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Personal Tech: Apple's iMac G5

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, September 27, 2004; 2:00 PM

Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to discuss his latest reviews, including Portable Media Center and Apple's iMac G5. He also answered other personal tech questions.

A transcript follows.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Rob Pegoraro: Hello again... I see we've got questions on the new iMac G5, Portable Media Centers, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and quite a few other topics already. And we've only got an hour and change to get through 'em all, so let's get started.

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Tampa, Fla.: Re iMac G5:

This looks suspiciously like a laptop stood upright. Is Apple getting closer to a G5 PowerBook?

washingtonpost.com: Speed and Elegance in a Desktop Package (Post, Sept. 19, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: The iMac has always benefited from laptop engineering and even components--going all the way back to the first, CRT-based model. With the G5 model, Apple has pushed this trend about as far as it can go.

But that doesn't mean a G5 laptop is right around the corner. The iMac is still about twice as thick as Apple would want any laptop to be (2 inches), it benefits from some cooling systems that wouldn't be practical in a laptop (the vertically oriented design lets heat conduct out the top) and there's no need to worry about battery life in a desktop like the iMac.

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Washington, D.C.: I'd love to get noise reduction headphones to use during flights, but can't afford Bose. Can you suggest a less expensive alternative? Thanks very much.

Rob Pegoraro: We reviewed a few non-Bose models last year, and found some Sony and Panasonic models that worked almost as well as Boses's at a much lower cost: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11039-2003Apr11.html

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Baltimore: why, just when i'm about to bite the bullet and get a mactop, does apple decide to release an equally or greaterly cool version of the imac? i can't afford both, steve jobs.

Rob Pegoraro: Life can be so cruel sometimes...

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Annapolis, Md.: Thanks for taking my question.

Recently, my company has reissued their identification badges. Rumor is that these badges (just an index sized plastic laminated badge) can now track us as we go from company branch to company branch.

Is this possible that they could do this with a device so small and probable that they would bother?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Lots of ID cards can do that--the generic name is "contactless smart card." If you ride Metro and use a SmarTrip card, you've got one example in your pocket. So, yes, your company probably can do that. But the technology doesn't work once you're past the card scanner at the entrance; these cards only function within a few inches of that device.

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Langley, Va.: Is it true that the IT fascists in the Washington Post Co. and all its subsidiaries went on an uninstall Apple Quicktime Player campaign after the Washington Post Co. elected Empress Melinda Gates to the board of directors a few weeks? Does this mean we will only be reading pro-Micro$oft columns from now on?

Additionally what do you think about Micro$oft announcing this week that it is reneging on its promise to support XP SP2-style patches to non-XP versions of Internet Explore? From what I had read Microsoft had told developers earlier this year that it would port at least some of the IE 6 fixes for Windows 2000 in the Service Pack 5 update. It also has told some partners that it was "considering strongly" making IE-specific SP2 fixes available for Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows 98 SE and Windows ME Now they are essentially strong arming everyone into to upgrading to Windows XP or else!

I see Mozilla Firefox chiseling even deeper into Micro$oft's monopoly and hope that more people will consider switching to Mac or Linux.

Rob Pegoraro: That first question is way the hell off the deep end. There hasn't been any "uninstall campaign" around here at all, least of all one targeted an application we all need to watch a good chunk of the Web video out there.

Besides, all of my columns are pro-Microsoft. I mean, could yesterday's have been any more of a suck-up to the good people in Redmond?

But seriously... I wasn't surprised to see that the SP2 patches won't be released for Win 98 or ME; those operating systems are all at least five years old, and their foundations are fundamentally different from Windows XP's. You couldn't just drop the SP2 code in there and have it work.

I *was* surprised to see that Win 2000 will be left out as well, since it's a) not that different from XP under the skin, and b) still in widespread use in many offices.

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Leesburg, Va.: Rob,

Can you explain why songs downloaded from the internet (iTunes, in this case) and burned on CD play on some CD players but not others?

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: No. Well, not without knowing what kind of CD players they won't play on. (Make sure you don't burn your purchases to CD-RW blanks, which most CD players can't read.)

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Boonton, N.J.: No Question but I read some of your "Tech" commentary about SP 2 - you're off base. If a user has a fairly good firewall program, then SP2 is NOT a required upgrade.

In fact, if you direct your readers to www.eweek.com and http://security.eweek.com, they will get all of the technical support they need.

Rob Pegoraro: Wrong. SP2 is a *lot* more than just an added firewall. Furthermore, to suggest that a trade publication like eWeek (sample headline: "Compuware Tools for Visual Studio Focus on Reliability") is going to be of any help to most home users is laughable. Do you work for them or something?

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Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: I have noticed that PDA don't seem to be selling any more. Are they a thing of the past since Sony stop selling them in the US? How long will Sony support their Clie in the US? What is your assessment of the PDA market?

Rob Pegoraro: The PDA market is fine, but Sony bailed on it despite its success in carving out a healthy chunk of the business with its Clie handhelds. That feels to me like a mistake, but, hey, it's Sony's business to run, and if the company wants to hand over that many customers to Palm, HP and Dell, it's free to do so.

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Arlington, Va.: Our DSL internet connection seems to work pretty well, but with one of our two XP computers, if we are online and then leave the computer for 45 minutes or so, it usually terminates the connection. We have to reboot to bring the connection back. Is there a way to adjust how long the connection will stay up when the computer is not in use? Is it an XP issue or an ISP matter? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Probably an ISP issue. What provider do you use, and does it require you to install any special software?

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Stockholm, Sweden: Hi Rob, long time listener, first time caller... I'm wondering why you prefer Firefox's RSS reader to Thunderbird's. I prefer Thunderbird's because I can enter in the RSS feed address to create a listing. With Firefox, I have to hope that the site has the RSS feed encoded into the page's source, as Firefox doesn't have the ability to easily add an RSS feed when you see a link on a page to an .xml file. At the least, there should be a right-click option on the link to "Add LiveMark from Link."

Rob Pegoraro: I don't like either program's RSS client that much--I find it's easier to run a standalone client (currently SharpReader, but I'm trying out a couple of other programs suggested by readers).

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Burke, Va.: Re: new ID cards as a tracking device...

Several years ago I did consulting work at 3Ms facility in Minneapolis and my photo ID had some type of tracking chip. The system was designed to allow your telephone to follow you (e.g., if you were meeting in a conference room) around the building. I am sure that it did much more than that, but even that is kinda scary.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, that's a little ridiculous. What would the company do with that info, anyway? In what sort of job conditions would an employer need that data?

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DVD player Q: How can I tell if my DVD player is progressive scan? Its - 6 years old with a ProScan brand name (also used to be a divx player), has component RBG outputs and digital outputs, but I have no way to know if it is progressive scan or not. Would this make a big difference, seems like I've seen dvd players for -$100 with topline features.

Rob Pegoraro: If it's six years old, it's almost impossible that it's progressive scan. Back then, progressive scan was an extremely high-end option, if it was available at all. (Was it? I can't even remember at this point.)

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Manassas, Va.: In the market for a new computer, and we've decided that we want a laptop for around-the-house portability. However, a key feature we can't agree on is trackpoint vs. trackpad for the pseudo-mouse. Are there any models that have both nowadays? And are there any manufacturers besides IBM that make laptops with trackpoints?

Rob Pegoraro: IBM seems to be the only to offer that option--well, actually, some business-oriented Dells include it, in addition to a touchpad. I prefer a touchpad myself, FWIW; it seems to put less strain on my wrists over time.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dear Rob,

I have gotten the image files from the hospital, that were made to observe blockage on arteries prior to my heart bypass operation. The procedure is where they inject a die and 'film' the arteries as the die goes thru. The CD has INF, IDX, DAT, DEM, IMG files on it. Is there a way for me to view these images (short movies actually) on my XP computer at home? thanks,

Sal

Rob Pegoraro: I'm stumped... if those files are video in any remotely standard format, you ought to be able to view them with any of the big three player applications (QuickTime, Real, Windows Media).

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Washington, D.C.: When anyone reviews Quicken, they always mention the mac version. but what everyone fails to mention is that it is supremely inferior to the PC version. As a mac user, who keeps an aging PC around just for Quicken, I am disgusted at having to pay the same or higher price for the mac version of this program, which, quite frankly, seems like it was written as an after thought. It doesn't sort by payee, cleared status, amount, etc., it can't find all transaction of a particular amount, or to a particular payee (it only finds individual transactions), and it doesn't even check for matches when importing qif files, which means unless you're very careful, you end up with lots of duplicate transactions. To me, these seem like basic functionality/productivity features. Why don't they write a serious program for mac users??? And why don't reviewers expose the lack of functionality for mac users?

washingtonpost.com: Quicken, Money Duel to a Draw (Post, Sept. 26, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: Quicken for Mac is a real problem for us to review each year--it's awkward to squeeze this review into a larger piece about the Windows releases of Money and Quicken. And since most home Mac users get Quicken for free with each new computer, there are fewer people we can help with a detailed review of it.

This time around, we limited our observations of Quicken for Mac to noting that Intuit still, idiotically enough, makes banks offer a separate, Mac-only data-download format. Naturally, many banks don't bother doing that. You'd think that Intuit would make life easier for its own programmers by making both versions use the same OFX download, but no...

Lately, I've been thinking that Apple ought to respond as it did when no decent Web browsers and mail clients were available for Mac OS X: writing its own.

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Baltimore: I've been a mac enthusiast for years. I'm thinking of setting up something more like a home media center, where my whole family could use the internet, my young daughter could watch dvds, we could stream music, etc.

Two questions: (1) DO you think the new iMac is a good option?, and (2) How difficult would it be to set it up so that we could use the iMac to watch tv as well?

Rob Pegoraro: 1) Yes.

2) No. I mean, you could plug in an external TV tuner like the Elgato eyeTV, but then you'd wind up replacing your 25 or 30-inch set with, at most, a 20-inch screen.

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Washington, D.C.: What can we do to get software and hardware manufacturers to stop the rip-offs?

After using MS operating systems from before windows was an offering, I have had to endure being at the mercy of MS. After buying my last Windows computer, I said I would give Apple a good look before I buy my next computer. Being into home video, I used Pinnacle Studio Nine on my XP. The hardware was way too slow, but Pinnacle was very easy to use. This put me over the edge so I went for the 64 bit machine and bought a Mac G5 and jumped into the deep end with lots of extra memory, 500GB of disk and a 23" display. The speed is incredible. I also bought Final Cut Express thinking I could upgrade to Final Cut Pro once I became an expert on the less costly Final Cut Express. The sales person agreed with me.

I had to fight with Apple to get the $500.00 rebate promised if I bought a G5 and the wide screen display. Apple refused to pay because the two products were not on the same invoice. Who sold me the stuff? Apple! After months of haggling with them, they finally paid.

I had to spend more money on several books, a DVD and spending a few months to learn how to use Final Cut Express (not an easy product to learn), I started shooting video in wide screen. After using Final Cut Express to edit my video, when I burned a DVD, it came out in full screen - not wide screen. I spent hours trying to find out what I did wrong. I finally learned that iDVD, the product you use to burn to disk your Final Cut Express edits, did not support wide screen. No where is in the marketing material or help screens could I find this information.

If I want to upgrade to Final Cut Pro I will have to pay the full price of $999.00. The price I paid for Final Cut Express was $299.00, and I get no credit for that purchase. I will have to throw it away, but according to Apple, I can transfer everything I learned in Final Cut Express to Final Cut Pro. I've been harpooned again, but this time, by Apple

You can buy Pinnacle Studio Pro for less than $100.00 and it will handle wide screen video with no problem. Looks like I jumped out of the frying pan into the fire!

Apple has not been honest in their marketing.

Bradley

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing your experience...

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Washington, D.C.: Rob,

Do you know anyone who uses the new anywhere WiFi-DSL option from Verizon in the DC Metro area? I'd love to use it to get internet radio in the car, but I know it's really pricey now.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't, and for pretty much the same reason you cite--the price is a lot unless you *need* Internet access everywhere, "need" meaning "your employment depends on it"

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Vienna, Va.: Rob - Have you had any experience w/ Linksys' Wireless Media Adapter - lets you access digital photos and music from PC to TV/Stereo. Also...your email today talks about Thunderbird's features...many of which are in Eurdora - any thoughts on Eudora other than its not free. - Thx

washingtonpost.com: In a Wireless World, Hearing Is Believing (Post, July 25, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried the Linksys product, but the readers who have, and who told me about their experiences, haven't seemed too thrilled with it.

I used to be a card-carrying Eudora bigot, but I had a falling-out after Qualcomm let the program rot on the market without a meaningful update for a couple of years running. (The neglect was worst in the Mac version, where Qualcomm basically abandoned the Mac mail market to Apple.) The latest Eudora release seems a lot stronger, but, having gone to the trouble of switching to another mail program, I'd need a really compelling reason to go back.

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Northbroo, Ill.: What's the status of hi-speed internet through electric lines?

Rob Pegoraro: Still in the emerging-from-the-chrysalis stage. I've had a writer waiting to try out a powerline-broadband service in Manassas, Va., since this spring, but she's yet to get word from the company that they can actually hook up her house.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob,

Which hard-drive MP3 player should I buy? IPod, Dell Jukebox, Sony, or Rio?

Help.

washingtonpost.com: RealPlayer's iPod-Compatible Update 'Stunned' Apple (Post, August 8, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: Don't buy the Sony models--they don't play MP3s at all unless you first "transcode" them into Sony's ATRAC format. That means you have to put up with a huge wait to copy them over the first time, as Sony's software (which is itself atrocious) has to convert every file to ATRAC).

The iPod is still the device to beat.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob:

How do you 'right click' on a Mac? I was trying to download a video file last night and the instructions on the web page said to 'click on the link to play, or right-click to download.' Obviously intended for a Windows user, but how do the rest of us enjoy the benefits of downloading and saving files? A search of the help files on both Safari (my primary browser) and IE provided nothing useful.

Rob Pegoraro: Hold down the Ctrl key as you click.

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Woodley Park, D.C.: Isn't the Apple G5 just their version of a larger tablet computer with a stand and without a pen? I mean, it looks nice, but it seems like just a variation on an existing theme.

Rob Pegoraro: If it was just that, don't you think somebody else would have done it already? Instead, the other all-in-one computers look more like this Gateway model.

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Annapolis, Md.: I recently installed XP's SP-2 on my multi-OS (98se, 2Kpro, 2Ksbs & XPpro) system and now XP will not give me "properties" from folders in any partitions' root directory, whether fat32 or ntfs. Is this an unintended consequence or a new security issue that I will have to ferret out the info on?

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like an unintended consequence, as I haven't heard of any other reports of this sort of problem.

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Baltimore, HON: Follow up to iMac and tv question:

How expensive is the tuner you mentioned (eyeTV?), and how difficult to set up? We hardly watch tv, so my thinking had been that 20" would be fine and cheaper than having separate computers and tvs ...

Rob Pegoraro: See our review from earlier this year.

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Apple sux: Too bad their system can't play intense games.

Only people who benefit for their system are simply people who want a nice system who have cash to shell out.

Rob Pegoraro: This reply made me laugh. The people who are really shelling out the cash for their computers are the ones focused on playing "intense games"--an iMac, even the 20-incher, is a bargain compared to the average AlienWare or Dell Dimension XPS system.

The more I look at what a new gaming rig costs--compared to, say, an Xbox--the more I'm convinced that keeping up with the latest games' hardware requirements is a loser's game in the long run.

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Washington, D.C.: This is totally off-topic, but I'll give it a try. I spilled coffee on my laptop keyboard, and now the top row of letter keys isn't working. Everything else seems to work fine, though. Is this something that can be fixed, or have I fried something important?

Rob Pegoraro: ng h h f k s c ld all s ck!

(Typing without the top row of keys could really suck.)

Well, at least the computer itself works fine. But unless you're prepared to type like a hacker, using numbers and symbols instead of letters (l1k3 7h15), you can't use it too well. Short term, you could plug in an external USB keyboard. Long term, you've gotta pay a professional to fix this, I think.

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Washington, D.C.: Another way to right-click on a Mac -

Take the USB two-button mouse from your now-unused Windows computer and plug it into the Mac. Right click will work just fine. (I love Apple but their attachment to the one-button mouse strikes me as just silly.)

Rob Pegoraro: That's true--any two-button mouse will work immediately in Mac OS X without any need to install extra software. (Conversely, a Mac mouse also works immediately in Windows--that's the beauty of USB at work.)

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Herndon, Va.: I'm planning on buying a new home desktop system soon and I read your 2003 guide to purchasing a desktop. I'm wondering if you have any updated advice. I'm hoping to buy a system that will do the usual e-mail, Web surfing, etc., plus digital photos and digital movies. Based on your 2003 guide, it seems like I would need something like this.

100 GB harddrive

512 MB memory

64 MB graphic accelerator

128 MB video memory

CD-RW

DVD+RW

multiple USB ports

firewire port

optical sensor mouse

good quality monitor and printer

multi-channel sound card

Would you say that's right? Has anything changed?

washingtonpost.com: PC Guide 2003

Rob Pegoraro: I'll be doing a new guide to home computers in November (one that may include some desktop-replacement laptops as well, depending on what kind of space we get).

Your spec list sounds about right, but if you're not going to be playing any intense video games you can cut back on the video memory and stick with a standard sound card. The DVD+RW drive is also more of a "want" than a "need,"--it's convenient for backup, but it's not strictly required if you won't be editing video.

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Washington, D.C.: If I want to make a shortcut to a chat like this one on the Washington Post, a shortcut is created that simply says "washingtonpost.com - Live Online". It's annoying there is no indication of what live online chat it is. Then, if using your beloved Firefox, if you try to make another shortcut to a different chat on your desktop, it simply writes over the first one without even alerting you there's already a shortcut with that name (using Internet Explorer, a second shortcut with the same name but (1)...(2)...etc is added). Could you please get the website folks to do something so that "tech" or "travel" or "movies" or "Lean Plate" or whatever the chat topic is gets added to the name that would be saved as a desktop shortcut? Thank you!

Rob Pegoraro: I'll post this note so they can see it...

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Bethesda, Md.: Thanks for the forum:

I'm itching to buy an HDTV. I'm a poor grad student and the 27 - 30 inch 16:9 CRT HDTVs (i.e. not monitors) by Samsung are really tempting me.

I don't mind the absence of LCD or flat screen technology, I really want the resolution for football movies, DVDs and PS2 play. Despite the large weight of these two I cited above, would you recommend either?

Should I hold out until I can afford a flat screen or will the technology of these two suffice for the above-referenced uses? For the $650 - 899 price range, i'm awfully tempted . . .

Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Decoding Digital TV

Rob Pegoraro: If you need a HDTV now and don't want to shell out more than $1,000 for it, a CRT is still the way to go. OTOH, at 27 to 30 inches of screen size, it's debatable as to whether you'd actually see the benefits of HD resolution from the average couch.

FYI, a PS2 won't give you any better than analog resolution--so far, the Xbox is the only game console to support 480p output, which is only "enhanced definition" but certainly a good sight better than analog.

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Alexandria, Va.: Ever since I installed Service Pack 2 I get an annoying pop-up suggesting I turn on automatic updates. Do you know how to get rid of it?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--turn on automatic updates.

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Falls church, Va.: hi Rob...

Recently, I signed up w/a well known email provider, and when I go to check my email from a remote computer, the pad lock is on... but at the bottom next to lock, it says accessing doubleclick.ad....

how come?

How come it can access double click, the evil, when you're in secure mode? Can you answer that?

How can I fix that problem?

Rob Pegoraro: Doubleclick--an online ad publisher--is not "evil." You may not like its ads showing up on your computer, but you can always refuse its cookies (check the privacy settings of your Web browser and enable the option to decline "third-party" cookies, those not set by sites you navigate to).

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Crofton, Md.: Submitting early with a "how to" and a "why" question. I use dvd decrypter to rip dvds into "vob" (i think) format files, how do I burn them to cdr's as vcd files, and is there a free program for this function that you know of? Second, I use my palm tungsten e w/ an sd card as a mp3 player and love it, but it's only good for about 2 hrs before needing a re-charge. The screen goes off after 20 seconds and stays off, so thats not causing the big drain. Why is the palm not as fuel efficient as a proper mp3 player?

Thanks for taking the time, love your column, first thing I look at on Sundays.

Rob Pegoraro: For your DVD question--I've been meaning to take another look at that topic. Hit a Web site called digital-digest.com, which reviews software in this category.

As for Palm battery life, I think it's an issue of the work the processor needs to do; as I understand it, handheld organizers normally keep their processors in a sleep mode almost full time (think about how often you actually make the Palm do any computing work), but MP3 playback requires them to run full tilt. The E in particular also seems to use up its battery much faster every time it has to read data off a memory card (just opening a few digital-camera images can really hit its battery hard).

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New York: After installing Windows Media Player 10 the other day, I switched to skin mode whereupon the program stopped working, stating that it found a problem and had to close. I could not undo the skin. Uninstalling and reinstalling WMP 10 did nothing, as did reinstalling WMP 9, deleting it and reinstalling WMP 10. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Try using System Restore to take your PC back to a pre-WMP10 state?

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Alexandria Va.: It's been over a year since your last big guide to digital cameras... anything coming soon? I'm in the market now and looking for info on the newer models.

Rob Pegoraro: In retrospect, I thought last year's all-inclusive review tried too hard to cover everything at once. We've switched to trying to review cameras in groups of three or four at a time (for instance, the most recent roundup covered ultra-small digital cameras, and the next one should review 5 MP models that sell for under $400). This way, we can stay a little more current, and readers who want to see all of our recent reviews at once can look them up on this site.

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Washington, D.C.: I'd love to know which intense games won't run on my Mac? Should I return America's Army, Warcraft III, Battlefield 1942, Neverwinter Nights, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and Knights of the Old Republic? Because even though I've been happily playing these games on my PowerBook, I would definitely want to take them back if some Windows loser says they won't run.

Rob Pegoraro: Definitely. And then there's all those Windows viruses you can't run either. It's so unfair!

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Richmond, Va.: What have you been hearing about people's experiences installing XP's Service Pack 2?

Rob Pegoraro: Most people who have installed it have been happy with it. A minority, maybe 5 to 10 percent, has had problems of varying severity. From what I've been able to tell, the worst problems happen with PCs that already had issues festering inside--the tree was already rotting before the hurricane knocked it over and into somebody's living room.

Unfortunately, with Windows there's no easy way to tell when the system's started to rot, nor is there any easy way to heal it.

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Bethesda, Md.: Apple has gone through, umm, five versions of a lower-cost Mac-- the original iMac, the Cube, the eMac, the Lamp Mac, and now the iPod Mac. You can't say they're not trying.

Rob Pegoraro: They've tried, but in recent years they've only tried to do this in one way--with all-in-one designs that incorporate a monitor. I don't think you can make an "iCheap" (as the Macintouch news site put it) when you have to include a 17- or 20-inch LCD in the case. The eMac might fill that role, but when you compare it to PC systems with external CRTs, there's no comparison--and a lot of people will buy based on that criteria alone.

I think the Cube came closest to getting this formula right, except it was designed as a flagship product instead of an entry-level machine. If only they'd made a Cube that used a G3 processor at the time...

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Arlington - Firefox updates?: Any word on when a release version of FF may be available? I don't mind flipping to IE to get things like Accuradio to run properly, but the fewer times I have to do this the better!

Rob Pegoraro: There's a "release candidate" due any day/week now, with the real 1.0 release due in October, as per the official roadmap: http://www.mozilla.org/projects/firefox/roadmap.html

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New Windsor, N.Y.: I'm looking for a broadband service to supplement my cell phone service--preferably free to cheap. If it's easy, I'm willing to use my computer as opposed to an analog adapter. I'm familiar with Vonage.

Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: If you want cheap, you can't beat Skype, from what I've heard--but this does require you to talk through your computer. Otherwise, there's Vonage's entry-level service, and I've heard good things about Lingo's VoIP option as well. Packet8 is yet another choice (all three are available for $20/month or less and do allow to use a standard phone).

Bear in mind, though, that you can get analog, conventional phone service for under $20/month, tax included--just get the Verizon plan that only includes 50 local calls/month (after which you pay 9.6 cents/call).

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Leesburg's CD question: The person who can't listen to his or her burned CDs on all their players may be burning in MP3 format rather than the old-fashioned CD method (so maybe they have a portable or something that can read MP3s, but another CD player that can't).

Rob Pegoraro: That's a possibility too, although iTunes' default is to burn audio CDs. A third explanation could be that he/she has some *really* old CD players--the oldest ones out there can't read CD-Rs at all (and will also have problems with longer pressed CDs... if the single-disc version of Electric Ladyland won't play on the thing, you can't expect a CD-R to work either).

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

Stupid SP2 question for you. I just received it this weekend through automatic update and surprisingly haven't had too many problems with it yet (knock on wood). Anyway my question has to do with its pop-up blocker. I have Norton Internet Security & Anti-Virus and I like them overall but find the pop-up blocker piece works way too well - it blocks everything and makes it very difficult to unblock those windows that you need/want. With SP2 there is now a box at the top telling you it blocked something and click here to unblock - much easier. So am I opening myself up to big problems if I disable the Norton popup blocker and continue to use the Windows version. I know I'm supposed to disable the Windows firewall because I have the Norton's one so does the same argument work for the pop-up blocker?

Thanks for you advice as always!

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think there's any downside to using just the SP2 pop-up blocker instead of the one in Norton.

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Cincinnati: I have 2 Media Centers that have had little mention. First is on my kids networked Playstation. Gameshark make a $35 program that loads a small server app on the PC. Running the client on the Playstation gives access to Music Photos and Movies(MPEG)using the PSII's processing power. Works Great. and with a digital optical cable to the sound system sounds great. Second is with My TIVO , same setup except no MPEG support. Both these are worth checking out as they are almost free.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks.... hadn't heard of this PS2 add-on. We did review the TiVo Home Media Option when it came out; I wouldn't describe that as "almost free," since you do, in fact, need to pay $13/mo. for your TiVo to get it. (DirecTV's TiVo receiver costs less but apparently doesn't support the Home Media Option, something that DirecTV's users don't seem too happy about.)

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Sir,

Do you know if the iTunes store will grow to include movies and other types of electronic media, or is Apple sticking to a music-only niche?

Kind thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: It could, but Steve Jobs doesn't have me on his speed dial... I just don't know.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Rob. Great column.

I recently began enjoying the wonders of digital TV / HDTV with an over-the-air receiver. The HD picture is spectacular, and even on the SD channels the sound quality is strikingly better.

There are a couple of strange problems, though. On channel 26-1, WETA HD, the audio is a little out of sync with the video, and on the two UHF channels I get - 26 and 50 - the time displayed by the info function is around 15 - 20 minutes ahead of the actual time. The lower-range, VHF channels 4,5,7, and 9 show the correct time.

Could these be just "growing pains" for a technology that is not quite ready for prime-time, or could there be something wrong on my end. I have tried checking all settings on the receiver and TV, to no avail. And it would surprise me that WETA, the flagship of HD broadcasting, has some technical problem causing the broadcast audio and video to be out of sync.

I have a Samsung SIR-T351 connected to a Toshiba rear-projection crt-type wide screen TV of early 2003 vintage, using the component video and standard audio (two-channel stereo) connections.

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: We've had a few HDTV viewers show up on this chat in the past, so maybe they can address your question in the few minutes we've got left. (As has become my habit, I'll keep chatting until 3:30 today.)

I think you're using the same Samsung model that we tried when we tested DTV reception, and I don't remember any sync problem cropping up--that, to me, suggests the issue is outside of your receiver. My guess would be that it's a glitch with WETA's broadcast, as odd as that might seem.

If you haven't visited the AVSForum Web site, you should stop by: www.avsforum.com. The people who post there are *serious* audio/video geeks and probably had this problem figured out two weeks ago.

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Anne Arundel County, Md.: I've read somewhere that you can somehow show digital photos on a tv, using a dvd player - this may be a dumb question, but do I have to copy the pictures to a dvd or would it work with a cd?

Rob Pegoraro: Should work with either a CD or DVD, but check your DVD player's manual--it may not support either photo-viewing option.

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Alexandria, Va.: Please help me to decide what to do. I have a laptop and a desktop (both using Windows XP)networked together thru a router and they share a printer. The new download from Microsoft indicates it will turn on the automatic firewalls or whatever. If that happens I might not be able to share my printer etc.

Rob Pegoraro: If the XP firewall did shut off your printer sharing, you would still be able to allow that particular network activity--it's a good deal easier to manage than the previous one.

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Portland, Ore.: Rob: First, Thnx for all your sound advice.

Parents of college freshmen (and I'm one) have returned from dropping off our kids at school, and helping them set up their new laptops. And I decided I want the franchise next year to sell new laptops to parents of college freshmen! I saw huge stacks of shipping boxes with all the laptop labels that piled up outside dorms!

I presume these young people all have some basic software suites that include normal 3-6 programs for word processing etc, and they have programs for firewalls, spamblockers, etc. My question: are there good utilities, crucial software that most students will need, but that might have been (or probably were) overlooked in the whirlwind of getting our kids off to school? What software programs should we parents make sure we get for our kids or we urge them to buy themselves via low-cost school buying services? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: The single most important update to put on a college kid's computer before he/she shows up--assuming it's running Windows--would be Service Pack 2. Get that up and running before the computer is on a network with thousands of other PCs, many of which probably don't have the right virus/worm protection on board.

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Adobe Photoshop Album user: In Sunday's paper, you told a reader that Adobe Photoshop Album can't burn a slideshow to DVD for playback in a DVD player. You suggested that the person forget about the slideshow and just burn the pictures as JPEG files. Unless other details were omitted from the question, why can't the person create a Video CD slideshow, which should work in the DVD player as long as the player supports Video CD?

Rob Pegoraro: You're right, that is an option in Photoshop Album as well. And that would work in many DVD players... but the resolution will be a lot worse (the same as VHS, which is pretty bad compared to DVD). I'd rather have sharper pictures than a soundtrack, but reasonable minds can differ on this.

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Rob Pegoraro: It's about that time--time for me to get back to my day job again. Thanks for all the great questions... I'll see you here again in two weeks.

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