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Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro
Tech Support Friday

Friday, April 21, 2000, at 1 p.m. EST

Is your computer making your life difficult? Again? Do you not feel like waiting on hold to talk to the manufacturer's tech support? Take your question to the Fast Forward staff instead! It's a repeat engagement of "Tech Support Friday," in which Rob Pegoraro takes your queries, scrambles madly to get answers to them from the collective Fast Forward brain trust and replies within mere minutes. Bring your questions to Friday's discussion.

You can continue the discussion among yourselves on the new Fast Forward message board.

Rob Pegoraro: Hello on a moderately crummy afternoon, weather-wise, and welcome back to our regular exercise in attempted technical support. So bring on your questions, whatever area of computing or consumer electronics they might pertain to, and I'll try to have... something useful or intelligent to reply with.

Let's roll...

Arlington, VA: I use IE 5.0 (on Win 98) for web browsing and have to fill out a lot of web forms, which means I spend a lot of time typing text into my browser. The problem comes when I make a typo and need to backspace to correct it. Usually, this works fine, but about one time in six, IE decides to interpret the backspace key as a keyboard shortcut for the back button, taking me off the page (and, thanks to IE's security feature, wiping anything I'd entered into a password field). It's maddening that it does this at all and even more maddening that it does it seemingly at random. How do I make it stop? Netscape, unfortunately, is not an option because our company's website has javascript that frequently causes it to crash.

Rob Pegoraro: Arrrgghhh!!! I hate, hate, hate this behavior! This happens all the time; IE is just not being smart about sensing when you're in a form and when you're outside of it. I don't know of any fix for it, aside from making sure that you do *something* in the forms box before hitting backspace--selecting some text, using the left or right cursor arrows, typing, whatever. (Actually, it's probably fixable in the Registry, but I have no idea where I'd start.)

I promise you that when I talk to the IE product manager at MSFT, I'll personally curse him/her out for you, OK?

Also, speaking of annoying browser behavior: I got an e-mail after my last discussion offering a way to quash the stupid ads Netscape throws up. I haven't tried this and can't vouch for it, but am offering it for y'all's consideration anyway:

1. Close ALL instances of Netscape Navigator (this is very important)
2. With Windows Explorer, find the 'prefs.js' file which is under you 'user' directory in the netscape directory. (Or Start|Find|Find Files or Folders)

3. Using a text editor (like notepad) add the following line (anywhere, NS will rearrange it alphabetically for you anyway..)

user_pref("mailnews.start_page.enabled", false);

4. restart NS

Arlington, VA: Rob - How exactly do you pop off keyboard keys for cleaning? Is there a tool to pry them out? I'm always afraid I'm going to break my keyboard, so I stop pulling long before the key pops out. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Funny: On this PC keyboard I'm using, the Ctrl, Alt and Del keys seem to have been jabbed so often that they flip off with just a slight tug. I'm not making this up!

But for other keys, you'd probably need to use a pair of tweezers to flip the key off its post. That's a lot of trouble to go to, IMHO; I usually just don't bother cleaning it, except for maybe once a year when I'll take a paper towel to the flat parts of the keyboard to clean up the dust. (And at work, where I'll try to shake the accumulated desk-dining crumbs out of the keyboard every few months.)

herndon va: I have a pentium 120 mhz with 48 Mb RAM. My dilemma is: do I add memory or buy a new pentium iii with extra memory and all the additional features. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Memory's going to be cheaper; putting in another 32 megs should give you a really noticeable bump up in speed for, hopefully, less than $60. I'd do that first and see how things work, unless you spend a lot of time playing games or other processor-intensive apps.

Kansas City, Missouri: A friend of mine is putting together the newsletter for her charitable organization and asked me whether she should learn to use PageMaker or Quark on her Mac. I didn't have the slightest idea, but my impression is that Quark is probably the more advanced program and more demanding on system resources. Got any advice to offer? Should she look at a third option?

Rob Pegoraro: Ah, PageMaker vs. Quark. This is a *really* long-running debate in desktop-publishing circles. Permit me to digress:

Adobe PageMaker is the oldest such program in the business; it helped make the Mac the graphics platform it is today. Quark is newer, but tends to be used a little bit more often in high-end, heavy-use situations.

In a nutshell: Quark has traditionally offered more power, but at the cost of greater complexity and fewer updates (Quark stayed at version 3.3.x for, like, three years). Quark also suffers from tech-support and customer-service policies that I can only describe as fascist. It's also a rather expensive product.

To compete with Quark on the high end, Adobe came out with a program called InDesign, but the first version of that apparently had a lot of bugs, not all of which have been fixed yet.

My $.02 worth: If your friend is new to all this, I'd have her try something simpler, like ClarisWorks or AppleWorks. Newsletter layouts generally aren't that complex; why buy and learn a $600 tool when a $90 tool will work?

(BTW, apologies for the momentary downtime...)

Tina in Falls Church: E-mail ques: I run Netscape Comm. 4.5 on Win95.I have read that I can set the e mail program to check my ISP for new mail at various time increments( like ea. 15 min)in order to circumvent disconnection for inactivity. True? How do I do it? It now checks at start up and when new mail arrives I get an icon& sound. Is there a downside to frequent automatic checks? Will this interfere w/ web browsing? Thanks alot- don't eat too many chocolate bunnies on Sun!

Rob Pegoraro: Hello again, Tina... to set Netscape to check mail at regular intervals, you need to go spelunking in its preferences panel. Open Preferences, under the Edit menu, select "Mail & Newsgroups," then click on "Mail Servers" in the list of subtopics. Select your mail server in the window-pane at right, click on "Edit" and you can set how often you want mail checks to happen.

There isn't really any downside to checking often, except possibly distraction. In most cases, this will also keep you logged on, altho you might want to bump up the connection frequency to every 10 minutes.

For the record, one chocolate bunny is usually enough, but it depends on kind of chocolate, size of the bunny and how thick its, uh, chocolate exoskeleton is.

Springfield, VA: Hi,
I just got my DSL from Bell Atlantic last night, and I have 2 questions I'm not sure were answered or not already. First, they gave me a option of choosing my Global Service Provider, does this make a difference whether I pick GTE or Qwest? And how much does it affect me due to my choice?

Also, after we did connected, we could get REALLY fast connections on certain websites, but other(most) websites would just hang and not even reply. I would usually get timeouts. I couldn't even send out a file to my sis down in Williamsburg through AOL IM because the connection just died! Also the same results came with IRC, if I logged onto certain EFnet servers, the connection would die after I logged on while I could log on to some other servers that would give me the ability to stay online. We called the Bell Atlantic tech line, but they didn't seem to offer too much help.

Rob Pegoraro: Hiya Springfield... the Global Service Provider, or GSP, option, is essentially a figment of the regulatory imagination. To oversimplify: Because BA is a regional phone company, it's not supposed to do biz outside its area of operations--hence the need to have another carrier for at-large Internet traffic, which is broken out as a line item on your bill. But, IIRC, both GSP choices cost the same and basically deliver the same quality of service, so you might as well flip a coin or see which name you like better.

To answer question 2: Sounds like general network weirdness, but if the pattern persists--especially with Web sites or IRC servers that you can access elsewhere--it's probably local to BA's network. Good luck!

Rockville, MD: I heard it was possible if you have two modems, internal or external along with two seperate phone lines, Windows 98 & NT 4.0 can connect to an ISP and get double the bandwidth, respectibly. Is this true and would it be a good, cheap alternative to say 128k ISDN or lower speeds of DSL?


Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, Rockville... yes, this approach is called, in the trade, "multilink PPP (point-to-point protocol)," or, in the vernacular, "shotgun." A decent amount of ISPs support it.

I don't think it's a good idea unless your only other broadband option is I$DN. It's a horrible kludge and not all that cheap--you need to get two phone lines open to do this, your ISP may charge extra and you're still only going to get maybe 100 kbps, which is slower than all but the very pokiest forms of IDSL. Plus there's none of the always-on benefits of broadband, which I often find to be more of a help than any fast downloads.

washington, dc: i have a toshiba satellite pro 420 cdt. since installing win98 second edition, if i don't use the computer for a while the screen automatically shuts off (normal) but when i tap the spacebar the screen comes back on but so dark that you barely see anything. when this happens i am forced to reboot. i've gone in to power management in control panel and set it up so the screen is never supposed to shut off but this didn't fix it. my question is, how do i get into my bios setup? i'm assuming it's F1 or something similar while windows is loading but nothing i've tried gets me in. thanks for your help

Rob Pegoraro: D.C.: Ugh. Toshiba's Web site doesn't seem to list any BIOS updates to fix this problem, even though it sounds like something that they ought to fix. What's their tech support say about it?

I wouldn't try mucking around in the BIOS setup without doing that first. It's not a particularly user-friendly place, and what you change there could have all sorts of side effects elsewhere in Windows.

Ames, Iowa: My Gateway desktop computer, nearly 2 years old, developed a faint but definite high- pitched whine. Since I have a 3-year in home service contract, the folks at Gateway thought the problem might be a faulty C drive and replaced it. Now the high-pitched whine is worse! What happens now?

Rob Pegoraro: First of all: Glad you got a new hard drive out of it. They did the right thing there.

Second of all: If it's not the hard drive, it's either the power-supply transformer or one of the fans. If you don't mind opening your PC's case, try running it "naked," without the case cover, and listening to see where the noise is coming from. Either type of part isn't that hard to replace, notwithstanding all the scary warnings around the power supply, and the Gateway service people ought to be able to fix that pretty quickly.

San Francisco CA: Due to software from a small company, whenever I boot my computer, America Online automatically launches. This takes 100 percent of my system's resources. How can I stop AOL from starting whenever I start my computer?

Rob Pegoraro: I wonder which company's software this is; I haven't heard of this kind of thing happening as a result of software outside of AOL's own programs.

Anyway: Use Windows' "Find" command to look for a folder named "Startup" (you didn't say if you were using Win 95, 98, NT or 2000, so I'm giving advice that ought to work w/ all of them). In that folder... it's usually inside the Windows directory's Profiles folder, come to think of it, look for a shortcut to AOL. Delete that.

Hope this helps...

Bethesda, MD: Hello, I have a IBM ThinkPad 390E laptop on which I have the main C: hard drive and the D: drive. C: gets constantly out of space, while I have plenty of space on the D:. Is it safe to copy most folders into D: then delete from C:, what type(s) of programs needs to remain on C:? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: This is why I don't like partioning drives under Windows. Bethesda, you're kinda out of luck. Under Windows, you *can't* just copy program folders from one drive to another. The system doesn't track file locations dynamically, so that moving an executable file will, nine times out of 10, cause it to stop working.

So what you'd really have to do is uninstall programs, then reinstall them on D:--unless they're the picky kind of application that, due to sloppy programming, refuses to live anywhere but on C:.

Another choice would be to use a utility like PartitionMagic (see http://www.powerquest.com), which is designed to let you change partitions without losing data. But be careful about going this route, and back up your data first--there is always a risk of data loss when using drive utilities that, essentially, go behind the operating system's back to work their voodoo.

Washington, DC: HTML woes, here! Having troubles linking to another document using Netscape (Explorer works just fine). Text looks okay:

a href="Phil.html/#Phil"

on the other document:
a name="Phil"

however..........I always end up at the Top of the other page and not at the anchor.
I'm totally confused. Again...works great in Exlorer> Thanks! this is driving me CRAZY!!

Rob Pegoraro: I'm probably going to get into trouble with this one--my HTML is pathetically rusty. Looking at the World Wide Web consortium's site (http://www.w3.org -- they're the best source when in doubt on the finer points of Web grammar), you're missing a couple of identifiers and putting in an extra slash where you don't need it.

I.e., make the first tag read:

a href="Phil.html#Phil"> Phil

And make the second tag read:

a name="Phil">Phil

Internet Explorer may be cutting you a break by "forgiving" the HTML, while Netscape is being a little more fastidious. When in doubt, debug on the fussier browser.

(People who actually know this stuff: Did I miss something completely obvious in this reply? :)

Annandale, VA: Are you aware of a software product that will allow my HP Omnibook 4150 to log on to different LANs without the hassle of reconfiguring my settings manually.

Rob Pegoraro: No! But I don't usually deal with this... I turn this over to the collective wisdom of today's audience. Any suggestions?

Rockville, MD: Occassionally when I close an internet explorer window, it gives me an error saying the program performed an illegal operation or page fault (not really sure of the specifics). Subsequently, any other explorer windows I have open will close as well. This is extremely frustrating. The same thing happens sometimes when I'm looking at a folder and then close it. It says Explorer did the same thing, and then I lose all the icons in my system tray. Is this just typical Microsoft bad programming, or can I fix it? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, and no. IE crashes quite often on my NT machine at work, for no particular reason. (For instance, it crashed an hour ago as I was trying to play back the RealAudio clip on our site of Steve Ballmer dissing Linux... must be a conspiracy!)

All of the other IE windows close as well because it's still one program running, even though it shows up as multiple items on the taskbar. You can solve the desktop-view problems by disabling the "view as Web page" option in your desktop, but for IE's other faults the only cure is (maybe) the next update, IE 5.5, which is due in late May or early June.

Tina in Falls Church: Thanks for the info on the Netscape ad.Another ques.: Is there a trick to getting the " automatically update page" feature on the bottom of this page to work? I have cramps in my hand each time from hitting the " get new response" line then scrolling down. Maybe I should get one of those fancy mice reviewed today. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Um, that doesn't seem to be working on my copy either (version 4.61). Vic? Vic?!

It does work in IE, but that doesn't really help you if you'd rather use Netscape, does it? It might be fixed in more recent versions--the latest finished release is 4.72. I'd give it a shot.

Greenbelt, MD: Rob, I'm running Windows 98 on a HP 8290 400MHZ computer; when I shutdown my computer, it either gives me a windows protection error at which point it will reboot if I do nothing or it will cut off if I hit the space bar, or it gets to the HP screen and freezes. It does not matter if I check "shutdown" or "restart". I tried: turning off fast shutdown (msconfig), no avail; going to msconfig and stopping all of those pesky programs that like to boot at start-up, no relief there either; I even went out and bought Norton System Works to see if it could diagnose the prob, no help at all. I eventually reformated my hardrive (used HP's 8100 CD-RW drive and recovery program). After using the recovery disk that came w/my computer (my computer shipped w/ Win 95), I then loaded the Win 98 upgrade that HP sent me when Win 98 hit the street. This put my system back to the state it was when I purchased it in 1998 to include all of the programs it shipped with.
Well, everything worked out fine as far as shutdown; but once I finished recovering MY data from the HP 8100's backup disk I made prior to reformatting, the shutdown problem came back. I am assuming the problem is software, how do I locate which program is giving me the trouble at shutdown? Expanding on what I stated earlier, when I killed the programs that automatically boot at start up (using msconfig tool) the only file I didn't touch was systray. After calling HP's tech support, I was told that I would need to take out all of the hardware I upgraded (an internal 8100 RW CD burner, a 64MB RAM module, EPSON 800 printer, and a UMAX 2100U USB scanner) and then reformat using HP's recovery disk (win 95 and 98) then re-install the CD burner and software to complete recovery of my files and programs. I'm reluctant to do that, is there another way? Wow, my fingers hurt!

Rob Pegoraro: ... and my eyeballs hurt from reading your tale of misery.

My off-the-cuff reaction is that H-P's tech support is making stuff up. I have a very hard time imagining that an extra memory module would have *any* affect at all on your shutdown. I mean, c'mon, where'd they get that idea from?

What I would look at are the usual suspects: drivers for those devices. Do you have the latest drivers for the printer, scanner and CD-burner? All of those things will have software that must stay active while the computer's on, and therefore could lock it up when you try to shut down.

Another possibility--to go back to our first question of the day--is that your PC needs a BIOS update. You said that it shipped w/ Win 95, which makes me suspect that its BIOS might have been subsequently updated to work better w/ 98.

Good luck...

Washington, DC: I've got a quirk in IE5 that is annoying me - any page I'm on that contains graphics running across the page horizontally get picked up and displayed in my menu bar across the top. Right now I've got washingtonpost.com and "your count clicks" flashing alternatingly in my menu bar. It disappears when I minimize, but reappears if I scroll back down the page - any web page. Any ideas on what on earth might be causing this?

Rob Pegoraro: Major weirdness... the only time I've seen something like that goes back a few years. The first Mac browsers to support Java would sometimes cause Web-page images to "leak" out above the browser frame. Try trashing the cache (Tools menu, Options, "Temporary Internet Files"). Reinstalling the browser might also help, at the cost of a majorly long download.

(Um, wait - is this IE 5 for PC or Mac?)

Rantoul, Ill.: I have windows 98, can I setup a hotkey so I can print my screen when I want?

Rob Pegoraro: It takes a couple of keystrokes unless you use some macro program to automate things. Hit the Print Screen key (see, it actually does something!), then open up any program that deals in graphics--even Word should work, but Paintbrush is fine--then print from there.

Wash, DC: Rob, the netscape trick (to supress the ad) works like a champ. Doug

Rob Pegoraro: Great! Glad that worked out. I hope somebody at AOL/Netscape is listening here...

Wash DC: Me with the image runover -

It's IE5 for PC, running on WinNT.

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly what I'm running here as I type. I'm stumped. I'll try to look into this between now and our next get-together, but... ick. There's so many different things that could go wrong, I honestly don't know where I'd start after trashing cache.

oxon hill, MD: My cd-rw doesn't read any cd's. I've but blank cd's, audio cd's and software cd's too but it says it can't access the drive. In the device manager it shows it installed and working fine. Is there special drivers for it to work?

Rob Pegoraro: Which driver does Device Manager show running the drive? CD burners' driver software sometimes only supports read/write activity--that is, it only "sees" CDs from within its own software, but none of them will show up on the desktop. The expectation here is that you'd use your regular CD-ROM drive to play back discs.

Just a hypothesis, but the explanation could be that it's not a bug, it's a feature (ducking...)

Calif.: I have an old 486 from '95. Is it worth salvaging with memory upgrades or should i just dump it and by a whole new computer? Cheaper?

Rob Pegoraro: Dump it, Cali. Too many old parts, too many of which can't be revved up that much. Time is money, and you'll probably save both anyway with a new purchase.

Rob Pegoraro: And that's all we have for today, folks. Time for me to log off and head home for Easter (possibly to eat some chocolate bunnies, circumstances permitting). Enjoy the weekend, and I'll see you all again soon; in the meantime, you know where to reach me--e-mail to rob@twp.com or on our message board.

Take care,


Wash DC: Leaky images person again -

Even weirder - I had the same setup before on a different computer. Got a new processor et al, reinstalled exact same programs, now I have the leakage!

Cache trash didn't work. Sniff. I guess I might have to reinstall the proggie, what a pain.

THanks for the advice tho

Rob Pegoraro: OK, OK... one more answer, just because this person's problem is so weird.

Woodley Park recommends: "For the guy with the image crossover - does he have version IE 5.01 or any of the other updates to IE that MSFT has released? Also, make sure that the antivirus software isn't hosing his system."

Another possibility: Wash DC has been cursed by the computing gods. It's necessary to make amends: Burn a Netscape CD in front of a picture of Bill Gates while chanting "The DoJ is wrong" five times.

In any case: Good luck! And I'll see all y'all again soon.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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