This is my final Microsoft Challenge column for TechRepublic. After 65 columns and thousands of responses from TechRepublic members, I’m moving on to an exciting new challenge of my own. Before I leave, I want to express my thanks to everyone who’s been connected with this column.

When I first pitched this column to my friends at TechRepublic way back in the last millennium, I envisioned a different type of Q&A column that builds on the strengths of this community. You’re the experts, after all, so why not have me pose the questions for all of you to answer?

It worked. I’ve had fun thinking up each week’s new Challenge, and you’ve responded with insights and information that have been consistently eye-opening, educational, and provocative.

Together, we’ve helped each other. Thanks to you, for instance, I’ve tightened up my ActiveX security settings, learned how to identify dangerous ports, and set up a safe, speedy virtual private network. Collectively, we’ve found improved versions of just about every built-in Windows utility, including the Windows Explorer, Notepad, and backup utilities. We’ve saved each other money, too, most notably by identifying the best options for navigating the confusing thicket of Microsoft licensing options.

Most importantly, we’ve made an impact in Redmond. I know, for instance, that senior Microsoft executives read your comments and my analysis in our recent three-part series on the controversial product activation technology in Windows XP and Office XP. (If you missed it, go back and read Parts one, two, and three for an eye-opening look at what’s in store for you.) Cynics may say that no one can budge Microsoft when it’s determined to do the wrong thing. I’ve seen plenty of evidence to prove otherwise, and I’m certain that this community can indeed make a difference. Keep speaking up!

I can’t leave without thanking the many friends and colleagues at TechRepublic who’ve made this such an amazing place for IT professionals. Kim Henderson, the goddess of TechMails, has been an unfailing source of support. Ken Hardin, Jeff Yocom, and Bob Artner helped me realize the vision of this column and taught me what the TechRepublic community is all about. Heartfelt thanks to the many unsung editors, copy editors, Web developers, and support professionals who make this place so valuable. And of course, the biggest thanks of all to Tom Cottingham, who founded TechRepublic.

As for me, I’m moving on to an exciting new challenge. After five years covering Microsoft from the perspective of business users and IT professionals, I’m returning to my roots in the consumer world. With longtime colleague Jesse Berst, I’ve launched a site designed to help consumers and end users find some sanity in the crazy, fast-paced world of technology.

So long and thanks for everything.
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