More problems with a Dell Latitude D600

Last weekend, I walked into my home office to see the notebook PC that I use for work (a Dell Latitude D600) rebooting and reporting that it couldn’t find its primary hard disk. Not good news.

I tried freezing the disk (see also 200 ways to revive a hard drive) but to no avail. The drive just would not spin up.

Thankfully, I had a backup (although not as recent as it should have been), and I had supplied my current client with a CD with most of my recent work, with the remaining items still being retrievable from my e-mail (I frequently tell people not to use e-mail as a filing system, but I sure am glad that I still had all of those attachments there…). It seems that all I lost was the correct time/date stamp on some files and my meeting notes from Microsoft Office OneNote.

From talking to colleagues, this is not the first time this has happened – we have had at least three of these PCs suffer the same fate, on top of my nightmare experience getting the Bluetooth card replaced in the same machine earlier this year (which seems to be another common fault). I do understand my IT Manager when he tells me why we buy Dell (good specification at reduced price relative to HP, IBM, Toshiba, etc.), but if we also take into account my lost time, then maybe the overall cost is more expensive that it first appears.

Why the EU’s sanctions against Microsoft are wrong

I don’t normally bother to read about Microsoft’s latest legal battle when yet another competitor cries out that nobody buys their product because it’s free/cheaper/better/more widely available* (*delete as appropriate) from Microsoft, but yesterday’s rejection of Microsoft’s appeal against European Union sanctions concerns me greatly.

Forget the €497m fine – Microsoft can afford it!

Forget the trade secrets – Microsoft’s crown jewels are Windows and Office – most of that source code is still safely locked up in Redmond. Besides which, perhaps we’ll get a better quality of third-party software if it works more closely with Windows.

What worries me is that Microsoft has been forced to ship a version of Windows without Media Player.

It may sound inconsequential but its the wider ramifications of this ruling that concern me. Last week, Microsoft bought an anti-spyware company. Many believe that this sort of technology should be bundled with the operating system (more so than a media player), but this latest legal ruling in Brussels means that Microsoft now needs to be wary when including any new technologies in Windows, just in case a competitor cries foul.

The unbundling of Windows Media Player achieves nothing – those of us who use it will go and download it from Windows Update instead. Real Networks are upset because they only have a tiny proportion of the market. Boo hoo! Apple’s proprietary iTunes service is tied to the iPod meaning that they have a huge percentage of the portable digital music market sewn up, but as far as I am aware no-one is challenging them in court for that (only for charging more for downloads in the UK than elsewhere in Europe). My past experience of RealPlayer is that it is unstable, that I can’t download it without giving away my e-mail address and that it keeps popping up messages on my desktop. I only use it at all because I need it for certain websites that only offer digital media content in RealPlayer format (i.e. the BBC Radio Player). That is the crux of this issue – consumers will use whatever player they need to access their content, be that Apple QuickTime Player, Real Networks RealPlayer or Microsoft Windows Media Player – it often depends on the technologies used by the website serving the content, not what is bundled with the operating system.

Setting the default NumLock state in Windows at logon time

My current client has a large number of user accounts with names that are mostly numerical. We discovered that, no matter what the BIOS settings were, NumLock is off by default in the Log On to Windows dialog; however, it is possible to change this as described in Microsoft knowledge base article 154529.

Symantec and Veritas to merge

December seems to be the month for high-profile corporate takeovers in the IT world!

A couple of weeks back IBM sold its PC business.

Then last week Microsoft bought an anti-spyware company.

Now I’ve read that Symantec and Veritas are to merge in a $13.5bn deal.

I regularly recommend Veritas’ BackupExec suite of products to corporate clients because it is so well integrated with the Microsoft platform – indeed, the Backup utility for Windows (NTBackup) is actually a cut-down version of BackupExec. Let’s just hope that the new company will be as quick to embrace new Microsoft technologies as Veritas has been in the past.

Microsoft buys Giant Company

Back in August I posted a blog entry about the what you should know about spyware article on the Microsoft website. The article has since been replaced but I was interested to read about Microsoft’s purchase of Giant Company – a leading provider of anti-spyware and anti-spam software.

Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows includes some information on Giant AntiSpyware as well as comment on Microsoft’s plans for the product, but this is the clearest indication yet as to how Microsoft is planning to integrate anti-spyware capabilities into Windows – something that some industry commentators criticised Windows XP Service Pack 2 for not addressing.

Restoring data in Outlook Express

I don’t use Outlook Express personally, but I recently rebuilt my father-in-law’s PC and imported his settings from the old disk. I didn’t have a clue where Outlook Express stored its data, but came across an article on the iOpus website about backing up Outlook Express. The old system was non-functional, so I didn’t follow the whole article, but it gave me the information I needed to find all the .DBX files with the mail data and the .WAB address book file.

Get Windows XP and Office 2003 in Welsh

(I went to Uni’ in Wales, so I feel duty bound to publicise this for my Welsh-speaking friends!)

Microsoft have worked with the Welsh Language Board to develop two new Welsh-language interface packs – one for Windows XP and another for Office 2003. They are free to download, and enable Welsh speakers to work more easily in their chosen language whether at home, in business or in education.

To find out more, visit the Welsh pages on the Microsoft UK website.

Best practices for maintaining your computer at work

A couple of years back, I worked as a Project Manager in the IT department for a major fashion design, marketing and retail company. My main project provided a standard desktop operating environment, along with replacement mail and directory services, across Europe, vastly improving the overall reliability of the IT platform and the resultant user experience.

Being a retailer, our IT infrastructure budget was not huge, and it seemed that I was forever explaining why we “locked down” the desktop, and why we could not support users’ own devices on our network, be they notebooks, PDAs, or mobile phones (synchronising with our PCs). We had corporate standards, and they were set for good reasons (mainly supportability and reliability). It really didn’t help when senior executives started to buy Blackberry devices and expected them to work with our e-mail servers (and when the IT Director’s view was one of “just make it work”… but without an associated budget). Another bugbear was educating users not to open suspicious e-mails and attachments. On top of that, our users were spread across Europe, and there were cultural and legal differences which affected the way in which users considered “ownership” of their PCs and associated data (whether work PCs should be available for personal use, etc.).

Now Microsoft has published a document which would have been a really useful summary for my users (8 ways to help maintain your computer and devices at work). It may be a bit “high level”, but it is written for end users and it raises some valid points.

Actually, I think that the whole Microsoft At Work section of the Microsoft website is worth a look, with articles including:

I recommend that anyone who uses a computer at home or work, or who is responsible for supporting users in their daily IT activities should take a look.

Windows Server 2003 SP1 RC1 has been released

Back in July, I reported that Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) had been delayed until 2005.

I’ve just read that, a couple of days back, Microsoft released the first release candidate (RC) build of Windows Server 2003 SP1. Windows 2003 SP1 RC1, is available to the public as a 316Mb download for 32-bit x86-based systems or as a 396Mb download for 64-bit Itanium systems.

According to the Windows IT Pro magazine network WinInfo Daily Update, Microsoft expects to ship the final version of Windows 2003 SP1 in early 2005, reporting that:

“Windows Server 2003 SP1 isn’t the huge architectural leap that Windows XP SP2 was [but it] includes an enhanced security infrastructure that borrows the pertinent low-level security features from XP SP2, including the data execution prevention (DEP) technology and Distributed COM (DCOM) restrictions; a new roles-based Security Configuration Wizard (SCW) that makes it easy to close unneeded services and ports given the tasks a server is assigned to perform; Windows Firewall, which provides boot-time and setup-based protection against electronic attacks; and the post-setup Security Update Wizard, which prevents client network access to the server until it’s properly configured.”

IBM sells its PC business

Last night, on my way home, I heard BBC Radio 4 reporting on IBM’s sale of its PC business to Lenovo.

So what! Another merger in the overcrowded PC manufacturing space. Well, absolutely, except that IBM invented the personal computer and were the third largest PC retailer in 2004!

It will be interesting to see how HP (who are still trying to get to grips with their acquisition of Compaq) respond to this latest move in the market. IMHO, Dell should also be watching their backs, as although they have over twice Lenovo’s new market share, there is much talk about the strong growth of the Chinese economy which may well allow Lenovo to reduce the business’ cost base, providing opportunities for further reductions in PC prices, in a market that is already largely commoditised.

BBC News report: Lenovo: The making of a legend?
IBM press release
Lenovo press release