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Scrambled Word Master Template; Slim Browser Vulnerability

Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page F07

My computer froze while I was trying to open a Microsoft Word letter; I had to unplug the PC to get it to restart. Now I keep getting an error message reporting that "WinWord" has an "error in USER.EXE."

This problem can happen when Word's master template -- a special file named "normal.dot" that stores user settings and saved macros -- gets scrambled in a crash. Find and delete normal.dot (from the Start Menu, select "Search..." to look for it), let Word start afresh, and the problem should go away. It did for this reader.

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Deleting normal.dot does mean you will have to redo any custom settings you use with Word. But since so many users never touch Word's options window, I'll wager this isn't a big sacrifice.

For future reference, restarting a computer by yanking out the power cable is a bad idea -- a fast, forced reboot like that leaves no time for the machine to finish saving any open files to disk. If your computer won't respond to any keyboard input, not even the Ctrl-Alt-Del "three-fingered-salute," hold down the power button until the machine shuts down, then restart it.

I like Slim Browser, but is it as vulnerable as Internet Explorer?

In general, yes. A free Windows release, Slim Browser (www.flashpeak.com/sbrowser/) offers such options as tabbed browsing and the ability to block pop-up windows and ActiveX software installs. But it's essentially a front-end to Internet Explorer; underneath its busy interface, it's built on the same software foundation as IE itself. That means that if IE has a bug that allows infection by a virus or worm, Slim Browser will probably suffer from the same vulnerability.

The same goes for other IE-based browsers such as Avant Browser, iRider or Maxthon (formerly known as MyIE2). If you want a major increase in your Web security, you need to switch to a browser devoid of any Microsoft DNA, such as Firefox, Mozilla or Opera.

-- Rob Pegoraro

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or rob@twp.com.

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