Q: I bought WinFax Pro 8.0 on the eBay auction Web site. I received the CD and registered it online, but I didn't get the manuals--where are they?

A: I would be suspicious of software that does not come with a manual.

Symantec sells the fax software called WinFax Pro; the current version is 9.0. Somewhere on your CD you probably can find instructions in PDF (portable document format). You will need a free Adobe PDF reader (www.adobe.com) to be able to view the file.

As far as the origin of your software: My educated guess is that it wasn't the kind that's copied somewhere offshore and sold as new. Since some application programs are sold already installed on new computers, it's not a tremendous technological leap to see somebody copying an unregistered application program from a hard drive to a CD, and then selling it.

Another possible source might be promotional software. Software vendors have been known to give out samples called "NFS"--not for sale. This sticker could have been removed and the software resold.

Q: I am thinking about signing up with the free Internet service from AltaVista--anything I should be careful about?

A: The phrase "caveat emptor" comes to mind--even if the item is free.

I am wary of any "deals" that make the users commit for a period of time to a specific Internet service provider. Many of these "free" deals lock you into 56K service for three years; what happens two years from now when everyone is hooking up at much faster speeds through cable modems and digital subscriber lines?

Second, make sure you read the contract. Some offers mandate that you cannot re-format the hard drive. Formatting obviously will erase the vendors' specialized software, but what if you get hit by a power surge or a virus? Your hands will be tied if your hard drive crashes.

Finally, call your local phone company to make sure your access number is in fact a local call. You may get a number that is seven digits and it is not a local call. There are reports of some users of "free" services running up $400 phone bills the first month because they were not aware their access number was a "local toll" number.

Q: I use a Mac, and I am having a hard time opening up an ".rtf" file.

A: An ".rtf" file means "rich text format."

It is one of the formatting languages used by word-processing programs to store documents, and primarily is used to permit the exchange of text files between different applications and operating systems.

Most folks in the world of Windows and Intel use a Microsoft word processor called Word. When you save in Word format, the file has a ".doc" at the end. But the program also gives you other options for saving. Apparently, somebody was using Word and saved a document in ".rtf" format and sent it to you.

Fortunately, when this questioner called during our radio show, we discovered that she had a program called Claris Works on her computer. There is no problem importing ".rtf" documents with Claris Works--simply go to File and then Open, and it will automatically display the document.

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, or via e-mail at jgilroy@iteminc.com.