February 22, 2000

By Karen Kenworthy


This is one of those foggy winter nights when every light has a halo, and the roads are slick and black. Ordinarily I'd stay at home and sit by the fire. But it's my Father's 71st birthday, and my mom threw a party in the nearby town where they live. So naturally I wanted to be there. We had a wonderful time. But now it's good to be home.

Every time we get together, my Mother and Father ask about my work. I always tell them, in great detail, what I've been doing. But even after all these years I still don't know how much they understand.

When I wrote my book, they were happy. They could hold it in their hands and show it to their friends. They also understand I wrote a monthly column for a magazine, and that now I write a weekly newsletter.

But over the years, I've spent most of my time writing computer programs. And there's something about being a computer programmer that's hard for many people to understand. That's too bad, because programming computers is a wonderful way to make your living. It lets you exercise a combination of intuition, creativity, detailed analysis, and precision in a way unlike any other profession. It's gratifying, seeing your latest creation come to life. And even more gratifying, learning later, that your program has made someone's life easier.

So, You Want To Be A Programmer?

I know a lot of you sense this excitement, because I'm often asked what a person needs to start writing programs. Fortunately, there are several answers. Many are free, and most of the rest are inexpensive. In fact, you may already have everything you need to write your first computer program.

If you own a Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE), you're ready to start your new career today. Traditionally, browsers have displayed static files, files containing unchanging images and text. But during the last couple of years, Web browsers have developed a new capability called client-side scripting. Now the files that browsers display may also contain small programs. These programs can change what the browser displays, and even take control of the browser, telling it which Web sites to visit.

If bossing a browser isn't enough, how about taking over Windows? A new feature of Windows lets anyone write small programs that can control many Windows applications, and even Windows itself. Called Windows Scripting Host, or WSH, the feature is a part of Windows 98 and Windows 2000. Users of Windows 95 and Windows NT 4 can download this free feature from Microsoft's Scripting site: http://msdn.microsoft.com/scripting/

Forget about slide rules and pocket protectors. The only programmer's tool you'll need is a text editor, such as Windows Notepad. Browser scripts should be stored in text files whose names end in .htm or .html (HyperText Markup Language), like other Web pages. The names of WSH script files should end in .js or .vb, depending on the language you choose when writing your program.

Language? Yes, your computer understands many languages. WSH scripts may be written in either VBScript (a dialect of the Visual Basic language I used to write my Power Tools), or JavaScript. Both languages can also be used to spruce up Web pages displayed by MSIE, though the Netscape browser only understands programs written in JavaScript.

In the weeks ahead we'll talk more about these, and other, alternatives to big-time programming environments. But for now, if you'd like to try your hand at some good old-fashioned bit fiddling, go right ahead. You just might have some fun.

One Last Cookie Crumb

Reader Ben Turner wrote: "I noticed that after I search for cookies and begin tossing out those I don't want, the number of cookies shown for the location drops to 0. The only way to get a fresh count is to open the drop down box and click on the location."

Oops! As my brother Bill will attest, I never was very good at counting cookies. For some reason, when dividing them among us, I always lost count. So Ben's report isn't a big surprise. What is a bit of a surprise is that Ben uncovered two different bugs, one affecting the count of Netscape cookies, another affecting the count of MSIE cookies.

Fortunately, the bugs were small and swatting them was easy. The newest version of Cookie Viewer, version 2.4, now keeps a proper count of the remaining cookies even while some are being deleted. If you'd like to update your copy of the viewer, or download your first copy, drop by my Web site at https://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptcookie

As always, the Cookie Viewer is free, and so is its Visual Basic source code.

Early Adopter

"Early Adopter" is computer industry-speak for folks who quickly adopt the newest hardware and software. By nature, I'm not one of those folks, preferring to let others suffer the unavoidable bumps and bruises experienced by pioneers.

But my job requires me to take the plunge occasionally. That's why I installed Windows 2000 Professional last weekend. In a compromise with my conservative nature, I installed the operating system the evening of February 18th, a full 36 hours after the product's debut. :)

So far, I'm happy with Windows 2000. It seems faster than the copy of Windows 98 SE I was running on this machine. And it hasn't failed, yet. The user interface has a few cute changes, such as menus that fade in and out. And unlike Windows NT, Windows 2000 seems to support USB, DVD, PNP, and several other acronyms, quite well.

Late Adopters?

My initial Windows 2000 experience would be entirely pleasant, if it weren't for a few "Late Adopters." For some reason, companies like Hewlett-Packard and Adaptec seem to have been caught by surprise when Win2K hit the streets.

For example HP's line of internal CD-ROM writers is supported by drivers that ship with Windows 2000. But their external writers, such as the USB-based 8200i, are not. HP's Web site promises Win2K drivers for these devices by mid-March. Similarly, Adaptec promises a new Win2K-compatible release of its EZ-CD Creator program by the end of March. Until then, EZ-CD Creator must be removed from your computer before Windows 2000 can be installed.

The moral of this story is: check with your hardware and software vendors for Windows 2000 compatibility before upgrading to Win2K. Most compatibility problems should disappear within the next few weeks, as the last round of application and driver upgrades are released. But today, a few tardy companies may have an unpleasant surprise waiting for the early adopters among us.

And what about the Power Tools? My testing indicates they run under Windows 2000. But I'll be looking more closely at that issue, and the possibility of Win2K enhancements, in the days ahead. If any early adopters notice an incompatibility, drop me a note and I'll look into it.

But whether you're an early or late adopter, if you see me this week on the 'Net be sure to wave and say Hi!. And if you see my Mom or Dad, please tell them what I do for a living. :)

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