Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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September 2002, Week 5 -- Cheap and Cheaper



   The $200 computer has arrived, though not with the usual wrapping.

   MicroTel Computer Systems is selling a fairly powerful computer with a Linux operating system. It's called the "Sysmar" and sells for $199, but only through Wal-Mart online What's the catch, as they say.

   There are a couple of catches at least, but the main one is Linux. Linux is an easier to use version of the UNIX operating system originally written for main-frame computers. There's been a lot of buzz about it, such as whether or not this can replace Windows and be the beginning of the end for Microsoft's dominance of the PC world. But so far Linux has been confined to a small technically sophisticated user base.


   The key to the Sysmar low price is that it runs Linux though a shell program called "Lindows." Lindows looks and feels a lot like Windows, but isn't. That means you can't run Windows programs. But if you pay a one-time $99 fee you can go to their web site for one year and download as many programs as you like out of a library of more than 1300. The $99 fees are where they hope to make their money, because you can't make money selling $200 computers.


   You get no monitor with that, to paraphrase an old song lyric, but monitors have become very low priced, and you can pick up good used ones at resale stores and flea markets for less than $50. What you do get is a computer with an 800-MHz processor, 128MB of memory, a CD drive and a 10-gigabyte hard drive. For an extra $18 you can also get a built-in ethernet connector so it can be networked immediately.


   As long as we're talking about extras ... for an extra $100 you can get the same machine with Windows XP instead of Lindows. Then you can run just about any Windows software. For that matter, you can erase the hard drive on the Sysmar that comes with Lindows and load any PC operating system you want.


   The Sysmar price, with Windows, comes in about $100 less than the lowest priced model from "eMachines", which is $399 after a $75 rebate. That is without a monitor. The lowest priced offering from Dell  sells for $499, with a monitor.


   The low price calls into question the whole purpose and existence of so-called Internet appliances that allow you to browse the web and use email. Why pay $200 for a limited purpose box when you can have a full-function computer for the same money?


   The Sysmar could be a hit, because it's a very cheap way for companies to add more computers to a network, and companies often have lots of old monitors lying around. For home users, it's a cheap way to add a second or third computer and they also often have old monitors lying around.


Copy this

Bravo DVD publisher

   Primera Technology  has a $1,500 "Bravo Disk Publisher" that copies 25 CDs or DVDs at once from your desktop computer.

   Now I know what's going to come to mind: pirates! But there can be lots of business reasons for making multiple copies of CDs or DVDs -- training disks for example. Schools make lots of copies of instructional materials. And home users might have a lot of relatives. Anyway, if a disk is copy protected and will not load completely into your computer, you can't copy it.


I Hate Spam


I Hate Spam


   Who doesn't? But that wasn't just a "top of my voice" headline, it's the name of the product: "I hate Spam," from Sunbelt Software It costs $20-$30 and it's the best thing we've found so far for eliminating junk mail. But you have to do some work.

   Like all spam stoppers this is a filtering program. And in order to filter enough spam senders to clear your mail box you have to keep adding them to the list as they come in. It takes two or three weeks to get almost every junk mailer out of your mail and your hair.

   You can add a spammer to your blocking list just by clicking on a box at the top of the screen. From then on, you won't get any spam from that source. After a couple of weeks of this it really starts paying off. My wife recently called up her email and 94 of 96 messages were automatically shunted into the trash, unseen. The remaining two messages were actual emails she wanted to see. Spam messages in the trash file are highlighted in red, on the remote chance you want to retrieve them later.

   You can do the same thing as I Hate Spam by using the "block sender" command in Windows, but it takes more actions and soon takes more time than it's worth. I Hate Spam makes it quick and easy and also encourages you to block all senders from a given domain; many spammers use different addresses but send from the same domain. The program is easy to set up and run and has gotten high marks from users.


   NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at  or