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Help File: Erasing a cellphone; defining a Microsoft update

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 10, 2010; G04

Q: I've got an old cellphone that I need to donate. How do I wipe my address book and call history off of it?

A: Many smartphones include a semi-obvious "reset" or "wipe" command to erase all your data (which is more than you can say for some computers), but the equivalent option on dumber phones may not be as easy to find.

Fortunately, a phone-recycling firm called ReCellular maintains a widely recommended database of these procedures at http://recellular.com/recycling/data_eraser. Choose the make and model of your phone from that page's drop-down menus, click the "Download Instructions" link, and type in your name, e-mail address and wireless carrier on the next page to have the instructions e-mailed to you.

Weird, yes, but it works. ReCellular provided accurate instructions two weeks ago on clearing the memory of an ancient Nextel phone, helpfully noting that its default "security code" was "000000." The Dexter, Mich.-based company also sent along the correct procedure for wiping a Palm Treo smartphone in a second test. And it hasn't e-mailed anything else since.

Should I download Microsoft's "Platform Update for Windows Vista"? Windows Update says it will help developers target their products, which sounds like a form of adware.

Chalk this one up to the different dialects of marketing and software development. In the latter, "target" simply means writing a program to run on particular operating systems. This update, as a tech-support note and a more detailed article for developers on Microsoft's site explain, adds components to Windows Vista to match code built into Windows 7. As a result, programmers can write applications that offer the same features in Windows 7 and its predecessor.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or robp@washpost.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.

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