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Fast Forward: E-Mail Evolution

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, March 22, 2004; 2:00 PM

Personal tech columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to talk about his recent columns on IMAP e-mail technology and Verizon Wireless's BroadbandAccess service. Rob also wrote about Mozilla's Firefox Web browser in his weekly e-letter.

A transcript follows.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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Fast Forward E-letter:

Want to know what upcoming topics are being covered? Sign up for Fast Forward e-letter -- get updated information on personal technology news and product demos. Read past editions of Rob's e-letter online here.

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: Busy, busy day here. I've got a full inbox of mail that piled up during my little field trip to the West Coast last week, and a full screen of questions about IMAP e-mail, Verizon Wireless EV-DO Internet access and the Mozilla Firefox Web browser. Let's get to it....

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Laurel, Md.: Hi Rob -

Anticipating the question of 'when and where can I get Verizon Wireless BroadbandAccess (Ev-DO) service?' I offer the following:

Verizon Wireless is on target to expand our BroadbandAccess network to cover one-third of our network - approximately 75 million Americans - by the end of 2004. Today at CTIA we announced multi-million dollar agreements with Lucent and Nortel for wireless infrastructure technology for BroadbandAccess over the next two years.

BroadbandAccess will be available to business and individual customers in many major U.S. cities later this year, with additional markets phased in through 2005.

We have not yet announced any further deployment info.

Rob Pegoraro: I think I know just who in Verizon Wireless PR sent this... the post helpfully addresses a topic that Verizon had yet to clarify when I wrote that column.

BTW, "CTIA" is a major wireless-telecom trade show in Atlanta this week; look for some coverage by the Post's Yuki Noguchi of developments at this gathering in the next few days.

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Falls Church, Va.: High speed woes over here. DSL isn't available. Cheapest seems to be Cox Cable at $55 bucks a month -- it's not really cheaper if you add their basic service. Satellite service seems to be higher. Is there any solution that can drop broadband down to $40, or do I have to wait until Verizon gets here with its service?

Rob Pegoraro: You should check around with the other DSL providers we list in our annual survey of Internet providers. I *hope* that some of them can hook you up. Because if they can't, that is a shameful indictment of the landline telecom business. Falls Church is a dense, close-in area that should have had universal DSL access years ago, going by everything that I've heard from folks at landline telecom companies.

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Chestertown, Md.: So, suppose I switch to Firefox 8.0. Since I'm now using Netscape 7.02 for both browsing and Email, would I continue to use it just for email? Seems kinda silly to keep the large program on the computer just for email. Is there some way to trim away the unneeded part of Netscape?

I do recall that Mozilla was also working on an email application as a companion to what is now Firefox, but I don't recall the name.

Is there some email program (not Microsoft) that I could use and one to which I could easily transfer alot of mail settings, addresses and files emails?

Thanks

stugodwin-friend.ly.net

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you could keep Netscape just as an e-mail client. There is a mail-only Mozilla program called Thunderbird as well; I've been using it for the past few months. It's showing some good progress of its own--but it's also in a much rougher state than Firefox, at a 0.5 version instead of 0.8. You need to be prepared to do a lot more debugging and tinkering to get it to work right. (I've switched to it mainly because my work accounts are all IMAP, and T-bird does provide pretty good IMAP support.)

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Columbus, Ohio: No question, just a BIG thank you for suggesting I try out Mozilla Firefox. It works well. I never experienced an effort to hack into my laptop (52.0 Kb dial-in) with MS Explorer but believe an ounce of protection, etc.

I appreciate the help and ideas you offer. Please keep it up.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks. I'll do my best!

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Washington, D.C. Asks About I-Tunes, Wintel: Rob -- my daughter wants to buy an iPod -actually, the pink mini]. I am a Mac guy since 1984 -128k ruled!;], but a disaster technically.

My daughter's mom has a two-yr.-old Dell running Windows 98 -not 98SE]. It has USB, but not USB 2. It has no Firewire. The Apple website offers a Belkin Firewire card for PC.

My questions:

(1) Is installing the card difficult for a goof like me who knows nothing about the PC world, and (2) will iTunes/iPod work in Windows 98, without upgrading to XP -one Apple Spec sheet said 98SE okay, another just listed 2000 or XP].

Thanks for any help!;

Rob Pegoraro: Installing the card may be tricky, and installing iTunes will be impossible--it's Win 2000/XP only. You might be able to use a third-party iPod program like ephPod or Xplay, but then you're getting deeper into the business of tinkering.

Wait, how could a two-year-old Dell have been shipped with Win 98 instead of XP? Something here doesn't make sense.

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Yuma, Ariz.: Can you tell me how to find out why Microsoft Internet EXplorer keeps blocking my submission of a credit card number on the ground that "THE CARD NUMBER IS INVALID"? Is there some way to over-ride this block?

Rob Pegoraro: Uh-oh. That's not a feature that exists at all in IE by itself. If your credit card is not, in fact, invalid, you need to check--carefully and quickly--to make sure you don't have some spyware running on your computer.

(Can we get a link to my column on that, pls.?)

Another possibility: You've got some child-protection software that's been poorly configured and is coughing up incorrect/confusing error messages in an attempt to prevent what it thinks is a kid uploading mom and dad's credit-card number.

Any other guesses?

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washingtonpost.com: Here's a link to Rob's recent column on browser hijacking.

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Madison, Wisc.: A tech. columnist on the Chicago Tribune gave advice on how to use the computer avoiding starting up all the hidden startup programs that absorb so much memory . His advice was to run msconfig the rest of The advice I lost. Any ideas on how to clean out the clutter

Rob Pegoraro: "MSConfig"--a small utility buried deep in the Start Menu, which is simplest to find by choosing "Run..." off the Start Menu and typing "msconfig"--lets you adjust a lot of hidden system parameters, including what runs at boot time. Click its "Startup" tab and you can stop certain programs from running then.

The big problem, though, is that at least half of these apps will be identified only by eight-character filenames, which you'll have to look up via Google to get any clue as to what they do. It's now been almost 10 years since Win 95 supposedly banished DOS 8.3 filenames in favor of human-readable names; how much longer are we supposed to decipher the meaning of filenames like "systray" or "rnaapp" or whatever?

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Lititz, Pa.: Dear Rob: I may be changing my ISP and want to set my email up for IMAP. The ISP I am considering will accept Outlook Express and other programs. i am not set up for Outlook Express. What do you suggest I do prior to switching ISP's? Should i convert my current email to Outlook? I want a smooth transition so I can export my address book and email log. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Don't even ask the ISP what mail programs they support; provided you're capable of typing in a server address into a preferences screen, the term "support" means *nothing" except "we provide specific setup advice for this application."

The entire point of protocols like POP and IMAP is that they allow a lot of different programs to interoperate. Unless you use AOL or MSN or some other ISP that doesn't use these standard protocols, don't ever let your ISP tell you what mail program to use.

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Denver: How do I use or set up tab browsing in firefox?

Rob Pegoraro: Hit Ctrl-T to open a new tab, then drag a link onto that tab to view that page there. You can also open links in new tabs by right-clicking and selecting "Open Link in New Tab," or--this is really neat--by selecting the link by pushing down on the scroll wheel of any mouse with a built-in wheel between the buttons.

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Washington, D.C.: How did you find your experience with Verizon 1X service levels on the broadband cards ?

Rob Pegoraro: Much slower, of course--but still pretty usable for simpler tasks like e-mail or reading mostly-text Web sites. I was pretty impressed to see that Verizon's network could hand off my connection from EV-DO to 1xRTT without a drop.

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Asheville, N.C.: Your column left out a problem with Firefox: It can't find the cookies placed on the HDD by IE that subscription sites have planted so you don't have to type in your password or that identify you automatically. It can't find any of the other IE placed cookies of other sites, either. My start page from Excite isn't found by Firefox, nor are any of my TV schedule pages from other websites. Bummer!

Also . . . When I power down my 390X IBM laptop, running 98SE, I get a window that says something is still running. How can I find out what it is? I can't defrag as that utility also says that something is running, but neither window identifies the program.

Thanks for any help you may provide!

Tim

Rob Pegoraro: Correct, the 0.8 version of Firefox only imports IE bookmarks. However, a complete settings-import option has been added to the more recent "nightly builds," the daily updates that more adventurous folks are welcome to try. (I'm holding off on that myself; having made the switch from IE to Ffox, I don't need this added function). It should be in a .9 release soon enough, maybe next month.

What's the name of this app that won't quit at shutdown? The message you see ought to report that. If it doesn't, hit Ctrl-Shift-Esc to bring up the Task Manager, which should list it by name.

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Millheim, Pa.: I'm having a problem with getting amplified sound from my speakers. Sound is faint and not affected by muting or raising/lowering volume. I've checked my connections, troubleshooting, even rolled back drivers. Can find no conflicts anywhere. Even substituted other speakers. The last thing I remember doing is burning a couple CDs (which turned out okay) and then a few days later just happened to notice I couldn't hear anything. It took a while to notice the problem because I don't keep the volume up when working at night. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. Hmm. Do headphones work alright? You're sure that the speakers are still plugged into a wall outlet that itself has not been switched off? Seems like you've already done all the right trouble-shooting steps that I'd try... this one's a real head-scratcher. Any suggestions?

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Alexandria, Va.: Last chat, I think, I was the guy who switched to Firefox because after installing MS Office XP, my IE had freaked out. Saw someone later give an easy fix for my problem.

Was having a problem with Outlook, had to start it in safe mode...what do you know, dang MESSenger starts up in my systray. This is my real problem with MS...ever time you upgrade, etc, they go and blow out all your settings. It's like browser hijacking or spam...only in this case, you've actually WANT what's being offered (up to a point).

I've disabled half of the MS "clone" programs (i. e., Messenger vs. AOL IM), yet it's like the Godfather III....they keep draggin me back in. I guess my point is, until more corps. figure out that we are CUSTOMERS, not MINIONS, it seems that we are destined to get second-rate products with second-rate service. I guess that's more of a rant than a point, but I feel better now.

Bob

Rob Pegoraro: Rants are welcome here anytime. And this one raises a useful point--who's the real customer of all the stuff we get on our computers? Quite often, it's not us. Many parts of Windows Media Player, for example, are designed for the benefit of record labels and movie studios, not individual users.

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Stouffville, Ont.: I currently use a HP officejet v40 'all-in-one' machine for faxing/printing/copying & scanning. It is a sheet fed machine and is somewhat limited in use. I am considering a flat bed scanner to scan photos and documents. Can you recommend a machine that incorporates good document storage software?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, because that's not something I've tried to do myself (my own scanning work at home is limited enough to be served well by a little HP combo printer-scanner). Any suggestions for Stouffville?

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Centreville, Va.: Is it possible that spam filtering rules on my Mail client could be shared by other Macs and my .Mac webmail?

Rob Pegoraro: It's possible, yes, and seems a fairly obvious thing to do as well. But Apple hasn't updated the software to provide that option.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Cleaning out the clutter: My Dell kept crashing from lack of memory, so I finally had to call tech support when AOL wouldn't run. I went back and forth between AOL and Dell, but the bottom line was Dell tech support had me uncheck everything on startup in msconfig and then read me the list of things to check. I made a written copy of it and keep it close at hand. The only thing I've added back is the firewall...It's working okay now!;

Rob Pegoraro: Can you share that list of "safe" apps? I think a lot of folks here would appreciate it.

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Vienna, Va.: Just a word of warning for those using IMAP. My wife was doing this in order to read her email at work and at home, just as you recommended. But recently, our provider had a catastrophic RAID failure that they could not recover from, so all that email saved on their server was lost! Most bigger providers should have ways of recovering from this, but ours did not (yes, we will be taking our accounts elsewhere). Luckily, I had set up the account to cache all the emails to our local hard drive, but this setting was not the default, so if I hadn't been careful, she really wound have lost everything...

Rob Pegoraro: That is a risk with IMAP. But I think the risk is far higher of individual users suffering data loss from computing malfunctions--most of the providers I talked to noted that they do backups every night, unlike nearly all home users (myself included).

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Pueblo, Colo.: For a Mac devotee using Netscape and Safari, is there any reason to not try Mozilla's Firefox?

Rob Pegoraro: No--it should certainly replace Netscape quite handily. The Firefox-vs.-Safari debate is harder to settle. I really wish the two apps would finish borrowing each other's features: Safari needs Ffox's more comprehensive integrated searching and find-as-you-type, while Firefox needs Safari's forms auto-fill option and "open links from external applications in new tabs" option.

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Falls Church DSL Woes follow-up: Tried Covad and Verizon. Neither offered it. Something about copper wires, Verizon said, I think. It's really pretty sad that of all the bragging they do, the landline companies don't have DSL available in every DC-area home. Is there really a difference in speed between DSL and cable, appreciably, anyway?

Rob Pegoraro: The problem would be if you *don't* have copper wires leading to your home, not if you do, but odds are whatever sales droids you talked to get their scripts scrambled.

Cable modem services are usually faster in absolute numbers--but it's not a difference you're likely to notice much, since either service is more than quick enough for any real-time stuff (i.e., Web browsing and audio or video streaming).

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MS Messenger always starts??? - Help: Running XP Pro, notice that MS Messenger is always starting up. I have checked my startup folder it is not there. I try to exit, it says something like "You have a program running that requires this to be open (IE/Outlook etc)" even though I DON'T HAVE THEM OPEN.

HELP! How can I disable this from starting up every morning?

Rob Pegoraro: Fire up Messenger, select Options off its Tools menu, and uncheck all the "run at startup" options.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob - I just took the plunge and got a Powerbook (a 15" with a superdrive). So far, so good! I haven't hooked up the airport basestation yet, but wonder about security. I understand it comes with a firewall so my files should be safe, but can my neighbors borrow bandwidth from me by connecting? I'm new at this... Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, if you leave the AirPort base station running in a wide-open mode, your neighbors could start borrowing your bandwidth. Your Internet use would also be simple for anybody to eavesdrop on. But turning on encryption to secure the connection demands about two clicks, and you should be automatically prompted to do this when you set up the base station.

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Homewood, Ill.: Alas, I won't be able to be at your session in real time...hope you post it.

I appreciate the good things that you say bout FireFox. All True.

But Opera has most of it, and a whole bunch of features that FireFox hasn't gotten to (yet?), such as

1. aliasing favorites

2. mouse gestures and mouse buttons for forward and back (no need to return to the top of the screen)

3. the ability to strip out fancy backgrounds and type so you can actually read that light type on dark background monstrosities that some web designer thought was "cool". (I'm old. Sometimes my eyes don't pick up fancy too well; there are lots of us.)

just to name three that I don't want to give up.

Yes...there are some sites that don't render properly with Opera...(just as they don't with Netscape...haven't tested mozilla) so I wouldn't toss away IE.

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, not a fan of Opera--not with that mess of an interface. I mean, four different "reload" commands?

(Note to all Opera fans: I know that 7.5 is supposed to clean up things. But until that version gets shipped, the browser still presents one of the worst UIs I've seen in a Web browser... with the possible exception of the one mentioned in the next posting.)

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You were right, I was wrong - DC: But only kinda right and kinda wrong!;

I posted last week about how great IE was and you blasted it, so I looked into the alternative browsers like Firefox.

I love tabbed browsing!; But Firefox renders things differently from IE, and let's face it, the web is optimized for IE. Plus Firefox can be needlessly complex and confusing.

So -- and I am NOT a paid spokesposter here -- I found a freeware tabbed browser that sits on top of IE, but adds many advanced browsing features that Mozilla has.

In other words, IE does the rendering, but this "skin" (called Avant Browser) does the rest. And though it's crashed a couple times since I've installed it, it's a heck of a lot less than IE and IT DOESN'T CRASH WINDOWS!;!;

It's still in beta, and it's not perfect, but the imperfections are superficial and infrequently encountered, and I think they're updated fairly regularly anyway.

(Channeling Scarlett O'Hara): With Gates as my witness, I'll never use IE again!;

Rob Pegoraro: Same problem: AvantBrowser (and CrazyBrowser and myIE 2) also suffer from developers who apparently couldn't say no to any option. Just look at the stacked toolbars in the screen shot that graces its home page (www.avantbrowser.com). Sorry, but editing is just as important in software development as it is for my own sorry prose.

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Washington, D.C.: Adding to your list, Starpower (erols, rcn et al) doesn't 'do' IMAP.

In re: Spam blocking, Starpower along with Verizon are doing a high-level 'spam blocking' that is really bad. I run a listserve for my kids' school here in DC (Lafayette, the one that had the fire last week), and almost all of those with Starpower and Verizon domain names are NOT getting their mail from our listserve. It's random, though, as some are getting it and others aren't. Tech support at both places hasn't been able to help, so we're sort-of stuck.

While I really do applaud ISP's attempts to stem the tide of spam, these apparent wide sweeping solutions don't necessarily work.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report. I'm also hearing of problems with occasional issues sending mail to/from AOL, for much the same reason. These false-positives appear to get fixed after a few days or maybe a week. If that sounds like your experience, please get in touch (rob at twp.com).

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Washington, D.C.: Resolution to My Mom's E-Mac failure.

The problem, as it happened, was not the well-publicized Rastar shift one, but rather one I was told by the service folks is just as common -- an intermittent or failed logic board. These service people have seen lots of these boards fail within 6 months of coming out of the box.

So all is well with 80 yr old Mom's e-Mac, although I still believe Apple's response was terrible. The service guys said that they get little information -from- Apple. They have to regularly go to a specially designated Apple website to see what's new.

Rob Pegoraro: This is an update to something posted two weeks ago. I'm glad to see that things finally got fixed--but annoyed to hear that it took so long. Replacing a logic board is almost a default repair in these kinds of situations, and it should have been done almost overnight.

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High Point, N.C.: There are some alternatives to downloading and using the Messenging Programs from Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft, which usually are much more friendly in how they want to start up etc.

My personal suggestion is Gaim: http://gaim.sourceforge.net but right now there are problems with yahoo's new authentication scheme, so it doesn't work great for that. it is under active development and has some very cool features that the other clients then picked up.

Rob Pegoraro: I've tried Gaim myself. To the issues that High Point noted, I'd add that it looks and feels like the Linux port that it is--the UI has a lot of rough edges and just looks ugly in general once you get past the first screen.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob,

I want to get a web page up - just something where I can post photos and interesting links. I have no idea where to start. Any recommendations for a novice?

Rob Pegoraro: Start with your ISP, which probably offers some Web space for free. Another option is using Yahoo, which definitely does.

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Washington, D.C.: I just got an Ipod and noticed that unless my computer is connected to the internet when I try to rip songs from a CD I don't get the song names and CD title. Isn't this information coded on the CD somewhere?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope--iTunes, just like other music programs, looks up this data automatically by matching the CD's pattern of track times to an online database. That's why mix CDs you've done yourself aren't recognized in this way.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Just a word about auto-fill. I'm not crazy about having the browser provide that service (may be the result of MS paranoia). For just a couple of bucks Robo-form gives me more autofill capability than I would ever need and, unless, they're REALLY tricky, leaves it all under my control.

Rob Pegoraro: Agreed. That's why I like how Safari handles it (which, in turn, is based on the feature Microsoft added to the Mac version of IE about 5 years ago, but which was never included in IE for Windows): Unless you click the auto-fill button, nothing gets pasted into forms for you.

Otherwise, when you start typing into fields with titles that match the auto-fill database (name, address, phone number, e-mail, etc.), Safari will offer to fill in that info, but you can override it by continuing to type something else.

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Speakers: This may seem too obvious but I have two volume controls -- the knob on the external speakers and then the control w/in the software. Maybe our friend above needs to check both of those.

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds obvious, but I can attest from personal experience that it's often the obvious stuff that explain these mysterious malfunctions.

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San Jose, Calif.: Thank you for your timely article on IMAP vs. POP. As a professional IT person I have a question about one line in your article:

Microsoft's Outlook and Qualcomm's Eudora suffer from strangely sloppy IMAP support.

Could you be more specific on how "sloppy" Outlook is with IMAP? I get a lot of questions from home users about personal email programs and would like to know kind of problems might crop up.

Rob Pegoraro: The principal form of sloppiness is that Outlook doesn't delete messages properly--they still appear in a message list, but in a strikethrough, grayed-out font. They don't disappear until you select "Purge Deleted Messages" from one of the menus.

Technically, this is an accurate portrayal of what happens on the server, but it suggests to the user that they haven't deleted things "right." The better way is to move the deleted messages to a Trash folder, where they don't get in the way but can still be inspected before you empty the trash.

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Deale, Md.: Rob, re:the reader whose credit card was rejected. I was having trouble also. But, I realized I was trying to scroll down to the next item on a form when in fact I was scrolling my "good through date" past the correct date. This made the card number no good. I hope the reader has something as easy as this to fix.

Rob Pegoraro: Me too.

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Comox, B.C. Canada: This may be a dumb question, but when using Google, what is the difference between using "Google Search" and "I'm feeling lucky"?

Thanks!; Marg

Rob Pegoraro: I was just in your neck of the woods last week (my trip wasn't all work, OK? :)... a regular Google search returns a list of sites that Google thinks matches your query. An "I'm feeling lucky" search takes you directly to the site that Google thinks is most relevant, without the wait to see a page of search results.

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Alexandria, Va. RE: Messenger Creep: Also, if you use Outlook 2000 or beyond as for email, then make sure you go to Tools > Options > Other and uncheck the MSN Messenger auto-start. I'm surprised that MS doesn't have it launch when you start the other MS Office apps as well.

Bob

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip as well. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Fire_whatever. Some secure sites (banks) I use have come back telling me I don't have the latest version of Netscape, and won't let me go forward.

Also, the pop-up blocker is hard to configure...is the site where the pop-up comes from or the URL of the pop-up itself?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, some financial institutions play that game, although I haven't come across that issue myself in my own almost IE-free browsing. Which ones are at fault in your case?

If you want to allow pop-ups from specific sites, all you need to do is provide the domain name of the site that launches the pop-ups, not the address of each pop-up.

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Alexandria, Va.: Our friend in Millheim, PA with speaker trouble trouble will want to make sure that all of his volumes (hardware and software)are at an appropriate level, and not just the master volume in windows. Double-clicking on the speaker icon in the icon tray will bring up volumes for Wave, Midi, CD, etc but the user should also be aware of any third party utilities that may be controlling volume.

Rob Pegoraro: I think Millheim has already done this, but in case he/she hasn't, here you are.

(BTW, I have to note how ridiculous it is that we need to look at this many control panels to adjust the volume. At least my stereo isn't this complicated... no, wait, it is :(

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Re: Stacked toolbars in Avant: Unpaid spokesposter again...

Yeah, I found the abundant toolbars a little daunting at first, but again, it's in beta, plus you can customize them out of existence.

Right now I've got a compact setup with only the features I use regularly. The rest I do with keystrokes or that great invention, mouse gestures. (It also helps that I have an IntelliMouse with those extra buttons. Really helps.)

Rob Pegoraro: Ooh, these are the two worst excuses in software development.

"It's in beta": Bzzt, wrong answer! A beta version is supposed to be feature-complete, which means you should have the interface finished by then--that way, the beta testers can focus on finding bugs instead of fixing features. Simplicity isn't something you can airbrush on in the last months of development; it has to start early on.

"You can customize...": Wrong again! Most users never touch the defaults. The default interface should be the one appropriate for all users; the geekier stuff can safely be left off, since the geekier users will know to look for it in the options/settings/preferences windows.

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Alexandria, Va.: After reading your article I loaded Mozilla Firefox and Sun Java on my computer. No problems. Working great.

However, about 3 days ago I've gotten a pop up on restart "JAVA VIRTUAL MACHINE LAUNCHER. Could not find main class. Prgram will exit."

Can you please tell me how to get rid of this box on start up.

I don't know what happened. I didn't delete anything. Nothing in Recycle Bin. My kids swear they didn't delete anything (take with a grain a salt on that).

I even tried uninstalling and reinstalling Sun Java. No difference.

Can you give me a clue as to what happened and how to get this off at start up.

thanks.

Dede

Rob Pegoraro: Until I got halfway down your message, I was going to say "reinstall the Sun software." Now I'm thinking you might want to reinstall Firefox itself (especially if the Sun Java machine works fine in IE... visit http://www.java.com/en/download/help/testvm.jsp to make sure it's running properly.)

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Washington, D.C.: re: Fire_whatever (earlier question).

The specific site was Wachovia Bank. If I remember correctly, the site was www.wachoviacreditcard.com

Rob Pegoraro: Took almost a minute to load here... the home page shows up fine, but I can't log in, not having a credit card at that bank. If I did and I had that same problem, I'd ask the Wachovia folks why their site is so far behind the competition; American Express's site, for example, works perfectly in non-IE browsers.

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Washington, D. C. : I am interested in more effective use of my Dell 8250. Lately it has seemed to slow down considerably. The OS is XP V5.1 Build 2600, SP1. Looking at the Windows Task Manager the System Idle Process shows considerably more CPU usage (40-60%) than the apparent unused CPU cycles (100%-CPU usage). CPU usage typically shows ~ 80%. Is there a known problem with the XP Task Manager causing me to worry about a non-problem, am I misinterpreting Task Manager, or should I be looking elsewhere?

I will be interested in trying the Firefox Browser and other third party s/w, but only when I have more confidence in my current configuration. Thanks for any feedback.

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure what might be the issue. System Idle Process on this Windows 2000 machine can easily run that high, but it does drop down when other apps are in use. How much memory do you have on your Dell? If you've got less than 512 megs, then you (as somebody who uses the computer intensively enough to know how to read the processes list in the Task Manager) don't have enough.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re Google "Feeling Lucky." For a good chuckle use this option for "weapons of mass destruction."

Rob Pegoraro: Or "miserable failure." It's a sort of sport called Google bombing--get enough people to use the same phrase to link to a page, and Google will associate that phrase with the page in question, even if it never appears in the page itself.

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Burlington: Rob, I recommend the HP PSC 2210 (probably succeeded by the 2410) to Stouffville. At $249 (if I recall correctly ... purchased last May), it does a reasonable job printing, scanning, copying, and faxing; the software has a Windows Explorer-like look/feel and does a reasonable job, although one could probably purchase something better.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks. How is it for document storage software? That was the primary concern up in Ontario, as I recall.

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Falls Church, Va: I still get a couple of those virus e mails a week....someone who has my address in their book is infected. I NEVER open attachments from folks I don't know, I delete anything the least bit fishy. I noted in yesterday's paper the article about e mail viruses said they can still do some dirty work after deleted (even if unopened)..is this correct? Should I empty my trashcan after each deleted suspicious e mail? I use Outlook Express. Thanks Rob. Tina

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, that's a good idea in general (to save disk space if nothing else).

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Bethesda, Md.: A new low. My Earthlink account is getting spam in Chinese.

Rob Pegoraro: That's nothing. I've been spammed in Chinese for years, along with various other Asian languages and (for some reason) Hebrew. This weekend, I got spammed in what I think was Finnish, for some reason.

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Poughkeepsie, NY: Rob: at your suggestion, I installed Firefox this weekend, and I really like it a lot. However, I find the Google search box on the upper right of the frame to be awfully small. Do you know of any way to adjust its size? I've tried everything and looked through all the Help screens and online FAQs and can't find anything.....

Rob Pegoraro: I'm pretty sure that's fixed, although there's probably an extension you can download to adjust it: http://texturizer.net/firefox/extensions/

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob -- I'd like to try out the Post's new RSS feeds, but I'm having a hard time sifting through the readers. After reading reviews at CNET and such, it looks like the all of the readers for Windows have some pretty unattractive features/requirements (e.g., require .NET, are add-ons to IE, are hard to setup). Have you found a nice, free RSS client, or even a not-so-free client that's worth the registration fee?

washingtonpost.com: Read the Post's recent review of RSS readers, and check out washingtonpost.com's RSS feeds page.

Rob Pegoraro: I agree; I went through a lot of different RSS clients before settling on SharpReader myself. I decided that the .Net framework requirement was acceptable, that it ran fast enough on my computers, and that once I copied its folder over the C:\Program Files\, I wouldn't have to think about its lack of an installer.

Still, it's missing a few features that I appreciate all the time in NetNewsWire Lite on the Mac, like being able to see its list of current headlines by clicking on its Dock icon, then mark them all as read from that same icon.

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Alexandria, Va.: As an iPod user who will one day need to go through the whole battery-replacement process, I'm hoping you will review the several services. How quick is the turnaround? Does the iPod lose all its data during the process? Any technical hazards to worry about? Etc. many thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think I can answer most of the questions right here... namely, since all the data is stored on a hard drive, not flash memory, you shouldn't lose any of it (although syncing it up before sending it out for any service is just a good idea, period) and that there are no technical hazards unique to a battery replacement (as in, the tech doing the service could drop a soldering iron by mistake, but that could happen anytime you've got the case cracked open).

I'm not sure there would be much to review--or much to review unless we did this a *lot* of times.

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Alexandria, Va.: Strange things going on here. I recently sent in for a rebate from PNY and it came back addressed to my father. My sister took her business to Lens Crafters for the first time and I (who has never been to Lens Crafter) receive an email thanking her (by name) for her loyal business in my inbox. Is this evidence of a massive automated databasing effort by corporate America gone awry? Should I be alarmed? How can I find out more about how corporations gather this information and protecting my privacy?

Rob Pegoraro: Good question, Jim Owens of 1201 Wilkes St.

Sorry, couldn't resist that :) There are a lot of interesting databases to match people against, and that's probably what's going on here. All you need is the right kind of magic number, like a credit card, to tie different databases together. I'd recommend visiting sites like epic.org--that is, the Electronic Privacy Information Center--to read up on this.

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Arlington, Va.: People keep talking about "backing up" your files and I know the reason. What I don't know is: which files do you back up? Specifically which extensions do you need to protect? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I find it's easier to think in terms of file locations, not extensions. Assuming you actually do save all your work to My Documents or a sub-folder of that--which you should do, or you'll never be able to find the things again--you can safely concentrate on backing up that folder, along with your browser bookmarks (it's simplest to use your browser's "export" command to dump a copy of them into My Documents).

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McLean, Va. : You rhapsodize about Firebird--What are the downside impacts of installing version .8 and then uninstalling it? I might like to try it out, but I would hesitate to derange my computer configuration if this beta release will not do a graceful uninstall.

Rob Pegoraro: None that I'm aware of, and I've tried this with earlier, rougher versions. Firefox doesn't have any complicated hooks into the system, as IE does, so it's simple to install and uninstall (you'll notice, for instance, that there's no restart required).

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

I just bought a new computer (used quite a few of your columns to help customize it). Old computer is a Windows 98 2nd ed, with Outlook Express. New computer is XP Home - don't know what email program it comes with but I'm guessing Outlook Express (both are Dell if it matters).

Is there any way (easy or hard) to take the emails off my old computer and migrate them over to the new one? The last time I tried this(just saving the folders and loading them on the new one) it was an utter failure, but I had no idea what I was doing. Am I (hopefully) missing the obvious answer?

Thanks for your help!

Rob Pegoraro: If you're not sure what mail program you're using, then it almost always is Outlook Express, the default in Windows. Use the File menu's export command to copy out your mailboxes and other settings, move those exported files to the new computer, then use OE's import command (also in the File menu) to pull in the exported data.

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Capitol Heights, Md.: Having use Firefox .8 since it's changeover from Firebird, I love using the browser save one area...plugins. I find some of the plugins work flawlessly, but others don't work at all. To your knowledge, is development ongoing re: this issue. Thank you-

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, absolutely. You might want to visit the Firefox Bugs forum at http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewforum.php?f=9 to see if anybody's having the same plug-in issues as you, and if there are any solutions to them.

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Atlanta, re: Tabbed Browsing: Another way to Tab-browse is to hold down the Ctrl key and click on everything you want to load in the background. I did this for a long time at the wp.com comics page. Then I found out that once you have the tabs open, you can hit "add to bookmarks" and put every open link into a folder. Now I can just go to my bookmark folder, hit "open in tabs", and all of my favorite comics load in one window. It's the coolest browser development in YEARS.

Rob Pegoraro: One more rave for tabbed browsing. And with that, I'm about ready to sign off...

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Rob Pegoraro: Here's a question sent in by e-mail:

==================================

What's your take - your opinion - on the growing number of 'software networking' web sites (Friendster, Ryze, etc) ...

a fad!? a legitimate device to bring the online community together!? ... gradual consolidation into a wee handful (instead of the dozens) !?

Would it be a worthy experiment for these networks to create a generic identity schema for a one-registration fits all cartel!? I'm sick of managing multiple profiles! :-)

=================================

My answer: It all looks like the same kind of fads that swept the Web in '99. Once again, we have a lot of different sites, all essentially offering the same thing. Once again, I find myself puzzled by the "you gotta try this" e-mails I get from people on one site or another. Gimme a break! I am extremely skeptical that all the general-purpose sites will be around for another year.

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Alexandria, Va. (not Jim Owens): Hey, that's pretty good -- we do have a Wilkes St., but I don't think it goes to 1200.

Rob Pegoraro: I know; friends of mine live on it! And it does indeed go to 1201... but I digress. Thanks to everybody for sending in enough good questions to keep me here (once again!) half an hour longer than I'd planned. I'll see y'all here again in a couple of weeks.

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