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Take control of your PC

Although technology is supposed to be our tool, all too often it seems the computer is the one in charge. Here are some tactics for taming your PC and putting yourself back in the techie driver’s seat.

Sure, you’re supposed to be in control of your computer, but far too often your computer is the one controlling–or at least confounding–you. For instance, we all know the Return Receipt option in most mail programs is unreliable at best, so how can you make sure that the person you e-mailed actually received your letter? And what can you do about those darned Microsoft Messenger pop-ups? In this edition of Windows Advisor we’ll answer those questions and help you to once again wrest back control from your Windows PC.


Most users agree that the return receipt option in your e-mail is somewhat shaky. In order to receive the receipt, your recipient has to give permission for their mail program to inform you that your message has been read. If they don’t want to (or accidentally click cancel) then you’ll never know that your message was even opened, much less read.

Enter MSGTAG. No, MSGTAG isn’t a monosodium glutamate detector for use in Chinese restaurants; rather, it’s short for “Message Tag,” and it’s a desktop application that works hand-in-hand with your e-mail program to send out a verification tag with your messages. When your reader opens the mail, a brief message is sent to you confirming that they at least opened (if not actually read) your mail. It also tells you when it was received, and how much time elapsed between the two.

The program works seamlessly with most popular programs, including both flavors of Outlook, Eudora, and Netscape Communicator. MSGTAG works alongside (rather than replacing) your current mail software; before long, you’ll forget it’s even there. And unlike the old return receipt option, you can send tagged messages to just about anyone, including folks with Hotmail, Yahoo, and AOL addresses. (You cannot, however, send messages from AOL or Web-based mail programs.)

MSGTAG comes in three versions; free, regular, and Status. The free version inserts an ad for the program at the bottom of every message you send out, while the regular and Status versions allow you to change or even eliminate the tagline. (The two pay versions also offer unlimited customer support, though as simple as the program is, I’ve haven’t had any reason to use it.)

MSGTAG Status is for the true e-mail power user. Status comes with an attached MSGTAG dashboard that enables you to forego having the receipts sent to your e-mail account. The dashboard keeps track of your sent mail and lets you see at a glance whether your messages have been received and opened. The program also offers a contact list management option that you can use to specify addresses not to tag, such as mailing lists and auto-responders. The regular version of the program costs $20, and Status checks in at a hefty $60.

Messenger woes

If you’re running a broadband Internet connection on Windows 2000 or Windows XP, chances are you’ve had more than your fair share of “Messenger Service” ads pop up on your PC.

For the longest time, I thought the ads were coming through the Microsoft Network (MSN) Messenger service, which I use. At first, I just closed the ads and continued with whatever I was doing. Finally, though, after something like the 1,001st ad, in frustration I removed MSN Messenger from my PC. Guess what? The ads continued to show up! As it turns out, the Microsoft Messenger Service is not in any way related to Microsoft MSN Messenger. These are two separate animals that just happen to come from the same company.

The Microsoft Messenger Service was created to transmit and send alerts and notices between clients and servers, whereas Microsoft MSG Messenger allows you to send and receive online messages via the Net to friends running the same software, much like ICQ or Yahoo Messenger.

In the default installation of both Windows 2000 and Windows XP, the Messenger service is turned on, giving anyone who can find your IP address the ability to send you pop-up messages through your broadband connection. The service has been abused in ways that Microsoft probably didn’t intend, and the result is a flurry of pop-up ads for Viagra, breast enhancement, and even software to stop the very ads that the software makers are using to send you the offer! To see how the Messenger service works, and whether or not the option is enabled on your PC, open a command prompt and type the following:

— Net send YOUR_LOGIN_NAME (your message)

— YOUR_LOGIN_NAME is whatever name you use to login to Windows XP. If you are unsure of your login name, go to Control Panel > User Accounts and look at the list of user accounts. If you haven’t created any extra accounts, it’ll more than likely be the only one listed, and if you have more than one, just make a note of which one you’re currently logged in with.

After you use the “net send” command, you should immediately be treated to a pop-up relaying the message you just sent to yourself. The popup window will say “Messenger Service” in the title bar and will contain your PC’s name and the time that you send the message.

So how do you disable this feature? Despite the claims of companies that want to sell you software to block the Microsoft Messenger pop-ups, it’s astoundingly easy to do it yourself:

— Go to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services

— Locate and double click the Messenger Service

— Change Startup Type from ‘Automatic’ to ‘Disabled’ and then click the Stop button

Voila–advertisers should no longer be able to send you pop-up ads through the Messenger service. Be warned, however, that there are a few applications that may use this service to function. Make sure you try out your applications to see that they all work correctly. If you do get errors from some of your apps, you can set the service to Manual. The program should launch when your application starts up and should stop working as soon as your app no longer needs to use the service.

Once you’ve disabled the service, anyone trying to send messages to you via the Net message service should get an error that your machine is unreachable. Congratulations! You now have one less avenue through which advertisers can try to sell you products that you probably will never need in the first place.

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