The Bug Report

The only Bug that's good for your computer!
A Publication of the Greater South Bay PC Users Group
Volume 17 Number 3
March 1999


PhotoSuite II Review

AM-TAX 1998

Win95 Intermediate SIG

Remember When

Microsoft versus OSS & Linux

Bill Gates’ New Book

Internet Talk

USB Explained

Free Pictures

For Sale


PhotoSuite II Review

By Cecil Easley, GSBUG, Inc.




PhotoSuite II is a photo manipulation, layout, and editing program developed by MGI (Internet and telephone no. 905 707-3672). It comes on one CD and installs easily. In my case, starting the computer with the CD in the CD ROM drive brought up the installation program. Then it was just a matter of following directions. The documentation is good but you must print your own copy. The program is user friendly but only after considerable time has been expended learning it. It’s cost is about $50 but I have seen it advertised for $15 after rebate.

To run this program, your computer system needs to meet the following minimum requirements.

· . 133 MHz Pentium PC (MMX recommended)

· . Windows 95, 98, or NT 4

· . 16 MB RAM (32MB desired)

· . 80 MB Hard drive space for Typical installation

· . 16 bit high color, SVGA Video card-800x600 Screen Area

My system consisted of a 166 MHz Pentium PC with 32MB RAM, running Windows 95.

This program will allow you to launch and edit images from your computer, scanner, digital camera, an album, or from On-Line Services. The images you enter from any of these sources are placed in a thumbnail library on the right side of the screen. The images in the library can be edited using most of the editing tools which are available in higher priced image application programs. These editing features will be discussed later. Once the editing (if required) is performed, the images in the library can be placed as required. Navigational buttons allow one to switch to any one of six major categories. These categories are: Photos, Projects, Albums, Slide Shows, Internet, and Guides.

Photos-Several options are available when Photos is selected: Getting Photos, Editing Photos, Rotating and Cropping, Touching-up and Transforming, and Resizing the Photo. If "Getting Photos" is selected, one has the option of getting the Photos from any one of the five sources described above. Then these images can be edited and saved and printed.

Projects-If the Projects navigation button is pressed (clicked), four option are available which are: Photo Layout, Cards and Calendars, Fun, and Business. If Photo Layout is selected, one is presented with templates which provide any conceivable way images can be placed on a page. Selecting Cards and Calendars provides templates for book marks, greeting cards, post cards, wedding collections and monthly, tri-monthly and yearly calendar templates.

One can place images on the calendars and other items to personalize them. Selecting Fun will provide templates for backgrounds, sports cards, magazine covers, and fun ID’s. If one is interested in the Business option, he could select business cards, certificates, labels and stickers, page layout, promotion, or name tags.

Albums-Navigating to Albums allows installing images in numerous configurations. Once the album is finished, it can be saved to disk, printed in multiple, used to create a web album, uploaded to on-line services, or printed to on-line services. (Web album and on-line services were not investigated for this review.)

Slide Shows-The slide show feature of MGI PhotoSuite II displays your photos in sequence on your monitor screen. You can customize the display order, duration, slide size, and transitions between slides. You can also assign a sound file to each slide. Once the photos have been placed in the slide show (either from the Library or externally entered), the transitions and sound can be applied. The transitions allow the slides to be changed in various ways. The slides may be made to flash on for the duration time or be controlled by the transitions. The transitions are selected by clicking an appropriate arrow in a column next to the library and dragging that arrow between the images and dropping it. There are many different arrows, each one designating a different method for changing the image. The arrow designates the method in which the image changes to the next. For example an up

arrow means the new slide will be pushed up from the bottom. A right arrow means the new slide will be pushed from the right to the left and so on. This slide show operation is very impressive.

Guides- Click the Guides button on the Navigation panel to enter Guides mode. Guides are much like wizards. In the Guides mode, the program walks you through a number of features step-by-step. It is suggested that, if you purchase this program, you use the Guides to quickly learn the program. You will not learn every feature but you will get an overall look at what the program can do. Once you have navigated to Guides, you have four Icons to select from: Get Photo, Fix Photo, Create, and Save & Share. Selection of Get Photo provides the option for the method of installing an image such as via an image stored in the computer or a scanned photo. Get Photo has been previously discussed. Fix Photo allows you to improve all your photos–touch up your photo, select fix colors, and remove red eye and blemishes. Create allows you to add things to photos or choose from a wide selection of photo projects such as greeting cards and calendars. If Save & Share is selected, you can save your photo to your hard disk or floppy disk or share your photos and projects with friends by printing copies.

Editing- Although Guides has an editing function, heavy editing is accomplished from the Photo navigator. In the photo mode, in addition to Get Photo, you have Edit Photo, Rotate and Crop, Touch-Up and Transform, and Save and Print. The work horse here is Edit Photo. Edit Photo has:

Selection Tools- Circular and ellipse, rectangular, irregular object, Magic Wand, and Edge Finder.

Clone Tool

Unfilled Shape tools

Filled Shape Tools

Paint brush

Color Selector

Flood Fill

Undo eraser

In addition the program is capable of multiple undos and redos since the last save.

Evaluation-In evaluating MGI PhotoSuite II, I operated in all the Navigation Modes except Internet. I started out by launching an image which was stored in my computer and applying the editing functions to make all kinds of changes to the image. All of the changes could be made without difficulty. Of special interest to me was Warping a face until it looked like Porky Pig and then reforming it to its original with Multiple redos. I scanned a color image and printed it out without making any changes. I then changed to another Image program and scanned in the same image and printed it. The printouts looked the same. I loaded in multiple photographs and made an album. I then used the same photographs which were now in the Library and switched over to Projects and made a slide show. I tried five transitions between the images and all worked well. Next the Guides mode was selected and most of the editing functions there were applied to an image. No problems were encountered. I didn’t find anything that did not function as it should. This is not to say everything went without a hitch, but when there was a problem it was mine and not the program’s.


AM-TAX 1998

Review by Bob Hudak, GSUBG, Inc.



AM-TAX sales dept: 1-800-859-8537. Internet:

I gave you the "How to order" info first because time to file your taxes is running out. I have used or looked at AM-Tax for a number of years. There are things that I like and a few items I hope will be added or improved. This is the only tax program I know of that will run on a 286. It requires DOS 3.0 or later, 490K memory and 2.5 MB of free hard disk space. This is a DOS program. It will run under Win95-98. Looking at the requirements I see no reason that the program would not run on a XT machine. The only problem would be in getting the program loaded from the 3 1/2" HD floppy. Of course you can order the program on 3 1/2" DD (720 MB) floppies. I can use these in my XT.

The program comes on one floppy that has plenty of room on it to save your tax return files on the same disk. I like this because, if I need to print additional copies in the future, everything I need is on this floppy.

Being a DOS program, it is very fast. It works great with any DOS printer. Laser printers are much faster than non-laser printers when printing official forms. Text-based forms that are approved for filing print fast on any printer. You have a choice of which type you want to print. The IRS will

take your money with either one. You have great control in printing. Printing forms on both sides of a sheet is easy. You can print the whole tax return or just the forms or pages you need.

I will have handout flyers that tell you all about the program at the Library table. Pickup a copy. I just want to tell you about a few things. It is not a graphical program, so the form you are

filling out does not look exactly like the official form. You can have a blank official form on your desk to look at to make it a little easier for you. It does all the math, of course. It puts information on all required forms on the right line. AM-TAX is a professional looking program. It really works.

The down side is that the program is small. You have no use of the mouse, although you really do not need it. Compared to the tax programs that are sold in every computer store, it is a little more expensive. The price is $39.00 for new users and $29.00 for a renewal. You need to order it and wait 4 to 6 days for delivery. I wish a secure site could be set up for purchasing and downloading of the program. They do offer overnight mail at extra cost. Also available is personal State forms and Electronic Filing, at extra cost, of course.

I can recommend this tax program based on personal use. It’s a great DOS program that will run on virtually any PC computer. When you renew next year, things will be even easier for you because it carries forward all the information from last year that can be used this year into the program. You have less chance of making an error because you do not have to reenter name, address, SS #, banks, stock brokers, etc. You just fill in is the new numbers and make out the checks. It computes your estimated taxes also. The IRS likes computer generated forms for filing and REALLY likes the electronic filing. This is the way it will be in the future. Get started now. It makes filling out tax forms fun. (almost)


Win95 Intermediate SIG

By John Sullivan, GSBUG, Inc.


The latest Win95\98 SIG meeting was held Friday, Feb 26, and it was a great success, judging from the number of "Ooohs" and "aahs" I heard from the group. I think that everybody who attended learned something new (including me), and most people went away with more information than they could digest in the three hours we were there.

This brings up a good point. If you've been coming to the meeting a little late, you’ve found that we were already in full gear. The SIG meetings are scheduled to start at 7:30, but lately I've decided that we need more time, and have been arriving a little before 7:00. So, if you don't want to miss anything, and if you want a good seat, be there at 7:00! Come on in, put your seat belt on, and hold on tight. There's a lot to learn about Windows, and we've only got three hours to squeeze it in!

Let's review a couple of things that we did at the last meeting:

Click the "Right" Way!

Often what we need to do in Windows entails dragging the mouse cursor to the top of the screen and making a selection from the menus. However, if you’re using Windows 95 (or 98), you may find it easier to just click the Right mouse button. The Right mouse button (or RMB) pops up a special menu which contains some of the more popular Windows commands (Open, Delete, Rename, etc.) and you can save yourself a lot of mouse pushing if you check the RMB menu first.

Actually, the RMB menu is dynamic, it changes depending on what functions are available to you at the time. On your desktop (your main window), if you Right-click on the "My Computer" icon, you'll find that you get a slightly different menu than if you Right-click on the "Recycle Bin" icon. You may be used to going up to the top of the screen and opening a menu only to find that some of the items are "ghosted" (grayed-out) because those functions are not available to you at the time. With the RMB menu, functions that are not available simply do not appear in the menu at all!

This is something you'll have to experiment with, but I think that as you become more used to clicking with the RMB, you'll find yourself using it more and more.

Thanks to....?

I had gotten tired of copying and moving files around by selecting them, and then selecting Copy or Cut from the Edit menu at the top of the screen, then opening the new location, and then selecting Paste from the Edit menu. So I was delighted to discover that Cut, Copy and Paste appeared in the RMB menu. (Prior to that, I had really gotten disgusted with Microsoft's interpretation of Drag and Drop, never being sure if the file was being copied or moved!). At the Windows 95 meeting the other night, someone mentioned that it is even easier to Copy or Move files by dragging them with the RMB, rather than the Left. When you drag the file to the new location, and then release the Right button, a menu pops up which gives you the option to Copy or Move the file (depending on whether you want to leave the original in place, or delete it). So you just click on the file with the RMB and hold it down while you drag the file to the new place, then release it and select Copy or Move with the Left mouse button. Amazing!

In the excitement of the moment, I regret that my mind did not register who had given us that tip. I believe it was Carl Warner, or maybe Tom Tucknott. However, it's a great tip, so thanks! That's why these SIG meetings are so important, you can always learn something that makes it worthwhile.

Learn More!

Every time I hold one of these Windows 95/98 SIG meetings, I mention that I learn a lot about Windows from a website called "TipWorld", and every time I mention it, someone always asks me to repeat the web address as if they're just hearing about it for the first time! Believe me, if you're interested in learning more about Windows, or a bunch of other topics, you owe it to yourself to sign up for TipWorld.

TipWorld is a free service of PC World magazine. If you have Internet access, Tip World will send you an e-mail message every business day which includes a free tip on any of the topics you select, and as many topics as you select. You simply use your browser (Netscape or Internet Explorer) and go to There'll be a page where you can subscribe to the free service, and select all the topics that you want to receive tips on. Be sure to notice the last check box at the bottom of the page. They offer to notify you of any special offers that you might be interested in, so you might want to be sure there's no check mark in this box before you exit the page. Unless, of course, you want to get lots of notices on "good deals".

I've been getting free Tips of the Day for over a year now, and lately they've been piling up because I haven't taken the time to look through them. I can't bring myself to just delete them, however, not until I've read them over at least once. I know there's a great tip in there that's just what I need, I've just got to take the time to read through them.


Remember When

Reprinted by permission from "Interface", the newsletter of the Long Beach IBM Users Group

A computer was something on TV

From a science fiction show of note

A window was something you hated to clean

And ram was the cousin of a goat.

Meg was the name of my girlfriend

And gig was a job for the nights

Now they all mean different things

And that really mega bytes!

An application was for employment

A program was a TV show

A cursor used profanity

Keyboard was a piano.

Memory was something that you lost with age

A CD was a bank account

Compress was something you did to the trash

Not something you did to a file

And if you unzipped anything in public

You'd be in jail for a while!

Log-on was adding wood to the fire

Hard drive was a long trip on the road

A mouse pad was where a mouse lived

And a backup happened to your commode!

Cut you did with a pocket knife

Paste you did with glue

A web was a spider's home

And a virus was the flu.

I guess I'll stick to my pad and paper

And the memory in my head

I hear nobody's been killed in a computer crash

But when it happens, they wish they were dead!

----submitted by John Sullivan, GSBUG, Inc.


Microsoft versus OSS & Linux

By William A. Parradee, GSUBG, Inc.



The Halloween Papers

On October 31, 1998, a paper was published that indicated Microsoft (MS) was beginning to worry about the inroads being made by open source software (OSS), Linux in particular. Their biggest concern was losing advanced Windows users. The body of the Halloween Document is an internal strategy memorandum on Microsoft's possible responses to the Linux/open source phenomenon.

Here are three partial quotes from among many such in this MS internal document:

"* Recent case studies (the Internet) provide very dramatic evidence ... that commercial quality can be achieved / exceeded by OSS projects.

* understand how to compete against OSS, we must target a process rather than a company.

* OSS is long-term credible ... FUD tactics can not be used to combat it."

FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It is a marketing technique used when a competitor launches a product that is both better than yours and costs less, i.e. your product is no longer competitive

SS (Shifting Standards) is another tactic used to keep the market broken -- that is not commoditized. Once a market is commoditized, plenty of free software can be developed for it.


Halloween II

A later paper leaked on November 3 indicated they were also worried that intermediate users and even beginners could be lost. These papers originated with MS employees as part of their studies on marketing strategy. Methods of counteracting the switch to OSS was discussed. Here is an example quote from Halloween II:

"* Most of the primary apps that people require when they move to Linux are already available for free. This includes web servers, POP clients, mail servers, text editors, etc."

Halloween Papers Source

If you want to see all four Halloween papers start here: also has much additional material about OSS, how to become a real computer expert, and other material.

Open Source Software

The source code for OSS is freely available. As a result, numerous users suggest changes that improve it. Linux advocates believe it is much better than Windows. One company reports that their system with Linux has run six months without any shutdowns. Their NT machines had to be shutdown 12 times in one week.

Free Software

Linux is copyrighted so commercial interests will not adopt it and charge fees for its use. Of course, those who reproduce it for others to use need to charge for their trouble. Linux and most other OSS can be downloaded free from various Internet locations.

One store recently offered RedHat Linux 5.2 for $19.95. It included an installation manual and three CDs. The third CD includes the entire contents

of four books on installing, learning, and using Linux. Those books would cost far more than the total price of the package. The regular price of the package was $32.95.

Businesses must buy or license Windows 95/98 or NT software for each machine. NT software costs several hundred dollars for each installation. Linux can be freely copied to all machines from a single free (or nearly free) copy. This can save many thousands of dollars for larger businesses.

Linux Problem

Linux is difficult to install. However, newer releases are steadily making installation easier. The big problem is that so few machines are sold with Linux installed. There are complaints that the buyer is charged for Windows whether or not it is wanted. A recent demonstration asked MS for a rebate on the cost of Windows on machines where Linux or other operating systems were installed.

Personally, I believe the vast majority of Windows users could not install Windows either. Set a machine in front of the typical Windows user. Put the Windows operating system disks on the desk. Ask him or her to install it. Nothing would happen except a puzzled look on the user's face. Then, perhaps, the user would ask to have an expert come and install Windows. I assume most computer club members have a deeper interest in computers and many of them could install almost any operating system. I don't feel quite up to that level yet.

Windows Problems

My first machine in 1984, a Kaypro, had CP/M installed. I learned to use it. In 1991 a 286 IBM clone came with MS-DOS installed. I learned that too.

Now my Pentium Windows 95 machine drives me batty with crashes. My options are restricted. It changes my settings from time to time. It opens in tiny windows -- if I wanted only a 3 by 5 inch view I would have bought a 5-inch monitor.

Windows must be restarted after most configuration changes while Linux does not. The Windows registry causes many headaches for users; it also requires a special editor. Linux configuration files are usually stored in plain text; almost any editor will work on them.

Linux Installations

Most Linux installations are downloaded from anonymous FTP sites -- free. As a result, there are no published sales figures to track. Some commercial Linux purchases can be used to install multiple machines.

RedHat estimates the installed user base of Linux increased from 100,000 in 1993 to 7.5 million in 1997. Ziff Davis estimates the Linux installed base as 5 million while Linux advocates estimates 10 million. Others estimate as many as 15 million installations of Linux by the end of 1998.

The percentage gain in Linux users is greater than for NT. In Japan, Linux installations are ahead of NT installations.

Programs for Linux

There are not many programs for Linux of the kind typical users expect. That is beginning to change. Now that IBM, Dell and a few others offer machines with Linux installed, the demand for and creation of such programs will increase rapidly.

As mentioned in Halloween Paper II, many very useful programs including several editors exist for Linux and are free for the downloading. Many of them are included on Linux program CDs that come with books.

Linux advocates are working on various emulators and function call impersonators that will let Linux run programs developed for Windows. That will solve part of the problem. DOS emulators already come with most versions of Linux.

StarOffice is free with Caldera Linux. From a user's viewpoint it is almost entirely an Office 97 clone; menus, buttons, and so forth are similar. Three other full-featured office suites are expected soon: ApplixWare, Corel/WP, and Lotus SmartSuite. Two of the four are given away free for personal use on Linux.

Caldera Linux includes Netscape's Navigator browser. The browser's User Interface (UI) is identical to Netscape's UI on win32 platforms. One user felt the Linux-Navigator combination ran 30% to 40% faster than IE4-NT4 did on the same machine for simple HTML with graphics.

Linux won first place in overall user satisfaction. It was rated first in 7 of 9 categories in a DataPro study. It was in second place on functionality breadth, and performance while DEC was first.

A recent Linux Journal ad offered a machine with both Windows 98 and RedHat Linux installed. The $888 price included a good 15 inch monitor, plenty of regular and video memory, CD drive, high speed modem and more. Linux is gaining ground.

New Linux Release

Linux 2.2 was officially released on 1/25/99. It should soon be available on the Internet and from various vendors.

Other Free Systems

In addition to Linux, there are several free versions of Unix. For example, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD; these are based on BSD4.4 Lite from the University of California, Berkeley. For more information on these, go to their home pages:,, or

There are many sources of free software for Unix and Linux. One well known source is the GNU organization. The March 5 issue of MicroTimes has an excellent letter to the editor by Joey Garcia. It covers both Unix and BSD development. Here is one of many free sources of Linux:

P.S. I plan to copy the Halloween Papers to 3.5 inch floppies and bring them to the meeting. Members who cannot connect to the Internet but can read HTML files may be interested in them.


Bill Gates’ New Book

By William A. Parradee, GSBUG, Inc.



"Business @ The Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System, by Bill Gates" is its title. Warner Books will publish it in March. It gives Bill Gate's new rules. This is a review of a review.

He believes quality and re-engineering were the highlights of the past two decades respectively. Velocity will be important in the 2000s. That requires mastering the digital world to get ahead of competitors; high velocity can change the nature of business.

Bill Gates lists 12 rules and expands on them in detail. Only his basic rules are listed below, except on number 8.

1 Insist that communication flow through e-mail

2 Study sales data online to share insights easily

3 Shift knowledge workers into high-level thinking

4 Use digital tools to create virtual teams

5 Convert every paper process to a digital process

6 Use digital tools to eliminate single-task jobs

7 Create a digital feedback loop

8 Use digital systems to route customer complaints immediately

(Under this heading he says to "Focus on your most unhappy customers" and their bad experiences plus what they want in your product.)

9 Use digital communication to redefine the boundaries

10 Transform every business process into just-in-time delivery

11 Use digital delivery to eliminate the middle man

12 Use digital tools to help customers solve problems


Internet Talk

By Frank Chao, GSBUG, Inc.



Hello. This is the eighth in a series of articles about matters relevant to the Internet. Due to a schedule conflict, I will not be able to attend this month’s meeting at the new location in El Segundo, so please let me know about what I missed.

Internet Explorer 5 Is Now Available

Internet Explorer 5 is now available for download from Microsoft’s Web site at Two friends of mine have downloaded it and both of them are raving about its new and improved features. However, I have personally been unable to get it to install on the three computers that I attempted to install it into. I keep getting an error message that says that "Setup was unable to install all components.." However, the price is right (free) so I will keep trying. If anyone has any idea as to what is happening to me, let me know by means of one of the methods listed at the end of this article. In the meantime, I will keep using Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Communicator 4.

Some Guides to the Internet

Several club members have asked me to provide a list of on-line guides to the Internet so here are a few.

A Web page of hyperlinks to guides to the Internet is located at

A great guide is located at

Microsoft’s guide is located at

Many people consider the various "portal" Web sites to be great guides:

Let me know what your favorite "guide" site is, and why you swear by it instead of at it, and I will expound about it in future "Internet Talk" articles.

Los Angeles Free-Net Changes

The Los Angeles Free-Net (LAFN) has lots of new phone lines tied to their new 56K/V.90 modems. However, there have been lots of problems with these new lines. The problems are being resolved slowly but surely by their

phone companies. Maybe these temporary service disruptions will motivate you to set up NetZero as an alternate Internet Service Provider (ISP). To learn more about NetZero, see or get a NetZero diskette set from Bob Hudak, our club librarian. Remember, to set up your computer for both LAFN and NetZero, you have to set up a "multiple ISP"

configuration. Otherwise, the act of setting up LAFN will mess up Netzero and vice versa. To learn more about this, see for a super

technical discussion or contact me for advice as to your specific situation and computer setup.

Web Development SIG

The Web Development SIG continues to meet on the third Wednesday of each month. We will continue creating and modifying personal home pages for GSBUG members.

Some Examples and Ideas for Personal Home Pages

If you want to get some ideas for a home page of your own, see for some real fancy ones. For a wide variety of personal homepages, see or

Administrating the GSBUG Web Site

Our club’s Web site is at Herman Krouse is no longer maintaining this Web site. Believe me, he has more than enough to do as our Vice President and Internet SIG leader and I am sure that he would be glad to show someone else how to manage this Web site. However, our Board of Directors will have to find someone else to act as the main administrator of this site. Please contact any of the Board members if you would like to volunteer.

Take A Look at the Home Pages of Other Computer Clubs

If you want to see some really great computer club Web pages, see my Web page of links to the Web sites of other L.A. area club sites at:

Three New Web Pages at the GSBUG Web Site !

The Web Development SIG has developed three new Web pages for your viewing pleasure. A list of hyperlinks to members’ personal Web sites is located at: members_web_ pages.htm.

A list of hyperlinks to members’ favorite Web sites is located at


If you have a site that you wish to add to either of these pages, please let me know. Finally, a page of links to all of the articles in the "Internet Talk" series, like this one, is at


These pages are sort of bland and plain looking. If you would like to volunteer to help us fancy them up a bit, please contact me by means of one of the methods at the end of this article.

Beware Of Supposedly "Free" Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

NetZero is a totally free ISP if you download their software from their website at However, a whole bunch of other ISPs have print, billboard, and Internet ads that claim that they are free. Caveat Emptor is Latin for consumer beware. Every ISP that claims to be free, other than NetZero is only free for the first 30, 60, or 90 days. Read the fine print before you sign up. If while signing up for an ISP’s Internet service, they ask you for a credit card number, it is not going to be free for very long and pretty soon, you will start getting those monthly credit card bills in your "snail" United States Postal Service mail. Remember, if an ISP says that they are free, find out how long they will be free before signing on the proverbial dotted line.

Protecting Children On The Internet

A great article on protecting children from the craziness in some of the seamier Web sites, see "WWWiz" is a great monthly magazine that is available in both print and Web formats.

Help The "Special Needs Center"

I am still looking for help with maintaining the "Special Needs Center" of the Los Angeles Free-Net. This Web page contains links to Web sites of interest to the special needs of people with handicaps/physical disabilities. It is located at

Yet Another LAFN Training Session

The Los Angeles Free-Net will hold yet another free training session in Tarzana on Sunday, April 18, 1999 from 1pm to 3:30pm. Yours truly will be one of the speakers. For information, see the information at the top of or contact me.

If you have any questions or problems, please contact me. I can be contacted by one of the following methods:

1. Page me by phoning 800-516-3104 and leave a voice message.

2. Send me e-mail at

3. Send me "snail" US Postal Service mail at Frank Chao, PO Box 6930, Torrance, CA 90504-6930.


USB Explained

Is the Universal Serial Bus for You?

By Karl Rehak, LVPCUG

Reprinted from The Bytes of Las Vegas, 3/99

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) is now making inroads into computer systems. Devices are being announced and delivered weekly that support this new attachment method. This article will highlight how the USB works, some physical considerations of hooking up USB devices and a summary of which devices are good candidates for USB attachment.

The intent of the USB architecture is to provide a replacement for the aging serial and parallel ports on existing computers. Those ports have not changed much since the original PC design and their use imposes limitations. One limitation is cable length.

Cable size and complexity are other limitations. USB uses one IRQ no matter how many devices are in use and it offers instant plug and play for its device set. After loading the device software the computer user can plug the physical device anywhere in the USB network and it springs to life. The unit can be plugged in to a different port each time with no consequence. A USB device can be unplugged from the system at any time as well.

The technology is appropriately named. " Universal," conveys the notion of being for all things. While the port does have speed limitations (discussed later), the 'one plug fits all' design is clearly there. " Serial" describes the flow of information in the bus. The flow is more like an advanced data network protocol than the traditional PC Serial bus data flow. The traditional serial bus has IRQ, DMA and device limits that dictate its use, USB departs from all of that. It is a "Bus" architecture in that it provides a way to funnel information from many devices into and out of a computer system in an orderly manner.

The connecting cables are made up of four wires. Two of the wires supply voltage and two are data signal wires. The bus operates at either 12 megabits per second or 1.5 megabits per second, depending on the attached device. The device tells the bus what their speed is through the voltage cables. High speed devices shift the positive voltage lead while slow speed devices shift the negative voltage. Devices that do not need a lot of power, like digital cameras, can draw their power from the bus. That means they operate without a wall plug. Devices like some scanners and printers that have heavy power demands need to be plugged into the wall to operate. A model of the Visioneer scanner uses power supplied by the bus.

USB is a hub architecture. Hubs are what are connected, hubs connect to hubs. The computer has an upstream "root hub" at the computer that is the signal source, and the input/output devices have a downstream hub to terminate the signal. The hubs do all of the talking. The illustration shown is a connector for an 'A' hub, it is rectangular in shape and is about 3/16 in. by 1/2 in. in size. The plug at the computer is an 'A' plug. The plug at the device, or downstream end is a 'B' plug. That plug is shaped like a triangle with two of the angle edges flattened. It is about 1/4 by 5/16 in. in size. Cables are designated by their lengths and types of plugs they have. A typical cable used is a "6 ft. A B" cable, meaning it is six feet long and is configured with an ‘A’ plug at one end for the computer and a ‘B’ plug at the other end for the device. This is a typical device connection cable.

Intermediate hubs can be included in a configuration. A typical distribution hub would have one downstream ’B’ plug which comes from the computer, and it provides from four to eight ‘A’ plugs for distribution to the downstream devices. The maximum cable length is 5 meters, or about 16 feet. Since each hub is a repeater. the signal can be propagated through additional cables for up to six total hubs, that is five connecting cables of up to 15 feet each with the final upstream and downstream hubs at each end. The intermediate distribution hubs can optionally provide additional power to their downstream hubs or simply distribute what is provided by the upstream hub. Most often the use of additional power at the hub is via a power supply transformer plugged into the wall. It can be plugged in to provide additional device power at any time.

Windows 95B (the OEM release) and Windows 98 include USB support. Most systems boards made in the last two years include two USB root hubs. Installing the USB on a system requires the installation of the software and turning on the USB ports in the BIOS. A connecting cable from the system board to a screw down strip at an available card slot provides the external USB connections. This twin USB plug at the rear of the computer provides the exit "root hub" appearance on the computer. The internal cable with screw down strip cost about $5.00 so the cost of setting up USB on a computer is nominal. For those computers that do not have a built in USB port, there are PCI based USB port cards that cost about $40 to provide the capability. ATX systems boards already have integrated external hubs and no internal cables are necessary.

The USB port extension that was added to my computer had five wires, one more than the basic four needed for use. The fifth wire is a heavy black wire and it was suggested that the wire be clipped before the hub is used. That was done with no problems. That extra wire, is at most, an extra ground wire.

The web site provides valuable information regarding the USB technology. It also includes a program that tests a computer for USB compliance. This is an easy way to check out a computer before any USB devices are added.

The USB Network

What happens when a device is plugged into a USB port? The wheels are set in motion. The root hub at the computer senses the presence of the new device and initially communicates with the device on "pipe 0", the default physical device communications channel. Pipes are the data sub bands of the hub architecture that maintain the physical connections of devices. Once a device is recognized, the root hub interrogates the device to find out what it is and what it is capable of on pipe 0. All of the devices on the USB ports are then enumerated and each is assigned a unique device in number, which also includes a corresponding pipe number for physical device communications. The computer loads the software needed to control the device and handles its information flow. The hubs are then running and information is passed in and out of the computer over the signal leads. The enumeration process is initiated every time a device is plugged into or removed from the network. A maximum of 127 devices can be attached to a hub.

Device Support

The USB architecture is defined as an intermediate speed bus. With its maximum speed of 12 megabits per second, what are a USB port's device limitations and what devices are candidates for attachment? Clearly, the typical devices attached to serial and parallel ports are excellent candidates for USB attachment. These include most printers, modems, pointing devices, scanners, cameras and like devices. Certainly game paddles, joysticks and steering wheels etc. can he attached to the USB port. In fact special purpose game controllers are a natural since they can be connected and used as needed. Kevboards are now available for USB attachment.

Microsoft just announced a high quality speaker system that supports USB as well as traditional sound board support. The product review indicated that the sounds chopped at times under game conditions on the USB port, indicating a borderline USB attachment candidate. However, under routine computer use USB speakers behaved just fine. USB attached speakers eliminate the need for a sound board in the computer hence they play a perceptively clearer digital sound. Similarly, low end video monitors can be used on USB, while high end graphics will require the use of the internal AGP port and a graphics card. Again, as in speakers, the key to low end or high end graphics is based on the eventual use of the device.

Devices like speakers create a special demand on USB ports in that they are streaming devices. As such, space on the USB port must be reserved for them even when they are quiescent. Such devices are called "isochronous" and are defined as a special class of supported devices in the USB architecture.


In conclusion, in looking at the back of a typical computer, the following devices are better left to dedicated PCI or AGP ports - monitors, speakers and LANs. The devices that are reasonably good candidates for USB connection are printers, scanners, key boards, pointing devices, game controllers, digital cameras and modems (excluding cable modems). Iomega has announced a USB ZIP drive. Other manufacturers will be adapting this technology to their products over time. There are also products available that convert existing serial and parallel devices to U SB devices.

The use of USB in a computer system liberates many of the physical constraints of cable length and device location in a Small Office Home Office (SOHO) environment. It is reasonable to have multiple devices for special purpose applications like sheet feed scanners, flat bed scanners and slide scanners all sharing space on a USB channel. The end riser is free to set up a working environment needed for their productive use free of the traditional constraints imposed by Com and LPT ports.

The textbook referenced for this article is "USB Explained" by Steven McDowell and Marlin Sayer, Prentice Hall publisher. The web sites and were also referenced for technical information. The web site of Rogers System Specialist, was used for USB product pricing. Proofreading was done by Chuck Buchheit, Rob Winchell and Howard Mark of the LVPCUG. Their suggestions are appreciated.


Free Pictures

Reprinted from The Digital Viking, Twin Cities PC User Group, 2/99

Corbis, which is largely owned by Bill Gates, has probably the world's largest collection of photographs. It is making many of them available at no charge on the Internet. The Corbis gallery includes some 23 million photographs consisting of the Bettmann archive, UPI news photos, photographs from the National Gallery in London, and the works of Ansel Adams. They are constantly working on getting them all digitized.

They are making over a million of them available for electronic greeting cards to be sent to an email address. The project, called Corbis Picture Experience, is being done in cooperation with AltaVista. It can be accessed through either of the company's Web sites: or


For Sale

1. System Commander special edition ver. 3.2 (runs Win95 & Win98) $10

2.Three 2GB & one 4GB Iomega tapes $20

3.NEW in box adjustable ergonomic keyboard $20

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