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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, March 20, 2006; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online to answer your personal tech questions and discuss recent reviews, including Windows mail programs and Apple's Mac Mini .

A transcript follows .

Want to know what upcoming topics are being covered? Sign up for the Fast Forward e-letter -- get updated information on personal technology news and product demos.

Past editions of Rob's e-letter are online here .

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Rob Pegoraro: Welcome back to the Monday tech chat.... so far, we've got questions about e-mail programs, Apple's Mac mini, digital television and wireless networking (and there's probably at least one in the queue about the best e-mail program to use on a wirelessly networked Mac mini hooked up to a digital television). Let's go!

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Williamsburg, VA: Hey Rob, thanks for taking the time to chat! I was curious if, in your testing of the new Mac Mini, you played any videos purchased from iTunes on your test TV? iTunes videos are made for playing on the iPod, so I know they don't have the greatest resolution, but I was curious how we'll they'd translate to being viewed on a normal TV set. I want to watch my downloaded episodes of "The Office" on my big screen!

washingtonpost.com: Apple's Mac Mini, Filling Out the Living Room (March 19, 2006)

Rob Pegoraro: I did indeed--watched the pilot episode of "Conviction" on that loaner plasma HDTV. Very much to my surprise, it didn't look awful from couch viewing distance. Compression artifacts were easy enough to see in some areas, and the lack of detail was obvious in comparison to an HD feed--but considering that iTunes downloads offer only a tiny fraction of HD resolution, I was shocked that I found it entirely watchable.

(Aging actors and actresses would probably like this even more; the reduced resolution had the effect of smoothing out everybody's wrinkles.)

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Livingston, NJ: I have been thinking of switching from OE to Thunderbird, but your problems with the address book and its failure to take advantage of some XP SP2 security features discourage me.

When the new Vista comes out, don't you think that OE will be modernized too? I agree that it needs to be.

Rob Pegoraro: Microsoft says it will replace OE in Vista with a program called Windows Mail. From the bits and pieces I've read about this application, it sounds like Microsoft is trying (finally!) to put some real effort into it. I've also read that some version of Windows Mail will be released for XP, but my usual PR contact at Microsoft has yet to confirm or

clarify those plans.

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Texas: I cannot start my PC immediately after I switched off/on the power supply. However it can be started after about half an hour. If the power supply is not cut off it can be started immediately after shutdown. It works fine and never crashes. What has gone wrong? Is it problem with the MB? Please help.

Steve.

Rob Pegoraro: Try plugging the PC into another power supply, or right into the wall... my guess would be your power strip is going bad, because the symptoms you describe don't match any kind of power-management software failure.

(Not that those failures don't happen often enough. I've got a growing stack of e-mails from readers whose PCs have lost their ability to go to sleep or won't wake up from sleep--if anybody has some worthwhile troubleshooting tips, I'd like to hear 'em.)

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Front Royal, VA: Can you please tell me more about this Vonage phone service? My husband and I have recently signed up for their service. We spent over 90 minutes on hold to reach someone that couldn't speak English. We were then given an incorrect phone number. We then called back to wait on hold for another thirty minutes. Then, they decided to charge us $10 for their mistake. They sent us to another person to wait another thirty minutes to get the charge taken off. Am I the only one having problem with this GREAT service?

Rob Pegoraro: Probably not, but that doesn't mean that Vonage is terrible for everybody either. Let's see if other folks chime in with their own experience.

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Kent, WA: How long can I expect an LCD screen (laptop display) to hold up under usage of about 3 hours per day? Assume max. brightness. How much (what percent) of brightness will be lost per year?

Rob Pegoraro: Most LCD (and plasma) TV screens are rated for 60,000 hours of use--which actually means that after 60,000 hours of use, they'll be at half their original brightness, not dead outright. 60,000 hours divided by 3 hours/day divided by 365 days/year = about 54 years.

Given that most computers become obsolete in four years, I don't think you have anything to worry about.

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Fairfax, VA: My employer provides me with a good laptop for job-related use. Of course, I don't want to take any risk and load anything personal on it. In view of this, I am in the market for a PC or laptop for personal use and would prefer to hold down the cost, while making sure that I have enough computer to handle iPod support, tax preparation, home accounting, etc. Do you have any recommendations?

Rob Pegoraro: Um, no. Sorry, but any machine on the market today will handle those uses without complaint.

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Greensboro NC: Hi Rob, regarding:

Texas: I cannot start my PC immediately after I switched off/on the power supply. However it can be started after about half an hour. If the power supply is not cut off it can be started immediately after shutdown. It works fine and never crashes. What has gone wrong? Is it problem with the MB? Please help.

I've seen this issue where devices refuse to power up when they are overheated and need time to cool off. I'd advise TX to make sure the power strip has enough airspace to properly cool itself.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Greensboro

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Canal Fulton, Ohio: How can I SHORTEN the range of my Linksys based wireless system?

Rob Pegoraro: See if the Linksys admin software includes any option to lower the power of its transmitter.

But first, I have to ask: Why do you want to do this? If you want to stop neighbors from leeching off your bandwidth, your only effective response is to encrypt and password-protect your network.

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Fairfax, VA: Hi Rob

I am looking for a DVR to replace my VCR. Are there any that don't require a monthly fee? I don't need for the device to connect and download TV listings. I know that I could put a TV card in a PC and use it as a DVR, but my wife doesn't like the idea.

Thanks

Bruce

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, there are fee-free DVRs. Hit the nearest consumer-electronis store and look for the DVD recorders; at least some of them will also include a hard drive for DVR-style time-shifting. None of those (aside from the Humax TiVo) come with any subscription requirement... even if their schedules don't go as far into the future as TiVo's, I think a lot of people could live with that limitation.

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Bethesda, MD: Rob, I purchased an Airport Express yesterday. I tried to connect it to my Windows XP based network which is using a Linksys Wireless Access point. We have 128kb encryption on the router.

I followed all of the instructions, which are very vague for Windows, and couldn't get it hooked up. Are there any "tricks" you know of?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know that you can do that at all--not if you're trying to use the AirPort Express to extend your network. To do that (technically, set up a WDS--wireless distribution system) you generally need to stick to one vendor's brand of WiFi hardware.

If you're simply using the AirPort Express as a streaming media receiver for your stereo, that should be doable--but make sure you enter your network's password in hexadecimal form, not alphanumeric. That's usually what you have to do on most non-Apple wireless systems, but the AirPort setup software defaults to plain-English passwords, I think.

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Fairfax, VA: I'm kind of surprised at your flippant response to my question on a good economical second computer. I would suspect there would be a lot of us out there will the same dilemma, company computer and limited resources and as a techie you thinks are wallets are bottomless pits!

Rob Pegoraro: I understand and sympathize, but I still can't help you. Asking me to suggest a good computer without giving me any but the broadest requirements is like asking Warren Brown "what's a good car?" I'm not a mind reader; I need *something* to come up with a useful selection.

(I'll put this another way: If there was one all-purpose cheap computer that was obviously superior to every other model in its price range, don't you think we'd all be using it by now?)

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West Lafayette, IN: I am unable to download Flash on my new XP. I use Firefox. Is this a problem? Earlier I had no problems using Flash with Firefox and ME.

Rob Pegoraro: That is a problem--but it may only be for you, as I've never had a problem downloading Flash. If you don't have it installed, Firefox should offer to get a copy for you automatically. And even if that doesn't work, you should still be able to install it by going to www.macromedia.com/flashplayer/and running that installer.

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Fairfax VA: Our Father,

I've got my entire hard disk backed up to an external disk. When I uninstall a program, such as Microsoft Antispyware (when I installed Defender), from my hard disk, Norton WinDoctor tries to make various shortcuts point to the backed up files on the external drive. Should I also be performing an uninstall from the backed up files on the external drive? Along the same line, what's the best way to delete everything on the backed up drive except documents, music, etc.? TIA.

Rob Pegoraro: This is why I think it's a waste of time to back up your entire hard drive. That backup strategy takes WAY more time and disk space than a simple backup of your own settings and data, and it also means that if your PC ever gets hit with a virus or spyware, the backup copy may be just as contaminated.

Best way to get rid of the extra stuff on the external hard drive? Delete your old backup, then set up a new backup routine that only covers your own files and settings. You don't need to backup applications, not when you can use the original CDs or download fresh copies of them off the Web.

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Berryville, VA: Does the iMac's wireless network receiver work better than the Mac Mini's?

What places on the internet would you recommend for information on Apple wireless networking problems?

Rob Pegoraro: From what I've seen and heard, the Mac mini's wireless difficulties are unique in Apple's current product line--and they're not even common to all minis. Some work fine, and some barely work at all.

For more info, try Apple's tech-support forums: discussions.apple.com

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Fairfax, VA: Rob-Arlington County is now providing free WiFi in certain areas. My question is, how does the county ensure that the WiFi is not used for illegal activities such as child pornography if anyone with a laptop can simply log on to the network anonymously? Shouldn't there be some safeguard so our tax dollars aren't spent on something that lets pervs commit crimes?

Rob Pegoraro: How do you know that people aren't using the postal service to send child porn?

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Regarding the WiFi: "If you want to stop neighbors from leeching off your bandwidth, your only effective response is to encrypt and password-protect your network."

While I agree the encryption and passwords is the surest way to prevent leeching, isn't turning off SSID broadcasting (after selecting a non-obvious network name) and MAC address filtering significant in keeping out the average (and somewhat above average) neighbor?

I've had problems with encryption and online gaming when the router "reconnects" after a dropout (I think I have the terms correct).

Rob Pegoraro: Both those options will work, but the latter (only letting computers with designed networking hardware addresses connect) is probably beyond the reach of most people around here.

BTW, "SSID" means "network name." I will not rest until that useless abbreviation dies its deserved death. Plain English, people!

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Range Extender?: Same manufacturer? I'm using an Airport as my router. Does that mean I can't extend my range with a Linksys range extender?

Rob Pegoraro: I believe so. (There are some cases where the same underlying chipset is in two different brands of router or receiver, and I've heard of people using other hacks, but I try to stick to the realm of things achievable through normal effort in this chat)

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For Bethesda and the Airport: I got mine a few weeks ago. I found Apple's online discussion forum -- http://discussions.apple.com/category.jspa?categoryID=149 -- and found out how to do it. I don't have the exact thread I used because I deleted the bookmark but I'm sure you could find it again with a little searching.

It had step-by-step instructions and was quite easy.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Tysons Corner, VA: Rob, my one-year subscription to McAfee's Security Suite is almost up for renewal and I have been re-evaluating against other options. Do I need the whole suite or is VirusScan enough? I have a high-speed cable connection and my provider says they provide firewall protection and D-Link says firewall protection is built into my wireless router. I thought McAfee's SpamKiller product was subpar. I use Firefox and Windows XP.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I think all of McAfee's suite is sub-par, if you must know! But you're correct that you definitely don't need the non anti-virus parts of the suite; beyond your router's firewall, you also have the one built into Windows XP.

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Alexandria, VA: I've purchased a Linksys wireless access point/router which has been giving me fits. I clearly do not want to leave the wireless access unprotected, however, that is the only way I have been able to successfully connect. If I use any of the password options, the router refuses to dole out an IP address. And yeah, I'm entering the right passcodes on each attempt. Is this a Linksys quirk?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think so, because I'm pretty sure I was able to use encryption on a Linksys router the last time I tried. What did Linksys tech support say?

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Jericho, New York: Why are commuter trains unable to provide basic connectivity to the web and auxiliary laptop power options?

Rob Pegoraro: Uh, because they only charge a few bucks for a ticket? I suppose it would be nice if the LIRR (or VRE, MARC, NJ Transit, Caltrain etc. etc.) included things like that, but I suspect that most riders would rather see that money put into more reliable and frequent service first. I.e., there's no engineering reason why you couldn't do that, but it would cost some money as well.

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Reston, VA: If I'm having trouble getting WEP to work, would restricting access to specific MAC addresses serve as an effective security solution?

Rob Pegoraro: It would at least stop the average passerby from using your bandwidth for free. But if you can't get encryption to work, how do you know that MAC address restriction will work for you either? I think you need to keep leaning on the vendor to deliver this basic, basic feature properly.

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Regarding SSID: My apologies. My Dlink router says "network name" when I name it but says "Enable/Disable SSID broadcasting" for that option. I'll never use SSID again (well, after this).

As for the MAC address filtering, I felt setting up the password on the router and doing the same on the laptops was much harder than setting up the MAC address filtering. Guess I'm just "different".

Rob Pegoraro: Let's just say that MAC address filtering is one thing that *really* doesn't work in a house that tends to have review hardware coming and going with great frequency.

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Arlington, VA: Rob-Thanks for your fantastic columns and chats. Wish I could be here live, but I have a job. Anyway, I saw a new report on Apple viruses a few weeks back-is there some new big risk we need to worry about? All I do is run the Apple firewall and only accept cookies from sites I navigate to. Is that enough?

Rob Pegoraro: I think so. The virus that did appear (and then disappeared just as fast) required a certain degree of user action for it to spread--i.e., it wasn't a worm--and wasn't even coded right. Vulnerabilities that have come to light since then have been fixed pretty quickly. And in all these cases, the potential damage of a piece of malware was limited to "userspace"--that part of the machine that you run as a regular user, not core system functions that require an admin password.

What follows is more my own hypothesis than any settled theory, but please consider: That last issue means that you can't turn a Mac into a spam relay or a phishing Web-site host or start logging the user's keystrokes just by getting the user to run a strange download; you also need to get him or her to type in an admin password. Until that changes, there isn't much economic incentive for anybody to write a Mac virus.

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Herndon, VA: I bought a Sandisk Sensa e260 mp3 player that just came out this weekend and it works well with the CDs that I loaded with window media player 10. I also bought a Napster download card but the songs I bought with card are not playing. I finally got them to show up on the player, changing the USB mode to MSC. When I try and play the songs on the e260 it says to synchronize to continue my subscription. I tried all kinds of synch but no luck. I also got a Microsoft error C00D2772 indicating an issue with the certificate, which was not very helpful. I was able to purchase, synch and play other songs that were synched to my son's iRiver H10 that were purchased with the same download card and loaded from the same Win XP PC. Any ideas that may help would be appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: When Microsoft came out with a "PlaysForSure" logo to slap on devices that passed its certification tests, it should have thought twice about using a label like that if music downloads would not, in fact, play for sure in the real world. I've seen a lot of complaints like this--and I feel bad for suggesting to readers that they look for this logo. For too many of them, it's actually meant "PlayedForSureInOurLabs,ButMaybeNotInYourHome."

All I can suggest is looking for firmware updates from Sandisk--the initial transfer problem you describe sounds like the sort of thing that an update might address.

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Chantilly, Va.: Re: Your note on Symantec/Norton AV software.

I recently replaced my old laptop with a newer, (faster! stronger!) one, since the old one's hard drive failed and it was dirt slow to begin with.

On my previous laptop I had been using the free version of AVG (www.grisoft.com). On my new laptop, since was Symantec preloaded, I decided to give it a whirl. Boy, talk about a pain! Every time I went out to the 'net or did something network related, I kept getting little notes, along the lines of: Norton has detected you just did something and created a rule for future use.

After about a week or so of this, I ended up removing Norton and reverted to the free edition of AVG. It's not only far less intrusive, it takes up a much smaller footprint (and co-exists quite nicely w/Outlook).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Chantilly... AVG (and Avast) are the two free anti-virus programs that I reviewed last fall: Two More Ways to Fight Viruses, for Free

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Clifton Park, N.Y.: We have been using Vonage for couple of years now. It works great...no issues with the service. But their customer service is terrible... it takes a long time to reach someone for support questions. However, Vonage website is pretty good for viewing account/Billing information.

Rob Pegoraro: Much appreciated. Other Vonage reports welcome...

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Rockville, Md.: For Alexandria: It could be the PC's settings as well. For instance, I had to tell XP explicitly whether my network was open or shared WEP. It couldn't figure that out itself.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip... with the last few laptops I've tried, the default setting has worked fine. But because I haven't had to change it, I don't remember what it is! (The Service Pack 2 update to XP definitely helped a lot in this respect; my first troubleshooting step on any Windows machine that's having WiFi issues is to use the XP WiFi interface instead of whatever other software the manufacturer put on the computer.)

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Washington, D.C.: Rob,

I just don't "get" RSS feeds. I use Firefox 1.5 and I have a live bookmark for "Rob Pegoraro" and it gives me this tremendously long scrolling list of every article you've written over the last 2 years. I thought these feeds I see all over WP and other sites I visit were supposed to update ME when there was something new, not just provide me an archive. Am I using this properly?

Rob Pegoraro: Well, no--can't you find anything better to read online than my lousy column? :)

Firefox's RSS reader is pretty limited, but it should serve alright as an introduction to the concept. Try a few different sites--preferably, a blog. Most blogs are updated on an irregular schedule, but almost all of them off RSS feeds so you don't have to click "reload" 10 times a day.

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Louisville, Ky: What percentage of major corporations do you think are still using Internet Explorer 6.0 at the office?

The Fortune 200 company I work for still does and I still can't believe it.

Rob Pegoraro: Oh, I can. *Lots* of companies seem to have their heads stuck in the sand (or somewhere else)... the worst cases are those companies that also haven't updated to XP. I've said this before and I'll probably have it say it many more times: If you're running a pre-XP SP2 version of Windows, you need to stop using IE *now*. The version you've got is seriously insecure is going to remain so for the duration.

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Bethesda and Airport - follow-up: I found the exact thread in the Apple discussion group.

http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=1680216

It has the step-by-step instructions. Took me about 5 minutes.

The one thing it doesn't say is that if you use MAC address filtering, remember that the MAC address of the wired port is different than the wireless port - but both are printed on the side of the airport.

Rob Pegoraro: Better yet! Thanks again...

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Downtown DC: Intuit is dropping support of Quicken 2003 and earlier versions at the end of April. While I'm not sure I need all (any) of the functions that will no longer be available, I'm uneasy about their dropping support altogether.

What are the alternatives?

Rob Pegoraro: There's Microsoft Money, but Microsoft enforces the same general "sunset" policy as Intuit. You might want to try a program called MoneyDance (www.moneydance.com), which doesn't have that kind of encumbrance.

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Tysons Corner, VA: I'm looking for a free firewall (for outgoing traffic) I can recommend to someone. Tiny doesn't appear to be free since CA bought the company, the older version of ZoneAlarm that I used in the past has been a resource hog. Is there anything better out there?

Rob Pegoraro: Sunbelt Software now distributes the old Kerio firewall; although it's offered as a for-sale product, that Web page also says that if you don't pay for it will keep working (but with fewer features) after the 30-day trial: http://www.sunbelt-software.com/Kerio.cfm

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Alexandria, VA: I am going to get the new iMac with intel but have been told to wait until the next generation is here. I have to get it by June as I'll be laid up after surgery for a couple of months. Will anything change by then?

Rob Pegoraro: In terms of hardware design... probably not. That will be about six months since the iMac debuted with its new Intel brain; Apple has been known to revise models that quickly, but usually it takes a little longer. You will certainly see some improvements in its software by then, though--bug fixes from Apple and more "universal" Intel-ready releases from third parties.

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Laurel, MD: Hey Rob-

I will soon be upgrading to a new computer, but am concerned about how this will affect my ipod. I have moved my music files around and as a result, itunes cannot locate many of my songs. I was wondering if there was a way to have my ipod act as a hard drive and load all of music files onto my new computer. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--you can simply enable "disk mode" from within iTunes, then dump your entire library on it. Er--wait, you're saying you have the songs on the iPod but can't locate them on the computer? In that case, try the file-transfer utilities I wrote about in this old Help File column: Music Copying Software; Monitoring Upload/Download Speeds (washingtonpost.com)

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Windows 98: So, how can I rattle the cage of a co-worker who uses Windows 98 at home and refuses to upgrade b/c of the more intrusive nature of XP (registration, checking your hardware, etc.)

I told her..."You are not safe on the internet with Windows 98." Was I stretching the truth?

Rob Pegoraro: No, you weren't. But this person is also probably going to hate XP if she doesn't upgrade her computer's memory first... practically speaking, though, a machine that old is more of a candidate for the scrap heap than anything else if you're going to stick with Windows.

(A Linux distribution could have lower hardware requirements--well, if your colleague mistrusts Microsoft that much, maybe she *would* be hip to moving to Linux.)

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Reston, VA: Hi Brian,

I've been using Netscape (vers. 7) as my email client for several years and would like to try out Mozilla's Thunderbird. But I'd like to export my Netscape email and import it into Mozilla first. Is this possible? I haven't found an obvious way to do it.

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm actually Rob, but I'm willing to impersonate Brian Krebs if I have to :)

A friend of mine just did this transfer, and IIRC he said that Tbird imported his Netscape mailboxes automatically. Have you tried just doing that?

Either way, I do recommend that you dump Netscape. That program is almost as dead as pre-XP IE.

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Bethesda, MD -Airport: thanks for all the info. It is very helpful and I might get to watch 24 tonight instead of struggling with the set up.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm sure Jack Bauer has had problems configuring his WiFi network too...

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MAC on PC: Hi Rob-

Putting XP on a Mac is interesting, but what I really want to know is when I can put OS-X (Mac) on a PC! Can I buy OS-X and save bunches of money skipping the Apple hardware?

Rob Pegoraro: Maybe. People got the early, developer-only builds of OS X for Intel to run on PCs, and I've heard that they've also been able to do this with the current version. But it requires a non-trivial level of tinkering. If you value your time, you may not save much with this approach--certainly not if you need a new computer anyway.

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Brookfield, Missouri: I have hundreds of old 35mm slides. Is there anything out there that will allow me to use my pc to transfer them to disc? I would also like to be able to bring them up on my monitor and print copies or make adjustments to them. All I have found is an adapter from HP that they say will allow me to do this but I will have to buy their scanjet printer since the adapter only works with their printer. I have a Dell system.

Thank You

Rob Pegoraro: You're looking for a dedicated slide scanner--Nikon sells a few. At prices starting around $500-ish, I think... but if you've got hundreds of slides, that could be worthwhile.

Another option would be to pay a good photography shop to do the work for you.

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Falls Church, Va.: I could really use your help with two IPOD questions. First, I would love to be able to listen to my IPOD in the car and I have seen a number of adapters which send out an FM radio transmission of your IPOD's output so you can play it in the car and at home on your stereo. On the web I have seen good and bad reviews of a myriad of different models. Are any of them any good? Are there any of the manufacturers you can recommend?

Second, I mostly use my IPOD to listen to music on the metro. I would like to set up playlists of songs that are particularly good for listening to while I read on the train. I can set up the lists but I don't know how to get the IPOD to shuffle the lists so I don't hear the exact same 6/7 songs (the length of my metro ride) in the same order every time. I like using the shuffle songs feature but I would really love to shuffle only the Jazz songs, or only the rock songs, or only the songs in my "metro" playlist.

Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: 1) Here's the comparison of FM transmitters and tape-deck adapters we ran last year: Two Ways to Take iPod on the Road

2) Go to the Settings menu, then select Shuffle and press the center button to select "Songs." That should shuffle any given set of songs for you, whether it's a playlist or the entire library on the iPod.

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Arlington, VA: When I burn a disc in Photoshop elements 4.0 and verify it after the burn, I often get an error message. In these cases it seems that the disc is still readable. To avoid this I started not verifying the discs after a burn and last week it backfired. The disc was partially unreadable at the camera store.

Does the verify error indicate that there is something wrong with my CD/DVD burner (I/O Magic brand) or is it related to the software. Burning music CDs gives me occssional error messages also, but the CD's still play.

The drive is only two years old. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Getting disc-burning errors in two different programs--even if the CDs ultimately play sometimes--makes me think that you've got a hardware problem. If you see that issue with a third app, I'd see that as fairly definitive proof. Two years is young for a CD burner, but it's not too young for one to fail.

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Rockville, Md.: I have a WinXP machine for my kids. They log in as a limited user while my wife and I can log in as a full user (password protection).

As a limited user, they cannot install software or alter the controls in Norton Internet Professional. However, as a limited user, Windows will not update the software as needed nor will Norton update the virus definitions etc. As a result, I try and log in weekly (or more often if I hear about a virus/risk) and update the OS as well as Norton.

Is there some other way I can configure the system or is this the catch-22 of being a limited user?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've got enough memory, you can keep one admin account logged in all the time with fast user switching. The kids can keep using their limited account, but automatic updates should be able to proceed as usual in your own account (which will remain inacessible to anybody without a password.)

This is one of the things that Windows Vista is supposed to improve upon.

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Ocean View, DE - transplanted from Bowie: Hi Rob - Love your online Q & A!

I have a couple diff iPods - the earlier 40gb and the newer 60 gb video (not that I do videos). I've somehow "lost" part of an audiobook I downloaded from iTunes last month and in reading the Apple online support traffic, there seems to be a 3rd party software item that will enable me to reverse what's on the iPod back to the iTunes library... it is called PodPlus and/or TuneJack. Any experience with either of these? I doubt I'll get anywhere with iTunes/Apple in having them resend the lost Part 1 of that audiobook. The part 1 file still resides in the itunes directory, but it has 0 bytes... says "stream" where the file size should be, so I've lost more than 2 hrs of audio.

Thanks

Mary

Rob Pegoraro: See my earlier answer--AFAIK, those iPod utilities work with any audio file on an iPod.

(ObligatorBackupNag: This is why you should make regular backups of your important files.)

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Vienna, Va.: I'm starting college this fall and am shopping for a PC. On the hardware end, I've been looking at the dual core, but now I'm reading that quad core will be out by this fall as well.

Do you think that the quad core will launch any major advances in s/w or the way in which PCs are used in industry?

Rob Pegoraro: No.

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Yakima, WA: I'm in a hotel (Holiday Inn Express, Yakima, WA). They have free wireless but it is totally unprotected (no encryption is offered to the customers). Do you know of a way I could secure my laptop from folks who might want to gain access? Or set my laptop up to run on wireless, but better protected......

Rob Pegoraro: Same way you secure your computer at home--keep a firewall active, stay current with Microsoft's security updates and run up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

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Chicago, IL: RE: Not starting until 30 min.

I had the same problem and it was the fan of my computer. It would also overheat and just shut off. I had to replace the fan, but you could also try the cheap way of opening up your PC and aiming a table fan at it until you can get it fixed.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Chicago.

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Akron, Ohio: That some contestant/hacker has engineered a way to run Windows on Macs is not earth-shaking news. Engineering OS 10.x to run on PCs is the story I crave. What's the prize for that trick?

JR Liebert

Akron

Rob Pegoraro: None that I know of. Are you volunteering to start a contest? :)

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Washington, DC: I wanted to ask about your comments last week about using Thunderbird for email and the Mac OS X's Apple's address book for your "real contact list." Do you have a recommendation for those of us who are Windows users and have not (yet) been forced to use Outlook? Is there anything better than the Palm Desktop for managing a contact list if you sync to a Treo?

Rob Pegoraro: Not that I know of. This is a lousy situation all around, but I blame Palm more than anybody. They can't seriously think that pushing customers towards their competitor's contacts manager is a viable strategy--but by letting Palm Desktop grow moldy, they're doing just that.

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DC: RSS follow-up: You said the firefox reader is "limited" -- can you recommend a better reader/aggregator for Firefox users?

Rob Pegoraro: Not one, but I'll describe the overall choices--I admit that I haven't settled on any of them long-term. (My favorite RSS reader is Mac-only--NetNewsWire Lite. I'm still trying to find a Windows application that's as convenient to use.)

* Web-based aggregators: I like Bloglines (www.bloglines.com) but try Google Reader (reader.google.com) or the ones built into Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

* Google Desktop: This one has the benefit of finding and, if you want, subscribing to new feeds automatically.

* A standalone client: I like the free FeedReader among what's out there, but I haven't tried others as yet.

* One built into e-mail: I'm trying the one included in Thunderbird but don't like it that much, as I can't get any of the filtering tools to work on that.

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Fairfax, VA: What more do I need to tell you? I'm not a gamer. I would like to build my music library. I like to IM when I have time. I would like to keep track of home accounting, income development and tax preparation. On line news. Research. Club work. No high demand for speed and bells and whistles.

Rob Pegoraro: That's much better. By saying you're not a gamer, I know you don't need to spend extra on a separate graphics card. Your mention of accounting and tax prep at least suggests that you've got particular programs you use and would like to keep using--so a switch to a Mac wouldn't work for you.

And yet: laptop or desktop? Do you want a smaller desktop? Do you care about the software bundle or are you going to download your favorite applications anyway?

Somebody else asked about this, so here's the last piece I wrote about shopping for a home computer:

Ground Rules for Buying on the Cutting Edge

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Boise, ID: Hi Rob, Now that I stepped up to a laptop, how do I clean the screen without messing it up? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Windex and a paper towel should work fine, as long as you spray the towel, not the screen.

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Arlington, VA: Regarding e-mail programs - I've been a long-time Verizon DSL customer and I use their bundled MSN Premium for e-mail. My wife and I like the dashboard interface which includes MSN Money and our calendars and address books. However, I HATE using MSN as my browser - too much wasted real estate. We also hate Verizon's webmail offering. I use FF 1.5.

Lately Verizon has been pushing their bundled Yahoo. Is there a benefit to switching? The only Yahoo service we use is Yahoo Music Unlimited. Also, is there an interface available for Firefox which integrates e-mail, calendar, etc. in a similar fashion to MSN?

Rob Pegoraro: The MSN software Verizon bundles looks like it's become one of those once-intriguing projects that have since gotten abandoned; Microsoft put some real effort into this program, but hasn't touched it in years. I'd think about switching for that reason alone--plus, dumping it means you can use the programs of your choice.

Unfortunately, MSN Premium is also one of the only simple ways to integrate a calendar, address book and e-mail at home. Firefox doesn't have either capability built in; there are extensions for Thunderbird, the mail-only counterpart to Firefox, but that software is much more experimental. You might be stuck with MSN Premium for e-mail for a while longer.

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Cap Hill: For Alexandrai's problem with LinkSys. I had the same problem and it was fixed by switching from WEP enmcryption to WPA.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Cap Hill. WPA is a more modern, secure form of encryption; in general, you should use that over WEP unless you've got older WiFi hardware that doesn't support WEP at all.

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NoLo, DC: If you're looking for a windows feed reader similar to NNW, have a look at Feed Demon. Both products were recently bought by NewsGator to provide desktop solutions to go with their web-based feed reading and synchronization. You can find FeedDemon at http://www.bradsoft.com/ .

No connection to Nick Bradbury; I'm just a fan of his software (including TopStyle, the CSS editor)

Rob Pegoraro: I'd heard about NNW being acquired, but not FeedDemon. If the second program can acquire some of the elegance of the first program, I'd be very excited to try it out.

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DC: When will Simcity 5 come out? will it come out? I know you don't know the answer but I really want it.

Rob Pegoraro: July 16, 3:42 p.m. EST

Oh, you wanted a *real* answer?

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Fairfax, Va.: I've been thinking about replacing my Clie SJ-22 with a Palm TX. How difficult is it to connect the Tx to WiFi?

Rob Pegoraro: Quite simple in my experience. Palm did a good job with the WiFi software on that device.

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Anonymous: Thanks for the informative article on the Mac Minis and Front Row software. One issue that you didn't address that's important to me as a potential buyer is how quiet or noisy a unit is. If I'm listening to music or viewing a suspenseful silent passage in a movie the noise of a normal PC's power supply and CPU fans is a simply deal breaker. I personally stopped using a dual CPU, dual disk drive workstation because the cooling fans were too noisy for long photo processing sessions. Fortunately, I bought a cheap Dell 2400 that is the quietest machine I've ever run across. Yes, I know PCs are getting somewhat quieter. And yes, I know some aftermarket folks "soup" up machines to be quiet, but we need writers like you to tell manufacturers that noise matters - especially in a music and video machine. How can I find out how noisy a PC is?

Rob Pegoraro: The Mac mini was effectively silent in use--I know there's a fan in it, but I couldn't hear it at all. Unfortunately, most manufacturers not named "Apple" don't seem to be working hard enough to fix this. (The Shuttle XPC I tried two summers ago was pretty quiet, but most other machines put out a constant whir of one level or another.)

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Baltimore, Md.: Re the person from Fairfax wanting a second computer: Rebates are a pain, but if you go any of the big office or electronics chains, you can get a brand name CPU, monitor keyboard, mouse and (often) printer for under $400, once you have submitted the rebate forms and waited weeks. And before that, you still only spending about $600 for a machine that is plenty robust enough to do common household computing.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, B'more

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Baltimore: Hey Rob,

Posting this from my sweet new MacBook Pro. Love, love, love it. Super fast (and i've only really used it for surfing this first week). 15" widescreen is super bright. Everything -just works- as we macistas say. Viva CrackBook!

Rob Pegoraro: "CrackBook" is a much better name than "MacBook" :)

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Washington, DC: After using AOL for all of my email needs (small office business and personal) I am ready to move on. I need the ability to handle multiple accounts and am intrigued by the idea of saving all email online in one central location. Question is, which would make more sense for a "SOHO: do-it-yourself user like me: A web based "free" mail service (like Yahoo or Gmail) or hosted email service (like GoDaddy) that could also make use of a business domain?

Rob Pegoraro: For business use, you'll look a lot more professional with your own domain name. You can do that with either Web-mail or domain-name services; however, I suggest using a system that lets you keep mail locally, so you're not out of business if Yahoo or Gmail or whoever suffers an outage. So I'd vote for your plan B.

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Alexandria, VA: So how do I get the extra stuff for Thunderbird?

Rob Pegoraro: Hit the Tools menu, select Extensions and click "Get More Extensions."

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Rob Pegoraro: OK, gang, I've gotta sign off here--I still have some work to get done today, and there's not many hours left in the day to do it. Thanks for all the great questions; I should be back here in two weeks.

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