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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, February 7, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your questions about Microsoft's bid for Yahoo. He also discussed his recent reviews and blog posts.

This Story

A transcript follows.

Read the transcripts of past Personal Tech discussions here.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, gang... what can I tell you about technology today?

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Bryson City, N.C.: If Microsoft and Yahoo agree to a deal, when would that deal be put into action?

Rob Pegoraro: Let's start with Topic A--Microsoft's proposal to buy Yahoo for $44.6 billion dollars. (Is it wrong that every time I type that figure, I hear Dr. Evil's voice intoning it?)

Microsoft says it hopes to close this deal in the second half of this year. But the moment when everybody signs on the dotted line is only the start of the work. Actually merging these two operations could take years after that.

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Laurel: If M$ and Yahoo merge their mail, am I bad-worded?

Specifically to reduce the risk of malware, I use Firefox to browse and Yahoo mail. But Hotmail specifically (last I knew) won't let anyone read their mail without IE.

So would they have me stuck?

Rob Pegoraro: You have been misinformed about Hotmail. The site works in Firefox and Safari, although you may lose certain features in some browsers. The Windows lock-in comes if you want to download your messages to a computer.

Your risk of malware, FWIW, is about the same regardless of what Webmail client you use--they all scan incoming mail for viruses. Your choice of browser matters a lot more, so I'm glad you're using Firefox.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, this isn't a tech question per se, but in light of the article in today's paper about Custom's search and seizure of laptops and cell phones at the border, I wonder if there is a way, short of erasing everything, of making sure that the data on a laptop is invisible to them. While I make it a point of not carrying my laptop across the border anymore, I do have collegues who need their laptops when they travel overseas and there is a lot of confidential data on those machines, including information about lawsuits that are against the U.S Government.

washingtonpost.com: Clarity Sought on Electronics Searches (By Ellen Nakashima, Feb. 7)

Rob Pegoraro: Let's move on to some non MSFT-YHOO questions. Silver Spring is talking about Ellen Nakashima's *great* story in the paper about how people have had their laptops and cell phones seized and searched when crossing the border.

What you should do is use an encryption program to safeguard any data you regard as sensitive. The free, open-source TrueCrypt (now available for Mac OS X as well as Windows) is a good choice, as is the File Vault option built into OS X.

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Woodstock, Va.: I have Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Mail. Whenever friends send me email attachments I know to be PowerPoint files because of the .pps file extension, I get the following error message, "This file does not have a program associated with it for performing this action. Create an association in the Set Associations control panel". Where is this 'control panel'? Is it in some obscure and hidden place like the Send To folder? I have found a way to open these files by saving them and then sending them to the PowerPoint Viewer using the Send To menu, but this is a pain in the you know what.

Rob Pegoraro: First, the Control Panel is... um, the Control Panel you see on the Start menu.

But that's not the most direct way to fix this problem anyway. You should be able to fix this by downloading the next PowerPoint file and right-clicking it on your desktop. From the "Open with..." submenu, select "Choose program..." The PowerPoint viewer should appear on that list; select it and click the checkbox next to "Always use the selected program."

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Calcutta, India: I have a two-year-old Lenovo Thinkpad with dual core processor, 512 MB of DDR 2 RAM and a 60GB-harddisk, 15-inch screen and the Window XP OS. The machine takes forever to boot up and shut down. Will increasing RAM speed the machine? If so, can I take it to a comp shop and have the extra RAM put in since buying RAM from Lenovo would cost me five times as much, as I learn from a Lenovo sales executive on checking.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes and yes. You might be able to add the extra memory yourself--but it can be tricky on some laptops.

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Alex., VA: Hi, Rob: great column.

I have a 3+ year old HP system at home. For some reason, when I am on AOL, i'm not able to cleanly access either the web via the AOL browser, or one of their articles that would send me to the web,

I get "run time error......do you want to debug?" Can't find anything on the AOl site that would help, and I was told to get their tech help I'd have to pay for monthly service. It's not under warranty to HP.

I have used the various virus checkers that come on AOL....all say it's clean.

It's just annoying.......I have to check, "no, I don't want to debug" sometimes once, sometimes several times.

Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: You--and anybody else running AOL--have *got* to get rid of AOL's software.

Look, AOL Time Warner is trying to get rid of the Internet-access business entirely; it's focused on making money off Web sites that anybody else can use. So it has little financial interest in putting much new effort into improving its desktop software. Add in its long record of abandoning promising programs after an initial release--anybody remember AOL Communicator?--and you have no reason to stick around with AOL's abandonware.

So how do you fix that? Please see these two Help File columns about how to get your data out of AOL and moved into software with a future.

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Arlington, Va.: I heard that Firefox doesn't or didn't play well with Vista. Is this or was this true and is it now safe to be using Firefox.

Rob Pegoraro: It's not true. I find Firefox significantly better than IE in Vista; for one thing, it takes a lot fewer clicks to download a program.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Palm Centro question: I thought Sprint was only going to have a 90-day exclusivity window for the Centro. Being an Alltel subscriber, I'd like to be able to get my hands on the Centro. Any idea when that might be able to happen?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope (although my ignorance is partially a factor of Alltel not doing business in the D.C. area). I think we heard about the same things about Sprint's Centro exclusivity, but other companies are still going to want to test the Centro on their own networks, decide if they'll make money by selling it and figure out what programs and services to bundle with it.

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Bethesda, Md.: So, border searches of personal computers will simply lead people people to learn how to save their data on-line, off-shore, and encrypted. How, exactly, does this make us more secure?

Rob Pegoraro: The irony is duly noted.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob -- my Verizon contract is up in April and my original plan was to switch to an iPhone. But now there are rumors of Apple putting out a 3G version. Do you think it is worth waiting a few months?

Rob Pegoraro: Those rumors have been around since the day Apple launched the iPhone. I'm sure a 3G iPhone will arrive, but it's difficult to expect when. Maybe on the one-year anniversary of the iPhone's launch in the U.S.?

Which, actually, wouldn't be that much longer after your VzW contract runs out. If you can deal with using your phone for a little longer, it might be worthwhile to wait. (It's also kind of fun to be out of contract; for once, *you*, not your carrier, have the upper hand. It's a nice feeling!)

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Fairfax, Va.: Electronic devices seem to be moving more and more to custom and proprietary batteries. I don't know if it's just me or the power in my home, but I have had nothing but problems with these devices (i-pods, cell phones, video cameras, DVD players, and laptops) and their batteries not being able hold a charge after a year or two of moderate use. Are other consumers as upset as I am that you cannot walk into a store and replace a battery in a device anymore without cracking the case and paying upwards of $200 to get a new battery? Are there any manufacturers who are producing portable devices with changeable batteries?

Rob Pegoraro: If you're paying more than $200 for any sort of battery, you are getting seriously ripped off. Laptop batteries generally cost less than half that much, and especially if you buy an aftermarket model from somebody besides the original laptop vendor.

The reason why so many devices use proprietary batteries is, of course, because lighter and thinner gadgets sell better. It's difficult to make anything too small or thin as long as you have to cram space for some AAAs or AAs in there--and there isn't any other standard size between those and the tiny, flat batteries you put in watches and hearing aids.

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Washington, D.C.: Some time ago, my hard drive failed and was replaced. The company I took it to for repair loaded their copy of Windows, rather than mine. Windows now takes only about one minute to boot up rather than about five minutes. This is really nice, but I wonder why--is it because there is less junk on the drive and if so, will it start taking longer to boot up? Or is it because their Windows is more efficient?

Rob Pegoraro: It's the first reason. Windows slows down over time, even if you try to get rid of programs you don't need. It's been called "Windows rot," which I think captures the problem pretty well.

You should keep an eye out for any error messages about your copy of Windows not being "genuine"--if the shop used a copy of Windows that's already been installed on one machine, you can have problems getting some non-security updates.

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Boston, Mass.:@ Silver Spring, Md.: Is TrueCrypt able to hide folders in addition to encryption? I assume Customs would just ask you to decrypt whatever they wanted.

Rob Pegoraro: That would arguably violate your right against self-incrimination--and I believe a federal court in Vermont just upheld this right.

(You could also mark the folder as invisible in Windows; right-click it, select Properties and click the box next to "Hidden.")

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: I heard Vista will give me leprosy. Is that true?

Rob Pegoraro: Only some early alpha builds. They ironed out that bug a while back.

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Washington, D.C.: A few months ago, Verizon talked about unlocking their phones, and opening up their network. Do you know anything more about this? Or when the plan on implementing these changes? I love Verizon's coverage, but hate the way they cripple their phones.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm getting a lot of "is it true"-type questions today... Verizon did announce that it would let people bring any compatible device to its network, but it did *not* say it would also unlock existing phones. This new service--which is still months away--would be an option outside of today's VzW service.

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Tina in Falls Church re: FIOS: Word to others with this service. I have had it for three? years with entry level speed (5/2) and decided to buy a faster speed package (15/2). Verizon changes the speed "governor" in the main office to allow faster speed through the pipe. I was not getting any burst that felt like 3X faster so I called tech. The tech guy "rebooted" the grey access box on the house, from the office, and voila. I asked why they did not include this step as part of a speed increase..the answer: "we do it if people call us about their speed"...hmmmmm. The speed is very nice. Of course, I also drive a Hemi. Tina

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Tina! Has anybody else tried upgrading their Fios connection and had to go through this runaround?

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I just wanted to say thanks. Your columns and chats are among the best in the Post.

Rob Pegoraro: Is that you, Mom?

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Nats Fan, DC: Hey Rob, have you heard any plans from MASN to offer HD coverage of the Nats in the new stadium? As a baseball fan and a HDTV geek, I'm steamed that we've been one of the only teams not broadcast in HD.

Rob Pegoraro: Me too! It is ridiculous that MASN doesn't have any HD broadcast--and that it's yet to say when it might step up to the 21st century and upgrade to high-def. The dimwittedness of this... why it's almost as if the network is being run by the Orioles' front office :)

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Alex., VA: Robbo,

I have a MONSTOR thumb drive (it looks like a Zippo), and hold 8GB of data. However, when I bought it, I didn't know that it was a mini-hard drive and not flash memory.

The first one failed after about 4 months and was replaced by the manufacturer. The replacement has failed after less than a month of use.

Am I just having some bad luck? Or is the tiny glass platter in a matchbox sized enclosure just a bad plan?

Rob Pegoraro: I got my mom a little backup device a couple of years ago that used a miniature hard drive, and that one died as well.

I don't think the small size is the problem per se--iPods have done pretty well with tiny internal hard drives--but the design of the enclosure around them might be at fault. You could also increase your odds of a hard-drive crash if you unplug the drive without ejecting/dismounting it first.

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wiredog: They took care of the leprosy bug? Cool! But ever since I got Vista at work I've had this rash...

Rob Pegoraro: Service Pack 1 will totally fix that!

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Olney, Md.: This is a comment about the customs searches of cellphones and laptops. Until you pass the Customs guy you are not in the United States and they can do anything they want to see that you are not violating customs laws. They can check your wallet that you don't have more than $5000 of undeclared money. They can look at your passport over and over with a black light if they want. They can search every inch of every suitcase 50 times if they want. They can have a dog sniff you for two hours looking for illegal prosciutto or apples if they want. They can check your computer for child porn or terrorist activity if they want. You do not have to be allowed into the US unless they accept that you are not committing a crime. The computer is not speech; it is an item you are importing. And the Constitution doesn't really apply until you are past the Customs people. After all, it's like filling out an IRS filing. You may not violate laws, and they can inspect you to see whether you are. You are not in your home; you are submitting a request to return to the U.S. If you don't like it, change the laws. I once left a purchase in the overhead of a plane; I waited two hours for it to be returned to me. I have no complaint. They didn't know that I wasn't trying to smuggle something in; they checked it out thoroughly, I assume, and then returned it to me. That's the way life is!

Rob Pegoraro: If you read our story, you'll see that quite a few legal experts don't agree with your contention that the government can do *anything it wants* before letting an American citizen back into this country.

To take this argument to its logical extreme (which can be malicious and yet fun at the same time): Are you saying it would be alright for Customs to waterboard me if I don't hand over a TrueCrypt password?

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Anonymous:"Rob Pegoraro: It's the first reason. Windows slows down over time, even if you try to get rid of programs you don't need. It's been called "Windows rot," which I think captures the problem pretty well."

Rob - how to fix this problem? Is a complete reinstall of windows necessary?

Rob Pegoraro: Often. But by the time it sets in, it may be more practical to get a new computer.

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M Street NW, Washington, D.C.: Rob, my Arlington apartment building recently notified us that Verizon would be installing FIOS in our building. Apparently unbeknownst to Verizon, who shows service is not available in my area. But, I digress. My point is that once I checked out the rates for TV and Internet, I wasn't so impressed with the "savings" over Comcast. Of course, merely having an option over Comcast is itself a plus.

Rob Pegoraro: Last I checked, Fios was *much* cheaper than Comcast for TV, but only slightly less expensive for Internet.

What you should do next, BTW, is tell Comcast that Fios is coming that you're going to kick them to the curb if they can't beat Fios' promotional rate. From what I hear, you should have excellent odds of getting a break on your bill.

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23112: Did you get your CD ripping problem sorted out?

Rob Pegoraro: Nah--that's something I'll try to research a little this afternoon. (23112--which I see is the Zip code for Midlothian, Va.--is referring to yesterday's blog post, where I asked for help in figuring out a way to copy a couple of CDs that play fine in stereo systems but which no computer I've tried can rip satisfactorily.)

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Independence, Ohio: Should notebook or any computers be left "on" at all times? I recently learned that my computer's recovery points are of no value because I always Hibernate my notebook.

Similarly, cable modems have on-off switches. Should the modems be turned off?

Rob Pegoraro: Don't leave the computer on full-time--that's wasting electricity and therefore money. Don't you think Pepco/Dominion/your local utility has extracted enough cash from your bank account already? Set them to go into sleep mode automatically. That should not affect Windows' System Restore function at all, BTW; I'd like to know why you think using hibernate mode has undermined that feature.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob - I hear that the USB ports on the iMac keyboard are largely useless. Is that your experience? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: No. But the USB ports on iMac keyboards older than the metal unit included on the current model are low-powered and low-speed. Some devices need more power than this keyboard provides and so can't be used. And high-speed USB flash drives will make you wait longer to copy a file to or from them.

The current iMac keyboard seems to fix both problems.

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23112: By the way, you never said what the CDs were. Could be that your computer is rejecting them out of principle?

Rob Pegoraro: This will get me in trouble with my wife... but I can assure you that they're in much better taste than some of the music she's copied to iTunes :)

(One is Derek & the Dominoes' "Layla"; the other is Rush's "Roll the Bones." Y'all can start calling me a nerd now... )

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Reston, Va.: OK, so I'm about to bite the bullet, and get an iBook. My now almost 3+ year old HP desktop is being recycled to my 7 year old for games and some fun programs.

My office runs on all MS Office...can I really use the iWorks software and have it be compatible with word, excel and powerpoint files? Would -much- prefer not to have to buy MS Office for Mac, b/c of cost.

Thanks!!

Rob Pegoraro: I can't guarantee that kind of compatibility with iWork. My sister-in-law had to pick up a copy of Office for Mac when she couldn't work some Excel spreadsheets from her office in Numbers.

But you can buy the Home and Student edition of Office 2008 for only $100 and change at Amazon. You might also find that the free NeoOffice, a Mac version of OpenOffice, gets the job done. If you have reliable broadband, Google Docs is another good and free option.

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Staunton, Va.: I heard a talk radio personality talking about the HD broadcast resolution of the various networks, i.e., 720p, 1080i, 1080p. He indicated that none of them do more than 1080i. He further stated that 1080p would only be 'worthy' of consideration for screens greater than 40". Is he correct? And is the broadcast resolution a function of the network or the local broadcasters?

Rob Pegoraro: That radio host is full of it. Most people are going to have an extremely hard time distinguishing a 720p picture from a 1080p picture on any screen smaller than maybe 46 inches. More importantly, *there is no content in 1080p to watch* unless you get a Blu-Ray or HD DVD player.

Sorry, but I reeaallllly hate techno-extremism like this. There is such a thing as "good enough," folks.

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Somewhere, Va.:"What you should do next, BTW, is tell Comcast that Fios is coming that you're going to kick them to the curb if they can't beat Fios' promotional rate. From what I hear, you should have excellent odds of getting a break on your bill."

What do you think the odds of that working if Verizon hasn't said anything about bringing Fios to your house? It's not like Comcast could call Verizon to confirm or deny where they are planning on bringing Fios, since Verizon doesn't even tell their potential customers when they might be able to get it.

Rob Pegoraro: Just say you're sick of Comcast in general. Say you're getting satellite. The principle is the same--many readers have said they've been able to bargain their way to a better deal by exerting the one form of leverage they have, threatening to leave.

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Fairfax, Va.: Over Christmas, I built my son a new computer running Vista 64. Everything works great except the wireless connectivity. It is using a PCI card 802.11g wireless adapter, but for some reason, the download speed is dismal on that machine. I've found that if I unplug the USB wireless adapter on my other desktop, the connection on the new machine speeds up CONSIDERABLY, so I'm thinking there is some interference going on. I've tried both a 802.11b and 802.11g USB adapter on the old machine, to no avail. Oddly enough, my laptop, which also connects wirelessly to the same network, has no impact on the new machine's download speed. I've tried changing channels on the router, boosting the signal strength, etc. and the only thing that helps is disabling the other desktop's access. Any thoughts/suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: First, I think you made a mistake by getting the 64-bit edition of Vista. Unless you plan to sequence the human genome, edit feature-length HD movies or edit images you just downloaded from the Hubble Telescope, there is no reason to get the 64-bit version of any Windows edition. All you're really buying there is the ability to work with files bigger than 4 GB--but you can incur *massive* compatibility problems with drivers and even many programs.

I'd say that you are very lucky to have everything working right. I have heard much worse from Vista 64 users.

Anyway: I suspect that you're correct in blaming the old machine--since it's a desktop, could just run an Ethernet cable from there to the router?

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Re: Customs and Laptops: This is the first time I've heard of people's INFORMATION being searched.

Of course they can inspect your laptop to insure it's not a false-faced case filled with dangerous materials. But to actually look at the CONTENTS of your hard drive; where did that come from?

Rob Pegoraro: That's what a lot of people would like to know.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Every time I open Explorer, I get this massage. "Stock overflow in line 86." What does this mean?

Rob Pegoraro: Nothing. I mean, nothing that you can do anything about. You could try to research this and make sure you've got an absolutely clean configuration of IE, including possibly reinstalling Windows... or you could just switch to Firefox and solve your problems in about 10 minutes.

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Waxahachie, Texas: I always see the pre-session notice that you are going to be online later "today" to answer questions but I never see a similar post-session notice (the next day) so that I can find the completed Q&A session which are always very interesting.

Please post a similar, post-session notice similar to the Pre-sessin notice.

Thanks, Hal in Waxahachie

washingtonpost.com: All of Rob's chats are archived here. The link can also, always be found underneath his colum on the Personal Tech page.

Rob Pegoraro: That help, Hal?

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New York City, N.Y.: My hard drive recently crashed; and my back up system failed at the same time.

How do I import my voluminous iPod files from my iPod back to my PC please?

Apple Stores do not provide technical support for this project because it involves a PC.

I am fearful of losing everything if my iPod fails before I am able to make this transfer. Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Use a shareware program called Music Rescue, at kennettnet.co.uk. You can read up about it, and a free Mac iPod-copying tool called Senuti, in this Help File.

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converter boxes: Rob,

Good afternoon. I have had folks give me different answers to below question:

I have a Samsung HDTV with only the basic channels from Comcast. So I have the coax cable going directly into my Samsung. I want to keep just the basic channels (no HD or higher tier stations or HBO/Showtime).

Will I still need a converter box come next February or will my current setup still work?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: It should still work--by "basic" you're only talking about local networks and the public/educational/government channels, right? (Some Comcast users have complained that the company has moved some other, but non-premium, channels into the digital tier, requiring them to upgrade their service and get a cable box.)

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MASN, HD: MASN will offer at least 60 games for the Orioles and Nationals in native 1081i HD in 2008.

That's the info we have from MASN. (I'm with a cable operator in the area)

Rob Pegoraro: Hmmmm.... That would be great if true (MASN's home page doesn't seem to mention HD at all.)

Could you e-mail me later on about this? robp at washpost dot com

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Herndon, Va.: I find that I use Google for a majority of my online searches. I use Google Toolbar, Desktop, and GMail.

Yesterday I tried Google Maps on my cell phone. I wanted to find the closest gas station. It found my current location via GPS and I had to actually type in "gas" into the search box. It gave me the closest gas stations and I had to select which gas station I was interested in.

Then I tried the same search in Windows Live. Live not only told me the closest gas station, but the current price for gas at that station (something Google did not do).

I just did a search in Google for a few keywords related to my web site (Northern Virginia Portrait Photography) and Google returned my site listed on the 8th position of page #2 of the results. Then I did Live and my site was #3 on page #1 of the search results. In Yahoo! it was #2 on page #1 of the search results.

Obviously, Google isn't using the same formula to generate search results.

Rob Pegoraro: Competition is good!

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Waldlen, N.Y.: My Firefox browser was my default browser. My newly purchased msft Money Plus add on would not print unless I made IE my default browser. This same problem occurred with the add on msft Money 2005. Short of having to use IE, do you know of a work around? Thanks; enjoy your work.

Rob Pegoraro: No. This is weird. You're using a current version of Money? I haven't heard of this problem at all before.

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Chicago, Ill.: I love these chats. I hope this is an easy question: I want to buy music online legally. But I don't have an iPod. I have Windows. I want the mp3 format ideally, and I want to use it on my computer and to burn onto a CD (like a party tape). But I'm a little confused as to what my options are.

Rob Pegoraro: Easy--go to Amazon's MP3-download store, which stocks high-quality MP3s from all the major labels and many indie labels, and at prices as cheap or cheaper than the iTunes Store. It's at amazon.com/mp3

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Chantilly, Va.:"One is Derek & the Dominoes' "Layla"; the other is Rush's "Roll the Bones.""

Nice. I knew there was a reason I liked you. Anyway, I have both of those and had no problems ripping them. I suppose sending you my files is illegal, despite you owning the CDs yourself (as mp3.com found out eight(!) years ago).

Rob Pegoraro: I fear a copyright lawyer would say that sending a copy like that would be illegal--even though the record label doesn't lose a penny in this scenario. It's one of those cases where the law and regular ethics don't line up.

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Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Pegoraro, have you heard anything about DirecTV's new "DVR Scheduler" service where you go to directv.com, view the online program guide, and click "Record to receiver" to schedule a recording? I've read that they are rolling it out gradually on the HR21-700 HD DVR and am curious if you know anything about the extent of the rollout, how it is proceeding, etc. (I gave the thing a try Tuesday and yesterday and it didn't work. I chose programs I didn't care if I missed, of course!)

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried it myself. Has anybody here?

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Reston, Va. again re: iBook: Thanks for the heads up! Does Entourage sync with Outlook?

Rob Pegoraro: Do you mean an Exchange server? It does support that, although I don't think it's complete support. (That's one thing I've never tested, for two reasons: one, I'm a personal-tech guy and only focus on things people use at home; two, the Post doesn't use Exchange servers anyway.)

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Atlanta, Ga.: I can back you up on Layla. You're on your own with the Rush.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm waiting for J. Freedom du Lac to start making fun of me...

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Re: MS on a Mac: Saw your advice about ms office for mac...will installing something made by the redmond-machine do any harm to a mac? I've read some reviews of people saying installation of ms-anything for mac installed unwanted "features" that they worried would ruin their macs.

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No. I'm trying out Office 2008, and the worst side effect I've seen is that, if you don't uncheck one option in the install assistant, you'll get some extra fonts you might not want.

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Washington, D.C.: The MacBook Air is beautiful to look at but I don't get its intended market. It has lousy price-performance specs and the people most likely to want a teeny computer (traveling business people) are probably shackled to their corporate Dells. Traveling creative types with money to burn will probably want higher performance, no?

Rob Pegoraro: It's best thought of as a luxury machine, something you buy as a second--or third--computer. But even then, you have to live a completely wireless lifestyle. I mean, after living with one for a couple of weeks I can't say that I'm particularly tempted to get one.

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Vista vs. XP: So what does "downgradable to XP" really mean for a PC? My IT people say that the hardware needs to be able to support the downgrade, so you can't always be certain you can get XP to run. Wha?

Rob Pegoraro: I have heard a few stories about computers shipping with components that don't work in XP--which probably really means that the vendors of said components only shipped Vista drivers.

It is a real risk.

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23112: I also like eMusic for online MP3 purchasing. The pricing model is different and the catalog isn't as major-label heavy, but there is some GREAT music on there. My personal current plan is $10/month for 30 downloads, just enough to keep me in new and interesting music.

Rob Pegoraro: I like what eMusic has done--but unless you download music all the time, it's not a good use of your cash. I don't know if it will be able to survive when people can get their MP3s from Amazon without adding yet another subscription to their monthly bills.

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Burke, Va.: I have noticed that Comcast Sports Net has been advertising that they're broadcasting in HD. As a Cox subscriber, will I ever see CSN in HD, and why does the SD feed of CSN not look any better than it did before they switched over to HD? If they capturing an event in HD shouldn't that improve the quality of the SD broadcast as well?

Rob Pegoraro: As I recall, Cox has never carried CSN in HD. You are only seeing the SD feed that people on analog cable might get. That's something you'd have to complain to Cox about.

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WDC: My 5 year old Toshiba Portege needs replacing. I love the size and am used to the layout. I am considering one of the new versions, R500-S5002X (I can't use a laptop with Windows Vista)- - what do you know about this model or is there something more readily available that would be equivalent (Toshiba or otherwise)?

Rob Pegoraro: The R500 is the computer I just tested alongside the MacBook Air... and I didn't like it all that much. As I wrote in that article, it felt flimsy and was seriously underpowered to run Vista. And since writing the review, the keyboard has really begun to bug me. It's jumpy in this weird way; I'll be typing away, and suddenly the cursor has skipped up a line.

You should also look at ultralight laptops from Lenovo, Panasonic, Fujitsu and maybe Sony.

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Verona, Italy: Rob, can you give us an update on the situation of the person in Arizona (I think) who was charged with a crime by RIAA--not for file sharing but--for having copies of music CDs (that he actually owns) on his HDD? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's one more "is it true" question--and in this case, it's not true. The RIAA hasn't charged the guy in Arizona or wherever with a crime (only prosecutors can do that), nor has it even filed suit against him just for copying CDs to his computer. The RIAA's quarrel is with him then putting those copied songs in a shared folder, making them accessible over a file-sharing service.

You may have read about this in a column from my colleague Marc Fisher that, unfortunately, got this part of the story wrong.

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MASN, NC: YES broadcasts HD from Camden Yards, do they bring their own equipment from NY?

Rob Pegoraro: Presumably. (Does watching the game in HD make up for having to listen to Michael Kay?)

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Rockville, Md.: I hope you'll take a non-Microsoft question.

I recently "ripped" a DVD onto my computer using DVD Decrypter. I did it so there are multiple files. I tried to make computer-playable movie (.AVI) using Auto Gordian Knot and after 1 1/2 hours of churning, I got a file - which didn't run.

Can you recommend some good software (preferably free) to do this? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I am still trying to find a free, reliable and simple DVD-ripping utility to suggest in Windows. See the suggestions in the comments following this recent blog post of mine: Help File Help: Copying DVDs to Your Computer - Faster Forward

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Arlington, Va.: A very basic question, if I may. How can I transfer my bookmarks from Netscape to IE on the same computer? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Are you running IE 7? If you're still using Netscape, I would suspect you're not. And in that case, going from Netscape to IE 6 is going from bad to worse. You will be a lot happier with Firefox--and I'm told that the final update for Netscape will include a tool to move you over to that browser.

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Baltimore, Md.: I may be too late but, re FIOS: A friend of mine got FIOS TV and Internet. He had Verizon dsl and when he got his final dsl bill, there was an $80 cancellation fee. One angry phone call got it removed.

Rob Pegoraro: It's amazing what you can accomplish with a little negotiation on the phone. (You don't even have to yell; I have found that the simple phrase "Is there anything we can do about this?" can have a remarkable effect.)

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Walden, N.Y.: MSFT Money Plus is brand new. Article ID 899632 in support.microsoft addressed the same problem in May 2005 with Money 2005. Hope I am not the first with the problem because I prefer to use my Firefox browser.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the details. I'm going to check this out myself after the chat.

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Germantown, Md.: I plan to defer purchasing one or more HDTV's until the switch to digital next February, maybe later. How do you see the digital transformation effecting the number of HD offerings? I'm on FIOS now and there are only a handful of HD channels. Will the digital switchover radically increase the HD offerings immediately after the February deadline?

Rob Pegoraro: I doubt it--remember, it's a transition to *digital* TV, not *high-definition digital*. Just because HDTV has become the same as DTV in people's minds doesn't mean that any broadcaster has a legal obligation to upgrade to HD.

Most do have strong financial reasons to do so, but some of these stations will take a while. (One of my favorite reader e-mails about this came from a guy who wanted to know when the Weather Channel would ever get around to broadcasting in HD.)

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23112: Seems like most people buying second or third computers probably want a device with more horsepower than the MB Air. I'll take an 8GB Asus EEE for portability.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a tempting option. If only the screen and keyboard were a little bigger...

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Alexandria, Va.: We all should tell you more often how very much we appreciate the information that you give us on a continuing basis. It has proved invaluable to me many many times and saved me money and anguish. When you are alone typing your columns and reports please remember there are a lot of people out there listening. Thank You and keep up the effort. Phillip

Rob Pegoraro: Phillip, you are far too kind.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, Do the computer manufacturers actually care what end users think about their products?

I'm thinking specifically of Apple - I'm a Mac convert and my last piece to switch over (other than my phone) is my PDA - I want to like the iTouch and its version of iCal - but its horrible - it took a while to get the Palm to do what I need it to do but it works. I explained to the guy at the store what I wanted (the ability to have a color coded calendar for different events and the ability to change them on the fly) and he said it won't happen on the iTouch or iPhone - they'll all be the same color on the screen. I said OK what about .mac can I look at it there - he said no only one calendar will show up so you won't see the other events and its read only.

So as much as I hate it I don't think I can make the switch - calendar and contacts, and control of them are essential for me. The fact that I can fix them at home doesn't help - I need to be able to see the various colors on the iTouch - not my computer.

Does Apple care what the end user thinks and if so how do I relay my comments to them.

Rob Pegoraro: They might read this chat, and there is a feedback form on its site.

FWIW, I agree with you on the desirability of being able to see different categories of calendar on the iPhone and iPod touch, and on being able to see and edit your iCal calendar via .Mac (Apple really ought to do more with that service.)

You should be able to use your existing PDA/smartphone with a Mac, though--worst case, you'd need to drop $40 for a sync utility like Mark/Space's Missing Sync, which would preserve your calendar categories and all those other details.

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Carrboro, N.C.: Re: "No. I'm trying out Office 2008, and the worst side effect I've seen is that, if you don't uncheck one option in the install assistant, you'll get some extra fonts you might not want."

You probably want 'em anyway. The new fonts are the defaults in Windows Office 2007, so if you don't install them it's only a matter of time until someone sends you a document that uses them.

Rob Pegoraro: Good point.

BTW, how many people are considering Office 2008 at all? I'm curious to see if this is still a must-have for Mac users, or if things like iWork, NeoOffice and Google Docs are good enough alternatives.

(You might want to e-mail me about that, as this chat was supposed to end 30 minutes ago :)

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HD: I've been watching CNN in HD, and it's been fantastic. People think I'm crazy. "Why do you need HD to look at Wolf Blitzer's beard?" and all that. But the HD transition is like the b&w/color transition in that in that just having color for "event" programing became insufficient. You expect EVERYTHING to be in color, even if it's just a talking head. Same thing for HD.

Rob Pegoraro: There are some news anchors that I wouldn't mind seeing in HD... but Wolf ain't one of them!

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PC to Mac: With all the dislike of Vista and now Microsoft 7 possibly coming out quickly to replace it, I'm thinking of just switching to a Mac. I'll admit maybe the Mac vs. PC commercials are getting to me a bit too. I've never used a Mac though. I own an mp3 player, not an iPod. I use Firefox as my browser. I use programs like Bittorrent and FLACfrontend to download (legal) live concerts. I use Word a lot, although with Google now not quite a much. Will I still be able to do these things with a Mac or will I need to replace my mp3 player, etc and learn a whole new way of doing things?

Rob Pegoraro: You should be able to do all those things; at most, you'd need some different software. For instance, it looks like you'd need to download an extra QuickTime component to get iTunes to play FLAC files.

You do realize, however, that buying a Mac entails all this other stuff, right? You have to trade in your car for a Prius or a Beetle, you need to start shopping at Whole Foods, and you have to put an Obama sign in your front yard. The black turtleneck is optional, though :)

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Washington, D.C. : This isn't as much of a question as a warning/rant. I am one of those people who has experienced the miracle of over-the-air digital TV. The picture is amazing compared to analog and even to cable TV. But there is something off about the signal from channel 7, the ABC affiliate. I've stopped recording any ABC shows because I was having regular problems with the signal switching channels during the middle of the program! One minute I'm watching "Pushing Daisies" on 7.1 and the next minute I'm watching channel 7.3, the local access channel which has some, er, interesting programming. It never happens when I'm watching a show live - the science of the body serving as an antenna, I guess - but it happened frequently enough that I don't bother watching ABC shows if I can't see them at the time they originally air. Quite bizarre, actually.

Rob Pegoraro: This is news to me. I've watched ABC's digital broadcasts on and off for a while, and I've never seen this. What are you using to record it?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob - Thanks for doing these chats. When using Bootcamp on the iMac, I know one needs to purchase a copy of Windows; however, can that same copy of Windows be used with Parallels on the same computer. You don't need to purchase yet another copy of Windows, do you? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: No, you don't. Parallels--and VMWare Fusion, as I recall--should be able to use the Boot Camp partition as well.

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Rob Pegoraro: And now I *really* need to wrap this up. Thanks for all the questions, and sorry I couldn't get to all of 'em. (I'm going to go through the list and see if I can't investigate some of them for Help File).

I should be back here in two weeks. See you then!

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