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Past newsletters may be viewed at http://editor.actrix.gen.nz/
This newsletter has been produced to help you get the most out of the Internet and to keep you,
as an Actrix customer, informed of developments and services within the company.
Questions and comments about the newsletter can be emailed to editor@actrix.co.nz
Other inquiries should be emailed to support@actrix.co.nz
This document is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution.

Browser Wars!
Explorer versus Netscape (Part 1)

With this article I hope to detail a little of the history involved with browser development. Read on, I don't believe it's as dry as it sounds. In fact, as these two programs have developed side by side in competition, they've played an enormous part in the state of the world wide web today. Knowing a little web and browser history can only be a good and useful thing. Next month I hope to write a little about the strengths and weaknesses of each one for the average computer user.
I'm going to start by letting the cat out of the bag. These two programs are, of course, fierce competitors, and because of that, comparing them is only natural. I've used both reasonably extensively, but in the end I believe I have to come down on the side of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Unix users, Linux lovers and Macintosh maniacs please note that I am writing mainly for home computer users who probably already use Windows platforms. By restricting myself to these two programs, I am not for one minute suggesting that the platform you love isn't the best thing since sliced salami.

The Comparison

There isn't a whole lot in it. The very nature of the Internet means that both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer have to be very similar in what they are capable of doing. To me it comes down to which program does which function best, or to which program does more functions best more often! I know there are plenty who will disagree. Netscape enthusiasts don't tend to be as rabid as Unix enthusiasts, but they do exist. Often I think that a loathing of anything "Microsofty" drives people to Netscape more than Netscape's superior features (which aren't that many). And of course, the biggest deciding factor will be what a user is used to, or which browser was already on their computer when they purchased it.
As we all probably know, this is where Microsoft have acquired the edge. From time out of mind they've been supplying Internet Explorer free with computer purchases. This has given them an indisputable market dominance. Most new computer users simply accept by default that Internet Explorer is their browser. After all, it's already on their machine. Most probably don't even think about Netscape Navigator, perhaps until they come across an article such as this one.
It does not have to be this way at all. Netscape Navigator is freely available for download from www.netscape.com, and if large downloads are difficult, the cd can be ordered very cheaply from the same site. Both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Explorer can exist together on the same hard drive. They can be used at the same time, and a user can even visit the exact same site at the same time with both programs. In fact, I often find it advantageous to do so. Where one fails in some aspect, the other will often succeed.

History

The first major browser that could read gif images (back when the Internet was just kicking off for academics and government departments) was neither Netscape Navigator nor Internet Explorer. It was called Mosaic 1.0 and it was produced by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). It was extremely basic and could only handle simple Html. Back then the Internet was so small (and we're talking about the early 90s here) that Mosaic even had a feature called "New Sites" that was only updated weekly. These days, if you could get a list of new sites published every day it would take a week just to read through the list!

A man named Marc Andreeson left the NCSA to help found Netscape Communications and it was about then that Microsoft chimed in with Internet Explorer, debuting it with version 2.0. Mosaic seems now to have faded into relative obscurity leaving the two major browsers to battle it out.

With these "second-generation" browsers the Internet started to become more and more exciting. Now you could see background colours (if you were lucky enough to have a colour monitor), tables images, and even simple animations. Netscape was first to introduce JavaScript, something that Microsoft didn't really catch up with fully until Internet Explorer 4.

Third generation browsers (Netscape 3, Internet Explorer 3) introduced frames, style sheets and varying fonts, all of which have since developed a lot further. It was with the third generation that the idea of desktop integration came into play. People were spending a lot of time with their browsers, which, it was realised, could also do a lot of the other things that your computer platform did such as exploring your own hard drive, running programs, copying and deleting files etc. From these versions on, E-mail also became a function of the browser. Netscape has "Messenger" integrated into its browser (Navigator) and Internet Explorer started with Internet Mail, which has been well superseded by Outlook Express (which only appears to function separately from Internet Explorer) and then Outlook.

Fourth generation browsers completed the desktop integration started by the third generation. Nowadays observant Windows users will notice that their whole operating system functions pretty much the way that Internet Explorer does, and this is no co-incidence. They are basically one and the same. The benefit that this provides for Microsoft should be evident. Putting it simply, this means that any program a Windows machine runs becomes like a "sub-program" of Internet Explorer (yes, even Netscape Navigator) and because of Microsoft's dominance, software developers have to bear this in mind as they develop their products. They may not like it, but commercially they have no choice. This is the sort of trick Microsoft have been employing since the get-up-and-go, but it has landed them in trouble with the American Department of Justice who have labelled their desktop integration as uncompetitive and monopolistic.

Nowadays we have fifth generation browsers (IE5, Navigator 4.72) that stride powerfully across the internet where second generation equivalents struggled along on bloody knees. There are even browsers today that read or report in Braille, or which can operate according to voice commands for the disabled.

The World Wide Web Consortium

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) now exists (thankfully) to provide consistency for the web. In theory, the W3C is supposed to set the standard for the industry to follow.
World Wide Web Consortium site
This means that they are supposed to determine how Html is to be interpreted and displayed by browsers so that the web will behave consistently no matter which browser a user has. In reality, however, they have no power of enforcement. Netscape and Microsoft simply compete trying to develop new features that will give their program an advantage, and at the same time they develop their own versions of each other's features. The W3C is often in the position of simply compiling a list of features declaring some standard and some older ones deprecated (discouraged from use). In this sense, Netscape and Microsoft seem to share an uneasy alliance, as they develop side by side and neck and neck. Ultimately this is very much a good thing. The effects of them going off in entirely separate directions would be detrimental. The web would become fragmented in that it would not be the same thing for different people with different browsers. Competition might heat up, but the web would cease to grow, I believe. Eventually web development might even grind to a halt.

Next month, as promised, I hope to write more directly about how the two browsers compare for users. In the meantime, if you're not using one or the other, why not do a little comparing of your own?

 

Actrix News and Links

The link to the Actrix news page has been lying reasonably dormant for the last many months, but I am pleased to announce that we are now giving this page much more regular attention. You are encouraged to visit often. Simply click the News and Links button at our home page.

The page has two main sections, the first being for the latest Actrix news and interesting net-related news stories. I try to find something interesting to put there each day, and will  provide links to further information as appropriate. As I write today, the following stories are posted on the page:

The second section of the page contains links to sites that are useful or interesting. There are already hundreds of links there under the following categories:

Content Control, Downloads (General), Downloads (Recommended), Games, general Sites of Interest, Html Help, Internet Help, Internet Tutorials, Macintosh Sites, Media, Modem Drivers, New Zealand Sites, Online Stores, Political Parties, Radio Stations, Search Engines, Software Updates and Virus Protection.

Please drop me an email at editor@actrix.co.nz if you come across a fitting news story or link for inclusion. But please note. My intention is not to provide your site with free advertising. I am looking for sites of general interest that will be of benefit to the wider Actrix community, particularly children's sites at present.


Q: What's the shortest book in the world?
A: Things I Can't Afford by Bill Gates.

Useful Program Downloads

I have a couple of recommendations for you this week. I use both programs myself regularly, but no I receive no personal benefit from recommending them to you.

Every computer should come equipped with Winamp, the net's most popular mp3 player.

Winamp is free to download from www.winamp.com. When opened the program's interface resembles a home stereo system. Mp3s to be played can be managed using the add/remove buttons, and a setlist to play can be put together from various places around your hard drive. There are a variety of neat plug-ins that can also be downloaded, and searching for just the right skin or appearance to download can be a lot of fun. They range from supermodels to comic book themes. Winamp's features are intuitive, making the program easy to use.


www.wintaper.com

Wintaper is an excellent program for making your own cassette tape covers. These can be rendered in a variety of fonts and formats, and you can include pictures. However the program can also function as a database whereby your tapes can be searched by song or album titles, dates and so forth. Originally, Wintaper was developed as a tool for internet traders of live concert recordings, sometimes known as bootlegs, though not all such trading is illegal or forbidden by the artists in question.

Wintaper is available as shareware from www.wintaper.com. It is free to download on a trial basis, and you are asked to send $30US to its creator if you intend to use the program regularly. Wintaper is reasonably powerful, and takes some experimentation before familiarity sets in, but with a little persistence, you'll be churning out very nice tape covers before you know it. The program is well supported with explanatory material available at the main site.


What's All This We've Been Hearing About Napster?

Opinions expressed in this article do not represent the official position of Actrix. or anyone other than myself. - Editor

Most will be aware that Napster has appeared in the news and current affairs programmes lately. Just what are the issues involved with this controversial program?

Napster is extremely popular amongst Internet music enthusiasts, and for understandable reasons. Mp3s (compressed music files) have been around for a long time, but they were often difficult to find. With Napster, finding your favourite songs in Mp3 format so that you can play them on your computer is pretty quick and easy. To participate, all you have to do is go to the Napster site (www.napster.com) and download their free program onto your hard drive. When you do so, you have to agree to let the Napster site scan your hard drive for Mp3 files that you already have.  Then, with each subsequent log in, Napster scans your designated Mp3 directory for the music files you have saved for sharing with other users.

The Napster software that you download has a search feature into which you type and artist, a song, or both. Within a few seconds, Napster will report back to you with a list of all the songs that fit your criteria that exist on the hard drives of users currently logged onto their servers. Double-clicking a song will begin the process of uploading it from someone else's computer and downloading it onto yours. The average Mp3 song file is around 3-4 megabytes in size. If you choose to download the song from someone with a fast connection (connection speeds and ping rates are specified where possible) you can expect to download the whole song in around 15-20 minutes even if you only have a 56k modem yourself. Of course conditions and song availability vary from day to day.

The idea of a foreign server scanning your hard drive can't help but make me uneasy. However, the following is from the Napster FAQ:

Q: Are there any security concerns with Napster?
A: Napster only detects and shares your valid mp3 files. There is no way for users to use Napster to browse files of another type. Additionally, as MP3 files are not executable, there is no way for viruses to be distributed as MP3 files. It is advised, however, that you not download files from URLs (paths to files outside of Napster) offered by other Napster users unless it is from a trusted source.

Q: Can I get a virus with Napster?
A: No. MP3 files contain data that is decoded; viruses need to be executed. Napster also allows you to share only VALID MP3 files. This means that before Napster shares an MP3 file, it verifies that it is a valid MPEG Layer 3 file. MP3s downloaded through Napster, when used in the normal fashion (decoded and played) run no risk of containing a virus.

It is not hard to see why some people find this easy song sharing objectionable, so much so that they are willing to take Napster to court. The big names here, of course, are the band Metallica and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), who are suing Napster for infringing on musicians' intellectual property rights.

The results of the court proceedings will be very interesting. It is hard to see how Napster themselves are breaking the law (though copyright lawyers seem not to rate their chances highly). The Napster site explicitly states that its purpose is to allow new artists who want this sort of exposure to release their music in an electronic format that potential future fans can easily hear at no personal cost. The Napster Terms of Use also state that users must agree not to infringe on intellectual copyright. Users are then left to decide on the ethics of their particular downloads for themselves. It seems to me they have themselves covered.

Can individual users find themselves in legal trouble? Probably not. It may well be illegal for people to store unauthorised Mp3 files on their computers, but it is highly unlikely that any artist is going to go to the trouble of taking an individual to court over such a small thing. I guess it is a remote possibility, though, if some artist somewhere wants to make some sort of example out of someone. Of course, Mp3 files are not illegal in and of themselves. It is no more illegal to convert a cd you own into Mp3 format for your own use than it is to make a cassette copy of a cd you own for use in your car. I doubt, too, that the New Zealand police force are going to see someone who downloads Mp3 files as the same sort of threat to society as someone who collects child-pornography online. Nevertheless, it should be clearly stated that infringing on copyright by downloading unauthorised Mp3s is illegal.

Are the artists truly harmed by Napster? Personally, my guess is not really. A recent online survey of nearly 17,000 music fans in the 13 to 39 year age group found that 59 percent of that group said that hearing a song online has led them to buy it at a music store or retail outlet. In terms of advertising, this is quite a remarkable hit-rate. There also appears to be a correlation between those who download the most music from the net and those who spend the most money weekly on cd and cassette purchases. The hard line taken by Metallica (much publicised when Napster felt forced a little while ago to ban anyone with Metallica Mp3s from connecting) has not been well received by the public or even by their fans. On the other hand, artists such as The Offspring, Neil Young and Courtney Love, who have publicly spoken out in support of Napster generally receive plaudits from consumers who feel that recorded music is so heavily over-priced (an opinion that many artists also share).

I have to say that I find the entire stand of the RIAA to be a little dodgy and dubious. In most cases, when one breaks down where each dollar of a cd purchase goes, it is alarming to see how little the artist gets, and just how much is gobbled up by recording companies. Thus their claim to be suing Napster in order to protect their artists rings a tad hollow to my ears.

Lastly, while I support Metallica's right to take action to defend themselves from what they perceive to be a financial threat, it must also be said that they run the risk of becoming unpopular dinosaurs. All the legal action in the world is not going to stop the exchange of Mp3 files. Anyone who thinks so woefully misunderstands the Internet. There are already new sites popping up that offer the same or similar services to Napster. Should it topple, online music enthusiasts will find the next provider, probably overnight.

Some lesser-known artists have already opened their own website (www.stopnapster.com). The driving force behind this site is a band known as The Tabloids (who have never actually had a song show up on Napster). Their plan is to encourage people to flood the Napster playground, so to speak, with Trojan Mp3s and "Napster Bombs," songs that appear to be real music files, but are instead recordings of dogs barking or Charleton Heston reading messages about song-theft. We'll have to wait and see just how well this takes off.

On the other hand there are writers, journalists and artists who believe it is time for a whole re-think on intellectual copyright and the part that the Internet plays in the official dissemination of music. Instead of artists and recording industry fatcats driving around in limousines and whining about their fans sharing their music unofficially, they believe artists should be looking at pro-active ways to use the Net to further their art and their legitimate profits. Fans, they say, would be willing to pay reasonable fees for guaranteed quick music downloads.  Artists are better advised to spend their time and energy thinking outside the square and pursuing ways to make the Internet work for them. This, it is claimed, would seem a lot smarter than trying to beat the inevitable back with a feather. The recording industry would not like this, of course, as they would increasingly become the redundant middle-man. Perhaps, some argue, it is about time.

As this newsletter goes to press, it has just been announced that Napster is in talks with recording companies seeking possible out-of-court settlements, but it is not expected that legal action will be averted.

The KAK Worm Virus:
-Jeremy Fairbrass

It's a sad fact that there are many hundreds of computer virii ("viruses") propagating themselves throughout the internet. However most of these virii reproduce themselves through email attachments which get forwarded from computer to computer.

As a result, the sensible internet user can avoid the majority of them by simply using caution and common sense when dealing with attachments in their inbox. If an email containing a suspicious attachment is simply deleted from the inbox, it can't do any damage even if the attachment did contain a virus. It's only by "opening" an attachment that any virus lurking inside can be activated. Simply viewing, reading or opening the email itself can't do any harm (whether you view it in the Outlook Express "preview pane" or double-click to open the email into a separate window - the attachment is still untouched and any lurking virus can't be activated).

Norrie Melts in Your Mouth!

Win Norrie Chocolate!

However, there is one exception to this rule! It comes in the form of a particular virus called the "KAK Worm" virus (technically referred to as WScript/Kak.worm or VBS.KakWorm). This is the only email virus (that I'm aware of, anyway) that can be activated just by looking at or reading the infected email in your inbox or preview pane. The virus takes advantage of a security hole in Internet Explorer and Outlook Express (and possibly Outlook 95/97/2000) which allows an embedded ActiveX script to be run as soon as the email is viewed. The infected email won't show the paperclip symbol indicating an attachment. As soon as the infected email is viewed, the virus will activate and will modify certain files on your computer (including the Windows Registry). Fortunately the virus doesn't do any serious damage or delete any important files - it simply sets your computer up to include copies of itself on all your outbound Rich Text Format emails.

"Okay Jeremy, cut the techno-babble, just tell me how to check if I've got the virus!"

Well, one indication that your computer is infected with KAK will be messages that pop up saying things like "Do you want to allow software such as ActiveX controls and plug-ins to run?", or "Kagou-Anti-Kro$oft says not today!", or "S3 driver memory alloc failed". However even if you don't get messages like this, it might be an idea to check your computer for the virus anyway - just to be on the safe side.

Surf over to http://www.getvirushelp.com/Kak/ and have a read of the information there. Then download the little KAKClean.exe program featured there. When you run this program, it will scan your computer for any instances of the KAK virus. If this program tells you that you don't have the virus, but you still feel that you might, then you can follow the instructions on this web site to manually remove the virus from your computer.

The next thing to do is to patch the security hole in Internet Explorer so that you can't get infected with this particular virus again. Microsoft has released a security patch called the "scriptlet.typelib/Eyedog" patch. This patch should prevent your computer from running the ActiveX script that activates the KAK worm. You can download the patch from
http://www.microsoft.com/msdownload/
iebuild/scriptlet/en/scriptlet.htm

and you can read about it at Microsoft's web site at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/
security/bulletin/ms99-032.asp
.

If you have Internet Explorer installed on your computer (whether you use it or not), I would strongly recommend that you download and install this patch! This includes all Windows 98 and Windows 2000 users, and Windows 95 users who have upgraded to Internet Explorer 4.0 or 5.0.

And as always, practise caution and common sense when dealing with attachments in your inbox, and make sure your anti-virus software is kept up to date! :-)

For more information on the KAK virus, you can read:
The McAfee antivirus website at http://vil.mcafee.com/dispVirus.asp?virus_k=10509 or
The Symantec antivirus website at http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/
venc/data/wscript.kakworm.html

- Jeremy Fairbrass

Before I get underway with my big announcement, I'd like to thank all those who have used my homepage at
www.actrix.gen.nz/users/norrie to help them create one of their own. It has been great to get the positive feedback and to watch some humble homepages blossom. If you'd like to have a go at teaching yourself some basic html to put together your own site, why not surf on over? I've tried to make it as simple as possible, and I've included information on how to download and create with FrontPage Express as well as the gen on what's involved with going further and putting together your own domain.

But now, can I have a drum roll?

I am pleased to announce the launch of my very own brand of chocolate bar! Yes, I'm serious. Cadbury and Hershey's eat your heart out. My chocolate bars are smooth and creamy, and aesthetically pleasing, because they're in the shape of me!

Some readers have complained that my past challenges (stump me on a technical matter and win chocolate fish) have excluded them because they're just not technical. Well, here's your chance. The first ten people who can email me and tell me who I sang a duet with will be sent a Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar courtesy of Actrix! The only rules are that you must be an Actrix customer, but you can't be employed by Actrix. The answer is there for anybody to find, so be quick and email me at norrie@actrix.co.nz to win!

 

University Diploma Spam

Actrix customers may have noticed some pretty clever spam in their mailboxes lately. It comes with a title such as (1010) and offers you a university diploma for sale. It asks you to phone a number in the United States. Curiously, source information for the spam is hidden.

This sort of spam is designed to simply try every conceivable address at a selected domain in the hope that it will get through to some successfully. Please be assured that this spam does not result from Actrix giving your email addresses to anyone. Before we blocked the sending address there were 1.2 million of these letters waiting to be delivered to Actrix customers!

Slightly more than our total number of mailboxes. :-)

Unfortunately, this sort of thing is only going to get more common. It is quite immoral in that the senders know full well that whichever domain they are attacking is going to have bogged down mail-servers if they get through.

Unfortunately, the fact that Actrix was New Zealand's first ISP (and hence we've been around the longest) means that overseas spammers are more likely to know about us. Actrix will block spam like this as soon as possible and we apologise for what has found its way through so far.

Buying a diploma? Surely, only in America.......

 

www.milkzone.com

Milk Zone is a hot new web site that makes milk a cool choice for kids.

It has been developed by NEW ZEALAND MILK for children aged 8 to 13. It features funky graphics, fun games and a launch competition - kids can enter the draw to win a scooter.

Why not take a look for yourself and see what an outstanding site it is?
Business Solutions with
force.gif (1888 bytes)
vpanels.jpg (8444 bytes)
Force Technology offer a range of four Viewsonic LCD monitors to meet your needs.

All of the VE and VP series have removable bases and are wall mountable! They offer the maximum in flexibility and customisability and are available from Forcetech in 14, 15 and 18 inch sizes.

The page height in Portrait mode makes these monitors the best choice for legal, government and medical organisations, or for anyone else who desires or requires the ability to display entire pages crisply and cleanly.

Forcetech prices (including free delivery) for these products are as follows:

Model VP140 $2,249 plus GST
Model VE150 $2,499 plus GST
Model VP151 $4,119 plus GST
Model VP181 $9,485 plus GST.

You can find out more about these monitors at http://www.viewsonic.com/.

For more information about other deals on computer hardware, please visit the Force Technology website at http://www.forcetech.co.nz/ or email Gordon Johnson at gordon@forcetech.co.nz.

The Stages Virus

It seems that every time you turn around, another virus hits the ground. The latest is an email attached scrap file (LIFE_STAGES.TXT.SHS) which, when executed, invokes Notepad to display a text file that takes a humorous look at the stages of life of both male and female. During this time, the virus installs itself on your system.

The virus attachment looks like a text file, complete with ".txt" extension. But the real extension is ".shs," which stands for Windows Shell Scrap Object. A Scrap file can contain anything, including executable and malicious code. The ".shs" extension does not appear even if a user sets Windows to show all file extensions. Microsoft designed this extension to be invisible, and it cannot be changed without entering your computer's most fragile configuration systems.

Your best defence is still common sense. Keep your virus protection up-to-date, and be really careful opening attachments, obviously even ones that appear as simple text (.txt) files.

You can follow progress on this and other virii by reading the Actrix News and Links page regularly.

Who's this handsome chap? My Back Page
The holiday was great, but I'm pleased to be back. Once again, I hope there was something that interested you in this month's newsletter. Stay tuned for next month when I hope to continue with my comparison between Netscape and Explorer. I'll also be reporting on any interesting developments with Napster. I there's something else you think deserves attention, feel free to contact me at editor@actrix.co.nz any time.

Having said that, I must ask you please not to email support enquiries to that address. Every month there are half a dozen or so who do. You will get more prompt attention by emailing our support desk at support@actrix.co.nz or by phoning them on 0800-228749. The support desk is open from 6:30 a.m. until 1:30 a.m. (that's 1:30 in the morning!) on weekdays, and from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. each weekend.

Don't forget to email an answer to Norrie's question in the hope of winning yourself a Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar. They really are quite yummy.

'Til next month, then,

Rob Zorn
Editor - Actrix Newsletters
editor@actrix.co.nz

"Obviously I'm not an IBM computer any more than I'm an ashtray." - Bob Dylan