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Published in The National on May 19, 2000

Buying a computer

Today is a big day for you. You have finally saved enough to buy a computer. The question that immediately comes to mind is ... what do you want in a computer? What should you look out for? How much is too much or too little? Tok IT endeavours to answer those questions for you - in two segments.

By Daniel Lam
Before you make a decision on what to buy, there are several questions that you need to ask yourself. What do you want in a computer is determined largely by what you plan to do with it once you have it. Computers are primarily used for three things: work, leisure and education. We shall call these three the Work PC, the Fun PC and the Edu PC.

The monitor
The bigger the monitor, the easier it is on the eyes. Times were when the only monitors available are of the 12-inch variety. There are two kinds of monitors: Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). CRT monitors are what you see in most offices ... LCD monitors are uncommon because they are expensive (as much as thrice), but they take up a whole lot less space.

Commercially-available monitors, both CRT and LCD, come in 14-inch, 15-inch, 17-inch and 19-inch models.
Fourteen-inch monitors are still widely available in Papua New Guinea.

Today the standard sized monitor that comes with computer systems packages is of the 15-inch variety. Monitors are measured much the same way like televisions ... diagonally (screen corner to corner).

If you are getting a Work PC, the size of the monitor you should get depends on what kind of work you do. If you plan to use the computer for word processing and spreadsheets (accounting, etc), a 14-inch monitor is sufficient.

If your work involves Computer-Assisted Design (CAD), settle for nothing less than a 17-inch monitor.

For Fun PCs, the kind of games you play (or plan to play) will come into play (pun intended). Generally, a 15-inch monitor is adequate.

For Edu PCs, unless the kind of education we are looking at involves tiny details and the like, go for a 14-inch monitor.

Bottomline is this: if you can afford it, go for size ... it does matter.

Mouse and Keyboard
Any Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse will do. Many buyers are enticed by brand names like Microsoft, Logitech, etc ... generally, unless you do heavy-duty "mousing around", any mouse will do. There are three kinds of "mice" available commercially - serial, PS/2 and USB. USB mice are deemed the best, but are uncommon; PS/2 mice are more common in the newer computer systems (post-1998); serial mice are very common in Papua New Guinea because older machines, which cannot use PS/2 or USB mice, are widely used. 

If you are getting a new computer, settle for nothing less than a PS/2 mouse ... most new computers come with nothing less in any case. Price-wise PS/2 and serial mice are comparable ... their USB kin is slightly higher in price.

We have said this before ... a mere five years ago computer processors running at 133MHz were FAST. Today a look at advertisements of computer systems reveal machines that come with nothing less than a 300MHz processor.

As with most things, size and speed matters. With CPUs, a faster processor means less waiting for a computer program or application to load or start. It also means the computer can handle complex programs.

Intel, the world's largest chip manufacturer, produces the Pentium range of CPUs (Pentium, Celeron, Pentium II and Pentium III). Its closest competitor Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) produces the only other competition (the K5 and K6 range of processors and the K7 Athlon).

Pentium processors (now obsolete) clock up to 233MHz, Celerons top off at 550MHz (and still going faster), Pentium IIs stop at 466MHz and Pentium III just matched AMD's Athlon at 1Ghz.

If you are looking for a Work PC and you handle mostly accounts and do word processing, the slower CPUs should be sufficient. If the Work PC is meant for graphics, go for the best you can afford.

For Fun PCs, there should be no compromise - splurge. The CPU is a vital part of a great leisure machine.

For Edu PCs, as with Work PCs, unless you do programming, slower CPUs are fine (if not necessary ... certain programming software cannot run on fast machines).

We will go into detail on this next week.

The Motherboard
If the CPU is the heart of the computer, the motherboard is the network of blood vessels and nerves. The CPU is inserted or plugged onto a special slot or socket on the motherboard (sometimes called a mainboard).

Motherboards vary from manufacturer to the other. If you are looking to buy a computer, the motherboard is less of a consideration than the CPU, because the motherboard must suit the CPU.

Intel's Pentium and AMD's K5 processors require Socket 7 motherboards. The "Socket 7" refers to the type of "socket" in which the CPU is fitted on. Pentium II, certain Pentium III and certain Celeron processors require a Slot 1 motherboard. Newer Celeron and Pentium III processors require a Socket 370 motherboard.

That's not all. Some of AMD's K6 processors may fit a Socket 7 motherboard, but most require a Super Socket 7 motherboard. And the K7 Athlon requires a Slot A motherboard.

Confused? Don't be ... just decide on the processor and then go for the motherboard that supports the CPU.

There are other considerations as well.

There are these slots on a motherboard known as ISA and PCI slots. ISA stands for Industry Standard Architecture while PCI is short for Peripheral Component Interconnect. ISA slots were in use in very old computers, while the faster PCI slot was introduced by Intel in 1993.

An ISA slot is longer than a PCI slot, and is meant for older computer cards that cannot be used on the faster PCI slots.

Special cards like video cards, modem cards, sound cards and network cards are inserted into these slots.

The ISA slot is gradually being phased out because many such cards require a PCI slot instead of ISA.

Most motherboards today come with perhaps four PCI slots and one ISA slots. You may have to take this into account because it would affect your upgrade options (the more PCI slots you have, the more peripheral cards you can use with your system!).

Another thing to consider is whether the motherboard comes with an Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP, also known as Advanced Graphics Port). That we will examine when we talk about video cards.

Yet another consideration is sound; whether the motherboard comes with an integrated sound chip or not. This we will examine later.

Random Access Memory (RAM)
No computer today will run without RAM. These memory chips come in several forms, from the old 32-pin DIMM RAM to the SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM) in use in newer computers today.

RAM today comes in 4MB amounts (4MB, 8MB, 16MB, 32MB, and so on).

How much RAM you need depends on what operating system you plan to use, and what computer programs and applications you plan to run on your system. If it runs on Windows 95, anything less than 16MB is risky (Microsoft claims Windows 95 can survive on 8MB RAM, which is true ... but merely survive, not more). If it runs on Windows 98, 32MB is the bare minimum.

Double the RAM if you plan to play the most games or plan to work on some 3D graphics.

Quadruple that (we are talking at least 64MB RAM here) if you plan for heavy-duty usage.

Bottomline: For most Work PCs, 16MB is enough ... for work involving plenty of graphics, go for at least 32MB (preferable 64MB). Fun PCs should not settle for anything less than 64MB.

Sidebar: Heart of the computer

Next: What do you want in a computer?




Published in The National on May 19, 2000

Heart of the computer

By Daniel Lam
The Central
Processing Unit (CPU) is the heart of a computer. It does practically all the calculations, computations and the like. If you are getting a computer, it would be a good idea to know a bit about CPUs.

In times long past (actually, about 10 to 15 years ago), processors were easy to differentiate. If two chips run at the same speed, the newer CPU is better and faster. That means a 25MHz 286 CPU is slower than a 25MHz 386 CPU, which in turn is clobbered (performance-wise) by a 25MHz 486.

Then came Intel Corporation's Pentium processor. And things started getting confusing.

Intel is the world's largest chip manufacturer. It introduced the Pentium chip in 1993, and as part of a marketing gimmick, decided NOT to call it a 586 processor (the previous generation of CPUs were 486s). That change allowed Intel to claim copyright on the Pentium name, which means other chip manufacturers, although they may produce similar class CPUs, cannot call it a Pentium chip. So companies like Advanced Micro Devices started calling their 586-class CPUs K5 instead. That meant more confusion for the average consumer.

Because the 586-class processors (Pentium and K5) had major design improvements over their predecessors, CPU speeds jumped in leaps and bounds.

In 1995 Intel introduced the Pentium Pro. In 1997 it came up with the Pentium II. Each of these chips was much faster than the previous chip (Pentiums topped at 233MHz, Pentium IIs at 466MHz).

Then came the Celeron.

Pentium II processors were pricey, and Intel wanted a bigger share of the low-end (read: budget) market. So the Celeron came to be. The first Celerons, running at 266MHz and 300MHz, were an embarrassment to the Intel range because it was slow and fairly unstable.

After a fair bit of criticism from computer experts and analysts, Intel released an improved Celeron ... and added an "A" to differentiate it from the slower sibling.

That means a Celeron 300A is better than a mere Celeron 300. As faster Celerons were developed, the suffix was dropped. Today the fastest commercially available Celeron outruns its fastest Pentium II sibling, at 550MHz (the Pentium II line stopped at 466MHz). Why, because Celerons are still being manufactured, while the Pentium II is being phased out. In fact, when the Celeron 466 was introduced, it had become superior to the Pentium II. So much for a cheaper, inferior cousin.

But things didn't stop there. In February last year Intel unveiled their Pentium III. Superior to the Celerons and the Pentium II in every sense of the word, the CPU ran at 450MHz upwards (as of today, the fastest Pentium III blazes at one gigahertz).

It contains special enhancements to boost audio and video capabilities, especially in the area of 3D imagery and sound. It was the processor to die for (for some). But Intel had to confuse consumers again.

The older Pentium III CPUs are codenamed Katmai ... latter ones are Coppermine. By changing the chip architecture, the Coppermine chips became a wee bit faster and better than the Katmai. Coppermine CPUs start at 600MHz. A Katmai 600MHz is left eating dust if it races with a Coppermine 600MHz (that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea).

It makes no real difference to the Work PC user, of course (both CPUs would be an overkill for word-processing). But to the Fun PC user or Work PC user who does plenty of 3D imagery, every percentage point of performance counts.

Enough of Intel. Let's move on to AMD and the rest of the gang.

Chip manufacturers like AMD, Cyrix and others have competing chips with different names.

Of these, AMD's K6-2, K6-III, and Athlon are the most popular. Several computer system manufacturers use these chips instead of Intel's Pentium IIs and IIIs.

In fact, the Athlon held the title as the fastest chip for a while last year. In the race to release the first gigahertz processor, AMD beat Intel by less than a week.

AMD chips are as good as Intel chips, but they are different. Because many of today's computer programs and applications are designed for Intel processors, computers that run on non-Intel CPUs have been known to be problematic.

Now you know more about CPUs than you did before. Question now is, what should you go for?

If you plan on getting a Work PC, a Celeron or any of AMD's newer processors is more than adequate. Try to avoid the Pentium II because it has been left behind by the cheaper, yet superior, Celeron. If you are into lots of graphics, consider the Pentium III, AMD K6-III or Athlon.

If yours is going to be a Fun PC, a Celeron may prove to be inadequate (although a K6 processor is fine). If possible, go for a Pentium III or an Athlon.

For Edu PCs, the same advice applies ... generally, a Celeron or K6 would be enough.

Faster, newer, and more powerful chips will always cost more than the older, less powerful chips. Everyone's hope when purchasing a new computer is to have it last as long as possible.

Tok IT
's advice is to buy the most powerful and fastest chip that you can afford; even if you don't need that kind of power now, you will in future.





Published in The National on May 26, 2000

What do you want in a computer?

Tok IT continues with the second and final segment on what to look out for when buying a computer.

By Daniel Lam
Last week we touched on the monitor, the CPU, the motherboard and RAM. Today we touch on the rest of the components that make up a computer. The same conventions apply: Work PC is, well, an office computer, Fun PC is a computer for leisure and entertainment, and Edu PC is a computer to be used primarily for education.

Hard Disk Drive
Can't have a computer nowadays without a hard disk. Having a hard disk allows you to store large amounts of data in the systems unit instead of having to rely on floppy diskettes.

Hard disks today come in sizes of 3.2Gb and more. Like RAM, it never hurts to have more hard disk space, but for a typical Work PC 3.2Gb is more than enough. For a Fun PC, go for at least 8.4Gb.

The Video Card
Through the video card, the computer outputs the results of its computations on the monitor screen. Without the card, all you would see on the monitor is a blank (not to mention that the monitor might not be plugged to the computer system unit at all, especially for 17-inch monitors or larger).

A flip through the newspaper reveals that many of the computer systems available have the video card integrated onto the motherboard.

Video cards today come in two forms ... PCI and AGP. AGP video cards are superior because the port is designed specifically for video cards ... it may not be used for others, unlike the multi-purpose PCI.

Basically, a system with an AGP video card would be more powerful than a system with a PCI video card, especially in the area of games and high-end users (like graphic artists).

Video cards (whether PCI, integrated AGP or AGP) come with video RAM. The higher the amount of video RAM, the more complex the kind of video output the system can handle.

Older video PCI cards have one or two MB of video RAM. Newer PCI cards may have up to 32MB. Integrated AGP video chips usually come with 8MB of video RAM, while AGP video cards come with 4MB or more (most come with 16MB or 32MB).

Most video cards today can handle some form of 3D acceleration with the help of software. However, for good 3D effects, the video card must also come with a 3D-accelerator chip.

The video card also determines whether a large monitor is wasted or not. If the video card has only one or two MB of RAM, only 14-inch monitors are recommended. On the other hand, if you have a 32MB video card, anything less than a 17-inch monitor would not do the card justice.

The latest video cards to hit the world market are so advanced that they come with their own processors (which, incidentally, pack more power than a CPU of, say, 1997 ... all that power just for video!) and even their own mini-fans (to help keep the processor cool).

That is quite a lot of information to absorb, just on video cards alone. The bottomline is, if you are getting a large monitor (17 or 19 inch) or you are buying a computer for graphics work or for games, you should go for a video card with at least 16MB of video RAM. Otherwise, a video card with 8MB of video RAM is fine.

Sound Card
This is very much an option for Work PCs and Edu PCs. By default the motherboard comes with its own (very limited) sound chip, which can produce tiny sounds (or bleeps). For Fun PCs, however, sound cards are a must.

Sound cards today require PCI slots. Still others may be integrated in the motherboard. An integrated sound chip would save you a PCI slot and perhaps some money, and you still have an option of a PCI sound card. There is no significant difference between integrated sound chips or PCI sound cards.

Sound cards today come in 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit and 64-bit. As usual, the bigger the sound card's capacity, the better the quality of sounds it can produce and reproduce.

Some sound cards also boast of 3D sound. This involves creating a "surround sound" effect, allowing the computer user to "immerse" him or herself in the game or movie.

Computer Speakers
Can't have a sound card without speakers, obviously. Speakers come in various sizes and quality. Generally, a simple monitor-mounted pair of speakers is adequate. Consumers with plenty of cash to spare might invest in very good speakers if they are getting a Fun PC.

Having a CD-ROM drive allows you to listen to music CDs. With the appropriate software or hardware (an MPEG card), you can also watch video CDs. DVD-ROM (digital versatile/video disc read-only memory) drives are not quite commonly used yet, so it should be all right to pass them by.

In order to install many of today's software (games included), a CD-ROM drive is necessary.

Therefore whether for work or play, a CD-ROM drive (at least) is needed.

Modem and Network Card
An optional accessory for the computer that is quickly becoming a necessity, internal modem cards fit into the PCI slot. Network cards are for linking computers to a server or to each other.

Note that external modems are plugged to the systems unit via either a serial port or a USB port at the rear.

Modems (internal or external) allow the user to send and receive faxes, connect to the Internet, send e-mail, etc.

A computer printer allows you to output the results of your work (or play) on paper. There are three main types of printers: Inkjet, Laser and Impact/Dot Matrix. Note that the Impact/dot matrix printer is largely obsolete.

Inkjet printers can print colour images on paper and use ink cartridges. Laser printers are more expensive then inkjet printers. However, they print documents and images faster, producing quality prints and also have less service problems. They are cheaper to maintain because the toner cartridges used last longer than ink cartridges. Impact/dot matrix printers are the cheapest to buy and cheapest to run and maintain. The downside is that the print quality isn't as good.

If you do not expect to do much printing, but want reasonable quality when you do, an inkjet printer is the better option. If you expect to print a lot, then consider a laser printer. If you stay in a remote location, a dot matrix is a better choice for you.

Back-up Power/Surge Protector
In PNG, where the power supply can be erratic, having a back-up is necessary. We are not talking about having a power generator ... we are talking about Uninteruptible Power Supply (UPS).

A UPS is essentially a battery, containing enough power to sustain a computer for about five minutes. That gives the computer user enough time to save his or her work (or game) and shutdown the computer properly.

The alternative is less than savoury ... loss of data at the least if power to the computer is suddenly cut off. If you are unlucky, the computer may be damaged.

A surge protector protects the computer from the other side of the coin ... too much electricity.

Computers are extremely sensitive to power fluctuations - the slightest increase in the voltage may damage it.

That is why it is never a good idea to use a computer during a storm ... a lightning strike will fry. literally, it.

Many commercially available UPS units are also surge protectors. It would be a very good idea to get a UPS/Surge Protector whether you have a Work PC, Fun PC or Edu PC in mind.

Bundled Software
The term refers to software that comes with the system. Some computer vendors include the price of the Operating System (usually Windows 95 or 98) and some word processing program in the listed price of their computer.

Tok IT
will not delve too much on this subject, but it is worth remembering that the computer NEEDS software to function.

The least the vendor can do is include a CD containing the operating system's installation files ... if they are nice about it, they may include games and other software.

Other things
We have covered quite a bit of ground so far. Things we will not delve in detail include a floppy disk drive (although there are various brands of FDD, they are largely similar in quality and price), mouse pads (very useful indeed), monitor screen filters (to cut out the glare), document holders (for Work PCs), gamepads/joysticks (for Fun PCs), computer dust cover (for any computer), etc.

You might also want a scanner for your Work PC or Edu PC (unlikely for a Fun PC). Coupled with a modem, your computer can also act as a fax machine (scanning the documents to be faxed out and using the printer to print whatever the computer receives).

Go on and impress the sales rep!

Yes, you now know enough about computers to impress the sales rep. When you go hunting for a computer, ask about the things we mentioned.
Instead of letting the sales rep overwhelm you with IT jargon, you can now hold your own, on his own turf.

Sure, you don't exactly know EVERYTHING, but more than the typical man on the street. And you will eventually learn more as Tok IT covers more things about IT.

Knowledge is, after all, power.




Published in The National on July 21, 2000

Music to my ears

By Daniel Lam
Just under a decade ago, when a computer user wanted to hear music while working, he or she either brought a radio or played music CDs on his computer (if there was a CD-ROM drive).

When the Internet became more and more accessible and popular (thanks to the World Wide Web), people started looking for a more efficient way to put sound effects and music onto their web pages.

Then came MP3.

Now, MP3 has been around for some time, but in the last year it has become a major issue among those connected to the music industry and Internet users alike. Why so?

MP3 stands for MPEG Audio Layer 3, and MPEG stands for Moving Pictures Experts Group. And MP3 is about music.

MP3 is a file format for sound, similar to the WAV files, only far more efficient because it uses less media storage space without sacrificing on audio quality.

WAV files are already in computer systems ... the music you hear when you switch on your computer and the operating system begins running is one example.

MP3 files are much smaller than WAV files ... in fact, the former takes up just over eight per cent (1/12th) of the space a similar WAV file would occupy.

In plain terms, a WAV file taking up one MB of space would only be about 80kb in size if it was an MP3 file.

MP3 decoding employs compression techniques that do not sacrifice much in terms of output quality. It does so by getting rid of all sound data at frequencies too high or too low for the human ear to receive.

Think of it as a manual on an electronic equipment (TV, VCR, radio, etc). You may have noticed that the manual has sections in English and other languages. If you cannot read other languages anyway, dropping the sections that are not written in English would result in a thinner manual, without losing any important information, wouldn't it?

Because of this obvious advantage, MP3 has become the audio file of choice for the computer user, especially considering that the Internet has become a global source for MP3 files.

When software that allows users to convert music from their music CDs into MP3 files, the music industry got worried.

And with good reason, too. Previously, the only way for the home user to copy music from music CDs was either through audiocassettes or some equally "primitive" means. The quality of the reproduction was doubtful (not quite "CD-quality").

With MP3 everything changed. Software known as "CD rippers" allowed users to convert various sound and music files, including those in music CDs, into MP3 files.

Being smaller in size (a CD can handle perhaps 70 minutes' worth of music, which is roughly 10-12 songs ... a CD can store over 10 hours of songs in MP3 format!), easily copied and distributed, MP3 files became the music pirates' dream come true.

But we will leave the newsy bits for another day (let's just say companies that provide means of distributing, no matter how slight, have been sued by the music industry. Some still are).

Playing MP3 files
Usually, by default your computer cannot play MP3 files. MP3 players have to be installed onto your system. Alternatively, Microsoft's own Windows Media Player can be upgraded (for free over the Internet) to play MP3 files. In any case, probably the most common MP3 players are Nullsoft's WinAmp and RealPlayer's Jukebox (which are available free for download over the Internet and from the cover CDs that come with most computer magazine here in PNG).

Just hop over to, the "official" MP3 site, and you will have quite a comprehensive range of MP3 players to choose from.

Once you have an MP3 player, it is time to download the actual MP3 files. Again, you can try for such files, but there are many other websites that provide such material.

Please note that because of the ongoing legal saga involving MP3 files, NOT all songs available for download may be legal.

Once you have downloaded an MP3 file (in PNG, this will take about 10 minutes for every minute of music ... a five minute song would take nearly an hour), and placed it in your MP3 directory, it is a simple matter to start your player and play the file.

As is an official site, they do not have MP3's from commercial artists available for download (since there are copyright matters involved).

However, they do have music from new and unheard of artists who struggle to be noticed otherwise.




Published in The National on December 15, 2000

Fun with your PC

By Daniel Lam
You must be thinking that the Tok IT editor must have gotten out of his mind ... Easter Eggs in the month of Christmas? Well, yes and no. Yes, I have been accused of being bonkers, and no, the timing for Easter Eggs is not wrong. That's because we are talking Easter Eggs of a different kind.

Easter Eggs, in IT-speak, means hidden, often funny or amusing, stuff that software designers/programmers leave in their programs. Of course, Easter Eggs in this sense are not confined to software only (movies, music, art, books, etc). But here we are talking software Easter Eggs.

Easter Eggs are quite entertaining, if you know where to look.

For starters, Tok IT will look at Easter Eggs that are hidden within (arguably) the world's most popular office suite: Microsoft Office 97.

Please note that whether or not you can find the Easter Eggs depends on individual software ... the following have been tested and found to exist by yours truly.

What Bill thinks about...
In any Microsoft Word document type "zzzz" (without the quotation marks). Hit the spacebar, and there would be a wavy red line under the "zzzz". Place the cursor over the "zzzz" and right-click on it. Makes you wonder if that's what Bill Gates defines zzzz, eh?

Fly over a 3D Landscape
Excel 97 has a great egg tucked inside of it. Open a new Workbook, then press F5 to go to the Go To dialogue box. In the Go To dialog box, type in the range X97:L97 and click the OK button on the right side of the dialog box. The Go To dialog box closes, and row 97, from column L to column X, is highlighted. Cell L97 is the currently active cell. Press the Tab key once. This action makes cell M97 the active cell. Press the Ctrl and Shift buttons at the same time and click once on the Chart Wizard button (the blue, yellow, and red bar chart icon) on the Excel toolbar. After a few seconds, you'll find yourself flying over a strange, surreal fractal landscape. Use your mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard to fly around a bit (the controls are very, very sensitive, though).

Soon you'll spot a mesa with a shallow depression and a small, scrolling shrine that pays homage to the Excel 97 development team. Hover near the shrine to read the scrolling list of Excel programmers and developers.

Exit this Excel egg by pressing the Ctrl, Shift, and Esc keys simultaneously.

Hey, let's do the Macarena!
PowerPoint makes your presentations sing and dance. So it's only fitting that the PowerPoint Easter Egg has the same flash and flurry, right? In PowerPoint, select Help and choose About Microsoft PowerPoint. The About Microsoft PowerPoint window appears. Press and hold the Ctrl, Alt, and Shift keys. Then triple-click on the horizontal line above the Warning notice in the lower third of the window.

The PowerPoint logo banner along the left side of the window does the Macarena! Click once on the PowerPoint logo banner along the left side of the About window. The full PowerPoint development team credits appear in a cute little series of animations. To speed up the display, use the right-arrow key; to slow it down, press the left-arrow key. Use the up-arrow and down-arrow keys to zoom in and out.

To close the About Microsoft PowerPoint window, click OK or click on the X in the upper-right corner of the window.

Next: More Easter Eggs!




Published in The National on December 22, 2000

Easter Eggs galore

By Daniel Lam
week we tried some Easter Eggs hidden in Microsoft Office 97. This week we cover other Easter Eggs, including a couple for the Mac.

#1. Where did everybody go?

This one works under Windows 98. Right-click on your desktop and select New, then Shortcut. Click on Cancel and immediately right-click and select New. Notice what's missing?

#2. What's a DeskBar?

I have no idea either. But it's there in Windows 98. Hold the Control (Ctrl) key and left-click on the Start button, then select Settings, go to Taskbar & Start Menu. In addition to the usual TaskBar Options and Start Menu Programs tabs, we have a mystery DeskBar Options tab. Clicking on it reveals, probably, a feature that the guys at Microsoft forgot.

#.3 All around the world...

You need to have Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 to unearth this Easter Egg. Start up your Internet Explorer, then click on Help and select About Internet Explorer. Hold the Control (Ctrl) key, left-click and drag the "E" over the image of the earth. Don't let go yet ... drag the "E" into the text that reads "Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0". You can let go of the Control key now. The words will move to the right, revealing an "Unlock" button. Hold the Control key again, and drag the "E" over the earth, then let go. Have fun!

#4. IE5, too

If you have Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0, here's an Egg for you. Start up IE5, then select Tools, Internet Options, General, Languages. Press Add. Then type "ie-ee" (without the quotation marks) and click OK. Move "User Defined [ie-ee]" to the TOP of the list, then return to where you can browse in IE5 again. Click on the Search icon, and the search menu appears (usually on the left side of the browser. Click on Customise. Enjoy the show!

#5. Once there was a monster

Users of Netscape Navigator can have some fun too, although it's less dramatic. Type "about:mozilla" (without the quotation marks) on the address bar, then press Enter. Strange, no?

#6. Why no Tavurvur?

This is an easily unearthed Easter Egg ... right-click on the desktop and select Properties to bring up the Display Properties window. Click on the Screen Saver tab. Choose the 3D Text screensaver, then click on Settings. Type the word "volcano" (no quotation marks) in the field. Guess what, you get the names of volcanoes the world over.

#7. Teapots, too

Here is another screensaver Easter Egg. Change your screensaver to 3D Pipes. Click on Settings. Select the following Multiple Pipes, Traditional Joints, Mixed Joint type. Set the resolution to Max. Click OK. Click on Preview. Wait and watch. Every now and again, a teapot is displayed instead of the normal ball joint at the corner of a pipe. What, no tea?

#8. Windows 95 Team

This one only works with Windows 95. Create a new folder on the desktop. Right-click on it and choose Rename. Rename it "and now, the moment you've all been waiting for" (without the quotes). Then rename it "we proudly present for your viewing pleasure". Rename it one last time to "The Microsoft Windows 95 Product Team!" Open the folder, and the Easter Egg is revealed. Please note that you MUST right-click and choose Rename each time in order to crack the Easter Egg!

#9. Merlin lives!

This ancient wizard (or magician or druid or sorcerer, depending on the individual) exists in Adobe Photoshop, on both the PC and Mac versions. Start up Photoshop and have the Layer Palette open. Hold Control, Alternate (Alt) and Shift keys together (Command, Option and Shift for Macs) and click on the small arrow on the right side of the Layer Palette, and select Layer Option. He's there, waiting!

#10. More Photoshop Gems

This Easter Egg can be found both on the PC and Mac versions. Hold Control, Alternate and Shift keys together (or just Command and Shift for Macs) and click on Help, About Photoshop (for Macs, click on the Apple icon and select About Photoshop). An alternative intro screen appears. The credits start scrolling after a few seconds. Press the Alt key to speed up the scrolling.

For the PC version, there's more. While the credits are speeding fast, click on the big eye once. While still holding the Alt key, press the Control key, then release the Alt key. Just above the scrolling credits are about 60 secret messages!

#11. Melting Item

In QuarkXPress on the PC, try this: select any item (textbox, picture box, line, etc) or items. then hold Control, Alternate and Shift together, and press K. The item will promptly melt away.

#12. There's an alien in my Quark

If you have QuarkXPress on the Mac, you can do the same trick as above, only with more finesse. Hold Command and Option, then press K when an item (or items) is (are) selected. An alien casually marches up and zaps the item(s) into oblivion.

Merry Christmas! :-)




Published in The National on September 28, 2001

Warning: Trust no one!

By Daniel Lam
the heading sound like the subject line of a chain letter/e-mail? It should, but trust me on this, this time it's for real.

A few months ago someone sent an e-mail with the following message to The National (grammatical errors and all):


"Do you believe that a friend of mine sent me an alert and the procedure that we have to follow for the possible infection of SULFNBK.EXE.

"And I had checked, just to make sure. An then... the file was there, hidden even of McAfee and Norton, maybe waiting something to start work.

"Well, see bellow the procedure that I followed step by step, and I found the file:

1. Start/Find Folders. Type the file name: SULFNBK.EXE
2. If it find, open Windows Explorer, browse into the folder where the file is and delete it. Do not click with left button on the file and do not open it.
3. Just delete it
4. Mine was on Windows/Command
5. The virus from the person who gave the alert was on Windows/Config

"Yes, Norton and McAfee do not detect it. We do not know if it makes some damage on the machine, but I think that anybody will not want to test it to know, will it?

"Folks, this is not fun, I deleted it from my computer. And my definitions are updated.

"Do the same, ok?"

As any self-respecting PC user with Internet access would do, I "hopped" over to Norton Antivirus' website ( and looked the matter up.

Guess what? It's a hoax. According to Symantec (which publishes Norton Antivirus), the hoax was in Portuguese, it originated in Brazil and has been translated into at least two other languages.

I promptly deleted the offending e-mail and thought nothing more of it.

Last week someone forwarded the self-same e-mail warning to me.

Sigh. This time the contents of the hoax contained the following additional text:

"It was brought to my attention yesterday that a virus is in circulation via email. I looked for it and to my surprise I found it on mine. ..

"Please follow the directions and remove it from yours TODAY!!!!!!!

"No Virus software can detect it. It will become active on June 1, 2001.

"It might be too late by then. It wipes out all files and folders on the hard drive. This virus travels thru E-mail and migrates to the

'C:\windows\command' folder.

"The bad part is: You need to contact everyone you have sent ANY E-mail to in the past few months. Many major companies have found this virus on their computers. Please help your friends !!!!!!!!



Okay, here are some facts. Sulfnbk.exe has its proper place within the Windows folder.

According to Symantec, it is a Windows utility that is used to restore long filenames. Good old MS-DOS restricted filenames to eight characters and a three-character extension. Windows allows more, but should a filename longer than eight characters be opened in MS-DOS, it is shrunk to fit (say, thenational.txt becomes thenat~1.txt).

Sulfnbk.exe allows thenat~1.txt to be restored to thenational.txt.

Admittedly, because sulfnbk.exe is an executable file, it CAN be infected.

In fact, Symantec says that the virus/worm W32.Magistr.24876@mm often comes along as an attachment named Sulfnbk.exe.

The proper sulfnbk.exe is located in the C:\Windows\Command folder.

If the file is located anywhere else, or arrives as an attachment to an e-mail message, the file is likely to be infected.

Symantec goes on to explain that a scan with the latest virus definitions should detect the virus, if it IS a virus (remember, the real sulfnbk.exe is not).

What if you have deleted the sulfnbk.exe file from the c:\Windows\Command folder?

All is not lost! For one thing, it is NOT an essential Windows utility. That is, Windows won't crash on you because sulfnbk.exe is missing.

Second, you can restore the deleted file easily.

Symantec provides steps on how to deal with this.

For users of Windows ME:
Lucky you ... you can restore the file using the System Configuration Utility.

  • Click Start and then click Run.

  • Type msconfig and then press Enter.

  • Click Extract Files. The "Extract one file from installation disk" dialog box appears.

  • In the "Specify the system file you would like to restore" box, type the following, and then click Start:


  • NOTE: If you installed Windows to a different location, make the appropriate substitution. The Extract File dialog box appears.

  • Next to the "Restore from" box, click Browse, and browse to the location of the Windows installation files. If they were copied to the hard drive, this is, by default, C:\Windows\Options\Install. You can also insert the Windows installation CD in the CD-ROM drive and browse to that location.

  • Click OK and follow the prompts.


For users of Windows 98:
You can restore the file using the System File Checker.

  • Click Start and then click Run.

  • Type sfc and then press Enter.

  • Click "Extract one file from installation disk".

  • In the "Specify the system file you would like to restore" box, type the following, and then click Start:


  • NOTE: Again, if you installed Windows to a different location, make the appropriate substitution.

  • The Extract File dialog box appears.

  • Next to the "Restore from" box click Browse, and browse to the location of the Windows installation files. If they were copied to the hard drive, this is, by default, C:\Windows\Options\Cabs. You can also insert the Windows installation CD in the CD-ROM drive and browse to that location.

  • Click OK and follow the prompts.

If you are using Windows 95:

  • This is slightly more difficult. You need to use the extract command. This can also be used on Windows 98/Me.

  • Click Start, point to Find or Search, and then click Files or Folders.

  • Make sure that "Look in" is set to (C:) and that Include subfolders is checked.

  • In the "Named" or "Search for..." box, type:


  • Click Find Now or Search Now. If it does not exist on the hard drive, then insert the Windows installation CD and repeat the search on that drive.

  • When you find the file, write down the location of Precopy1, for example, C:\Windows\Options\Cabs. This is your Source Path.

  • The general form of the Extract command is:

            extract <Source Path>\ sulfnbk.exe /L c:\windows\command

  • So if the source path is C:\Windows\Options\Cabs, then the Extract command becomes:

            extract c:\windows\options\cabs\ sulfnbk.exe /L c:\windows\command

  • Click Start and then click Run.

  • Type the following, making the appropriate substitutions as previously noted

            extract <Source Path>\ sulfnbk.exe /L c:\windows\command

  • Click OK.