QIs there a free way to remove the spyware on my computer?

A"Spyware" often means "ad bots" that download advertising to your desktop. But our reader isn't concerned with that kind.

Instead, he's worried about one of the hundreds of programs that can be installed on a PC, usually at the office, to record your activities. If you find a spyware program on your machine at work, you can't do much about it; your office owns that computer.

However, if you find a spyware program on a machine at home, you have some options.

You can ask whoever installed it to remove it (this kind of spyware is designed to resist tampering from anyone but its administrator), try uninstaller software, or call the spyware developer and ask for help removing it.

There aren't any free programs to help you, but SpyCop (Win 95 or newer, $50 at www.spycop.com) can help uproot spyware.

I'd like an alternative to Windows XP's disk encryption. What are my choices?

Some readers have valuable information on their hard drive, data that may be worth more than the laptop itself.

Windows XP Home Edition, however, does not have any encryption capability to scramble important data. Windows XP Professional does; among the features it adds to the base XP package is encryption.

Upgrading from XP Home to XP Professional will cost you $179. But another, cheaper option would be to buy encryption capability from a company other than Microsoft. For example, PGP Corp. (www.pgp.com) offers a bundle of privacy utilities -- including a powerful data-encryption tool called PGP Personal.

-- John Gilroy

John Gilroy of Item Inc. is heard on WAMU'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 to jgilroy@iteminc.com.