January, 2003 Vol. 2, No. 1
IS Newswire
The Latest Technology News from the
Long & Foster Information Services Department

Contents - January 2003

Note: Clicking the links below will open the newsletter in your Web browser.

All About DSL

All About Cable Modems

Review of Blackberry 6710

Going Wireless with Your Laptop

Review: Dazzle's 6-in-1 Reader

What We Use - The HP 5500 Scanner

Tell us what you think of the Newswire! Contact us!

By the Numbers

82 - The percentage of people in a 2002 NAR survey who use the Internet for home shopping.

100 - The percentage of Real Trends brokers who have company Web sites.

50 - The nationwide percentage of Sales Associates who have an email account.

250 - Currently the largest hard drive capacity in gigabytes, up from 200 in the last Newswire.

99.999 (also known as the five 9's) - The dream annual uptime percentage for IT departments. Theoretical and extremely expensive, 5 times what it costs to reach 99%. 99.999 is virtually impossible to achieve.

99.79 - The percentage of uptime for the L&F network last year. An excellent number.

 

 

All About DSL

The Internet is an amazing tool, but you may have trouble taking maximum advantage of it if you have a slow modem connection. You will discover this if you surf a graphic-heavy site with a 56k modem! The two most popular (and affordable) options for faster connections are a digital subscriber line (DSL) and a cable modem line. Which is right for you? Read on!

Courtesy of cnet.com

DSL

DSL is a technology that transforms a traditional phone line into a high-speed digital link to provide homes and small businesses with broadband Internet access. Thanks to DSL, you can surf faster, host your own Web site, or connect branch offices of a small business. But because DSL is relatively new, there's a lot of misinformation surrounding this technology.

The Myths

1. DSL is easy to set up because you're using an existing phone line, and you don't need to install any special new equipment to use it.

2. Once you're connected, you have an Internet connection that's as fast as a T1 line--at least 1.5 megabits per second.
Anyone with a phone line can get DSL cheaply.

3. DSL is as safe and as secure as traditional dial-up modem connections.

The Reality

1. It's not so easy to set up DSL. True, you don't need a special digital line, and if you have the know-how, you may be able to connect your PC to the service yourself. But most people will need a technician to fiddle with the necessary wiring and installation of the DSL modem. Part of that fiddling involves installing an Ethernet network interface card (NIC) in your computer and connecting it to the DSL modem. Read more in CNET's "Insider's Guide to DSL" and "ISP Buyer's Guide."

2. Another reality check: Except for a lucky few customers, DSL isn't as fast as some companies imply. Electromagnetic noise (also called crosstalk) generated by other nearby electronic devices can adversely affect DSL performance. More importantly, your distance from a telco's special switching facility, called a central office (CO), directly affects your DSL connection. The further you are from a CO, the slower your connection. And, of course, no matter how fast your connection, you're subject to traffic jams once you get on the Web. Note, too, that most DSL service is asymmetric--the download speed is faster than the upload speed. For example, most starter DSL accounts offer 384-kbps download/128-kbps upload access.

3. Cost is another harsh DSL reality. You typically have to pay $100 or more for installation, from $40 up to $320 per month for access, $100 to $200 for the DSL modem and network card, plus possible service charges if a technician has to come to your premises when your connection goes down or your DSL hardware stops functioning.

4. Like any savvy shopper, you need to bargain-hunt. DSL providers sometimes offer promotional installation packages and deals. Your DSL company might, for example, throw in the internal wiring and Ethernet card for free.

5. Finally, there's security. Because DSL keeps your computer constantly connected to the Internet, you may end up with a static (unchanging) IP address--a unique number that identifies your computer on the Internet. Traditional dial-up services randomly assign you a new IP address every time you log on, so no one can find you at the same place twice. With an always-on Internet connection like DSL, your computer is vulnerable to hackers who can gain access to your files, drop viruses on your hard drive, or worse.

Before you sign up for DSL, ask whether your potential provider offers any security measures. Many DSL providers will assign you a dynamic (constantly changing) IP address if you request it. For additional security, some companies, EarthLink, for example, include personal firewall software for the Mac and PC as part of the deal. But chances are you'll have to buy antivirus and firewall software on your own to keep hackers at bay. See CNET's review of Internet security software for advice on which software package to purchase.

Remember, too, that an always-on connection doesn't always have to be on. If your computer is turned off when you're not online, hackers can't get to it. An even simpler fix is to turn off the DSL modem when you're not surfing. Some ISPs say this is fine; others indicate it may cause problems. Ask your DSL vendor before you do anything.

Read about cable modems here (top of page, right column)

Go Wireless With Your Laptop

The Cisco Aironet 350 Series of wireless LAN (WLAN) products - a great performer for about $125.

Laptop computers have always been handy and convenient for doing business anywhere, but one of the neatest recent innovations is the ability to surf the Internet or send email without a physical connection. Most Long & Foster offices are now equipped with wireless connectivity. With your properly configured laptop, you can conduct business anywhere in the sales office.

You can purchase a laptop with wireless already built into it, or add it to an existing laptop by purchasing a Cisco PCMCIA card or a Cisco mini-PCI card. However, please keep this in mind: Whether you purchase a card or buy a laptop with one installed, it MUST be a Cisco card for your computer to work in a wireless Long & Foster sales office.

You can buy another type of card and set up an access point for it at home, but you will need a Cisco card to go wireless at your sales office.

Review - Blackberry 6710


The Blackberry 6710 - Great email/cell phone combo for $500. Michael Koval tested and approved!

 

Blackberry has come out with the new Blackberry 6710, an outstanding wireless email device that doubles as a cell phone!

It gives agents the added flexibility of placing and receiving phone calls with its integrated speaker and microphone. It also includes a thumb-operated trackwheel, easy-to-read screen, backlit keyboard, intuitive menu-driven interface and quick access to email, phone, SMS, organizer and web applications. Operating on 1900 MHz GSM/GPRS wireless networks in North America and 900 MHz GSM/GPRS wireless networks in Europe/Asia Pacific, the BlackBerry 6710™ is the integrated handheld that lets you manage all of your important business communications and information.

Here is a review of the 6710 from our resident expert, Michael Koval!

"The 6710 Blackberry is terrific! Battery life is excellent and the phone works very well. It is currently available for both the Nextel and AT&T networks. Coming in early spring will be the Verizon version so Verizon users won’t have to change numbers. It lasts at least 4 or 5 days with moderate phone use or 2 days with heavy email and several calls a day. One nice thing that Blackberry does is it comes with two charges in the box - one for work and the other for home. A car adapter is available for a modest additional fee. It also does not require an ear bud as did the previous 5810. It has a built in speaker and microphone for traditional call making. Over all it is a full Blackberry with instant email and a great digital phone."

What We Use - The HP 5500 Scanner
The HP 5500 - Great scanning for only $300. And feeding and scanning photos is a breeze.

Are you looking for a good scanner for your sales or home office? Consider the HP 5500! This is the scanner we use in the IS Department and we're very happy with it.

The automatic feeder is a great feature. It lets you scan a stack of 3 x 5 or 4 x 6-inch photos automatically. The included lighted adapter lets you scan color slides and 35 mm negatives. And so fast, this scanner gives you first scans in 7 seconds. Basic specs:

  • Optical resolution is 2400 for crisp clear scans
  • Scan documents up to 8.5" x 11.7"
  • Hardware resolution is 2400 x 2400 and bit 48 bit depth
  • Automatic photo feeder included scan a stack of 3x5 or 4x6-inch photos
  • Easily organize and store your photos or create a photo album
  • True-to-life results professional-quality scans with up to 2400 dpi and 48-bit color for printing, emailing and posting to the Web
  • Scan 35 mm negatives and slides using the included lighted adapter
  • No warm-up time start scanning immediately and preview scans in about 7 seconds
  • Create at the touch of a button 7 one-touch buttons
  • Quickly start creative projects and scan to Websites, CDs, printers, email and more
  • Scan it all add text, graphics and photos - even 3-D objects - to your creative projects
  • Use with Microsoft Windows XP, 2000 Professional, Me, and 98, Mac OS 9.1 and higher, OS X 10.1 and higher
  • Includes HP photo & imaging, memories disc creator, copy utility and share to web software, ArcSoft Funhouse for Windows
  • Connect with USB 2.0 full and high speed

All About Cable Modems

Courtesy of cnet.com

Like DSL, cable technology provides a high-bandwidth, always-on connection to the Internet (often over the same line as your cable TV service) for a reasonable price. As with DSL, cable Internet service isn't ubiquitous, and many misconceptions abound.

The Myths

1. Thanks to your big-name cable TV company, a cable connection is easy to set up and available everywhere you find cable TV.

2. With a cable modem, you get connection speeds as fast as 27 mbps.

3. Cable Internet access is as cheap as cable TV.

4. A cable connection is as safe from hackers as a traditional dial-up modem connection.

The Reality

1. In order for you to get cable, your access provider must physically attach a coaxial cable and a cable modem to your computer, which may mean adding a network card if you don't already have one. This installation process is often both time-consuming and costly (around $75, although some companies permit self-installation).

Nor do all areas of the country have access to cable Internet connections. If your local cable company--which typically holds a monopoly on all services--doesn't offer Internet access, you're out of luck. At the moment, there's little if any competition among companies providing cable Internet access.

2. You'll probably never get data transfer rates even close to cable's theoretical 27 mbps. For a number of reasons, connection speeds range from 500 kbps to 2 mbps. One big factor is that you share that cable line with other local customers. If you're the only person in your neighborhood online via cable, you may well get that 2 mbps. But as each person logs on, your access speed is divvied up. If one of your cosurfers starts downloading mammoth files, your performance will degrade further.

Ask your cable provider how many other PCs share your cable connection and what will be the fastest connection speeds you're likely to get. And find out if the cable provider guarantees minimum upload/download speeds.


3. It's true that cable Net access is relatively cheap--as little as $39 per month. But beware of not-so-hidden installation costs, including a setup fee of around $75 and $30 to $50 for a network interface card. Sometimes the use of a cable modem is included in the monthly fee, but not always. This little piece of hardware can cost $200 to $300.


4. Because you share your cable connection with the people on your block, it's easy for nosy neighbors to peek at your computer files. One thing you can do right away is disable Windows' file- and print-sharing features. In Windows 95/98, open the Network control panel, click the File And Print Sharing button, and uncheck the two boxes in the subsequent dialog box. In Windows 2000, select Start, Settings, and then Network and Dial-up Connections. Right-click your cable connection, choose Properties, and in the General tab, uncheck the File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks box.

What about just turning off your cable modem? "When the cable modem restarts, it could take the device up to two to three minutes to fully register with the network," says David Langlands, a vice president for 21st Century Telecom Group, a cable provider in Chicago. Before you turn the modem off, ask your cable provider about any potential problems.

The Verdict

Now that you're familiar with the realities of DSL and cable, it's time to decide which to buy. Because there are just about as many reasons to choose DSL as there are to choose cable, we've put together the following scorecard to lend a hand.

Security

Any always-on Internet connection is vulnerable to hacker attacks. It's possible to protect your computer to some extent: you can turn it off, turn off your DSL or cable modem (if your provider says this is OK), keep an up-to-date antivirus program running at all times, and install personal firewall software. Or, better still, ask your broadband provider to equip you with a dynamic IP address.

A unique security issue with cable is that the line is shared with others in your area, which makes it easy for a neighbor to snoop around your computer.

DSL opens your computer to similar security risks, according to David Zhu, a senior consultant with X85 (an ASP provider for small businesses) and former network engineer with a regional ISP. "If your DSL provider does not have its own security measures to prevent hacking and listening to traffic on the network, you are vulnerable, too," he cautions.

Cost

Both cable and DSL monthly access fees get lower every day, and you can find some decent deals by shopping around. Many providers offer incentives such as a free modem or installation. For example, the basic HomeOffice DSL package from Concentric Network Corporation gives you 608-kbps download and 128-kbps upload speeds for about $69 per month, with free installation and hardware if you sign a one-year contract. Another Concentric package charges $89 per month for 1.5-mbps download/384-kbps upload speeds. Higher speed DSL service can easily cost $80 or more per month, with some flavors of DSL for small businesses costing several hundred dollars per month.

So far, cable Internet service is often a bit cheaper than DSL: $39.95 per month or less. In New York City, for example, Road Runner Internet access from Time Warner Cable delivers 2-mbps download/300-kbps upload speeds for $39.95 per month if you also get cable TV from Time Warner; $59.95 if you don't. Installation costs $69 if you have a network interface card; $99 if you don't.

Availability

DSL service originates from a handful of companies, including Covad, NorthPoint, and a number of baby Bells. However, you typically order the service from your local ISP.

The question of cable modem availability is pretty simple. Either your local cable company offers Internet access or it doesn't. However, if you live in a rural area, neither DSL nor cable may be available.

The final word on DSL vs. cable from Michael Koval: "I totally prefer cable modems. Cable is cheaper, far more available and as fast if not faster than DSL. The main issue is availability, and cable's got it."

Review: Dazzle's 6-in-1 Reader


The Dazzle 6-in-1 - Reads files from all digital media for only $40-50.

All digital cameras, MP3 players, mobile phones and PDAs all now use either CompactFlash, IBM Microdrive, SmartMedia, SD Card, MultiMediaCard, or Memory Stick media. With the Dazzle 6 in 1 Reader, you can read them all. And with the included Dazzle OnDVD software, you can make a photo slideshow of your listed properties and burn a CD for playback on your DVD player. This product is a real plus for your Long & Foster sales office!

Just make sure your computer meets these specs:

Operating System
Windows® 98SE, Windows® 2000, Windows® ME, and Windows® XP
CPU: 200 MHz or higher processor
1 MB free disk space, Available USB port

Read more about this great product here!