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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, October 16, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Oct. 16 to discuss recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

This Story

The transcript follows.

Read Rob's latest tech tips in his blog, Faster Forward.

Submit your questions or comments before or during the discussion.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm typing to you from a cluttered desk: To the left of the keyboard I have the T-Mobile G1 smartphone, running Google's Android software, that I just reviewed, and to the right I've got a new MacBook laptop on loan from Apple's PR department.

We can talk about either of those things or any other personal-tech issue you have on your mind. But no Joe the Plumber queries, please -- even I have my limits!

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To Android or not to Android: Rob, my phone contract is up on Oct. 24 (not that I'm counting) and I'm dying for a new phone. I'm currently with Verizon (NYC area) and am sorely tempted by both the new Android Phone and the iPhone. But, at least for the iPhone, I'm a little put off by the price of both the phone and the plan. I can't seem to get a great idea of what a plan on T-Mobile would cost with all the stuff I'd want (voice, data, text messaging) so I can't really compare.

As the resident expert, I defer to you; what's a girl to do? Or should I just stick with Verizon and get a Blackberry?

Rob Pegoraro: T-Mobile's rates are pretty reasonable compared to the other carriers' -- but they have to be, because T-Mobile has the worst 3G network of any of the nationwide carriers. You should consider its coverage, and AT&T's, against Verizon's.

Verizon will not have an iPhone anytime soon, but it could very well have an Android phone. So one thing you could do would be to keep your existing phone and not bother renewing your contract. Remember, you can do this -- you're not required to renew your contract to keep your Verizon service.

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Arlington: Rob, initial thoughts on the new MacBooks? As a college student I was very disappointed in the prices; it feels like they priced buyers like me out. In addition, the student discount for the $1299 Macbook and the $999 Macbook is only $50 vs. the $100 that was in place before Tuesday.

Do you think keeping the white plastic previous gen Macbook is just a ploy to sell off remaining stock, and once they are gone, we will see the Macbook come down to the $1099 range?

Rob Pegoraro: Good catch on the student discount -- I suppose these new laptops are significantly more expensive to build, or maybe Apple has to recover a lot of R&D costs incurred in coming up with this unibody architecture.

I'm not sure what to make of keeping the old MacBook around. It looks a lot like a late-in-the-game decision; note that Apple didn't make any changes to the white MacBook's hardware except to pop in a SuperDrive.

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Downtown D.C.: I've got a new Mac that comes with the lovely Time Machine backup utility. Unfortunately, my external hard-drive for backups is only 80GB. That means I can't back up the whole system all the time. Given the plethora of files on my computer, how do I decide what MUST be saved and what's optional? I know for sure I want backups of my documents, music and movies, but what else is necessary, especially considering I've got the OS DVDs right here? And when it comes to using Time Machine for even the essentials, how often does it automatically re-copy everything? For instance, if I haven't added any new music today, will it copy the same files I had yesterday again, wasting a lot of space?

Rob Pegoraro: I can't say this strongly enough: USE TIME MACHINE. (My sister in law apparently did not, and just saw about a year's worth of data vanish when her MacBook's drive died.)

You've got the basic concept right: With a limited amount of backup space, focus on your own data and settings, not applications you can reinstall. So, yes, back up your Documents, Music, Photos and Movies folder. But also back up your home folder's Library folder, which contains data like your address book and calendar. If that takes up too much space, tell Time Machine to ignore the Library folder's Caches sub-folder.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob: unlike my Powerbook G4, the new MacBook lacks a FireWire port. How do you download from a digital video camera? Through a USB port? Thanks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: That was Apple's answer when I asked them about the lack of FireWire -- they said, correctly, that many new camcorders use USB instead of FireWire. But: Many older camcorders only have FireWire.

More to the point, with only two USB ports this computer is going to require a lot of plugging and unplugging USB peripherals. I mean, if you really think FireWire is dead, replace its spot on the side of the computer with a third USB port.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm curious if they are going to call this phone the "Gphone" or something else. I assumed they would call it that, but when I went to gphone.com, the site did not appear to be related to Google. Any insight? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: T-Mobile's phone is called just the G1, although its full name is the "T-Mobile G1 with Google." Gphone.com, as you've discovered, has squat to do with this software and hardware; Google has an extensive site about Android up here.

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Arlington, Va.: As a very happy iPhone owner (v.1, not 3G), I am reading the reviews of Google's Android not as a potential buyer but just as a consumer of technology. I read yours, the one on Ars Technica, and the one on Engadget today, and was struck by some totally different takes on the same functions. One that really stood out was that Ars dinged it for not correctly re-orienting the screen from landscape to portrait in most applications, while Engadget was effusive about how well it did that. Since I know that Engadget would love a rock if it was "open," I take their review with a grain of salt, but I was wondering how often you see reviews with directly contradictory information from what you found? Sometimes it could be an opinion thing (it feels sluggish, etc.), but differences in facts about the product are disturbing to me.

Your review was awesome of course.

washingtonpost.com: Rob's review of Android: Google's Phone Operator (The Washington Post, October 16, 2008)

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the perceptive reading (OK, and the sucking up too :)

I haven't read Ars's review, but I have read the writeups at the NYT, WSJ and a few blogs. I think the biggest difference among them all is how much emphasis they place on Android as delivered on this one phone, versus what Android can do in general. I thought that since there will be other Android phones, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to fuss over the quirks of this particular device.

Of course, if March rolls around and the T-Mobile G1 is somehow still the only Android game in town, I'm going to look dumb.

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Manhattan, N.Y.: It seems like Sprint is the last to get some of the fancier phones. The Storm is headed to Verizon, G1 to TMobile, IPhone to AT&T, etc. Is Sprint just a low cost carrier and thus gets the slimmest of pickings?

Rob Pegoraro: No, Sprint's shipped plenty of fancy phones in its own right. There's the Instinct (you may have seen an ad for it about 73 times during the last week's worth of baseball games), the HTC Diamond and others like it. Sprint is also a founding member of the "Open Handset Alliance," the industry group Google set up to develop Android, so I would be shocked if it didn't have an Android phone of its own soon.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob.

1. My iTunes skips. I've tried the solutions on different websites. Still happens. Any ideas? I would like to solve the problem before I get a new computer.

2. Ideally, I would like to throw the laptop now I am using out the window. It's 4 years-old. I want a Mac! I assume the older versions of MacBooks are now on sale. I have no idea what I need though. I use my computer for email, internet video, movies and music. I am headed to Clarendon this evening, so I can take advantage of the trip at the Apple Store.

Or should I stick with a PC? I'd like to spend around $1000.

Love your advice!

Rob Pegoraro: I think problem one can only be solved by figuring out problem two. I can assure you that iTunes does not normally skip; you've got a four-year-old computer, which is an eternity in laptop years, and it probably just can't manage music playback well anymore.

Since you say you want a Mac, though, you should consider your options. Buying at the Apple Store will let you take advantage of their free data-transfer service, but Amazon has the old model for less than $900.

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Carrboro, N.C.: Re: Downtown D.C. and "Unfortunately, my external hard-drive for backups is only 80GB. That means I can't back up the whole system all the time."

500 GB external hard drives are under a hundred bucks. Buy a new one and do the whole backup. Actually, buy two so you can keep one safely off-site at all times. $200 is cheap for peace of mind.

Rob Pegoraro: That is another way to solve the problem, true...

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Anonymous: Rob, I need to press the open button on my internal DVR-RW drive several times before it opens. Each time I press it I hear a thunk but it finally opens after about the third time I press the button. Is this a sign of the drive about to fail?

Rob Pegoraro: It's not good, that much is for sure. How old is this computer?

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Danville, Calif.: Hi Rob, great chat; love reading your work out here in the beautiful west. I grew up in Alexandria and still love checking out the Post.

I don't want an iPhone, but I am interested in a iPod Touch, both as an organizer and for mobile internet connectivity. I need to have internet capability when I'm in my car on the road, or anyplace away from my home or office. I'm not that familiar with WiFi, but I don't think you can get WiFi reception just everywhere. The iPhone can get internet connections over a broad area, I know, via its G3 network. Does the iPod Touch have the same range of internet connectivity as the iPhone? If the iPod Touch is really just an iPhone without the phone, that's great. But if its internet abilities are more limited, then that's a possible problem.

Rob Pegoraro: No, the iPod touch doesn't have even a tiny fraction of the iPhone's Internet connectivity. WiFi is not everywhere or even close to it; all it does is spread an existing wired connection over an area of a few hundred feet. Think of WiFi as a really long Ethernet cable and you'll have the right concept in mind.

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Seattle: I just switched to an iPhone a month ago. I love the App Store experience. What do you think of Android Market so far? How do the apps measure up?

Rob Pegoraro: I reeaaallly like the Android Market. The selection is small, but I've seen it increase notably over just this week. The applications that I've tried show the same kind of smarts that have gone into the best iPhone applications (even if I have yet to find an Android equivalent of Phonesaber).

The best part of the Android Market is that Google is not going to veto individual developers and applications, in the way that Apple does with the App Store (see this blog post of mine.)

Over the long run, I don't see how the App Store's command economy can ever beat the Android Market's open approach.

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D.C.: When do we see your wrap-up of the "netbooks," Dell Mini, Eee PC, etc.? Any preliminary assessments? Also, any word on whether Apple might enter this increasingly crowded field?

Rob Pegoraro: I've accumulated a couple of these ultralight, ultra-cheap laptops -- the Acer Aspire One and the latest Asus Eee -- but I'm waiting on a Dell Inspiron Mini. There are also some newer contenders that I might want to try out as well, like Lenovo's S10 and Samsung's NC10. So this column is probably at least three weeks out.

When will Apple bring out its own netbook? When Steve Jobs categorically denounces this category of product as "not interesting" or "a waste of effort," you'll know Apple has its own netbook in the works.

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McLean, Va.: The old "mid-range" white plastic MacBook had:

2.4GHZ Core 2 duo, 2GB Ram, 160GB HD and sold for $1299.

The new mid-range" aluminum MacBook has:

2.0GHz Core 2 duo, 2GB Ram, 160GB HD and sells for $1299.

A slower processor and more money?

Seems like the same thing with the high-end MacBook, except the processor speed is the same but the price has been bumped up $100 for the same feature set. Is that a winning strategy for Apple? Shouldn't "progress" be more features for the same money? Or at least the same features for less money?

Rob Pegoraro: You are leaving out the much more powerful graphics chipset in the new model, its thinner shape, the advanced design -- but, yeah, it can seem odd that there's no progress on what used to be the core specs of a computer. (In one aspect, expandability, the new MacBook represents a step back.)

Then again, a lot of these specs don't make a huge amount of difference in your everyday computing experience either.

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Android vs. iPhone Apps: You mean Google's open market model will prevail over iPhone in the same way that Windows "prevailed" over the Mac?

I can't wait...

Rob Pegoraro: Wrong. I mean that Apple thinks it can cherry-pick its developers, then veto the applications they develop; Google is counting on its users to sort things out. (If you're a smartphone-software developer, the logical conclusion is that you should write for Android, where you won't risk having months of effort blocked from release because somebody at Apple didn't like the results.)

There isn't a real parallel to that in the personal-computer industry, perhaps because no desktop OS developer has been crazy enough to try such a thing anytime recently.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Rob: can you answer a basic question? I hear about FireWire ports on laptops a lot recently. Can you explain what they are? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: FireWire is a high-speed data connection. It's a good deal like USB, but it delivers more power than USB can and works a little faster than USB 2.0 (it's *far* faster than USB 1.1).

On a Mac, a FireWire port is good for connecting a lot of camcorders and external hard drives.

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Alexandria - Sprint Rumor: Hey Rob, I heard Sprint is coming out with a 4G network, any truth to this rumor? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're talking about Sprint's WiMax network -- with the weird brand name of "Xohm" -- that launched last week in Baltimore. When the service comes to D.C., I will try it out and review it in my column.

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Livermore, Calif.: I like your assessment of the new MacBooks. Their prices are indeed high, but it seems like after I purchase an Apple product, I forget about how much I spent and enjoy using it. Easy for me to say, since I can afford it and work in the IT industry. I have two 17" MacBook Pros and three different iPods.

Rob Pegoraro:*Two* 17-inchers? You're Apple's dream customer...

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Paris, France: Computer illiterate: how do I transfer all my data from a Millenium Edition to a Vista laptop? Thank you for your response.

Rob Pegoraro: The Windows Vista Easy Transfer program included in Vista only works with Win 2000 and XP, so you'll have to buy somebody else's data migration tool. Or you could just copy over files and folders one at a time... provided you know which invisible folders in your user directory you need to grab. Which, of course, most normal people don't know.

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Arlington, Va.: Any luck in identifying a good backup program for Windows?

Rob Pegoraro: Still working on that -- this backup how-to piece has taken a backseat to Android and, most likely, the new MacBook. So keep those suggestions coming...

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North Bergen, N.J.: Dear Mr. Pegoraro; I've been using the Linux-Ubuntu Operating System for over one year, and find it to be vastly superior in many ways to Windows OS. I'm not going back to Microsoft Windows O.S., I'm done with that. Since you are far more knowledgeable about computers, and software than I, would you kindly share your opinions if any regarding Linux, and if you feel it has advanced to the point it will encroach more and more in the computing world? Thanking you in advance, and keep up the great work!

Rob Pegoraro: I like Ubuntu a lot -- much more so than some other Linux distributions. And if you take a look at the software included on these netbooks that we've been talking about, you'll see that most include some version of Linux instead of Windows.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi Rob! Thanks so much for doing these chats. I have a vague memory of having read once upon a time that for always-on Internet connections, such as DSL, it is safer to shut the modem off when not online (because the IP address is static and thus more vulnerable to attack). So I've routinely shut mine off whenever I shut down my system (first with DSL and now with FiOS). A friend tells me that's silly and that I've been doing it needlessly. His argument was that if I had a cable connection, it would always be on and no more unsafe than anything else. Is he right?

Rob Pegoraro: He is right. The only reason to shut off an always-on Internet connection is to save electricity. Why do you think the bad guys will wait until you're not at the computer to attack it? What makes you think you'd even be able to spot a network worm sneaking onto the machine, much less stop it? That's what a firewall is for.

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For Anonymous with DVR drive : Because you know that the eject button causes a problem on your DVR drive, try a software method to eject/open the drive. On a PC, display My Computer, then right-click the drive and choose eject. It may or may not reproduce the problem; if it does, it's time for a new drive.

To Rob: I spent time surfing for DVD-RAM discs after learning that no store carries them in stock. Why is this so difficult? Is there something I don't know that makes DVD-RAM format outdated or useless? I'd use them for recording/time-slip-viewing OTA TV with my Panasonic DVR.

Rob Pegoraro: That's an excellent idea -- thanks!

DVD-RAM has been, shall we say, an EPIC FAIL in the market. It has some distinct advantages in rewritability, but they were completely undermined by its horrific compatibility problems with, um, just about every other DVD player and drive made prior to DVD-RAM's arrival.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: My music collection includes some live songs that are preceded by highly annoying introductions. Is there an easy to use Windows program that would allow me to chop off or mute the first few seconds of an MP3 file? (My music collection is all CD-albums, so I can rip songs into any format. I know absolutely nothing about music editing software.)

Rob Pegoraro: Sure -- try Audacity, though you'll need to add an MP3 plug-in.

This reminds me of one thing I've noticed: On some live albums, iTunes seems to split tracks such that the introduction for a song comes at the end of the previous song's track. (And a couple of these CDs are Springsteen bootlegs, so I've got some pretty lengthy pre-song banter!) Have any of you all seen that, or does your music software manage to associate the intro with the right song?

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Silver Spring, Md.: I don't have a camcorder, so I just don't care about Firewire -- I'll transfer stuff via Ethernet or whatever.

So do I need the new super MacBook or should I run out and get the older cheaper one? All I want is to use the Internet and write books while traveling.

Rob Pegoraro: Get the older, cheaper one. None of the uses you mentioned will benefit even slightly from the new model's hardware upgrades.

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Potomac, Md.: Rob, does anyone make a TiVo-like device for radios? I find it very frustrating that I never seem to be near a radio when something I would like to hear is being broadcast, and not everything is podcast. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I suspect this can be explained by the general crumminess of radio -- a lot of the stuff on commercial FM isn't worth listening to in real time, much less later on!

But there is a gizmo that you can plug into your computer called the Radioshark that will time-shift radio.

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Older MacBook: I'm going to get me one now, and add another gig of RAM. Nice hard drive, Firewire and Superdrive all for $999? Hard to beat. Or jump over to Apple's site where they are selling refurbs with better specs for $1099. Never ever had a problem with an Apple refurb.

Rob Pegoraro: Don't forget to buy an external hard drive to use with Time Machine, either...

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Android Market: I see a lot of your point, but I just wonder what level of chaos will reign in the Android market. Will people be able to find what they want/need? Will they end up with really bogus apps since no one is checking them out?

I think the power of the Apple distribution system may keep developers working on the iPhone. The App store is great from a users perspective.

Maybe I'm just a fanboy, but while I love open source for many things, I think I prefer the control of Apple on this one.

Rob Pegoraro: Palm and Windows Mobile owners have gotten by just fine over the last decade without having a third party police the software available for their phones.

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Wesley Heights: With Google introducing the Android, do you think Google will limit phone-based access to its apps, like Gmail, Calendar, and so forth? On the one hand, Google seems all about openness. On the other, they may have a reason to make it more difficult to access Gmail from an iPhone.

As for the guy with the too-small external: Buy a bigger one for Time Machine -- externals aren't expensive.

Rob Pegoraro: Google's core business rides on getting as many people to spend as much time as possible on the Web from as many places as possible. Restricting access to its services from certain devices makes zero sense.

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Washington, D.C.: I have an office desktop that I want to discard. What program should I get to strip the hard drive completely?

Rob Pegoraro: Darik's Boot and Nuke

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Washington, D.C.:" Liz Kelly: I hear you -- and so does Dennis. In fact, he now says his comments on autism were meant to be humorous (oh, ha!) and taken out of context.

As for canceling the chat, I'm afraid I can't. First of all, I'm totally addicted to this chat and secondly, I refuse to leave you all alone with Rob Pegoraro."

Are you going to take that?

P.S. On my HP Pavillion running Vista, whenever I press the volume up button, everything freezes. Turning the volume down works fine.

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, we'll see if she can still talk such a big game when she needs advice on buying a new iPod.

I take it that your HP doesn't crash if you adjust the volume using the control in the system tray, right? If so, then the problem is whatever app wires the physical buttons to the guts of Vista. One would think that HP would have found and fixed any such problems, then pushed out an update through the driver-update software it includes on its PC... but one could be wrong in those assumptions.

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Bethesda, Md.: How does the AT&T cell coverage rank now against the other carriers?

Rob Pegoraro: I've now had the chance to try out the iPhone in... let's see... D.C., Virginia Beach (plus the highways from here to there), NYC, Chicago, Boston and Portland (plus some rural stretches of Oregon). After all that, I'd say that AT&T generally has good coverage in city areas -- aside from the subway parts of Metro here -- but its 3G coverage fades out pretty quickly, and even its 2G coverage dies before that of other carriers in some parts of the sticks.

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Tina in Falls Church re: radio: Potomac can check out C. Crane products. They have several devices that will record radio shows.

Rob Pegoraro: Interesting... that site seems like quite the little nerd magnet! (In a good way.)

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, I rented a DVD from Blockbuster put it in my LG DVD-VCR recorder/player and got a display on my plasma screen of lots of little pixels. Cleaned the disc and same thing. The player almost would not eject the disc. I tried a different DVD in the player and it worked. So I exchanged the movie at Blockbuster and same thing happened with the new disc of the identical movie. After I cleaned the disc I got the opening studio logo but that was it. The movie wouldn't budge from 1 or 2 on the counter. I tried it in an old Zenith DVD and it seemed to play initially although I didn't want to watch the movie on a small TV so I stopped it. I exchanged it at Blockbuster again and the same thing happened. The DVD plays every other disc with no problem. Any ideas? (The movie was Rendition so maybe there's more to this?!)

Rob Pegoraro: So you're saying you're the victim of some sort of irregular Rendition?

(Ahem.)

From the evidence here, I'd say your LG has some basic disagreement with this disc -- but what that is and how to solve it, I have no idea. I don't know that I can offer a suggestion beyond "don't watch this movie." Anybody else seen this issue?

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Fairfax, Va.: Thanks, Rob, for all you do for us. Sister's 30 gig Dell laptop is full, mostly music (iTunes). Copied all the music to a new external HD via backup process. How can we get iTunes/iPod to run using the files on the external? Is there a way to have iTunes itself run from the external? Guidance is so needed.

Rob Pegoraro: That's right in iTunes' Preferences window (look under its Edit menu); click the Advanced tab and change your iTunes Music folder location to the external drive.

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Houston, Tex.: I have owned an iPhone for over two weeks now. The phone is nice, but I recently had my Internet access disabled at home. Setting up an iTunes account is proving to be a hassle. I'm restricted at work from visiting certain web sites and I cannot use my friends/relatives computers as they already have iTunes accounts. Apple is wrong to make this part of their technology so difficult.

Rob Pegoraro: Wait, you've "had" your Internet access disabled? By whom? For what? That's the problem you have to solve. I don't think you can get on Apple's case too much for assuming its customers will have some sort of Internet access at home.

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Vienna, Va.: I know it's kind a low-rent question, but how come there's no Google Maps Street View for the D.C. area? I can understand a few areas might have a security concern, but surely not the entire Northern Virginia area.

Rob Pegoraro: I wish I knew. It's like Google hates us or something... I mean, my cousins' house in the burbs of Kansas City shows up in Street View (in the shot, it looks like Tom is mowing the lawn), but there's nothing for The Most Powerful City in the World? Don't the Google folks know we can sic a Congressional panel on them anytime we want?

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D.C., Not sure about T-Mobile: How does the T-Mobile cell coverage rank now against the other carriers in D.C. area?

Rob Pegoraro: In a word: FAIL

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Alexandria, Va.: Your colleague John Kelly's column about his loss of thousands of irreplaceable family photos is a reminder to copy and backup everything on your computer that you care about. But there are also a number of web-based photo archive services. Could you compare Kodak Gallery, Snapfish, Shutterfly etc.? Is the stuff you store with them safe? Are they worth the fees? Is one dramatically preferable to the others in terms of ease of use, storage capacity etc?

washingtonpost.com: Worth 1,000 Words? Okay. But $2,700? (The Washington Post, Oct. 13, 2008)

Rob Pegoraro: I loved John's essay, but I hated the fact that he had to write it. I'm starting to think that hearing other people's "my computer died and I lost my data" stories is the worst part of my job, possibly even worse than reviewing tax-prep software.

I don't think online backup will work for most people unless you've got a major amount of upstream bandwidth -- plus, many of these services don't offer enough storage space to hold all your pictures anyway.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi. Enjoy your chats. In the Sept. 18 chat I read the following:

"Baltimore, Md.: I keep getting pop-up messages telling me that my WinXP computer wants to install updates (Service Pack 3). I've tried to comply several times, but after a lengthy process, when it appears to be almost finished, it aborts and announces that access is denied. I've checked my administrative privileges - but that hasn't helped. I've disabled my anti-virus and firewall apps too. Any ideas?

"Rob Pegoraro: Try downloading SP3's "full" installer from Microsoft's site, then running it in Safe Mode."

I had the same problem. Tried your advice running it in Safe Mode but still got "Access denied." SP3 doesn't install. Could it be because I have copy of XP and not an original? I do manage to download all other Microsoft updates with no problem. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: If you're using a pirated copy of XP that's not passing Microsoft's validation tests -- then, yes, this upgrade might not work. If so, that is your problem, not mine. Sorry...

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Tina in Falls Church (Google maps): Also, they hate I-66. Just try to make it route you via 66, it refuses.

Rob Pegoraro: Not true anymore! Somebody decided to trust drivers to know I-66's HOV restrictions.

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Comcast Interference: Just wanted to relay a Comcast problem I had that others may have, that ended up having an easy answer. It took Comcast six weeks to get to the bottom of the problem, so if I can help someone else not go through that this email will be worth it.

As you may know, on August 23 Comcast changed their channel lineup. The HD channels still had the same lineup, however they changed the frequency that ESPN-HD and ESPN-HD was broadcast on. I started, on that day, getting excessive tiling on those two channels only. Unwatchable.

Techs came out, changed my DVR box, didn't help. Techs came out the next week, said they were sending maintenance out for outside work. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. A couple of the techs did try very had to find out the problem. But finally the sixth tech, after the third maintenance worker had been out, finally found the problem. He was at my house for over 2 hours and was not going to leave until he found it. He was wonderful and tried many different things.

Know what it was, my cordless phone base that I had setting next to the DVR cable box was interfering with the signal. He said is was only interfering with ESPN and ESPN2 because they moved them to the lowest digital frequency and that frequency is more prone to interference. Moving my base phone a little further away from the box solved the problem. I wanted to hug the guy. Now I don't know if this is something Comcast should have thought of right off, but I am thankful this guy finally figured it out. I had given up hope it was every going to be fixed and really felt like I was getting the round around by Comcast. Guess it just takes time to get to the right person. Hope this may help someone who may be having the same problem.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks -- this is a new one. Which, considering all the random problems that people have mentioned before in this chat, is really saying something!

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Rockville, Md.: Thanks for your insights on the new MacBooks. What sorts of software and actions will benefit from the new graphics cards in these new computers? Games, surely. What about H264 encoding? Photoshop/iPhoto?

Rob Pegoraro: The first thing Apple's marketing people mentioned when I asked that question was games. Then they suggested that things like iPhoto and iMovie would also see some benefit (OS X can already offload a fair amount of work into the graphics chipset).

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Washington, D.C.: What's the inside scoop on when AT&T will have the Blackberry Bold available and glitch-free?

Rob Pegoraro: At this point, I have no idea. This phone had a lot of hype and buzz about it earlier this year, but it's taken so long to show up, I don't know that anybody cares that much about it.

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Fairfax, Secunia question: You recently endorsed "Secunia" as a product to monitor service packs, updates, etc. Is there really much value to this sort of thing if you have Windows updates on and anti-virus on all the time? I looked at their site, and mostly they'd love to sell you other things.

Rob Pegoraro: The whole point of Secunia's security scan is to check for updates to all the Internet-facing apps that Windows Update doesn't cover: Flash, QuickTime, RealPlayer, Adobe Reader and so on.

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Driving to Dulles on Google Maps: That route doesn't prove anything -- there are no HOV restrictions if you drive to Dulles.

Rob Pegoraro: Sub in Herndon or Reston instead. (I was too lazy to type "Herndon, Va." when I could get away with just "ISA")

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Springfield, Va., Who will win this race?: What will happen first, second and third: Sprint's Android Phone, T-Mobile 3G in DC area, AT&T's Android Phone? Any approximate dates for it?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm going to guess we'll see T-Mobile 3G here first, followed by Sprint's Android phone, followed soon after by AT&T's.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Hey, Rob. I'm looking to get a new desktop and need some advice. I tend to hold on to electronics forever; my current computer is a Dell C800 from about 2000. With that in mind, I want a machine with 64-bit Vista so that I can up the RAM past 4 GB down the road. My wife thinks I'm nuts for passing up cheaper machines, many with 4 GB RAM, but all running 32-bit Vista. Do you think it's worth it to pay more for a 64-bit machine now or get a 32-bit and either deal with slower performance later or have to buy a new PC? Thanks. Love your work.

Rob Pegoraro: Do not buy a 64-bit edition of Windows. You'll be buying into potentially massive software-compatibility problems for only a minor upgrade in real-world performance. Just don't.

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Annandale, Va.: I'm planning to buy one of the brand new MacBooks, and finally doing external hard drive-based backups (as opposed to occasional CDs).

Should I go ahead and get the Time Capsule, or get a cheaper EHD that can handle Time Machine since I already have an Airport Express? I also need to have a USB port for the printer.

Also, how much backup hard drive space do I need relative to the regular drive? My current iBook holds about 55 GB of stuff, which I'd transfer over (mostly music and photos are the space-hoggers). I'm trying to decide to get the baseline 160 GB hard drive or upgrade to 250 GB.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd get the bigger hard drive and keep your existing AirPort, unless you need the faster speed of an 802.11n WiFi access point *or* you'll be moving the laptop around so often that it won't be practical to tether a hard drive to it. (Tip: Make that drive "bus-powered" so you don't need to plug in the drive and the laptop into a wall outlet.)

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm looking for a cheap digital camera. I've had good luck with Canons. Do you have any thoughts on choosing between the sleeker SD1100 and the slightly more feature packed A1000? My wife takes all of her shots in Auto mode, but I like to play with some settings/scene features. Also, it will be used occasionally for video.

Rob Pegoraro: I think the A1000 offers manual control of focus, aperture and shutter speed, so it sounds like a better fit for you. I also like its use of AA batteries over the SD series' proprietary rechargables.

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Anonymous: I have a 4.5 yr old PowerBook G4. It is still very functional, with the exception of a messed up powercord (requires lots of handy work to get it to charge due to a fall, accidental yanking of the cord, etc), about a maximum one-hour battery life, and an operating system -- 10.3.9 -- that is obsolete for some new software, and some slowness when running multiple apps. Annoying problems, but I can live with them. I want a new MacBook, but I don't need one.

So the big question is: do I wait a few months to see how things pan out on the new MacBooks before purchasing? Or take the plunge? Any words of wisdom for convincing my other half that I need one?

Rob Pegoraro: Because we're looking at a brand-new laptop design, I don't think it's a bad idea to hold off a little to see how the new model fares. But make sure you've got good backups for your existing Mac; a laptop that old could expire without much notice.

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Edgewater, Md.: What do you think of Sprint Cellular service compared to AT&T which I have now? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think Sprint's got better coverage (but I haven't tried it in Edgewater).

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Cleveland Park: Do you have an opinions about RCN, the phone, cable, and internet company? Given that I can only have D.C.-Comcast or RCN, which would you suggest? They're currently converting the D.C. area to all-digital signals, and when they finish this they'll have 72 HD channels. Will that be more HD service than FIOS?

Rob Pegoraro: I've heard good things about RCN from others, but I've never tried their cable or Internet services myself.

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Manassas, Va.: Hi Rob! I want to upgrade from my present Sony Camera. I found a feature on a few NON-Sony (Lumix LZ5, I think, the 10 MP one) that I like: stitching two or three pics to make a panoramic picture. I'm not sure if this is done inside the camera or in the included software. How can I search for point-and-shoot cameras that have this feature?

I've taken pictures of banners and scenes and would like to stitch them together!

Rob Pegoraro: Canon ships a photo-stiching app with its cameras, and I've tried a Kodak or two that did the stitching right in the camera. But you should be able to download a program that will work with your current camera's photos, to judge from what a search for "photo stitching software" yields.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm still waiting for the eBook reader that I have to have. Will it take Apple's design team to deliver it? I have seen a lot of good reviews of the new Sony reader, but they don't have a good store interface. The Kindle seems to have a lot going for it, especially the interface to Amazon, but it looks horrible and clunky. What has your experience been?

Rob Pegoraro: About the same as yours -- but you can't overlook the price and selection problems with e-books. Book publishers don't seem to have learned from the lesson of the music business; they're acting as if they're doing readers a favor by parceling out a subset of their titles in e-book form.

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RCN: I've been very happy with cable and internet.

And, yes, when they have 72 HD channels in D.C., they will have 72 more than you can get on FiOS in D.C.

Rob Pegoraro: That last line makes an excellent point.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's going to close things out for today, folks! Thanks for keeping me busy; if I didn't get to your question, drop me an e-mail (robp@washpost.com) and I'll try to reply when I can. Or look for me here in a couple of weeks.

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