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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, May 15, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro will be online Thursday, May 15 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

This Story

Read transcripts of Rob's past tech discussions here.

Submit a question or comment now or during the discussion.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon--and a beautiful afternoon it is, here in D.C. I hope at least some of you are logging in via WiFi someplace outdoors!

This morning's column about Windows XP nostalgia--I call it "Stockholm syndrome" in my accompanying blog post--seems to be somewhat contentious among some of you. I expect to see a lot of back and forth on that subject, but I also see plenty of queries on other topics. Let's see how it goes...

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Honolulu, Hawaii: Hi Rob,

Has the dust settled regarding the problems and pitfalls on installing XP SP3? I have religiously installed all XP MS updates except SP3.

My questions is: In your judgment, should I continue with my present XP pro/Intel computer system rather than installing SP3? Thanks...

Rob Pegoraro: Let's start with this one. People love to bash Vista for behaving badly and trashing perfectly good systems--but the exact same thing can happen in XP!

My own experience, Honolulu, has been that SP3 is a pretty tranquil update. It installed perfectly, AFAICT, on four functioning systems, and one already-broken system it made things slightly better. But some readers have had different experiences, as you can see on my blog (blog.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward)

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Marietta, Ga.: I updated my laptop with Windows Vista SP1, and now it goes nuts when I try to wake it up from sleep mode. Is anyone else having this problem? Huh? Huh?

Rob Pegoraro: And here's a post about a Vista service pack gone wrong. But: could you define "go nuts"? There are so many different ways a computer can do that...

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Newbie Mac User: Rob,

I have a Macbook that goes to sleep when I close the lid, which is what I'd like it to do.

Is there a way to enable an option that would prompt me for my password when I open the laptop back up from sleep mode to prevent someone else from using it?

Rob Pegoraro: Don't have a Mac in front of me, but I'm pretty sure you the option you want is under either the Security or Accounts system-preferences panes. (Right?)

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Northeast DC: What is the best place in the District to go buy a laptop? I feel like there has to be something better than a big box store like Best Buy, but I'm not sure where else to look. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Within the boundaries of D.C. proper, there aren't that many places to buy a computer, period. Any suggestions for our reader in NE?

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Reston, Va.: Hi Rob:

The good news: FIOS is finally available in my neighborhood. The bad news: I've got two Macs (one dual-core) running Jaguar OS and an Airport wireless system. I seem to recall that this set-up was incompatible with FIOS; is that still the case?

Thanks...

Rob Pegoraro: That's unpossible, as the kids say--at worst, Verizon's setup software might not run in 10.2, but there is no way an Internet connection won't work on an Internet-capable computer. Worst case, you'd need to borrow somebody's computer to set up your system (and from what I hear about Verizon's Mac software, that's not necessarily a bad thing).

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Drumaville: Finally got my converter box coupon in the mail and dutifully went out to Radio Shack to purchase the box. Took it home to Vienna, tried to hook it up. The antenna cable to the rabbit ears on the TV (a 20-year old little Toshiba) did not fit the box, but I found a spare set of rabbit ears that did hook into the box. Went through the steps to set it up and...nothing. No reception at all. Not that I had good reception in the first place, but now it's as though there is no antenna and not a single station comes in. Am I missing something obvious?

Rob Pegoraro: If you don't even see the setup screen of the converter, you probably have the TV tuned to the wrong channel or input. If you have the converter hooked up via a thick coax cable to the antenna post on the back of the TV, make sure the set's tuned to channel 3, or 4 if that's the unused VHF channel in your area. (One of my colleagues got tripped up by exactly this.) If it's connected via a skinnier RCA input cable, the TV needs to be switched away from the standard antenna input.

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Bethesda, Md.: You characterize the desire to stick with Win XP as nostalgia, but for most businesses, it's just a matter of dollars and cents.

Why on earth would my employer want to replace XP with Vista? Even with fixes for compatibility and level-of-annoyance issues, Vista is a resource hog. I use my PC at work for computationally intensive stuff-- and every CPU cycle that Vista takes for flashy UI graphics (or whatever) is a CPU cycle that's taken away from some task that I'm being paid to do. At this juncture, Microsoft is seen as just extracting a tax from all its users.

Rob Pegoraro: Bethesda, please note that my title is "Consumer Technology Columnist." I do not and never have pretended to offer advice to businesses, nor do I really care to. I write for people doing their computing at home, on their own dime and without a corporate IT desk to fix stuff.

Also, please note that the column itself explicitly recommended *against* replacing a perfectly good copy of XP with Vista (it's in the ninth paragraph). I'm only talking about what OS to run on a new home computer.

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Oakton, Va.: Could you review Golf GPS systems? SkyCaddie is the dominant player in the market, but there are many upstarts that have a lot to offer.

Rob Pegoraro: What I do to the game of golf ought to be a crime.

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Don't have a Mac in front of me: You're right, System Prefernces, Security. "Require password to wake..."

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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For Reston: I had FIOS installed on 5/9/08 (Love it!) While I don't have a Mac and they did run their software, they didn't need to.

If you know how to configure a router using the browser (192.168.1.1, login=admin, password=password), you don't need their software. IIRC, the router was working after plugging it in. I only needed to configure to change the password and security settings.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks to you as well!

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Washington DC: Hi Rob,

This is a fix-or-replace question.

My 3+ year old HP desktop has a hard drive that is starting to show signs of going south. (Diagnostic software shows some problems, though there's no obvious operational problem yet.)

Apparently it's possible the motherboard (controller) is at fault, though more likely its the HD.

I could replace the drive for $100, no problem.

But I was thinking of a motherboard replacement anyway to get a more modern (dual-core) processor on board and more memory than the 1 gig that I have now and is the max for this particular motherboard.

Other than a fair amount of audio editing, I don't do anything particularly demanding on this machine, though I do tend to keep a lot of apps open at once.

I was all set to get my tools out, but I'm wondering if it might be better to just get a new box.

Whadda ya think, Rob?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd buy a new computer in that case. With that many parts to replace, plus the value of the time you'd spend on this project, you'd be better off with a new model--basic desktops are ridiculously cheap. (Just make sure it has enough memory!)

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Washington, DC: I have a new iPod Touch and would like to know the best way to connect it so it can be used through the car stereo in my 2007 Toyota Camry. I'm looking for a mid-range option and am willing to give up a little quality for a better price. I've done a little research but would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: If the stereo has a line-in input jack--as it ought to--just get a patch cable and run that from the headphone jack on the iPod. Otherwise, if it has a tape deck get a tape-deck adapter; they're much cheaper than FM adapters. Otherwise, you're stuck with an FM transmitter for the iPod.

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NWDC: Rob,

I am buy a house with an X-10 lighting system. The controller looks like vintage 1988, which is probably about right given the age of the house. Are these systems worth the trouble?

Thanks...

Rob Pegoraro: It has been a looonngg time since I've gotten a home-automation here. I can't say I've been tempted to add one of these systems to my own home. Do any chatters have experience with X10 home-auto systems?

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Silver Spring, MD: Rob - my argument for keeping XP going instead of switching to Vista is that Microsoft plans to replace Vista in a few years. It would make more sense for some people to skip Vista entirely, as long as XP security updates are made available. True, the release date for Vista's replacement may be set back several months or years, as it was with Vista itself. But I think Microsoft knows that Vista is not a universal success and is eager to develop a replacement.

Your thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: This *is* Microsoft we're talking about--look how long it took the company to ship Vista! I'm pretty confident that by the time "Windows 7," or whatever they wind up calling it, ships, most of today's new computers will be nearing retirement or already scrapped.

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Christiansburg, VA: I tried to download/install Vista SP1. After a half hour to download and another half hour to install with shut-downs and start-ups along the way, I got an error message that SP1 could not install. No explanation as to why. Is this common and why do you suppose it would not open. I keep up to date with all other updates.

Thanks for any clues you can provide.

Rob Pegoraro: I can't provide any clues in this case, not knowing any context. All I can tell you is that in Windows--Vista, XP and other versions--this stuff just happens, and often for no apparent reason. (Sometimes I use a word besides "stuff")

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, I know you're not a fan of Outlook but I'm wondering if you can help me figure out some behavior problems with it. Normally if you click on the spam folder and then right click on delete spam you can clear the contents of the folder. Every once in a while my program stops doing this and then several days or weeks later it starts to work again. I right click on the folder, highlight delete contents and nothing happens. This last time it worked fine for months and then... not! Then it seems to recover. No viruses or, spyware or adware. Have you heard of this happening before or should I call Ghostbusters? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not a fan of Outlook because I keep hearing stories like this! It's amazing how this program reproduces so many of Windows' faults in miniature--with the added disadvantage of stranding your data inside a proprietary file format.

Stepping off the soapbox... I dunno. What version of Outlook are you running? Do you have any anti-virus, search or anti-phishing plug-ins active?

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Vienna, Va.: Rob, this may not be a huge issue but I just bought a Logitech VXRevolution (-$75) wireless mouse for my Mac. I will return it because the wheel sets too high above the mouse. It is uncomfortable to hold my index finger that high. I have always loved the Logitech mice but photos appear to have all of them with the high wheel. Did they have no ergonomics consult?? A cheaper Kensington looks to have the lower wheel. And I see no mention of this issue in any of the reviews.

Rob Pegoraro: Not familiar with this particular rodent, but there's no arguing with your direct experience in a case like this.

(You might be surprised at how little usability testing goes on with some computing products.)

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DC: Do any retail stores around sell the Asus EEE? I'd like to get one to use tomorrow.

Rob Pegoraro: Best Buy (Tenleytown, Columbia Heights) carries it.

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x10: It's also been a long time since I've seen one of those awful X10 pop-up ads! Coincidence?

Rob Pegoraro: Grrr! Why'd you have to remind me of *that* memory?

Though, actually, those idiotic pop-up ads were not for X10 in general, but a stupid little camera designed to work with it.

Worst. Ads. Ever.

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Nashville, TN: Rob, I will have to find a new antivirus program because the ginormous AVG Free 8.0 refuses to install on my WinXP/SP2, stand-alone Dell desktop with lots of free space (Firefox and Thunderbird,if that's pertinent). Should I go with Avast or AntiVir or another? I'm looking for small and efficient, not bloatware. I like my current AVG 7.5 but it won't be supported after May 31. The AVG8 error is about an incorrect configuration.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll throw this one out there--among free, non-AVG anti-virus apps for Windows, what do we like?

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Gallery Place: I've been looking at some the DTV converter boxes (I got my coupons last week!), and I was wondering if you'd seen the latest and greatest models.

What's the best buy for my $40? Also, I've read some good things about Dish Network DTVPal (formerly Echostar TR-40) -- should I wait for that (or another one)?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The Dish model is the one that's supposed to retail for exactly $40, making it free with a coupon. Haven't tried it yet myself.

Of the two I've tried, a Magnavox unit and a Zenith model, I liked the Zenith a little better. The industry people I've talked to think pretty highly of the tuner inside it as well (LG, Zenith's parent, did a lot of R&D on digital tuners in general).

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Mac -- password to wake: I have a related question. I figured out how to set a password to wake my sleeping computer, but I haven't figured out how to set a password to start the computer. Seems like a flaw, as someone could just turn off a sleeping computer and turn it back on. I must be missing something. Can anyone clue me in? (I'm running Tiger, BTW.)

Rob Pegoraro: Uncheck a box labeled something like auto-login at start (again, it's under the Accounts system-prefs pane).

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U Street: Rob, I'm starting grad school this fall and have decided to get a new laptop. I'll be doing a lot of statistical analysis (think SAS and Stata), and would like this computer to last me through my PhD (4-5 yrs). My school has a contract with Lenovo and I can get a ThinkPad R61 for about $1,350. My heart is telling me to go for the MacBook for about $1,450, but I'm a little concerned about compatibility with datasets. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.

Rob Pegoraro: You are asking the wrong person--I don't know a thing about SAS or any other statistics programs. Sorry!

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Silver Spring, Md.: To what extent do you think the divide between Microsoft and Apple is institutional? By that I mean Microsoft seems unwilling to change while Apple scrapped almost everything for a redesign of it's OS back in 1999/2000/01. The last major change we saw from Microsoft was from Win3.1 to Windows 95. Is Microsoft's problem that the people working there are unable to come up with new and innovative features/solutions, or is it that they are so restricted by the billions of users already using Windows who they don't want to upset by making sweeping changes? (Imagine if everything that worked on WinXP no longer worked on Vista. -Literally- -everything- - all software, all hardware. This is presumably what would happen if MS decided to scrap everything and start fresh.) Or is Microsoft's problem simply that they're playing catch up to Apple?

Rob Pegoraro: This is an excellent question. I agree with your overall analysis--Microsoft has valued "backwards compatibility" so highly that it has a hard time making sweeping changes, while Apple has been happy to throw old standards overboard for the sake of reform.

The irony here is that almost all of Apple's developers have followed along, repeatedly rewriting their software for the OS 9-to-OS X transition, then the PowerPC-to-Intel shift. Meanwhile, Microsoft has had a much harder time getting its developers to update their software for Vista, even though there's much less work involved.

If I worked in developer relations at Microsoft, I think I'd have a well-perforated voodoo doll on my desk by now.

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Anonymous: I recently moved to a rural town and the only ISP is Hughes satellite. They have a 240 MB download limit per 24 hr period. If exceeded, you effectively get locked out of internet access for 24 hours.

It has been a nightmare! Downloading updates to software is a pain and has caused major problems with my firewall.

They define downloading in very strict terms. When I watch a youtube video, they call it downloading. Streaming video.. downloading, listening to the radio... downloading.

Every time I go to a newspaper web page, their system sees the event as me downloading all the advertisements and photos.

Question. Is there a way I can control what I "download" when I visit a webpage so that it is text only?

Oh, and I'm only allowed about an hour of streaming video each day. So when I log into work video conferences I have to deal with that nightmare of a limitation.

Rob Pegoraro: Those conditions sound nightmarish to me as well. You should shop around--Hughes isn't the only satellite ISP, as there's now another company called WildBlue offering service (wildblue.com/).

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Washington: Other than Best Buy, the only decent places in D.C. to buy a laptop are Staples and Office Depot. They have a much more limited selection and generally no one available to give advice but the prices are very favorable. Sales occur quite often and there are some excellent bargains to be had. Generally some Sony models along with HP, Toshiba and Compaq available.

Rob Pegoraro: Much appreciated!

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Chicago: Hi Rob, thanks for taking my question. My 5-year-old Dell laptop has been showing signs of age lately, and I think I may need to get a new computer soon. I agree with your column today that it's time to bury XP, but I am not impressed with Vista either. Last time I checked, the Mac version of Quicken is supposed to be terrible, and I refuse to go back to using a spreadsheet for tracking my spending. Do you know if there's supposed to be any decent financial software coming out for Mac anytime soon? Or do I just need to pray that my computer hang on for few more years?

Rob Pegoraro: There's a newer program called iBank (iggsoftware.com) that's supposed to be far more Mac-like than Quicken. There's also MoneyDance (moneydance.com), which I've heard good things about too. Any thoughts on these choices, chatters?

And there are a few Web-based personal-finance apps--Mint, Wesabe, Quicken Online--that you can run through your browser. Mint and Wesabe are free, Quicken Online is $2.99/month. I hope to have a comparison of them in print soon.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Rob:

You helped me with my initial foray into DTV (many thanks). My concern is that when its raining or windy, I tend to lose some channel signals, I get some of the baltimore channels on the weekend but not during the week. I still can't get channel 22 no matter what I do. I have to change the antenna position to get certain channels which means channel surfing no longer exists. Channel 26's 4 channels come in great some times of the day but not at other times. Is this what its going to be like in Feb 2009 or will something miraculous happen to make this better? I love the clear signal on my 10 year old TV but the glitches that I cannot control are going to be worrisome come 2/2009. What happens when there's a televised weather watch/warning but I can't get reception so I miss it? Please tell me it will get better.....

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't seen any sort of weather-induced variation when I've tested DTV. But I can't say what might be causing your problems, because there are so many potential variables: antenna size, antenna position (attic, rooftop, tabletop), brand of tuner and so on.

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upper marlboro: What is the easiest way to transfer VCR tapes to DVD's? I am looking at the new video cameras that record directly to DVD discs. This would make it easier to play directly on TV. What do you think about this of camera?

Rob Pegoraro: The easiest way is with a DVD recorder that also includes a VCR. You can also add an analog-to-digital video input box to a computer with a DVD burner, but that is a lot more complicated.

If you only have a few tapes to convert, take them to a Ritz Camera store or any other places that does VHS-to-DVD transfers.

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Stormville, N.Y.: Hi Rob!

System: Dell Dimension 4700, Pentium4 3Ghz, 2.5G memory, W-XP Home Sp2.

I go to Your Computer, then find the desired folder on hard disk.

Folder contains roughly 200 JPEG pictures, 1.5-2Meg.

Start selecting pictures via clicking on the first one, then holding down Ctrl and clicking on more. (selection is done to copy them elsewhere, but, of course, the computer does not know that yet).

Problem :

At random times the system starts generating copies of the marked pictures into the same folder, attaching a "copy of" to the front of the file name. This may repeat itself, with the file names getting a "copy (2)", or even a "copy (3)" prefix.

This happened today, but also at other times in the past.

Of course, in the end I can go into the folder, mark and delete the copies, but it is a pain ...

What is going on here?

Rob Pegoraro: You're probably letting go of the Ctrl key or clicking in the wrong place, which will lead Windows to think that you're trying to duplicate them. Try using the keyboard only, not keyboard and mouse, to select them. You can hold down the Shift key, then use the cursor arrow keys to select adjacent files.

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Prince William County: Hey Rob,

We have a Kodak v530 camera - a few years old without a lot of bells and whistles, but it gets the job done for family type photos.

A week or so ago, I took a few dozen pictures of our newborn, some of them very quickly because he was lifting his head sporadically.

I went back later to look at them, and probably two-thirds of them said "Unrecognizable file format". After erasing them all (only some so-so ones were left), the memory appears to only have about 80 percent of its capacity left.

Have I got a corrupted memory card on my hands?

Rob Pegoraro: Possibly. There are programs that might work to rescue the shots--Cameraid, Photo Rescue.

When/if you do recover everything you can from the card, reformat it to wipe out any data corruption. You should be able to do that from the camera's own menu, but you can also do that by popping the card into the computer.

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Moraga, Calif.: Friend has strange email problem. She sends me a message. I click on "reply" and answer her. I get the message back. Or I receive a joke or anything from someone else and want to forward it to her. I click on forward, and send to her address. That comes back also. The only way I can answer her is to open a new email and send the message on that. No one seems to have ever heard of such a problem. can you tell me what is causing it?

Rob Pegoraro: Moraga - I've got a pear-pie recipe named after that town. Good stuff...

Anyway, I have no idea what's going on here, not knowing your ISP, e-mail program or those of your friend. (Sorry! Those details really do matter; not all mail setups are alike.)

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U St: Recently started using Comcast wireless internet. Works well except that every few days it stops working for no apparent reason. Has happened while computer is asleep and while I am online. This is fixed by turning my iMac off, restarting the Comcast box twice - the first time you do so all the lights blink and it doesn't work - and then turning the iMac back on. While it is a pretty easy fix, it is annoying. Any idea what the problem might be or a permanent fix?

Rob Pegoraro: You shouldn't need to turn the Mac on and off; rebooting the Comcast modem/router alone ought to suffice, as the Mac (or any other computer) ought to recognize a restarted connection on its own. At most, unplugging and reconnecting the network cable would be necessary.

As for *why* the connection drops, that's something you'd have to ask Comcast about.

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Falls Church: Do you have any suggestions for what to do with a Dell PC from 2001 that has not been used in 3 years?

Rob Pegoraro: Unless your potential uses for it are extremely undemanding, sell it or donate it.

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Richmond, VA: My son will be going on a cross-country bicycle trip and is looking for a cell phone and plan that will allow them to update their website, www.acrosstherockies.org, from the road. He would prefer not to get a data package because he doesn't expect to need it after the summer. A Verizon salesman has suggested the Samsung i760 which has a slide-out keyboard and Wi-Fi capability that they could use to get online at Starbucks, etc., along the way. Does that appear to be a workable alternative? What are the downsides?

Rob Pegoraro: The downside would be not having a WiFi connection--there are some rather empty parts of this country as you go across it. I would get a data plan on the phone; you can always remove it later on. (Verizon lets you downgrade plans without penalty, as long as you keep some kind of wireless plan on a phone.)

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Sterling, Va.: So what the person from Moraga is saying is that someone's email server bounces forwarded jokes, but lets in new messages? And this is a problem? If only my email server did that.

Rob Pegoraro: Hahaha...

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Bethesda, MD: Count me in as a Moneydance fan for Mac. I appreciate that it is Java-based application, so if I ever move platforms (not likely), I have that option. And the most recent version has started to look more and more like a real OS X application. I would point out I don't use the program's online features, so I can't vouch for those options.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a recommendation for Moneydance

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Tina in Falls Church: converter box report: I dove in Monday after I received the two 40 credits in the mail. Radio Shack here I come. Bought two Digital Stream boxes for the two analog tv sets with rabbit ears. I bought this brand b/c they are supposed to operate the tv with the remote supplied rather than need two remotes and Radio Shack is 5 blocks away. I always know it will be several trips for this kind of project. First tv is three years old but was a cheapie 13in for my office. Set up was ok (directions are overly complex but it's pretty intuitive)but the picture was lousy. Back to RS for a new antenna (20 bucks)...voila. Great picture, the remote works, more channels than ever. Next tv was from the 80's. No tv out connection and y connectors for the antenna. Two trips to RS later...modulator, two pigtail connectors, extra coax, and still needed another piece of equip and a new antenna. It would be about 75 bucks to make this one work...I returned everything for that tv. I can buy a new 20" CRT for 150-200 so that's my plan. I will keep my eyes open for a replacement. All in all it was not hard to do but keep your eye on the added costs to adapt older tvs...it may not be worth it.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report!

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Wireless Adapter: Hi Rob- I've got a really dumb question. I have a Gateway laptop and last year I got the Wireless G network adapter router and card. Last week, I inadvertently uninstalled the "Wireless G Network Adapter" from my computer. I can't find the install CD and I don't know if it means that I uninstalled the card or the router or if it's both. Basically, my question is this - is there something I can do or do I need to buy a new router, card or both to get the install CD? I'm so technologically not savvy that it's not even funny. Thanks so much for any advice.

Rob Pegoraro: No, just go to Gateway's Web site and download a fresh copy of the driver software. (But if your wireless connection still works, you might not need it after all; Windows doesn't always require somebody else's drivers to operate common peripherals.)

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Cody, Wyo.: Hi Rob,

I have a four-month-old Dell laptop. Although I take it with me when I travel, I rarely run it on its battery.

Some folks tell me I should periodically run the battery down, as that will extend its life. Others have said don't bother.

Who's right?

Thanks, Rob, for the great chats.

John

Rob Pegoraro: Don't bother.

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Columbus, Ohio: Until I switch over to Windows Live Mail (likely sometime next month,) I currently run all my email accounts through Outlook Express. I have set up rules to deposit messages from two specific addresses into two dedicated local subfolders. The receiving accounts are both POP3s. However, all emails from one of the addresses go straight into my deleted files folder, while all emails from the other address stay in my inbox. I'm 99+ percent sure that I set up the message rules correctly. Any clue on why this is happening? Could my OE software be corrupted after three years and so many MS updates? Should I forget about OE and just count on Live Mail to sort correctly after I install it?

Rob Pegoraro: I have heard of OE mail stores getting corrupted, but not message rules in particular. Maybe the less than 1% chance of them being set up wrong has come true?

I suspect that Live Mail would preserve whatever's gone wrong with your setup; it's very good at preserving every detail of an OE installation.

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Pasadena, Calif.: Just received a new HP Pavilion Entertainment laptop configured with all the bells and whistles however with no usable documentation. It is packaged with software which is either trial programs or paid advertisers (eBay and such), however again virtually of no use to me. There is even a peripheral for plugging into the machine, but it is package without a clue as to where its goes or what it supposed to do. A quick reference pamphlet, printed in China (where the machine was made), apparently lags behind the most recent version of the operating system thus making the instructions either incomplete or confusing at best. A call for technical assistance gets me someone in India who simply hangs up when they cannot answer my question. Any advice?

Rob Pegoraro: You're not the first person to discover that on many new consumer PCs:

* the bundled software is junk

* the manual is useless

* the tech support is not much better.

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Rockville, MD: David Pogue in the NY Times gushed over a new Sprint laptop cell modem with unlimited service at $90/mo. Do you know if they prohibit streamed audio and video like Verizon and the others. If so, no matter how cool, it's a deal breaker.

Rob Pegoraro: How dare you mention his name here?! (kidding...)

Sprint has actually been one of the few good guys about wireless data--as I wrote in late 2006, it doesn't impose the same restrictions as other wireless carriers.

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re: U St: I had similar issues with my wireless (verizon dsl) while using my macbook. Issues no longer exist after I replaced my wireless router with a linksys wireless router and hid the SSID.

Hope that works for you.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Re: U St.: Rob,

When I had Comcast the connection would drop fairly regularly (about twice a month.) Now I have FiOS and it hasn't dropped once. So far FiOS has been a huge improvement in terms of billing, customer service, and quality of service.

Rob Pegoraro: And more on this topic...

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Eugene, OR: Will there ever be dual layer rewritable dvd's (not RAM disks) widely available? Thanks for the columns!

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea, but I should. I'll ask about this and try to get something into Help File...

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Washington, DC: Rob,

I'm a longtime PC user considering a switch to Mac for my next computer. I've been exploring the various issues and came across one I'm not sure how to solve. There's a Web site I like to buy music from that sells some of its product only in the protected WMA format. For these songs, I have to burn them to CD and then re-upload as AAC or MP3 files in order to be able to use them with my iPod. If I switch to a Mac will I still be able to do this? Can Macs burn protected WMA files to CD? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, and no. So you'll need to liberate your downloads from their DRM on your Windows computer before you replace the machine.

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Washington, DC: Sorry more comment than question. I have been using Vista on a new (one year ago) and fairly powerful laptop. It is easy to use and looks nice and is very stable. However, due to a continuing problem with the machine not establishing wireless network connections when it comes out of sleep mode, and due to the failure to fix this properly in SP1 I am rolling this machine back to XP. Also since I use more and more web based applications my next machine may well be a Mac. It seems to me this type of story, which you here over and over again can't be good for the long term health of Microsoft.

Rob Pegoraro: I agree that Vista hasn't been doing Microsoft's long-term prospects any big favors. But you should know that I've been hearing the *exact same kinds of stories* about XP for years!

Look, the apple did not fall far from the tree when Microsoft shipped Vista. And this particular tree seems to have been planted on every level ground.

More comments/critiques on XP and Vista coming up in a sec...

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Wash, DC: let's see:

OEM Version, Windows XP Pro, Full, $130.00.

Motherboard, case, hard drive, whatever else you need. You get an operating system with known characteristics, and, if you don't need the absolute latest games, you are good to go. Don't believe me? Pick up Maximum PC, any issue over the last two or three years.

Rob Pegoraro: This can be good advice... if you're the type of person to build their own PC, which is not the type of reader I've ever pretended to give advice to.

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Hot Springs, Arkansas: Why can't we have a choice here? I'm 72 years old, and I don't want to be bothered learning a new Microsoft program. I'm perfectly content with Windows XP. It does what I want it to do and I have had no problems with it.

Rob Pegoraro: Then keep using XP. Nobody is making you buy Vista and put that on your old computer. (Nor have I ever recommended that--going back to my first review of Vista, back in January of 2007.)

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hokiealumnus: Re: Laptops - I buy everything computer-related at Newegg ( http://www.newegg.com )and they sell laptops as well. Haven't gotten a laptop but I have purchased numerous desktop components. All have been well packaged and damage-free. Newegg has phenomenal customer service and I'd highly recommend them.

Re: XP vs Vista - already said my piece in the comments, but I'd just like to reiterate - If you have a portable copy of XP (meaning one that's not part of an encrypted/protected OEM disk), IMHO you should move it from computer to computer as you upgrade. Wait for the next MS operating system to come out.

If you want something new, try Ubuntu 8.04. It is a very solid, stable and fast OS. There are numerous Linux programs analogous to windows ones (like OpenOffice & Firefox) and if you're bound and determined, you can run WINE and run windows programs from within Linux. The best part? ...it's free!

Rob Pegoraro: I like Ubuntu very much myself--thanks for the reminder to check out 8.04. Think I'll put that on the laptop here later this afternoon...

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Hudsonville, Mich., for my inlaws: Hey Rob,

Thanks for both articles/blogs about XP. I'm a happy Mac user, but I'm helping my in-laws. They are running 2 PC's with XP and all is fine except for one 7-year old laptop that needs upgrading asap. Am I wrong in recommending that we find a replacement laptop that has XP installed on it rather than Vista. They are 75 years old and are happy with their printers, cameras, scanner, and email programs. The current laptop is so slow and they are finally realizing that they need to replace it. Since their desktop seems to be hanging in there, I think they can keep it as is. Am I correct in recommending a laptop with XP since they can keep all externals the same? Is there another issue I am missing? They have DSL and do just fine with the basic account. Emailing is important to them. Oh, and yes, I will be the one setting up the new computer for them.

Thanks for your wisdom!

Rob Pegoraro: This is a tough case; if your in-laws have been able to stay out of trouble with XP, it might be the path of least resistance to keep them on that. But you'll have to spend some time looking around to find one that will meet their needs, and then you'll probably need to spend some time configuring it. OTOH, the camera and printer should work just fine in Vista, and the scanner probably should as well. And it can be a mistake to underestimate the ability of people to adapt to change.

What have they said about this, anyway?

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Rockville, MD: After reading the stories about XP SP3, I was hesitant to download and install. Last night, I found I had 5 downloads waiting. The first one was SP3 and the other 4 were other recent patches. However, I couldn't download the 4 patches without downloading SP3. So, I did it.

Took about 15 minutes and the computer is working fine. So, I'm I lucky or are all the horror stories just unlucky people?

Rob Pegoraro: I think the other horror stories are unlucky people. SP3 is a nothingburger of an update, as far as Service Packs go, with no new features of note.

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Tenleytown, DC: Hi Rob

My son is graduating high school and heading off to college in the fall. We're going to get him a laptop to take with him. I know you think that Vista is the way to go for a new computer purchase. But, I checked the college website for info on computer/hardware/software recommendations and they said that, because Vista is so new, and all of their systems run on XP, they are not offering any tech support for Vista. Do you still think I should get a PC with Vista, or pay a little more and get a Mac? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: If your choice is between XP and a Mac, get a Mac. No question about it.

If this college doesn't think it's capable of supporting Vista 15 months after its retail debut... well, I hope your son isn't going there to get a computer-science degree.

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Boston: Rob, I just want to second your thoughts on Vista. I took your advice and chose a new system with Vista rather than XP and have not regretted it (though I chose 4GB of memory just to be safe). True, some programs don't work right (why on earth can't I synch by Palm TX with Windows Calendar rather than Outlook?), but that is the price of progress. And, Vista is progress. Apple's OS is superior because they are not afraid to make fundamental changes that render old programs inoperable (or less operable) on new OS versions. Windows is too meek in this regard, hence lots of legacy code that should be rewritten. In my view, complaints about old programs not working well in Vista amount to a fear of too much progress. Got to let go of the old if you want innovation.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the input, Boston!

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Arlington, VA: I enjoyed your column on XP versus Vista.

Here's my question: I bought a computer in Dec 2006, with a dual core processor and 2GB of memory from Dell. Vista wasn't out, but it was due soon, so I was given a free upgrade pack to Vista upon its release.

I never upgraded. I wanted to be able to back up my computer first, for one, for two, there were a lot of bugs in Vista.

Should I upgrade now? The disk is sitting there for me to do so, I have an external hard drive to back up my system, and i presume the bugs have been worked out of Vista.

However, my XP works fine. Is upgrading worth it?

Rob Pegoraro: Assuming your computer can run Vista's Aero graphics, *and* you don't have any software that's Vista-incompatible, *and* you know your peripherals will be supported in Vista--yes, I would go ahead with the upgrade after making a backup of your data.

I say this because you've got enough memory and processing power. If your machine were a year older, with only a gig of memory, I'd be waving you off.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Both my home and office computers have XP with automatic updates but I have yet to get SP3 -- what gives?

Rob Pegoraro: It hasn't been pushed out via Automatic Upgrades (the little yellow icon in the system tray) yet. That's not supposed to happen until later this summer.

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Simi Valley, Calif.: Rob:

How many times can I wipe out, and reformat safely the hard drive in my laptop? I read in an English magazine (apparently sponsored my Microsoft), that you are supposed to "clean up" the hard drive every 18 months. Is that true?

Rob Pegoraro: No, although a lot of Windows users recommend it. And the fact that they do suggest a "we had to destroy the system in order to save it" strategy cannot be considered any kind of compliment for Windows; you should not have to nuke your entire system every 18 months or two years to keep it in working order.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: Rob: Is it possible to have two instances of iTunes running on the same Mac? I don't want my wifes music on my ipod and she certainly doesn't want my music on hers.

Rob Pegoraro: See this blog post, and the reader comments following it, for some ways to do that: Relationship 2.0: Two People, Two iPods, One iTunes Library

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Baltimore, Md.: My daughter will be spending next year in France> Does it make sense for her to bring her US computer over there and run it off a 120/240 adapter, or should she buy a new computer in France?

Rob Pegoraro: Bring the U.S. computer, and forget about buying the adapter--just about all desktops and laptops handle the voltage/frequency switch automatically, so you only need a plug adapter.

_______________________

Green Light: Hi Rob,

An odd thing happened with my Macbook last night. After I turned it on one of the green lights at top by the video "eye" was on. I tried to figure out a way to turn it off, but didn't know where to look. Is there a way to turn it off? (Yes I verge on being a luddite.)

Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: You ran something to turn on the iSight Webcam--maybe iChat, maybe PhotoBooth. Quit those apps, or just log out/back into the user account

_______________________

Canada: For the person asking about getting a Mac or Windows computer for her PhD-all of the stats packages come for Macs so get a Mac. Most departments already have computers with stats packages on them anyways, so doubt you really need to buy that. Get End Note for keeping and using all of your references-this alone will save you months of work. Good luck getting a job, though, after you do your thesis.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! (this in reference to a query about a stats program)

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Seattle, UW: Actually, we don't use SAS much in Statistics, most of us use other programs - and most of these run on Mac and Linux not just Windows.

Rob Pegoraro: Also this...

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Arlington, Va.: SAS and Stata on a Mac ---

Macs run SAS 6 - we're currently upto SAS 9. Most organizations, schools, and the gub'ment run SAS on a non-Mac platform. My suggestion is save yourself the headache and get a modest laptop, unless you plan to run extremely large (think Census) datasets.

My 2 cents as a analyst, 10+ yrs exp.

Rob Pegoraro:...and this

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Washington, D.C.: Also for the person who doesn't get a signal using rabbit ears, make sure it's not just the rabbit ears, but the loop or bowtie as well. The actual rabbit ears are for VHF reception and the loop or bowtie is for UHF. Currently all the digital channels in the area are on UHF. The loop or bowtie is what is needed.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip. (But remember that some of the local stations' digital broadcasts will migrate back to VHF after 2/17/09)

_______________________

DTV reception: I had a similar problem, but not with over-the-air DTV , but with digital cable. During Saturday's storms, my Comcast digital cable signal for Fox WTTG was horrible-pixelating and freezing--but the analog cable signal on my TV of it was perfect. A coming problem?

Rob Pegoraro: No, not really. Cable can have dropouts, whether it's analog or digital. Comcast had an outage that disconnected a bunch of customers in Arlington just yesterday.

_______________________

Reston, Va.: Rob,

I'm having significant issues with verizon FIOS. I'm using it for cable, internet, and phone. It tends to intermittently disconnect the phone and lock up the internet connections. I've called verizon and had several tech visits, tech help over the phone while it was happeing, replacements of router, etc. with no real solution.

Do you have any suggestions, I'm about to call comcast.

Thanks

Carol

Rob Pegoraro:... not that fiber-optic connections are immune either!

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Washington DC: This post is half-recommendation/half-hallelujah.

My wife's 3.5 year old iMac died. Motherboard. A thousand dollars to fix. It made more sense to buy a new machine (it was time anyhow) and so she did. After setting up the new machine on her desk, I connected it to the external drive holding the old machine's Time Machine backups. We booted the new machine for the first time, it saw the external drive, offered to migrate the data from it, and spent about 45 minutes doing so. At the end of the process - about an hour from cracking the tape on the new box - she had a virtual clone of her old machine up and running, right down to cached browser passwords.

It's great when something works the way it is supposed to. Leopard and Time Machine saved us -hours- of file transfers and re-configuration -

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. I heart Time Machine.

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Annandale, Va: Rob - Can you give us a time frame for the Lifehacker item you mentioned in your Post Points email this week? I'd love to see their list of unnecessary PC programs, but I can't find it on the site no matter what I search for. Knowing when it was posted might help - thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Here it is: Ask The Readers: What Apps Should You Never Install?

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Richmond, VA: re: antivirus -- I like Avast. I even like the weird synthesized voice "Virus DAtabase has been upDATEd" message. I put it on my parents' old Win98 machine (I can't afford to buy them a new computer yet, so 98 it is ... don't hate me Rob)

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion!

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Fairfax: Re: the Outlook problem. I'm running whatever version of Outlook was included with Office 2003. I have trend micro pc-cillin running but as I said the problem is sporadic.

I'd switch to Thunderbird but does it have al the features including spam checking that Outloook has? The interface on Outlook looks a little cleaner also.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Outlook does everything that Outlook can do with mail--but it doesn't have anything to match Outlook's calendar, contacts, to-do and notes features. I wish that were not the case, because Outlook should not be the only "real" personal-info-manager in Windows.

_______________________

Chantilly, Va.: re: iPods in cars... My car (a 2001 Ford) had a connection for a six-CD-changer, but did not actually have the changer installed. I was able to get a box that plugs into the changer connection and gives you RCA line-in jacks, which I then plug the iPod into. Works great, with much better quality and less hassle than an FM transmitter.

Rob Pegoraro: That's an idea as well. Thanks!

_______________________

An added defense of Vista. . . : I bought a new laptop in January, and just because it was cheaper, I got it with Vista instead of XP. I was expecting to hate it, but after a couple weeks, I found I was learning to love it. The look's cleaner, and nothing acts up more than it did on my former computer. I like it. People need to chill and actually try Vista before they condemn it.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the assessment!

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Columbia, MD: My 4.5+ year old Mac G5 tower has started to do some strange things, mostly sometimes I cannot get it to wake up after it has been to sleep and sometimes settings will go back to default after I finally get it to wake, and my monitor will sometimes flicker, like the connection is lost for a nano-second. At first I thought my monitor was going but when the not waking up thing started happening, I think it is actually the computer. Do you have any idea what this could be? This is a work computer that get lots of use in graphic design use.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: It could easily be the computer--4.5 years is a long time in computing, especially for something used for intense professional work. There should be a hardware-diagnostic CD with the manual and the original system CDs; pop that in and see if it reports any problems.

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Dupont Circle: Hi Rob,

I have been a longtime user of Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite, and I like it. Last night I purchased and installed CA's new product, ForceField to run with ZAISS. It was a nightmare - kept crashing into the 'blue screen of death.' Uninstalling ForceField seems to have solved the problem, but I like the sandbox/virtualization concept and the added protection.

Any thought on getting FF to work or other (maybe more stable products) to accomplish the same goal of improved browsing security?

I'm running XP Home, SP2 fully patched, with only ad-aware and spybot as other security apps, and haven't had any real problems until loading ForceField.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: My guess is that the CA product is trying to perform some of the same functions as the ZA suite. You might have better luck if you only used the firewall and anti-virus parts of the ZA bundle.

But I'm only guessing--I haven't tried this ForceField program at all.

_______________________

iPhone Mystery : I'm having an issue with my new iPhone that I and other users in my office can't figure out. I currently have my iPhone synced (manually) with my home computer so that I can upload my music to the phone. When I connect it to my office computer and I want to listen to my music on my iPhone through iTunes, the songs show up but I can't play any of the music. Is there a way to listen to the music on my iPhone when it's connected to the my office computer, similar to my iPod Mini? Can I sync the phone with two computers manually? We can't seem to figure this out!

Also, (stupid question alert) how do I know I'm not still on the internet when I'm done using Safari on my iPhone?

Rob Pegoraro: You can't sync an iPhone with two computers, AFAIK. I think you'd have to unplug the phone at those times.

You shouldn't have an active Internet connection when you quit out of Safari on the iPhone, but it shouldn't make any real difference either way.

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More on DTV reception: I got the sense that it was channel-specific -- I have Comcast (in Bethesda), and the HD channels for CBS and CW were unwatchable last weekend, while ABC was pretty much fine. So I blamed the affiliates for the problem, rather than Comcast.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. Hard to say!

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Rob Pegoraro: That's going to wrap things up for today. Thanks again for all the great questions--see you here in a couple of weeks!

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