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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, November 15, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro will be online Thursday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

This Story

A transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon! This is my last chat before the "official" onset of the holiday shopping season, so if you've got any tech-procurement queries you've been saving up--fire away.

But first, I'm going to take some questions about Microsoft's Zune media player, the subject of this morning's column.

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Washington, D.C.: I have used the new Zune software intensively for a few days, and would like to describe further some of its major flaws that you touched upon in your article.

Unfortunately, the software fell under Microsoft's long-standing culture of "Release it now, fix it later." The software was rebuilt from scratch, ditching the WMP shell it used to be based on as part of Microsoft's business plan to separate the Zune department from the rest of the company.

The end result is that the developers had to work very hard just to give the new software -near- the same functionality as the old software. It also seems that a high level decision was made to take the "Keep It Simple, Stupid" philosophy to its extreme. Almost all customizations and advanced features have been removed, again, in part due to time constraints.

For example, I listen to a lot of "Song of the Day" podcasts. I add ones I like to playlists and then make mix CDs from the playlists periodically.

You can no longer add a podcast to a playlist with the Zune software. Just can't do it. I couldn't even find a workaround, such as editing the genre metadata in WMP (can't edit metadata anymore in Zune) or copying the podcasts to a different directory and having Zune monitor it as a "song" folder.

There are dozens of frustrations like this that make the new software a two steps forward, two steps back experience.

My advice for even slightly intermediate users it to treat this as a typical new MS product: wait 3-6 months before buying. MS will eventually add features (back in) and work the bugs out. Zune 2.0 is better than its predecessor in some ways and has a lot of promise, but as of now, it's too feature-poor to easily use.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the detailed report. I hadn't thought to try adding a podcast to a playlist, but maybe that's because I'm used to iTunes treating them as an entirely separate category of content.

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Stevensville, Md.: I've been thinking about switching from my iPod to a Zune, but after years with an iPod I have all of my music sorted and arranged in iTunes. How hard would it be for me to make the switch, and is it possible to sync the Zune with iTunes?

Rob Pegoraro: If the music in iTunes involves songs downloaded from the iTunes Store, you may not be able to switch at all--the Zune software can't play songs purchased from iTunes unless they're un-"protected" iTunes Plus AAC files.

Otherwise, you're not looking at anything too strenuous. The Zune software comes preset to index all the songs in your "My Music" folder, so you don't need to move anything. It also plays MP3 and AAC files. But: You will have to recreate all your playlists, and you'll lose any ratings you've applied to songs (where iTunes has a 1-to-5 stars rating scheme, the Zune app only lets you designate a song as something you like or hate, using heart and broken-heart icons).

No, you can't sync a Zune with iTunes.

So what's got you thinking of replacing an iPod with a Zune?

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Laurel, MD Stack Overflow: I am fortunate enough to be able to be on washingtonpost.com a lot during the day at work. Ever since IE7 was put on my computer I get a Stack Overflow on line: 57 message each time I change a page or refresh. It occasionally boots me off the website and it only occurs on Washpost. Is it the ads and is it serious?

Rob Pegoraro: I've never seen that message--with any site, actually. Has anybody else here?

(You know what my initial response to a question like this is, right? Switch to Firefox.)

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Reston, Va.: Is there any way to check out a link to a numbered URL address without opening it? I recently received an e-mail telling me that I'd been sent an e-card (purportedly) from someone at an existing company in France. The link address provided begins with a 70. It's probably just an ad (or scam) of some kind, and I know better than to access it, but I'm curious.

Rob Pegoraro: There's no easy way to do so unless you've got some experience in command-line networking tools (if you do, nslookup is your friend). But in this case, you don't need to bother. *Any* invitation to download a greeting card should be treated as an invitation to download a virus. Delete the message and move on.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Most of our local stations are now broadcasting in digital format, including some HD options. We get great over the air reception on our HDTV, but the question now is -- how do we record over the air digital TV shows? We don't have cable and don't want to subscribe to a monthly plan like Tivo. Isn't there something equivalent to the good old VCR to record over the air digital broadcasts? I bought a DVD recorder just a year back but it only has an analog tuner.

Rob Pegoraro: I wish you'd waited until this spring to buy your DVD recorder--they all include digital tuners now. (The FCC requirement mandating the inclusion of digital tuners didn't kick in until early this year. Seems kind of late when analog broadcasts are supposed to end in February 2009, no?)

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Lexington, Va.: What would be the easiest program to use to print a list of addresses to envelopes from a macbook?

Rob Pegoraro: Uh, Address Book? In Leopard (and maybe Tiger, but the MacBook next to me is running 10.5), it's preset to print out envelope. Select somebody's address, and it will automatically put your name and address in the return-address area on an envelope.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have a new iMac running Leopard (it's great!), but I have a problem: when I run Fusion and print from WordPerfect within Windows it prints fine, but when I then try to print from Safari (or any other Mac program) the printer can't be found on the Mac side. In order to print on the Mac side, I have to exit Fusion. Then, the Mac sees the printer again and is able to print. Isn't there a way for the printer to work in both? My laptop's Virtual PC and my friend's Parallels lets him print in both. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure--I've been playing with Fusion, but I don't know that I've tried printing from it yet. Anybody else using VMWare's Windows virtual-machine software on a Mac?

(If I remember its interface correctly, you should be able to shut off Fusion's access to parts of a Mac's hardware by clicking icons at the bottom right corner of the Fusion window. But I don't have a copy of the Fusion handy at the moment, so don't quote me on that.)

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Sarpy County, Neb.: Thanks for this great feature. Firefox is not as functional as it used to be, (due partly, I think, to add-ons and extensions) and I want to replace it and start from scratch. However, when I uninstall and reinstall, I get the same settings and toolbars as I had before. How can I clean all traces off my computer?

Rob Pegoraro: Try uninstalling the add-ons without reinstalling Firefox. Go to the Tools menu, select Add-ons, and click the "Uninstall" button next to whatever you don't like.

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Seattle: Count me as another disappointed Zune user. I had eventually learned to live with the original WMP software. Zune 2.0? Forget it. I simply refuse. My Zune 30 has 20 gigs of music on it, and for now, that's how it's going to stay. The new software messed up a whole bunch of my organization tags and I simply don't want to risk further damage.

Yes, Zune 2.0 is beautiful, but this beauty has definitely come at a cost. What would be awesome is if Microsoft would release a patch allowing the Zune to connect to WMP11. It'd be a stopgap, but a stopgap I could definitely get behind.

To be fair to Microsoft, however, they do have employees actively responding to question on the Zune.net forums. It's nice to see that level of interaction.

washingtonpost.com: Faster Forward: Zune 2.0

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report. My sense of the new Zune software is that it represents a much stronger focus on beginning users--in the sense that they represent Microsoft's best chance of breaking out its current niche in the market.

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Elkton, Md.: When my personally owned PDA died, I decided to transfer its functions to my Treo which is owned by my employer. Unfortunately, the Treo, which looks like it would be a good substitute for the PDA, doesn't have a "find" function so that I can't just have the computer look in my calendar, contacts, and memos for key words. I used to do this a lot on my PDA. Is there a Treo substitute that does have a "find" or a "search" function?

Rob Pegoraro: The Treo does, in fact, have a "find" function, just like any other Palm device. See that little magnifying-glass icon on the left-hand shift key? Hold down the option button--the blank, black one--and hit that key to bring up the find tool.

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Stevensville, Md.: I'm thinking about replacing my iPod for a couple of reasons. First is that I use the Song Shuffle function almost exclusively, and I hate how it works on the iPod. It seems like I get songs from only about 15 different artists (and I have more than 400 albums on the iPod). Second, I have an Xbox 360 and like the functionality that provides with the Zune. Lastly, I've had iPod's for years, but am starting to feel like a bit of a corporate sheep by continuing to buy them.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Millville, N.J.: Not that I would buy a Zune, but if I wanted one I would have to buy Windows. Do you think MS would open up the Zune to other platforms like Mac OS X?

Rob Pegoraro: No. Microsoft has yet to show any meaningful interest in making its Windows Media format fully Mac-compatible; that's why you can't listen to or watch any DRM-ed Windows Media audio or video on a Mac (or on a Linux machine, for that matter). Microsoft seems to have decided that this format is, in essence, first a Windows feature.

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Montreal, QC: I don't get it. I'm on a Mac. I thought everybody can open jpeg files. Sometimes Windows people tell me they can't open the files. How come?

Rob Pegoraro: Sometimes the picture-viewer program in Windows gets messed up and won't launch. Sometimes file associations are done wrong. And it's also possible to send an attachment from a Mac's Mail program in a way that makes it garbled in Windows. Try using the "send windows friendly attachments" command for people who report these issues.

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Bethesda, Md.: The rule for email is the same as the rule for food that has overstayed its welcome in your refrigerator-- if in doubt, throw it out. Specifically, any email from an unknown source -has- to supply a positive ID-- e.g., your actual, full name (not just your user id or email address), the last digits of your credit card, etc.

Rob Pegoraro: Good advice here...

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Georgetown: Recording HD over the air -- do these DVD recorders actually record in HD quality, or the lower DVD quality?

Rob Pegoraro: Just DVD quality. The only way to record HD in HD is with a digital video recorder like a TiVo; although high-def video discs exist, neither of the two incompatible formats (Blu-Ray and HD DVD) offers a recording option for use with a TV.

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Reston, Va.: I just got a new Dell computer, and my old HP LaserJet printer cable won't fit. I suppose I could get an adapter, but maybe it's time to invest in a new printer with more features -- color, photo prints, scan, copy, fax, etc. Your recommendation?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, the parallel port is long dead. I think you've got the right idea about replacing it with a multi-function device, but you can probably skip fax functionality--scanning and printing should be plenty.

The big names in the scanner/printer market are Epson, Canon, Lexmark, Brother and HP, but I only have direct experiences with Epson (long ago) and HP (current model). Any suggestions for Reston?

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Lanham, Md.: Rob- I downloaded the new Zune software to my old Zune last night. What a mistake! (But, of course, unavoidable.) I lost all the preloaded stuff that came with my Zune device. And the new Zune device interface (background, start-up menu)is soooo ugly. I know my stuff is gone for good, but please warn other folks. Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: You shouldn't have lost any content off the Zune--did it not sync back to your PC?

I prefer the new interface; I think it's a bit more legible, and of course you also get podcast support, which was sorely absent from the old Zune.

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Seattle: A quick comment on your Zune review: Would it kill you to review the product first, and then compare it to the iPod? I know that your thinking is that nothing will ever unseat the iPod, but how about taking everything on its own merits first, and then compare it to the market? Don't you think that would be more fair?

If you're comparing features of the actual product -- not market penetration, not how "unlikely" it is to meet other Zune owners (how do you even know that?) -- you'll find that the Zune 80 compares very favorably to the iPod Classic. However, you don't do that, and it's frustrating.

Rob Pegoraro: Maybe you're thinking of somebody else's review? My column was actually pretty favorable towards the Zune player itself--or did you miss the part where I suggested that the "squircle" controller worked better than the iPod click-wheel in some cases?

I did not spend much time comparing the Zune 80 with the iPod classic because most people buy smaller, lighter, more durable flash-memory players these days.

PS: I know how unlikely it is to see Zune users in the wild because I, like, leave my house from time to time. I take the Metro to and from work every day. And I have seen a total of two Zunes in use by strangers. Ever.

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Vienna, Va.: Follow up to Reston, Va., question. There are several web sites that offer a browser-based interface to nslookup, traceroute, ping, etc. For example, http://network-tools.com/.

Rob Pegoraro: I was trying to find a simple, clean nslookup interface, but the first site I tried didn't seem to work. Thanks!

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Bethesda, Md.: For VMWare Fusion you can connect and disconnect any USB device to the VM on the fly, and that should include printers (though I have not tried it). Still, this leaves you with only one OS being able to print at a time. The better solution would be to share your printer(s) in OS X and have Windows connect to them as networked printers. This is yet another thing I have not tried so I don't know how easy it is.

Rob Pegoraro: Got it. Something to file away whenever I finally write up a column or blog post about Fusion and Parallels...

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Woodstock, Va.: I use Outlook Express for E-mail. I can read an e-mail without actually opening it by using the Properties (right click) and Detail (left click)selections.

If the e-mail contained a virus or other problem, will this approach (instead of "opening" it) protect me, or am I deluding myself? Thanks, I always enjoy and learn from your discussions.

Rob Pegoraro: I would say--not to be harsh, but...--you're deluding yourself. If a virus has been written to exploit a vulnerability in Outlook Express, you can get nailed even if you never interact with it. But if it's just an attachment that you have to choose to run, it doesn't matter how you view it.

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Philly, Pa.: I want to by a Zune because I live my life in a constant state of irony. I drive a 1993 Ford Festiva for the same reason.

Rob Pegoraro: Outstanding! (But then, shouldn't you be sending your question in to the Washington Times' tech chat? :)

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Carlisle, Pa.: Rob, can you rewind a bit on the DVD Recorder/Analong Tuner issue? I have satellite, do I need to care?

Rob Pegoraro: Unless you *never* have rain fade and never have a TV in the house that isn't connected to a satellite receiver, yes, you should care.

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob, Hopefully you can help me with this iPod problem. I connected my iPod (30GB video) to sync some pictures and charge it for a business trip. I received a notice to there was notice to update the iPod software, which I did.

I get on the plane the next day, put in my earphones and try to select an album. There are none listed - no music appeared in the list. My new pictures were there, but no music.

Last night I performed a restore on the iPod and then tried to sync my music. The dialog at the top of iTunes showed the various songs being transferred. But still no music listed on the iPod.

I haven't upgraded iTunes to the latest version could that be causing the problem or is there another known "feature". thanks for the help.

Rob Pegoraro: I would upgrade iTunes first--these releases generally include bug fixes. Then I'd try doing a restore-and-reinstall of your iPod's software, which will wipe out the existing software and then put a fresh copy on the player.

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Rockville, Md.: Rob, you said that neither Blu-Ray nor HD DVD offer a recording option for use with HD recordings from a DVR. How many years are we from having such capabilities?

Rob Pegoraro: None--you can buy Blue-Ray and HD DVD recorders for your TV today. You just need to fly to Japan to do so.

Manufacturers have told me that they can't make a recorder affordable enough for the U.S. market. That doesn't quite convince me when I see the price of BR or HD DVD recorder drives for computers... but it's not as laughable an argument as the other one I hear sometimes, which is that "consumers just aren't as interested in recording anymore." Riiiiight.

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Tampa, Fla.: Do you have to be a Pod Person to make a Pod Cast?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope--"podcast" is just a catchy phrase for an MP3 recording.

It is a little odd to see the new Zune use a word based on the name of a competing product throughout its interface. But what choice did the designers have? Trying to use some other word like "audiocast" just makes you look like you're in denial.

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Oviedo, Fla.: Standard shifts have robbed us of our older movies and photos - video shot in early 90s will degrade as I keep shifting it to newer modes, won't it? And photo CDSs that aren't compatible with new computer - I feel like I am beanbagging this stuff around. Mathew Brady's photos from Civil War survive as is - at least some of them do. No such luck for this generation. I feel like my teen's lives have already encompassed several tech shifts and their memories must be dragged along form to form. 1989 wedding video unwatchable...corporations now decide which of our memories we can access? Or pay to shift decade by decade as they break down and look worse for the wear?

Rob Pegoraro: Well, would you rather that technology never advanced?

At least with digital media, you don't have to work hard or spend lots of time making copies of things or moving them to new media. (I say that having just taken up way too many nights dubbing some old videotapes of my brother's onto DVDs. Talk about tedium!)

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Washington, D.C.: Can you enlighten me as to why, as of a few weeks ago, I can no longer access my Hotmail account through Safari? Is this part of the grand plan by the Evil Empire to subvert all things Mac?

Rob Pegoraro: No, Microsoft just hates you in particular.

(Sorry, I just signed into Hotmail in Safari. No problems at all. I have no idea what's going on with your account.)

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Fairfax: Hi. There are multiple internet outlets for used Macs, which sell for as little as $200 for a G3 iBook and less than $100 for a G3 iMac. G4 versions cost a little more, but they're still a lot cheaper than a new unit. For simple at-home email and websurfing,what are the minimum specs I need for an acceptable (though not scintillating) experience? What would I need in the laptop to use wi-fi at coffee shops? Do you have any advice on the best places to shop, or some to avoid? Pitfalls to look out for? I'm assuming that a Mac, as a pretty standardized product, is a safer bet than a second-hand PC, but buying anything used is always tricky. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: First, you should be a little wary about buying a used laptop. Those things take a lot more abuse than desktops, yet are also include some fragile components (like the screen hinge).

For Web and e-mail use, you certainly don't need much: 512 MB of memory and an AirPort card should do it.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: My 4G iPod froze up and gave me a frowny face iPod graphic. It was so adorable that I just couldn't stay mad at it.

Rob Pegoraro: Awwww...

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Fairfax, Va.: Ok, I've got a problem. I am currently a long-time Verizon customer discouraged with the selection of hardware. I'm a blackberry user (love my push email) but miss the functionality of Windows Mobile. So if you have some good advice on how to bridge the two or come close, let me know.

Ok so here's the problem - I've got a vendor vs. hardware issue. Vendor problem is Verizon is the most reliable network in the states. AT&T was tempting and I was also considering T Mobile. HOWEVER, only because their phones are so much better. Even the blackberry curve is hands down more magnificent than Verizon's phones. Plus, all the Verizon phones coming out this season are NOT attractive to me. I would change services all things equal, but I have a lot of fellow Verizon friends who make good use of my in-calling minutes. I could switch to T Mobil which at least let you pick the friends and now offer wi-fi free. Your thoughts on all of this? HELP!

Rob Pegoraro: One option you didn't mention would be to try Sprint--its phones can roam on Verizon's network, and all of its plans include that roaming for free.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Rob, I have a Powerbook G4 with OS 10.4. I have file vault turned on. Is it relatively safe for me to use public hotspots like my library or city hall to do my online banking transactions or am I totally exposed?

I don't really understand the wireless communication process and how the risk enters in. Thanks for your column and these Q & A's

Rob Pegoraro: You're kinda confusing two things. FileVault does *nothing*--zero, nada--to protect your online use. It only secures the data on your computer, and then only when you're not signed in. (So if the laptop gets stolen from the coffeeshop after you log out, restart or shut down, the thief can't get to your data.)

To protect your online use, only log in at sites that secure your information with the usual encryption--if you see that lock icon in the top corner of Safari's window, your login and password are safe.

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Pasadena, Calif.: How well will an N wireless laptop adapter work with my laptop that has an internal a/b/g wireless card? In particular, will it improve the laptop's pickup range and download speed from other than N routers? Must the laptop N adapter be backward compatible?

Rob Pegoraro: When I tried a batch of "pre-N" routers a couple of years ago, I found that even old laptops with b and g receivers had much better range. (FYI: Carrying an open laptop down a street at 10 p.m. can get you some weird looks from the neighbors.)

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Woodstock, Va.: Re; My "opening" Outlook Express e-mail question. I didn't mean to imply that I was using the Properties/Details approach for attachments. I don't open attachments unless I know the sender and then only after a virus scan. I only use this approach for opening the message/mail, from an unknown sender. Same answer? or there a difference in opening the message vs. opening the attachment?? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: HUGE difference. Opening the attachment brings its contents out into the open. Windows shouldn't let you open an executable attachment at all, but there are ways to hide malware inside what looks like an innocent picture or movie file.

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Fed up with iPod: Hi Rob, I've had an iPod (mini 4G iPod) for several years now and I'm beginning to be fed up with it. The hardware itself is great, easy to use, durable, etc. However, iTunes is overwhelmingly frustrating. My legal iTunes download don't play on my iPod anymore. I've updated all the software, reload the songs, etc., and it still doesn't work. Furthermore, iTunes is very slow on my computer (Pentium 4, 2 GHz, 512 ram) and constantly asks for upgrades. Needless to say, I will be burning all my iTunes download, re-ripping them to remove the copyright stuff. I don't think I'll use iTunes anymore and will start to look at other download options that doesn't contain DRM.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a troubling post--I hardly ever hear from people who can't play their iTunes Store purchases on an iPod, which I think is largely because iTunes doesn't care if it's your iPod or not. (I.e., because iTunes purchases can be played on an unlimited number of iPods, iTunes doesn't have to keep track of which iPods have been used with it.)

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob, hope I'm not too late. My hard drive crashed on my Toshiba laptop. When I get another one, or a new computer, and download iTunes, will I be able to just sync with my iPod and get all my music? Or is there another step I'll need to take, deauthorizing or something like that? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I get this question all the time. You need to use one of the two programs I suggest in this Help File column.

(Now could y'all please link to this article one very Web page you control, so that it will pop up instantly when people Google for "copy songs from iPod" and I don't have to e-mail the same advice to people every other day? Thanks :)

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For Bethesda, Md., with the 'lost' iPod music: I suggest that you check your iPod settings for the 'main' menu. The latest version of iTunes lets you select/deselect categories of content to be displayed in the menu, and it's possible that the music folder has been inadvertently deselected/unchecked. Under settings, there's also an option to reset the menu. Your music may still be there and it could be a settings issue.

Rob Pegoraro: You still around, Bethesda?

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Jim @ Falls Church: Rob: In Japan, Apple's new OS X 10.5 (Leopard) overtook all Windows OS sales by yielding 60.5 percent of the total market share there. And of course Apple sold 2,000,000 copies of Leopard internationally in the first week alone. I think it is time the Washington Post recognizes a serious shift in momentum as demonstrated in some sectors like this, in the form of more stories focusing on the iMac and Leopard tandem. This dynamic duo is literally changing lives, Rob. I'm not advocating any dominance reversal has yet occurred and I'm pragmatic -- I know plenty more Windows platforms will be sold due to sound reasoning. But the new iMac's combined with Leopard means many people who would not switch due to -insert reason here- find -said reason- is usually no longer true. This implies there are far less exceptions to switch, and consumers in Japan are clearly, obviously and without any question aware of this. Your comments on this iMac/Leopard induced revolution, real or perceived, are appreciated. -Jim

Rob Pegoraro: Jim, I think you're the first person to suggest that we've been undercovering Apple :)

But seriously: Apple's had some great quarters, but Windows still has an overwhelming majority of the market. Those people have a right to expect that their concerns aren't going to be neglected in our coverage.

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Arlington, Va.: Okay, so I've got a Palm TX and a cell phone. I love the wiFi of the TX but hate carrying both devices. I don't need readily internet connection but like having a phone with my pda. Verizon told me that if I get a Treo I'll need to get an internet plan since the Treo will constantly be searching to make an internet connection. Is this true, and are there any plans that you know of for a cell phone/PDA combo with WiFi? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: The Treo isn't "constantly" searching for an Internet connection--but in general, a smartphone without Internet access is like a bus without wheels.

You can get smartphones with WiFi built-in, but none run the Palm OS. Also, note that most other carriers don't charge as much as Verizon does for cellular Internet access.

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Long Island City, N.Y.: Rob, You answered a query from Stevensville, Md., about the Find function in TREO. i find that a very very useful function. i'm dying to buy an iPhone but there seems to be no such function on it. Or am i wrong, i hope? If i'm right, i'm mystified that Apple doesn't have it on iPhone when its Spotlight search engine is so special and such a difference from Microsoft's. Any hope here that Apple will provide?

Rob Pegoraro: You're not missing anything on the iPhone, LIC. There is no "find" function there. And, yeah, it's strange that the company behind Spotlight hasn't put something like this on its smartphone.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: On the Hotmail with Safari issue mentioned earlier: I had a problem as well. I fixed it by setting Hotmail to only save my username and not my password. If it was set to save both, it wouldn't work on either Safari or Firefox for the Mac. This workaround fixed the problem.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm, hadn't thought of that. (I've never set Hotmail to store my password for me.) Thanks for the suggestion...

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Tina in Falls Church: I have been buying the cheapie USB thumb drives from Microcenter. They work great, Vista likes 'em. Am I missing anything by not getting the ones with features built in? I do not need info encrypted...I just need to carry it from hither to yon. Is simple really better?

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah... these things are pretty much commodity parts, and for everyday data-transfer use there aren't any meaningful differences--or at least there aren't any that you can tell before buying.

The ones that might surprise you later on:

* A flash drive may need too much power to work with an external hub or a Mac's keyboard. (Why manufacturers do this escapes me.)

* Some flash drives offer better performance with Windows Vista's ReadyBoost feature, which lets you augment a PC's memory with a flash drive.

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Columbia, Md.: Several times in the last month I have had a window pop up while using Firefox saying something about my system not be optimized or something, I don't read the entire thing, there are buttons to hit OK or Cancel. I hit cancel but then it opens up another larger window saying something about having to download software. I have found the only way to get out of that window is to quit Firefox, sometimes having to use Force Quit because it won't quit. I am on a mac. What is this and should I be concerned? I have my firewall on.

Rob Pegoraro: That pop-up is BS. Click the close box at the top-right corner--never click anything in the window itself. (If you used IE, you could get infected by doing that.)

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Lanham, Md.: Rob- My Zune synched to my PC, and much faster. But all the videos and pictures that came already loaded on the device when I bought it, were gone.

Rob Pegoraro: OK, got it. Well, I did the firmware update on an old Zune 30, and I don't think it took away songs pre-loaded on it... or if it did, then I've somehow picked up music on this Zune that I have no memory of obtaining on my own.

I don't, however, see any photos or videos on this Zune that don't come from my own collection.

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Dayton, Ohio: Can you run ZoneAlarm and AVG 7.5 concurrently?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--ZoneAlarm is a firewall and AVG is an anti-virus program.

But I should tell you that I have received many complaints about ZA getting in the way of normal Internet use. (Not that I haven't also gotten gripes about other third-party firewalls.)

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LIC, NYC, NY: Ron, i am having great trouble with Apple's mail system after upgrading to Leopard. i have suspected that previous Apple upgrades have meshed badly with existing programs, and i get a sense that i'm not alone. Specifically, do you have any reports about problems with Leopard? thx as always.

Rob Pegoraro: Not reports about Mail in Leopard. But there are some issues with a few third-party programs, and Leopard also has at least one data-loss bug that, from what I've read, should have been caught and fixed before this OS shipped.

See this recent blog post of mine: Trouble Spots in Leopard

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Arlington, Va.: Why is it that stores sell laptops running Vista with only 1GB of RAM? Doesn't Vista need 2GB to run properly? Is there an online site where I can read reviews of Vista?

Rob Pegoraro: It's not quite that cut-and-dried. I do like Vista better with 2 GB than with 1 GB. But not everybody is going to run as many programs at once as I do.

I will submit, though, that if you try to run Vista on Microsoft's minimum memory recommendation, 512 MB, you're out of your gourd.

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Washington, D.C.: Hope you can help with this one. I have a PC with WXP64, and cannot find a wireless network adapter that works with this. Can you suggest anything. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You shouldn't have gotten the 64-bit edition of Windows XP. It is a recipe for driver-compatibility nightmares--nobody has any business running a 64-bit edition of Windows unless they can name three programs that they use, then specify what performance boost they'll gain from the 64-bit edition.

Can anybody suggest a wireless receiver that comes with 64-bit drivers?

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Carlisle, Pa.: What I meant to say was, my DVR is absolutely, positively, never going to be connected to a TV other than the one in my living room, which will absolutely, positively, never be using straight analog without satellite or cable. So I ask again, do I need to worry about replacing my DVR? I think upwards 90 percent of people that have DVRs are in this situation - who would put a $200 DVR on a TV that pulls in tv from an external antenna?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd put it this way: By the time you next need a DVR--these things don't last forever--if it has a over-the-air tuner at all, it should be a digital tuner, not an analog model.

Don't underestimate the odds of people buying DVRs for use with only broadcast TV. Digital TV reception looks a LOT better than analog, provided the signal comes in strongly enough.

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Downtown Washington: Rob, Early in the chat, you wrote "where iTunes has a 1-to-5 stars rating scheme, the Zune app only lets you designate a song as something you like or hate, using heart and broken-heart icons"

If I don't like a song, why would it be in my music player's memory? Is this another generational-divide kinda thing?

Rob Pegoraro: Sometimes, you just need to make yourself feel miserable, just so you can appreciate the joy that life can offer. Isn't that why we all go to work? :)

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RE: Columbia's Pop-Up: I think I've encountered that pop-up, or one similar. The red x is fake to. The pop-up totally hijacks Firefox, makes all the other windows and tabs disappear, and the only thing you can do to avoid opening the pop-up further is shut down Firefox in the task manager.

Way way way over the line, although I'm sure whoever wrote the program thinks he's a genius.

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, whoever's responsible for that pop-up has earned himself a serious beatdown.

One more comment on this topic coming up...

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Re: Columbia Md.: Is it possible that the popup he's getting is to update Firefox to a new version? The options on that box, as I recall, are to update now, later, or never, and if he's clicking later he'd get a download. (Normally Firefox blocks those annoying flashing "your system has a virus, download our virus software NOW!" sorts of fakeout screens, so I'd be a bit surprised to see one in Firefox.)

Rob Pegoraro: Well, we didn't ask what sites Columbia was going to. Some pages evade Firefox's pop-up blocking, and warez sites in particular can be pretty pushy with these things.

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DC: Can you explain DRM? I've been buying songs off of Yahoo, Real, and iTunes for a while now, and have had no problems copying them to CDs, any of my three computers, or my Palm Tungsten T2. What's the advantage of not having DRM?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've been buying DRMed songs from the iTunes Store, you wouldn't be able to play them on your Tungsten T2 at all. DRM--which stands for "digital rights management" but in practice often means "digital rights minimization"--is the use of software to stop you from doing certain things with a file.

It's only supposed to get in the way of illegal actions, like sharing the file with hundreds of friends. But too many companies overreach and use DRM to stop legal actions or to protect their other products (see how Microsoft restricts Windows Media DRM to Windows, for instance). Many DRM systems also require your computer to talk to a site on the Internet for permission to open a file; if that site is taken away, you can't play the song or view the video anymore. (See this blog post: Baseball's DRM Strikes Out)

DRM isn't always bad, but it often winds up being that way.

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Arlington, Va.: You can't get the preloaded content back for the Zune30s, but you can download the content from the new Zunes...

http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/945035

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Bethesda, Md.: Regarding Leopard: looks like 10.5.1 just came out and they're fixing the data loss issue! I've seen two annoying problems in Mail on Leopard: GrowlMail doesn't work (yet) and when viewing public folders in Exchange I get errors trying to move or delete messages. I was having problems searching for wireless networks but that turned out to be a compatibility issue between Leopard and VMWare Fusion 1.0 (1.1 is now out).

Rob Pegoraro: Wow, that didn't take long at all! Breaking news right in the middle of this chat... which may be why I saw Apple's main number on my phone's Caller ID not long ago.

I just downloaded 10.5.1--a 39.8 MB file--on this MacBook next to me, and I'm installing it now.

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Washington, D.C.: I paid $1000 for my Sony HD DVR when it came out over two years ago. It was the only good stand-alone, non subscription HD DVR available at the time. It's been a godsend! I don't have cable and probably never will. I find so much to watch on the terrestrial signals that my DVR stays quite full.

Rob Pegoraro:$1,000 is a lot of money... but not as much as you could have spent on cable and satellite since then.

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Songs I hate on my iPod!: Some songs are just to wonderfully horrible/wonderfully horrible to let go of.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, but please don't post their lyrics and get them stuck in our heads!

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Elkton, Md.: Thanks for telling me how to find the "find" function on my Treo. I had two long conversations with Palm tech support people in India named "Iris" and "Bob" who looked in their database and were convinced that the Treo had no such function.

Rob Pegoraro: Wow. Just... wow.

Palm, how much are you paying for your tech-support? How about paying that money to *me* instead? :)

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Alexandria, Va.: Based on your article today, what would it take to compete with or maybe out do the iPod? I love my iPod mini and I'm contemplating upgrading to the iTouch or iPhone, but what would be the magic formula for a company to compete with Apple? It has to be more than just a cool design.

Rob Pegoraro: I've been wondering about that myself. You certainly need to be no more complex than the iPod--and that includes desktop software, not just what's on the player itself.

I think you also need to add something that the iPod doesn't have--yet do so in a manner that doesn't impair the device's simplicity.

My guess would be that you're best off trying to make phones that are better music players, since Apple has chosen to restrict itself to just one wireless carrier. Another option: Making GPS navigators that are also good music players, since Apple isn't even trying to get into that category.

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Chicago, Ill.: Another Mac question: I want to install Windows on my Mac--will either use Bootcamp or buy Parallels. Do I need a "full retail" version or can I buy an "OEM" version from a site such as Newegg? The only difference I can see is documentation, which I don't need.

Rob Pegoraro: The requirements for Boot Camp specify a full retail version, but that may only reflect the licenses involved--an OEM ("Original Equipment Manufacturer") copy is only licensed for use with the hardware it was sold with.

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Beltsville, Md.: jpegs from Macs to Windows: I had a friend email a jpeg file from a Mac, and it was garbled every time. Finally, I had him add the .jpg extension to the file name before emailing it. He had been sending it with a file name that had no extension. I think that the encoding and decoding done by the email programs didn't understand how to handle the file until the extension was added.

Rob Pegoraro:[smacks self in head]

Duh. Right, if you don't add the proper three-character extension to the file, Windows won't know what to do with it.

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Ashland, Ore.: Reply for Fairfax who was thinking of buying a used Mac Laptop - we did the same thing about a year ago. Got a nice little G3 900mhx ibook for about $400. It worked great until it didn't work - about four months in. Logic Board was shot, game over. We pinched some pennies and ran up some Credit Card debt to buy a Macbook at just south of $1000. That computer is great. I would suggest, if possible, that people skip the middlemen and go straight to the macbook. It comes with too little RAM, but upgrading that is a cheap and easy fix you can do yourself down the line. You'll also get Leopard and be able to run it.

If you can't move up to a $950 computer, you can roll the dice on a used one. Maybe we were unlucky to get snake eyes.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing your experience, Ashland.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: I have a Leopard question. When I installed Leopard, I lost all the Dashboard widgets on my administrator account and widgets simply won't run. (They work fine on my kids' parental controlled accounts.) I found some advice on an Apple board to log in and then log out of the parental controlled accounts, which then would make the widgets work again on the Admin account (go figure). This actually worked, until the next time I had to restart the computer, at which time it stopped working and now nothing brings the widgets up. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: I have heard of some Leopard installs converting an admin account into a limited account, but haven't run into that problem myself in any of the three upgrade installations I've done.

The MacInTouch Web site has been collecting links to these issues... give it a read: www.macintouch.com

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Compete with an iPod?: Making a better iPod is only half the problem. They also have to come up with something as good as or better than the iTunes Store. And also the integration between the store and the player.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know about the iTunes Store integration--the iPod took over the market before the Store even existed. And most of the music people carry around still comes from their own CDs.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, pick me! I submitted earlier but didn't get in yet. Which smartphone would you pick between the Imate 9502 and the LG Voyager? Is the next generation of iPhone worth waiting for instead? Your advice will influence my (possible holiday) shopping. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried or even seen either phone yet. But my hunch is that the iMate would be a better choice, at least if you use Windows and Outlook on your computer--it runs Windows Mobile 6, so it's going to sync right up to Outlook. The Voyager runs some LG-only software, which makes me nervous... I fear it would be some ugly, clunky mess, especially when you tried to sync it to your computer.

Also, didn't some executive at Verizon call the Voyager an "iPhone killer"? That means this thing is already doomed.

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Smartphones: Rob, I'm thinking of trading up my stand-alone cell phone for a smartphone, since I really want the electronic calendar and notes features along with access to the internet. I also need it to be my mp3 player, since Creative isn't releasing Vista drivers for the Zen micro. I'm trying to decide between the Motorola Q and the new Palm Centro. Any advice? Also, I plan to use it to get my email off Gmail and use my Google calendar - is that possible? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro:"Creative isn't releasing Vista drivers for the Zen micro." Huh? Does this company not want to stay in business? Did Vista somehow take it by surprise?

The Q and the Centro can both do the job, but they run different operating systems--Windows Mobile for the Q, Palm OS for the Centro. Both can play "PlaysForSure" music, but the Q is a lot thinner. OTOH, the Q doesn't include any sort of notepad program... and you did mention taking notes. So the Centro, even though it's thicker and can't multitask, might be the better choice.

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Ashland, Ore.: The iphone will reportedly have spotlight included in its next software update.

Rob Pegoraro: That would be a sensible thing for Apple to do...

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wiredog: Hope I'm not too late... I used the EyeTV from ElGato as an OTA HD DVR. Works great. How about them TLAs? The DoD has nothin' on the computer industry when it comes to that! My favorite is TWAIN...

Rob Pegoraro: TWAIN, as in "Technology Without An Interesting Name."

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hey Rob, Thanks for the great article. I am a Dell Music Jukebox user. I have now had it for four years, and she's starting to wear a bit. I love the Dell interface, and the format of the player. I find the cycle wheel of the iPod irritating and sometimes irrational (although this could be because I rarely use it). Would the transition to a Zune player make sense, or am I finally going to have to succumb to the iPod?

Rob Pegoraro: That depends mainly on where your existing set of songs come from. If more than a few are from PlaysforSure stores, the Zune won't work--you'd have to burn them to CD, then re-rip them back to the computer.

I think that no matter what, you'll have some sort of transition to make. The Zune will make you learn new software, and the Zune software is so different from WMP (or the Yahoo Jukebox Dell bundles) that you might hate it. Even iTunes has more in common with those apps. OTOH, if you don't like the iPod clickwheel, you don't like the iPod clickwheel.

Am I being indecisive enough here?

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Worst Buy: My wife and I went into a Best Buy and I asked about a digital tuner to use for over the air broadcasts. I was told that I wouldn't be able to receive any over the air broadcasts because of the "bowl effect". He said that because of that the signal was too high to pull in unless I put an antenna on a pole outside my house....I've never heard such nonsense.

Rob Pegoraro: Yeesh. Yet another triumph for the blueshirts...

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I finally get to leave Verizon in April and I cannot wait to get away from their horrific V-Cast marketing. I am thinking of getting an iPhone. Any idea whether the second gen will be out by then? And if you buy a phone but eventually end your contract with AT&T (i.e. not renew)- does the phone become useless?

Rob Pegoraro: No, you'd just have an expensive iPod touch that happens to have physical volume controls. (You could also try to hack the iPhone to use another GSM carrier's subscriber card.)

No idea if there will be a 2nd-gen iPhone by then. It will have been about ten months since the iPhone's debut, so I wouldn't rule it out.

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Rob Pegoraro: Speaking of "yeesh"--it's almost 4 o'clock! Time for me to get back to work.

I did say that I'd report back on the 10.5.1 update I was installing on this MacBook: It seems to have loaded without any problems, although the computer did spend a few moments chewing its cud at the end of the required reboot. The release notes say that it fixes the data-loss bug we talked about before, along with a bunch of other items:

About the Mac OS X 10.5.1 Update

I'll have a report on this on my blog tomorrow or Monday.

Thanks for keeping me busy! I'll see you here again the week after Thanksgiving.

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