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Rob Pegoraro
Rob Pegoraro
Personal Technology section
Recent columns by Rob Pegoraro
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Fast Forward Live
With Personal Technology columnist Rob Pegoraro
Monday, March 3, 2003; 2 p.m. ET

Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to discuss his recent reviews of photo software, Windows Movie Maker 2, Apple's iLife and Apple Computer's new 12-inch PowerBook G4.

Video From CES: washingtonpost.com videographer John Poole also attended CES with Rob and filed two video reports: "Wooing Women With Gadgets" and "Scene From the Show Floor."

And don't miss Rob's Fast Forward On Demand video, in which he looks at five of the hottest PDAs on the market this year.

Fast Forward E-letter:

Want to know what upcoming topics are being covered? Sign up for Fast Forward e-letter -- get updated information on personal technology news and product demos.

Below is the edited transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Rob Pegoraro: Welcome back... it's been a while since my last appearance here. Since my last chat, I've written about a lot of different multimedia software--Apple's iLife Suite, Microsoft's Windows Movie Maker 2, Adobe's Photoshop Album and Lifescape's Picasa. Plus, I reviewed Apple's 12-in. PowerBook.

That should be plenty of material to cover, so let's get started already...

Los Angeles, Calif.: My 12-year-old son is into making movies with his digital camera. What is the best movie making program that will allow a user to save and burn to a CD that others can see when given the CD (using WMP or Real)? It seems each movie making program saves in a proprietary format forcing all users to have their specific program in order to view the movie.

Rob Pegoraro: What you want is a movie-editing program that will support saving your movie in Video CD (VCD) format. Most should be able to do that--but it may not be clearly labeled, and it may not be the default setting.

You'd think it would be obvious that the point of computer video editing is to produce something that can be viewed *away* from the computer, but a lot of developers do appear to be confused on this issue.

Weehawken, N.J.: Are there any software programs like Picassa that can handle home movies?

Rob Pegoraro: If by, "like Picasa," you mean simple, good-looking and tolerant of slower hardware... I'm not sure such a thing exists. Video editing demands a lot of processing power. It's the one task on a home PC that actually justifies buying a faster-than-average processor.

If you've got Windows ME or XP, Microsoft's Movie Maker should be preinstalled, and on XP you can upgrade to Movie Maker 2 for free. I'd try that first.

Arlington, Va.: Sounds like you don't like Microsoft's Movie Maker at all. Should anyone ever buy it?

Rob Pegoraro: No one should ever buy it--because it's not for sale. It's a free download.

I disliked a lot of the ways Movie Maker 2 works. But I don't hate it outright. It is perfectly usable for home video editing. I just think that Microsoft missed some chances to make the program easier and more capable--the big two being its clumsy cropping mechanism and the severely limited output options.

Washington, D.C.: Any predictions on how big/not big the ability to burn your own DVD will be (among consumers & the PC industry)? I don't see as much excitement in this area as I would've expected... but maybe it's just because of format confusion.

Rob Pegoraro: Format confusion is, by far, the biggest problem. Some companies (Apple, Sony) support DVD-R; others (Dell, Sony) support DVD+R. For home movie making, this isn't as big of an issue, since either record-once format is about as compatible in existing players--the odds of one DVD player accepting DVD-R and not +R (or vice versa) are extremely low.

I think the bigger brake on this activity is just lack of hardware. Few PCs ship with DVD recorders, and even fewer ship with the FireWire ports you need with a digital camcorder.

Silver Spring, Md.: You reviewed the little Apple laptop. Now what about that 17" monster?

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, what about it? It appears to be well on its way to being very late--it was, at one point, supposed to ship February-ish. Now I'm hearing April.

New York: Are there any websites where I can store my photos online so I can free up the space on my hard drive and so I don't have to pay for software?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you can store photos online at most online photofinishers--Ofoto.com, Shutterfly.com, for instance. But they don't provide more than minimal editing tools, and if you don't have broadband, you're going to spend a long time uploading your shots.

More important, do you want to leave your only copy of a photo on somebody else's Web site?

I'd recommend copying your photos onto CD-R instead. If you don't have a CD burner yet, they are now officially dirt cheap--$50 and up for external models.

Chesapeake Beach, Md.: Hi Rob,

I've got a cable modem and it's nice and all that, but what if I want more speed. I mean mega-speed, fiber, T3, etc. Are there any ISPs in the D.C. area who are bringing out hyper-speed net access at somewhat moderate prices?

Rob Pegoraro: No.

Ithaca, N.Y.: I recently switched from Windows to OS X, which I like very much. But I am frustrated by the limited software and hardware support. For example, among "all-in-one" printer/scanner/fax machines, few models have OS X drivers. And, among those models, most have limited functionality, thereby imposing a convenience penalty on OS X users. Sadly, I still keep an old Windows machine on my desk for tasks for which I cannot find OS X support.

What can Apple do to solve these problems and bring more users and third-party vendors to its elegant platform?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, this is a real problem. What a lot of people are doing in this situation is using a pair of add-on programs that take the place of manufacturer-provided drivers. One is called Gimp-Print, which is basically a Mac OS X port of a standard, free set of print drivers that Linux users cooked up when faced with the same situation. It's free and works extremely well once set up--I've been using it for months with no problem. People who borrow my computer can't tell they're not using "official" drivers.

For scanning, I hear the program to get is VueScan. It's not free, but does seem to work well, from what I've read in the way of user reports.

You can look up both of these at www.versiontracker.com/macosx/

Bowie, Md.: Silly question, but why can't Apple make a PC version of it's awesome iLife?

Rob Pegoraro: Because then people wouldn't need to buy a Mac to get this software. That's the same reason why Microsoft doesn't make a Mac version of, say, Windows Movie Maker.

Boston: I've had a digital camera for a couple of years now and have tons of photos all over my computer, and some videos, too, from my girlfriend's digital videocam. What's the best way to organize them all? I'd like something snazzier than just putting them in folders on my desktop.

Rob Pegoraro: For pictures, I'd try something like Photoshop Album. I've also heard recommendations for ACDSee (we reviewed an earlier version a while back).

Photoshop Album and Picasa can also organize video collections for you, but since they're both photo-album apps at heart, they don't really do much for video besides make it slightly easier to organize.

Fairfax, Va., Vonage user: While the review of the Vonage Internet phone service was mostly on the mark, there were a few inaccuracies.

There is no $5 charge to keep your existing telephone number. I had mine switched from Verizon to Vonage last month at no cost and no hassle.

Also, the story mentioned that you can't use your regular phone lines for other phones around the house. While this is true, there are several workarounds. You can use powerline phone lacks like those made by GE and RCA that plug into your electric outlets and let you hook up a phone anywhere in the house.

Also, while we would lose phone service in a power outage, there are two solutions. A computer backup power source for your cable modem and router -- you don't need the computer to be on. Or, Vonage allows you to designate a phone number for calls to be forwarded to -- such as a cell -- if your net connection is down.

We've had the service a little more than a month and have been very pleased. We chose the $25.99 service that includes unlimited local/regional calling and 500 minutes of long distance. So far it's been great. If we needed to, we would upgrade to the unlimited long distance plan for $40.

I've tried the net2phones and other telephony programs for fun. But I would definitely recommend Vonage for a serious phone service. We dropped Verizon and don't miss it.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report from the field. I'll ask my reviewer about the $5/month figure.

Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob --

I've got two computers connected to a DSL modem via a router. Does the router alone provide an adequate firewall, or should I get some software as well?

Rob Pegoraro: If the router does, in fact, include a hardware firewall, yes, you should be OK. I would test your network against a site like Shields Up (www.grc.com) to be sure.

Dallas, Tex.: Rob, I just recently bought the 14-inch Apple iBook, but I've fallen in love with the new 12-inch Powerbook. Money is an issue. Any advice? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Love the laptop you're with?

That's always a tough situation. Worst-case scenario, you can always try to unload the 14-inch iBook on eBay, I guess...

Olney, Md.: Hey, Rob. I recently bought a Dell Inspiron 8250 laptop, and it came with a spare battery. Love those media bays. I can now take two batteries and watch almost any DVD on battery power alone. Thing is, I use the laptop almost exclusively at home. What's the best thing for the lithium-ion batteries -- leave them in and run them down, leave them in and stay on AC, charge them up and remove both, or what? I'm sure lots of laptop owners use it primarily as a desktop replacement and would like to know how to keep their batteries in good shape.


Rob Pegoraro: Lithium-ion batteries don't suffer from the "memory effect" you got with older kinds of batteries, so it shouldn't matter that much if you leave the batteries in or take them out. When in doubt, do whatever the owner's manual says.

Bethesda, Md.: Fun with home audio and video:

I've been thinking about buying/building a dedicated home media computer that would stream audio and video through my 1960-vintage house.

I had been planning to add network and video cabling throughout the house, but it just seems too difficult. I'm now thinking about using 802.11g wireless, which is technically rated at 54Mbps but from which one can reasonably expect to achieve 15-20Mbps. Any idea whether this is enough to achieve high-quality streaming video?

It seems that I could rip all my CDs onto my hard drive and then use SliMP3 to route the MP3 audio throughout the house. This looks cool because the SliMP3 server is open-source software, so techies like myself could perform custom modifications.

I already have an All-In-Wonder 7500 video card ($120), which in principle provides TIVO-like capability using your computer's hard disk, but in practice doesn't work very well if you have multiple computer users on Windows XP.

There's a forthcoming "NetPlay" technology coming to handle the video side of things. I don't know when you can buy it or how much it will cost, or how much computer horsepower and network bandwidth it will require.

Here are some links for all these goodies:
All-in-Wonder 7500
Netplay (PDF)

Your opinions about all of this? Any chance you might review these types of products?

Rob Pegoraro: I have a reviewer who's interested in trying out the SliMP3, and we've reviewed TiVo-esque graphics cards before. But I'm not familiar with NetPlay at all.

To answer your other questions, yes, 802.11g should provide more than enough bandwidth for high-quality video. I say "should" because we haven't had a chance to put some g hardware through our own tests.

Of the tasks you outlined, I think turning the computer into a wireless MP3 jukebox will be, by far, the easiest job. I worry that the streaming-video solution might turn into a techno-quagmire, though--that's a lot of different pieces of hardware and software to integrate.

Arnold, Md.: I went to an Apple Store and took a look at the new G4 PowerBooks. I find it somewhat difficult to use the touchpads. Is it possible to connect a mouse to these PowerBooks?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--plug in any USB mouse and off you go. (Doesn't have to be one of Apple's rodents.)

Fairfax, Va.: Rob, given AOL's big commitment to MusicNet, do you plan any reviews of the online, for-pay music services soon?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not sure. I reviewed the first iteration of MusicNet over a year ago and hated it at the time. It's probably due for a revisit, but the initial price package doesn't excite me much at all.

(I've also reviewed Pressplay and Listen.com's Rhapsody services.)

Baltimore: Regarding the two photo software products you wrote about yesterday, are either of them really necessary? I use Photoshop Elements, which came with my digital camera, so do I really need to buy more software to organize my photos?

Rob Pegoraro: If Elements works for you--no, you don't need extra software. But not all cameras come with that. Some manufacturers ship their own photo-album applications (Kodak provides a program called EasyShare, for example), with varying quality. You might wind up with a camera that only ships with basic drivers. Ultimately, it all depends on what you want to do with your pictures, and if your current software lets you do that.

Centreville, Va.: I've been trying to burn my old home videos onto DVD using Pinnacle Studio 8 software but its not working very consistently. More crashes and freezes than success. Have you reviewed this type of video capture software? I'd like to get feel for what else is out there.

Rob Pegoraro: We just reviewed one version of that Pinnacle software a few weeks ago. Our writer didn't have any such problems--but anything's possible on a modern PC, unfortunately. Anybody with tips on getting Pinnacle video-editing software to work?

Falls Church, Va.: Hi Rob. I covet an external hard drive to store pix, games and stuff. Why are the things soooooooo expensive? Any light on the horizon for falling prices? Thanks, Tina

Rob Pegoraro: External drives always cost more than the internal kind--they need their own case, they often require a separate power supply. Some of them also use miniaturized (and pricier) components to fit into a smaller, more easily transportable case. Lastly, internal hard drives are commodities in a way that external drives can't be--you can actually see who made the thing, unlike internal drives.

Overall, it's some of the same factors that make a laptop more expensive than a PC of comparable power. I don't anticipate this situation changing all that much.

Alexandria, Va.: Hey Rob,

I am trying to find a decent calendar program for home use -- something that is similar to the calendar in Microsoft Outlook, but without e-mail and other functions.

I have tried Calendar Creator and there are a couple of similar packages, but they tend to be cutesy and don't handle multiple events very well. I've resorted to keeping my activities list in Excel, with date and time, so what I'd really like is for something to be able to import that and display/print it in calendar form.

Is there anything out there like that?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know--the one suggestion I would make is Palm Desktop, which you can download for free (after filling out a basic form) at www. palm.com. But that does more than just calendar-keeping.

Another option, which I have yet to try, is an open-source program called Mozilla Calendar (www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/); it requires installing the Mozilla Web browser, and I don't know much else about it.

Any suggestions for Alexandria?

Pasadena, Md.: I've been contemplating on buying a computer to make movies. Money is no problem. Would recommend I buy Apple rather than a PC?

Rob Pegoraro: Looking at the built-in software--iMovie/iDVD vs. Windows Movie Maker 2--it's no contest. Apple gives you all the hardware and software you need, from importing video off the camcorder to burning it onto a blank DVD.

What can complicate matters is the way most PC manufacturers add on various third-party movie-editing and DVD-burning software on machines equipped with FireWire ports and DVD burners. They can fill in the gaps of Movie Maker 2--but you do lose the simple workflow of Apple's multimedia suite.

Alexandria, Va.: For the person who wants an external hard drive...why not upgrade to a larger internal one? You can get a 60 gig or 100 gig hard drive for really cheap nowadays if you look for it.

washingtonpost.com: Rob: Is what this reader writes correct for both Macs and PCs?

Rob Pegoraro: It's correct for almost all PCs, but only "professional" Power Mac desktops, which include extra drive bays on the inside. It's not correct for any laptop, PC or Mac.

Price George's County, Md.: Have you reviewed any of the MP3 players built by iRiver?

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah--we tried out the SlimX CD player, which can play back MP3 data CDs. Our writer thought it a nice little piece of work, as I recall.

Kent, Wash.: I enjoyed reading the article on digital photo albums. What are the options for viewing on a TV or big screen? Are any of them wireless? Thanks, Jeff

Rob Pegoraro: Most programs rely on burning a disc full of your photos--Photoshop Album will burn a Video CD for you, while iPhoto can hand a set of photos over to iDVD for DVD creation.

If you're willing to wait a few months, however, several electronics manufacturers will be offering home-networking add-ons that let you view your photo albums on TV. TiVo, for instance, says it will sell an upgrade to TiVo Series 2 boxes that will let you view your Mac or PC's photo collection--either via Ethernet or an extra-cost WiFi adapter.

Somewhere, USA: I have the most consistently rotten luck with scanners. I've had a couple of what should have been pretty good HP models. I've had other, cheaper models (Umax, Epson). They all died (or are dying). Cause of death varied. Now my Epson won't make decent quality copies of a black and white document. My other computer/electronic equipment lasts forever.

I'm not necessarily looking for specific advice (although any advice would be welcome), but are scanners and their associated software somehow really fragile? Or am I just cursed?

Rob Pegoraro: You might be just cursed. We have a lot of scanners around the News Art department here, and most have been chugging away for years. Mind you, these aren't consumer-grade hardware... but the underlying technology is the same, and there's nothing fundamentally snakebit about it.

New to cyberland: My Dell laptop came with a 3 months Norton Antivirus subscription that's now expired. I've heard there's a way to get a free version of it. How do I get it, and how do I stop the annoying message that pops up to tell me to renew my subscription?


Rob Pegoraro: Abbreviation of the day: TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). Anybody offering you a free copy of Norton Antivirus is trying to con you. Your only option is to pay for that subscription--and that's what I strongly recommend, since I already get plenty of viruses in my e-mail and don't want to get any from you.

Silver Spring, Md.: This is for Tina in, Falls Church, who covets an external hard drive: There are inexpensive ($20-$70) PC hardware add-ons that accept standard hard disk drives, much like floppy drives accept floppy disks. Pop in a new hard drive - without opening your PC, fill it up with whatever, and store it in a fire&water&static-safe place. Such components can be found at www.cyberguys.com and other places.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's an option for cheaper external hard drives, for those wiling to tinker a bit.

Ithaca, N.Y.: Living with a Computer Techie, who hooked up our house so it's all wireless, I've had no problems playing mpg. and .avi files from the server (the server being a PII 400 with a 80 gig hard drive) on my laptop using wireless from 40 feet away and behind 2 walls...no lag time, and it's really easy to use. Problem to consider with 802.11 is that there will be problem spots where you can't get a good connection, but other than that it's great.

Rob Pegoraro: A report from the wireless frontier...

Milwaukee: Two questions:
What is your opinion, is the best overall 5 megapixel digital camera out there right now? I am looking for a fast shutter speed to capture golf swings without the hassle of a digital video camera/software. I am looking at Olympus c5050, Nikon coolpix 5000 or 5700 among others.
Second, what is a best of the image software programs that run around 100 bucks? I guess one that has the most creative features would do.

Rob Pegoraro: You're asking me at exactly the wrong time. A major digital-camera trade show is going on as I type, and everybody's rolling out new hardware this week. We're planning on running this year's edition of our digital-photography guide later this sprint... for now, I suggest scanning the reviews at the photo-enthusiast sites if you need get an early take on these cameras. (I'm a fan of dcresource.com myself.)

Frederick, Md.: Any chance you'd ever review the shopping experience offered by some of the bigger electronics stores out there, like Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack etc.? I'd love to know what an expert thinks of the level of service, inventory selection, etc.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll tell you that right now: My experience is that you're best off doing all your research at home, then going into the store with a one-item shopping list. While you may get a knowledgeable, savvy salesperson, more often you won't, or you won't find somebody available at all. The exception is boutique-y stores--Myer-Emco, Apple Stores, that kind of thing.

Bethesda, Md.: Rob, I was thinking about buying a two-way radio so I could communicate with my wife the next time (hopefully never) the terrorists hit D.C., instead of relying on unreliable cell phones. But then I heard you have to have an FCC license for powerful, long-distance 2-ways. Any advice or input?

Rob Pegoraro: I think you are correct. The two-way radios that sell for $50-$100 a pair are what's called "Family Radio Service" devices, which only work for over two miles at most.

To digress from my usual topics: I think it's a bit of a waste to think that technology is going to help things all that much in these worst-case scenarios. An FCC-approved, two-way radio wouldn't have saved anybody at the Pentagon or the World Trade Center, or at any other attack--either they were gone within an hour, or they survived. If you're worried about reconnecting after this kind of thing, you'd do better to just agree on some place to meet, and counting on your cell phone, e-mail, or landline phone to work eventually.

Falls Church, Va.: Another item on my covet list - a DVD recorder. Yum. I see prices going down in the big bpx ad this weekend. Tina

Rob Pegoraro: They're going to keep dropping all year. Expect to see $500 prices by June. I could easily see myself buying at that level.

Knoxville, Tenn.: Die-hard Macophile since 1984 here. An even sillier question: Why doesn't Apple integrate a Windows emulator (a la VirtualPC) into OS X? The only hope Apple has of expanding its market share into double digits is if people (a) aren't forced to abandon the software they already own, and (b) Apple once and for all drives a stake in the heart of the argument that "Macs aren't compatible."

As you know, Macs have been able to run DOS/Windows apps (in an emulation environment) for at least 15 years. Admittedly, there's a performance penalty when running Wintel apps on a Mac box, but hardly noticeable (excepting games, digital video, or Photoshop).

Rob Pegoraro: Simple answer is that Apple would either have to reverse-engineer the entire Windows programming interface or pay Microsoft licensing fees for Windows. It's a better expenditure of its effort to encourage developers to write real Mac OS applications.

Fairfax, Va.: I would like to record a speech on my laptop for replay. What software would you recommend? Hopefully something free!

Rob Pegoraro: Replay on what device? If you only need to listen over headphones for your own convenience--you're not talking about making a public broadcast--you should keep it simple. One program that comes to mind is an open-source app called Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net), which does basic recording and editing and is, yup, free.

Beloit, Wisc.: I have read recently that buying electronics, especially digital cameras over the Internet is, at best, risky. While the prices look great, many are sold as 'overseas' items. What is the deal with that? Any recommendations for purchase on line?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, a lot of vendors sell "gray-market" hardware, and you have to read through some major fine print at online stores to see if that's the case. If the price offered is far below everybody else's, that's usually the case, and I'd recommend you shop elsewhere unless you can deal with life w/out a warranty or an English manual.

Scanners for Apple: I had a HORRID experience with UMAX scanners....never again.

Now I need a new one under 150, preferably 100. It doesn't have to be fancy but it does have to be stable and reliable. That 99-dollar slim Canon job looks appealing. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried that one myself, but I will take any suggestions over the next... 10 minutes. (This reader runs Mac OS X 10.2, BTW.)

Reston, Va.: Re: Ithaca NY - Wonder if they are talking about 802.11(b) regular 11Mbps wireless, or the new 802.11(g) 54Mbps - What Apple calls Airport Extreme? 11 Mbps not so good for video, 54 pretty OK.

Rob Pegoraro: Correct--b is fine for sharing an Internet connection and an MP3 collection, but g (or a, at the same speed) is necessary for video sharing.

Fairfax, Va.: Any advice on the best home office scanner that will scan both 35mm and 120 film sizes?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't always say this: I am completely and utterly stumped by the second half of your question. I have no idea at all--I had to run a Google search just to refresh my memory of non-35mm film. If anybody does, please suggest some hardware!

Alexandria, Va.: Rob...I'm looking for a decent combo wireless cable modem/router to network two iBooks. Any suggestions? Thoughts on Netgear's CG814M cable modem gateway?

Rob Pegoraro: The key thing to look at is the quality of the Mac OS X software provided to configure the wireless connection. And that quality, I hear, is all over the map--check Netgear's site and see, for starters, if it's certified as compatible with the latest OS X release.

Washington, D.C.: Re: Windows emulation on Macs

Microsoft recently purchased VirtualPC from Connectix Corp, so hopefully we will be seeing some improvements in performance and features in the near future.

I agree, though, that this is no substitute for Apple convincing companies to write native versions of software and hardware drivers for OS X. (Quark, anyone?)

Rob Pegoraro: That's what I'd expect, since the people writing the emulator can now have direct and complete access to the innards of Windows.

Annapolis, Md.: I heard you're getting married in June. Are going to make a digital movie of your wedding? If so, what software are you going to use to edit your movie...

Rob Pegoraro: Not to get all Carolyn Hax on y'all, but... yes, that report is true!

I think I'm going to be a little busy during the ceremony to do any taping :) However, if somebody else can take care of the camera work, I would use iMovie for the editing.

Rob Pegoraro: And with that, it's time for me to sign off. Take care...

- R

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