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Personal Tech - Windows Media Player

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, September 13, 2004; 2:00 PM

Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to discuss his latest review of Windows Media Player 10 and answer your personal tech questions. A transcript follows.

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.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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Rob Pegoraro: Hello! I'm back from vacation, tanned (no, really), rested and ready... today's chat looks like it's going to be a grab-bag of questions. I'll start by throwing one out for you all to answer: If you could watch videos--movies, saved TV shows, downloaded clips--on a portable device, when and where would you do so?

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Los Angeles: How can I make Windows Media player the default player for viewing anything on the net?

Rob Pegoraro: You can't--WMP 10 can't play any audio or video in the Real formats, it can't play QuickTime files and it can't play AAC downloads from Apple's iTunes store. It can play most of the other files out there; click on the tiny black triangle in the upper-right corner and, from the Tools menu, select the Options sub-menu.

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Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Rob,

Which notebook would you recommend:

Sony Vaio S170

13.3" TFT w/EXBRITE technology & ATI Radeon 9700 Graphic Chipset;

Pentium M Processor 735 1.7GHz 2MB L2 Cache, 400 MHz;

Wireless LAN w/Bluetooth;

512 MB DDR-SDRAM;

80 GB Hard Drive

DVD-RW drive

or

Apple PowerBook G4

15.2" TFT Screen;

1.5 GHz Super Drive w/51K L2 cache

512MB DDR333 SDRAM

80 GB Hard Drive

FireWire 400 & 800

AirPort Extreme built-in

Rob Pegoraro: If I've priced things out correctly, the Sony laptop will be a $200 or so cheaper. But the smaller screen will be a big factor in daily use, especially if this is going to be your only computer. OTOH, the Sony laptop is lighter. Setting aside the Mac-versus-Windows operating-system query--I know, that's not a realistic option for most people--the Sony's a better pick as a second laptop, but the Apple is better as a primary computer. (Then again, if you need a second computer, the 12-in. PowerBook would be the machine to consider, not the 15-inch... but this question has gone on long enough already :)

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Boston: Greetings and thanks as always for your chats and info. Can you tell me if you're hearing from anyone who has had problems after installing Media Player 10? I was completely stable after installing SP2, but my hard drive became completely corrupted (i.e. my lovely notebook is off getting a new hard drive) within a few days of the MP 10 installation. I don't want to fault it since I don't know that it's due to that, but my partner's computer has also been recently unstable, but, using "System Restore" to return to a pre-MP10 status, is fine now. Any other tales of woe?

Rob Pegoraro: Looks like there's a few in my e-mail--that's judging by subject headers alone; I haven't had time to read all 300 or so non-spam messages yet! If that is the case, I'm not surprised. WMP 10 is a fairly major system update, and problems can happen with changes of this magnitude in Windows or in any other operating system.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob:

We recently purchased an HP PC as a third computer for our home. This is the first Wintel machine that I have personally owned having been a Mac user for 20+ years. The system came with Windows XP Home along with a lot of "useful utilities", but the system generally runs like a dog.

We have Cox high-speed which works like a dream with our OS X systems, but this PC often seems to limp along (we are using a Netgear WiFi card). The biggest problem seems to be that IE will just hang, but that other thing that I notice is that shutting down or restarting the system is tedious. In particular, there are several programs that seem to hang and you get one of those dialog boxes that say something like "application X is not responding. End Now?" A chronic application is the printer driver for my HP PSC 2510 all-in-one.

I have installed Ad Aware Plus (not the free version) and run it seemingly daily. I also have Zone Alarm running which seems to catch all of stuff, but I really have no idea how to troubleshoot this.

It does not help that it is hard to explain to my teenagers why they should deny access to the computer when Zone Alarm pops up.

Rob Pegoraro: If your HP's drivers are like the ones for my PSC1350, I know what you mean--that software was like a virus! Kept on asking me to reload some component, after taking 15 minutes or more to install. I eventually decided that maybe I didn't need to print from the laptop...

How much memory is in that HP?

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New York: I am constructing a new house and I've designed a media room for all my audio and video desires. But when the discussion regarding plasma TV's arose, I was told that it would be cheaper and easier to wire for the TV if I decided on the brand name beforehand. The reason is that each Plasma brand has its own cabling requirements (e.g., the Pioneer Elite requires a Pioneer plug and its not compatible with any other Plasma TV). I haven't seen anything written ion this topic so I'd like to hear your opinion.

Rob Pegoraro: First, the cables you're talking about--if I've understood the query correctly--are only for short connections between a TV and a receiver. They're not going to work stretched across an entire house anyway.

Second, every new TV that I've heard of these days uses standard connections--DVI, HDMI, component video, VGA and in most cases a combination of some of those.

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Boyce, Virginia: More on HDTV. Before I invest several thousand dollars in the hope of viewing digital TV, is there any way I can get some confidence that the signal will reach me? I live in the mountains of western Virginia, no cable, no satellite, just VHF and UHF antennae. I get WVPT public TV (UHF) very good (Front Royal Repeater). I get the Washington VHF channels very good, and WETA ch26 moderately good.

Randy

washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Decoding Digital Television

Rob Pegoraro: Based on our own research, I would think your odds are very good. You will probably need a rooftop antenna, but it sounds like you already own one. (Most HD signals ride on UHF frequencies, so it's a promising sign that you can get that PBS signal so well over UHF)

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Rockville, Md.: Rob,

I was wondering if you have any experience with problems with Weatherbug and AOL IM? When installing the upgrade to IM, Weatherbug was also installed. After the installation, every pop up window possible appeared. Running Ad-Aware showed some spyware was installed. I believe the spyware arrived with Weatherbug.

Rob Pegoraro: Weatherbug isn't spyware--my own reviewer did an AdAware scan when she tried out the latest version, and it passed the tests--but AIM itself will put a fair amount of ads on the screen. What sort of specific symptoms is AdAware citing?

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Monterey, Calif.: I have what I think are at least four internet security, spyware, adware, ad blocker programs of various sorts running on my computer: Norton Internet Security (firewall, antivirus),Google Toolbar (w ad blocker),Webroot Spy Sweeper, Whatever Came with the latest Microsoft service pack (firewall? Ad blocker). Plus, my ISP offers its own firewall protection.

Besides Norton, none of these programs offer much advice about how to optimize their interaction. I suspect that I could get by with much less (although amazingly, I still get ads popping up from time to time). My main questions are:

Will running this many programs screw things up?

Do others run multiple security programs do..is there some advantage?

What would you do?

Rob Pegoraro: Running that many programs will suck up some processor cycles and memory, and if things go wrong, you'll have a harder time figuring out what's causing it.

You should pick one firewall and stick with that while turning the other one off. SP2 includes pop-up blocking, so you don't need that part of the Google toolbar.

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Alexandria, Va.: Rob, in your excellent HDTV collection you advised people to plan to rely on "component analog" inputs to HDTV displays. But BECAUSE this interface is presently immune to copy protection, unfortunately it is the one most threatened by any future decision by the FCC or other decision-makers to allow "Selectable Output Control" or "downrez'ng" that would either turn off or degrade the corresponding outputs from set-top boxes or new media players. Home recording remains vital, but displays have to be able to display the services you've bought. Unfortunately, the best protection against having your VIEWING expectations cut off is an HDTV display with a digital input. If and when "SOC" or "downrez" happen to the analog interface for some programming, the digital interfaces are much less likely to be affected because the content people and the FCC consider them to be "protected" with respect to recording and Internet retransmission. SOC and downrez would be hugely unfair to anyone who has already bought a display with only analog inputs -- but proposals for them are still pending at the FCC.

Bob

Rob Pegoraro: Ah, but the FCC has already ruled out those two odious measures for use with over-the-air TV. That might still be possible with satellite and cable (although the FCC doesn't appear terribly keen on the idea). My basic sense is that consumers should do *nothing* to make it easier for these control freaks to lock up our TVs. If there are enough TVs out there with only analog inputs--which is arguably the case already, as digital inputs only started to become a standard part relatively recently--then it would be economic suicide for cable and satellite companies to make customers buy brand-new TVs to see the quality they're paying for.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm going to buy a budget desktop (~700$) soon. Does it make sense to wait until the Christmas shopping season, hoping the big boys (Dell, etc) will lower prices/increase performance for the rush, or should I just buy now?

Rob Pegoraro: Go ahead and buy now if you want. Computer prices fell off a cliff a few years ago and really can't drop much more.

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Leesburg, Va.: Has anyone else made note of the discrepancy between your frequent discussions of spam and pop-up prevention and the Post's requirement that one must allow "cookies" to be accepted by their computer in order to register at the Post's website?

Rob Pegoraro: A few have, but they're wrong. There is nothing wrong with accepting cookies from a site you're visiting, unless you belong to the tinfoil-hat crowd--cookies have been a standard way for Web sites to do business since the mid 1990s and are incapable of doing anything to your computer.

If you're worried about privacy, you can easily disable third-party cookies--the ones set by ad networks, which can track your visits across multiple sites. The Post's site does use these, but you can set your browser to refuse them without any side effects. Both my home and work browsers haven't accepted third-party cookies in, oh, about a year, and I've yet to have a problem at this site.

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Washington, D.C.: My aunt is using an old Pentium II computer with Win 98 and Windows Media Player 7. I have been hesitant to upgrade WMP on her computer, because her musical needs are relatively simple, and I worried that the upgraded versions would be too taxing on her system. Am I being too cautious? Should I upgrade her?

Rob Pegoraro: No. She's already using the latest version available for Win 98--there was no WMP 8, and WMP 9 requires 98 SE or newer:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/download/default.asp?displang=en

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Arlington, Va.: Back to TVs, or TV-like devices. I'm always impressed by the clarity and SIZE of the pictures I see from computer/video projectors. While I know they're not HD, I'm more impressed by a huge wall-sized picture, with very good resolution, than a small picture with higher resolution. Do you think projectors can be competitive with TVs?

Rob Pegoraro: Some readers definitely think so. But the answer ultimately depends on your own home; if you don't have a big expanse of open wall, or room to hang up a sheet of some sort to project upon--and if you have the sun streaming in full time--a projector just won't work, or won't work well. The technology strikes me as a better fit in a dedicated media room, where you'd already have a lot of wall space cleared for a big-screen TV.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for your e-mail newsletter. I find it very informative as an update to your Sunday column. I have two questions for you: What do you think of the new Blackberry 7100t? And, have you heard anything about the new Treo 650/Ace that is supposed to come out in November? I'm also curious as to what provider will carry it first.

Rob Pegoraro: The new Blackberry, which I saw before heading out on my vacation, is quite intriguing--look for my review in the next few weeks. The new Treo is less of an advance, but that's mainly because the 600 already did the important things so well. No idea which carriers will have it first, but I have a hunch Verizon won't be one of them :(

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Jupiter, Fla.: Hi Rob,

Really enjoy and look forward to your articles and live chats.

I have 2 questions one on Media 10 and one on LCD display for HDTV and as a Monitor for my computer.

Will Med.10 Play,rip,burn DVD movies with hi quality? Does it contain restrictions ? If so what are they?

Do you do any reviews of specific products? If so would you review DU-42LZ30 42" LCD TV - Integrated HDTV and PC Monitor located at http://us.lge.com/Product/prodlist.do?action=tv&categoryId=0102

TIA ,

Shatzell

Rob Pegoraro: WMP 10 only plays DVDs.

Not familiar with that LG HD set; since the LG site won't display a price (in addition to employing some Mozilla-hostile JavaScript), I can't say if it's a good deal or not.

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Hampton, S.C.: Not to belabor the discussion further on Media Players, but WMP 10 doesn't make it either. Though I know it's not your favorite, I use Musicmatch (Plus). It covers everything I need EXCEPT transferring songs to my iRiver player. I downloaded WMP 10 after reading the review. Well, the library is still kinda clunky, the playlist manager is not as friendly as MM, and unfortunately, the transfer (sync) to the iRiver is painfully slow. Apparently, it wants to convert everything to .wma before downloading. I'll just use the iRiver manager for that task, which leaves me, AGAIN, cold on WMP. For now, I'll go with the much-maligned, but reliable, MusicMatch. Opinion?

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: Microsoft's Media Player 10 Sings a New Tune

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, but I just don't like Musicmatch. The incessant nags to upgrade to the Pro version turn me off, the interface is still way too cluttered and the Musicmatch online store is an afterthought.

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Washington, D.C.: Staples had the SP2 CD ROM at the cash register, so I took one.

The disk said I had to have my XP CDs available to perform the update, yet my two machines (E-machine and HP, respectively) came with the system pre-loaded and NO disks.

What do I do now?

Rob Pegoraro: Just run the update--I've yet to see SP2 ask for the original CD. It won't install on pirated copies, but you're in the clear with that. (Don't forget to back up your data before you take the plunge.)

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washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward E-letter Archive | Sign Up Now

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Arlington, Va.: Please help. Which is the best hard-drive MP3 player to buy? I hear the iPod battery expires in 18 months. Do any of the other options last longer? Is the Dell Jukebox as easy to use as the iPod? What is the best bang for your buck?

Rob Pegoraro: No, the iPod battery does not expire in 18 months. That number is an urban legend. A few iPod users have seen their units' batteries stop taking a recharge early, but the normal timeframe for that to happen is more like three years, possibly longer. (This isn't unique to the iPod; all rechargeable batteries have an inherent lifespan.) Replacing an iPod's battery isn't cheap--costs $100 or so from Apple, less from third-party vendors--but it's not impossible either. This factor alone shouldn't determine your purchase.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob,

Is there any kind of program to download to check for spyware on Macs?

Rob Pegoraro: The only one we've tried out was a program called Internet Cleanup, which my reviewer did not like at all.

There's also the slight issue that nobody's found any spyware that infests Macs in the first place.

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Georgetown: You asked: If you could watch videos--movies, saved TV shows, downloaded clips--on a portable device, when and where would you do so?

I'd probably watch while travelling or on vacation. The main thing I'd like to be able to do is to watch TV episodes that I missed, such as the Sat. night Big Brother ep that got bumped by the US Open.

Meanwhile, I've got an iTunes database that is approaching 40gigs. I've spent countless hours organizing the thing and am terrified that if my hard drive were to conk out, I'd lose everything.

What advice do you have for creating a backup of the entire database (i.e. I don't want to burn a stack of discs b/c that wouldn't preserve my playlists, and b/c I already have everything on the original CD's.)

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the input re: watching video on the road.

For a music library that large, your only options are some sort of external hard drive--either a standard FireWire or USB 2.0 external, or a cartridge-based system like the Iomega Rev drive we tried out recently.

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Atlanta: My work-issued laptop runs Windows-2000. Your review of Microsoft's MediaPlayer 10, which only runs under XP, makes it sound like the windows version of Apple's iTunes music jukebox is a must-download. Is it?

(Sorry for being behind the times, but I spent the last few months moving here from DC.)

Rob Pegoraro: No, it's not a must-download. It's more of a must-release: Microsoft's older WMP was so far behind the times and the competition, the company had to ship this update. But that doesn't mean everybody should switch to it. As I wrote, WMP 10 still falls short of iTunes in its utility and elegance--not to mention its compatibility, since it only runs on XP.

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Silver Spring, Md.: With digital convergence, what is likely to happen to all these media players and various media formats. How can the user protect from continuous obsolescence? How can the user preserve their investment in digital media? Why do media, hardware and software vendors expect users to pay again and again for essentially the same products and services? Why doesn't the concept of reasonable personal use extend to the ability to transfer media easily from one format to another?

Rob Pegoraro: Those are all excellent questions.

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Washington, D.C.: I have questions that I hope you can answer. Several months ago, switched from AOL to Earthlink. Acct is for 2 users--me and college student daughter. During the transfer, she transferred her AOL emails to Earthlink and didn't realize she had to also transfer her instant message contacts. Our access to Earthlink is next to impossible now because of viruses, adware and spyware despite Earthlink's highest security levels. Someone is attempting to fix it but have no idea when problems will be fixed. Suspended Earthlink acct 2 wks ago and considering canceling it. Daughter VERY MUCH wants to retrieve AOL IM acct info. If she gets her own AOL acct, can she transfer her Earthlink emails to her new AOL acct? Will she be able to access her previous AOL IM acct info in her new acct? Thanks for your assistance.

Rob Pegoraro: AOL buddy lists are stored on AOL's servers--she could retrieve hers just by logging into her AIM account from a copy of AIM on any computer. (You don't even need to run AIM; any third-party AOL-compatible client, such as iChat, Trillian or Gaim, will also fetch this info for you.)

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HD Antenna question: When I moved into my townhouse in Alexandria last year, the owner had installed an antenna on the roof that he used for HD reception of the local stations. Its pretty much a normal looking old-style tv antenna, but appears to not be a directional antenna. Is this possible? While I have not tested it out yet, I always thought these antennas needed to be pointed in a certain direction, but the way this one is shaped, it just looks like a standard antenna. Anyway, he said it works great so I have no reason not to believe him, just wondering if this was the case. Also with an antenna like this, if I plug the coax into the back of my tv, should I be able to receive normal analog OTA channels? Just wondering for the once or twice a year we cant get Directv reception if this is an option.

Rob Pegoraro: As we found, omnidirectional "analog" TV antennas can pull in an HD signal too, although they--like built-for-digital aerials--do require some pointing back and forth until you establish that you can pull in all the stations you want.

If your antenna really is an older model, it should be able to get VHF as well as UHF. Unfortunately, you can't really tell that by looking at it--well, *I* can't! Is there a user manual handy? How much rust is on the thing?

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Herndon, Va.: Rob,

I'm considering buying an HDTV monitor, and I have 2 questions:

1. Is it a bad idea to buy a 4:3 aspect ratio TV now that so many of the new models are 16:9? My existing TV cabinet is designed for 4:3 aspect ratio TVs up to 36", and I'd like to keep this piece of furniture if possible.

2. I get all my programming OTA. Can I expect better reception with an HDTV tuner using the same attic-mounted antenna? In other words, all other things being equal, if my analog reception from station X is flaky, is my digital reception from the same station going to be better?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: 1) In the long run, TV is going to be mostly 16:9. Over the next few years, you'll find that most shows will still be aired in 4:3--but if you're like every other HD owner I've talked to, you probably won't be watching too many SD, 4:3 shows once you get used to HD. (One other thing: 4:3 HDTVs are really hard to find, esp. at sizes over 20 inches.)

2) That just might be the case. Herndon might be just far enough that you'd need a rooftop antenna... but if you already own one now, I'd think you'd be OK.

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Arlington, Va.: I went through all the steps to turn off Windows Messenger in our new PC with XP, but now as soon as I boot up, a WM dialogue box fills the screen. It reads "Windows Messenger. Click here to sign in." My anti-popup software has not blocked it. How can I keep the dialogue box from appearing every time I start the PC?

Rob Pegoraro: Click the MSN Messenger option in the system tray--the box at the right end of the taskbar--select the Tools menu and click on Options. Click the General tab and uncheck all the "connect automatically" options.

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Harlem, N.Y.: As a dual Mac & PC user, I have been an avid iTunes user since its inception. When the PC version became available I immediately installed it on my HP. Having recently read your review of Windows Media Player 10, I decided to give it a spin. Not bad. However, it appears Microsoft's rumored ill-behavior of disabling competitor's programs is true. My iTunes now will no longer recognize CD's that I install into my optical drive. In fact, it appears my ability to look at the actual contents of the CD has been disabled to. Is this commonplace with Windows installations from Microsoft?

Rob Pegoraro: Didn't happen in my tests, but--with Windows, anything's possible. Try reinstalling iTunes; it should offer to "reclaim" all the file types it handles.

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Bethesda, Md.: Love my digital camera, but I'm missing all the great "action" shots of my kids. Are there any non-SLR digital cameras that have a fast enough autofocus to capture action shots?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--the Kyocera Finecam models we tried out earlier this summer: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7341-2004Jun26.html

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Rockville, Md.: Rob,

In answer to the question about Weatherbug and IM, the installation of weatherbug requires one to list a sponsor. If one does not list a sponsor to receive pop-ups, then various pop-ups will appear. When running Ad-Aware before installing the IM upgrade, the PC was clean. When running Ad-Aware 1 hour after the upgrade, and having closed many pop-ups, Powerscan Malware and VX2 RegValue and Files were installed. I attribute these being installed due to the Weatherbug being added with AOL IM. Note that Ad-aware did not say Weatherbug was spyware. I believe the installation of IM with Weatherbug caused the pop-ups which were not closed properly and installed the spyware.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. Those files definitely sound like spyware. That's odd. I'll ask my reviewer if she had this problem. You should not leave out the possibility that you got those files through some other means--did you hit any Web sites on your own after installing Weatherbug that looked sketchy?

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Rockville, Md.: Rob....I'm in the market for a used laptop, and I"m trying to figure out my minimum system requirements.

I will want to install Microsoft Office - primarily for Word, and to also use it as part of my home wireless network/DSL connection to the web.

Can I get by with 128mb RAM? and no more than 266mhz?

Right now I have a very old Packard Bell desktop with only 32mb RAM - I'm not sure of the speed, but would guess its significantly slower than 266mhz.

washingtonpost.com: 2004 Laptop Guide

Rob Pegoraro: No, and no. You need at least 256 megs to get anywhere in Office, and any laptop with only a 266-Mhz processor... well, a machine that old would be on the verge of having a lot of other things break. Sort of like my wife's Dodge (sorry, honey :)

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Alexandria, Va.: One more round re SOC and downrez: (1) The FCC has not ruled on SOC and downrez re "Plug & Play" Encoding Rules (you referred to different measures re Broadcast Flag); (2) There are services and new media players not bound by FCC Encoding Rules, so not subject to FCC decisions, that might not send content to the HDTV analog outputs; (3) Both SOC - downrez and the shooting of hostages are terrible and unfair, but I wouldn't advise anyone to become a hostage if they don't have to.

Bob

Rob Pegoraro: What I want is for consumers to make content providers *their* hostages. Without us, they have no business model at all.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

I have a question regarding upgrading Windows XP with SP2. Will this cause problems with wireless routers? I have run spyware programs to make sure the PC has no spyware, and deleted any spyware that existed on the PC. After installing SP2, should I disable the firewall included with SP2, as the router already has a firewall?

washingtonpost.com: A Closer Look: SP2 Fights Worms, Has Bugs

Rob Pegoraro: You shouldn't have any issues with wireless routers--if anything, SP2 makes WiFi a lot easier, on account of having a much cleaner WiFi interface.

Keep a firewall running on the PC unless you are positive that it will never leave the house, and that no other computer will ever join your home network.

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Reno, Nev.: What is the absolute current definition of a legal vs illegal music download off the net?

Delineate the difference between a legal/illegal DOWNLOAD vs SHARING. thanks

Rob Pegoraro: IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer), but a legal download is one where the copyright owner--not necessarily the artist--says it's OK for you to download. That can include free as well as paid downloads, and it doesn't have to be restricted to downloads from record-label sites either; if a musician wants to let a sample of her work float across file-sharing networks as a form of advertising, you'd be in the clear to do so. (Though that's not the case with most of what's out there.)

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Re: Watching video: I would watch Simpsons reruns or something short like that on my commute on Metro, if the player were portable enough. Not sure I'd open up a laptop for that purpose. If I were still commuting by MARC up to Baltimore, I would watch movies and other longer videos, too.

Rob Pegoraro: My thoughts are along those lines as well--you need to be sitting for at least 22 minutes, which rules out anybody who drives and a lot of people who take the train.

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Southern Maryland: Rob,

John Gilroy's two most recent columns mentioned Internet Explorer's vulnerability to hijacking spyware. Isn't that vulnerability inherent in IE's design rather than, say, flaws in the coding? IE has a lot of interfunctionality with Windows and Outlook, because Microsoft believes the Web should be seamlessly integrated into the computing experience. I think that goal is misguided, because the Web is a dangerous neighborhood. Whenever I download Microsoft's endless series of security patches, I feel like I'm using duct tape to fix a broken window.

washingtonpost.com: Ask the Computer Guy Archive

Rob Pegoraro: I agree with your conclusion, and wrote as much last summer (my "Microsoft Windows: Insecure by Design" column).

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Chicago: Why is it that hardware firewalls don't require any user input the way software firewalls, such as Zone Alarm do? For instance, Zone Alarm requires permission for any program that wants to access the internet, and on a few occasions, I've had to open ports on my Mac firewall. On the other hand, I've never done anything with the router/firewall.

Rob Pegoraro: ZoneAlarm and programs like it do more than a hardware firewall can--they double as intrusion detection software, monitoring what the software on your PC does. A hardware firewall (and many basic software ones) simply restricts what ports on your computer are open to the Internet without regulating what programs might use those ports.

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Seattle: Hello,

I have Windows XP with the new WMP 10. I was unable to get it to "sync" music from the playlist I set up for my Philips-Nike 128bit MP3 player. I ended up using Musicmatch instead. I kept getting an error message from the WMP 10 that it has aborted. Will WMP 10 work with this unit?

Rob Pegoraro: Microsoft says WMP 10's sync feature will work with any MP3 player that presents itself to the computer as a "USB mass storage device"--that's a description most new and not-so-new MP3 players should meet. Your Philips player might not... but if it doesn't, then WMP 10 shouldn't even be offering to start the sync.

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Washington, D.C.: I just got a new dell laptop (Inspiron 600m) and at the urging of my tech-y boyfriend juiced up the processor speed and RAM a bit. However, I got windows XP home instead of pro, against his advice (the price was just getting too high). Was that a really bad move? and if at a later date I want to change to OS is that possible? Thanks-

Rob Pegoraro: No, it wasn't. The only reason I can think of to recommend XP Pro is if you need to log into an office network, either directly or over a Virtual Private Networking connection.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob,

I am in a quandary:

I have about 200 CDs, currently in storage in a Sony jukebox. The jukebox is attached to my home theater, which is a room which doesn't make much sense as far as sitting around listening to music. The jukebox also wouldn't "fit in" in any other room in the house. It's also not practical for

So, how are people organizing their collections these days? Ripping everything into iTunes or WMP10, then burning CDRs or a portable player to go? Keeping the CDs for backup? How big a hard drive is needed to make it practical? Are there stereo components that are just a hard drive?

In a nutshell -- in your esteemed opinion, what is the best way for the average music lover to store and listen to their collection?

Rob Pegoraro: I think the CD jukebox is well on its way to extinction--it's no good in a world of $100-$300 MP3 players that hold more CDs' worth of songs than any changer ever made. OTOH, plugging an MP3 player into your stereo is less than practical if you ever want to change songs or skip to a different album from the couch. That's where media-receiver boxes like the Squeezebox, AirPort Express and Roku SoundBridge come in.

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Chicago: I bought the salesman's recommended DVD Jukebox yesterday. They offered two 400 disk Sony's: DVP-CX985V ($400) and DVP-CX777ES ($800). We need it for our whole house music system and our three 36" TVs.

I bought the expensive one because the salesman had personally heard sound quality differences (that he was not set up to demo). I am very concerned about sound quality. Since I don't have projection TV, I was not concerned about a video quality difference.

Did I make a mistake?

Thanks,

Terry

Rob Pegoraro: Well... that's a sensitive issue, isn't it? Personally, I would not buy Sony's ES line--the extra quality that gives you, whatever it may be, is out of proportion to the extra cost you incur. (Let's bear in mind that Sony's regular line isn't the cheapest either!).

The fact that the salesman couldn't demonstrate this better sound quality also makes me suspicious. Do you need $1,000 speakers to hear it? How much of a receiver? (Those two other pieces of hardware, incidentally, will make much more of a difference than the DVD changer itself.)

So I'd take that DVD changer back and get the cheaper one--especially if your receiver is in the sub-$400 range itself.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Greetings Rob,

I realize you may not have time for this question, but I've come to trust your judgment in areas with which I'm unfamiliar, and, as you'll see, my concern is potentially my lack of familiarity with current trends in several personal technology areas -- so here goes.

We're moving a short distance in Maryland. Of course that means all the hassles attendant with moving, but it also means a chance to rectify problems in the current household "infrastructure." Regarding computing and entertainment, here's the layout.

We've been fortunate in being in the Starpower service area both before and after the move. I've been very satisfied with Starpower for Cable TV, cable Internet, and telephone, but I am of course concerned about the company's staying power. Any thoughts on whether I'll one day be forced to make changes on an emergency basis that I could now make with some planning and forethought?

Although at one time I would have been first on line for TIVO-like devices, I haven't taken that step yet. Do any of the cable or satellite TV providers offer a compelling advantage in that type of service now, or can I continue to drag my feet in that regard?

I've become a late-blooming aficionado of digital audio. Being somewhat housebound, I have no need for a portable player, but I like being able to listen to music via RealRhapsody and to manipulate playlists of my own CD music digitally. I haven't yet made any firm connections between my computing network and either my main stereo system or my TV/cable system. Am I missing something big by not being more aware of what I _could_ be doing?

I run a small computing network at home. Nothing fancy. A few XP-based PCs for me, a couple of Macs for my wife's more graphics-aware requirements, some HP printers and all-in ones, the aforementioned Starpower cable-modem service, and limited wireless capability to accommodate laptops. My security's reasonably up-to-date, with 40-bit WEP, Zone Alarm Pro, Norton, etc. I haven't felt a compelling need to upgrade to 802.11g yet, but, as my current router is a few years old, I'd make the jump if you told me that by changing I'd make security gains or other gains in areas about which I might currently be unaware. Additionally, unaided, my wireless system is spotty in its coverage, and I'm clueless as to what I might do to rectify that.

Two last considerations. First, wireless _connection_ of printers in particular would be a bonus, but I'm not up to speed on connecting _existing_ printers wirelessly. Second, our grandkids, aged 6 and 10, will be closer after we move, and I'd appreciate suggestions about equipping either the PC network or the entertainment "network" to be more kid-friendly.

Thanks in advance for any time you can give to my questions. All best,

Bill Carr

Silver Spring

Rob Pegoraro: I asked my colleague Chris Stern, who's been covering Starpower for a while, about your first question. His reply:

"It should not happen on an emergency basis. Starpower's parent company RCN must actually get FCC's approval to stop phone service. Now that the company is in bankruptcy, it's finances are pretty transparent and it is highly unlikely that it would suddenly shut down over night."

Not a ringing endorsement, but you're not taking a huge gamble either. It's not anything like signing up with an obscure Internet provider, which can easily disappear overnight.

As for TiVo and TiVo-esque devices, you should be able to rent one from Starpower for a lot less than a TiVo will cost you. That's the cheapest way to try this out--much less money at stake than if you bought a TiVo and started paying $13/month extra for it.

WiFi: The big reason to upgrade to 802.11g, in your case, would be the added WPA security it offers. But you don't use that unless every one of the computers at home also supports WPA; odds are, they don't. Set a 128-bit WEP password instead; it's not nearly as secure, but it can help.

Printer sharing: Set up whatever computer each printer is plugged into to share the printer over your local network. All the other machines should be able to use it--Mac OS X, since 10.2, I think, supports Windows printer sharing.

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Germantown, Md.: You also need XP professional to run things like Visual Studio, certain databases, etc, use IIS... but she'd probably wouldn't be asking you about this if she needed to run those things.

Rob Pegoraro: Precisely! If you actually need to run XP Pro, you should be able to recite specific apps that you know and use which require it.

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Rob Pegoraro: Gotta wrap this up--hadn't realized it was 20 past 3 already...

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Scotland, U.K.: IMHO, A lot of people wont download the latest Media Player 10 due to the amount of "lockdown" janus "proposes"..What are your thoughts on Media Player 10 and is it going to impact largely on peoples abilities to play their "own" cd`s...

Rob Pegoraro: Janus is a Microsoft technology that lets "tethered downloads"--music files rented off music services that can't be played if your subscription lapses--be transferred to some new digital-music players. It has nothing to do with your ability to rip your own CDs and use those files as you wish. It may or may not gain an audience in the market--depends on whether people are comfortable with the idea of renting music that will vanish if they let their subscription lapse.

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Portland, Ore.: What is your favorite player? There seem to be so many.

Rob Pegoraro: I still like iTunes. It's simple, it works with the best music store of the bunch and it has that music-sharing feature, which nobody else has gotten around to copying.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's all, folks! Thanks for all the questions... see you here in a couple of weeks.

- R

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