Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'Tis the Season (Again!) for Online Shopping

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001
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Vol. 9, #101 - Dec 8, 2009 - Issue #409



 'Tis the Season (Again!) for Online Shopping


  1. Editor's Corner
    • 'Tis the Season (Again!) for Online Shopping
    • Follow-up: Chrome OS
    • Quotes of the Week

  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without

  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Yahoo and Microsoft finalize Partnership
    • Bing puts bling in maps feature
    • Microsoft tries again to placate the EU and other browser makes
    • Banned in Boston - and everywhere else

  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • Get rid of the Automatic Updates restart dialog box

  5. XP Security News
    • On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me ...

  6. XP Question Corner
    • My computer's clock is losing time

  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • My Documents opens when you start the computer

  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

  9. Product of the Week
    • Total Video Converter: An All-In-One Video And Audio Conversion Tool.






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 Editor's Corner

'Tis the Season (Again!) for Online Shopping

Once upon a time, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas meant numerous exhausting trips to the stores and malls. It meant fighting the crowds (sometimes literally) to snag that last Cabbage Patch Kid or Hello Kitty for the little ones in our lives, or that on-sale cashmere sweater for mom, or that very cool big boy toy for the hubby (Dad was easy: socks and ties). Today, it's possible to get all of your gift-giving taken care of without ever leaving the house. Online shopping has morphed from a niche market utilized only by techies to a mainstream activity that's engaged in by almost everyone who has computer access. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that even in this less-than-stellar economic climate, e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2009 totaled more than $30 billion:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Sales-Dip

The fear of conducting financial transactions over the 'Net has faded as more and more people do their banking online and pay their regular bills online. People have come to realize that although there's a risk associated with transmitting your credit card information through the web, there's also a risk associated with giving your card to a store or restaurant employee, who disappears with it into a back room. Even if you never let go of your card, it's not necessarily safe - just witness the many incidences where people became victims of identity theft just by using their debit cards at an ATM - which had been rigged to copy the information:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-ATM-Identity-Theft

Sometimes, shopping online is the only way to get what you want. I searched in vain at local outlets for something that had been common when I was young but seems to have disappeared, at least around here: so-called "ice tea spoons." These are spoons with normal sized bowls but longer than usual handles, for stirring sugar that's added to sweetened tea. Then I looked on Amazon, and sure enough, I found them there - a box of 12 for only 9.29:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Iced-Teaspoon

This year, because of the recession, it may be even harder to find what you want in the stores because they're carrying low inventories. Even if you see it advertised, it may be sold out by the time you get there. I've been waiting for months for the release of the Omnia II smart phone by Verizon. It finally happened last Wednesday, but I had a busy week and wasn't able to get over to the Verizon Store until Saturday. I was ready to buy, but they had none left in stock. I had them check several other stores in neighboring cities and came up empty there, too. I ended up having to order the phone over the Internet, even though I was really eager to get it and willing to pay the extra $20 to have it that day. Oh, well - it's supposed to be delivered to my door next Tuesday and I saved a few bucks.

In fact, saving money is the biggest reason that many of my friends are giving for doing more of their shopping online this year. One reason buying online costs you less is because many online retailers don't charge sales taxes on your purchases. What you might not know is that your state probably requires you to pay a "use tax" on those out-of-state purchases. Almost nobody does, and most people don't even know how to go about it, but the law is there:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Tax-Free-Online

Since that isn't working so well, it's likely that sooner or later, online retailers will be required to collect sales taxes just like your local stores do. In fact, as the article above notes, New York state has already passed a law requiring them to collect sales taxes from customers who live in New York. It's under appeal now. Of course, we already pay sales taxes on some online purchases. When I buy from Dell, sales tax gets added onto my purchase since I'm in Texas and so are they. In fact, the company doesn't have to be headquartered in your state. If the company has any physical presence in your state, it's supposed to charge you sales taxes.

Even if you give the government its due, though, it's likely that you'll save money by buying online. Because many online retailers don't have the overhead of "bricks and mortar" stores and sales people, they can set their prices lower. When it comes to things like computer components, I can almost always get a better price at NewEgg or Amazon than at my local Fry's. I don't expect to ever completely stop frequenting the physical retail stores, though. There are two reasons: sometimes I need something right now, not a few days or even one day later. And sometimes I really need to see and/or touch the product before I buy it. There are times when I don't even know the name of the item I want. Sure, I could go to the B&M store and find it, find out its name and then come home and buy it online, but chances are - unless it's really a big ticket item - if I make the trek to the store, I'll just go ahead and get it there.

Black Friday is one day that I stay as far away from the stores as possible. If I must shop on that day, online is definitely my preferred way to do it. I guess I'm not the only one who feels that way. According to the Oregon Business Report, overall spending was up by half a percentage point this year on Black Friday ($54 million more than last year) - but online spending was up 17% over the same period last year. On the other hand, those statistics show that shoppers spent about 14% less per transaction this year than last year:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Retail-Trends

"Cyber Monday" is the Monday after the traditional Black Friday weekend. It was created in 2005 by the National Retail Federation. The premise at that time was that many people only had high speed Internet access at work, so they did their online shopping on the first work day following Thanksgiving. This year's Cyber Monday sales were up (11% over last year) but that's only one measure of its popularity. Many people were "cyber window shopping" - surfing the e-commerce sites without necessarily making purchases.

In fact, the Cyber Monday traffic was so heavy that, according to Ben Rushlo, director of competitive research at Keynote Systems (a mobile Internet test and measurement company), "More users, shopping online, brought sites that were relatively stable on Black Friday to their knees on Cyber Monday. In every vertical Keynote measures (Apparel, Books & Music and Electronics) at least one site had what would be classified as a 'meltdown.' In total, six of the measured sites crumbled during some part of the day (some for the entire day). Another 9 sites had major slowdowns or periods of instability during the day on Monday."

Which brings us to a potential problem with online shopping. As crowded as the B&M stores might get during the holiday shopping season, it's highly unlikely that they will be shut down completely by the crowds. You'll usually be able to squeeze in. But if an Internet site gets overwhelmed, it can crash the servers - and it's disconcerting, at the least, if that happens when you're right in the middle of a credit card transaction.

Still, according to Ben, the large sites such as Wal-Mart, Sears, Best Buy and NewEgg performed fine on Cyber Monday. Most of the sites that experienced problems were apparently apparel outlets - perhaps indicating that shoppers are being more pragmatic this year and buying clothes rather than trinkets. Maybe these sites were just caught by surprise when their popularity exceeded their bandwidth.

Tell us what you think about online shopping. Are you doing more of it this year? Do you find it a blessing to be able to sit at home at your computer in your pajamas and do your Christmas shopping? Or do you think it takes away something from the spirit of the season, not to be out there among the crowds, putting your life on the line for the sake of the best sales? How much money do you estimate you save (including cost of gas/transportation and the value of your time traveling to and from the mall) by buying online? Do you pay the use taxes on your purchases? Do you think online purchases should be subject to sales taxes like local purchases? Is the trend toward buying online harming your local economy by taking sales away from the businesses in your neighborhood? We invite you to join the discussion in our forum at
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Forum-Discussion


Follow-up: Chrome OS

In last week's editorial, I took a quick peek at the new (beta) Google Chrome operating system and some of its features and - in my opinion - where it's lacking. A number of readers had something to say on the subject, too, and the article obviously inspired some lively discussion on the forum (which was, after all, the point).

Based on the forum posts, many of you still aren't ready to accept an OS that lives in the cloud, and that was one of the points I was trying to make in the original piece. There are security issues, there are trust issues, there are control issues - and there are even economic issues. Thanks to Dumbo469 and mattern1974 for pointing out something that those of us in the urban/suburban U.S. with low priced unlimited data plans sometimes forget: that not everybody has such access and bandwidth limitations make cloud based computing an expensive proposition for many folks in other countries or in rural parts of ours, even if the OS and hardware are free.

For those who decided that I "asked the wrong questions," please feel free to ask your own. There are no "official" forum questions - my thoughts on the editorial subjects are my own, just as yours are yours. They're designed to serve as a taking-off point to get people thinking and talking - no more and no less. to respond to another criticism, the article in no way attempted to conclude what Chrome is or isn't. In fact it said, more than once, that the current iteration is a beta and "we'll have to wait a little longer to find out exactly how Chrome shakes out."

SMF likens the Chrome OS to mainframe computing, giving the IT department complete control over everything and taking all decisions out of the hands of users. This is actually a very good analogy - but I would comment that there is a reason that companies moved from the mainframe model to the PC model in the first place, and those are the same reasons that I don't believe Chrome (or other similar "operating systems") will take over the corporate desktop anytime soon, either. Even with the advent of terminal services and low-cost "thin clients" years ago, most businesses are still full of full-fledged PCs for all but the most basic tasks.

As always, thanks to all of you for participating!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor
feedback@wxpnews.com

Follow Deb on Twitter

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called Win7News? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Win7News

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-WServerNews

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Quotes of the Week

"Why do you have to be a non-conformist like everybody else?" - James Thurber (1894 - 1961)

"If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much." - Donald Rumsfeld (1932 - )

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. - Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)






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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without

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PC Tune-Up: 4 Easy Steps That Eliminate Frustrating Slow Computer Problems:
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Improve your English writing skills with WhiteSmoke a smarter solution for high quality writing. Download the free trial version here.
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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Yahoo and Microsoft finalize Partnership

It's been a long time in the making, but last Friday Microsoft and Yahoo announced that they've finally reached an agreement on partnering up on Internet search, with Yahoo using the Bing search engine on its own site and will handle web advertising sales, to the benefit of both companies (and to provide stiffer competition to Google's dominance of that space). Read more here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Yahoo-MS-Search-Deal


Bing puts bling in maps feature

Last week, Microsoft released a beta of their new Silverlight version of Bing Maps and it's cool. The Streetside view is like Google's street view - but better. The images are higher resolution and look really great. I like the enhanced bird's eye view, too. Photosynth is now integrated into the Maps feature, as well - and be sure to check out the "mapplications" gallery. Read more about it and see samples (and a link to try it out yourself) here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Bing-Maps


Microsoft tries again to placate the EU and other browser makes

Remember when the EU and makers of other web browsers complained about Microsoft including Internet Explorer in the operating system? So Microsoft offered to release a European version of Windows 7 with no browser and they complained about that. So then Microsoft offered to include a "ballot" from which computer users could pick a browser when they installed the operating system. Well, they were upset then that the ballot listed browsers in alphabetical order, giving Apple Safari an unfair advantage. So now Microsoft has agreed to a ballot screen that randomly lists the top fair browsers. But wait a minute - isn't that unfair to the makers of browser number six? I guess we'll have to wait and see.
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Browser-Exclusivity


Banned in Boston - and everywhere else

Xbox Live is an online multi-player gaming service operating by Microsoft for users of its Xbox game console. But if you use a pirated copy of the game software - or if you cheat by using a exploit in the code - your Xbox can be banned permanently from participating in the online games. If you're thinking of buying a used Xbox system on eBay or some other venue, be aware of this if you want to play games online. Read more here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Pirated-Games





 How To: Using XP Features

Get rid of the Automatic Updates restart dialog box

After XP downloads and installs automatic updates, it wants to restart. A dialog box pops up, asking if you want to restart your computer now. But if you're busy working on your machine, you might not want to restart just yet. You can select to "Restart later" but then you'll just have to go through the same thing again - and again, until you give in and reboot. However, you can temporarily get rid of the message. Here's how:

  1. Click Start | Run
  2. Type cmd to open a command window
  3. At the command prompt, type net stop "automatic updates"
This stops the message from popping up again. It only stops the service until you reboot, then the service will start again on its own.




 XP Security News

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me ...

Fixes for twelve security vulnerabilities. Patch Tuesday comes this week, and Microsoft has announced plans to offer six updates to patch twelve vulnerabilities, including a critical vulnerability in Internet Explorer that can affect all current versions of Windows. Half of the updates to be released are classified as "critical." You can read more about them here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-IE-Hole





 XP Question Corner

My computer's clock is losing time

QUESTION:
Okay, I've had this happen with a watch before but not a computer. Lately it seems like the clock is running slow, that is, I'll set the time and then a day later, it's fallen behind. I don't know if this is a hardware or software problem. Can you help? - Victor L.

ANSWER:
There is a known issue whereby XP may display the wrong time or appear to be losing time. This can be a problem with the time server that the XP machine contacts over the Internet to get the right time, or it can be a problem with your system itself. First make sure you have the "Automatically synchronize with an Internet time server" option checked on the Internet Time tab when you double click the clock in the system tray. If that's already okay, try this:

  1. Log in as administrator
  2. Click Start | Run and type cmd to open a command window
  3. At the command prompt, type these commands, in this order:
    • net stop w32time
    • w32tm /unregister
    • w32tm /register
    • net start w32time

  4. Reboot the operating system
Another cause can be a CMOS battery that is dying. You'll need to open the case and replace it.




 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

My Documents opens when you start the computer

If the My Documents folder opens every time you start your XP computer, you can stop this behavior by editing the registry. For step-by-step instructions, see KB article 555294. As always when working with the registry, be sure to back it up before you make changes.
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-My-Documents





 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.






 Product of the Week

Total Video Converter: An All-In-One Video And Audio Conversion Tool.

This utility is a powerful yet simple to use all-in-one video conversion utility. Easily converts video and audio between almost any format with speed and quality for use with your iPhone, iPod, Zune, PSP etc. Sports a very user-friendly interface and makes converting video format as easy as ABC. It extracts audio tracks from movie and video files so you can move them to your favorite video capable mobile device. WXPNews readers download the trial version or buy it now at a great price here.
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/091208-Video-Converter




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