Q: On the radio, all I ever hear from you is getting the latest drivers. Well, smart guy, using Windows 98, how do you find the date of the driver?
A: I think it is safe to assume that most readers know by now that a driver is a small piece of software that makes a device such as a modem or a video card work with Windows.
Just because you get a brand-new machine does not mean you have the most current drivers. No one knows how long that machine sat on the shelf before it was shipped. Generally speaking, it is recommended that you get the latest drivers in order to make your system work properly.
The logic here is that vendors have been informed of problems and have tried to repair them. They simply post the revised software on their Web sites so people can download it.
Let's say you want to make sure the modem in your laptop is recent. Under Windows 98, go to Start, then choose Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Information. From there, click on Components/modem. You can scroll down until you see the driver date. In my test machine, it was 10/13/1998--12 months makes this almost antediluvian.
From here, go to the manufacturer's Web site and find out if a newer driver has been released.
Q: Some of my e-mail is labeled "Recipient List Suppressed." What's going on?
A: Most e-mail programs (or clients) operate under some standard rules. For example, with my Eudora Pro, I can send a message and copy it to a friend. The good old carbon copy (cc) box is right under the address box. You also have a way to send a message and send a blind carbon copy to someone else. This is the blind carbon copy (bcc) box right under the carbon copy.
Some people have a group of friends they want to inform of events. During football season, you can easily create a group, put it into the "To" section and send out a message: "How about them Dawgs?" Everyone on the list knows who else got this intellectual observation.
If you want to send a message to a group but you don't want the members of the group to know one another, you can put the group under the "bcc" heading. The message you send out will have "Recipient List Suppressed" on it. To test how this works, send yourself a message and bcc yourself.
The same basic rules apply to the e-mail clients built into Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Q: How does a "spider" program work, and how do you protect your Internet site from its intrusion?
A: If you want information on a strange subject such as Surinam toads, you type those words into a Web search engine such as AltaVista. You get back a list of Web sites, but how do these search engines know where to send you?
Some sites hire professional human browsers to index the Net for information. Others use software programs that seek out pages that are publicly available and feed them back to the search engine. These programs are called Web crawlers, Web wanderers, robots or spiders.
Spiders are normally innocuous but some have been known to slow down sites. That's why some Internet service providers try to stop spiders from visiting.
There are a couple of ways to disable spiders. One is to put a tag on your Web page to prevent them from indexing it. Another is to create a "robots.txt" file on the server that specifies an access policy for robots. A standard for setting up such a file can be found at http://info.webcrawler.com/mak/projects/robots/norobots.html.
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.