Personal tech columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to talk about his recent reviews of WordPerfect 12 and Opera 7.5. He'll also fielded other personal tech questions. A transcript follows.
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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon--got a busy day today and can't spend my usual extra 30 minutes online. I can, however, try to type faster than usual... let's get started.
Hey, Rob, thanks for the update. I tried Opera a few years ago, and while I liked it, I just never felt comfortable with it the way I have with Mozilla.
About Firefox and Thunderbird: I currently use Mozilla 1.6, and I really need to keep using Mozilla or Netscape for e-mail. Would Firefox and Thunderbird be faster, or is the speed increase due to the ability to run only one component at a time? And does Thunderbird still have Mozilla's ability to send from multiple accounts in the same session? That's been a lifesaver for me.
See Rob's March 19 e-letter: "Mozilla's Firefox Is the Browser For Me"
Rob Pegoraro: Firefox and Thunderbird are faster; part of it is because they're separate applications, but the work the developers have put into trimming down the code base of each app also helps a lot. More important, though, is that each of these programs is much simpler to start using than Mozilla. Just compare the Firefox options screen with Mozilla's preferences window--and think about which one you'd want a beginner to have to navigate through.
Tbird supports multiple accounts, but not completely elegantly. Remember, this program's still only at version .6 (.7 should arrive fairly soon)
Do you happen to know where to go to flip the appropriate switch in Outlook so that my geeky friends can NOT spy on me (sort of) with the DidTheyReadIt service? (This mentioned in Web Watch yesterday.)
Web Watch Answering the E-Mailer's Essential Question
Rob Pegoraro: If you're using Outlook 2003, you get that capability for free; just select the option not to display images from people who aren't in your address book--which I think is selected by default. That'll stop attempts by strangers to snoop on you; your friends are another matter.
In earlier versions, I don't think you have that option, unfortunately.
What is a Wi-Fi hotspot? If I plug a wireless network card into my laptop and go to a hotspot will I be able to log onto the internet?
Will I have to pay for logging on? How will I be charged?
See The Post's special report on WiFi technology.
Rob Pegoraro: A WiFi hotspot is just a transmitter sharing some kind of Internet access over a small area--like, a few hundred square feet. Some are free, in which case you simply flip open a laptop w/ a WiFi card, the card picks up the signal and you're online. Most of 'em cost a little bit, often around $10/day, and in that case you'll need to have an account w/ whatever service runs the hot spot--for instance, T-Mobile--or you'll need to ante up on the spot.
What a depressing couple of reviews. Not that I doubt they're warranted, but it sure looks like Microsoft has succeeded in monopolizing two niches of the applications market in which there used to be superior alternative products.
Is all competition for the desktop home market over?
Rob Pegoraro: No, absolutely not. OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org) is a much stronger competitor against Microsoft Office than WordPerfect is these days. It's free, for one thing. And Mozilla Firefox (www.mozilla.org) is a far better browser than Opera or Internet Explorer, even in its unfinished 0.8 release.
Please don't make the mistake that a negative review of a program that competes with a market-dominating application from Microsoft--or any other company--equals an endorsement of that other software. You could not be more wrong.
I'm running XP Home edition and was converting some CDs to MP3s when I ran into a problem when it came to some imported CDs I have. The track names are in Japanese and while I have Japanese fonts installed, I can't seem to successfully enter the titles. Media Player keeps changing the titles to a string of question marks.
Rob Pegoraro: I'm stumped. Can anybody help Rockville?
Web question: a browser called coolsearch has hijacked my computer. Each time I go to the web, instead of the homepage I have selected, it changes the homepage to coolsearch. how do i get rid of something like that? I can not find any files in the system under coolsearch to uninstall.
can you email me an answer please?
I will retrieve before I go home from the office.
Rob Pegoraro: 1) Download a program called CWShredderL http://www.spywareinfo.com/~merijn/downloads.html
2) Please read my column about browser hijacking: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A14264-2004Feb28?language=printer
3) Download the software updates I mentioned, then think seriously about switching from IE.
Mount Airy, Md.:
Concerning the recent Apple security flaws, let me offer this opinion as a professional software developer (and not as a knee-jerk Apple defender): Rushing out a fix that has not been fully tested often makes things worse than the original problem. As long as the Help Viewer flaw remained mainly theoretical, it is not unreasonable for Apple to wait to release the fix with the next system update (which I understand is immanent). Once the exploit was publicized, Apple did get an initial fix out in relatively quick fashion.
However, it is still troubling that this fix does not address some related flaws publicized late last week. I refer interested readers to the Daring Fireball website http://daringfireball.net, which has a thorough analysis and a suggested procedure to secure your system against possible exploits.
As for "why this help:// feature had been included in the first place (and if anybody had yet implemented it in the manner Apple had intended)" -- Apple itself uses it in the system help files. For example, searching the Mac Help for "turning off the screen saver" leads to a page that contains the link "Open Desktop & Screen Saver preference for me". Clicking the link performs the desired action. This is a useful feature for new users. The flaw was allowing any program outside Help Viewer to perform such actions; this is the flaw that Apple's update fixes.
Today's Fast Forward E-letter: Apple Learns Microsoft's Bad Habits
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing your thoughts... two followups. One, from what I hear, Apple heard about this vulnerability in *February.* Seems like plenty of time to test a bug fix there.
Two, the problem isn't in allowing the Help Viewer program to control other programs--it's in allowing Web pages to invoke the Help Viewer app, a capability I've yet to see used for any legitimate purpose. The simplest fix would be to remove support for this "help://" URL entirely--don't make a protocol that can be used over the Internet.
I.e., if you have a door in your house that nobody uses, it's much simpler in the long term to replace it with a wall than to put a lock on it and hope nobody steals the key or picks the lock.
What's the deal with the hole in OS X and Apple's lack of responsiveness?
washingtonpost.com: Apple Says OS X Vulnerable to Security Breach
Rob Pegoraro: I asked Apple your second question and got a "no comment" answer. That's exactly the wrong kind of answer in this case. I know Apple loves to keep its product development under wraps, but this isn't something like the launch of a new desktop or a major operating-system update; there's no call for this kind of "we don't need to tell you" secrecy.
What's up with Cox High Speed Internet - first they fried all the modems and now we're in the fifth day of an email slow down that they can't explain? Time to switch to Verizon?
Rob Pegoraro: Dunno--this is the first I'd heard of any Cox mail slowdowns this week. How bad are the mail delays?
I'm submitting my questions early, if you don't mind. They concern security and email clients for Windows XP and using Mozilla with MSN for Windows.
First, is Mozilla's mail client more secure than MS Outlook? My brother just got Verizon DSL and I'm setting it up for him. He as MS Office XP Pro on his XP Home PC. I can set up Outlook (NOT Outlook Express) for his email, but I wonder if Mozilla's email client is more secure. If it is, are there any differences between the email client in the full Mozilla 1.6 and Thunderbird.
Second, can I set up Mozilla Firefox as my brother's default browser with MSN Premium (which is free with the Verizon DSL package)?
Third, can I set up Mozilla's chat function to work with MSN IM? How secure is Mozilla's chat function, anyways?
Rob Pegoraro: First: yes.
Second: I suspect not. MSN Premium normally becomes your default browser--it's IE plus some extra components, so it's not possible to run Firefox inside that.
Third: no. Mozilla's chat is only IRC. If you want to use MSN or AOL instant messaging, I suggest a multi-network instant-messaging client like Trillian (www.trillian.cc) or Gaim (gaim.sourceforge.net).
I know you probably don't care for computer repair questions, but--I've got a Dell several years old that has ME and is probably infected with a virus (computer hasn't had any protections up)--so much of it has gone haywire (can't copy files, other programs come up when icons are clicked, etc.) Have tried to load a full version of XP but it cuts out somewhere in the middle, reboots to "Setup" and then goes in circles. Have bought and loaded McAfee Viruscan, but the scan also freezes up before it is finished. Is there a relatively SIMPLE way to clean up the computer so that I can load XP and start from scratch?
Rob Pegoraro: If the virus scan itself can't complete, you're pretty much, er, hosed. (I was about to type a different verb there.) I'd say try to copy as many of the existing files as possible, then reformat the hard drive. If you can't even copy them off the hard drive, then you'll have to reformat anyway and accept the loss of that data.
Sorry, but this is what can happen if you don't use virus protection with Windows.
I keep deleting certain files like DaMon.exe, but they keep appearing. I have the Microsoft updates done on a regular basis, and have Norton Firewall. How do I keep these files off of my computer?
Rob Pegoraro: DAmon.exe is apparently a harmless, completely legitimate support utility Dell installs, so you don't need to worry about that. Focus on apps that anti-spyware utilities like SpyBot Search & Destroy or AdAware report are real dangers--deleting apps that look funny or out of place can get you in a heap of trouble very quickly.
Re: Cox Email
Slow down began on the 20th. I still have emails sent that day that have not been received. Their network status site said its nationwide. Also said at one point today that it was fixed. That's not true. Give me a fax number and I'll send you an inane "chat" I had with one of their tech support guys this morning.
Rob Pegoraro: Interesting... I'll have to mention this to my colleagues.
I am a novice senior citizen computer person. I search the internet and use e-mail and pay my bills online. I am interested in purchasing a laptop that will allow me to do the same 3 things as well as play cds and dvds while I travel South in the winter. My husband wants to be able to watch live major league baseball. Therefore I know we need a laptop that runs fast(whatever that means).I know that a I don't need a business laptop but I don't really know where to begin or how a laptop hooks up to the internet. I know wireless is advancing. Should I wait for the new laptops to come out in the fall. Thank-you.
Rob Pegoraro: Any laptop made in the last year would be fine for what you're looking--none of the uses you describe demand any kind of faster-than-usual processor. Further, just about anything you'll find on the market will include a big-enough hard drive (say, 40 gigabytes) and the CD-RW/DVD drive you mentioned. I'd suggest limiting your search to models with a Centrino/Pentium M processor--amazing battery life, and these models also tend to be lighter and run cooler--and that you try out each machine you like in a store, so you can see if you like the keyboard and the screen resolution.
What are the good deals for broadband these days? My eyes start to glaze over immediately when I try to do any of my own research, so I figured maybe the lazy method (quiz Rob Pegoraro) might work...
2004 Guide to Internet Service Providers We'd Like a Bit More, For a Little Less (Feb. 8, 2004)
Rob Pegoraro: The cheapest ones you'll find around here are the $25/month entry-level plans a couple of cable-modem providers offer, followed by Verizon's $35/month DSL. Many other DSL providers charge $40, and non-entry-level cable tends to start at $45.
Firefox user Q:
Do you install the nightly builds and if so how does one go about doing so and is it "safe"? I have been using and loving 0.8 for a while now, but wonder what upgrading to a new build might bring me. More trouble than its worth?
Rob Pegoraro: I'd think so. If you're happy with .8, enjoy it; .9 won't be that far away. I've had good luck with most nightly builds that I have tried (a hobby I pretty much limit to loaner computers I'm reviewing, not my daily production machines), but some have been pretty flakey.
There's a need for a 'Why you don't want an iPod' list. The hype has persuaded lots of people that they might want one without giving them a realistic view of the costs & labor involved. For the record, I have an iPod, and I'm happy with it-- but it's not for everybody.
Rob Pegoraro: Well, here's one thought: How long is your commute? If you're only on Metro for 10 or so minutes each way, you're not going to get much use out of any MP3 player. You could still become one of those iPodPeople who walks around jacked into their iPod full time, but I think there's something to be said for actually interacting with other people when strolling along the block.
Rob, neither a question or a comment, really -- more of a cry for help. I'm running XP Home on my box, but, for whatever reason, IE has "lost" communications with my internet connection (yet Firefox and Outlook have no problems; iTunes can't connect either).
Well, this makes it difficult to run Windows Update, though I discovered if I boot up in Safe Mode with Networking, IE works. So I fired up the updates, restarted the machine and....now it won't boot up. It doesn't even get to the logon screen before rebooting and telling me that my system has recovered from a serious error, and giving me the choice of the Safe Modes, Last Good, or normal.
So yes, Windows Update crashes my machine, as near I can tell. Anyone out there had/heard of a similar inanity or have pointers?
Rob Pegoraro: I haven't heard of *this particular* scenario before, but at this point there are few forms of computing dysfunctionality that really surprise me anymore.
Have you tried using System Restore to pull the machine back to whenever it functioned again?
Plan B would be reinstall Windows off the CD (there's an option that puts a fresh copy of every file on the hard drive, which should get around the risk of the new install picking up any of the corrupted parts of the old install). But then you'll have to reinstall all of your programs as well.
Can you tell me what WI-FI actually stands for? I know it has something to do with wireless computing.
Rob Pegoraro: Wireless Fidelity. One of the better coinages of recent years, if you ask me...
I'm intrigued by the ability for folks to "spy" on my inbox when I read their HTML-laced message.
I've searched high and low in Outlook 2002 (XP), but can only find out how to disable viewing images or send messages using plain text. I can't find a thing about viewing messages in plain text.
How can I turn off ALL HTML content so that all messages coming into my Inbox are text only?
Rob Pegoraro: I don't think that's an option in Outlook 2003 either. Microsoft designed Outlook with the idea that HTML replace text as the standard mail format.
Sites that don't work on Firefox?:
I have a number of sites, including my online banking site, that don't want to work with Firefox. Isn't this going to be a huge issue for them going forward, that being that web developers these days are getting inherently lazy and most are developing only for IE, not Netscape/Mozilla?
Rob Pegoraro: It might. I, personally, haven't found more than a handful of sites that refuse to work in either of my two default browsers, Safari or Firefox, and that includes three bank accounts, three credit-card accounts and four or five different mutual funds.
You can always resort to Internet Explorer for sites that insist on making a nuisance of themselves--it's not like you can uninstall IE anyway :) But I would also complain to the sites responsible. I did that when I had a brief glitch paying a bill at Verizon Wireless's site; somewhat to my surprise, I got a reply saying "we know this is a problem and we're working to fix it"--and now the site functions fine in Safari.
Re: Cox Email
Give me their addresses of faxes and I'll be pleased to discuss it with them. I'm very frustrated and hurting with an unreliable essential utility.
Rob Pegoraro: Glad to let you vent here....
I'm not sure if you are familiar with an old computer program called, ECCO Pro or not. It was a P.I.M. that the company pulled from the market in around 1997 or 98. It was hailed by all of the computer magazines as the "best P.I.M." out there. It truly was. Therein lies the problem. Since then, I've been looking for something to replace it with and have yet to find anything. What P.I.M. or contact management programs might you recommend?
Rob Pegoraro: Most people these days use Outlook, which certainly won't leave you wanting for features. The problem with Outlook (aside from its history of virus vulnerabilities) is that it's so absurdly feature-bloated, and there's no easy way to turn off all these crazy options.
If you use a Palm handheld, the Palm Desktop software that comes with it works quite well, and is far simpler to live with than Outlook (although it doesn't include an e-mail client). And if you use a Mac, Apple includes an address-book and calendar program that, while they were really lame in their first releases, are now pretty good.
Ugh- "other people" are overrated. I'll keep my iPod! Though I will admit that I have considered switching headphones so that I actually won't have the telltale whitewires hanging out of my ears....
Rob Pegoraro: There was a story somewhere a few months back about how the cops in some city in the U.K. were warning about an epidemic of iPod muggings; they advised people not to wear the white headphones!
How financially successful are companies that hijack browsers? It just doesn't seem to be a good way to build a customer base.
Rob Pegoraro: There's clearly some sort of money to be made off hijacking. With apologies to South Park, the business model works like this:
1) Porn site owner pays hijacker to put links to his site in hijacked browser;
2) Hijacking victim sees that he's got some interesting new content on his "new" home or search page; in visiting these pages, he runs up the hit count for all the ads sold on that site
Can you get a virus in which the computer does not come on at all ? Can anything be done ?
Rob Pegoraro: No, that sounds like a regular computing malfunction. Viruses are designed expressly to reproduce and transmit themselves, which is kind of hard to do if the computer will no longer boot up. I recommend taking the computer into a repair shop; FYI, the latest issue of Washington Consumer Checkbook has a fairly long guide to computer-repair places.
I bought a 15" Apple Powerbook and absolutely love it except for one thing - after about 15 minutes of running you can cook an egg on the thing! It is actually uncomfortable on my wrists. First, is this unusual? Second, I've seen laptop stands that raise the unit up a bit and provide a little wrist pad - thoughts?
Rob Pegoraro: This is a big problem with many laptops these days, Apples as well as Windows-based models. There isn't much to do but use some of those add-ons to let air flow and stop the heat from being conducted right into your own skin.
Do you know about any new movement in the WiMAX standard that supposed to bring wireless to large areas at once?
Rob Pegoraro: WiMAX is one of those "I'll believe it when I see it" technologies; it's had a lot of hype and buzz without yet resulting in products that normal people can buy. Get this technology on the market in hardware that won't cost more than a new computer--could be a year, I hope to find out at this trade show and a wireless-broadband conf. in town next week--and we'll talk.
IPOD vs Archos Jukebox?:
I have had one of their Jukebox Recorder 20s for a few years now and have loved it. It more than carries my 12GB of music and also serves as a USB plug and play back up for my hard drive. So easy to use. But its also 50% bigger than the IPOD. Does the IPOD offer this type of easy data carrying capability? What about song type support? Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, the iPod works very well as a data-transfer device; it shows up natively on your Windows or Mac desktop as a removable hard drive. It plays MP3, AAC, ALE (Apple Lossless Encoding) and AIFF files, but not Windows Media (although the new iTunes 4.5 will automatically convert your non-copy-protected WMA files into MP3 files for you).
Rob, What is the simplest way to move Outlook Express folders from an old Win 98 computer (with no USB) to a new XP PC (with both USB and parallel)? We'd like to keep them intact as folders (Inbox, etc.) rather than dump them all into a single folder for "old email." We've moved our Word/Excel files using a Zip drive. Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: The Files and Settings Transfer Wizard included with Win XP should be able to move the old Outlook files over via a parallel-port cable, or even by floppy disk if necessary.
After reading your Opera review, I'm curious about Firebird, and may have to check it out.
I use Opera, it has a few features, that it'd be hard to live without:
1. Font control; by using the "+" or "-" key, fonts can be increased or decreased on all web pages.-
2. It has bookmark nicknames. Web sites can be accessed with 2 keystrokes.
3. Password Mgmt. The Username and password is inserted in forms with one keystroke.
4. Session recall.
5. Mail Alert-It alerts me to when I have email. I then check it, using my mail program.
6. Opera has a plethora of keyboard shortcuts.
-(Rob, I'm visionally challenged, Opera's ability to increase Web pages' fonts & its variety of keyboard shortcuts, is what attracted me to it, Opera's become an invaluable tool) Your review didn't mention Opera's reputation for accessibility, as I recall.
Most of my friends and family use Opera, so after your reading review, Firebird must be some browser!
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the detailed post. My comments on each point:
1) That's a nice shortcut, but it's not quite an exclusive to Opera; Ctrl+ and Ctrl- do the same thing in Firefox;
2) Also supported in Mozilla and Firefox (and really handy; I use this all the time)
4) I found this somewhat handy, but mainly because Opera crashed a few times. Otherwise, I wouldn't need this feature--I'd just leave the browser open to whatever sites I wanted to resume reading when I was next in front of the computer.
5) Not sure I get the value-add here. My mail program already tells me when I have new e-mail. Why would I want a Web browser to issue a redundant reminder?
6) Also not any kind of an exclusive
On your last point: I give Opera full credit for its page-scaling feature. It's a good idea, it works well and it ought to be in more browsers. (Firefox may support this with an extension, but that's not as helpful as having it built in.)
Is a product out there by which I could listen to internet radio over my wireless router without having to boot up my computer and hook it into the stereo?
I've seen something called a Reciva, but it's not available yet.
Rob Pegoraro: There are a few different companies getting into this market, or already in it (see, for instance, slimdevices.com, prismiq.com or rokulabs.com). I've tried out some of these gadgets before and hope to get another whack at them in the next few months.
Rob Pegoraro: That'll be all for today--thanks for keeping my busy for the last hour.
One last thing before I forget: A few Opera users have written me to say that this browser does, in fact, let you subscribe to an RSS newsfeed just by clicking on a link in a Web page--something I hadn't gotten my copy of Opera to do last week. I took a second look at this on another two computers and, yup, these folks are right and I was wrong. Correction should be in tomorrow's paper.
On that note of "oops"... see you all in a couple of weeks.