Q: Please give me specific instructions for listening to an MP3 file.
A: The MP3 format for digital download of music has exploded on the Web. Forrester Research estimates that there already are nearly 1,000 gigabytes (a terabyte) of MP3 files out there.
In order to tap into this music, you first need a player. One option is to go to www.real.com and download RealPlayer G2. If you're on a PC, Real Networks automatically places a file (for example, r32_g20_4med.exe) in your Windows subdirectory. Write down this file name. Once the download is complete, use Microsoft Explorer to find the file and click on it; it installs itself.
Alternatives to RealPlayer that also can be found on the Web are Quicktime 4, WinAmp, MusicMatch and Sonique. For Mac users, the players include Quicktime, RealPlayer and MacAmp.
Once you have the basic building block, you can fire up your browser and go to www.mp3.com. Select the music you want. If you're on a dial-up connection to the Internet, you'll have to be patient; a short song can take as long as 20 minutes to download. In order to listen, close your browser and open up your player--it will look for the files you downloaded.
Remember that the use of the MP3 format is controversial, as articles in The Post and elsewhere have discussed. The music at the mp3.com site has been loaded there by musicians looking for exposure, but at other places on the Web, the format has been used to illegally distribute pirated copies of copyrighted songs.
Q: My 83-year-old mother has trouble using a mouse--what can I do for her?
A: When a radio listener asked this question, I gave a snap answer--to consider using one of the voice recognition products such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking Standard 4.0 ($109). Then, I dug myself further into a ditch by mentioning a touch-screen monitor.
My listeners sure took me to task for those suggestions.
In my haste, I didn't consider that most computer users in their ninth decade don't have a computer with the needed horsepower to run a voice recognition program. And let's face it, touch-screen monitors ain't cheap! The 14-inch Microtouch TouchTek5 goes for $599, for example.
So a more practical option might be a trackball. (If you've never seen one, imagine turning your mouse upside down, gluing it to your mouse pad and using the little ball to navigate your screen.)
Q: We are switching from AOL to Road Runner as our Internet provider. How can I copy our AOL e-mail directory to Microsoft Outlook Express?
A: There is no easy way to copy the entire directory.
This is an issue for anyone who switches from AOL to another provider. In the case of Road Runner, the user accesses the Web through a superfast connection using a cable modem to send and receive data over your cable TV line.
AOL is a proprietary network with its own system design for e-mail, not compatible as a rule with other e-mail systems such as Outlook Express.
One possible strategy to reconstruct the address book would be to send a message to everyone in your AOL address book and ask them to respond to your new address. When they reply, you can either copy that address into your new address book or set up Outlook Express to automatically add addresses.
A possibility for the directory--also a bit cumbersome--would be to save your e-mail as a text file on your computer's hard drive. Then you can read it with a text reader or word processor and cut and paste whatever information you want to save into Outlook.
John Gilroy of Item Inc. is heard on WAMU-FM radio's "The Computer Guys" at 1 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. Send your questions to him in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071-5302 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.