Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro was online Monday, Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss recent reviews, including BlackBerrys and Bluetooth and the new MSN Music store. A transcript follows.
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Rob Pegoraro: Looks like today's questions are all over the map--Blackberry handhelds, Treo smartphones, Windows security, cell phone coverage and more. I'll try to hit as many of these topics as I can.... starting now.
One of the things you've done a great job on the last several years are the big special Sunday issues where you review PCs, TVs, ISPs, cell phones, cameras, etc.... I really look forward to these, they either influence my purchase decisions or at least make me review my current situations. Can you tell us what's coming up in the next few months -- preferably with specific dates if you know them?
Rob Pegoraro: I can always give specific dates, but the dates sometimes move on me. The next guide will be our package on wireless-phone service; that's scheduled for the 24th of October. The home-computing guide should run on Nov. 21. After that, the next special issue would be the Internet-provider directory, but I don't have a date for that yet and, if you must know, I really don't want to think about it for a while :)
When are we going to see the rumored new Treo?
Rob Pegoraro: If the rumors are correct (see, for instance, this report, the Treo 650 should be out sometime soon. How soon--in weeks, in months?--isn't clear, nor is it clear when wireless carriers would start selling it.
Given your unique position as the personal technology writer for the top paper in our nation's capital, I hope you will take some time to give us your perspective on the "bulge in Bush's jacket" story which migrated from the internet into the mainstream press this past weekend.
In particular, I wonder if you could provide some links to audio receiver devices and hidden earphone with the shape and characteristics of the bulge that 'could' have been used.
Rob Pegoraro: I told you we had all kinds of questions today! I can't add much to this discussion, not having ever tried out any such gadgets.
On a related topic, I am quite interested in reviewing one of those "hydrogen generated vehicles" the president spoke so forcefully of in Friday's debate :)
You had great words of wisdom about WinXP SP2, and I waited just to see if anything else came up. I checked Norton's website to make sure I had any updates I needed for their Antivirus and Internet Security programs, which supposedly still work under SP2. Now that I've upgraded, however, I cannot access the internet when I have Norton Internet Security enabled (and Windows Firewall disabled). It works fine with NIS disabled, however. What gives?
Rob Pegoraro: You've got me; if you have every update for Norton installed, you clearly should be seeing that sort of behavior. What's Symantec's tech support say?
(I realize that this response is a bit of a cop-out, but I think it's important for software developers to stand behind their products--and customers should hold them to that obligation by asking them for help in obvious cases like this.)
You've done it again - first you got me to switch to the Foxfire browser and now to switch from AIM to Gaim. It wasn't that I'd never heard of the competing products, but I had been loath to switch, absence credible testimony from independent sources.
I was unsure what effect switching to Gaim would have on my AIM username (screen name) and my buddy list. I was happy to see that the switch merely involved changing the program that executes on my computer. Everything else remained unchanged.
I'm happy to be rid of that weatherbug and aim.com baloney.
Rob Pegoraro: Glad to help... this has been a breakout year for open-source applications like those two.
Key West, Fla. -- Southernmost Dead Zone:
It's intriguing how AT&T Wireless thinks they can continue to offer competitive products and service packages, when they have all but conceded defeat in the consumer marketplace with the impending Cingular take-over of their GSM and TDMA services. Here on our 2-by-4 mile island of Key West, I would consider this to be a welcomed change, especially since AT&T abandoned their TDMA customers altogether, in August 2002, when they transferred the TDMA circuits in the Florida Keys to another business; I had to call AT&T to get a compatible phone. Hopefully, Cingular can resolve my Southernmost dead zone on lower Duval Street. While walking with a friend, a Cingular customer, I have to use her phone to retrieve my AT&T phone messages.
Rob Pegoraro: I am going to have to fly down to Key West to investigate this outrage in person! (Hurricane season is over, right?)
What are the pros and cons of purchasing a dealer installed wireless cellular phone (i.e. Motorola V60) as opposed to just buying a cellular phone from any wireless vendor with a hands-free device?
Rob Pegoraro: Being able to use the phone outside the car in hands-free mode would seem to be the big one. Any other thoughts on this?
Cell phone on Metro is key. Will anybody else besides Verizon get into the subway? I'm switching to them because in addition to Metro, they also are the only ones that work in the bowels of the Capitol.
Rob Pegoraro: The last time I asked Metro about this--when we did last year's cell-phone guide--the answer that I recall getting was that, a) Metro was talking to other carriers, b) there might be some sort of joint venture between some of those carriers, c) it would take a while for anything to get done.
Takoma Park, Md.:
Thanks for doing the chats. I learn a lot from each one.
I have a Dell PC laptop and am interested in recording streaming Internet Radio, particularly classical stations, breaking the stream up into individual works (e.g. taking a single symphony out of a longer broadcast) and saving it as a separate file (so I can find it again). Could you please suggest a software package I could download for doing that--free is obviously better but I don't mind paying a modest amount.
Rob Pegoraro: We just reviewed one program that does just that--Replay Radio (review here).
Will a progressive scan DVD player interface with a 1080i HD TV? Will it produce as good a picture as it would on a 720p HD TV? (Interlace vs Progressive scan)
Rob Pegoraro: The picture should look equally good on any HD set--the numbers you see sets labeled with (720p, 1080i, etc.) are just their top resolutions, not the only ones they support. As a rule, any HD set can also display any lower level of DTV resolution.
As a follow-up to your column on the Blackberry 7100 which works on the T-Mobile network, I was wondering about the reliability of using a Blackberry over a cell network vs. the prior generation device using the 800 MHz DataTAC network. If I were to upgrade to the 7100 or a current generation all in one Blackberry such as the 7750 sold by Verizon that uses the CDMA2000 network will the data (not as concerned about voice) transmission be as reliable? Will it be useless in periods of cell network stress - such as 9/11, a day that my current device worked fine? Or is the transmission of data segregated from voice?
Thanks for your help.
washingtonpost.com: BlackBerry, Bluetooth Miss a Shot to Move Into More Hands (Oct. 3, 2004)
Rob Pegoraro: Uh, heck if I know... you're asking questions that I do not have the knowledge to answer. Given how many BlackBerry devices these days incorporate phones, I suspect this question will be moot before long. If, however, you really want to have the most reliable communication available, I would suggest you sit down in front of a computer with a broadband Internet connection. *That* worked throughout 9/11, without fail.
What are the options for setting up printers as WiFi devices? I'm in the market for a new printer and would like to be able to set it anywhere and print to it from my Windows laptop via my 802.11b/g router. Can anything out there do this, and for less than $250?
washingtonpost.com: WiFi Special Report
Rob Pegoraro: Some WiFi routers--Apple's AirPort, for instance--include a USB port for you to connect a printer to. That would be the easiest option; otherwise, you could just plug the printer into whatever computer moves least often in the house, then use standard printer sharing to make that printer available to the other machines at home.
For the poor soul who dumped coffee on his laptop keyboard:
Best bet, take it to a repair shop; Micro Center for example.
If you're too cheap and brave to boot, power it down; remove the battery; turn it upside down & spray into the keyboard any of the "waterless electronic device cleaner" sprays. Let it run out (onto a towel unless your significant other is _really_ understanding). Let the laptop dry _thoroughly_. Put it back together & you should be ready to go.
Rob Pegoraro: Here's a follow-up to a question from two weeks ago. Thanks!
Silver Spring, Md.:
Need some more of your good advice, a bit off the advertised topic. After writing to you a couple of weeks ago about doing things right in a new home after moving, I ordered and will soon be picking up a Pioneer DVR-810HS. Not a Total Solution, which I wasn't expecting, but a way to get a subset of Tivo features without a monthly fee, a fuller set of DVD recording features, and _maybe_ even some useful CD features in the entertainment rack instead of just on the computers. Price $500. Only device being replaced is a very basic DVD player, which we'll put on another TV for the grandkids.
I'm naive enough to think that if I can ever get straight stories from both Starpower and Comcast, Tivo might help me cut my cable bill down to something resembling reasonable by letting me record what's really interesting on a subset of the several hundred less than impressive choices I now have, to watch on my own schedule. Anyway, I'm willing to try.
My question, which you saw a long way off: should I even open the box? All best.
Rob Pegoraro: First, $500 is a pretty good price, considering what Pioneer's DVD recorders cost at first (more like $800). The combination of hard-disk recorder (Pioneer includes TiVo's technology, but without the more advanced features that TiVo charges $13/month for) and a DVD recorder (for archiving recordings or sharing with friends) is a really good idea as well.
However, this can't lower your cable bill in any way. It will only help you get more out of that subscription, by letting you time-shift shows much more easily. That's not Pioneer's fault--it's the cable companies' fault for not offering more choice in programming packages.
Submitting early. I'm looking to upgrade from dial-up to DSL. I use Earthlink for internet and have Verizon for local/LD phone service. I'm trying to decide between the two. Verizon would be $10/month cheaper if I bundle it with the other phone services, but Earthlink says they're faster than Verizon. Is there that much of speed difference between the two? Also, if I stay with Earthlink I wouldn't have to change email address. Thanks for you help.
Rob Pegoraro: Hard to say what the speed difference might be in practice. Both companies tout their download speeds using that magic phrase "up to," which means the real-world performance could be worse. Second, I don't know how close your house is to the nearest phone central office in Herndon; the farther away you are, past a certain point, the slower DSL will get. You should make sure you qualify for service from both companies, then see what kind of service they think they can deliver to your house in particular.
Another thing to consider is, if you're happy with EarthLink there's something to be said for sticking with a company that's provided good service in the past.
I am trying to decide between digital cameras. I was looking at the Kodak DX7440 which is 4M pixels. The DX7630 has the same features, is 6M pixels and about 70$ more. Is it worth the extra $ to trade up. I am an amateur and will probably only get 4-6 or 5-7 prints, nothing larger.
Rob Pegoraro: Get the 4-megapixel camera. 6 MP is *complete* overkill for those print sizes.
What new features will the new treo have? Also, I use an iPod with matchmaker jukebox, since I have a pc. Do I have other options besides the matchmaker? Should i go for something different? Matchmaker messes up alot, I think.
Rob Pegoraro: What I've seen mentioned most often at sites like TreoCentral, Brighthand and PalmInfoCenter is a high-resolution screen and Bluetooth wireless.
Mozilla Firefox now properly runs all the websites I seem to need, always excepting Microsoft's Windows update site. Should I crank the security level in IE6 up as high as I can? Would this increase my protection from the malware that apparently can use IE even when I'm not browsing with it?
~8-0 Paranoid and puzzled.
Rob Pegoraro: I think if you max out IE's security settings, you won't be able to use Windows Update at all. Your best defense, having switched to Firefox for your everyday browsing, will be to make sure you keep downloading any updates to IE. Switching your mail client to a program that doesn't use IE's code to display HTML-formatted mail (as is the case with Outlook and Outlook Express) can also increase your security.
For recording streaming Internet radio, I've been using a program called Total Recorder, put out by a company called High Criteria (www.highcriteria.com). Their professional edition is about $35, and I've been very pleased with it. You can record in several formats and quality levels, edit pieces into individual tracks, set a timer to record while you're away, etc. I use it to record children's music programs that are streamed; then I save the songs I want and make mix cds for my daughter. Also record NPR shows to listen to during car trips, etc.
Rob Pegoraro: That's another option (we reviewed an earlier version of it a couple of years ago, but I can't find a link to it).
Just wanted to say that for the most part, your columns are a valuable source of information. That said, I was just wondering why it seems that you've been coming down so hard on the enthusiast/gamer section of the computing spectrum lately. I've seen some fairly disparaging remarks about the hardcore part of the market, one in regards to SP2 and a couple times in regards to hardware. Overall, it's admittedly not a huge segment, but remember that the gamer/hardcore segment is a major driver in the hardware development arena. While the actual dollar amount may not be much to the market as a whole, hardware companies can take a hit if they annoy the enthusiast segment because it's us that friends, family, and heck, even work come to when they want to know if a piece of hardware, or ,in some cases software, is respectable or not. Without a doubt, the needs of the many do not often coincide with those of the gamer, but incompatibilities, bizarre irregularities, or flat-out being ignored will earn a crummy service pack or piece of hardware some seriously detrimental word of mouth.
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the note. I don't want to trash any group of users in my column; there's plenty of room in the market for everybody. But I do want to let people know that they don't have to shop with the same... intensity as the enthusiasts out there. I think that's true of any market--most home cooks do not need a $3,000 Viking range, most drivers don't need a $50,000 SUV, most music fans don't need $20,000 speakers.
But in the computing market, the pressure on buyers to buy as an enthusiast would seems more intense than in those other businesses. I think it's my job, as a writer whose assignment is to cover the *consumer* tech marketplace, to point out when readers can comfortably ignore those kinds of upsell attempts. (I don't pretend to be any kind of an expert on the hardcore end of the market.)
Hope that makes it a little clearer where I'm coming from...
Bill - Virginia:
I run Windows 98 on a desktop 4.5 years old. Should I consider upgrading to Windows XP Home edition or wait it out for a new computer? Would the upgrade require other additions to the computer?
Rob Pegoraro: Get a new computer. 4.5 years old is positively antique in computing... you'd be miserable trying to run XP on that machine.
Can I upgrade Windows NT with Windows XP Home Edition? Microsoft indicates using Windows XP Professional for twice the price.
Rob Pegoraro: See my prior answer; if the machine is old enough to have shipped with NT installed, it's most likely too old to run XP (let alone any new peripherals) acceptably well.
Please discuss the how to's of enabling a wi-fi router for encryption. I can't get my laptop to sync up with my Net Gear router when I try to secure it.
Rob Pegoraro: There shouldn't be any difficulty if you've stuck to standard WEP encryption; all you need to do is write down the password for the network, then type it in on the laptop. Do you have some kind of non-WEP encryption enabled on the router? (The NetGear router might support a newer form of security called WPA; if the laptop is more than a year old, it probably can't work with WPA.)
Can you comment on MatchMaker (and any other options) for use with the ipod and a PC hook up, please. Thanks!
Rob Pegoraro: I think you mean Musicmatch, unless there's some kind of iPod dating service I haven't heard of :)
My comment would be that, with a Windows version of iTunes bundled with every iPod, you don't need Musicmatch at all.
West Milford, N.J.:
Sorry I can't be online with you today, but I have a question. SPYBOT is picking up something called BackWeb lite every time I run SPYBOT. It says it quarantined it, but it's back like Jason every time I boot up the Dell INSPIRON 8200 running Windows XP SP2. Apparently, there's an autostart to this program when I boot. I believe Logitech installed this when I installed their mouse software. SPYBOT doesn't say this anymore in their write up box, but originally they did. Is there any way to get rid of this program? I located all the .exe files I thought were associated with this program and put them into the Norton firewall block list.
Rob Pegoraro: BackWeb is a real program--developers use it to look for and deliver software updates to their products. I don't think it's harmful by itself, but if you really want to axe it you should able to boot it with the Add/Remove Programs control panel. (You didn't mention this in your question, but I suppose that was your first attempt to get rid of BackWeb.)
IF your mouse isn't completely unusual (i.e., it sticks with the usual two-buttons-and-scroll-wheel lineup) you should be able to use it in XP without installing any drivers at all.
Please rate various cell phones (mfg & model) on their transmit & receive ranges (i.e., how far from a cell tower will they work reliably). I understand geographical and construction features (e.g., mountains, valleys and buildings) cause this figure to vary wildly, so let's use "over flat ground" as a starting point. Manufacturers and cell phone service providers are _highly_ reluctant to provide this information.
Rob Pegoraro: Great idea... but it would be difficult to do this test in the real world, where there are antennas scattered all over the place without any sort of identification of which ones belong to which network.
In the last year several camera companies have introduced digital SLR cameras, where the lens is separate from the camera body. These new cameras are sort of expensive, and they use "new and improved" CCDs on their insides that are basically just modest improvements over the same designs that have existed for the past six years. Do you know if there are any breakthroughs ready to take place that could render a $1000 digital camera body worthless in the next year or so?
Rob Pegoraro: Worthless, no. But it will probably seem overpriced in another year, just based on the ongoing collapse in digicam prices.
Free Downloads - that are 'not' Free ! ! !
Spyware companies offer Free Downloads to enable one to solve the problem, however, after investing some considerable time downloading - then running the security check, one then, and only then, discovers that to remove anything found . . has a Cost !
Thus I remove the programme from my computor, naturally . . . BUT . . . G DATA is now sending me repeat invoices for their -Service- which I did not use the chargeable aspect thereof - How does one deal with these Fraudsters ? ? ?
Rob Pegoraro: Call your credit card company and tell them not to accept any charges from the vendor. If the vendor has already put a charge on your account, dispute it with the credit-card company. If things work as they do--or should--in the States, the card issuer will hit the merchant with a "chargeback" equal to the original charge, and the merchant will then start acting nicely.
Hi. Always enjoyed your column. I want to transfer from toslink optical output to my iMac via firewire. Is this possible? Thank you
Rob Pegoraro: I've seen plenty of USB-connected audio interfaces, but none with FireWire. Wouldn't that be overkill? A real-time stream of digital audio would be a long way from swamping a USB port... right? I don't know the answer to this one.
Falls Church, Va:
Rob, thanks for spending your holiday with us. I use Norton SW2004 on an XP OS. I have used it for years and get a fresh copy each year. I have found the defrag utility (speed disk) hangs up at 42% complete and never finishes. What is your opinion of the Windows defrag utility? Should I just use this rather than uninstall and reinstall SW2004? I figure the uninstall/reinstall would be a pain due to the registration business but I don't know for sure. Thanks, Tina
Rob Pegoraro: Try the disk defragger in XP, but if you can't get a defrag to finish at all you should fire up the disk-repair tools in SystemWorks (or Windows, for those readers who don't have Symantec's suite installed). That could be a sign of deeper problems with your hard drive.
You are my connection to all new technology, and your column is very informative...Thanks. I am still a little confused about this new regulation for TV coming in 2006. Is it true that all of the analog signals will be removed and my current television will be completely un-useable? I have read about the new televisions in your special section. Any help is appreciated. It seems that all electronics store ads are really talking up getting a new TV.
washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Decoding Digital Television
Rob Pegoraro: There is a deadline to complete this transition to digital television, but it is *extremely* unlikely to happen by the end of 2006, as the current schedule predicts. 2007 or 2008 or maybe later seems more likely. When that does happen, you'll need a converter box--which the digital-TV savants keep telling us will cost only $50 or so--to tune in any over-the-air broadcasts. Cable and satellite broadcasts will most likely continue to be available as they are today; unlike over-the-air broadcasters, they don't face any regulatory deadline.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Count me as another very satisfied Total Recorder user. Link is http://www.highcriteria.com/ Be sure to test the Pro version.
Rob Pegoraro: Another vote for this audio-recording program. Thanks for the input...
I have to tell you about my Verizon Cell Phone experience...now with Sprint 10 times better service and support.
I was Verizon Cell customer for about 5 years, every month over charged...then overcharged $300.00, plus had just upgraded to new plan, duel phones, new phones, 100.00 each... Verizon support on phone, said too complicated to figure over the phone, set with store employee for 2 hours, going over bills, too complicated, asked me to write out, typed 10 page letter for comparison chart...hand delivered,no reply...canceled service within 30 days and returned new phones for refund.
Verizon, turned over to collection agency, never sent refund for new phones, sent certified letter to the president...over charges were removed, but had black mark on credit report, another certified letter, then collection agencies, sent them and president certified letters, with attached over charge letter and chart, agency turned account back to Verizon, then another agency, and another, certified letters about 4 times, with copies to the President of Verizon...finally black mark removed from credit report.
However, I never got my $100.00 back for the new phone returned within 30 days.
Sprint, now going on 4 years, has been a breath of fresh air...super support.
Have to tell someone...
Ps., still have file of all above correspondence too.
Rob Pegoraro: And here we have a very unhappy Verizon customer. If anybody wants to praise or slam Verizon or any other wireless carriers, please do so in the next few minutes--I'm about to wrap this chat up.
I am fairly technologically capable, but I'm completely mystified by PDAs.
I think I'm finally in the market for one, but am so confused by what's out there.
I don't think I need one that combines a PDA with a cell phone because I have a phone already, and worry about having too much of my life in one place.
I would like whatever I get to be advanced enough that I won't regret choosing it the morning after I buy it, but to be reasonably priced.
I have looked in stores, online, etc., but haven't gotten any less confused.
Rob Pegoraro: I know I'm gonna sound like a broken record, having said this many times before, but Palm's Tungsten E still looks like the best deal around for folks seeking an all-around, but not do-everything handheld.
Hi Rob I use a Windows XP - 1 year old. The only use is for searching the web, getting & sending email. When do I buy a new computer? Thanks
Rob Pegoraro: When you want to do something that your current machine doesn't allow you to do, and not a minute earlier.
802.11 printer follow-up:
So I have to plug my laptop into the printer via USB? No JetDirect or similar black box, that plugs into the USB port of the printer, that turns it into an 802.11-reachable device? This is bumming me out, man!;
Rob Pegoraro: Actually, there are gadgets called wireless print servers that I should have mentioned in my first response. But they're not all that cheap, considering their limited utility (LinkSys' WPS11, for instance, goes for $115 to $140). I'd rather live with the agony of having the printer tethered to one machine.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I recently started using Firefox. Today, while reading your online correspondence, I repeatedly had a new instance of the browser pop up, -www.lowermybills.com] showing me a mortgage calculator.
Rob Pegoraro: There are some ad networks out there that are trying to defeat pop-up blocking measures with some tricks in their HTML coding--I've seen this happen myself. That's really sleazy behavior on their part, and I hope the people buying these ads think this through: If you make me view your ads when I've gone out of my way *not* to be bombarded by them, you're only going to annoy me. You're certainly not going to make me more favorably disposed to buy your product.
It should be an easy choice--you can have some potential customers ignore you, or you can make those potential customers despise you. What's it going to be?
Falls Church, Va Follow up:
The XP defrag works ok, should I just stick with it rather than try to make SW work correctly? Tina
Rob Pegoraro: I'm inclined to say, yes, leave well enough alone. It's not like SystemWorks' defrag will make your computer run so much faster that you'll get back the time spent on these defrag attempts.
Rob Pegoraro: That'll do it for today. Thanks for all the questions! I'll see you here again soon, most likely the Monday after the cell-phone issue runs. Later...