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Personal Tech: Gadget News and Reviews

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, October 16, 2009 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, Oct. 16 at Noon ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget advice.

In this Sunday's Fast Forward column, Rob reviews Windows 7.

Rob's latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.

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washingtonpost.com: Hi all! Thanks for joining us today. Rob is running about 10 minutes late -- but he's on his way. Thanks for your patience!

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, everybody--sorry I'm late. I just got out of a demonstration of "mobile ATSC," or mobile digital-TV broadcasting, something you should see in products sometime next year. We can chat about that... but I suspect more of you are curious about Microsoft's Windows 7, the subject of my column today.

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Cleveland, Ohio: How can you be late? Don't you have a gadget to fix that?

washingtonpost.com: Blame the donuts in the break area for the extra three minutes :)

Rob Pegoraro: Mmm, forbidden donut...

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Arlington, Va.: I might be one of maybe five people on earth who really likes Vista (due in no small part to the fact that I have a machine with a quad core and 6 MB of RAM). How long can I hold out before I'll be forced to upgrade to 7?

Rob Pegoraro: OK, this is one question I didn't think I'd get. Arlington, I seriously doubt you'll be "forced" to move to Windows 7 anytime soon--even people running Windows XP will be getting security patches through 2014. (But I do think 7 is better than Vista.)

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob,

Thanks for the Windows 7. Since something like 70 percent of computers are still on XP, most people will go from XP straight to 7 (as I myself will do). Your article talks about the "destructive" install. Is it possible to do a "clean" install of a Windows 7 upgrade? I have a new 1TB drive I purchased and would like to leave my old copy of XP on my existing 120GB drive (and dual-boot so if I have problems can easily revert back and slowly convert programs without freezing myself out of things I currently have/need/want). Or is this not going to be a possibility with the upgrade?

Also, any reason for a home user to go up to Professional over Home version?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You could do a dual-boot setup, but I didn't even get into that... if you're desperate to keep XP around, you might do better to get 7's Ultimate edition, which includes "XP Mode"--a virtual-machine copy of XP you can run inside of 7. Then again, the hardware requirements for that will crush most XP-vintage machines.

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NY, NY: I recently installed Windows 7 on my laptop and love it, but have found that the touchpad is suddenly extremely sensitive. My husband also installed Windows 7 on his laptop and is having similar problems. I have tried adjusting the settings through the control panel but that does not seem to help. When I am typing the cursor and mouse are frequently moving and it's almost impossible to type a complete sentence without the touchpad causing a problem. This has never been an issue for me before Windows 7. Has this been a common problem?

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't see it on any of the laptops I've put 7 on this year. Anybody else noticing this problem?

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Adams Morgan: Hi Rob,

So is there no e-mail program bundled in 7? I use Windows Mail now. Will that be wiped off my machine if I upgrade from Vista?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Correct, there's no mail software built into 7, and 7's installer will yank an existing copy of Outlook Express or Windows Mail. Installing Microsoft's Windows Live Mail before you upgrade to 7 is your easiest, quickest remedy for that, as I explain in today's blog post: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2009/10/windows_7_our_long_national_vi.html

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Saint Petersburg, Fla.: Rob - Yea you. When I signed on to the WPost website this a.m. your review of Windows 7 was the most viewed article on the entire site. Even more than balloon boy. Take that, Weingarten.

Rob Pegoraro: Now if I'd just worked a balloon-boy reference into the column, it would be Pulitzer material...

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Cary, N.C.: I've been using the Windows 7 release candidate for awhile now and have been enjoying it. The only problem I had with installing it (I reformatted the hard drive to do a clean install) was getting it to recognize my wireless card initially, but that was fixed by pulling the card out and putting it back in. I've had no 64-bit problems, some games do seem to noticeably run faster, and some programs that I heard had problems with 7 have not.

Being an Apple fan, I do like the new taskbar. Although I occasionally find myself wishing for expose features.

Plus, it comes with some surprisingly awesome wallpapers. That probably surprised me the most about it.

Rob Pegoraro: Y'know, I haven't tried 7's wallpapers (as you can see in the screenshots on the blog post, I prefer to add my own). I'll have to take a look...

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Boston, Mass.: Let people know that if they've got a .edu e-mail address that they can still access, they can upgrade to Windows 7 for 30 bucks.

Rob Pegoraro: Glad you mentioned that, Boston... this sounds like a scam, but the $29.99 price for students is true: http://www.microsoft.com/student/en/us/software/windows-7.aspx

But... the terms and conditions require this: "You are enrolled in coursework, current proof or enrollment may be required in the United States."

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Massillon, Ohio: I'm in the market for a new laptop and I'm wondering what you think will happen to the prices of Vista installed models next week. I'm seeing some nice inexpensive Win 7 machines being previewed, but I'd be willing to go through upgrade troubles if it knocked a few hundred off of a souped-up Vista machine.

Rob Pegoraro: You won't see that kind of discount--laptops are already dirt cheap. In some cases, "knocking a few hundred dollars off" would send their prices to zero.

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youtube/flash problem: I wonder if you've heard of other people having this problem. About a week ago, I began receiving messages on youtube saying that no videos could play because I have an outdated flash player. I have since updated flash and even uninstalled and reinstalled it multiple times, with no change in the youtube message. I'm running Windows XP. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Try viewing the videos in a different browser. (Please don't tell me you're still running IE 6. Please...)

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Denver, Colo.: My laptop seems to be reaching the end of its life and I am looking for a new one. Should I wait for Windows 7 to be released so that I just get a machine with it already installed? When do you think Dell, HP, etc will have Windows 7 as an installed option on their laptops?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. Starting next Thursday, Oct. 22.

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Laurel, Md.: Can you summarize why I'm not supposed to like Vista?

One thing I don't mind is the User Account Control. In Linux, when performing a similar action you're required to type in a password, so that malware can't automatically make major changes for you.

Rob Pegoraro: Hoo boy, where do I start... I'll limit myself to UAC, so as not to write a column-length answer on Vista's issues. The better comparison is not with Linux--where you often have to type in a root password to perform administrative tasks--but Mac OS X, where you only have to type in your admin password when installing programs that make system-level changes (e.g., printer drivers).

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Howard County, Md.: Hi Rob,

A friend of mine is going to be taking a trip to Kenya in a few months and needs some advice on mobile phones. Her carrier in the USA (U.S. Cellular) uses CDMA, so her existing phone will probably not work at all over there. How reasonable is it to acquire an unlocked GSM phone in the USA that will also work in Kenya? Would it be better for her to buy a throwaway phone once she lands in Nairobi? Thanks...

Rob Pegoraro: I've never set foot in Kenya, so I can only throw this out to the collective wisdom of the crowd. Surely somebody here has used a phone in Kenya at some point...

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Rockville, Md.: Look what happens when you're late - this is from the John Kelly chat

"Bowie, Md.: John, Rob Pegoraro is late for his chat. Can you quickly tell me how to sync my Palm using bluetooth after upgrading to Windows 7?

Thanks

John Kelly: Yes, drag the file marked "Irreplaceable Data" to the trash can icon. Hope that helps! "

Rob Pegoraro: Oddly enough, that's the correct answer.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Whatever happened to that really thin Mac laptop? I never see those in public.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't seen too many MacBook Airs around lately myself. It's still shipping, but it's also seriously expensive for what it does. I wouldn't buy one myself--for ultralight computing, I'd get a cheaper, lighter netbook running Windows or Linux.

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Bethesda Md.: Rob - Could you recommend a good, free photo software that I can download...where I can do things like switch a pic to B&W and crop out my ex? Corel has a nice one, but it's $24.99....

Rob Pegoraro: Easy: Paint.net, a free download at getpaint.net

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Alexandria, Va.: In general I've never had any problems with Vista except for one annoyance: Handling digital photos. I miss the "Filmstrip" view from XP, which allows you to rotate photos or to delete the kak ones as you review them. Vista's closest equivalent is the "Slide Show," which doesn't allow you to do any such things. Did you perchance experience how Windows 7 handles photos?

Rob Pegoraro: 7 doesn't handle photos, per se--for any serious work with them, you'd want to download a photo-album app like Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery or Google's Picasa.

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Snow Leopard, Utah: Haven't gotten around to upgrading to Mac OS X 10.6 yet. Is there any reason not to go with Snow Leopard?

Rob Pegoraro: Check your printer to see if it's supported by Snow Leopard or not, and check Apple's list of software issues:

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3669

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3258

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Manassas, Va.: Hi, Rob. What's your opinion of the ultrathin TVs available? I'm interested in buying a 50+ inch TV, although I'm not sure if the ultrathins are worth the extra bucks. Please name some pros/cons.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: "Ultrathin" usually means an LED backlight, and that's the part to focus on. (Seriously, who cares if one TV is an inch thick and another is two or three inches thick? Have we become that jaded about flat-panel screens now?)

LED backlights should deliver deeper blacks and brighter colors--sorry if that sounds like a laundry-detergent commercial--and should also use less power. But they also cost a great deal more than the standard fluorescent backlights. If you're not a videophile, I'd go with the latter option.

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Rockville, Md.: Rob, I ordered a PC from Dell with one hard drive and one DVD, so I could swap-in the drives from old machine. The computer arrives, and the motherboard only has SATA connectors for the two drives Dell installed. The space where the other two should be has an outline drawn on the board with labels SATA3 and SATA4.

Is installing my own connectors an easy DIY; or did Dell marketing really out-smart me?

Rob Pegoraro: If there isn't an actual plug on the board for you to connect a SATA cable... well, you'd better be REALLY GOOD with a soldering iron.

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Rockville, Md.: Apart from wasting (a trivial amount of) electricity, is there any reason not to leave a cell phone plugged into its charger all the time? Drain on the battery, strain on the circuitry? I've been using a cell phone as a land line replacement. I keep it on so I can get calls anytime, and I'd like to make sure that it won't need charging when I need to use it.

Rob Pegoraro: You should be fine--most cell phones seem to expire from abuse or obsolescence before battery life becomes a serious issue.

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New York, N.Y.: Great Columns.

I am retired. If I purchased a new computer with Windows 7, will I be able to install my Office '97, use my CD's that have been written on XP of ME and use my olf HP 4000 laser printer? I know you are probably wondering where this old fossil came from. However, if I purchase the computer, my budget will not allow for purchasing other computer equipment.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tested Office '97 with Vista, let alone 7. I've seen testimony that you can get it to run in Vista, so I suppose it would work in 7 as well. But you could also just download and use the free OpenOffice.org instead of sticking with a 12-year-old productivity suite.

Any burned CDs should work fine in 7. I have no idea about the printer.

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Rockin Rockville, Md.: So what about the portable TV market? What did you learn?

Rob Pegoraro: Glad you asked. Mobile ATSC--a standard that was only ratified last night--will allow for on-the-go digital reception. Today's demo, put on by the National Association of Broadcasters and a few electronics manufacturers, involved testing that in a bus going around D.C.; I tuned into WTTG and WDCA on a prototype LG phone and also watched WTTG briefly on a prototype LG DVD player and a Dell netbook with a mobile-ATSC tuner.

Supposedly, I'll see a lot more mobile-ATSC hardware at CES in January--phones, media players, laptops, DVD players--with hardware shipping sometime next year.

To answer one question I get pretty often, the mobile-ATSC standard would allow manufacturers to build radios that could tune in the soundtrack of a digital station. (Samsung was showing off a single-chip implementation of a mobile-DTV tuner, so this hardware wouldn't have to take up much space.)

One caveat about this: The current hardware apparently isn't optimized for VHF reception, which I suppose is why we didn't try to tune in WUSA's mobile-DTV signal. (I have enough trouble tuning in its immobile DTV broadcast at home!) They say they'll have that fixed by the time hardware ships, but they also said VHF would work great for DTV broadcasts.

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Vienna, Va.: I installed the free Release Candidate 1 version of Windows 7 on my white Apple MacBook running BootCamp back around July. It seems to run fine there, though I haven't actually done much with it.

One thing I noticed is that when I boot back into Mac OS X after running Windows 7, the clock would end up with incorrect time, though both operating systems had set the time and time zone correctly. Other than that, no real complaints.

Is there much difference between RC1 and next week's official release?

TIA

Rob Pegoraro: Not an enormous amount--which is what you'd want to see going from a Release Candidate to the final release. I'd be worried if they had to make a lot of changes from RC to final. Were it not for the build number you see in the bottom right corner of the RC's desktop screen, I'm not sure I could tell the two apart.

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Left Coast: Hi Rob, Two separate group of questions for you, firstly, we're trying to sell a now 3-yr old laptop (a Toshiba Satellite M50) still running WinXP SP2. The question is, any hard disk utilities freeware or shareware) that can securely wipe the remaining free space from the hard disk without having to completely wipe off WinXP and then zero-ing out the entire hard disk afterwards, similar to what Disk Utility can do on Mac OS X?

Our hesitation with going for the "nuclear" option on the Toshiba laptop is because Toshiba only gave us a "Restore CD" that will restore the WinXP system folders, but not the entire copy of the OS, and if we restored XP with a generic version, we suspect all the drivers that work with this laptop would be gone as well.

So any suggestions on an useful disk utility for XP for doing this partial security wipe?

Secondly, do you plan to test in the near future any of those "green" power strips that will shut off automatically any devices still on "stand-by mode" (but still tapping power at a very low rate, aka vampire power) like the "MDP 900 GreenPower Digital PowerCenter from Monster" or the "SCG5 Power Strip from Smart Strip?" Just curious to know how these really work without having to force the user to always reset the clock on the DVR or re-scan channels again on the TV. Otherwise, what's the value to buying one of these $100+ gadgets when just pulling the plug from the socket will achieve the same result (and headache of resetting everything again)?

Rob Pegoraro: The utility you're looking for is the free, open-source Eraser: eraser.heidi.ie (give this thing a *lot* of time to wipe the free space on the drive).

I'm curious about those power strips too, but I doubt I'd devote a column to them... maybe a blog post. With newer hardware, though, you're not saving a lot of electricity by cutting off power. A new TV might draw a third of a watt when off but plugged in, while a 10-year-old CRT could easily draw 7.

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Chicago, Ill.: For someone purchasing a new computer: 1)Which operating system works best for someone who uses graphic software requiring lots of memory? Please provide your comparison thoughts on Windows XP, Windows 7, Mac Leopard or Mac snow leopard? (with same memory and hardware specs)

2)Please compare windows xp to windows 7 as it sounds like windows xp is still better than windows 7.

3)Please address windows 7 vs. Mac snow leopard (with comparable memory and hardware specs)

Thank you for your thoughts. -LA

Rob Pegoraro: 1) I'm not the guy to ask about professional graphics software (the News Art people are on a different floor of the newsroom, so I can't walk over and ask them).

2) No, Windows XP is not better than 7. Honestly, I don't think it's better than Vista--but I didn't like XP much in the first place.

3) In terms of performance and ease of use, I'd go with Mac OS X. But a Windows 7 machine will cost less, often a lot less.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Rob, I've noticed that there are scores of TV channels that we never watch. Do you think a day will come when FIOS let us select the channels we want in our package?

I'm thinking something like a Netflix deal where you could go online and select the channels you want (maybe options for a 50/100/200 pkg deal) and with the ability to change the stations periodically.

thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Don't I wish! I would gladly sign up with a provider that didn't try to force-feed me a bundle of channels I don't care about and don't have time to watch. That is completely within the reach of today's set-top-box technology.

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Sidekicks?: I don't have a Sidekick, and I'm having trouble understanding what has happened to them. I gather that the units themselves don't store much information and that most user data is stored on T-Mobile's central computers. How can the servers lose ALL the data? Even on the simplest home system, if you backup your stuff once a week or once a month or just whenever you think about it and then you crash, you only lose what you created since the last backup. How can MICROSOFT lose EVERYTHING? Did they NEVER back up their own stuff? Also, why is there no way for users to back up their Sidekick data to their own computers? Seems like that would be an essential requirement for what amounts to a minicomputer.

Rob Pegoraro: Your puzzlement is understandable--a lot of people are just as flabbergasted by this. (See, for example, this piece for ITWorld: http://www.itworld.com/security/81130/sidekick-the-good-news-bad-news )

Microsoft has yet to explain why, exactly, they didn't have a redundant, offline or off-site backup that wouldn't get taken out by some malfunction to the core server.

As for the lack of a direct-sync function--yes, that was a huge error in the Sidekick's design. I should have nailed the thing for not offering that when I first reviewed it; I'm sorry I did not.

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Frederick, Md.: I saw you on Fox5 last week. You need to update your picture!

Rob Pegoraro: I know--we need something showing the gray hairs I've accumulated.

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Re: Mobile ATSC: Should I start writing my state legislators to prohibit watching TV while driving?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, but please don't do so from your car.

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SSD: I saw an article this week about Solid State hard Drives that have finally gotten good performance. Everything I've searched for seems to show that they are all 2.5 inch drives, for laptops I think? Do they make them for Desktop machines or not yet? I'm thinking of getting a new desktop soon and like the idea of a turbo fast SSD for my windows/program drive and a standard harddrive for all my data.

Rob Pegoraro: We're not there yet. But we aren't far from flash drives becoming a standard part on many laptops, not just netbooks.

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Win 7 compatibilty: This link from Microsoft will scan your computer to see what if anything is not compatible with Windows 7.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! (Link points to download Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor program, which you should run before you buy a copy of 7.)

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Eastchester, NY: Rob, my professor sister needs to decide what to do about home/work computing. She now runs an XP desktop mostly for school chores, but should she buy a new W7 laptop or go with the recent iMAC I am offering her. She is also currently using a borrowed Acer netbook so she can keep an eye on her three year old. I know in advance that these are problems one should have.

Rob Pegoraro: What sort of work apps would she be using at home? If most of them only run on Windows or OS X, that should be the primary factor in her decision.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a fairly old and sluggish laptop. I have done the whole compress old files and clean up unused programs thing. Are there other strategies I can use to free up some space and speed this thing up?

Rob Pegoraro: Buy more memory for it.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a 32 gig iPod Classic, a 30 gig iPod Touch, and two Windows laptops. I want to transfer all my play counts and playlists from iTunes from my old laptop that has no access to the Internet to my new laptop that does. I have about 25 gigs of media. Short of buying a new 120 gig iPod, what are my options? I did a transfer with my external hard drive, a temporary solution which has lived for the past 6 months, but obviously don't have playlists and play counts. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Moving the entire iTunes Media folder--not just the individual song files--should bring over the metadata you're talking about. Use the external drive to transport it from one computer to the other; on the new one, overwrite whatever iTunes Media folder is already there.

(I mean, right? Shouldn't it work like that? That's how I remember doing my last iTunes migration.)

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Falls Church, Va.: In response to the Kenya cell phone question. Unless the person needs to have a cell phone as soon as she lands in Nairobi, it would be better to buy a phone there. It may be cheaper (used phones will definitely be available somewhere) and it will be easier to make sure it works.

Rob Pegoraro: I knew somebody would have an answer on this one. Take that, Travel Chat!

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Woodley Park: I'm about to get a new Windows 7 laptop for my work and was wondering if I should go with the 64-bit or the 32-bit at this point. Have the incompatability issues been resolved for the 64-bit version yet?

Rob Pegoraro: I'll give you my stock answer on this: Go ahead and get the 64-bit version *if* you've checked all your existing software and hardware drivers for 64-bit compatibility. All of it. If you're not sure or don't know how to check, go with 32-bit.

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Rockville, Va.: I know a lot of people laughed at me, but I WANTED the extra features of Vista Ultimate and I bought it. Now I don't know what I will lose if I get the lower cost version of Windows 7.

Who can help?

Rob Pegoraro: What you'll lose by going with a cheaper version of 7 will be an in-place upgrade--you'll have to do a "custom install" and reinstall all your programs. But if the alternative is paying for another overpriced Ultimate edition of dubious benefit... I'd put up with some inconvenience to get off that particular upgrade treadmill.

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Vienna, Va.: Regarding cell phones in Kenya: On my last visit about 3 years ago, phones could be rented at the airport.

Rob Pegoraro: More for our Kenya-bound chatter...

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youtube/flash problem: Nope, running the most recent version of Firefox. Also experienced the problem on IE, although I can't recall what version it is.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. That's a problem, then. I'm not sure what you could try if you've already done the uninstall-install dance. Anybody have any ideas?

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Rockville, Md.: I did it. I finally bought an HD LCD tv. According to the tracking, it's "out for delivery" right now. I also picked up a "home theater in a box" with BlueRay.

So, how do I connect all this stuff? Do HDMI cables carry sound or just video? I'm hooking up a FIOS box, BlueRay, and Wii. Should all the video (through HDMI) go directly to the TV and then all the sound (through RCA cables) go to the receiver?

Rob Pegoraro: HDMI cables carry both sound and video (they can also let devices issue commands to each other, which is why I only need to turn on the TV to have the soundbar and subwoofer also switch on). If you have separate speakers, route all the HDMI cables to the receiver, assuming it handles HDMI switching.

Last and most important: Do not buy HDMI cables in the store! Get 'em online--I bought a set from monoprice.com for $2 or $3 each.

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RE: Should I start writing my state legislators to prohibit watching TV while driving? : My friend used to rent an apartment from a guy who earned money removing people's airbags and installing video screens in the steering column.

There's no limit to the stupid stuff people will do.

Rob Pegoraro: O. M. G.

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Upgrading to Snow Leopard: Me again. Alas, my printer (an old HP DeskJet 5150) is not supported. Does Snow Leopard provide enough advantages that I should go ahead and upgrade anyway. I print about twice a year and I have an old iBook that I can always print from if necessary, so it seems like the occasional inconvenience might be worth it if Snow Leopard has other plusses.

Rob Pegoraro: Snow Leopard will provide some serious advantages when programmers start writing software to take advantage of some new, foundation-level features. But right now, the improvements it offers are at the margin. (So it's a good thing Apple charges only $29.) I do like the new Dock application and document-browsing pop-up menus, the new QuickTime is nice... but I'm not bowled over by it.

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Silver Spring, Md.: My only Windows installation is XP on a mac. How hard is the update to 7 going to be? I have few or no apps to worry about except Office and a homegrown thing that I can reinstall easily.

Rob Pegoraro: You should be OK, then--I put Windows 7's release candidate on two Macs using Apple's Boot Camp software and didn't see any issues. (The key phrase in your question was "I have few or no apps to worry about")

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Bethesda, Md.: My wife's aunt lives most of the year in NY and a few months in Florida. She still uses AOL dialup (!) for which she pays about $20/month.

It seems that there must be a reasonably-priced solution that would give her more bandwidth, but I haven't figured it out yet. The best thing that I could come up with would be for her to replace her current (simple) cell phone with a T-mobile Blackberry, since with their $30/month data plan, tethering is permitted.

Any other ideas? I think that she would only use 200MB/month.

Rob Pegoraro: If she could stay put in one place, I'd suggest DSL--that would probably be less than her current dial-up. Otherwise, the only option I can think of would be WiFi, if there's a provider offering it... or an open access point whose proprietors tell you they won't mind her occasional use.

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Arlington, Va.: Regarding the FiOS question, it is quite easy to set your favorites so that only the channels you watch will come up when you are flipping channels. Frankly the price for just a la carte channels isn't likely to be any cheaper than the giant package full of channels. Personally I love all of those hundreds of channels I get. And I can just not watch the ones I am not interested in.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm glad you feel that way, but a lot of other people don't. As for the contention that I'd pay more under a la carte... how about giving me the chance to make that mistake instead of asserting that it will be so.

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Falls Church, Va.: I have an aging machine with an Athlon XP 3200+, 2 GB of RAM and a GeForce 6600GT graphics card (along with a new 500GB hard drive). It currently runs XP just fine. I know that it may be too slow to handle all of Windows 7's fancy graphical features, but is there some sort of lite-graphics setting that would let it run smoothly? The main reason for upgrading would be to take advantage of the improved security first introduced in Vista.

Rob Pegoraro: Run the 7 upgrade advisor and it will give you a much better answer than I could. (If the graphics card isn't up to spec, you'll lose the Aero effects I wrote about in the review. But since you're used to an Aero-less desktop in XP, you may not even care about not seeing them.)

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Spamalot: Hi, Rob -- Macbook+Entourage+iPhone = about a hundred spams rolling through to the phone every day. I have to have my email address on my business website, so that's not really an addressable point. They go into my junk folder, but even after deleting them from the server by hand, they're still rolling to the phone.

The Apple Genius (Actual nametag: "Trek"!) said that I need to change the email from POP/SMTP to IMAP, but the hosting company says no-go.

Please help! Do I have to delete them from the server by hand and still delete them from the phone? Is there a better way? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: That's why POP (Post Office Protocol) is worse than IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol); IMAP syncs your messages while POP only downloads them. If your hosting provider doesn't support IMAP, you should ask them why--it's a much better solution.

But even with POP, you can have the mail client delete a message from the server. I don't remember if Entourage does that, but that's what I used when I still ran Eudora as my mail application.

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Kingstowne, Va.: I work out of my home office and I recently bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. Wonderful device; aside from its usefulness for converting paper documents to .PDFs for e-filing with the federal courts, it's allowing me to digitize years worth of investment statements, tax documents, etc., and then shred the paper to free up tons of space.

My question relates to cleaning it. The device uses a feeder (no flatbed) and the owner's manual recommends opening the machine and cleaning the scan glass and rollers every 1,000 pages (which is less often than it sounds), of course using Fujitsu's cleaning liquid and cleaning cloths, the latter of which appear to have been discontinued. Do you perchance have any recommendations on what to use to clean a scanner, both as to cleaning liquid and cleaning cloth? I figure the alcohol- and ammonia-free window cleaner I have ought to be safe, but when it comes to the cloth I'm at a loss. I'm wary of using things like old undershirts or boxers due to lint and due to the potential for a seam or some such to scratch the glass, but I'm also wary of the polypropylene lint-free towels I use to clean my car's windows because they feel a bit rough to the touch. I wonder if using stuff designed to clean the screen of an LCD or plasma TV, together with whatever cloths is recommended on the package for said stuff, might be a viable option?

Thanks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, I have no idea. Anybody have a scanner-cleaning tip for Kingstowne?

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Alexandria, Va.: And the person that just got an HDTV is going to want to pick up the accessory component cables for the Wii if they want to get a better resolution picture (though the best the Wii can do is 420p).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks (you meant 480p, right?)

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Left Field: Rob, do you have a favorite "Beginners Introduction to Linux" book?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't. I don't even have a "beginner's introduction to Windows" book--wish I did, since I get that question pretty often. I just haven't had the time to read even a fraction of what's out there.

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Cody, Wyoming: Hi Rob,

I have a 20-month-old Dell Vostro 1500 laptop running Windows XP Home. I keep it faithfully maintained and updated. I use a limited-user account for all programs connecting to the internet.

I use AVG (free version) for my antivirus program and Malwarebytes (paid version) for antimalware protection.

I understand neither AVG nor Malwarebytes search for rootkits. Do I need a separate program to do that? If so, could you recommend any?

Thanks, Rob. I love your chats!

John

Rob Pegoraro: First, bear in mind that a rootkit is just another kind of malware, one that attacks your system at a lower level. You don't necessarily need a separate program for that; if anything, I'm sick of seeing security-software vendors acting as if users need to stack up a portfolio of protection utilities.

Anyway, both Malwarebytes and AVG advertise rootkit detection and removal. So you should be fine.

Remember, the best anti-virus defense is *you*. A lot of the bad stuff out there doesn't get on the computer by itself; it gets on because the person between the chair and the keyboard clicks on something they might not have if they'd been a little more skeptical and cautious online.

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Rockville, MD - HD tv again: I'm getting a Sony BDVE300 and a Sony KDL46W5100.

I don't think the DBVE300 handles HDMI switching (per reviewing the instructions online) but I'll have to check the actual back when it arrives.

Rob Pegoraro: If it doesn't, then hook up the HDMI cables to the TV and use the TV Input button on the remote to switch among them.

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Windows Mobile: Horrible or just terrible? I took a free Touch from Sprint as a bribe to not bail for an AT&T iPhone. Bad decision.

Dear MS, a mobile device is not a really small PC. Please adjust your OS design to this fact.

Rob Pegoraro: I've beaten up on Microsoft enough this week, so I'll say that Windows Mobile 6.5 is merely terrible.

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Arlington, VA: If the Kenya bound person travels a lot it may be worth buying a quas band GSM phone (I got mine for $40) and then just buy a SIM card once they get to Kenya. You can do a bit of research online to see who the providers are over there and get an idea of costs and plans. Prepaid plans are usually a good way to go.

Rob Pegoraro: Still more on this. You guys are great!

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flash problem: I had a somewhat similar problem - couldn't get the "new" yahoo mail to work any browser and did the install and reinstall.

Then I uninstalled Adaware and presto - it's working. So, it could be an anti-malware program blocking the youtube and/or flash.

Rob Pegoraro: Aha... that could be it.

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Bethesda, MD: I'm a techie, but I'm having a heck of a time with my new 802.11n Belkin router, which was a free replacement for a pre-n router which died after a few years of excellent service.

I've had little trouble getting a few laptops to work with it. But I have a Roku Soundbridge which "sees" the router, but can't connect to it at all, even if I disable encryption entirely -I'm using WEP encryption because unfortunately this old Roku doesn't support WPA].

I'm also having trouble connecting from a desktop XP machine which for several years I had wired through Netgear Powerline devices, with one devices hard-cabled to the router. This had worked great for me with the old router, and I had it working briefly with the new one, but not reliably.

So I went out and bought an 802.11n USB dongle, and can't get that one to work either (haven't tried turning off encryption, though).

Has Wifi encryption really changed that much in the past few years?? This is my fourth router, and I've never had so much trouble before.

On some of the Windows machines I get the message "Windows was unable to find a certificate to log you on to the network" but the presence/absence of this message isn't highly correlated with my ability to connect successfully to the Internet.

Is there a Wifi for techies-who-are-dummies book or website?? I used to program Berkeley sockets applications, for heaven's sake!

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, WiFi can be a mess. Some routers aren't that bad to set up... and then there are ones like the one that Verizon installed when they hooked up Fios Internet in my mom's house. Ugh.

Your statement that the Roku Soundbridge doesn't even see the network makes me think that the new Belkin is set to operate only in 802.11g/802.11n, instead of also supporting 802.11b. (The fact that the Roku is WEP-only, in turn, makes me think it only speaks 802.11n.)

For the Windows computers, my advice is to uninstall whatever third-party WiFi software came with them. Most of that stuff is horrible (not just terrible!) and throws up all sorts of options and settings that never apply to home networks, while the Windows WiFi interface is fairly straightforward.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, Can you recommend any good external hard drives that shut down when the computer is shut down. I have a Buffalo HD that is no longer made that does so but my portable Buffalo HD stays on as long as its plugged into a usb hub.

Rob Pegoraro: Get a bus-powered one that gets its electricity via the same USB or FireWire cable that connects it to the computer. (That will also eliminate the need to find a separate outlet for the drive.)

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Arlington, Va.: It's not Comcast or Verizon's fault that our cable lineups are bloated wiith channels we don't watch. The networks will only sell themselves to the cable packagers as a bundle of channels.

Rob Pegoraro: And Comcast and Verizon have no bargaining power? (FWIW, this is not the argument the cable operators themselves bring up when asked about a la carte cable?)

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Rockville, Md. - again: "And the person that just got an HDTV is going to want to pick up the accessory component cables for the Wii if they want to get a better resolution picture (though the best the Wii can do is 420p). "

Thanks Alexandria. Already ordered the cables. (but now thinking I should have waited until Rob told us about monoprice.com)

Rob Pegoraro: Self-serving plug: I shared that advice in the tip of the week e-mail I write for PostPoints members--see more at washingtonpost.com/postpoints

(Now back to our regularly scheduled programming... I'll hang out for another 15 minutes or so, and then it'll be time for lunch.)

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Unlocked GSM: I have a related question. I have Verizon Wireless and am pretty happy with it, but I like to take vacations to Europe and elsewhere from time to time, where CDMA is useless. In the past, I've just relied on e-mail, but I would like to get a cheap phone for such vacations (not a major investment, because we're talking about a week or two per year, with minimal phone usage). I found something online called Mobal (I think I spelled that right), which offers a $50 Nokia phone with unlocked GSM, doesn't require a contract, and has not-totally-outrageous charges per minute when you do use it. Just wondering whether you or the chatters know anything about this or similar options. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: $50 is too much to pay for an unlocked GSM phone--buy a used one off eBay (I mean, through the Post classifieds) and pick up a prepaid SIM card when you arrive overseas.

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Springfield, Va.: I just discovered this week that iTunes FINALLY has a separate sorting option that allows you to alphabetize artists' names properly ("Bruce Springsteen" as an "S" name, for example) without writing them as last name comma first name and that allows you to put albums in chronological order without changing their names (no more "003 Born to Run," for example). When did they do this?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know--I'm not sure if Apple would have noted this change when it did happen, considering the terse and uninformative nature of many of their release notes.

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Chinatown, D.C.: I'm a cell phone free agent soon, and due to cheaper plans, will probably be moving back to sprint. Both the pre and the upcoming android offerings intrigue me, but everything I've read lately makes it sound like the pre is fading fast against the competition. The last thing I want is another treo situation, where at the end of my two year contract, the phone has been effectively abandoned.

do you think android has more sticking power and is the safer choice?

Rob Pegoraro: Android definitely has more momentum--it's had a year or so head start on the Pre and is unquestionably the safer choice. But Palm has good hardware, and the company seems to be doing the right things to attract developers. I'm hoping to be able to try out Sprint's next webOS phone, the upcoming Palm Pixi, when that ships in a month or so; by then, we should be able to see if developers have started doing serious work in webOS after Palm opened up its developer program.

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Radio on the iPhone: The other day I asked you the wrong question, and you answered it perfectly...I want to listen to specific radio stations' (my alma mater's flagship, which is far, far away) streams on my phone. Is there anything specific I should look for? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: That depends on the phone--if it's an iPhone, I know you can tune into most Web-radio streams by clicking on the right link on their Web pages (e.g., I've listened to radioparadise.com that way).

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Quasi-Luddite, N.J.: Rob - I have a nearly 10 year old iMac (the old "bubble" iMac) that is on its last legs. I'm considering the following options and am not sure which is the better one: (1) Buy a new IMac and simply replace the current one; (2) Buy a MacBook Pro (costs are relatively the same) and keep the old IMac and buy a WiFi set-up so I can have Internet access throughout the house. Option 1 is appealing to the luddite in me for its simplicity, but Option 2 is appealing in that I would like the convenience of a laptop while gaining the flexibility of house-wide connectivity. However, I'm a bit intimidated about connecting Wi-Fi.

Thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: WiFi isn't hard if you get an AirPort (yes, it's more expensive than other devices, but it's well worth the expense in this context).

I wouldn't bet on the old iMac lasting too much longer, though. You could just get an Apple tablet instead... oh, wait, that device may not exist anywhere but in the fevered imaginations of Mac users and industry analysts.

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iTunes question: No, that's what I did -- it doesn't transfer play counts. Shoot. If you don't know...

Rob Pegoraro: It's something I'll have to research. There is some way to do this, but I haven't had time to try it out. Maybe now that I've got a few extra review laptops sitting around the house... I'll do something on this in Help File soon. Promise.

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For the Dell in Rockville:: Dell pulls things like that all the time. Their mobos have only the things they need for that machine - very little chance for expansion. That's why I started building my own computers a couple of years ago.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the input...

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Madison, WI: Re: touchpad and Win7

Try going to the laptop manufacturer's web site and see if there is an updated driver for the touchpad. Try the latest Vista driver if they don't have a Win7 one.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip. If you're really lucky, there's some driver-download utility on the computer (the last HP I tried had one, but not the last Dell). Having to find individual drivers on a manufacturer's Web site and see if they're newer than what you have.. that's a huge annoyance.

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Madison, Wisc.: Hi Rob, I saw this ongoing discussion (well, argument) about your digital cable article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/02/AR2009100201562.html) on a usenet forum. Here's the thread in Google Groups.

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.video.digital-tv/browse_thread/thread/8777323fc08b3793#

It seems to me your article points digital cable box problem blame finger mainly at the cable industry. Is that your stand? I wonder if some blame should be shared with electronics manufacturers and the government and how much of the problem was their fault.

Rob Pegoraro: Ah, Usenet... I remember that. Good discussion there, although I haven't read more than the first few posts in the thread.

Yes, I do blame the cable industry first. They said they'd come up with a standard, electronics vendors built hardware to match, and then cable operators failed to support these specs consistently and correctly in the field. Some extra blame goes to the companies providing TV channels who insist on paranoid levels of encryption--as my column notes--but it's really a cable problem.

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B'burg, Va: I learned about something called Femtocell from a radio show earlier this week. So, then I went to Wikipedia to read up on it. Beyond that I visited the websites of the major cell carriers.

But I don't really see the "sales" side. Is it possible to use the internet to make a cell call? I live in an area where my cell phone can't pick up a signal because of the mountains. Would it be reliable? Could I scrap my land line?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, you could use the Internet for your calling. T-Mobile sells an option called HotSpot at Home that does exactly that: http://www.t-mobile.com/shop/addons/services/information.aspx?PAsset=UnlimitedHotSpotCalling&tp=Svc_Sub_UnlHotSpotCallOvw

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Woodbridge, Va.: Hey Rob - I'm looking at camcorders and the two main choices these days seem to be flash memory or hard drive. Is one preferable? Also, should I consider the $150 Flip and similar models from Kodak or should I look at $300 models with more features? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Flash memory: It's more durable, it's more compact, it should allow better battery life. The $300 models will be harder to use--a lot harder than the Flip--but you'll get features like zoom lenses and image stabilization as well as better quality overall.

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T-mobile sidekick: Rob, My daughter got a Sidekick this month, w/2 year contract, should she be concerned about security? Is T-Mobile offering something to subscribers if videos were lost?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, absolutely, she should be worried about security. In fact, if she's within T-Mobile's return period, she should dump that phone. I would not trust a Sidekick with my data, not after this fiasco.

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Washington, D.C.: This is probably a pretty basic question, but what are the functional differences, if any, between the "+" and "-" versions of blank DVDs? Any reason to use one instead of the other (most recorders seem to use all formats)?

Rob Pegoraro: There's no difference worth worrying about between write-once discs (DVD+R, DVD-R). DVD+RW rewritable discs are more useful than DVD-RW media, though; +RW often lets you play a recording on another player without "finalizing" it first.

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Who are your tech writer gurus?: Rob - We "follow" you as our tech guru but who do you read as well? Pogue? Cringley, Guy Kawasaki?

Plus, have you thought about doing a tweetup?

Rob Pegoraro: I read Pogue and Mossberg--out of competitive motives as well as a purely readerly interest. Same goes for Steve Wildstrom at BusinessWeek. Among the blogs, I like TechCrunch, Ars Technica, Lifehacker and Tech Dirt. This reminds me... I should make sure I've added those folks to the favorites list on my public Facebook page (look, more craven self-promotion: facebook.com/robpegoraro). I'm happy to give my peers credit for a job well done.

Perhaps there will be a meetup at some point. I mean, if Greater Greater Washington and We Love DC can pull that off, maybe I can. Then again, I'm no David Alpert :)

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Washington, D.C.: I am thinking about buying a new Windows 7 computer but am nervous about how to transfer programs and documents from the old (XP) to the new. Is there software that does this easily for the moderately skilled computer user?

Rob Pegoraro: That's a case where you have to trust the Windows Easy Transfer tool to do its job--and, perhaps, choose your next e-mail program based on how well it works with that. (Windows Live Mail did fine, Mozilla Thunderbird did not.) It wouldn't hurt to have an experienced computer user nearby who's willing to help if things go wrong.

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Rob Pegoraro: I've stuck around a lot longer than I said I would, but now I need to log off... I think my producer would like to have lunch, and there may be a donut or two left in the break room. Thanks for all the questions! I'll see you here again in a couple of weeks.

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

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