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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, March 20, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, March 20 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

Read the transcripts of past Personal Tech discussions here.

The transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: The theme of my column this morning is distraction, so I guess it's appropriate in an odd way that this chat is going on at the same time as the start of the NCAA tournament and Ryan Zimmerman's chat here. So I'll understand if a decent chunk of the regular audience has their attention turned elsewhere at the moment.

Meanwhile, what can I tell you about?

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi Rob! My $40 coupon arrived in the mail, so I used it and $24 in cash to purchase a converter box for my old color television. I'm really amazed by how well it works. I'm picking up 20 over-the-air channels using just the regular TV antenna that came with my old TV. The reception is great, being just as good as cable or satellite. This purchase was the best $24 I've ever spent on electronics!

Rob Pegoraro: Some welcome good news in consumer electronics--it's a rare day when I see somebody this happy about a new gadget. Thanks, Atlanta!

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Tampa, Fla.: Your recent column on tax preparation software discussed the 3 major programs available. Would using a Mac make any difference in choosing among them?

Rob Pegoraro: Not much. TaxAct's desktop software doesn't come in a Mac version (though its Web edition is Mac-compatible), but the other two, better programs offer both Mac and Windows versions.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I have an eMac that's a few years old. When we first got it the instructions said it was best to leave it on "sleep" instead of shutting down a few times a day. After a couple of years, when turning on from "sleep" mode the screen usually goes gray with a message saying I must shut down the computer. Is there a remedy for this, or should we just not bother with "sleep" any more?

Rob Pegoraro: This is the first of two questions about sleep/standby modes not working.

You should definitely try to fix this, unless you like handing over extra cash to Dominion Power and allowing some non-trivial problem to fester in your Mac. The first thing you should try--which I suspect won't work, but which is worth a try anyway--is resetting the Power Management Unit chip. Apparently, you do that by pressing a button inside an access panel on the bottom of the machine: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=34885

If that doesn't help, do an "archive and install" reinstall of Mac OS X, which will leave your applications, files and settings untouched while putting a clean copy of the operating system on the hard drive. That should fix whatever's causing that hang when the computer wakes up from sleep.

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Cody, Wyo.: Hi Rob, I have a new Dell laptop which I love. But it's got a couple of minor problems which the Dell technical folks cannot seem to fix. Specifically, the automatic screen saver, and the automatic turn-off for the monitor and hard disk do not work. Automatic hibernation and standby do work. Dell suggested I reinstall the operating system. That sounds like "overkill" to me. These are very minor problems I can live with. Besides, I'd have to reinstall all my applications (25 or 30). That would be a lot of work! In your opinion, would it be OK just to leave the computer as it is? As I said, I can live with the minor nuisances. And everything else is working fine. Am I possibly opening myself up to future problems by not reinstalling the operating system now? Thanks, Rob, for the great chats. John

Rob Pegoraro: And here's the second sleep-mode query. This one's trickier to answer--Vista, in general, seems to perform better than XP at sleep and standby modes. It's very strange that none of the usual power options would work, and especially on a machine that hasn't seen that much use.

I hate to say this, but I would probably go ahead and reinstall the operating system after you've backed up your own data. It's one of these cases where you may be engaging in some serious underkill, but the amount of troubleshooting required to determine the correct level of, er, kill will outstrip the time needed to reinstall everything from scratch.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have any experience installing Ubuntu Linux 7.10 in Parallels on a MacBook or MacBook Pro? It's a rather intricate process, and I haven't been able to interrupt the installation and get to the Linux command line, as some of the installation scripts advise.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't. Any advice for this person from the chattering classes today?

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Rockville, Md.: Posting early, as I'll be in a meeting later. Is there any reason why I could not, or should not, view digital TV on a computer, such as an iMac? Would picture quality suffer? Do I lose some features of digital broadcasting? I know that I'd have to install a digital tuner, such as products by Pinnacle or Elgato.

Rob Pegoraro: Not all of these digital-TV tuners come with good software--I've had zero success with this Pinnacle add-on, thanks to the truly wretched Windows software included with it--but El Gato's setup is supposed to be very good. (Plus, Macs are much less likely than PCs to get gummed up by third-party software in the first place.)

You definitely don't lose any digital-TV features, but you do gain the ability to record digital programs in full quality, and without any DRM attached to them.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I am looking to buy an iMac. I thought I would go with the 20" but I have to say that the 24" is tempting. For what uses would you say that the 24" would be most useful? As far as I can tell, the only advantage is that movies look better on it. Surfing the web is a bit awkward on the 24" since the web pages don't fill the screen. Is it true that the 24" monitor is higher quality? Is going bigger in this case a waste of money for someone like me who will likely use the computer primarily for web surfing, word processing, watching and editing photos and video and watching some movies/TV shows? Thanks for having these chats. They're great!

Rob Pegoraro: Get the 20-incher, and put some of the money you might have spent on the 24-inch model on a good external hard drive for backup.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob! PC to Mac question for you. I am thinking of switching. Apple promotes how easy it is to convert your PC files over to your Mac. Is it really that easy? I have a lot of jpgs, MSWord docs, mp3s and .wav files on my PC and would hate to find out after I bought a Mac that these files can't be converted over. What file types should I be worried about moving over the Mac? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: None of the ones you mentioned. OS X's iTunes and iPhoto will handle all of the music and photo files, while you've got a wide variety of choices to open Word files--Microsoft's Office 2008, Apple's iWork, Google Docs, the free NeoOffice.

(Speaking of Office 2008: A while back, I'd confessed that I hadn't gotten around to reviewing it when it shipped, and asked how many people were interested in a review later on. I think I heard from two people. Is it just me, or is this looking like a yawner of an update?)

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Paris, France:

Do you have experience with the new Apple OS Leopard? As a lecturer using my laptop frequently in a classroom environment I thought that the problem I was having with the trackpad from time to time was due to chalk dust, but I have lost control of the pointer several times and been forced to reboot the machine. I finally turned off a new feature of Leopard, called Spaces. I hope this will solve the problem which continued to occur even though I tried using a mouse instead of the trackpad. This MacBook Pro is barely two months old. It's my only computer and I don't know what I would do if I had to return it because of a defect.

Rob Pegoraro: I have been happily running Leopard on an iMac for the last few months--no worries here. I have heard from some readers who have not been as happy, but none of them have mentioned trackpad issues. This sounds to me like it could be a hardware defect. Have you had anybody look at your laptop to see if there's anything wrong with the touchpad?

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Laurel: Rob, regarding your March 13 review "Not a Phone or a Laptop," would you say the 7" mini-laptops like the 3EPC or the Everex Cloudbook should be regarded as another product without a niche; or do those have advantages the mini-Tablets don't?

Rob Pegoraro: They do--pretty huge advantages. They're lighter, smaller and (much) cheaper than almost every other laptop, but they still provide the same online utility as any "real" laptop. I'm not the biggest fan of the Asus Eee PC's tiny screen and keyboard (a model with a bigger screen is supposedly on the way), but I think the basic concept makes an enormous amount of sense.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, We're looking to get a new home laptop in the next few months, and have a $600-$800 budget. I love my current iBook, but it is outdated and the memory is insufficient for today's programs. Do you have any suggestions for a budget laptop with sufficient memory for photos (lots) and music, and with keys big enough to type on? (I realize Macs will be out of the budget.) Also, I've heard bad things about Dell's customer service, any feedback? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You are--no joke--about the only person to ask about a Mac-to-PC switch here in many months. I should warn you that you're probably not going to be happy going from OS X to Windows Vista (a lot of readers aren't happy going from XP to Vista, which is much less of a shock!), but I assume you've factored that in.

In which case: you shouldn't have any problem finding a laptop with a big enough keyboard and sufficient storage--the cheaper models are usually big, heavy desktop-replacement models.

I, too, have heard bad things about Dell's customer service, and I wasn't enormously impressed the last time I tested it for myself. But I can't say I've heard good things about any of the major PC manufacturers' help either.

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Lusby, Md.: I have a computer related question. I bought a new computer about 6 months ago it has Vista as the operating system, the computer brand is a Acer desktop. My problem is the computer lately freezes up every 5 minutes. The escape, control, alt, and delete don't work. I have to turn my computer off and turn back on. What is the problem?

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea at all. Have you called Acer about this? Crashes this often--combined with particular keys not working--smell like a hardware fault to me.

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Alexandria, Va.: Today's Post article on the virus explosion suggested that as a home computer user I should separate my data from the Windows operating system in case I get infected and have to reload the operating system from scratch. What's the best way to do this? And how do I reload the operating system?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't agree with that advice. I think it's an unrealistic prescription for most home users, given that:

1) They already have everything on the C: drive;

2) Partitioning a drive after the fact is not a task to undertake lightly;

3) If you don't make the new C: drive big enough, you'll need to re-re-partition it;

4) Some programs will expect to see the user's data folder on the C: drive, so you'll need to reconfigure their settings.

You're better off keeping good, frequent backups of your data.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I am headed for business school next year and a lot of international travel, so I'd like to pick up a shiny new ultra-portable PC laptop. (Mac support is nonexistent where I'm going.) The 11" Sony Vaios are very sexy, but power-wise they have very little bang for a lot of buck. Even the smallest Thinkpads are ugly and brick-like, and Dells have a reputation for being unreliable... Are there any other models I should look into? I've already resigned myself to forgoing computer games for two years, but I would at least like something with enough power to manipulate large spreadsheets and run Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc. without choking.

Rob Pegoraro: Don't discount Lenovo. The latest few ThinkPads (and the new, more consumer-focused IdeaPads) look pretty impressive to me.

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Falls Church, Va.: There is wireless security for wireless modems. Why isn't there wireless security for wireless keyboards and mice?

Rob Pegoraro: Bluetooth has security built in. I'm not sure about the RF radio system some wireless input devices use, but I would imagine it's there as well--otherwise you could have interference from well-meaning neighbors using the same hardware as you.

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Burlington, Vt.: Can anyone recommend a viable, tested alternative to iTunes? We just bought a new Mac mini and really don't like iTunes (on top of having problems importing our music anyway). But we can't really identify a better alternative. Songbird is still a beta version with a lot of flaws. Help please! A few details...we've got about 10K mp3s and are storing them on an external HD. Our needs are really simple: we want to organize the music, create playlists, and listen to music, hopefully with a decent visualization tool and a functional shuffle algorithm.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not aware of any viable alternatives to iTunes on a Mac, but I'll throw this one out there anyway.

What don't you like about iTunes, anyway?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Are first generation iPod Nanos compatible with the current speaker systems that are available? Or, do you need some sort of cable to dock these Nanos? Also, any recommendations for a fairly basic speaker(how about the Sony with the CD player and docking station)? It's for our toddler who for some reason likes to 'dance' to some of his CDs. Thought we'd load them on to the iPod for more variety.

Rob Pegoraro: As long as it's got the same dock connector as current models--which I believe is the case--you should be fine.

Any speaker advice, gang?

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Columbia, Mo.: I'm hearing mixed reports that the latest Apple update to Airport/Time Capsule makes it possible to do Time Machine backups via an older Airport Extreme Router--previously this was solely available to Time Capsule units unless you did a hack. Do you have any idea whether this is true? (I'd rather not experiment with backup routines, so I thought I'd ask around before I gave it try.)

Rob Pegoraro: The reports I've seen--from credible sources like the TidBits newsletter -- indicate that you can, in fact, do Time Machine backups to an AirDisk.

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Mays Landing, N.J.: I posted a comment on your Final Four Post asking you to tell the name of your bracket at the Post's Tournament Tracker Website. I think I have found it. Is this yours? : Rob_bracket (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/ncaa/madness/bracket/view/?326)? I only think so because of the winning team's identity.

Rob Pegoraro: Your guess is wrong, but I'm happy to see that somebody else is loyal/optimistic/deluded enough to pick my Hoyas to win it all!

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Washington, D.C.: I asked this question of my office's IT people and the response was, "We don't know. That isn't supposed to happen." So I'm wondering if you know anything about this problem. Our firm finally dumped Lotus Notes as the e-mail software in favor of Outlook earlier this year. I'm familiar with hitting Ctrl-U in Outlook to mark a message as unread. But sometimes it doesn't do anything when I do this (and I checked each time to be sure the message was closed). I don't use the preview pane or whatever you call it. It's simply that sometimes I cannot mark a message as unread if I want to save it that way. Do you have any idea why this happens and how to solve it? Thank you in advance.

Rob Pegoraro:"That isn't supposed to happen" is one of the frightening things to hear about a computing problem, isn't it? (Watch how often I use that phrase in the remainder of this chat!)

If your office, like most, is using Microsoft's Exchange server, I really can't help you--the Post doesn't use that. And in any case, as a personal-tech guy I only test Outlook with standard POP and IMAP accounts.

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Arlington, Va.: TaxAct ain't pretty. TaxAct ain't full-featured. But as a filer with a return that was by and large a W-2, some 1099s, and a few additional deductions, I really couldn't stomach paying $25-$35 more for the bells and whistles. I've used TaxAct for years, and I recommend it to anyone with relatively simple returns.

Rob Pegoraro:"relatively simple returns"... I hate you.

(But thanks for the report anyway!)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, I have a 3 year old Gateway PC with reasonable specs (pentium 4, 3.0ghz, 1G ram). I leave it on 24/7, but lately, it'll randomly reboot every so often, and I get the message: "This system has recovered from a serious error." Then, when I try to open pretty much any program (firefox, aim, word, etc.) I get an error message to the effect of "you don't have permission to run this program" (I don't use drop my rights or any such program and I only have an administrator's account, so, I should have permission to run EVERY program!). I then have to reboot for it to work properly...which it does for awhile, until it crashes again. Any ideas? Time for a re-install of windows? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm, that isn't supposed to happen.... Can I direct you to my earlier words about the wisdom of giving up and reinstalling Windows instead of continuing to pound your head against the keyboard as you try to debug the problem?

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Vancouver Ca.: Hello and Thanks in advance. Now that there are more and more Macintosh computers in society, what are some of the current and upcoming security risks, and what are the best software fixes/products to manage these risks. Andrew

Rob Pegoraro: I got this question at a user group meeting I spoke at last night (thanks, again, to everybody at CMUG for the warm reception!). You're correct to look at this in terms of current and future risks.

The current risk is very low. There are only a handful of Mac malware attacks out there, and none have succeeded in any realistic way. I think the tiny number of them belies the argument that "nobody writes viruses for the Mac because nobody uses the Mac"--people find it quite profitable to write non-virus Mac software.

I.e., there's more than just market share behind the lack of Mac malware. Mac OS X is not as hospitable an environment for malware as Windows; a virus--or any other program that tinkers with the system--is going to be much more obvious in its actions, and therefore easier to spot, than a virus in Windows, where *every* program tinkers with the system at some level.

If there is a successful Mac virus, I think it will have to exploit some vulnerability that Apple leaves unpatched too long, instead of simply relying on social-engineering techniques (the e-mail attachment that reads "click here to view these pics").

The TidBits newsletter that I just mentioned recently ran a good essay on this topic by one of the smarter Mac people around, and his conclusion was "you don't need to bother with a Mac anti-virus program unless you go to sketchy Web sites."

http://db.tidbits.com/article/9511

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South Carolina: I have been using Firefox for a couple of years but it has been getting progressively slower in loading sites like the Washington Post. Usually a page partially loads and it says at the bottom "waiting for ads.sitename." I just tried IE and it loaded much faster. I'd like to stick with FF, any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: Try clearing your cache and browser history.

You might also want to try Firefox 3.0--the fourth beta release just shipped, and it's been reliable and much faster in my own testing.

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Sarasota, Fla.: Rob, While you've been extremely helpful in describing the turnover to digital TV taking effect next year, I don't recall your mentioning how the change will affect (excuse the archaism) videotape recorders. Not everyone has jumped into the DVD recording; not everyone has a DVR. What happens with all the VCRs? Do we now have a new category of doorstop? Thanks for your--as always--pertinent observations.

Rob Pegoraro: VCRs will work as they always have if you plug them into some other video source--cable box, satellite box, whatever. But for over-the-air taping, you'll need to get one of those $50 converter boxes that Atlanta raved about earlier in this chat.

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Charlotte, Vt.: Rob, about 1 out of 10 podcasts that I download from the iTunes store are incomplete. Sometimes I only get a random minute or so of an hour show. Yet I can usually get the whole thing if I visit the program's website. Where does the system break down? Is it a problem at Apple, at the radio station...or somewhere else?

Rob Pegoraro: That's not supposed to happen--but it does. I've seen it occur once or twice myself. My guess would be you're looking at a server hiccup on the podcast site; the iTunes Store doesn't host the podcasts you download in iTunes, but only points to where they're hosted elsewhere.

It's also possible for iTunes to get confused about the status of a download, but that seems less likely overall.

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Silver Spring, Md.: MacBook Pro 15" or 17"? Is the price premium for the larger screen really worth it?

Rob Pegoraro: No. You're looking at a notably heavier and much larger machine if you get the 17-inch model.... and you could always plug in an external monitor to the 15-inch MBP.

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Annapolis, Md.: I am an early adopter. I bought a CD player when they first came out. Same with DVD. Bought HDTV as soon as COMCAST offered service. A year later, I always felt a little silly when equipment costs much less, but at least my early stuff worked with big improvements over what I had before. When HiDef DVD's came out, I balked a little because of the format war but bought an HD DVD. Oh well, I knew the risk HD DVD would lose; win some, lose some. What annoyed me was it didn't work very well. I feel like I've been dealing with beta hardware that is balky and needed firmware updates, etc. I figured, no wonder they lost. Now that I'm shopping for Blu Ray I see from reviews and customer reports that Blu Ray seems to have the same problems and that if I buy a Blu Ray now it will be obsolete in a couple of months when 2.0 comes out. Why did the companies push this out before it was ready?

Rob Pegoraro: Well, the Blu-ray people--having already seen their ship dates slip multiple times--felt they needed to have *something* in the market to counter HD DVD, and so started making players even while the standard wasn't finalized. That's caused real problems for some people (PS3 owners, however, have generally done fine, since that console makes it a lot easier to upgrade its firmware).

HD DVD did ship with a final standard, but manufacturers still had problems properly supporting it in their hardware.

Either way, you've got manufacturers adopting the worst habits of the computer industry--ship first, fix later--and customers getting pwned, as the kids say these days.

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Seattle, Wash.: Rob, I have a coax with a very limited cable plan plugged into my HDTV. Of the local HD channels, I only get NBC, CBS, Fox, and CW. I have a converter box coupon. If I buy the box, will I be able to receive ABC and PBS in HD?

Rob Pegoraro: No. Everybody repeat after me, please: Digital-TV converter boxes only help with over-the-air reception with an antenna, not cable or satellite TV.

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Rockville:, Md. Is there any reason not to use gmail? Some conspiracy theorists seem to think that gmail cross-references email with web searches and forms a more detailed profile of the user than he might be comfortable with. Even the generation of ads based on the content of the email seems a little spooky. Is this something to worry about? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The ad system is something you should consider about Gmail. (I don't worry about it, because the only messages I get at my Gmail account are themselves ads--that's the address I give out when I'm shopping.)

The larger issue, though, is this: How much of a role do you want any one company to have in your life? I don't have a good answer for that, but you should think about it.

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Washington D.C.: One quick follow-up? Is there any hope of finding a relatively new iBook with good memory for $600-$800? I'd really prefer a Mac if it were an option...Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: New, no. (Educational discounts might chop $100 or so off the price.) But if you look for refurbished or discontinued models, you ought to be able to find something closer to $800.

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Bowie, Md.: Rob, I may be announcing to the world that "TWO PLUS TWO IS FOUR!" but I got 768k DSL a few months ago and for only a little more than dial-up ($15/month), I feel like I've joined the 21st century. If you want to download YouTube but not full-length movies on demand, there's not much reason to postpone any more, as long as it's available in one's area.

Rob Pegoraro: Thank you, Bowie! That's what I've been saying for years: The always-on part of broadband matters much more than the speed part of it in most everyday Web use. You don't need to get the fastest possible broadband package.

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Washington D.C.: I'm not positive from the description, but Woodbridge with the eMac may be describing a kernel panic, which is a pretty big crash in the OS X world. It may indicate a problem that goes beyond a few scrambled OS bits: a problem with memory, or maybe an incipient hardware failure. Taking it in to the Genius Bar at an Apple Store might be a good idea. (Be sure to make an appointment ahead of time!)

Rob Pegoraro: Good idea. The "gray screen of inconvenience" is not supposed to... well, you get the picture. If that keeps coming up, you might have a hardware problem that a system reinstall won't do anything about.

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wiredog:

To the guy installing Ubuntu to a Parallels VM:

Look here: Doesn't look too difficult.

I'm using Kubuntu on VMware which went easy.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, wiredog!

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Berkeley, Calif.: I broke down and replaced my 8-year-old HP Pavilion desktop with Windows98 last month with a Gateway l4" laptop. It's a bear getting used to the trackpad after so many mouse years! The machine came with Microsoft Office free use for 2 months, after which I would be required to pay for it. On the advice of a progressive techie friend, I uninstalled it and installed Open Office last week. Would my Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets be readable by Open Office? Many thanks for all your helpful hints.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, OpenOffice should read any Word and Excel files you throw at it. At worst, it might have issues correctly displaying some particularly byzantine formatting in spreadsheets--but the data itself will still be there.

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Washington, D.C.: This chat should be re-named the "That's Not Supposed to Happen Hour with Rob Pegoraro."

Rob Pegoraro: I like it!

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Alexexandria, Va.: Opening Day for baseball is less than 2 weeks away and I'll be watching on my brand new LCD HDTV...except I'm still shopping and a tad confused. In the past you've recommended at least a 3000:1 contrast ratio. I'm looking at 2 TVs, one with a 6000:1 and the other is 10000:1, am I going to note a difference? What should I really be looking for as I evaluate these TVs? They all look darn good and are in the $1500-2000 for a 46", can I go wrong?

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, contrast ratios have kept escalating, and after a certain level you're in "good enough" territory. I'd look at other things to decide your purchase. For instance, does either set include a USB port or memory-card slot that will let you view digital photos on the screen? Does one have "120 Hz" scanning and other does not?

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Arlington, Va.: When I try to burn a file to a CD or DVD in my HP, it often does not recognize the blank CD/DVD (they are the right disk types for the machine). I get the message to insert a disk, even though it has already been inserted. Reinserting another CD/DVD blank rarely solves the problem. Any idea what the problem might be?

Rob Pegoraro: Try using a different disc-burning program. If your HP is like every other Windows machine, it probably includes a third-party disc-burning app in addition to the CD-burning tool built into XP and Vista.

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Oakland, Calif.: I recently bought a new computer and in the process moved from XP to Vista Ultimate. With the older XP machine, I used Outlook Express as my primary email program. The new computer does not have Outlook Express, but I believe MS offers various other email programs buried in Vista. I've not used them yet, relying on the webmail version of my email carrier (earthlink). My question is, what would you recommend as a low-cost or no-cost email program now. Is anything in Vista usable as a full-function email program? Or do I have to go buy MS Office just to get Outlook again? Thanks much.

Rob Pegoraro: If you considered Outlook Express usable as a full-function e-mail program... sorry, I won't finish the punch line :)

Vista includes Windows Mail, which is basically Outlook Express with a spam and phishing filter and a new front end. There's also the free Windows Live Mail Microsoft offers. Further afield, there's the free Mozilla Thunderbird. All of these programs should be able to import your OE mailboxes, address book and settings, although the two Microsoft apps should do a cleaner job overall.

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Short Hills, N.J.: Hi Rob, I'm a longtime reader. I'm interested in listening to the music I have stored on my PC on my much better sounding stereo system. Like many people, my PC is hidden away in an upstairs office and my stereo receiver is located downstairs in my living room. Unfortunately, I don't have wires running from my office to my living room and won't be adding any in the near future (at least that's what my wife tells me). So, I'd like to wirelessly stream and/or transfer music from the office to my stereo receiver. I've read about a couple of devices that do such things and want to know if you have written on this topic and if you have any suggestions/recommendations? Things you should know: I'm running a PC with Vista, Netgear router(g), most music in MP3 format, stereo receiver with plenty of analog and digital inputs available. Devices I'm considering: Apple TV--although they advertise the device for video, it probably does a nice job streaming audio (not just AAC files, but MP3 too). Surprisingly, on a recent visit to my local Apple store, the retail associates didn't recommend using the device for such purposes. I'm not sure Steve Jobs would be happy with associates not thinking "outside the box." Although a review on CNET says not as polished as Apple TV, I'm considering Netgear EVA 8000. Also Logitech Squeezebox Duet is new and seems interesting (streams internet radio and integrates with some music sites); CNET like it. How about Linksys Media Center Extender? I've also considered other options like docking an iPod next to my stereo (not particulary elegant or as functional as devices above) or setting up a laptop next to my stereo (vetoed by same wife mentioned above). I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

Rob Pegoraro: The Apple Store people were right, whatever their reasons for steering you away--the Apple TV is overkill for just listening to music.

I'd look at the Squeezebox. This is an updated version of a music receiver that was already one of the best around.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi Rob, I am in the market for a new Ipod. Should I buy now or will the price come down? Any suggestion? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The price will come down. It always does. Question is, how soon?

One way to answer that is to look at the recent history of iPod updates. Apple just upped the memory of the iPod touch but kept the price the same, so that's a safe purchase. But the iPod nano has gone longer without an update; in that's the model you're eyeing, you might want to sit tight. OTOH, the next iPod nano might keep the same prices but offer more memory, which could amount to a less-than-meaningful update if you don't have a huge music collection in the first place.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What's the status of the Google phone? I heard they are working on a phone that in essence will be a make-your-own-phone: you download only the applications/features that you actually want and need! Sounds great to me!

Rob Pegoraro: The Android software Google's working on--and which is supposed to ship in the second half of this year--isn't quite like that. You'd usually get this bundled on phone with a standard set of applications, but you would have more liberty to add on other programs afterwards than you do with most phones now.

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Burke, Va.: Not to pimp a product, but we just bought the Griffin Evolve wireless speakers and dock for iPod, and they're SWEET -- great range on the wireless speakers, and good sound (to these ears, anyway). Around $260 or so, if you shop around. Get me some good weather, and it's beer and tunes on the deck . . .

Rob Pegoraro: Well, the way the weather's been running around here, we're not far away at all from the start of deck/porch weather!

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Arlington, Va.: Probably too late, but for the Gateway user with the random reboots... I had a similar problem that began when I switched out a video card. Who woulda thought. So maybe it's a seemingly unrelated hardware issue.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks--I'll post this.

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23060: Seattle might be able to get his ABC and PBS stations over the air with a converter box and an antenna, and the rest he can continue to get via cable (or OTA even).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Columbia, Md.: I have a stupid question. I have a wired internet modem for comcast internet hooked up to my iMac (5 years old) which I want to keep but I want to get a MacBookPro and use wireless. What equipment to I need to get for that. Can I keep the same modem and just get a wireless router or what. I know this is probably a stupid question but I never had wireless before and don't know what to get or how to set it up so I have internet on both computers.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You do need a wireless router, and to keep things simple I'd stick with Apple's AirPort lineup. At the cheap end, you've got the AirPort Express, $99; if you've been looking for a backup solution, get a Time Capsule, $299, which includes a 500-gb backup drive (which will work with a new Mac's Time Machine software) and a regular wireless router.

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New York: Hi Rob, any word on the 3G iPhone? When will it be released and what kind of advantage will it have over the current model? I'm really tempted to get the current 16 Gig model, but AT&T is selling refurbished 8 Gig iPhones for half the price. 8 Gig is pretty light, but I would consider it if the upcoming 3G is clearly superior and will want to buy the second generation of it (sometime at the end of 2009?).

Rob Pegoraro: I don't have any schedules for you, New York. My *guess* is that we're looking at a 3G iPhone around mid-summer, but that's not based on anything more than that being a year from the iPhone's debut and therefore a good time for an update.

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Rockville, Md.: So, I found an ipod nano on the red line last week. I checked the contacts list to see if I could find a way to get it back to its owner, but the list was empty. So I turned it in at the Farragut North station info desk. He said it would be put in a lost and found. Is there anything else I could have done to find the owner directly? Some itunes based lost and found? It seems that a loaded ipod should be very easily identifiable by the owner because the mix of stuff in it is so unique. I felt terrible just throwing it into the nether world of metro lost and found.

Rob Pegoraro: Good question! What I'd try would be to plug the iPod into a computer, then look at the songs on it. If any have been bought from the iTunes Store, they'll have the purchaser's Apple ID in the Info window of each song.

But I'm sure the owner will know to call Metro and ask about the iPod... especially if he/she reads this chat.

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South Riding, Va.: What do you think of Roomba? I got 2 indoor dogs and they shed 24/7 and I could use some help cleaning our hard wood floor. Do you think Roomba will help me?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried it, although I did review the Scooba a year or two ago. Also, I don't have a dog at home. (Now my brother had a Roomba to test, he could probably tell you everything you need to know, what with two dachshunds running around.)

Any suggestions for SR?

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Anonymous: To connect a computer's audio output to a stereo system wirelessly, I would recommend either the "Logitech Wireless Music System for PC" or the "Logitech Wireless Music System for iPod". Both use Bluetooth, both are fairly inexpensive, both work really well. The main difference is the former plugs into a USB port and the speakers on the computer become silent while being used; the latter plugs into headphone output and does not stop your computer speakers. I use the latter and the sound is perfect.

Rob Pegoraro: Thnx, anon!

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Really quick...: I'm a techno-idiot. I have a gateway laptop (not sure of the model, but it's pretty standard- no bells and whistles) whose battery appears to be shot. I can basically work cordless for about 15-20 minutes before the computer shuts off. I've had no problems with the computer itself. Is it worth it to get another battery or should I just upgrade the laptop? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: How old is this machine? If it's four-plus years old--yeah, I'd look at a new laptop.

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Takoma park:, Md. What is the deal with the $40 coupon and the converter? I missed the memo...

Rob Pegoraro: Read this, please!

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2008/02/deciphering_digital_tv.html

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Herndon, Va.: Oh Wise Electronic Guru, my Palm isn't much longer for this world, so I'm thinking about getting a smartphone. I have T-Mobile and I'm stuck with them for awhile and I don't entirely trust their cube-monkey customer service/sales people to steer me towards something I really need vs. something that will get them a bigger commission. So, what's the best T-Mobile phone for someone who wants a cell/pda combo? And do I have to worry that one function will die before the other, effectively leaving me back where I started?

Rob Pegoraro: T-Mobile doesn't sell any Palm handhelds, which eliminates your simplest upgrade path. They only stock the Sidekick, plus a bunch of Windows Mobile and BlackBerry models. The Windows Mobile phones are the closest match to your Palm, and of the ones they carry I prefer the T-Mobile Dash.

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Savage:"I got 2 indoor dogs and they shed 24/7 and I could use some help cleaning our hard wood floor. Do you think Roomba will help me?"

It will sure entertain the dogs!

Rob Pegoraro: Good point!

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Annapolis, Md.: Having trouble copying disks--for instance, a data disk consisting of mpg-format video of my cousin's opera recital at Maryland last spring. Roxio won't let me copy between my two optical drives because I somehow can't prove that the data is mine.....which seems....strange.

Any way around this, aside from copying everything to my HD and then back onto the other disk???

Rob Pegoraro: O RLY? How... convenient of Roxio. What program of theirs are you using? (E-mail me with that, if you could: robp@washpost.com)

I'd try that workaround you mentioned at the end. Or borrow a computer that doesn't have this Roxio app to get in your way; copy the file off the disc and onto a USB flash drive, then return it to your own PC.

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Berkeley, Calif.: I bought an 80 GB portable hard drive with a USB connector to use for backups of photos, financial information, etc. It's very handy, but I worry that if it is stolen all of my data will be readable. How can I encrypt the drive to prevent anyone but me from looking at it?

Rob Pegoraro: Try the free, open-source TrueCrypt: truecrypt.org

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To T-mobiler: Get a Palm Treo GSM off eBay.

Rob Pegoraro: Another idea. Thanks!

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Statesboro, Ga.: I sometimes burn my own mix from CDs I've purchased. An easy way to do it is through my iTunes program. But I've read that my iTunes purchases have less digital information than the same music purchased on a CD. Would ripping and burning a CD via i-Tunes result in the same or a similar loss of information? Would I be better off using a program like Nero, especially for classical music? Thanks, John

Rob Pegoraro: No need to switch programs--just change your iTunes settings. Go to the Edit menu, select Preferences, click the Advanced tab and then click Importing. There, you can set a higher bit rate than the default 128 kbps. Try 165, 192 or 256 kbps. (Which one to use depends on your own ears and the cost of your own speakers more than anything.)

Note, also, that "iTunes Plus" purchases from the iTunes Store come in a 256 kbps encoding.

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Rob Pegoraro: OK, gang, I've gotta log off and see how many holes have been blown in my NCAA bracket so far. Thanks for all the questions!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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