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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, May 1, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, May 1 at Noon ET to discuss his recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

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

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon! I'm Rob Pegoraro and I'll be your chat host today. What can I get you to start?

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Frankfort, KY: By accident I ran my iPOD through the clothes washer. I have had it sitting in rice (to absorb the moisture), but so far, it won't work.

Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a question I don't get every week (perhaps inspired by my experiment in running a keyboard through a dishwasher). My initial thought is "You're hosed." The problem isn't the water that ran through the iPod, but the soap. Pure water, once evaporated, doesn't have to cause any lasting damage. But soap, coffee, soda, beer and other non-water liquids leave a residue behind.

The iPod has the extra problem that you can't really force water to run through it, unlike a keyboard. So anything that's gotten into its interior probably isn't getting out. Your best bet may be to take it to an Apple Store and trade it in for a new one--Apple will give you 10% off the new model, whether or not the old one still works.

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Silver Spring, MD: We are quietly approaching the final (we really mean it!) deadline for analog over the air signals. Congress dumped some more money into the coupon program so I finally got my second coupon and converter box. One of my original coupons expired while I was waiting for a certain box and was pleased to find that I could get a replacement coupon. I'm also glad that I could use the coupon to buy my Philco converter box on Amazon with Free SuperSaver Shipping (on orders of $25 or more). I think being able to use the coupon for online sales is a newish wrinkle.

The picture quality is great on my basement TV near downtown Silver Spring (using rabbit ears).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report--as we get into the final six weeks of the digital transition, I hope to see more like this.

(Did I actually type "final six weeks" and "digital transition" in the same sentence? OMG!)

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Alexandria, VA: I tried to order the DTVPal DVR online last night. (I've got an HD set that's not hooked up to cable, so it would be perfect for recording network TV in HD.) After I entered my CC information and pressed "Submit", it directed me to call the toll-free number. The woman on the other end had no idea what I was trying to order. I got frustrated and hung up.

Panasonic and a couple other companies were making hard-disk DVRs a few years ago, but they're nearly impossible to find now. Do people really want to pay a higher monthly fee to the cable company just to get this technology? I can't understand why this hasn't caught on.

Rob Pegoraro: Me neither. It seems like a case of market failure--though you can't overlook TiVo's habit of filing patent-infringement lawsuits on other vendors of hard drive-based DVRs.

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Rutland, VT: You recently said that with Windows XP it's better to not have a password if your computer is physically secure. Is this true of Vista also? And should Vista users follow your advice to have both an administrative user and a standard user, with the standard user account used for everyday computing? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: What? Um, no, I've never said that. Not having a password at all on your computer is one of the dumber things you could do. You can choose not to have the system lock itself when idle, but that's not the same thing.

In Vista, the standard account is all you need--the UAC dialog (don't you love that?) will pop up when you try to do something that requires admin access. That's how things work in Linux and Mac OS X, although those two OSes implement the concept in a much less annoying manner.

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Hartford, CT: Hi Rob, Saw that MS is now pushing IE8 auto in updates. Is is safe to install it yet from the viewpoint of blowing things up on my computer and working well with websites? Also does it give any better security or features that are worth installing it sooner rather than later. I tend to like to wait a bit before I install these types of updates, when they don't seem necessary. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't have any problems installing IE 8 myself, and I find it *much* less irritating to use than IE 7.

Let me put it this way: If your computer is so messed up that it will blow up just from this one software update, you're heading for a breakdown no matter what. If IE 8 doesn't cause the wheels to come off the bus, something else will.

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Colbert, OK: When will YAHOO get a spell check? After sending typos everywhere and getting posted on the web, too. I learned about the Google tool bar 6 and installed it. Ever so often, some commenter mentions typos. Some may not know, I didn't. I had Yahoo for my home page and I had to change to Google so it is available. Linda (hold on while i sell check this before sending.)

Rob Pegoraro: You could also use Mozilla Firefox or Apple's Safari, which provide built-in spell checking for text forms at every site.

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St. Petersburg, Fla.: Rob -- I'm an iMac user at home, but just bought an Asus 1000HE netbook for when I travel; I also picked up an external optical drive. I'd like to burn some movie DVDs - which, I emphasize, I bought - on to the hard drive to watch on those long flights. There seems to be plenty of free software out there for this purpose. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Download HandBrake for your Mac, plus the VLC Player:

handbrake.fr

videolan.org/vlc

The two will let you rip a DVD to your drive in a compressed form that you can watch on your netbook (or on an iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, etc.).

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iPod: The chatter should try Googling "washed iPod" or something like that. Also check the discussion forums on Apple.com. I haven't done this myself (yet!), but while looking for other info I found a lot of discussions about this -- it's actually pretty common with Shuffles (because people clip them to their workout clothes). My stepfather recently left his Nano in his pants pocket and washed them. He used a hairdryer (though I wouldn't recommend that), and now it works! Give it lots of time to dry, then experiment with tips from the web, before giving up. Those little suckers are pretty hardy!

Rob Pegoraro: Here's some hope for the fellow who asked today's question.

(Hmm, my own iPod is pretty filthy, and the screen's already busted anyway. Maybe I should have thrown it in the dishwasher with that keyboard?)

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Washington, DC: Up until recently I had a dial-up internet connection at home. Because of this connection, I did not up date MS Win XP Home with large updates such as IE 7, Sp 3 etc. Now have a broadband connection and have gone back to do the large updates. The one exception is IE 7 because I recall many had issues with it when it first was released. So I have stayed with IE 6.

My question is should I update to IE 7 or maybe even IE 8? Or stay with IE 6 as long as I have Win XP?

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Whatever you do, stop using IE 6. It is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad browser. Seriously, just stop. (Regulars here will recall that I no longer provide help to readers with that browser; it's just not secure enough.)

You should skip IE 7 and go directly to IE 8, but give Firefox a try too.

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Atlanta, GA: Is the Apple TV only way to get an Itunes movie rental onto a real TV?

Rob Pegoraro: You've always been able to watch SD rentals on a real TV if you run a video cable from the computer to the TV. And a month or so ago, Apple began letting iTunes users rent HD movies on their computers.... though I'm not sure what kind of connections meet the DRM specs involved there. You might need an HDMI connection, which will limit you to newer computers.

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Portland, OR: For the second time with this Thinkpad Z60m, the power cord has stopped working. The problem is that, over time, the cord bends here enough that the plastic coating breaks, exposing some of the innards, which also take some abuse. Can these be repaired, or am I doomed to keep buying a new one every year just because the plug is poorly designed?

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like a poorly designed plug to me--but I would be remiss if I didn't ask if you'd tried wrapping that junction with some duct tape. After all, duct tape fixes everything.

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Chicago, IL: My husband and I are looking at getting new cell phones, but we can't agree on what to get. He really wants an Instinct, but reviews I've read make it sound like it's not the great. Other phones we're considering: Blackberry Curve, Blackberry Pearl and the Rant (notice a trend? We're looking at going with Sprint.)

Basically, we want a phone that's easy to type with and can do basic Web surfing without taking forever to load. I realize none of these are the iPhone, but I don't really want to shell out the money for one, not to mention I don't want to put up with the bad phone service.

Rob Pegoraro: I agree that the Instinct is not that great. But the browsers on the BlackBerries you cite aren't that hot either--the one on the Storm and, to a lesser extent, the Bold is better. RIM did a decent job with its last couple of software upgrades, so you should see what the newest BlackBerry in Sprint's inventory is.

Another option, if you can wait, would be the Palm Pre that Sprint should start selling... well, in the next month if it's going to meet its "first half of 2009" goal.

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Columbus OH: I recently read this by you, Rob (March 22):

"The Windows Mail program built into Windows Vista was worst of all. Its new-account 'wizard' refused to set up Hotmail access, claiming that it was impossible. I had to edit another account's settings to work around this defect."

Does this mean that--if I install it on my XP(SP3) system--Windows Live Mail will refuse to set up free Hotmail access for me? I presently have it free via Outlook Express. I had intended to retire (obsolete) OE for (supported) WLM. Now I'm not so sure. Also, if I try WLM and don't like it, is it possible to return to status quo ante with OE? If so, How?

washingtonpost.com: Help File: Using Hotmail With Regular Mail Programs

Rob Pegoraro: What you'll have to do, unless Microsoft has pushed out a patch to correct the broken new-account "wizard" in Windows Mail, is set up an account to connect to some other mail system, then edit that account's properties, filling in the correct mail server addresses for Hotmail.

Oh, but you're talking about Windows Live Mail. That's a different app.

Either way: No, you can't return to OE. Nor should you. That's as bad as IE 6... perhaps worse.

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Reston, VA: I have a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse that shipped with "updater" software (LogitechUpdater.exe). Whenever I boot, Vist throws the UAC dialog for this exe. I adjusted the exe's setting so that it runs as admin, yet the dialog persists.

Short of completely disabling UAC, is there any way I can get this dialog to go away for this app? I would have thought setting it to run as admin would have done the trick, since that's what Vista's help says.

Rob Pegoraro: First, have you checked Logitech's site for updates? The software on a CD that ships with a peripheral is often well out of date.

Second, I suppose you could try uninstalling the Logitech software. Keyboards and mice should be recognized out of the box by Windows (as you can see if you plug a Mac keyboard into a Windows computer).

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London, UK: Hello from the UK, I had IE7 on XP SP3 for a while, made the upgrade to IE8 but my browser kept on crashing, took ages to open specially from desktop. Was told to change this regsvr32 actxprxy.dll in Run, Cmd, still gave problems so I went back to IE7 and haven't had a problem since. I thought IE8 is crash proof and very stable. Your thoughts? Have nice weekend

Rob Pegoraro: I'm flattered that you think I would recognize that .dll file's name.

Also... look, this is Windows. These things happen in Windows.

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iPod dying?: My iPod battery loses its charge very quickly now. The battery won't last longer than a day before it completely dies, and I'm only listening to it maybe 40 minutes a day while I'm on the subway. I used to leave it on my iHome constantly. Did that make the battery burn out?

Rob Pegoraro: It shouldn't have. How old is this iPod?

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Pittsburgh, PA: Best advise of programs to protect a Mac from malware, etc.?

Rob Pegoraro: The one in your brain, the "common sense" software you should have installed over the years. You have to be a bit of a dope to fall for the Mac trojans out there--as in, you have to download fraudulent copies of commercial programs from warez sites, or try to watch porn videos and then believe that you'd need to install some special plug-in to view them. And in both cases, you'd then need to type in your admin password to install the malware in question.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

Was going to share wifi connection with neighbors (live in apartment building) but then decided not to do it.

How do I change my wifi connection password? I have a MAC and a netgear router. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Netgear routers, like most, let you change their settings through a Web-page interface--you type a numeric address into your browser (something like 192.168.0.1), log in and can then edit its settings. But you need to check in the manual for these details.

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Mount Hooly, VA: Rob

I have a Grace internet radio to connect to large market stations, not really a swap shop fan. This radio connects to our inhouse wireless network. However, we connect to the internet via Hughes Sat which we want to drop because of the expense and poor service/performance. Our only other internet option is Verizon Wireless. I understand you can't or they won't allow the wireless connection to power a home network. Is there a dial-up wireless solution? Seems WiFlyer is out of business

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: The bigger problem with a VzW mobile-broadband connection is the 5-gig monthly limit. You will hit that way too soon with Internet radio streaming in all the time (which may also be expressly banned in VzW's terms of service.)

Look around to see what other satellite services are available. HNS is the oldest, but there's also WildBlue, and I just got a press release about another service, ViaSat, which will allegedly provide much faster downloads.

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Alexandria: Speaking of DTV, are there any important differences among converter boxes? Every store seems to have a different brand, and some stores have multiple brands next to each other.

Rob Pegoraro: There are. Consumer Reports did a survey of dozens of them not too long ago and was kind enough to put that outside their site's paywall:

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/tvs-services/digital-tv-converter/overview/dtv-converter-box-guide.htm

That story doesn't address reception; of the two boxes that I've tried myself, the LG Zenith-brand model did better. That also seems to get pretty good reviews on avsforum.com, a site that draws some of the more critical/obsessive electronics users you'll ever meet.

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Boston: Was the previous submitter correct--can I use "rabbit ear" antennas to get a digital signal? I thought I needed special antennas.

Rob Pegoraro: Nope--I've done the vast majority of my DTV viewing with an "analog" antenna I bought in 1996, two years before the first DTV was sold. (But you may find that you need to upgrade your antenna to get the best reception.)

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dc again: What if I can't find the manual? Why can't this be easier?

Rob Pegoraro: Check the vendor's site--most provide PDF downloads of their manuals.

Yes, I agree that the usability of most routers sucks.

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Use mini as ebook reader?: Rob, my keyboard has been acting up, so I put the laptop in the washing machine and now the whole darn computer is broken. I used the gentle cycle and Woolite, so I don't know what could be wrong.

(just kidding! just kidding!)

Okay, my real question. What do you think about using a mini to read ebooks, as opposed to using an ebook reader? I'm thinking about getting a mini just for this purpose, but I haven't used either a mini or a dedicated ebook reader, so maybe there are some drawbacks I'm not able to think of. I like that I could also surf the web on the mini, but that's not what I'm getting it for. So if the ebook reader is lots easier to use for reading ebooks, I'd go that route. If it's not, I'll get the mini. I will try them both out, but sometimes there are issues you don't come across until you've used something for several days.

Opinions?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You shouldn't have added in fabric softener!

By "mini," I take it you mean "netbook." (A Mac mini and separate LCD monitor won't be tremendously portable.) That could work, although the screen orientation will be wrong--you want a portrait-mode display to match the shape of a book page. The other problem is that the selection of new e-books readable on a plain old computer, as opposed to a Kindle, isn't all that great. (Titles that have gone out of copyright are a different matter--see gutenberg.org for your options there.)

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Silver Spring: I'm trying to move 200+ contacts from my old Palm TX to my new iPod Touch. Googling provides a lot of ways, mostly going thru Outlook to convert to V-Cards, but none of the ways has been successful. Know of any reliable ways (willing to pay for it too)

Rob Pegoraro: Use Outlook as your only transfer mechanism: sync the TX to Outlook using Palm Desktop, then use iTunes to sync those contacts over to the iPod. Once they're on the device, you can then sync them to a different contacts app, like Windows Address Book or a Mac's Address Book.

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McLean, VA: In what ways is Windows 7 supposed to be an improvement on Vista? More important, when do you think consumer PCs will begin shipping with Windows 7?

I ask because we have a desktop that is on its last legs, but I am reluctant to replace it with something that runs 64-bit Vista, given all of the compatibility issues that we have had with our Vista-loaded laptop (won't play with our printer or other peripherals, can't install or run certain software or use certain website functions, etc., all because of this "64 bit" business).

I need a replacement, but would like some idea how much longer I should try to keep our old desktop limping along.

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at the preview I did of Windows 7 earlier this year:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/28/AR2009012803550.html

Microsoft just released what may be the last preview release of W7. So when will it be in stores and on new PCs? Possibly October, but maybe not until January:

http://www.pcworld.com/article/164193/windows_7_in_october_heres_the_scoop.html

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annapolis: Rob - I've had Webroot's Spysweeper installed on both a laptop and a desktop, for several years. For the past few months, it seems to take an inordinate amount of time loading, and then doing something that slows down my laptop to a crawl, sometimes for 20 minutes or so. The slowness is also there with the desktop, but not as pronounced. (when I check the Windows task manager, it indicates that Spysweeper is taking up about 99% of the CPU.) Is this a program that I need? Are there any remedies?

Rob Pegoraro: Anything that eats that many processor cycles is *not* something you need. Try a different anti-spyware app... Microsoft's Windows Defender is a decent, free option.

One thing I want people to keep in mind: Spyware, unlike trojans, is something that you usually have to help install. If you're using an up-do-date browser (*not* IE 6), it shouldn't do a drive-by download; you'd need to believe that some new app will do something helpful, like optimize your system or put a funny screensaver on. That's why I keep harping on the need to be choosy about what software you install--and why you should never install something from an unknown source without seeing a trusted third party recommend it.

Hell, I think 90 percent of the spyware problems I read about could have been prevented if people had simply done a Web search for "is [strange program] spyware?"

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Kingstowne, VA: Windows Update in Vista is nagging me to download IE8. I've been quite happy with Firefox for several years and I'm HUGELY addicted to the CoolPreviews extension, which insofar as I know is not available for IE. Is there any reason why I might need to download IE8, or is it reasonable just to continue to ignore it while going ahead and downloading the other Vista updates? (I turned off the automatic downloads because I got fed up with Vista waking my PC up when I had put it in "Sleep" mode.)

Rob Pegoraro: No, update IE 8--but keep Firefox as your default.

Because IE is "integrated" into Windows, it can be called into service by other parts of the system. So you want that component to be up to date.

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While we're talking cell phones...: I am not a heavy user, for voice or text, but I have begun texting more frequently. I love my old flip phone -- I like the size when it's open for talking, and I like the buttons being protected when it's closed (locking and unlocking my previous, non-flip phone drove me nuts) -- but using it for texting is excruciating. Best of both worlds would be a flip with a pull-out qwerty keyboard, but I've never seen one. Because I don't use it a lot, I don't want to pay a lot over the "free" phone allowance to upgrade to something really high-tech, but I don't mind paying a little extra if I can get what I want. I have Verizon and plan to stick with it. So, any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not aware of any flip phones with hidden QWERTY keyboards either. But there are non-flip phones that don't require annoying unlock routines; try a few in a VzW store.

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Alexandria, VA: Rob, I recently switched to using Avira instead of upgrading to AVG 8.x based on all the negative reviews. It's fine so far except that I notice that every once it a while it throws up a pop-up window trying to convince you why you should upgrade to the (not free) premium version. Is there any way to disable this, or is this something you have to live with using the free version of Avira?

Rob Pegoraro: There are ways to disable those pop-ups (which you should actually see every time it updates itself). Here's one recipe: http://www.wikihow.com/Remove-the-Popup-Ads-in-Avira-Antivir

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DC again: Support Search is Unavailable

The search engine for the NETGEAR North American Support is unavailable for 5 minutes while implementing new features or indexing new documents.

The operation timed out : 80072EE2

So much for netgear's help! Thanks Rob, you are the best. Otherwise I would have to give my computer guy beer as payment for his help.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a massive tech-support FAIL right there...

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Bowie, MD: Rob, I recently bought an iPod Touch (my first wi-fi device), and I have some questions about wi-fi security. When surfing the web at a public hot spot (like Starbucks), what safety precautions can I take to lessen the chance my data is intercepted? Is it ever safe to enter passwords (even on https pages)? Are there any apps that can improve the security of the data I transmit?

Rob Pegoraro: If you're on a site that encrypts the connection (as with an https address), you should be safe. Otherwise, no, you're not--anybody could eavesdrop on your traffic. That's also true with laptops.

A "virtual private network" connection will solve that problem, but you need a VPN server to connect to--which, as an individual user, you're unlikely to have: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1424

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Pound Ridge, NY: For Kentucky, I once ran my iphone through a full wash cycle and two thirds of a dryer cycle. I plugged it in the next day and it worked. I did the same thing with a Palm Pilot. You need to let it dry out, but then you need to recharge it. Washing these devices seems to use up the battery. Good luck!

Rob Pegoraro: Y'all are an exceptionally resourceful bunch today. Thanks...

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vienna, va: I'm looking to buy a LCD tv and I'm strongly considering one of the new Samsung Luxia "LED" tvs. Have you tried them? I'm torn whether to get last year's proven model (the A950) or go with one of these new pencil thin choices.

Rob Pegoraro: I've seen them at CES and now in stores, but have not tried them--their expense (about 2X the cost of a standard-backlit LCD) makes them a bit of a tough sell. In fact, you may be the first person to ask me about this topic (but if there is a groundswell of interest here, please correct me).

Not that LED backlighting doesn't offer real advantages--power savings, contrast, thinness--but I'm not sure they justify the current price premium.

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Alexandria, VA: Ready for a really stupid question? My computer is four years old with XP. It streams very slowly but is used to be OK, so I don't think it is my internet provider. Are there any hints to try? I want to wait until VISTA is old news before I get a new computer. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Upgrade your memory. No other upgrade will offer a better return on your investment.

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New Bern, NC: Rob,

Do you have any opinions (yours or someone elses) about Windows virtualization on a Mac? All the reviews I could find are circa 2006-7.

Should I do nothing and use Boot Camp?

Buy Parallels?

Buy VMware Fusion?

get VirtualBox for free?

try WINE for free?

I'm going to get a new copy of Windows XP SP3 from newegg.

All I need to do is run a couple of standard Windows programs that work easily on XP, one old DOS program, and I wouldn't mind running Virtual Skipper (a sailing program I have but never use) which uses DirectX. It is not critical, but would be useful and convenient to have it run side by side actual OSX. By the way I have the latest 2.0 GHz MacBook and I upgraded the memory to 4 GBs.

Thanks, Mike

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at this comparison of VMWare Fusion, Parallels Desktop and VirtualBox I did in December:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/10/AR2008121003242.html

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internet explorer 6: I checked my browser at work is IE6. Should I stop checking my bank account at work...

Rob Pegoraro: Then your IT department is as dumb as a lot of others out there. You probably can't install Firefox yourself... but you can run the portable edition of it off a USB flash drive: portableapps.com

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Handbrake: The person will most likely need to download DVD43, or the CSS encoding on the DVDs will interfere with Handbrake's ripping of the DVD.

At least it did for me.

Rob Pegoraro: That's where VLC comes in--on a Mac, that handles getting CSS out of the way. On a PC, yes, you need some other app to do the job.

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Annandale, VA: Hi Rob, Seems to me from watching HDTV in hotel rooms that 1080 res is useless due to heavy compression by signal providers. Compression artifacts are pretty obvious. I'm beginning to think that 720 res is good enough for viewing. Am I missing something here?

Rob Pegoraro: This is one reason why I like over-the-air HDTV so much--no compression artifacts. (That, and the whole "Not paying to watch TV" thing.) But not all TV providers are as aggressive with their compression.

I agree that 720p is pretty good in its own right, but at larger screen sizes it's becoming unavailable; 1080p has become a standard feature.

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Arlington, VA: I was wondering what your opinion was on the series of Microsoft Laptop Hunters ads? Being a converted and committed Apple user, I find them to be so silly they make me laugh. But then I get a little angry at how simplistic they make the computer purchasing equation, it costs less so it is good (I guess that's why we are all driving Yugos...). They so totally ignore the actual cost of use, plus the fact that even if you do save a few dollars (and we all want to do that) if you have spent less to get something that is not usable, then you have WASTED every penny, as opposed to spending more and getting usefulness out of what you buy.

My wife thinks I'm too bothered by these ads. So I'm checking to see what you think.

Oh, and all you Windoze folks who use me as your tech support, if you buy into these ads you are now officially on your own. Fair warning given. :-)

Rob Pegoraro: Isn't it amazing that an ad would present only one company's opinion on an issue? It's an outage, I tell you!

That said, the ads do make a fair point--one made in my own columns on occasion--which is that buying a Mac means you're limited to the types of computers that Apple finds interesting. That means no netbooks and no cheap tower-case desktops, for instance.

If you want to be mad about misleading marketing, you're better off directing your ire at the bogus "Apple tax" study Microsoft paid an industry analyst to prepare: http://www.thestandard.com/news/2009/04/15/apple-tax-paper-backfires-microsoft

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S. Rockville, MD: Here's my dilemma: A few days ago, a friend suggested anyone with HBO watch a movie that was coming on that night. I don't have HBO, and until recently I would have asked that friend: "Hey, would you mind taping that for me?" and eventually I'd get my hands on his VHS tape and see what the fuss was all about. Now, with DVRs, that's not happening any more. How would I go about having him record that for me and then get my hands on it? Assume a standard DVD player for me, a DVD player and DVR for him.

Rob Pegoraro: Your friend would have to hook up a DVD recorder to his/her DVR, then do a real-time copy. (Those of you who remember copying one tape to another know the drill: press the play and record buttons simultaneously, then wait.)

You could also just rent the movie yourself from iTunes, Amazon or another source... if the movie industry's boneheaded release-cycle policies have made it available on those sources at the time.

Oh, and let's not forget the option of renting the movie from a video store or a library.

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Duncansville, PA: Rob: I'm sure that you have answered this before, but I am not sure where to find it. I just got a new computer from Dell. They are offering to recycle my old one for free. I think I should wipe the hard drive before I send it to them. Do you know of any free programs that can wipe the hard drive? If no freebies, can you direct me to something good. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: See dban.org for one option to clear the drive of all software and data.

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Arlington: CCleaner and similar programs usually produce long lists of items to remove, including registry items. But I understand that deleting or changing registry entries can cause damage to programs. How can a non-techie look at those lists and know what's safe to delete and what shouldn't be touched?

Rob Pegoraro: In many cases, you can't. The Registry is not an especially human-readable part of Windows. That's why I usually don't recommend going crazy with registry cleaners.

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: At least one of my GMAIL accounts seems to have been 'hacked'? What should my posture be to restore this to normal?

Rob Pegoraro: See Brian Krebs' Security Fix item on this:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2009/04/spam_sent_through_hijacked_web.html

Short version: change your password.

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Sykesville, MD: I have repeated drop-offs of a home wifi router - all connected computers experience drops at the same time. This is a new problem and a nearly new router. The onset of the problem may correlate with a virus infection of one of the connected laptops - something called "rostock.e."

The question is this: can an infected laptop somehow cause infection or other malfunction of a wireless router to which it was connected? Might that infection or malfunction persist even after disconnection and cleansing of the infected laptop? If yes, how does one disinfect a wireless router? By the way, it is Netgear.

Many thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: First, get the infected machine offline. Viruses are usually written to make money, which means turning the infected PC into a "zombie" spreading viruses or spam. Get that thing fixed, stat.

Second: No, I don't think the virus is causing the network ailments. It has to be some other issue... maybe interference (try changing the WiFi channel from the default), maybe others hopping on the network (do you have WPA encryption enabled), maybe some glitch a firmware update for the router could fix.

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Re: "Providers shouldn't treat people's excessive use as isolated money-making opportunities. ": Hahahahahahaha! And people say you don't have a sense of humor!

Rob Pegoraro: This, BTW, is the only comment directly addressing today's column.

What I like to see is enlightened greed--treat me in a way that makes me want to *stay* your customer. Any idiot can figure out how to rip me off in one transaction, but that will be their last chance to make a profit off me. Sustained money-making opportunities require a little more thought.

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New York, NY: I understand you have a limited amount of space in today's column, but wouldn't a comparison of the US broadband market with a more competitive one (Japan) be useful?

Rob Pegoraro: It would, and once the Post will pay to ship me off to Japan for a month of broadband testing, I'll get on it!

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K from Va: flip phone with keyboard my roommate has

samsung sch u740

Rob Pegoraro: Ah, thanks....

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Rob Pegoraro: That's going to have to do it for today. Thanks, gang... I'll be back here in a couple of weeks.

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