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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, November 1, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

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A transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Hi everybody... I've just gobbled three or four candy bars in a row (the kids in my neighborhood failed to clean out our trick-or-treating supplies), so I'm good for at least 45 minutes of nonstop typing before the sugar high wears off.

Let's go!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, Thanks for the review of Leopard - I've got a 1-year-old Macbook (one of the original intel macbooks - not the dual core or whatever they're called).

Would you recommend upgrading any of the hardware (hard drive/memory etc) before installing Leopard?

Rob Pegoraro: Take a look at the memory. Apple says Leopard can run on 512 megabytes--as I blogged earlier today, it's surprisingly usable on an ancient PowerMac G4 with little more than that. But you'll note that Apple hasn't sold any computers with less than a gigabyte standard for quite a few months now.

The other hardware item you should think about buying is an external hard drive. Make sure it can connect via FireWire (so you don't use up one of your MacBook's two USB ports) and is "bus powered" (so you don't need to plug it into a wall outlet).

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Sibu, Malaysia: What's your take on Leopard OS vs Vista? Assuming what you're after is rock-solid stability and some serious video editing? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think Vista wins that comparison. Leopard is cheaper, easier to install, more reliable, simpler, has fewer compatibility problems and, as I wrote, won't lock you out of the computer because it thinks you didn't pay for your copy.

Now if you've got a perfectly good PC ready to run Vista, none of that matters--you can't put Leopard on your PC anyway.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Quick question. I'm considering buying a mac. Do I need a security/anti-viral system?

washingtonpost.com: Faster Forward: What Real Mac Malware Looks Like| Security Fix: Anti-Virus On A Mac?

Rob Pegoraro: Somehow, Brian Krebs and I managed to blog about the exact same topic within a couple of hours of each other (fortunately, my post went up before his :)

You don't need any sort of security "system" like what many people buy for PCs. You may want to think about installing anti-virus software--not because any viruses exist for Mac OS X (they don't), but because it will stop you from accidentally forwarding Windows viruses. For that, I would go with the free, open-source ClamXav

You don't need an anti-spyware program, nor do you need an extra firewall--just turn on the one in Leopard (open System Preferences, then click Security) and use your own common sense when it comes to strange downloads.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

I've got an Intel-based MacPro and I'm excited about upgrading to Leopard. Two questions: Is it polished enough right now to forego the usual rule of waiting for the first OS upgrade so that some of the bugs get worked out? And are the software-based PC emulation programs a better choice than BootCamp for running Windows programs?

Rob Pegoraro: Personally, I'd hold off for a couple of weeks, and especially if you have a lot of third-party software installed. That's not because Leopard will start crashing, but because these other programs may have minor glitches that their authors haven't caught yet. (Apple did not provide copies of the shipping version of Leopard to developers until the day it went on sale.)

I prefer Parallels and Fusion to Boot Camp for two reasons: 1) I hate rebooting, and 2) I often need to share information between OS X and Windows.

That reminds me--I need to write up a comparison of those two for the blog sometime, or at least before one of these companies ships yet another update.

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Some cautions about the Leopard upgrade: First, with any systems upgrade, backup the computer! things can go wrong...

Second, if you use filevault, unencrypt before installing Leopard. I lost my HD (not a big deal because of step one, but took several hours to recover) when my filevault could not be opened with Leopard. And I know of several other people that had the same failure. I expect that type of problem from Microsoft....not Apple.

Now, once it is installed, the "time machine" feature is awesome. Definitely worth the pain.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for advice. Hadn't heard about FileVault issues... you were wise to back up first.

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Bethesda, Md.: I have a G4 iMac, so Leopard is not an option for me (and the computer works perfectly well for my purposes anyway; only Time Machine is a big draw). My question is about iLife... I am running 05 and wondering if it's worth upgrading. Mostly use iTunes (which you can upgrade for free anyway) and iPhoto; are iPhoto and the other apps worth the additional cost?

Rob Pegoraro: Leopard can run on at least some G4 iMacs--not the first-gen batch of them, but later models should meet its minimum specs.

I think you would appreciate iLife '08: iPhoto has advanced greatly since the '05 release. And if you've never touched iMovie before, you might find that iMovie '08 helps get you started.

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Tampa, Fla.: Leopard OS 10.5 on an old TiBook:

Will Leopard run on a G4 TiBook with 768 MB RAM but only a 667 MHz processor? Apple's website says I need at least an 867 MHZ chip. Tiger runs fine on my TiBook. The local Apple Store says Leopard "has a lot more going on under the hood" than Tiger, so it needs a faster processor.

Reading about Vista, I keep seeing the experts say RAM counts for more than clock speed. Shouldn't Leopard be the same? I could go up to 1 GB RAM if that's what it takes to run Leopard.

Rob Pegoraro: From what I have heard, the Leopard installer will flat-out refuse to run if it detects a processor slower than 867 MHz. I'm sure there are hacks around that, and I also suspect--based on what Leopard looks like on an 867 MHz G4--that it would offer acceptable performance on your machine.

You can't make a direct comparison between Vista and OS X--the two systems have serious architectural differences under the hood. The most important one may be the argument I read and found convincing earlier this morning: Most of OS X's core components have benefited from six years' worth of fine-tuning and optimization, while Vista's two biggest features (upgraded security and Aero graphics) are brand-new and have yet to benefit from any such work, resulting in a less efficient system overall.

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Adams Morgan: Rob, How come in IE when, I hit the back button or look at the pull down history next to the back history I see one or more doubleclick addresses? Is this due to pop ups and my blocker? What's going on here? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: (Note: I'm happy to take Windows questions too here!)

I would guess that those DoubleClick addresses are, in fact, pop-up ads. In case your reference to a pop-up blocker refers to separate software--meaning you're still running IE 6--I'll point you to this blog post: Internet Explorer 6 Support Ends Here

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, Do you prefer to buy your personal tech items online or at a retail store? Do you find it helpful to view products in the flesh before buying them? Or are you comfortable searching for the best price on the Internet without any physical contact?

Also - have you been to the Microcenter store in Rockville? I hope it provides Best Buy and Circuit City with some much-needed competition on the Pike.

Rob Pegoraro: I will usually shop online--but I also often have the luxury of either seeing a gadget up close by testing it for my job. The odds of me shopping online do increase as the cost and size of a gadget declines.

Have never been to MicroCenter in Rockville, and I haven't been to the one in Vienna in years either. When it comes to shopping, I'd rather not play in traffic, if you catch my drift...

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: How well does the new Apple backup utility work with notebooks and backup drives that aren't attached 24/7? Will the computer yell and scream every time it notices that the backup drive is unattached?

Rob Pegoraro: Time Machine is polite enough to stay out of the way when the computer is asleep, or if you put it into sleep mode manually. To quote Apple's site:

"If your Time Machine backup is interrupted - because you took your portable on the road or put your Mac to sleep - Time Machine will simply stop backing up. When you reconnect to your backup drive again, TIme Machine automatically picks up where it left off."

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Frederick, Md.: If this has been answered previously, can you link me to the appropriate chat? Both desktop and laptops are Dells, with Windows XP, mostly trouble-free. My subscription to Norton Anti-Virus is about to expire and don't think it's worth the expense to renew. I use Spybot and Adware regularly, and recall a recommendation of some free products that work as well as those I would pay for. Recommendations? Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: I've been pretty happy with AVG anti-virus. It's not the prettiest program ever, but it's free and requires no extra effort to keep up to date.

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Atlanta, Ga.: OMG! OMG! OMG! I saw a ZUNE on the subway this week! In the wild! I couldn't be more excited if I saw a Leprechaun or Bigfoot or some other mythical woodland creature. I'm reporting this to you only because the Weekly World News isn't around any more.

Rob Pegoraro: People use the subway in Atlanta? (Sorry, as a Northeast Corridor guy I'm obliged to indulge in a little MARTA bashing every now and then :)

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Time Machi, NE: Regarding the statement about Time Machine in this morning's review: "You do, however, need an external hard drive -- the one inside your Mac won't do..."

You need a SECOND hard drive, which can be internal if you have a desktop Mac that supports it.

Now it is true that Apple won't currently sell you a desktop machine with space for a second internal hard drive unless you're willing to pony up for a Mac Pro starting at $2500. But the G4 and G5 Power Mac desktops that work with Leopard all have space for multiple internal drives.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a good point--I should have phrased that sentence to reflect that fact. (In my defense, I never use Apple's pro-level desktop machines, and I wouldn't recommend keeping your backups inside the same computer as your primary hard drive.) I'll see how we can fix that...

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N.Y.: Rob, So I'm baffled by my new Dell laptop's power mngt. behavior. I'm a habitual standby/hibernate user. When I'm away from the comp. for a few hours, I put it on standby. A few more hours than that/overnight, it gets hibernated. I'm anal, OK.

Now, w/the new Dell, it does not 'take' hibernate commands well. AT ALL. The screen goes blank and then flashes. It comes back w/"insufficient system resources exist to complete the API". What are they talking about, I've got 2G of RAM?! When I put it on standby, it kind of seems to do it for, uh, 5 minutes, and then I come back and the session is back on again.

This is highly annoying - do you want to put the laptop in your work bag at night and then wake up to the bag all heated up from the live laptop (battery nearly depleted)? Fundamentally, as a geek, I dislike the fact that standby/hibernate does not work, period.

I've found that it will willingly go into a lower-power state if I only have 1 app. running, but that's silly isn't it? Why do I care to preserve that state if I'm only running 1 thing? Wouldn't state-saving be more meaningful when I have a whole bunch of programs running? I've found that, for example, if Firefox is up the standby/hibernate will definitely not work.

And oh yeah, when the laptop returns from a failure to standby/hibernate, the touch pad completely does not respond. If I don't have a separate mouse, then it requires rebooting to get the touch pad working again. A royal pain.

I'm complaining because even my old clunkers willingly took the commands, and the last thing I want when I get a brand new machine is for something as trivial/obvious as power mngt. to not work.

Rob Pegoraro: I've seen all kinds of sleep-mode malfunctions in Windows, but never any involving that exact error message. Are you running XP or Vista?

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello Rob, You mention that Leopard will not run "Classic" applications. Does this mean that if I buy a new iMac I won't be able to run Photoshop 3.0 and other older applications? Does the iMac installed software include any substitute for Photoshop?

Rob Pegoraro: Correct, your old copy of Photoshop is toast. None of Apple's Macs ship with a new copy of Photoshop--none ever have, AFAIK.

But: If you've been getting by with Photoshop 3.0 (that's almost as old as the version I used in college 15 years ago!), you'll probably be just as happy with the $35 shareware app Graphic Converter (www.lemkesoft.com).

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm waiting to get my $10 copy of Leopard, but your article makes me quite excited. I need to connect an old flat screen monitor to my Mac Powerbook G4. The port is different than what my serial monitor connects to. How can I connect the monitor? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think your PowerBook has a mini-DVI (digital video) output. So you'd need to get a mini-DVI-to-VGA adapter--$19 at the Apple Store, but you can probably get one for less elsewhere.

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Arlington: Does a bus powered external hard drive mean that you can plug it into an external USB port? So many peripherals now, like printers, say to plug them directly into the computer. I have a 7 port D-Link USB portal and wonder if that would work for an external HD. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm... probably not, unless the hub is itself powered.

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Rockville, Md.: My father recently had a virus on his computer (XP). After telling him to never never NEVER run Active X or download things (no matter how much he wants to), he still did. After cleaning the computer a second time, I changed his user account to limited and created one for me (admin).

Then he started calling me because "Mazola Foxfire" would try to install updates (Norton also) automatically but his account lacked the authorization. Now, I need to log in (using LogMeIn.com) so these can run under an admin account.

There has got to be a better way but I can't find it. Help please.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, he might be happier with a Mac... but with the existing setup, I think you are right to set him up with a limited account. I'm just stumped on why Firefox would need admin access to update itself... any ideas for Rockville?

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Rob Pegoraro: Nuremberg, Germany: Why is my 'WAB' address file different than the one in Microsoft Office Outlook? The latter has the latest addresses. When I wanted to 'transfer' it to Mozilla Thunderbird, only the 'WAB' was visible when an address was needed in Outlook. Norman

Thunderbird can import Outlook address books--I've done it before. Try opening Tbird's address book, going to the Tools menu and selecting Import.

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Washington, D.C.: I know you've discussed PDAs before but can't remember your advice. Does it even make sense to buy a non-phone PDA any more? If so, which? Much as I'd like a smart phone, it's a little out of my price range as long as the cell phone contract is still in place (another year).

Rob Pegoraro: No, unless you don't use a cell phone at all (or hardly at all).

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Bethesda, Md.: RE: Photoshop: If all you need to do is tweak the quality of digital photographs, iPhoto may be all you need. If you are a high-end Photoshop user, there is no substitute.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm pretty sure somebody still running Photoshop 3.0 isn't at the high end of the market :)

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Odenton, Md.: In case I miss the chat:

My exactly 2-year-old iPod Mini has suddenly gone on the fritz. It will be fully or almost fully charged, play a song or two (not even get halfway through) and the battery needs to be charged message shows up followed by the battery icon and then it shuts off. If I wait a few minutes, I can turn it on and it's fine for the rest of my commute (about 10 songs). Does this sound like a battery replacement issue? I read through pages of messages on Apple's boards, but couldn't find a person that said that they could turn it on after a few minutes and it was fine for the time-being.

My next question -- is it worth the $70 to have the battery replaced or should I suck it up and get a Nano? I don't need all the "bells and whistles" (I only have 300 songs on the mini as it is), but I don't want something basic like a Shuffle either. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: That doesn't sound like a battery problem--if it were, you wouldn't be able to keep using it a few minutes after it first shuts down. Have you tried resetting and restoring the iPod in iTunes? That will blank its existing software (which certainly seems to have gone haywire) and put the latest version in place.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, I have a iBook G4 with 512 RAM and 1Ghz of processor speed. This meets the minimum for RAM requirements and slightly exceeds the minimum processor speed for Leopard. Based on your experience, would I be setting myself up for a world of slowness and misery by upgrading on this machine? Thanks for the chat!

Rob Pegoraro: I think you would be OK overall. You'd probably lose some of Leopard's visual effects--they rely on some graphics hardware not present on your iBook--but the important bits would all be there.

It's been interesting to see this many questions come from people with older hardware. I didn't expect that.

As a general rule, I don't get queries like that when it comes to new Windows updates--a lot of people are reluctant to install Vista even on a year-old computer.

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Washington, D.C.: A Leopard comment for you: if you have an old version of Boot Camp on your hard drive, the Leopard install may not show your hard drive. It's running a filesystem check (fsck, if you speak UNIX) and it can take up to 15 minutes. You don't need to reformat your hard drive (as I almost did). There is no indication in the installer that it's doing anything (a big oops, in my opinion). Hopefully this can save people a lot of grief/reformatted hard drives!

Rob Pegoraro: thanks, WDC!

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DC: Have you heard anything about iTunes not working right on the iPod Classic? I went to the Apple store three times about it -- it refuses to install the latest update -- and they replaced my iPod (twice!!!) before they finally realized that the new update won't work on the Classic. And the iPod acts squirrelly -- it doesn't sync right (often have to reboot to get it to sync) and it doesn't fast forward through songs properly.

Have you heard of this/any readers heard of this? Apple is usually much better about this kind of thing.

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't heard of it, but I'll post it and see if any of the other chatters know about it.

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digital video recorders: Hi Rob, I'd really like to buy a digital video recorder, and I'd like something I could use for many years. But I'm worried that there are so many different formats (for instance: HDTV, normal TV, analog cable, digital cable, satellite TV, and I hear things about broadcast flags) that anything I buy will be useless in a few years, or unable to record much of what we watch. Am I needlessly worried? Also, can you get a DVR that allows you to plug in external hard drives for additional recordings?

Rob Pegoraro: As long as you get a video recorder--DVD, hard drive, even VHS--with a digital tuner, you're future-proofed as far as broadcast goes. Things get squirrelly when it comes to cable TV: You'll at least want one with a "QAM" tuner, and usually a CableCard slot as well. Right there, I may have pared down the list to only one DVR--the TivoHD--plus some media-center-type computers.

For satellite, forget it--the only DVRs with built-in satellite tuners come from the satellite services themselves.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob - so has your household purchased an LCD HD TV yet? Can you tell us what you chose?

Rob Pegoraro: We haven't. Embarrassing, isn't it? :)

That's partially my own laziness, partially the fact that we're still having some work done in the next room.

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Odenton again...: Does restoring mean I'll have to load the songs again? I did see that feature on the Apple site, but I'm at work so can't try it for obvious reasons (main one being that my iTunes is on my home PC).

Rob Pegoraro: Right. Restoring means completely wiping the iPod's memory, then reloading everything from scratch.

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New Canaan, Conn.: is there a single solution to the compatibility problem with Vista? It was supposed to be an 'improvement'. I was gullible enuf to accept it on a new computer and have suffered because of this problem.

Rob Pegoraro: There is, in one way: Third-party developers need to get off their butts and update their software!

Look, Windows Vista cannot possibly have taken any sentient software developer by surprise. It was *years* in the making; Microsoft didn't even put the final version in stores or release it for installation on new computers until a good two months after it was finished.

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Arlington, Va.: Does this exist?: A wifi-capable device that is more portable than a laptop, doesn't require phone service, and is cheaper than an iTouch.

Rob Pegoraro: Try the Nokia 810 sometime--it's a little Linux-powered tablet computer with WiFi built in.

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Washington, D.C.: Just yesterday I started having my email rejected by Hotmail. These are often replies I'm sending to friends - so it's clear that they have not put me on their blocked list. Surfing the web, I found that this is a common problem having to do with Microsoft's spam filters which blacklists senders as spammers (who are not). Countless others appear to have the same problem. Is Microsoft doing anything about this other than on an individual case-by-case basis? Seems like a major issue for anyone who either has a Hotmail account or emails to people who have them.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, Hotmailers, how are things going? (If you've seen your outgoing messages bounce back, please tell me what service the recipient used--AOL, Verizon, Gmail, whatever.)

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Winnipeg, Canada: Hi there. I was wondering about FileVault in OS X (I'm still got Tiger and probably won't get around to upgrading to Leopard for a while). Is it a good security feature or just a big hassle? After the initial encryption, does it slow down the computer very much? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: It's a good security feature if you take your computer outside the home often and have sensitive data on it, but it's not without its risks (see one of the first postings here).

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Rockville, Md.: Are there any good freeware registry cleaners for XP?

Rob Pegoraro: The one I've used a few times without any evident harm is CCleaner (ccleaner.com). But I can't say that any of my Windows machines has felt much snappier as a result.

Any other suggestions?

BTW, I should reiterate here my standard warning: If a Web ad pops up, says your computer is in bad shape and needs a registry cleaning NOW--ignore it. Never install software under those conditions.

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For Hibernate problem: I don't know Win internals, but hibernate likely involves moving memory to disk. The fact that you have 2 GB or RAM could be a hint: is your swap/page/whatever you call it in Windows big enough?

Rob Pegoraro: That's possible, although it would be an unusual Windows system with that much memory and yet too little free space on the drive to accommodate the swap file.

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Power-mngt prob, NY: Rob, I'm running XP, and a corporate image at that. I thought of mentioning it but didn't think it would be super-enlightening...is it?

Rob Pegoraro: It is, actually: Vista seems to do a better job with power management than XP... which in turn is better than Win 95, 98 or ME.

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Washington, D.C.: If I can afford it, my next personal computer might be a Mac, contingent on one major thing: gaming. Apple has a long way to go to satisfy me on this front. This is a problem that causes the hordes of tech-loving young gamers like me to avoid switching.

Sure, OS X is well-designed, attractive, and secure, but I am experienced enough to use Windows XP safely and efficiently, so I would never pay a premium for a system that won't run the games I enjoy. A recent interview I saw with Gabe Newell of Valve Software indicated that Apple realizes they have a problem but can never put forth a concerted, long-term effort to improve their game support.

Rob Pegoraro: The Mac has never been a good machine to get for gaming. It's not as bad as it once was--the Intel transition has helped enormously--but if gaming's a priority you need to run Windows. At the very least, you'd need to set up Windows XP in Boot Camp on a Mac.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Re: the problem with "Mazola Foxfire" on the limited user account -- are there any Firefox plug-ins/add-ons installed? I think I've run into problems with some Firefox add-ons when they tried to update on a limited account.

Rob Pegoraro: I think Firefox needs admin access no matter what--I get a User Account Control nag in Visa when Firefox wants to update itself.

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Tampa, Fla.: FYI: Someone has figured out how to run Leopard on an Intel PC. As the hacker, BrazilMAC points out elsewhere, Windows hardware is less expensive than Mac hardware.

Here's the link.

Rob Pegoraro: I was wondering if the OSx86 folks had gotten that to work yet. (This is an *extremely* unsupported hack.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hotmail not sending messages?

I have run into this.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Silver Spring.

(To save everybody from having to click through: The linked-to story says that Hotmail caps you at 100 outgoing messages a day.)

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Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: When photos are deleted from a digital camera, can they be recovered if they haven't been overwritten with new photos? I am asking out of curiosity in connection with something discussed in this week's Weingarten chat (a woman caught a guy taking "upskirt" photos in the Metro and he started deleting them).

Rob Pegoraro: I read that part of the Weingarten chat as well--what a creep.

Deleted photos are like any other kind of deleted file: If you haven't overwritten them with other data, you can still recover them with the right software, such as PhotoRec (http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/PhotoRec)

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm in the market for a new laptop for home: no gaming, not a media center. Have you put out a review guide in the last year? Are the Toshiba Satellites still a good line? Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Laptop Guide

Rob Pegoraro: Short answer: Toshiba makes good hardware, but whoever's in charge of its software bundle--much less papering over every laptop with stupid stickers--needs to find a more suitable line of work.

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hibernate, again: I found an article in MS knowledgebase. It says the power manager isn't getting enough memory, and recommends a hotfix.

Rob Pegoraro: Good job--thanks!

If you do have the exact text of an error message, it's usually worth your time to search for that phrase at support.microsoft.com - then, if that doesn't work, try a Web search for the same phrase.

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Richmond, Va.: I've used both CCleaner and Eusing Registry Cleaner with no apparent ill effects.

Rob Pegoraro: But have they made your computer any faster?

Warning, unfounded speculation ahead:

I'm starting to think that cleaning the registry is like defragging the hard drive--it's a form of computing voodoo that does little harm but provides little help in most cases, but at least it helps people feel that they're still in charge of their computers.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Have a new PC with WXP64 installed. Am having trouble obtaining a wireless adaptor card that will work with this. Any suggestions? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You've discovered the curse of 64-bit computing in Windows: awful driver support. That--along with the irrelevance of 64-bit computing for most consumer applications--explains why I've advised against even messing with x64 Windows.

(Leopard is a 64-bit system, but it implements this feature in a way that preserves compatibility with existing software; most users will never even know this feature exists.)

64-bit computing, BTW, essentially means that the computer can process much larger chunks of data at a time. It does *not* make the computer twice as fast as it was with 32-bit software.

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Laurel, Md.: I have a G3 iBook (from 2002) which has a new 120GB hard drive (the original failed), and maxed out memory (640 MB). It was running 10.2.4 when it failed and I want to upgrade to Tiger (10.4.x). How is this done? I tried Apple.com but apparently 10.2.8 and above aren't available for purchase/downloading (?). Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Amazon still carries Tiger, and you can also buy a copy on eBay.

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Clarksville, Md.: Any thoughts or advice on penetrating the Verizon so-called "customer service" labyrinth? I have Verizon FIOs cable TV and Internet, and love the service. However, Verizon insists on charging me for a home media DVR that I do not have, and they still have not given me the $99 bundled monthly rate, even thought I signed up for it six months. I'm on the phone constantly with them, get vague promises, but nothing ever changes. Help!

Rob Pegoraro: E-mail me with the details (robp -at- washpost.com) and I'll see what I can do.

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Alexandria, Va.: Wal-Mart is about to sell a Linux computer for $200. It uses Google's online spreadsheet, word processor, etc. instead of Windows. Is this approach practical in 2007?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--just not for everybody.

What distribution is Wal-Mart shipping with this machine?

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Washington, D.C.: Shorter version of an earlier question: Should HandBrake take 8 or more hours to rip a DVD to a hard drive?

Rob Pegoraro: Absolutely not. When I first tested it on a G4 iMac, ripping a DVD to the computer took at least twice as long as the movie's running time. On an Intel iMac, it's been more like 50 percent of the movie's running time.

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New York, N.Y.: Rob, From you I learn that I can install WinXP via Bootcamp on my new (Leopard) iMac. This question: will I then be able to run Quicken for Windows on the iMac? As you probably know better than I, Quicken's program for Mac leaves a lot to be desired. -and getting a helpful response from Intuit ... Well, you're the Man when it comes to helpful responses. Thanks again for all. JC

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you can run Quicken for Windows--along with any other Windows program--inside a Boot Camp installation. This isn't a a fake Windows system; it is as real as anything you'd put on a Dell, HP or whatever.

Note, though, that you can't put just any old copy of XP on a Boot Camp setup. You need XP Service Pack 2, and by the terms of Microsoft's license it needs to be a copy you bought in a store--not the CD that came with your last PC.

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ipod ignoramous: So, everything I currently have on my ipod I put into itunes from previously existing CDs. What is different about buying stuff from the itunes store? Can those songs be copied to other media? Do I really own them, or do I only have the right to listen to them on my current computer and ipod? What if I get an external hard drive for back ups? What if I get a new computer someday? Do you get to redownload the songs you buy from itunes? or do you have to buy them again? Or are the contents of my library stored somewhere that I don't know about?

And, what if I want to borrow CD's from family members and load them on my ipod over Thanksgiving? Do I have to take the physical disks home with me back to my (desktop) computer? Can I download itunes onto their computer, scan their CD's and add the new music to my ipod without erasing what is already there? And can you keep my mother from killing me if I disappear for a while on Thanksgiving afternoon to do this?

Yes, the "ignoramus" title I claimed up top is well deserved.

Rob Pegoraro: Let me try to tackle these as quickly as possible, as I've gone *quite* a way past the scheduled end of this chat:

* You buy iTunes Store purchases, period.

* Anything labeled as iTunes Plus is an AAC file with zero usage limits.

* Everything else can only be played on five computers *at any one time*, but can be copied to an infinite number of computers--you can transfer the playback authorization from computer to computer as long as you want--and a infinite number of iPods.

* Apple allows a once-in-a-lifetime free download of everything you've purchased from the iTunes Store.

* You can rip music from any CD, then take the results--either MP3 or AAC files--on the removable storage of your choice and add them to your iTunes library later on.

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Raleigh, N.C.: How is Google's "open" platform for cellphones going to be any different than Palm's? Doesn't the Palm OS already allow for third-party applications?

washingtonpost.com: You Can Hear Google Now

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly. This is why I don't get all this feverish anticipation over whatever Google might do in the cell-phone business. I don't doubt that the company could make a good phone interface... but I'm not sure it's going to reinvent the cell phone in the process.

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Rockville, Md.: I am thinking of buying iPhone this holiday season. How is ATT in DC area? Is it worth buying? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Good coverage overall until you walk into a Metro station--AT&T, like its fellow GSM carrier T-Mobile, has no signal in the subway parts of Metro.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for all the good answers for us non-techies. Being naive perhaps, but why hasn't any MP3 player maker been able to break the iPod barrier with it's simple drag and paste? And, is there any reasons that iPods don't contain iTunes already built-in as archived software so you aren't limited using only certain computers, making iPod use as simple as possible? My next question would be why doesn't the iPod have a slide volume control on the side but I'll ask that later.

Rob Pegoraro: Look at the software end of things: Except for the Zune, you're looking at using one company's hardware (the MP3 player) and another company's software (usually, Windows Media Player). WMP itself has serious deficiencies compared to iTunes--the foremost one being that it can't subscribe to podcasts. Finally, a lot of competing MP3 players (I would not include the Zune among them) just aren't as simple and elegant to use as an iPod.

Put it this way: Apple's selling point for the iPod is simplicity, but the competition's sales pitch often consists of a bullet-point list of features.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's gotta wrap things up for today--I have to get back to work on catching up with my e-mail, among many other things. Thanks... I should see y'all here in two weeks.

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