software, by the way. See previous post.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

PCPhoneHome Does Not Call Back

Update 2009 Sep 28: Do It Yourself PC Phone Home

Update: I left three separate tech service requests with Brigadoon Software, the makers of PCPhoneHome, two by email and one by telephone. The most-recent of those, the phone call, was five days ago and the oldest was more than a week ago. I have received no response yet.

It's my current opinion that PCPhoneHome is an orphan - nobody home at Brigadoon Software. So what if my PC was stolen and it did phone home? I seriously doubt I would get any help tracing it. Apparently it's still possible to order the product, but I won't!

Now the problem is that it's still phoning home, from my home, every day at least twice. Brigadoon's documentation implies that it is nearly impossible to uninstall it without their help, and they don't call back. Since PCPhoneHome puts other "hooks" into the operating system, I think I will try to uninstall it anyway before the trial period expires.

Monday, January 28, 2008

PCPhoneHome Not Recommended

Update 2009 Sep 28: Do It Yourself PC Phone Home

What if I left my laptop in the car for a moment, and someone ripped it off? or, perish the thought, someone broke in and took my nice new computer? It happens all the time, especially in the corporate and public sectors, but certainly it happens to private individuals too. One in 14 laptops is stolen, say some experts.

But what if that stolen laptop or computer was powered up by the thief, then connected to the internet, and it sent an email back to the original owner describing where it was? And what if "someone" could then tell the police the name and address of the thief?

That's what PCPhoneHome is supposed to do. It costs $30, a modest one-time charge. There is a Windows version and a Mac version. You install it on the hard drive of the computer, and whenever the computer gets a new internet connection it sends an email to any email address that you specify. This happens regularly, day after day, and unless the computer is stolen it's of little use except to let you know that it is still working. But if the computer is stolen, that email contains vital information including the IP address of the computer on its local network, if any, and especially the IP address of the mail server from which the email is actually sent. That IP address can be traced back to the user who was connected to the mail server at that time.
PcPhoneHome Registration Screen
Brigadoon software, the makers of PCPhoneHome, promise to help with the task of tracing the computer and contacting the police with that information. So, for the price of $30, you are buying an insurance policy that may get your computer back, assuming that Brigadoon will actually answer their telephone and trace the PC, and that the police will take the time to retrieve the PC.

I downloaded three trial copies:

Laptop running Windows XP:

Version 3.0 is the "standard" version set up for a 30-day trial. It doesn't say that it works on Vista, but it does on XP. It installed with no problems, I filled out the form with details of my laptop computer (make, model, serial#, more...) and it immediately sent its first email to the address that I specified in the form. The laptop was connected by WiFi, and when I connected it directly to the LAN it sent another email. In fact, it sends TWO emails every time, with a slightly different FROM address, for some reason. No problem. So far, after three days, it works just fine.

New home-built desktop running Vista Ultimate 64-Bit:

I knew that Version 3.0 was not recommended for Vista, even though that was the standard trial download from Brigadoon Software. So I downloaded a 3.2 "upgrade" version and tried installing that, with a subsequent comedy of errors:
  • First, the installation program failed to run because, according to Windows, I did not have sufficient privileges to run it even though I was logged on as administrator;
  • So I clicked on the installation program's Properties, then Compatibility, and selected "Run as Administrator;"
  • Then the installation program went a lot farther, but eventually reported a different error;
  • It continued past that error and put up the "registration" screen which takes data to be included in the email that PCPhoneHome sends, but because of the reported error I didn't bother to fill out the screen;
  • Nevertheless, the installer said the installation was successful, though I knew better;
  • I uninstalled it (still possible until reboot), and tried again;
  • Same results, so I rebooted;
  • PCPhoneHome disappeared from the list in Programs and Features - it could no longer be uninstalled. This is a security feature built into PCPhoneHome;
  • So I "reverted" the drive to the most recent restore point, deleted one leftover executable, and started over;
  • This time, surprisingly, the installation went well. I filled out the "registration" screen and allowed it to reboot the computer.
  • After logon, Windows alerted me that an "unknown" program XYZ (I won't disclose the name here) wanted to run and asked me if that was OK;
  • I said yes. Pretty soon I received the two emails. Yay!;
  • Sadly, though, upon each succesive reboot, Windows continues to ask whether program XYZ can run;
  • I have modified "User Account Control" (UAC) in Windows Vista so that this no longer occurs, but of course this modification is unacceptable for the long term. UAC is a pain in the ass, but it has a purpose and should be turned ON for day-to-day activities.
  • I requested a technical service response by email on January 25, but so far have not received any.
Friend's laptop running Vista Home Edition 32-Bit:

Wow I'm SO SORRY that I tried PCPhoneHome on this computer. I tried downloading the official trial version and installing that first, as most users would do. Of course it didn't work, because that version is not for Vista, so then I downloaded the upgrade and tried to install that on top of the first install. The resulting comedy of errors totally eclipsed anything that I had encountered with the desktop installation, and it still doesn't work. I have installed a lot of software on many different machines, but this takes the cake. I have requested a technical service response by telephone and by email, but so far have not received any.


In my opinion, it works fine on XP but is not ready for Vista yet. It phones home on only one of my two Vista installations. There is a workaround for the XYZ "unknown program" prompt at bootup, but that workaround simply trades one security risk for another. Brigadoon Software must fix that problem somehow, perhaps by getting valid "digital signatures" for their software.

Perhaps this is all my fault for installing it on both Vista systems incorrectly. But I don't think so; I suspect anyone running Vista with UAC turned on will experience similar problems. If true, that's an astounding failure, since:
  • The most-easily-stolen computers are laptops;
  • Almost all laptops sold in the last YEAR run Vista;
  • UAC is turned on by default in all new Vista systems;
  • Brigadoon Software had months BEFORE THAT to prepare for Vista; so
  • They are about two years behind the curve and falling further behind daily.
It's as if Brigadoon is a one- or two-person shop, too busy to take the time and do the testing necessary to make their product really install and run correctly. What happens then, I know from experience, is that you spend so much time dealing with tech service questions that you have no time to fix the product. Meanwhile you are selling more of the junky product and compounding your problems. I'm only speculating here though ...

Other Issues:
  1. If your computer is stolen and does phone home, will Brigadoon Software actually answer their telephone and trace an email for you? When I called their telephone number this afternoon during regular business hours, I got an answering machine and no callback today. This is not what you want, because the computer may soon evaporate into the black market and never call home again. I see other remarks on the internet which indicate that this is a real question. I will update this post and add a new post when/if I hear from them regarding my pre-sales technical service problems.
  2. One very good thing: My computers are set up to require a password for my own logon, to prevent access to my account through the network, and also through the keyboard if the computer were to be stolen. On both the XP and the Vista desktop system, if I booted up and did NOT log on, the computer sent the email anyway. Thus if a thief were sitting at the keyboard trying various passwords, and made the mistake of connecting the computer to the internet first, the email would be on its way.
  3. But what if the thief didn't connect to the internet before logging on? In another part of the FAQ document, Brigadoon goes into great detail to show how to set up a computer so that it will boot up with one account which does NOT have a password. They don't spell out WHY we should do that, because it obviously reduces the system's security. But I suppose if I were the thief, I might try each of the usernames on the logon screen, looking for one with no password. If found, I might start with that account, and might even use that account to connect to the internet. Obviously, that account should not have administrator privileges!
  4. Brigadoon makes another good point in their FAQ document: It's important to set up a password to the BIOS of a computer, and then set the BIOS to boot first from hard disk, not floppy or CD/DVD or memory stick. This prevents a thief from using an alternate boot to simply reformat the disk and install a new operating system, thereby obliterating the PCPhoneHome program. In case YOU have a problem with the hard disk, you simply enter the password and change the BIOS back to allow boot from alternate devices. Of course the thief can still remove the hard drive and reformat it some other way, but that's more work and by then the computer may already have phoned home.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Google Desktop vs. Copernic

The basic idea: What if I could search my own computer as easily as I can search the web? Then I could find an email or a Word document, even a PDF document, or a previously-viewed web page, or all of those on my own computer in an instant, just by entering a few words of text that I think might be in the document or in its name.

Enter Google Desktop (GD). I discovered this a year or two ago, when I was running Windows XP, and thought it was slicker than sliced bread. Well, almost, and certainly better than anything that Microsoft offered. It didn't work exactly right - sometimes I would click on a result and nothing would come up - but at least it did seem to find everything.

Except WordPerfect documents. I use WordPerfect and certainly prefer it to Microsoft Word, but the documents apparently have a unique format and are not correctly indexed by GD or by Microsoft's Vista indexing software. No surprise that Microsoft would deliberately omit WordPerfect, because they have been trying to bury it with Word for years (with obvious success), but we expect better from Google. There is a contributed Google Desktop plugin called Larry's WordPerfect Indexer, and it seemed to work when installed, but Google Desktop kept uninstalling it for some reason; I never solved that problem.

Enter Windows Vista; I have the 64-bit version. It supposedly has its own indexing, but I find that awkward and obtuse; I still haven't entirely figured what IS and what IS NOT indexed. Google Desktop was better.

However, if you Google "google desktop" and "vista" you will find complaints about Google Desktop slowing down Vista, and you will find that Google and Microsoft are having a legal hassle. Nevertheless a few days ago I downloaded GD and installed it. To my surprise, GD did not offer ANY indexing commands. I could not make it re-index, and there was no pause-indexing command. When I did a GD search it DID come up with results though, without ever doing an indexing search. From this I assume that it uses Vista's built-in index, and no longer builds its own index. I "installed" Larry's WordPerfect Indexer, but of course a search still did not bring up any WordPerfect documents. Conclusion: At least for now, Google Desktop is broken - no better than Vista's search, which itself is very clumsy and which will apparently never be able to search WordPerfect documents.

Enter Copernic. I downloaded this desktop searcher and couldn't be more pleased. It runs exactly the same on both XP (my laptop) and Vista 64 (my new desktop computer). In both cases it built its index in almost no time at all. Here are some of the features:
  • It automatically indexes WordPerfect documents - important to me if not to you;
  • You can select the types of files it will index, including PDF documents and ZIP folders, by type extension;
  • You choose whether the indexing function pauses while you use the computer, and if so, for how long;
  • You choose which folders you index and which you do not. For example, I have files that are encrypted and certainly don't want them in the index!;
  • Regardless how the index is built, you can limit a search to any particular file type, to avoid getting too many results;
  • For any specific class of files you can limit the search by date, partial file name, folder, and other attributes;
  • There is a quick and easy way to check for updates to Copernic;
  • I haven't even discovered all of the features yet.
Copernic does NOT seem to offer complex (advanced) searches. It seems to require that ALL of the words in the search box must appear in the document, with no "ANY" option or "DOES NOT HAVE" option. But I can live with that. Many of the features in the list above are also available in Google Desktop and Vista Search, but not all of them are.

I've only had Copernic for a couple of days now, but it sure seems far more robust than the competition, and yet easier to use. Unlike those, it's a completed, working product. If I continue to like it, I may just turn off Vista indexing altogether.

Please let me know if you agree, or disagree, or want more information.