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Week of 18 December 2000

Latest Update: Friday, 05 July 2002 08:10

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Monday, 18 December 2000

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It now turns out that our main drain is blocked, or nearly so. Yesterday, Barbara called up to tell me that there was water on the basement floor. I thought she was talking about the same problem we had Saturday, but no, this was an entirely new problem. The basement bathroom floor was flooded. When I went outside the finished area to look at the ejector pump area, I could see that there was water streaming down from an overhead pipe. Fortunately, it was clean water. Now that my mother is living upstairs, we periodically flush the basement toilet several times to cause the ejector pump to cycle.

But it was puzzling. The pump appeared to be operating properly, and we weren't sure what was causing the problem. Then, late yesterday afternoon, I went back to take my shower and found the shower floor covered in filthy water. We checked the hall bathroom and found the bathtub had the same problem. Obviously, the main drain line was backing up. So I called the plumber to cancel his visit, scheduled for this morning, and called the Roto-Rooter guy to come out today and auger out our main drain. He can't come until this afternoon, which leaves us unable to run water, flush the toilets, run the dishwasher, or run the clothes washer. So, we can't take a shower, use the bathroom, or do the dishes, and we're running out of clean clothes.

The dogs are puzzled by these new developments. They can't figure out why Barbara and I have taken up sniffing around in the yard looking for just the right place to potty.

Sherlock, Barbara's new machine is finally complete, at least insofar as hardware. We pulled the IDE CD-ROM yesterday and installed a Plextor UltraPlex Wide 40X SCSI CD-ROM drive, as well as a Plextor PlexWriter 8-2-20 CD writer, both pulled from the carcass of kiwi. That also meant swapping SCSI host adapters. We had had an Adaptec 2930U2 adapter in sherlock, with the 18 GB Seagate Barracuda SCSI hard disk connected to the U2W connector. As we were installing the two optical drives, I realized that the CD writer used a standard 50-pin SCSI cable, whereas the CD-ROM drive required a 68-pin connector. The machine was still wide open, so the easiest fix was just to pull the Adaptec 2940U2W host adapter from kiwi and use it to replace the 2930U2 adapter. That does mean that the machine has three SCSI devices, each running a different level, and each connected with its own cable.

Once the hardware was all assembled, I moved sherlock to my office, connected it to the Belkin OmniCube KVM switch on my desk, and started working on it. I got Windows 2000 Professional installed without incident, and decided to let the system burn in for a while before I started installing applications. One odd thing: I installed Windows 2000 Professional directly from CD. Early in that process, Setup prompts one to press F6 to install third-party drivers. I did that, and pointed it at the updated Adaptec 2940U2W drivers on a floppy disk. One would think that that would be enough to provide the updated drivers to Windows 2000, but that's not the case. Adaptec's instructions very carefully point out that once Windows 2000 Setup completes, it's necessary to use Device Manager manually to update the drivers that one just installed! Strange, but true.

One note about Windows 2000 and memory. In PC Hardware in a Nutshell, we included a table which lists our recommendations for amount of memory by operating system and usage level. For Windows 2000, as I recall, we recommended having 64 MB to 96 MB for "Light usage"--one or two windows open. As it turns out, that recommendation was spot on. I decided that since my own new main system isn't yet finalized, I'd try using 64 MB and 96 MB rather than 128 MB, just to see again what impact less memory had on performance. After working for several days with differing amounts of memory, I conclude as follows:

  • Consider 64 MB an absolute minimum for Windows 2000 Professional. With that amount, you'll be limited to running one or two programs before the system starts hitting the swap file. Once you have half a dozen windows open, you'll be swapping very frequently.
  • Increasing memory by 32 MB to 96 MB pays substantial performance dividends. If you're a "light" user, you'll be much happier with 96 MB than with 64 MB. If you run only two or three average programs at a time, having 96 MB will greatly reduce swapping.
  • If you work as I do--Outlook, Word, and FrontPage active; a couple foreground Internet Explorer windows active; a dozen or so IE windows minimized; and quite a few background processes running--consider 128 MB to be a realistic minimum under Windows 2000. Having 192 MB is better, and 256 MB is better still.
  • If you run memory-hungry applications, such as Photoshop operating on large images, consider 256 MB to be a realistic minimum, and 384 MB or 512 MB is better.

All of these assume a single processor. If you have dual processors, give each the same amount of memory that you'd give a single processor. That is, if 128 MB is what you'd use on a single-processor system, use 256 MB on a dual-processor system that'll be used for similar tasks.

And now I need to get to work. The website needs updated, and O'Reilly wants a proposal for the second edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. Don't worry about buying the first edition, though. Even if I started on the second edition today, it won't hit the bookstores until next fall at the earliest.

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Tuesday, 19 December 2000

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The guys showed up with their drain auger yesterday and bored out our main drain. They didn't find anything in there, but the drain runs fine now, so I suppose whatever was blocking the drain must've been pushed through into the main sewer line. Within minutes of their departure, we had the washer going and the dishwasher running. I also started the shower in our master bathroom running on full hot to rinse the floor pan. We then ran out of hot water. We have a good hot water heater, but it's not up to running all those things simultaneously. After I shut down the shower, the water heater recovered within a few minutes. 

Today, we have about eight loads of laundry to do to get caught up. It's a nice day to work inside, though. We awoke this morning to sleet and freezing rain, and it's just turned to snow. The dogs will love it. Except Kerry, of course. He turns 13 years old tomorrow and, like most elderly people, he hates cold weather and frozen precipitation.

I've been burning in Barbara's new system, and it appears to be running fine. It's wicked fast, as you might expect of a system that's all SCSI and running a Pentium III/1.0G processor. The only potential bottleneck is the integrated graphics on the Intel D815BN motherboard, and I'm actually quite pleased with the video performance. I wouldn't want to play any 3D games with the D815BN embedded video, but for what the system will be used for, it's more than Good Enough. Standard productivity applications snap, and scrolling is instantaneous. Display quality is very good. Not quite up to the best that Matrox can do, but then nothing is. And, because the D815BN has an AGP port, I can install a video card later if that turns out to be desirable. I think Barbara is going to be very happy with this system.


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Wednesday, 20 December 2000

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I decided to call a halt to my experiment of running Windows 2000 Professional in 64 MB of RAM. I conclude that it is usable in that amount for light duties, but anyone who uses a system heavily will want more. A lot of people still treat Windows as a single-tasking environment most of the time. They load their browser when they want to visit web sites, and close it when they're finished visiting web sites. They load Word when they want to work on a document, and close it when they're finished working on that document. And so on. For those people, 64 MB is probably enough under Windows 2000. But for anyone else, more is very desirable.

We have kiwi stripped down on the kitchen table, so I went and pulled one of the Crucial PC100 128 MB DIMMs from kiwi to install in thoth. I was going to pull the Crucial PC100 64 MB DIMM from thoth and install only 128 MB total, but then I decided it made more sense just to leave the 64 MB DIMM in place. So thoth now has 192 MB of physical RAM, and is much happier.

As soon as we got the second DIMM installed, I immediately fired thoth back up and started a bunch of applications. To mimic my usual working habits, I opened Word, Outlook, FrontPage, Excel, and a dozen instances of Internet Explorer with different web pages loaded in them. I can toggle among them with no perceptible lag. It's amazing what having enough physical memory to hold everything you're working with does for response times. With memory so cheap right now, there's no excuse not to load up all your systems. Figure on at least 128 MB, and if you're running Windows NT 4 Workstation or Windows 2000 Professional, go for more. 

None of this contradicts what I said the other day about dual processors and SCSI, though. The system still bogs noticeably when there are a bunch of programs actually doing something (as opposed to just sitting there minimized), and data takes noticeably longer to be retrieved from the IDE disk than from the SCSI disk. But if you don't have dual processors and/or SCSI, adding lots of memory is one good, cheap way to increase system performance. My rule of thumb is that if the system ever page faults, that's too often, and is an indication that the system needs more physical memory. Back in the Bad Olde Days when memory was hideously expensive, most of us had to live with swap files and page faults, but nowadays there's not much excuse for a system hitting its paging file very often.

Our next project is to get kiwi cleaned up, rebuilt, and off the kitchen table. That machine will become a dedicated Windows NT 4 Server file and resource server. I'm dithering about how to configure it. It currently boots from an 18 GB Seagate Cheetah 10,000 RPM LVD SCSI hard drive and has a 50 GB Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM LVD SCSI drive as a secondary hard drive. It also has a Tecmar 3900 DDS-3 12/24 GB tape drive. I think I may pull the Cheetah and convert the Barracuda to the boot drive. 

I may also install an 80 GB Maxtor DiamondMax 80 5,400 RPM ATA drive as secondary storage, giving me a total of 130 GB of disk space on that machine. Since even I would have a hard time filling up 130 GB, I may see how Windows NT 4 Server software mirroring works with mixed SCSI and ATA hard drives. I don't doubt that it will function, but I'm concerned that if I mirror the 50 GB Barracuda to the 80 GB Maxtor, the slower ATA drive may adversely impact the performance of the Barracuda.

Then I need to think about what processor(s) to use in kiwi. Dual Pentium III/550 processors are probably a bit much for a dedicated file server in our environment, and I don't have that many matched sets of processors available anyway. I'll probably pull the 550's and save them for testing dual Slot 1 motherboards. Those 550's are Engineering Samples, which means that they're not multiplier-locked. I can run them at 600 MHz, which is my standard "common ground" testing speed anyway.

That means I need to find a single Slot 1 CPU to swap into kiwi, not to mention tracking down the terminator for the second slot. I probably should have taped that to the case or something.

Barbara's new main system, sherlock, has been burning in for several days now and hasn't hiccoughed yet. So I guess I need to start installing her applications on it. I'm expecting to encounter some problems since sherlock is running Windows 2000 Professional rather than NT4. It'll be interesting to find out what runs and what doesn't.

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Thursday, 21 December 2000

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There is an incompatibility between the Intel 8XX chipset UltraATA driver and Plextor PlexWriter CD burners. For details, see this thread on the messageboard.

The Register posted an article yesterday that I first thought was a hoax. The article is entitled, "Stealth plan puts copy protection into every hard drive". Stealth, indeed. Until I read this article, I hadn't heard anything about this. According to the article, the folks who control the ATA (IDE) standard are incorporating hardware copy protection in the next generation of IDE drives, which will begin shipping next summer. 

If this article is accurate and this rollout proceeds as planned, we all lose control of our own data. Something as simple as replacing a failed hard drive and restoring from a backup tape will no longer be possible without literally getting permission from a central server. And we all know how reliable those are.

As with any copy protection scheme, the ultimate effect is that honest users are screwed. This proposed copy-protection mechanism benefits absolutely no one except unnamed "content producers" (read, the movie and record industry). It hurts users and manufacturers badly--users because they no longer have control of their own data, and manufacturers because they will assume the support burdens associated with any copy-protection scheme. Even software companies like Microsoft, whom one might at first glance expect to be in favor of such a mechanism, are in fact horrified. After all, if this copy protection mechanism is implemented, that means it will no longer be possible for OEMs to install a master copy of Windows on the tens of thousands of systems they produce each day.

Presumably, the thinking is that drive manufacturers will be in favor of this plan because it will require everyone to buy all new hard drives. The new drives, you see, cannot co-exist with current drives. Have an existing system and want to add a second hard drive? Can't do it. If you want two drives in a system, you'll have to remove the existing drive and replace it with a new model as well. Have a mixture of systems, some with current hard drives and some with the new copy-protected hard drives, and want to transfer data back and forth between them? Can't do it. So a moron might assume that this is a Good Thing for hard drive makers. After all, in effect everyone will have to throw away all their existing hard drives and buy new ones. Yeah, right.

There's something missing from this article. Unless this copy protection is mandated by law, there's absolutely no chance that it will fly. Why, for example, would any hard drive manufacturer implement it unless forced to do so? If, say, Western Digital implements it and Seagate doesn't, that simply means that literally no one will buy Western Digital drives. Even if all but one hard drive maker implements it, it can't fly. Everyone will insist on hard drives made by that one non-compliant maker. Even if that maker can't meet demand, the free market and the economics of hard drive manufacturing ensure the proposal will fail. Drives made by that one manufacturer would sell at a very high premium, and those copy-protected drives made by other manufacturers would be selling for less than it cost to produce them, and would be selling in numbers too small to pay the fixed costs of a drive manufacturing plant. There is, in short, a very strong economic disincentive for drive manufacturers to play ball.

This is an outrage, and it goes against reason that it's even under consideration. Given the choice, no manufacturer in its right mind would make such drives, and no one would buy one. But there have been many similar schemes successfully foisted on us in the past, so perhaps we should be worried. If you're interested in the details about this technology, the T13 Committee site is a good place to start.

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Friday, 22 December 2000

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A warning from Dr. Keyboard's messageboard, "The latest updates to Network Associates' McAfee VirusScan/Netshield 4.0.2 apparently destroys the boot record of NT 4.0 machines, according to a story on The Register at So be careful out there."

And, speaking of viruses, it'd probably be a good idea to scan your systems for the W32.Kriz virus sometime before the 25th. This one actually appeared last year, but appears to be more common this year. It has a particularly nasty payload, which activates on 25 December and deletes files as well as clearing CMOS settings.

Being forever the optimist, I was hoping that allowing kiwi to cool down and settle would allow me to boot and run it at least long enough to get the data off its secondary hard disk, but that turns out not to be the case. I get to the Windows splash screen, and then Windows bluescreens on me. So Plan B is to pull that drive from kiwi, install it in sherlock (Barbara's new all-SCSI system) and pull the data off.

Barbara informed me that, because her parents are coming to our house for the festivities Monday, we had to get the kitchen and dining room tables cleaned off. So we pulled the drive from kiwi and moved the disemboweled carcass into my office. So I'd better get the Barracuda/50 temporarily installed in sherlock and get the data pulled off so that I can finish building sherlock for Barbara. It'll take quite a while to get that data transferred over to thoth across the network, even though it does run at 100 Mb/s.

Barbara is off to the gym and a quick visit to the grocery store to buy some more stuff for Monday. I'd better be ready when she gets back.

11:50: I got the 50 GB Seagate Barracuda LVD SCSI hard disk temporarily connected to sherlock and the files transferred. I didn't want actually to install the drive in sherlock, so I decided just to lie it alongside the machine while I did the transfer. A copy of the Windows 2000 Resource Kit and one of PC Hardware in a Nutshell turned out to be just the proper height to allow the drive to remain level while within reach of the second LVD connector on the SCSI cable.

50GB-on-books.jpg (62448 bytes)

That's sherlock above, under my desk, while the file transfer is going on. I always dread working on systems under my desk because it can be hard to access them. Not in this case, though. Literally. The PC Power & Cooling Personal Mid-Tower case is easy to work on. I turned the system sideways, removed two screws, and slid the side cover off. From start to finish, it took no more than a couple of minutes to open the system and connect the second drive. When I'm finished, I'll reverse the process. 

I created a temporary directory on the main 18 GB Seagate Barracuda LVD SCSI drive in sherlock and transferred over the 10 GB or so of files that mattered. I know it's hard to believe that I have 10 GB of files that matter, and what's particularly surprising is that these are all "archive" files. Our main data resides on another system. But then, I'm famous for never throwing anything out. 

The Windows 2000 copy dialog estimated that the transfer would require an hour, but it hadn't taken the Barracudas into account. In fact, it took a bit less than 10 minutes, for an effective transfer rate of about 20 MB/s. I was going to delete the partition on the 50 GB Barracuda before I shut down sherlock, leaving the Barracuda ready to be the primary disk in the file server I'll be building, but then it struck me that doing that might end up being one of those "silly me" things. There's not much point to deleting all that data now. It'll be easy enough to do later, and the data I transferred will be securely backed up by that time as well. So I shut down sherlock and pulled the second drive.

Now, on to preparing sherlock as Barbara's main system. The hardware is all installed and the system is rock-solid. Windows 2000 is installed and running properly. Now all sherlock needs is a bunch of applications installed.

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Saturday, 23 December 2000

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I started software installation on sherlock by doing a nearly full-boat install of Office 2000 Premium. (And I mean full-boat. I later discovered that I had installed the "Microsoft Business Planner for UK and AUS", whatever that might be). I usually don't do one of those "kill-'em-all-god-will-know-his-own" installations, but in this case it seemed prudent since it's Barbara's system. And with disk space essentially free nowadays, it makes more sense to put it all on initially than try to find the CD later. The only thing I didn't install was the Office Server Extensions, which we have no desire to use.

I got very tired of entering the long random strings that Microsoft uses for serializing Office 2000. It seems that they could have made the whole process an "enter once" deal for those installing the whole product, but no. I had to enter that same obnoxious serial number for each main disc. Until I got to the PhotoDraw disc, that is. For some reason, that uses the older install. You know, the one with the 10-digit serial number instead of the 25-byte alphameric string that the new installation procedure uses. 

By the time I got to that disc, I was so tired of typing in serial numbers that I just entered all ones, even though I had the yellow sticky label with the actual serial number lying right in front of me. All ones worked, as usual. Microsoft probably regrets enabling that "back-door" serial number in so many of their products. I'd bet that literally most Windows NT 4 installations world-wide use the all-ones serial number. Most techs don't bother to use anything else. And even the products it doesn't work for usually have an equally simple "universal serial number" like 112-1111111 or whatever. 

I'll leave it as an exercise for any readers who are interested to get a list of those. They're posted on many warez sites. The interesting thing is that I learned about the universal serial numbers privately, and it was probably at least a couple of years until they became public knowledge. I never mentioned them, and I guess everyone else who knew of them was equally close-mouthed. If there's a "universal" serial number for the new stuff, I don't know about it. I think I would, too. Not that it makes much difference. There are real serial numbers for any Microsoft product you care to name scattered all over the Internet.

Bob and Lynne Walder have returned from their vacation, which apparently consisted mainly of eating and drinking their way across Majorca and then lying in the sun whilst recovering sufficiently to eat and drink still more. Bob and Lynne each maintain a daily journal page, both of which Barbara and I both look forward to reading each day. We missed them while they were gone. If you've not read their pages, give them a try.

There's an interesting exchange about Category 5 cabling over on Pournelle's page. (You can access it here until this coming Monday, or here thereafter). It starts with a nastygram from Darren Remington, taking Pournelle to task for, among other things, daring to refer to "Category 5" LAN cable as "Level 5". The old rule says that if you're going to strike at the king, strike well, and Mr. Remington would have done well to follow that advice. Instead, ironically, his corrections themselves are all wrong, as I and several other readers point out in mail that Pournelle posts as follow-ups to Mr. Remington's blast. If you're going to point out someone else's errors in a sarcastic manner, it always pays to make sure that your own statements are correct. (And, on that note, I made a couple of typos in my own response--"586" instead of "568" and "8-position, 8-connector" instead of "8-position, 8-conductor. But my response is essentially accurate.)

What I don't understand is why Mr. Remington seems to foam at the mouth in response to reading just about anything Pournelle writes. Someone whose only exposure to Mr. Remington was reading his letters to Pournelle would dismiss him a a lunatic with an axe to grind. And yet I know that's not the case. I was surprised to see that Mr. Remington had posted a favorable review of PC Hardware in a Nutshell over on He took us to task for not covering Linux, but he did so in a reasoned and polite way. I emailed him to thank him for posting the review, and we had an exchange of messages. In fact, Mr. Remington seems like a nice guy, and his messages to me are thoughtful, polite, and reasoned. There's just something about Dr. Pournelle that sets Mr. Remington off, I guess.

That something, I think, is Mr. Remington's perception that Dr. Pournelle is an enemy of Linux, or at least not a friend. I'm not sure why Mr. Remington believes that, but it's pretty clear that he does. And nothing could be further from the truth. I know, both from reading what Jerry writes about Linux and from our frequent telephone conversations, that Jerry in fact would love to see Linux succeed as a real desktop alternative to Windows. Jerry's  perception, with which I agree, is that Linux isn't there yet. But that doesn't make either of us an enemy of Linux.

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Sunday, 24 December 2000

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We got sherlock, Barbara's new machine, moved into her office yesterday. Her former machine, theodore, is now sitting under the desk in my office, where it continues service as the PDC for our main NT domain. I've left it as it was when it was Barbara's main machine. There are applications on it, like Quicken and her Palm synch utility, that I haven't yet gotten transferred to her new system. Once that's done and I'm satisfied that everything is working on the new machine, I'll gradually remove her applications from the PDC.

I was slightly embarrassed yesterday while configuring Outlook 2000 on Barbara's machine. She has several email accounts. Her main account is barbara at ttgnet dot com. Her secondary account is barbara at hardwareguys dot com. Getting those set up was no problem, as both reside on the pair Networks server. But she also has a couple POP accounts set up at Roadrunner--author at triad dot rr dot com and fritchman at triad dot rr dot com--and those were more of a problem.  I tried setting them up in Outlook by guessing the passwords for those POP accounts, but that didn't work. 

So I went over to my system to search my Outlook "reference" folder for the message I knew would be there. Whenever I do something like setting up a POP account, I always create an email message with the particulars, mail it to myself, and file it in my Reference folder. But it wasn't there. I set up the accounts about noon on 6/22 and mailed Barbara to let her know they were set up and tested on her machine. But that message didn't include the passwords. I found the test messages I'd sent to verify that the accounts were working properly. What I couldn't find was the message that listed the account details and passwords. I looked all over, and finally concluded that instead of mailing myself the details I must have created a master password file and stored it locally on kiwi.

That was a problem, since I'd already blown away the contents of the hard drives on kiwi. Oh, I have multiple backup tapes, all of which no doubt contain that file, but kiwi is stripped down to a non-functioning pile of parts right now, and even getting it back up far enough to allow me to restore a backup tape would have taken the better part of the afternoon. No problem, I thought. I'll just connect to the Roadrunner account administration web page and reset the passwords for all the supplementary POP accounts. I got to that web page, entered the main account name, and typed in what I thought was the password. Access denied. I tried a couple of other possibilities. Access denied. Arrghhh.

So I decided to bite the bullet, play typical user, and call Roadrunner tech support to get my master password reset. That done, I changed the passwords for all the supplementary POP accounts and got Barbara's Outlook set up and running. This time, I created an encrypted master password file on my local system where I'll store all this stuff. I encrypted it using my primary secure password, which I'll never forget, and which is a long (25 to 35 characters, but that would be telling) string of mixed-case letters, numbers, and symbols. That's the kind of password I used to use for everything back in my younger days when I still had a remarkable memory. Nowadays, if I create a long-string-of-garbage password, protect something with it, and then don't need to use the password for a year or two, I probably won't remember it. Nowadays, I tend to use 8- to 12-character LSOG passwords. At least I can still remember those after not using them for a long time. But my days of creating a 35-character LSOG password or encryption key and being able to remember it indefinitely are long gone.

The only things that remain to install on Barbara's system are her Palm synch utility and Quicken. I'm not sure whether either of those run on Windows 2000, but I'll find out. If her current sync utility won't work with Windows 2000, I think the upgrade I downloaded some time ago will. Barbara is running Quicken 99, so that will probably also need upgraded. And as long as I'm upgrading it, I think I'll take the opportunity to switch her over to Microsoft Money, which is fine with her. Say what you want about Microsoft. They are nowhere near as obnoxious as Intuit. Year end seems a good time to make the transition. Quicken is still running on theodore, so Barbara can do whatever year-end 2000 stuff she needs to do on that machine.

And, speaking of obnoxious, I just went over to the Microsoft web site to download the Windows 2000 SP1 update. Rather than doing on-the-fly updates across the Internet for each machine, I wanted to download the file once and store it on the server, where I could use it to update multiple machines, so I went to the corporate download site. That page won't work unless ActiveX is enabled, and I don't enable ActiveX for anyone, including Microsoft. So that means I can't get the SP1 file. Unless, that is, I use a test bed system with ActiveX enabled to download the file and then strip that test bed system down to bare metal and re-install the OS. I may have to accept ActiveX stuff that comes with the distribution CD, but I don't accept downloaded ActiveX controls from anyone for any reason. If my own mother ran a web page, I wouldn't accept ActiveX controls from her, so I see no reason to accept them from Microsoft.

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