One of the problems that nearly all businesses have to face, or should have to, is the tracking of the hardware and software that are on the computers. With just a couple of computers to manage, it can become a no big deal issue with you but if you track more than a few, have trouble remembering what is on what computer, and worse yet, what vintage of software each one is running, it becomes more of a real chore. I do it manually, I create a spreadsheet like table to track what is on what computer and have to remind myself every once in a while, to go do a survey of the computers and see what has changed. And when something changes, I need to dig out the spreadsheet and update it. But you know, when adding and removing software on my test system, it becomes difficult to keep it up to date or if I just bring in a product or change a video card, it gets out of date quite easily. So I asked if there was a better way and what I found was Sitekeeper from Executive Software. Its name tells it all, it is a tool to keep track of what is on your site.
Installation is pretty easy even for such a complicated job as this. The software starts up like most any other but it really keeps track of what it is doing and if you need components, gives you the option of pausing the install to load them. For instance, it prefers to use Microsoft’s SQL Database to house its files and information that you will be building but if it doesn’t’ find it on your computer, it will load a subset program to take care of things. You can allow it as much openness or security as you want but in my testing of the program, I just let it take the usual defaults and it installed easily. What I really like is the wizard process that they use to take you through the installation steps. Where I have first run into problems is after setting up the program, you need to run the Agent install process on computers that are not Windows XP Pro systems. I told Sitekeeper where to put the files and immediately, it would not allow any of the other computers on the network to get them. It appears that Sitekeeper turned off particular sharing for that folder so what I needed to do was to turn it on for the folder. This was despite that the folder that the files were in was in a shared folder and that I could get to any of the other files in that main folder. Once that was figured out, running the agent on the non WinXP system was an easy install.
Once installed, things began to bog down but to be honest, I am not sure that I should point the blame at the product. First of all, remember that this program prefers to work in a Domain type of network environment that uses a server to keep track of everything from documents to users and passwords and the authorizations to let people use particular machines. My testing was done on a peer-to-peer network of computers that had only one machine running a server quality package, Windows XP Pro, while the others ran Windows XP Home and Windows98. So the first time I tell Sitekeeper to take a look at the computers on the network, it refused saying that I did not give it permission. In a peer network, who cares about permissions? Well, actually I do because I am on a broadband network as well so I am pretty picky about what gets to each of my machines. So I run things like a hardware based firewall router and Zone Alarm on each of the computers. So the question, was it the Zone Alarm causing the problem, the firewall, or what.
The problem was the permissions that I needed to set up on each system. In Sitekeeper, you go to the manage permissions section and set up a common user with a password that each computer needs to set up to allow the Sitekeeper software to go into each machine and run the software. For the Windows XP systems, I needed to add the user and password with administrative privileges to each computer. Once that was done, Sitekeeper was able to scan each computer on the network just fine. As for the Windows98 system, once the agent was loaded and run, Sitekeeper got to it directly with out any problems.
Now that the administrative hassles and difficulties are out of the way, it was time to take a good look at what it can do and tell me about my computers. What strikes me first is that how fast it scans your systems and network. The report is back before I get out of the chair. Granted there isn’t much on the laptop but the test system and my main system are loaded with hardware and software and Sitekeeper gets it quickly. What you first notice is that it gives you everything. The software inventory lists every program that is on each system and while it does a good job of pulling them out and listing them for you, there are a lot that will appear in the “unavailable” Publisher category. In those cases, rather than listing the program application, it lists the individual program files it finds, in my case, a seven page report of 331 programs. The good news is that you can tell it to hide those that you don’t really need to care about, like “mouse.com” for instance, and focus in on the program that can cause you problems. As a for instance, in looking over my report, I see that on each computer, I am running a different version of “Microsoft Streets and Trips”. This can be really important to you if you are trying to be both the administrator and help desk person for this network. If a user calls you with a problem, it sure would help to know right away what version that they have.
Where things can be a bit time consuming is the licensing tracking module in Sitekeeper. Again, they have a wizard that will take you through the steps of monitoring your licenses but it will be time consuming, as you need to gather the information and make sure you have them. The good news about the process is that you can start and stop at any point as it only takes just a few seconds to rescan the network on my systems. But once you have finished this process, it really makes the job of managing what is on the network much easier. As with the other reports, you can remove some of the items that don’t need listing or tracking.
The hardware scan is an interesting report. What I like about all these reports is that you can save them in an html format for viewing on other systems, and you can change the sorting order to look at devices, computers, and systems. I do wish that the reports actually included more detail such as drivers, and maybe even a reference to the registry entries that the searched. When I look at the device listing though, it seems that it pulls the name from each system and they might not be standardized. For example, the cd rom drives are all called “CDROM” and I see all five of them. The problem is that there aren’t five but Sitekeeper thinks that the ThinkPad (Notebook) has two, one from Teac and one from LG. In another example, under device “fdc”, I show floppy controllers for each machine except for the notebook, and under “FloppyDisk” I show drives for all three machines including an extra on the test system which is not there. I looked even more and found several other discrepancies like that and further research shows that I do indeed have some ghost pieces of hardware in the registry on my notebook. Two drives it found there that don’t exist can be traced to a digital camera I once had installed, and a USB Drive I once used and both of these are still in the registry of the computer. Could these ghosts cause hardware problems? Hard telling but it is interesting to know that Sitekeeper finds them out for me and with a printed report handy, you can keep it to remind you later when problems occur on that particular machine.
A final piece of the package is the “Pushinstaller” that allows you to add and remove packages from a central location on your network. Like the other modules, it has a wizard that takes you through the steps you need to install the programs and like the other wizards, you need to be careful as you read the instructions as they are different from the usual wizards you find in most installation programs in that you just hit enter to get you through them and can always rely on the defaults. With Executive Software’s Sitekeeper wizards, you really need to pay attention to what is going on. With the pushinstaller, the first thing I tried to do was to uninstall a program that was an older version. I had mentioned that Microsoft Streets and Trips had three different versions on my computers and so I thought, let me uninstall the older ones and install the newer one to the other two computers. So from the administrator system (which is my test system), I told it to uninstall it from the laptop. It appears from where I was sitting that it uninstalled just fine and the report at the end said it was successful. This is one place where it would be nice if some of the reports gave you a little more information as to what happens. When I went over to the laptop to see what happened, what I found was that Streets and Trips was running. It seems that the pushinstaller had actually launched the program itself. What was confusing to me, besides this, was that as I went through the wizard, it asked for the location of the setup program to Streets on the laptop. Since it wasn’t there, I pointed it to the actual Streets program itself. Obviously, that was the wrong thing to do. Back to the instructions and to try again and it seems that after some trial and error, how you do this is not that straightforward for typical desktop applications. You need to specify command line parameters that are not that intuitive to figure out and you need to have the files to be downloaded installed on a shared component on the computer. In my trial again to bring my Streets programs up to date, it still gave me difficulties but did finally start the installation on the test system. However, as I probably didn’t set it up correctly not knowing what command line parameters to use, it required me to step it through the installation of the program. But at least I got it installed. The more I dig into the details, the more that I see that it is probably Streets that doesn’t allow for unattended installation which is what the command line parameters are looking for. In my example with Streets, in browsing around, I decided to try the command line parameter /qn. I had found this on a number of other applications listed and so gave it a try. The first time I ran it, Sitekeeper’s Pushinstaller report tells me that it installed just fine. And in fact, when looking at the laptop, I could see it downloading something across the network from the test system. After a while, it comes up with a message saying it was trying to reboot itself but there was a user still connected, do I want to shut down. So why not. What happened was that as soon as it rebooted, I could find no trace of Streets on the system. So what did it download? When I searched the system, I found download text files in the Windows Temp folder and it appears that it need to update something on the computer before it could download the program. So back again at my test system, the master console for Sitekeeper, I told it again to install Streets on the laptop and this time, it sailed on through without any problems using that command line parameter /qn, it asked no questions and when I went back later to look at the laptop, found the Streets loaded just fine.
My inclination here is to believe that I was loading software that was never intended to be handled this way but thought that it would be a good test of the program and I am very satisfied with how it worked out. I was also loading a program that sits on two CDs and forced it to be installed from a folder rather than from the cd rom drives which you would normally do in this situation.
What I like about Sitekeeper is the ease of the wizards to help you finish installing the product. You do need to check the documentation and should read it before installing it as it might save you some of the problems that I ran into. Of course, I probably would have known some of these things had I been more in tune with server based networking but dealing with a program that has its roots in server based networking is something I just don’t deal with much. But once I got it rolling, found it to be very useful even in my limited network of three machines. I was able to scan each system, see what they have, what they needed, and install programs across the network to each one. For people and companies that need a good solid way of tracking this kind of information, Sitekeeper can’t be beat and I do like the way it works. Pricing for Sitekeeper is around $349 for a ten-machine license. At www.executive.com.
Several years ago, I ran into this start up company on the Comdex floor pushing a line of very inexpensive cameras for consumers. At the time, there were very few cameras available in the sub $100 line and Largan, www.largan.com was out to crack that market with a unit that was very small, easy to use, and had very few parts or controls to learn or get confused with. With that effort, I could see a lot of promise in the low end market but felt that it fell too short. So this year, I have another Largan camera to look at, the Largan Chameleon Mega.
First of all, this is still a low end camera targeted for the first time user on a budget. It is a 1.3 megapixel camera with 16MB of built in memory with no memory cards. Very small, (I have seen business card cases take up more room), and very lightweight. You can take almost 40+ pictures at the high resolution of 1280x1024, which is certainly suitable for making good quality small prints. It is a fixed focus camera with a macro mode, built in flash unit, and capable of capturing video clips and working as a web camera.
It comes very professionally boxed and packaged like you would now expect from a mass-market camera. Everything in the package is well laid out and you first open up the quick start guide that takes you through some easy steps for setting up the camera and using it. For someone where this is their first camera, the directions are straightforward and easy to follow. The camera is a very slim and lightweight unit that measures just 3.5x2.3x.8 inches and weighs less than 3 ounces. In the box you get the camera, wrist strap, vinyl carrying case, two AAA batteries, and two cables, one is a USB to TV cable, and the second is a USB cable with dual A connectors on it. (The A connector is the one that plugs into the USB Port on the computer.) The camera also comes with a really neat tiny tripod stand as well as the quick start guide, software CD, and a more detailed manual. What the Getting Started guide doesn’t tell you is to how to quickly start taking pictures. You can tell from looking at the camera where most of the main useable features like the power button, shutter release, viewfinder, and lens are. There is a macro mode switch on the side of the camera for close up pictures.
You do have a lot of choices in pictures; normal mode is the high-resolution 1280x1024 mode and will capture quite a few images. Low resolution is 640x480. Jpg is the mode for the images and the compression must be set high as the box will tell you that you can capture up to 120 pictures in high-resolution mode. Taking pictures is pretty easy with the camera. The default is high-resolution mode with the automatic flash turned on. If you want to take a close-up, then hit the macro switch on the side of the camera to allow a close focus of up to 8 inches otherwise the camera will focus at 4 feet and beyond. If you do switch to macro mode, it automatically turns off the flash and you cannot turn it back on until you switch back to normal mode. You can turn the flash off if you like or even setup for a 10 second self-timer to get in your own picture if you like. You can even delete single pictures on the camera but I would not recommend it in normal photography mode, as you can’t tell what is good and what isn’t. What is handy is that you can sometimes guess how many remaining pictures are on the camera so if you are out taking pictures, you don’t run out unexpectedly, the selector button will give you the remaining percentage of camera memory available for pictures. There is also the battery icon in the LCD panel to give you an indication of battery life. The other way you will notice the battery life getting shorter is that it takes quite a bit longer to recharge the flash battery after a picture. There are three blinking leds on the back of the camera, one to tell you if you are in macro mode, one to tell you it is writing an image to the camera, and the third to tell you that it is charging the flash unit.
The camera is actually very easy to use and not at all difficult to hold. They have included ridges both in the back and front of the camera where your hand will hold it to give you a good feel for the camera and help your grip on what is otherwise a very smooth and sleek finish. While tiny, the view finder is bright and clear and easy to see through.
Installing the software was very straightforward on my Windows XP Home test system. The software that comes bundled is from Arcsoft so if you already had the software loaded for another scanner or camera, you may find you don’t need it or it is an update to what you have. You have to take a look there. As with most drivers of this sort, you will have to reboot your computer for the changes to take effect. As they did a good job with the software installation, you can simply take all the defaults to install the software. Once that is done, just plug in the camera with the USB Cable that comes with it and your computer will find the camera, setup the twain drivers, and soon be ready to go. One quibble here is that the cable is not a standard USB Cable that you find everywhere. In fact, I figure, that if Belkin doesn’t carry it, then it will be difficult to find if you need to replace it. I realize the camera is very thin but I think they might have been able to accommodate the standard USB connector, maybe they couldn’t. The Arcsoft Photo Impression software is becoming a very common package and in fact, I see it is now installed with many of the Epson scanners. It is a pretty good package as far as bundled software goes. You may need to browse the help files to get going but if you have used other photo imaging software before, you should be ok in getting started very quickly with it. This software also has all the usual capabilities you would expect to edit the photo and as I said, once you get used to it, it is not bad at all. You can choose to just load the Chameleon’s basic software for downloading images from the camera to your computer and then using your own software to work with the images.
Now that I have taken a bunch of pictures, I had a chance to look them over. My recommendation to do that once you have downloaded them to your computer is to go into your “My Pictures” folder if you are using Windows XP and to open up one of the pictures by double clicking on it. What it does is open it in Microsoft Windows Picture and Fax Viewer application and it is an easy way to just browse through the pictures. The good news about downloading them via USB is that it takes the power from the USB port to power the camera so you are not using your batteries when you keep it connected to the computer. In my first impressions using the camera and studying the pictures, I see that it does not do a good job in handling wide ranges in contrast. This is especially true of outdoor pictures in bright daylight. Stick to the shadows or stick to the sunny areas but don’t try to combine them. The camera doesn’t handle bright spots very well. The flash range is also fairly weak and doesn’t compensate very well for the un-natural yellow cast by incandescent light bulbs as well on pictures taken indoors. Since you have no way of knowing what shutter speeds are being used in a photograph, I suspect it uses a lower speed indoors and uses the flash as a fill flash rather than for main lighting. Of course, remember we are using two AAA batteries to power both the camera and flash, but what I found after taking a bunch of pictures indoors at night is that I had a very yellow and orange cast on many of the pictures. Stick with natural lighting pictures preferably outdoors. And in fact, for those natural type pictures that I took outdoors, I was very pleased with some of the results I got. One of the good things about the camera is that because it has no LCD preview screen, you will get quite a bit of life out of the batteries. Having taken several hundred pictures with the camera, and many with flash, the batteries still keep going just fine and I am still on the first set.
Because it has no way of telling you what the shutter speeds will be, you need to be careful when taking your pictures. It is a very lightweight camera so that it is easy to let it shake when taking pictures. You need to be aware of this when taking pictures in lower light settings and when the flash doesn’t go off. Another problem spot is using the macro mode. It is preset at 8 inches and so if you want to take some close ups, take a bunch to make sure you get a good one. You also need to watch out for the contrast and if it is too much, you will have exposure problems. The camera focuses in standard mode at 4 feet and beyond so if you are doing close ups, watch that fuzzy area between 8 inches and 4 feet. It also turns off the flash in macro mode so be sure you have enough light for the pictures otherwise the shutter speed will be too low and your pictures will not be in focus.
What separates this camera from many others is the video and continuous modes it can take pictures. One mode is called “Continuous Snapshot” and what it does is to take 16 pictures at 4 images per second. You can save them as jpg files or in an avi format. This is good to capture action shots as they happen. Another feature is that you can capture video clips with the camera. As with normal images, the contrast and the lighting need to be excellent otherwise the images will not look very good. So stick with a camcorder. Same holds true for the pc camera mode where you connect it to the computer and use it like a pc video camera. The lighting near my test system is not what you would call great and so the images captured from the camera were not all that good but the image did look pretty sharp so from that standpoint, the camera did ok. Again, one of the problems was the color balancing was just not quite right.
One feature of the camera that I did not at all try is the ability to plug it into your television set and use the set to either preview the pictures on the camera, or to preview your video clips from the camera. You can also take pictures and instantly see them as you take them on your TV screen.
The Photoimpression software from Arcsoft is not all that bad though when I was trying to transfer images to my computer, an AMD Athlon 800, it did crash the program several times and in looking over Largan’s web site, I see where they have a fix for the problem I was having with virtual memory. With all the changes in software and operating systems, it is best to check the “read.me” files and look for updates. They do have a good support page that lists their phone number and has the manual that you can download. If you don’t care for the Arcsoft software, you can always use your own like JASC Aftershot or Adobe Photoshop Elements as the software has a standard twain driver installed.
So, is this a good deal, well, hard to tell sometimes. This is a very feature rich camera and if you look around, can be had for around $109 at places like www.cameraoutlet.com or for $149 directly from Largan and Dell Computer. It must be good if Dell carries it. However, when looking around, I find that Logitech has a Clicksmart 420 camera for $100 and has video, web camera and digital camera capabilities, and Officemax carries a true no name Cintar 2 Megapixel camera for $99 built with a zoom and LCD screen to view your pictures. The good news is that there are choices out there to keep your expenses low if you really want a digital camera in the $100 range. If you learn to work within the limitations of the camera, I think that the Largan would not be a bad choice.
Ever really think about the number of passwords and accounts you have accumulated at this point in your life and wonder how to keep track of it all. I have found a great product from Ilium software, www.iliumsoft.com called the software eWallet. It is a 128 bit encrypted file program that keeps track of all your passwords and accounts and user ids for you and keeps them from prying eyes. I first got this for my Pocket PC to keep track of the accounts I needed for it while on the road but have found it to be wonderful for my home computer as well. Of course, you need to keep track of the password used to open the program but other than that, it works great. I use it all the time.
I mentioned Linux and IBM above being an odd mix but they are in the middle of this new Linux release that has just come out. United Linux, www.unitedlinux.com, is an attempt to give the industry a standard Linux to choose from. With sponsors like IBM and HP, it should garner a lot of attention despite the fact I mentioned above that on IBM’s web site, they recommend using Red Hat Linux. This product is the creation of the four Linux systems that are from The SCO Group (formerly Caldera), SuSE Linux AG, Turbolinux, Inc., and Conectiva S.A. What they hope to gain from this is a stable, secure, and reliable Linux version. Not being a unix or Linux person myself, I had always avoided these operating systems simply because there were so many of them and so finding software for them was not an easy task. These companies hope that by joining forces and presenting a combined effort and simplified Unix system, they might be able to take Linux beyond the fragmented universe it is today. And how fragmented is that, at last count, there were over 100 different version of Linux. No wonder major applications makers are hesitant to jump into the fray. What is also interesting is that of these four companies, Conectiva S.A. is from Spain and SuSE Linux AG is from Germany, and TurboLinux, Inc. is a Japanese company with a lot of marketing ties to IBM.
The goal of United Linux is to give us a predictable, quality, and stable Linux for development that has a wide range of hardware support. This is important as with many of the Linux variations out there, a hardware manufacturer has to develop drivers for each platform.
A couple of interesting side notes. First of all HP is still hedging their bets by staying certified on Red Hat, and where is Red Hat and some of the other common Linux versions? This press conference was held at 1:pm Pacific and was simulcast via conference to Germany where the time was 10:pm there. The final interesting thing is that when I went to look for a copy to download, I couldn’t find one so after 20 minutes of searching, I gave up.
And speaking of super performance, Nvidia Corporation has unveiled their latest video chips and cards and wow, they are something to see. www.nvidia.com will give you a glimpse of what they look like and what they are capable of doing. The nvidia geForce FX Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) really brings some world class video capabilities to the home computer. What they tell us it will bring is real time cinematic quality graphics and special effects to the desktop PC. What helps to propel this power needed is an onboard 1 Gigahertz DDR II graphics memory. What this does is to allow you to push higher bandwidth across the video card allowing for faster frame rates, higher color depth, and higher resolutions than with other high end video cards. Not being a gamer, I can’t get quite that excited but here is one good quote from the technical director at Legend, Mark Poesch: “this really is that step where it goes from being a vision of how cool things can be, to being able to actually prove that we can make it real now.” Technically, it features a .13 micron manufacturing process, is AGP 8X, and you can even program in its own high level programming language, Cg. With the color processing technology available in the chip, you wouldn’t believe how real it makes the shadows on objects. The GPU which has 125 million transistors on board, runs at an amazing 500 Megahertz so it is faster than still most computers out there today. To keep it cool, they have incorporated a fan and a thermal air intake system for it. Really cool stuff. Look for the card with the geForce FX unit sometime later in 2003.
While at the nVidia event, their presidentJen-Hsun Huang talked about the future of home computing and expects to see laptops in the home in the future. He also sees that all the technology will be TCP/IP aware for networking, and that consumers will be accumulating an enormous amount of digital media content. What this means is the need for quite a bit of storage on the home network to handle the multiple computers and all the content. It was interesting that he termed movies like Terminator2 and Toy Story as the pioneers of this “dawn of cinematic computing”. He says to make the graphics work, you have to be able to render images in less than 1/60th of a second. They have a couple of demo’s on their web site that show what they can do with the shading and it is remarkable. At the rollout, they were able to show the movies that made those demos and then to rotate it from different angles to show how the shading works. In one demo of a pickup truck in a barn, they show it aging in time as the clip goes on.
Iolo System Mechanic
Because I run into a lot of computer that need help, I am always on the lookout for a new tool or product that helps in keeping personal computers up and running. Iolo is such a product in their System Mechanic. Installing it is very straight forward, The first thing it does is to ask you whether to back up files that it may replace which is a good sign. Once installed, and not needing to reboot the computer, it is ready to run. Once it starts, there are three main buttons: Files, System, and Internet. Each one has a variety of tools that you can run to help clean up your computer. For instance, I went into Files and told it to delete the junk files on the computer and while you can start with the defaults, you can also customize it and tell it to add or skip certain files, folders, and types of files. For most users, this can be a problem as you often have no clue as to what to really look for when telling it to delete junk files and the like. Some are obvious but as it showed when you tell it to look for duplicates, you better know what you are doing when you tell it to delete something it finds. Each of the optional clean up areas as quite a few of customization options available to you and if you are a long time power user, hacker, or tinkerer, you might know that there are more files and registry values to tell it to clean up but again, as they often tell you, be sure you have a good backup before diving into something like this.
It has a different approach to a couple of things that I do like about this program. One is the Windows Startup Manager button. This is a great place to easily see what programs are starting in Windows and allows you to make all sorts of changes to it. I like working with it much better than Microsoft’s own msconfig tool though msconfig gives you more things to look at, the Windows Startup Manager button allows you to go directly to those programs that could be causing you startup problems.
Because I had run the Norton Win Doctor recently on a test system, I didn’t find that much to clean up but because this program has such a wide range of utilities in it, it was still worthwhile to run. Things that I didn’t have in the other programs were the ability to remove invalid uninstaller information that happens when you go to uninstall a program and it says it can’t. So in the past, what you did was to delete the programs folder, hope the registry entries don’t cause problems, and leave the remains in the add remove program area. This program takes care of that by cleaning up the registry entries, removing the uninstaller information that is corrupted, and also cleans up the shortcuts left over. One other tool in the package I like is the internet booster that gives your system a few tweaks to help boost internet speeds.
One thing it did not catch was the invalid video driver that had been installed on the computer. Or did it? The computer then started and said the video driver was bad after running System Mechanic. It had not noticed that the driver was the incorrect one before installing the product. So was it the clean up that finally noticed the drivers were wrong or was it coincidence?
This program has been around for a while and a couple of things that pop to mind could be improved. One is the ridiculous notion that I have to enter in a total of 36 characters for the user id and serial number. Even Microsoft doesn’t take it to that extreme. The second is that it would be nice if it would have an automated feature to run the most common tasks. I realize you can schedule individual items, but to be able to just say run a system wide range of tests when things start to look ugly would be nice. The current version is 3.7 and sells for $59.95 on their web site or $49.99 at CompUSA. All in all, it seems like a very good program to help keep things cleaned up on your computer. At www.iolo.com.
Disk On Key
This has got to be one of those technologies that when you first see it, you wonder if someone had too much time on their hands. In my case, I really first thought it was a useless technology when a good friend tells me that he lost his especially after transferring important files to it. To believe it you have to see it. It is a flash memory device that to me first looked like one of those short stubby highlighter pens. It is about 4 inches long, an inch wide, and half an inch thick and weighs next to nothing. With a key ring and a clip, you can carry it anywhere. Take a look at on their web site at www.diskonkey.com. What it does is give you 8 to 512MB of flash memory that you connect via USB port to any capable computer. With that, you can then transfer any files or data to the device and then carry it to another computer and use it there. When you plug it into the computer, it comes up as a ready to go storage device and the best part about that is that you don’t have to load any drivers or software for it. Because of the onboard ARM-7 CPU, it takes care of any need for drivers if you have WindowsME or higher operating system or Mac OS 9+. For Windows98 or Windows NT, you will need a driver file downloaded from their web site. This then becomes a really handy device for transferring files between computers. The units come with LED lights on them to let you know when you are writing files to or from the device and when it is safe to remove it from the computer. The unit I have is not a very speedy device and it took it just over two minutes to transfer 100 mb of data files to it. There is a newer version 2 out with three times the transfer rate but again, depending on how you use it or how much data you need to transfer at a time, you may not need the faster units. For quickly transferring document files or presentations, it does just fine and is as easy to use as a floppy diskette.
To keep your data safe, the device comes with an KeySafe application that allows you to password protect your data files and keep them from prying eyes. What it does is to reformat the key unit and allow you to set aside a privacy zone for your private files, and to get in, you have to log in using your password. If you just look at the device, it then appears to be at what ever size you left open so my DiskOnKey 128MB device now looks like a 100MB Device. What is interesting about it is that if you log in, all you can see is the protected area of the drive, and if I check the properties of the “removable disk” drive, all I see is the space I set aside for the partition. If you want to see the original files in the “unprotected area”, you have to log out of the protected area. If you have further need, there is also a software developer’s kit (SDK) available for the units to create your own applications. One such application already done is to turn the unit into a locking key to lock and unlock a computer. What I also like about the unit is that that it is a completely sharable device. For instance, it is set to shared on my test system and I can access the device directly from my main system like any other drive and from my older networked computer that doesn’t have the drivers installed. On my Windows98 notebook, I just download the driver file from their web site, go through the easy installation, and then it works on the notebook just like it does on the other computers.
To buy the unit, you can get it direct from Disk On Key or buy the Fuji Film equivalent for around $80 for 128mb and $150 for 256mb of storage. Their parent company has been entering into several deals so that you will find these with other names on them including Verbatim, Compaq, and Iomega. There are a number of web sites that sell them and you will also see several different versions of them coming out. The DiskOnKey Pro unit is smaller by about an inch long, and the DiskOnKey 2.0 version is compatible with the USB 2 specifications and will offer a higher speed when it comes out. I find it to be a very handy unit to have around and use and I like the hard plastic housing for it to give it much more reliability and protection. These are great memory alternatives you should take a look at.
Belkin’s External Drive Enclosure
Having been convinced some time ago that tape is becoming one of the most suspect backup devices around for the home and small business user, I went to Comdex looking for alternatives and was quite surprised to find some interesting options. There were several options from external hard drives and CD Rom Drives, to even external tape drives which I thought was interesting. What Belkin, www.belkin.com has done is to come up with the means of rolling your own. They have an USB 2.0 External Drive Enclosure kit (part P56804) that sells for around $99. that is a very well built, easy to assemble, and easy to connect unit. I really like the way this unit is put together and am impressed with the quality of the unit. I suppose then I shouldn’t be surprised with the lifetime warranty. What it does is give you a USB 2.0 device that is IDE compliant. In other words, you can stick any IDE device you like in it from a full sized CD or DVD drive to a standard 3.5 inch disk drive inside the case. It comes with its own built in fan and so you need to plug it into an AC Outlet as well for drive power so don’t forget to turn it off when you turn off your computer.
The package comes pre-assembled (without any drive in it of course), so that as you take it apart to install a drive, you get a real good sense of how things go together. So well in fact, that you really don’t need the directions. Basically two things you need to watch out for when installing it is to set the IDE setting to Master on what ever drive you are installing, and to use the correctly threaded screws in fastening the drive to the case. It was really easy to set things up. On my test system, I had installed a USB 2.0 controller to test USB 2 devices, and on Windows XP, it found the drive as soon as I plugged it in and did not need any drivers at all. I decided to test it out with a high speed CDRW drive that will write up to 48X speeds to see how it would do on the USB 2 system. My first snag is that the CDRW Software I was using, Nero Burning Room 5.5, would not allow itself to recognize the Burner. Windows XP’s My Computer sees it as a CD RW Drive attached to the USB port just fine. A quick stop at Nero’s web site, www.ahead.de and I downloaded the latest version, ran the update, and it now sees the CDRW drive just fine. The first test was to copy a CD and while it ran through just fine, it only copied it at 12x speed. So what gives, is all this speed talk just hype? The CD-R I used was one of the new Verbatim Vinyl CDs which are really cool to look at but you know what, when I looked at the packaging, there is no speed anywhere listed. So, out to the web to track this down. When I look at their web site to get more information, all it tells me is that they are “Multi-speed” CDs. No speed limit. No where is it listed. So, I thought, lets try again. This time I took out a 48X Memorex CD-R I had and guess what, Nero said it would burn it at 48x. It makes me wonder if there is some encoding on the CDs that tell the burners at what speed they will work at. Incredible, in 2 and a half minutes, it made a copy of a music CD I had. While the music CD only had 40 minutes of music, I was still impressed by the speed.
Having tested it on the Test system, I kind of wished I had tried it before installing the Nero software to see if Windows XP CD Writing software would have also handled the CD as well. I suspect it probably would because it immediately recognized it as a CDRW Drive.
I am really impressed with this Drive Enclosure package. It assembled very quickly, was easy to setup, and connected at a high speed like a champ. Over the next few months, I will test it with different hard drives and backup systems and think it will become a great alternative to the stand alone units available.
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