Personal Tech: Gadget News and Reviews
Friday, January 22, 2010; 12:00 PM
The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, Jan. 22 at Noon ET to discuss his recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.
Read this Sunday's Fast Forward column early: In China, Google flexes some foreign policy muscle.
Rob's latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.
Rob Pegoraro: Sorry I'm late, folks--was in an interesting (no, really!) meeting with some executives from Sony, who are in town to talk to people about the FCC about why they want to see clear net-neutrality regulations established to protect their hardware business. Why? Because if their customers have a lousy Internet experience on an online-linked TV, Blu-ray player or PS3 due to an Internet provider's interference with a site or service, their customers will call Sony for help first.
I think that makes sense, but I haven't see too many other giant electronics companies make the argument so directly. So I lingered a few more minutes to hear those folks out.
So anyway, that's where I've been.
Falls Church, Va.: My wife's birthday is coming up and I'm considering getting her either an upgraded phone that includes mp3 playing capability or an iPod. We are on Verizon, so iPhone is not an option (nor am I interested in an expensive data plan, we hardly use our phones). My thought is that it makes more sense to get an application specific tool like the iPod rather than a kludged together phone plus music player. Is this the right way to look at it?
Rob Pegoraro: It depends on how attached you are to iTunes--the iTunes-to-iPod sync experience should be painless, but achieving the same thing with a Droid or other MP3-capable smartphone requires tinkering with add-on software (or, if you use Windows, letting Windows Media Player sync your MP3s to the phone).
Silver Spring, Md.: I have an old TV (1984 Mitshubishi), am on my second converter box, and use RCA ANT 1500 flat antenna. I live on the Baltimore side of a high rise condo. When TV went all digital I could no longer get channels 7 or 9 from DC.
Then last week channel 7 and 9 just appeared. I was shocked for the channel scan never recognized 7 at all and 9 was too bad to use.
My question: Did something change? Go back to UHF? I used to get 7 and 9 just fine then.
Thanks, Rob, for your column and your good advice. That's how I got the antenna.
Rob Pegoraro: You'll see something about this in Help File soon--WJLA increased its broadcast signal's power a few months ago, and WUSA just did the same.
Honolulu, Hawaii: Happy new year Rob,
To soon, spring has sprung and the tax man cometh.
How safe and secure are online tax preparation programs Turbo Tax, TaxAct, etc.
For the past year, I've always used computer-based tax programs versus online services.
Would you use online programs to do your taxes? Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, and have done so for several years now. The Web-based tax-prep apps have a solid security of security, which is something I can't say for the average home computer. I also prefer not to clutter my computer with successive, yearly versions of a tax-prep app. And so the market has been shifting pretty rapidly to Web-based tax-prep software--the term Intuit's PR folks had for the disk-based business was "flatlining."
DC: I'm thinking about signing up for Cricket broadband. How has that been working in Washington? Any problems? Also (and you've written about this before, but I still don't have a handle on it), they apparently have a usage limit of 5GB per month. They say they don't cut you off, but service might get slow. So how much is 5GB? How many web pages? How many emails? How many minutes of streaming video? If I spend several hours a day using the internet in multiple (but quite ordinary) ways, how fast do I hit 5GB? Also, any news abut XOHM in DC? The whole operation seems to have disappeared.
Rob Pegoraro: Here's the review I wrote of Cricket and Virgin Mobile's prepaid data services last year:
At the time, I noted that Cricket's coverage was limited but growing, and that their presentation of it was somewhat weird. But as long as you understand what you're spending and how you'll need to opt out of its automatic billing if you decide you don't like the service, it can work for you.
5 GB of data is an immense number of e-mails, a lot of Web pages and not much streaming video (one HD movie will exhaust the bulk of that quota).
Washington, D.C.: Rob, I enjoy your column and follow you on Twitter.
What is the latest on the Windows 7 32-bit versus 64-bit issue? When it came out, it seemed the issue was not a lot of hardware drivers supported 64-bit. I wonder if that has settled down, or if it does not make much difference for routine computer activities. I am looking for a new Thinkpad, which offers both, and that issue has me stumped.
Rob Pegoraro: I hate the way Microsoft and the PC vendors have managed this entire issue. 64-bit is good in the abstract, but in reality getting an x64 version of Windows often means compatibility problems with older software and hardware. So my standing advice on this is as follows: If you know that all your software and hardware will work fine in Win 7 x64, go ahead and upgrade. If you don't know or don't know how to tell, stick with 32-bit.
Unfortunately, a lot of new computers only ship with 64-bit Windows, so the choice may be made for you.
Tina in Falls Church, MS essentials: I run a Dell desktop, Vista SP1. My Trend antivirus/spyware is going to expire next week. It has never been very friendly. I would like to know how folks have fared using MS Essentials. I have reviewed the installation instr...I have Defender off while using Trend, does MSE require Defender as part of the protction? Do I really need to uninstall my Trend to try MSE or can I disable it while I give MSE a spin then uninstall Trend if I decide to keep MSE? I appreciate any opinions/experience offered.
Rob Pegoraro: I like MSE a whole lot, and I think you will. You should uninstall Trend Micro first--running two AV apps at once is, at best, a recipe for annoyance and, at worst, one for a crippled computer.
Fios confused, Md.: Rob, My wife and I are not tech saavy at all. Having said that, we are thinking of getting FIOS internet but not TV. Since our desktop is upstairs the installer said he has to bring a co-axial wire around the front of the house and drill hole into the room so that the router is wired into the desktop. is that necessary? Our house is small, so does the router need to be next to/wired to the desktop - Can't the router sit downstairs and work wireslessly? Or does that slow down the internet speed/performance? The installer insisted on getting a wire upstairs, but that's a pain and would look nasty. Any suggestions? thank you Rob.
Rob Pegoraro: No, you don't need to have the Fios wireless router wired to a computer with an Ethernet cable. That's whole point of the router being, you know, wireless. You could just have them stick the router anywhere you've got a coax cable outlet already installed. (You can also have the Fios installer run an Ethernet cable from the Fios ONT--optical network terminal--to the router, which will preserve the option of using your own router instead of the one Verizon supplies: http:/
Germantown, Md. 20876: Morning Rob,
Since the new "improved" HDTV has gone into effect, only receive 3 MPT channels out of Baltimore. Do not want cable TV. Any suggestions on how to get more channels. Have a HDTV with Terk Indoor Amplified Attenna. Thanks, Joan
Rob Pegoraro: I get MPT just fine with a set of rabbit ears on the other side of the Potomac--the amplified antenna might be working against your MPT reception (although I can see how it would help with D.C. stations).
Washington, DC: Thank you for your advice about the Mac Mini and Elgato EyeTV Hybrid! I watch over-the-air (aka free) high-definition tv, with a pair of rabbit ears. When my DVD player went kaput, I replaced it with a refurbished Mac Mini home theater PC (HTPC) and the EyeTV Hybrid. Wow!!! Now I'm recording high-def tv, and--thanks to Boxee, Hulu, and Netflix--I have access to all the content I could ever want, on my schedule, without having to pay Comcast's ridiculous fees. (Did I mention that when close examination of my Comcast bill revealed that they had been overcharging me, and I called them on it, they said that their "policy" only "allowed" them to refund me $50 of what they'd stolen from me?) Good riddance to Comcast! Thanks Rob!
Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome! I'd meant to write that review months before but instead wound up staying up late to write it at the very end of last year, so I'm glad to see you found it useful.
Washington D.C.: Hi Rob
I recently replaced my netgear router with a trendnet router. I connect to the internet with this for my laptop, xbox, ps3, and wii as well as my iphone. At first, all the connections were working. Now, the laptop cant connect to the internet but all the other devices have no problem. I've done a network repair, and even a virus scan on the laptop and even though the computer says it is connected, nothing comes up, pages don't load on firefox, google chat, and even itunes can't connect to the internet. The firewall did say onetime that a program that didn't look familiar was trying to access the internet and i blocked the access. It was called MDcrash.exe or something like that. And that was the first time I ever saw that window pop up. After that, the connection problem started. Do you have any advice for me?
Rob Pegoraro: First, try shutting off any third-party firewall software and using the one built into Windows instead. In my experience, the odds of a third-party firewall screwing up your connection in some weird way are about a million times higher than the odds of it stopping an outside threat that the Windows firewall would let slip by.
You might also have some screwy third-party WiFi-management app on the laptop, and if you should try disabling that too.
Silver Spring, Md.: My home computer is plenty secure, and I want to use offline tax software.
Is the "flatlining" why there seem to be essentially no discounts on Turbotax this year?
Rob Pegoraro: That seems plausible to me.
Annandale, Va.: I have a 90 year old grandmother who is moving into a one bedroom assisted living situation. She is an avid sports fan who loves watching football and baseball. When discussing a TV for her new space, she said 'Take my checkbook and make sure you get me a good one!' Can you recommend a good flat panel HD TV for her situation? Nothing MTV-tricked out, but something large enough for her to enjoy, but one that will fit in a one bedroom (on a wall is fine). Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: Assuming her room can't accommodate a particularly large screen--say, 32 inches--you're going to find yourself looking at a large collection of seemingly identical LCDs. Focus on two features: a screen with a non-glossy, matte finish (so it won't pick up glare from the windows) and a USB port or memory-card slot in case you want to stop by and show her digital photos.
to Falls Church: I'm a wife who would love to receive an iPod Touch. Think about the way you can use it to check email when traveling, you can have movies, songs, calendar, photos, etc. on it. The only thing missing is a camera, and I think that is going to be added SOON. I have a feeling.
Rob Pegoraro: Me too. If the iPod nano can feature a video camera, why can't the iPod touch? Plus, a lot of the Apple news/rumor sites have reported that the current iPod touch design already leaves room inside for a camera.
Arlington, Va.: This might not be a sexy, new electronic toy question, but I'd be grateful if you can help. I use an IBM laptop from work. When I'm at home I connect via the wireless setup in my laptop. I lose connectivity several times a day, even though IBM Access Connections (the networking software that's used for IBM PCs), tells me I have a strong connection. My wife has an Mac and never has this problem. Any clue as to why this is happening?
Rob Pegoraro: See my prior suggestion about getting rid of third-party WiFi apps. (I know IBM Access Connections, and it's nothing special at all.) But it's also possible that your laptop's WiFi receiver just isn't as good as the one on the Mac.
KGDave: Re: TV antennas, There are a couple of forums where easy-to-make antennas are discussed. I'm hesitant to include the links here, but maybe would be appropriate for the Help File. Perhaps the easiest is a bow-tie array that could be made from coat hangars. There's a famous YouTube video for one, but the size is actually a little too small for best results.
Rob Pegoraro: Is that the one on Make.com? I found that interesting too...and I might try it, right after I take care of all the other household chores pending.
State of Dyspepsia: Re: Using Fios router wirelessly only:
They 'ask' you to connect directly to the router for Admin purposes, and you also will want a direct connection should things go haywire. Otherwise, you should be fine.
My Fios installer did a very neat job running new co-ax to my desktop. YMMV.
Rob Pegoraro: Oh, they can ask all they want! Doesn't mean you have to grant permission.
Clifton, VA: Turbotax is offering discounts for using their program online through my credit union. I am thinking that many other banks, CUs and other financial insitutions are offering similar deals with Turbotax.
My Cu has been offering this discount for over 10 years.
BTW the IRS does not start accepting online Fed returns until 1/15 and the VA just accepted my return yesterday.
Rob Pegoraro: And yet the Post's spam filter has already caught a round of "your tax return is ready!" garbage.
Video viewer: Is there an easy way to record streaming video directly to DVDs, or to the computer hard drive to be transferred to DVDs? I use an Imac if that makes a difference.
Rob Pegoraro: No. You can save the streaming video to a file and then burn that to DVD, but I don't know of any easy way to do the recording in real time.
KGDave: Last year, we got a promotional version of TurboTax in the mail. It was fully functional without payment so long as I didn't want to print anything. As I've used a spreadsheet for years to come up with the numbers to fill in our 1040, I used this freebie to check my work with great success. This year - no disk in the mail.
Rob Pegoraro: You can use the Web version or a downloaded copy of the disk-based app in the same way. To quote Intuit's site about the latter: "Try for free, pay when you file"
Arlington VA: Re: dumping FIOS router & going AirPort:
I assume that if I do this & shut off the FIOS router signal, I then configure a new wireless network on the AirPort and sync to it on the wireless laptop(s) in the house?
Potentially dumb Q but often I find those are the ones that trip you up, LOL.... Thanks!
Rob Pegoraro: To do that switch, you'd first need an Ethernet connection from the Fios ONT to the router--the default, remember, is coax, and most routers don't have coax inputs. Then you'd have to configure the AirPort for Fios networking (but the defaults for that should be fine) and, to avoid having to change wireless settings on your computers, duplicate the WiFi settings on the Fios router (network name, encryption, password).
Rob Pegoraro: Oh, and for anybody thinking of this, you should read the in-depth FAQ on Fios router options compiled by the people at DSLReports.com:
Minneapolis, Minn.: Any idea if/when the iphone might come to verizon? I got an ipod touch for Christmas and have no idea how I ever lived without it.
I was considering a blackberry, but can't pull the trigger now that I know what the internet can look like on a phone.
Rob Pegoraro: Argh. I don't mean to vent, but this is getting to be cargo-cult behavior. If you're waiting for a Verizon iPhone, the odds are very high that you will keep waiting for a long time to come. (Not 100 percent; Apple could always surprise everybody by making this announcement its "one more thing" at next week's tablet event.) So why keep making yourself suffer? If you don't want to switch, get a Droid or a Palm Pre or Pixi on Verizon and be done with it.
McLean, VA: I was recently looking at your "Tech Top 10" for the past decade and thought of one big development that wasn't mentioned -- the impact of the humble USB port. Not only did it give us the desperately-needed means by which any peripheral could be connected to an computer, but it begat such game-changers as thumb drives (goodbye, disks of all kind!) and even the iPod.
washingtonpost.com: Best of the Decade: Innovations
Rob Pegoraro: That would have been an excellent fit on a "best technology of the 90s" list--USB ports started showing up on computers in the mid 1990s, though they didn't hit the big time until Apple shipped the iMac with only USB ports for expansion.
Re: DC Router Problems: Rob,
One common cause of this problem is that the router and the network devices get different ideas as to who has what IP address. This can happen when addresses are administered by DHCP and devices are turned on and off.
The best solution is to unplug the power cord for the router and modems (if the modem is a separate box), shut down/unplug if necessary all wireless devices. Then, restart the modem. When it is completely alive, restart the router. When it is alive, bring up all the wireless devices.
Rob Pegoraro: Couldn't you just turn each computer's WiFi off and then on in succession? That would still force each of them to obtain a new IP (Internet Protocol) address from the router but would save the time needed to reboot the router itself.
Washington, D.C.: Since I can't get a good answer from anywhere else, I'll ask you since you seem to know everything! I live in the new neighborhood by the baseball stadium and they officer fios internet and phone, but NOT tv. Our TV has to be through Direct TV. Is there a reason for this? I would love to switch, but without TV it's kind of silly for me.
Rob Pegoraro: I don't know everything, but I do know this. You should have Fios TV service available soon--assuming Verizon hasn't been too delayed in its stated plan to have Fios TV available in parts of the District by the end of last year.
The Best Antenna I Ever Had: Take a piece of cheapish speaker wire, about 10 feet long, and split it with just enough togetherness for the connector to be easily plugged in. You can move the wires around any way you need to, and use stickum or push pins to attach it to the walls as necessary.
Worked great when I was a bachelor, anyway...
Rob Pegoraro: Is that last sentence your way of saying that having long stretches of wire stuck to the wall has a low Spouse Approval Factor?
Alexandria, VA: Another TV question. I'm a recent grad who wants a nice TV for the Super Bowl (just tv/movie watching, no gaming). My room allows for a 42" flat screen, but I want to spend under $1000. Any particular brands/models/specs you suggest while I bargain hunt? Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: You should have no trouble meeting that price limit. Again, if your living room gets a lot of light, don't get an LCD with a glossy screen (or a plasma, as they all have screen-glare issues). And if you get an LCD, make sure it has "120 HZ" scanning, which should smooth out any blurring effects caused by the slower refresh rate of LCDs.
re: Music Player: My wife and I ditched our iPods in favor of our droids. We used Media Monkey to sync the music instead of WMP because the latter didn't transfer playlists.
No pain involved in the device sync - it was no more difficult than an iPod with iTunes.
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks--I'll have to add that app to my list of music-sync apps to check out.
Arlington, VA: Rob, When will AT&T enable tethering on the iPhone? Work is making me switch from an aircard to tethering, but I want to get the iPhone. Thanks
Rob Pegoraro: Oh, I wish I knew. Remember when AT&T said they'd enable tethering--the option to use an iPhone as an external modem for a computer--by the end of last year? Notice how there's no sign of that feature? I'd say AT&T's credibility is not looking too good on this point.
DC: Rob, please help me wrap my brain around this. Since the Nexus One came out, people have been singing the praises up buying unlocked phones, as people do in most non-US places. Apparently, people want to choose the phone and then the network. Ok, I get that.
Here's what I don't get. Most phones in the US are still subsidised. If you have a smart phone, most carriers require the purchase of a data plan. The overall effect is that you may pay $10-20 less per month for the privilege of choosing between either AT&T or T-Mobile or Verizon and Sprint. But you pay $200-300+ more for the phone upfront.
Is the ability to choose between one of two networks while losing a $200-300+ upfront subsidy while paying the same amount overal really worth the joyous fanfare? I don't get it.
Rob Pegoraro: I don't either, and that--combined with the Nexus One's inability to connect at 3G speeds on any U.S.-wide service beyond T-Mobile's scrawny 3G network--explains why I'm not planning to review the Nexus One.
1 Infinite Loop Cupertino, CA 95014: Hi Rob. Always loved your insight and columns over years in WP. Any opinion on New Apple tablet, is it as good as Free Press Claims? Hoping CONNECTIVEITY will greatly increase easy Internet usage for people. Do you want one?
Rob Pegoraro: Wouldn't you know at that address? (Yes, folks, Apple's real street address is "One Infinite Loop"--for you non-nerds, it's a reference to a programming error. It's also a much wittier corporate mailing address than the usual, vaguely Orwellian "One [Insert Company Name Here] Way.")
Alexandria VA: Wondered if anyone else has found that the Closed Captioning is all screwed up now that we have gone all-digital. It sometimes comes in, sometimes comes with text that is completely garbled, and sometimes doesn't come in at all. Sometimes the TV in one room gets it fine, but the TV downstairs on same channel doesn't get a thing. We are getting off-the-air TV with digital boxes, not cable or satellite. Any suggestions?
Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried out closed captioning on my TV lately. What are we seeing out there?
Re: Couldn't you just turn each computer's WiFi off: No. Been there/Done that/gotta T-shirt a coffee mug and a mouse pad...
The problem is that the router's DHCP tables are hosed and two devices are using the same IP. You'd have to figure out which device doesn't agree with the router as to what IP address it should be using and shut it off, but ultimately the fastest thing to do is a "master reset".
Rob Pegoraro: Oh. Well, that is a pain.
tina again: Does Defender run with or is it a part of MSE? Many thanks for the advice, saving money is welcome these days.
Rob Pegoraro: That's another Help File topic I've been meaning to address--no, Defender goes away when you install MSE. (Technically, MSE disables it.) So you do need a different app to monitor startup programs in place of Defender's System Explorer; you can use the built-in MSConfig (though I can't stand that app's Win 95-vintage interface) or the more advanced/more confusing Autoruns.
DC router again: Hey Rob
Thanks for the advice. The router is not the problem. Like I said, the laptop is the only device that is having issues with connecting to the internet. I replaced the router because before, only my laptop would connect and all the other devices couldn't connect. The laptop connected for a day or so, and then nothing. I did the whole modem reset and router reset too. Still have the same problem. I'll try turning off all the 3rd party firewalls and hopefully that will work.
Rob Pegoraro: Things could be worse... my wife's work laptop gave her won't connect to our home WiFi at all. It sees the signal, then refuses to connect. And then there's the Dell that stopped connecting to our home WiFi after I installed Windows 7 - but had no problem getting online wirelessly in Ubuntu Linux 9.10.
Arlington, Va.: Rob,
thinking of a laptop (14") to use as a secondary/portable computer to a desktop (5 yr. old HP PC now, prob. a 1+ yr. old iMac inherited from parents within the year).
Q: Price goal is less than $700 (as far under as I can)... hold out for a newer i3 or i5 (hard to find at that price?), or would something like the Dell Inspiron 14 (320GB HD; 4GB RAM) my wife just got do the trick over the next 3-5 yrs.?
I don't need all the bells & whistles (no gaming or heavy processor use probably) but also don't want to buy too much "yesterday's technology".
Rob Pegoraro: Don't even worry about the processor or getting more than 3 GB of memory; just buy the lightest Windows machine you can find. (Apple's cheapest laptop runs $999)
Re: Verizon iPhone: Rumor has it that Verizon will have a GSM/CDMA iPhone 2H 2010.
I believe Fox News has an article about it.
Rob Pegoraro: Do you know how many times people have forecast a Verizon iPhone since 2007?
Anonymous: Re: FIOS "To do that switch, you'd first need an Ethernet connection from the Fios ONT to the router--the default, remember, is coax, and most routers don't have coax inputs. Then you'd have to configure the AirPort for Fios networking (but the defaults for that should be fine) and, to avoid having to change wireless settings on your computers, duplicate the WiFi settings on the Fios router (network name, encryption, password)."
AHHHHhhh.... so, I can't just run an ethernet cable from my FIOS router (which is on the 2nd floor, connected by coax to the ONT in the basement) to the AirPort sitting right next to the FIOS router?
Must have a Cat5 from the basement ONT to the AirPort?
Oy ....... thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: Check the DSLreports FAQ on that. There are ways to daisy-chain routers together, but the networking setup gets more complicated that way.
DC: Thanks for taking my question about recording streaming DVD. Pretend I'm a four-year-old. How do I download it to a file?
Rob Pegoraro: You need to install a third-party app to record the Flash stream (the current RealPlayer can do that), then use a different app to burn that copy to a DVD (DVD Flick can handle that). But... well, let me put it this way: If you need further instructions from me, the odds are against this working for you. This is *not* the easiest task in computing these days.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Oh boy, now my 80 year old father in law wants to upgrade his old PC desktop. He uses very old versions of Quicken, Microsoft Works database, and a 97 version of Word and Outlook Express. I upgraded his wife's PC laptop to a Toshiba running XP, loading up all her old files and she loves it because she had nothing new to learn.
Now I'm wondering about setting him up with a new desktop. He knows how to run XP, so I do not want to change his ways with an iMac, but I have 3 main questions: 1) is Win7 the best best for him? 2) Will it run older software and hardware easily? 3)Should I just set up a new desktop running XP for him? I really need your guidance! Thanks so much.
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, Windows 7 is the best option. It's a lot more secure than XP, and it's not *that* different. But I'm not sure it's going to run all that old software.
NY, NY: Hi, Rob, Using Outlook Express on a completely up-to-date Vista Home Premium PC (I know, I know) with my Verizon DSL, after a recent restart, their server refuses to recognize the password they supplied when I originally started. Their lady in India says it's not their fault, but for $14.99/month for 10 months (minimum) a tech assistant will fix my computer. I've tried Thunderbird - same problem using both Firefox and IE8. Everything else, including my web-based email accounts work fine. How can I fix this, or, how can I use a web account to replace OE? Thanks, Fred.
Rob Pegoraro: You can use Verizon's Web-mail, but you should be able to get any standard POP mail program to fetch your messages. I've set up enough mail clients to check Verizon accounts to know that... you just need to make sure you've got the correct settings, as outlined here.
And yes, you should kick OE to the curb in favor of Windows Live Mail or Thunderbird.
KGDave: Out here in the hinterlands, I've not had an issue with Closed Captioning on DTV. Much more reliable than analog.
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, KGDave!
Arcadia, Calif.: Is the Viore 37" inch LCD 1080 TV, a good reliable model that will last a while? Don
Rob Pegoraro: Never heard of it and so can't answer that. Sorry...
Potomac, Md.: Hi Rob, thanks for doing the chat and for all the great information you share with us. I am thinking about buying a netbook to take on vacation largely to transfer my photos from CF/SD cards and onto, probably an external, hard drive, but also to check email, go on the internet, etc. Two that I am thinking about are the Acer Aspire One D250-1584 (which you gave a very lukewarm review last month) and the Dell Mini 10 or 10v, which you didn't review. Do you have any additional thoughts on these machines? Any others you would recommend instead? Also, I am concerned about the 1 GB of memory on most machines, which seems to be unexpandable. Are there any affordable netbooks that will accommodate at least 2 GB? Finally, I am a bit leery of Win 7 Starter and I'm not sure I want to shell out more money for the Home Premium edition so I'm thinking about installing the latest version of Ubuntu. Any thoughts on that? Do you know if I can do that and have a dual-boot capability so I can still run Windows if necessary. Thanks for taking such a long message and so many questions!
Rob Pegoraro: You can order the Dell with Ubuntu, and that's what I'd consider doing in this case--it ships with a decent photo manager/editor called F-Spot and should have no problem reading photos off an SD Card.
Connecting Laptop to Router: I recently had a problem when I brought my laptop home from work once and could not get it connect to the Internet. The laptop had never had any connectivity problems before, and all other WiFi-enabled devices in the house (iTouch, printer, wife's computer) had no issues.
I spent half the day trouble-shooting the problem before noticing that at some point I had accidentally moved the "wireless" switch on my laptop to the "off" position.
Flipped the switch, problem solved. Argh.
Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, I hate it when that happens.
Lexington, Ky.: Hi Rob.
I use OpenDNS on three Macs and find that Web pages load faster than when I use the DNS settings from my own Internet Service Provider.
A friend told me that back in December, Google began providing a DNS service so anyone with a Mac, Windows or Linux box could use their servers rather than their ISP's computers.
Some reviews say OpenDNS offers somewhat faster Web page loads. Others claim Google's DNS is a bit faster.
I'm happy with OpenDNS (they offer a number of features not provided by Google), but is there any reason for me to switch to Google's DNS service?
Thanks for all you do.
Rob Pegoraro: It's cost-free to experiment--you're just changing server addresses in the Network system-preferences pane--so why not try out Google's DNS?
For those wondering what "DNS" is, we're talking about Domain Name Servers--the computers that map addresses like washingtonpost.com to numeric Internet Protocol addresses. OpenDNS is a free, third-party service that adds some useful features; Google, in turn, recently launched its own free Google Public DNS
Virginia Beach, Va.: Hello Rob
A quick new question about buying a new computer.
I looked around and saw an HP laptop I am interested in. However, I noted it is a 64-bit version. If I purchase this, will my current MS Office 2003 run on it?
Rob Pegoraro: Yes. Widely-used, name-brand software shouldn't be an issue in 64-bit Windows (Palm Desktop is probably the one major exception to that rule); it's the obscure apps and hardware drivers you don't realize you use all that often that can cause problems.
Why, or, how can Verizon get away with this?: Beginning Sunday, Verizon will increase the early termination fee to $360 from $179 for customers who signed two-year contracts for new packages offering faster Internet speeds and more high-definition television channels., Washington Post. sounds like a scam to me. I just can't imagine how a company can charge 360 dollars for canceling a contract.
If an American wants to cancel a tv contract, then, chances are good, there is a legitimate reason for doing so.(so many of these people have nothing else in there lives.)
How can Verizon get away with charging such outrageous fees?
Rob Pegoraro: The short answer is, they can get away with it if people keep signing up for Fios Internet/TV bundles.
DC: Can you please tell people to stop referring to the iPod Touch as the iTouch? The latter sounds creepy. Or like a DeVinyls remix. Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: I'll join you in that crusade right after I get people to stop writing "Mac" in all caps.
Fort Washington, Pa.: Hi, Rob. I just got a notice from Intuit that beginning this April, my copy of Quicken 2007 will lose a great deal of its functionality -- for instance, I won't be able to get account information online anymore. I've heard of companies refusing to support features, but never of a paid software losing functionality after a set amount of time. What are my options for programs -- other than basically paying $20 a year to balance my checkbook?
Rob Pegoraro: That's called Intuit's "sunset" policy--they've been doing that for the past several years. Your alternatives... well, you don't have too many. For basic checkbook-balancing, you can keep using Quicken, but you'll lose the ability to download account updates and so will have to type in every transaction yourself. You could switch to another personal-finance app--MoneyDance (moneydance.com) comes to mind--but then you'll have to fiddle with transferring your Quicken data file. Or you could use an online personal-finance solution--maybe your bank has one, or you could use Intuit's free Mint.com.
Minneapolis, Minn.: What do you know of the 3D TV's that you won't need the special glasses for.
Rob Pegoraro: They don't exist, at least in a mass-market sense. The electronics industry adopted a standard for 3D video that requires the special active shutter glasses I wrote about at CES.
Taylor, Texas: Rob: Thanks for your insights and assistance -- what software do you like for establishing partitions and logical drives on a Windows-based machine (laptop in this case)?
The backstory -- after developing a severe case of "Windows Rot" that culminated with glacial and erratic responses, I started to perform a repair installation of the OS (XP SP3), choosing the 2nd option to retain the HDD structure, but it consistently hung with 2 minutes remaining in the process.
Eventually, I gave up on that approach and archived everything on the HDD since my last full backup, then wiped the drive clean, reformatted it and began reinstalling the OS and applications I really want and need from scratch.
So far, it's been tedious but relatively smooth and the OS is much more responsive. I'm now to the point of partitioning to establish the extended/logical drive structure as it was before so I can load in the archival stuff, but I've discovered that PartitionMagic v8 (which I used originally from PowerQuest but was later sold to Symantec) has been discontinued though I can still install and use the version I have on CD.
If there's a better partitioning software package you'd recommend, should I ditch PM entirely or go ahead with what I've got?
Rob Pegoraro: None. I find partitioning a Windows drive to be a waste of time--too many apps get confused that way, either at the install phase or once they're set up.
Bowie, Md.: Rob, what's the best way to transfer videos from VHS tapes to a Mac? I've seen several relatively inexpensive devices at places like Brookstone, but they all say Windows-only (and I don't have Windows on my Mac).
Rob Pegoraro: You don't need any special software--iMovie will do--but you do need an adapter to connect your VCR's output to your Mac's USB or FireWire inputs. Elgato, the company behind the eyeTV tuner I wrote about, also makes a video-capture adapter along those lines, though I haven't tried that out yet.
Dallas, Texas: My beloved 2007 Intel Core 2 duo Macbook has had excessive fan problems on and off. Apple fixed it free about a year ago, but now it's happening again, mostly when I'm watching video. Usually 1-3 minutes into the video the fan starts heating up, often reaching 6500 RPM (according to iStat). And it's noisy. I know how to quit to cool it down, but I'd like to finish some of those videos. Apple won't fix it free this time. Any suggestions? Thanks--Thalia in Dallas
Rob Pegoraro: If it's within a year of the repair, you should be covered under the warranty on the repair, right? But you should also try checking for any firmware updates for the MacBook (some, I think, have mentioned fan behavior). Wouldn't hurt to reset the power manager either.
Fairfax City, Va.: This is going to be wide open - cost aside, what is your ultimate gadget you would want to have and why? Would you still want that gadget if you already have other gadgets that do what this new one will/can?
Rob Pegoraro: OK, this will be my last question for today. My answer will stretch the definition of "gadget," but since you left this "wide open" I'll say the gadget I most want is the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, because a ride into space--even sub-orbital--would be much neater than any of the hardware or software I write about. (So if anybody in VG PR reads this, you know how to reach me :)
Rob Pegoraro: That'll do it for today, folks! Sorry about the late start; thanks for all the questions. FYI, next week I plan on doing an extra chat Wednesday afternoon from San Francisco, where I'll be to cover the launch of the Apple tablet... or whatever it is.
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.