Jewish World Review Nov. 10, 2003 / 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Synchronization is simpler with AOL's calendar; eight-PC network running Windows ME, suddenly, everyone's machines have started running very, very slowly. Checking the system monitor it appears that the processors are occupied to 100 percent as soon as the network is accessed; clicks to open Excel spreadsheet , gets message that it is "Shared" and unusable

By James Coates | (KRT) Q. I am developing a very small construction business that will include a front office with me and a part-time appointment manager and a few employees who will check in each morning for that day's job assignments. So I need a way to share a calendar with everybody over the Web when I, too, go out on a job.

I thought that it would be simple to just create a common calendar in Microsoft Outlook and let each person open it and make changes. Dream on!

It turns out that even though it is very simple to find the file that Outlook creates for a calendar (called a PST), it will not let anybody make an entry when it is open on anybody else's computer. I found out that you need way too complicated and expensive software called Microsoft Exchange Server to make this work.

Do you have suggestions?


A. Ah, serendipity. Your note popped up the same week I received a briefing from America Online executives about the seriously beefed up AOL for Small Business service built in to the AOL 9.0 Optimized for Broadband software. The AOL honchos covered a lot of ground, but I focused particularly on the shared calendar feature because your question has become perhaps the most frequently asked of the small-business version of this column.

I have suggested many approaches to avoid getting held hostage unless one buys and sets up Exchange Server, but all are pretty complex, such as setting up a scheme to e-mail the needed file to everybody.

The AOL shared calendar lets subscribers set up what amounts to a Buddy List of folks to share an online calendar. AOL's own computers sub for the Microsoft Exchange server to coordinate and synchronize changes that each participant makes.

You need a single AOL account at your "front office," which your e-mail indicates you already have. There can be up to seven people with screen names on that one account, and all can be online at the same time and all can share the calendar.

This makes the scheme valuable to small shops like law firms, bookkeepers and tax preparers because the whole thing can be had for an ordinary $25 AOL subscription or even a $10 "roll-your-own" version in which users have other broadband access but want AOL content like the calendar.

In your case the folks out in the field need separate AOL broadband access. But once everybody is set up, you just add each to your shared calendar and each will get an e-mail informing them of how to proceed. To get started, log on to AOL and type Control + K and type in the keyword Small Business.

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Q. I have a small business with an eight-PC network running Windows ME. Suddenly, everyone's machines have started running very, very slowly. Checking the system monitor it appears that the processors are occupied to 100 percent as soon as the network is accessed.

Of course, this causes crashes and long wait times between screen pages. Our IT person checked the configurations, but we can't seem to find what is going on to slow things down. After a machine runs awhile and e-mail or the Internet is accessed, the processor goes back to normal. The problem seems intermittent and no one seems to know why. Can you help?


A. There are two common kinds of Internet access deals, dynamic and static. In this case you would be happier to get a tad of static, Mr. W.

It's a bit complex, but at the heart of things is that each time an outfit with a dynamic account fires up a computer or a network, the Internet service provider beams back a different Internet protocol address. That address serves as the current gateway to the Internet for that session or part of a session.

Static account users get the same IP address every time, permitting all kinds of perks including the ability to host Web pages and e-mail. Other perks include file sharing and even far simpler Internet phone calls, including video ones.

Even a small network of eight machines gets mighty complex as the box called an Internet access point talks to a device called a router that gets connected to a box called a hub or a switch that, along with the router, doles out signals to each member. A single bad setting anywhere in the resulting nest of connections can cause gridlock. With an ever-changing, or dynamic IP, the variables get still more vexatious.

In essence, your smallish network must share the same ever-changing IP address, which means that each machine must reach out and acquire that new number and then identify all other machines sharing it on your network before things run normally. That's why your network works fine after a spell. Since your IT person says the configurations are OK, we can assume that none of the machines has the settings wrong.

Many network administrators speed up the process by mapping each computer on the network with its own drive letter. Just as the floppy disk is A: and the hard drive is C:, a network can start with a drive Z: and then a Y: and so on. If you set your network to map every machine to a drive letter and then set it to renew itself every time a machine is switched on (or an IP address changes), things should speed up greatly.

To map drives, open the My Network Places or Network Neighborhood icon on the desktop or Start menu and then right-click on it to call up the Map Network Drive command. You will be led through linking each computer to the network with a shared folder designated as a separate drive letter starting with Z: and moving backward. Check the box to reconnect on logon, and each time your network is switched on all of the machines will reach out to each other from the beginning rather than in the piecemeal fashion that causes many slowdowns.

Q. My problem is a Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheet file that I really need to use and yet cannot. Instead, when I click the icon and the spreadsheet opens, I get a message that it is "Shared" and then it isn't useable. I cannot delete the sheet and none of the editing commands work--including copy--which I could use to move everything to a new spreadsheet.

Also, even though my data only occupies cells from A1 to W25, the computer says it is huge, going between A1 and IV63057++, so I cannot save it to a floppy disk. I already had to reformat the hard drive on this machine several times and I do not want to go through that again.

Robert Kuhlman

A. Somehow a set of tools under the category of Protection has been activated on that one sheet, thereby creating this frustration. You must agree though, Mr. K., that is exactly what you'd want an outsider to encounter while trying to alter your own data. The fix is easy.

Click on Tools and then look for the selection called Protection. This will bring up a list of boxes with check marks alongside that can be set to grant or deny a user various privileges and thus disable the menu items you mention.

You also will find that one can set the Protection tool to protect any given range of data including the whole sheet, which probably is why yours comes up as running from A1 to the very end of all possible cells. This too can be unchecked and disabled. Or you can just select the data from A1 to W45, copy it and paste it into a new spreadsheet.

I guess there is an outside chance that you are the victim of vandalism and that somebody actually opened the spreadsheet without your knowledge and not only changed the protection settings but also used a feature that sets a password before a user can change the status.

In that case your only solution would be to go to a professional data recovery service and see if they can access it.

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of this column by clicking here.



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