Personal Tech: Gadget News and Reviews

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Technology Writers
Friday, July 10, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, July 10 at Noon ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget advice.

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

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon! For the first time in a few weeks, there's no new theoretically-must-have gadget to talk about--no iPhone 3GS, no Kindle DX, no Palm Pre. As a result, my column today is a total non-review, instead mulling over security issues on social networks. So what in the world of tech should we talk about instead?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob-

I don't know if this is your sandbox, but man Google's new labeling system sucks. I'm not one to get riled up about technological changes (progress, right?) but this drop-down menu they have going on is major buzzkill. Being google they don't seem to have any good feedback mechanisms, either.

In good news, my office switched from IE6 to IE7 this month!

Rob Pegoraro: Let's look on the bright side--another IE 6 holdout has been eliminated!

So what finally got your IT department to join the rest of us in the 21st century?

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Rob A gentle reminder: You were planning to have a look at the new line of Mac laptops: the updated white MacBook, and the bevy of MacBook Pros. There's s difference of ca. $200 between the MacBook and the 13" Pro -- is the Pro worth the extra cost, in yr view? -firewire is back; battery is longer-lasting, e.g.]

Thanks for all.

Rob Pegoraro: Correct, that's going to be part of the back-to-school laptop roundup in a few weeks. From what I know today, though, the new 13" MBP seems a lot more tempting. $200 isn't an enormous difference over the life of a laptop, and you now don't have to give up features included on the cheaper model. Plus, the new MBP's battery life is supposed to be outstanding.

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Baltimore, MD: Rob: What is your opinion of the new Blackberry Tour that Verizon Wireless is introducing on Sunday?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't have an opinion yet--I only know it from the press release RIM sent me earlier. Its headline feature is support for both CDMA and GSM networks, so if you weren't yearning to use a phone in the U.S. and overseas, that's not of much use to you.

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Adams Morgan: Now that I will get a free upgrade to Windows 7, I am ready to replace my 6 year old PC. I only use it for internet, music, photos, and e-mail. How much RAM do I need? Is 4 sufficient or should I get 6? Any other recommendations for buying a new PC that isn't doing heavy video or graphics? Right now my computer can't handle playing Itunes and surfing the net without the music "skipping".

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: 4 is overkill in most cases--plus, 4 GB of RAM will generally require you to get a 64-bit edition of Windows that may not be able to run some older programs of yours. You'd need to inventory the software you plan to use on the new machine to see if it'll all be 64-bit compatible. If you don't know how to do that, don't get a PC with 4 GB of memory.

In my testing, Win 7 doesn't use as much memory as Vista, so that's another reason not to go crazy with the memory. 3 GB might be plenty, especially considering the completely undemanding nature of the applications you mentioned. It's not like you're trying to run Photoshop for a living.

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silver spring: Can I use my nice big TV as a monitor for my white 13 inch Macbook and play videos on it? What type of cable do I need? TV has vga, hdmi, and dvi inputs.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. You'd just need the right adapter cable--I think your MacBook has a mini-DVI video output, so a mini-DVI to DVI adapter (available at any electronics shop, and probably cheaper outside of Apple's own stores) would do the trick.

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Washington, DC: Any word on when Verizon FIOS service is going to be offered in DC? I heard it was supposed to be coming this year.

Rob Pegoraro: Verizon and D.C.'s franchise agreement went into effect in January, and the service is already available in a few apartment buildings near Nats Park in near SE, but you'll have to wait longer to see it show up in other neighborhoods.

[time passes while your columnist clicks frantically to find the right press release]

Ah, here it is: http://www.dc.gov/mayor/news/release.asp?id=1410&mon=200810

"Within three years of the agreement's effective date, Verizon will offer service to all residences in initial service areas to include: Barry Farm, Brightwood, Cleveland Park, Crestwood, Fort Stanton, Friendship Heights, Historic Anacostia, Petworth, Shepherd Park, Sheridan, Tenleytown, Van Ness and Woodley Park.

Verizon will expand its services within six years to an extended service area to include Adams Morgan, Benning, Benning Heights, Buzzard Point, Deanwood, Dupont Circle, Eastland Gardens, Ft. McNair, Lincoln Heights, Logan Circle, Shaw and Southwest Waterfront neighborhoods."

Supposed to cover the entire city five years after the agreement went into effect.

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Clarksville, MD: Will your laptop review include some of the newer netbooks with larger screens, such as the Samsung NC-20? If so, any sneak previews you can offer?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm thinking that will be a separate column--I wouldn't recommend a netbook for use as a primary computer just yet. So it's a timing issue: How soon after the laptop column do I want to write another column on portable computers?

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Washington, DC: Hi Rob,

Your Facebook virus column this morning was interesting.

Earlier this year my cousin's Facebook account was affected by something very similar to this and it was horrible for her. All of her friends knew that it wasn't her but she had a devil of a time taking care of it. She wiped her hard drive and reinstalled everything and then Facebook struck again.

Because it is very hard to talk to anyone at Facebook she got no support from them (their help section didn't help much at all). She never did resolve the issue and had to close her account and reopen a new one. She didn't want to open a new one because it bugged her so much but finally did and then had to retrack down all of her friends.

Her big concern was not her regular friends who knew and understood what was going on but all of her old high school friends who she hadn't talked to in years - she friends them and then all of the sudden starts sending them spam!

What would be great is if Facebook could come up with more help on how to deal with this if you're the one affected. As I recall their help basically said you have to run a virus scan on your computer and that should fix it - but it didn't. Not even close.

Rob Pegoraro: Facebook has a pretty good page of security tips: facebook.com/security. And the part about "run a virus scan to clean up your PC" *should* work--that's the whole point of having anti-virus software. If your cousin's didn't do the job, then I'd say her antivirus app deserves at least as much blame as Facebook.

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Columbia, MD: Rob, my family and I all have our Itunes accounts on one computer. My oldest daughter is heading off to college in the fall, and I plan to get her a laptop and put her Itunes on the laptop. How do I move her Itunes from the family computer to her laptop? And if she and I share some tunes, will I need to directly put those tunes on my Itunes account once her Itunes account is off the family computer? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Just copy the individual song files she wants to keep. Doesn't matter what account they're under, or even who bought any of them on the iTunes Store (as long as you've upgraded them to iTunes Plus); you can treat them as you would any other file.

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Washington, DC: I switched from IE to Firefox mostly because IE was flaky, not so much for security concerns. But now I'm getting annoyed at how slow Firefox is to start up and (especially) shutdown compared to IE. Do any of the other alternatives (Chrome?) offer better performance while still providing security and stability?

Rob Pegoraro: Glad you asked--there's a workaround for slow startups in Firefox 3.5 that seems like it might work in your case:

http://mozillalinks.org/wp/2009/07/workaround-for-firefox-3-5-slow-startups-on-windows/

Chrome and Safari are both a little faster than Firefox; Chrome is also more stable, since one bad page doesn't nuke the whole browser. But you give up some features in Chrome.

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Manassas, VA: Rob,

I have noticed in stores like Best Buy that most of the PCs on display are 64-bit machines. Is there a big push to sell these type PCs, and if so, why? As you said in an earlier response, not all older programs run on a 64-bit PC.

Brad

Rob Pegoraro: I figure this is just the latest version of the computer industry's obsession with quantitative numbers--first it was megahertz, now it's bitness. The lack of common sense in these retail presentations never fails to annoy me; the last time I was in a Best Buy, I couldn't believe that almost none of the laptop price tags noted their weight.

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Washington, DC: I was the person who wrote in about the Toshiba television last time. I'm just a little confused. If I have a new, digital, HD television and don't want cable, I still need an antenna sticking out the back? Such as a set of rabbit ears? That's crazy - why isn't there an internal antenna?

I really hate that, as I get older, I understand technology less! Pretty soon, my VCR-equivalent will just have a blinking "12:00".

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you need an antenna. Period. (Ask an electrical-engineering professor if you want a detailed explanation of why that's so.)

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Re: Adams Morgan: "4 GB of RAM will generally require you to get a 64-bit edition of Windows that may not be able to run some older programs of yours"

And getting more than 4 GB for a system running a non-server 32-bit O/S is a waste of money, since the O/S itself doesn't support more than 4 GB.

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly. In most cases, the PC vendor won't give you a choice in this matter anyway.

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Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Hi Rob...

Can you tell me what Microsoft's .NET Framework is? It seems more and more software which is designed to run under Windows requires .NET Framework to be installed first and yet .NET Framework is, apparently, not part of Windows. What gives?

John

Rob Pegoraro: The operative word in .Net Framework (I refuse to write words in all caps that aren't abbreviations) is "framework"--it's code that other programs can be built on top of. That saves programmers a fair amount of time and effort.

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little rock, arkansas: Which processor is best and why do you think so? Intel or AMD?

Rob Pegoraro: There is no answer to that question. Intel and AMD each make a variety of processors for different types of computers. Most of these differences don't mean much; the only one I'd pay much attention to is efficiency, which will directly affect a computer's battery life--but the brand name on the processor alone says nothing about that. So forget about shopping for processors by brand name.

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Princeton, NJ: Hi Rob,

Since leaving the news-rich environs of Washington DC for the green pastures of NJ, I've been craving 24-7 NPR news. Currently I fire up the laptop and listen, but I am really intrigued by the new suite of internet radios. I'd love to listen to NPR, BBC, as well as music. Sonos seems awesome, but the $1k price tag is steep. Is the Squeezebox the way to go? One of the other competitors?

Rob Pegoraro: Um, you do know there are two NPR stations near you, right? NPR's site says one of them's classical, but the other one is news (WNJT, 88.1 FM). That one even includes BBC news on its schedule: http://www.njn.net/radio/

You've also got an excellent college radio station in WPRB. I don't know that you *must* buy a bunch of expensive networked hardware to solve this problem.

If, however, you want to listen to particular Web radio stations, the Squeezebox does seem to be, by far, the simplest and cheapest option.

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Columbus, Ohio: A few months ago, I purchased a Kodak EasyShare C813 digital camera. After using the EasyShare software for awhile, I decided it was unnecessary and too cumbersome, and I deleted it. This was no easy task, and necessitated a trip to a Kodak webpage for a download to complete the uninstallation. I am able to download still pix via my computer's (XP/SP3) MS wizard and save them as jpegs. However, if I shoot video and download from the camera's memory card, it is saved in a ".MOV" file format which MS's media player does not recognize. I refuse to have anything to do with Real Player. Do I have any option for opening and playing videos from this camera on my computer other than reloading the EasyShare software and using it?

Rob Pegoraro: You need Apple's free QuickTime player for those files.

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Annandale, VA: Has the itunes store changed the way it creates music files?

The last few songs that I bought are much larger files than ones bought several months ago. I make audio mix CDs for my car, and used to get 18 to 21 songs on one CD. The last time, I could squeeze only 13 songs on the disk. When I checked the file size, the newest itunes downloads were 8 to 10 mgs each. Now maybe I'm downloading longer songs, but if "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" can share a disk with 17 other songs, why can't "Sultans of Swing"?

Rob Pegoraro: This happened a while back: The standard file format on iTunes is what Apple calls iTunes Plus--a 256 kbps AAC file, without any DRM. That's twice the bit rate, and therefore about twice the size, of the old DRMed 128 kbps AAC files it once sold. But that shouldn't have any effect on audio CDs you're burning from them... sorry, I've got no idea what's going on there.

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word about security : My partner's Facebook account was hacked and messages were sent to all of his friends claiming that my partner was "mugged in London, still have passport, need $$$ so I can get home!" The hacker's (naturally) changed the password to my partner's account, and Facebook wouldn't help him because he couldn't verify the new (and fraudulent) password. There wasn't an easy "click here if you've been hacked" link or phone number or anything. It took weeks to straighten out, during which time my "partner" posted several more messages beseeching his friends "send him $$$" so he could get home from London. Hopefully, Facebook (and others) will not only improve their defenses against hacks, but improve the customer service angle as well.

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't even get into the risks of identity theft on social networks in the column, but that's a real risk too--I read an account much like this on somebody's blog.

So what worked to get your partner back in control of his account?

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Centerville, Ga: I have a 3 year old laptop I keep by my chair in the family room used mostly for surfing the web and email -- including looking at pictures and videos sent by the family. No games. No office work except for minor word processing. It is connected wirelessly to a desktop in the next room for storage and printing.

So, could I be using a netbook just as easily in this situation and passing the laptop on to my junior high niece?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly.

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Washington, DC: Facebook again..

Hi Rob,

You're right it should have - and it worked for about a day and then her status update started acting weird again. So her husband completely wiped her computer and started over reinstalling Windows etc and again within a day her status update was just weird. So if wiping your hard drive doesn't clear up this virus I can't help but think something weird is going on on the Facebook side of things. I've had other friends get hijacked as well and they're fixed within a day or two. This was a really extreme case but I'm sure she's not alone with this. It went on for almost a month before she closed the account and started from scratch. And she's never had trouble with the new account (knock on wood).

Rob Pegoraro: That is a problem. I can't imagine *how* that could be possible--unless maybe the virus installed some rogue application on her profile?

(That's one reason why I don't have too many apps on my own Facebook profile. The other being most of them seem like a colossal waste of time anyway.)

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Dumfries, Va.: I still have not downloaded Vista SP 2. The download is noted as 35MB to 343.9MB. Does this mean only updates I need will be downloaded? Or will it include updates for programs I don't have, like Office? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: It means your copy of Vista will download a customized version of SP2 that only includes the updates relevant to its own situation. You won't get updates for any other software.

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Rockville, MD: "Doesn't matter what account they're under, or even who bought any of them on the iTunes Store (as long as you've upgraded them to iTunes Plus); you can treat them as you would any other file"

I believe that if you haven't updated to iTunes Plus, you can burn the songs onto a CD and then rip them back into iTunes on the new computer. iTunes will not recognized them as purchased from iTunes store files.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, that's always been the case too.

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Reston, Va: After two years, my wireless phone contract ended and I decided to not renew. But still, I have this nice camera phone. Would it be ok to use the phone's camera function as a standalone?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, if you can get the photos off the camera via USB or Bluetooth.

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Alexandria, Va.: My computer is so old it lacks USB ports and won't transfer data on its hard drive to blank DVDs, although it will play DVDs. It used to be able to access the Internet, but after months of disuse, it doesn't seem to be able to access our home wireless network. I'd like to harvest my documents, clean all the data off, and give this away, but is this just hopeless?

Rob Pegoraro: Your computer has an Ethernet port on the back, right? Plug it into your router with a network cable, then copy the files off that way.

If it doesn't have an Ethernet port--well, try to get it back on the wireless network. Wireless networking gear rarely goes bad (I'm typing this to you through a six-year-old AirPort router), so it's probably a software issue you could fix by reinstalling your receiver's drivers.

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Washington, DC: Hey Rob!

This is more a pricing question than a tech question I guess, but it's all a little confusing to me. I need a new digital camera, just a basic point and shoot, but decided to get the best one I could at this point so I didn't have to update any time soon (my old one is 7 years old and still works ok, just a little slow and cumbersome). Long story short, looked at cnet and others, decided on the Canon SD880, but between when I started looking and went to buy, the price jumped $90 (now the cheapest version is $390)! Over like a three day timespan! Is there some rhyme or reason to this pricing stuff?

Rob Pegoraro: Not always!

But you don't need to buy the "best one" out there. Even the cheapest cameras have an insane amount of resolution, image stabilization and all sorts of other automatic picture-taking modes. Among Canon's lineup, for instance, take a look at the A1100, which has all those features, runs on regular AA rechargables and sells for under $200 (got my wife this for her birthday, in fact).

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College Park, MD: The use of a converter box with an indoor antenna has resulted with many stations having inadequate signal. Also, my movement near the tv further reduces the signal. Any advice? What are guidelines for ensuring better reception with my setup. Thanks ED

Rob Pegoraro: Move your antenna closer to the window, then play around with antenna positioning (this is easier to do with a rabbit-ears setup that lets you angle each dipole separately) to lock in each station better.

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Northern VA: I'm very interested in buying a Kindle. Amazon just dropped the price to $299 but I'm still hesitant because I'm concerned it's still over priced and that e-book readers will improve over the next year or two. Should I take the plunge or wait?

Rob Pegoraro: I have yet to be tempted to buy a Kindle. The e-ink screens are still awfully sluggish compared to paper and the prices are, in fact, rather high--especially relative the amount of reading I can get in. But my bigger objection to the Kindle is the ridiculous DRM Amazon wraps around your "purchases" (hard to say you really own a Kindle book when Amazon controls what you can do with it so tightly).

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Princeton, NJ: Actually, in addition to PRB and NJN, there's also WHYY and, when the stars are aligned, WNYC out of New York. But reception in my apartment is spotty, and I listen to the radio instead of watching TV -- so internet radio gives me by far the best quality connection.

Have you actually used the Squeezebox? Do you recommend it? My tech knowledge is so-so, I've heard from some folks that set up is tough.

Rob Pegoraro: It's been a few years since I tested it, but I didn't find the setup to be that bad at all. You install one program on your computer, and the rest of the setup was, as I recall, pretty much automatic.

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Alexandria: I have a 4 year old Dell Inspiron notebook (XP Pro). Memory is maxed out. For a while it has been getting slower. That is kind of expected. It has also been getting a little glitchy (freezing, minor hardware problems).

I need to use this computer in a few weeks to take the bar exam using special software (already on the computer). The rules state that I can't reinstall this software.

What can I do to try to make this computer as stable as possible? Would it be worth trying to get permission to reinstall this software so I could reinstall the OS?

Rob Pegoraro: "Can't reinstall this software"? What kind of logic is behind that? What if your computer crashed?

Whatever. Anyway, start uninstalling the programs you no longer use, especially ones that run at startup (e.g., instant-messaging and media-playback apps like, say, AIM or RealPlayer). The odds are, you're only using a small fraction of the stuff on the machine.

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iTunes transfers: Also, she needs to make sure to "authorize" the new computer to use her iTunes account, otherwise the songs she's purchased through iTunes won't work. ITunes allows its files to be authorized on up to 6 computers.

Rob Pegoraro: That's the whole point of iTunes Plus: You don't need to bother with that authorization routine anymore. (It's a five-computer limit, BTW.)

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi Rob,

The local Gazette newspaper ran a somewhat cryptic article about Verizon's plans to remove copper cables from various jurisdictions in Maryland's suburbs near DC over the coming months (e.g., Gaithersburg, Rockville, Bethesda, and Takoma Park). Is there any credence to this being a move by Verizon to lock out competition? A Verizon salesperson that came to our door a few weeks ago, indicated that Verizon does plan to remove the copper cables from our close-in Silver Spring neighborhood, and that we would be forced to upgrade to a more costly Verizon FIOS plan at that time.

See Verizon customers miffed over planned changes

Rob Pegoraro: Huh. First I'd heard of this. From the story, it doesn't sound like Verizon is cutting off competitors--it says halfway down that Vz will provide a copper connection for customers who want it. The net effect here would certainly be to make it harder for customers to use that option, since they'd have to take an extra step. But Fios is so much faster than DSL that I don't know how many people would want to use another provider anyway.

Now there is a separate issue here, also mentioned in the story: Vz and other local phone providers are legally required to resell copper lines to other ISPs, but they have no such requirement with fiber. But that's something you'd have to take up with the FCC, not the MoCo gov't.

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Kindle: The Kindle costs $300, which is the cost of about 25 to 30 books. Given how few books most people read during a year, one would have to use a Kindle for quite a while (or be a REALLY avid reader), for this thing to pay for itself.

Rob Pegoraro: FWIW, I have heard from some of those really avid readers (sample quote from one e-mail: "I have read over 275 books and calculate I have saved over $900 by owning a Kindle").

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Washington, DC: I have a question I think I already know the answer too, but need confirmation. I need a new laptop. I've been thinking MAC, but not really committed. One thing that will sway decision is accessories like printer and external drives working with the PC that I have for use by my father when he visits. These accessories won't work with both a mac and a PC, correct?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure they will. Only a few printers (Dell's come to mind) won't work on a Mac--no all-caps, it's not an acronym--while I've yet to meet a hard drive that won't work on a Mac.

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facebook identity theft: I asked my partner what he did to remedy the hacked Facebook account. This is his response: "I sent emails to abuse(at)facebook.com. They repeatedly tried to blow me off. When I asked for the contact information for someone in their legal department, they told me to scan a government-issued ID and send it to them. After seeing the ID, they then reset the password and turned control of the account over to me.

The whole process took about 1.5 months."

Rob Pegoraro: abuse@facebook.com doesn't sound like the right address for this (that's the kind of address I'd send a complaint to about somebody else spamming me, not a security issue for my own account). Looking at Facebook's help page for these topics -- http://www.facebook.com/help.php?page=797 -- it seems that most of their suggestions involve filling out a form to get them to investigate the situation. That's not a bad remedy, but you want to get some sort of feedback that lets you know somebody's working to fix the problem. Too many companies will take your report submitted through a form, then ignore it.

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Columbus, OH: Enjoyed the quick MS-antrust history with your initial Chrome OS thoughts (from a regular reader/attorney). Does this move really make sense for Google? The initial target platform - netbooks - could presumably already be serviced with some tweaks to Android. Though free, there likely won't be that much of a cost benefit to hardware providers to switch, since economies of scale keep the bulk cost of Windows down. From a cloud-computing perspective, why invent a new OS when it can be accomplished in a browser. Coupled with the comparatively limited offerings for Linux based systems, what's the strategy here?

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! (I did try to get a quote from Judge Jackson in the story--he's an attorney in D.C. now--but I didn't get a response from his office.)

I'm not entirely sure of Google's strategy either, except that it wants to build up the entire category Web-based apps. Shipping an OS designed to run only Web apps would be one way to do it.

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Silver Spring: Kindle owner here, but not fanatical.

Even though it will be replaced by something better, the current Kindle saves me pounds and pounds while traveling. I carry one electronic thing with a long battery life, not half a dozen heavy books.

And stuff is available for it that's not available otherwise.

Do I wish it cost less? Sure. Do I wish I could give away my downloaded books to other Kindle owners? Sure.

But none of those things breaks the deal for me. And I'm a book lover.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the testimony!

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22302: I want to use directv's new on demand system, but the company's HD DVR doesnt' have wireless/wired internet capability. what a joke!! are there any relatively inexpensive solutions?

thx

Rob Pegoraro: Ever since DirecTV kicked TiVo to the curb, then changed its mind, then made the upcoming high-def TiVo-based DVR one of the most inexplicably-delayed products in the history of consumer electronics, I gave up trying to understand what those guys are up in the DVR business.

See http://www.zatznotfunny.com/2009-05/new-directv-tivo-delayed-to-2010-plus-tru2way/for the latest on this DireTiVo fiasco.

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Washington, DC: It's so interesting that you say wireless networks rarely go bad, b/c my comcast internet is a disaster and they keep saying it's my wireless router and that the cheap ones (Netgear/Belkin) routinely break down between 6 months and two years. Is that true or are they just trying to avoid having to make a housecall (for the 18th time)? (FYI, I don't think it is b/c it took me about 8 minutes to reboot THEIR modem and I continually get calls about service problems in my area, but still...).

Long story short, do routers go bad? If so are more expensive ones longer lasting?

Rob Pegoraro: I know of plenty of other people with really old routers too. I mean, it's not as if these things have any moving parts to break or third-party software to bog down their operating system. So I don't think you can rule out the possibility that your Comcast reps don't know what they're talking about.

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Buffalo, NY: I've been thinking about getting the iPhone 3GS. Since it has now been out a few weeks, have you heard anything about the phone that would keep you from purchasing it?

Rob Pegoraro: Can't say that I have. Its battery life has been so-so in practice, but I knew that when I reviewed it. The iTunes app on the review 3GS has crashed a couple of times, but that was an issue with the older iPhone too.

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Tina in Falls Church: Many thanks for your article today. I wish the command that lets folks on social networking sites send an invitation to everyone in their address book would disappear. Those things arrive in my inbox by the droves. Delete, delete, delete. Darned things remind me if those chain letters. High school reunion precipitated dozens of invitations. Does anyone else feel the same way?

washingtonpost.com: Social Networks May Provide A Chattering Class For Viruses

Rob Pegoraro: I'm positive you're not alone in feeling that way.

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Avon Park, Fla.: How much improvement could I expect from a booster for a digital antenna? I live in a rural area of Florida and have to move our outside aerial continually to get all channels, depending upon whether the station is in Tampa, Orlando, etc. I can get all channels depending upon the aerial's direction, but would a booster allow me to keep it in one direction and get all of them? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Potentially, quite a lot--so I've heard from rural readers in the D.C. area.

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Houston, TX: Rob, What are good options to consider for light- duty video editing on a Windows these days? I'm using a really old version of Adobe Premiere and wondering if there's something significantly better/easier.

Rob Pegoraro: Try Google's free Picasa. It's not advertised as a video editor, but for simple things like cropping clips it does the job pretty well.

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Washington, DC: I have a collection of DVD's and I would like to know is there a way I can store these DVD's to a hard-drive device I play them from the hard-drive on my PC similar to the way you can copy CD's to your PC as MP3 files and play them on your PC or another player device?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure. On a Mac, you'd install two programs, VLC (videolan.org/vlc) and HandBrake (handbrake.fr). On a PC, I've heard good things about BitRipper (bitripper.com) but haven't had time to give it a good workout.

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silver spring: I am looking for a computer to hook up to my flat screen for Hulu.com, Netflix, etc. Blue Ray would be nice as well.

what are my least expensive and/or best options?

Rob Pegoraro: Got this exact question from a coworker yesterday. What you want is a small desktop computer with WiFi (to connect to your home network), Bluetooth (so you can use a keyboard and mouse from the couch) and a remote control (to work apps like Hulu Desktop or Boxee). In the Mac world, the Mac mini is the obvious choice, but there's no equally obvious choice in the PC market. Dell's Studio Hybrid is about the only big-name computer I can think of that would fit this use case, and then you've got some lesser-known makes (Shuttle, Asus, Acer). This is yet another column that I need to write at some point.

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Dallas, TX (hot hot hot): I have a lap top that is a couple of years old that still has much of the junk that Toshiba installed on it. I do not know what I can remove and what is needed. Where do I find that out? Such as Roxio -- I think for burning CDs. Don't use it. Can it be deleted. Same situation with a desktop Dell.

Where do non-techies go for information like this? Is there a list somewhere?

Thanks from a faithful reader...

Rob Pegoraro: See the advice I gave to the law student earlier--if you don't run the program, you can delete it, and that's especially true of things that run at startup. Roxio is, indeed, a candidate to uninstall in your situation. Remember that Windows won't let you take out components that it needs; for instance, you shouldn't be able to uninstall any device drivers through Add or Remove Programs.

One example: I was cleaning out some of the junkware on an ancient ThinkPad and saw a program for its sound card. (Don't remember the name, just the useless blue icon it stuck in the system tray.) I uninstalled it, hoping I'd still have sound--and of course, I did.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's gotta do it for today, folks. Thanks for all the great questions! See you here in a couple of weeks...

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