QI am switching from dial-up Internet to DSL. How do I transfer my address book, favorites and old e-mail?

AYou don't. Unless you're moving to or from one of the few providers to require proprietary software (most notably, AOL), you can keep using your old programs instead. And as long as you like those applications and have kept current with their security updates, that's exactly what you should do.

Many Internet carriers, however, act as if they don't just provide the Internet but also possess it. They seem to want you to think that your online software is a cell phone -- something to throw out every time you switch companies. Not so. The programs on your computer, like a land-line phone, should work with any service available.

To reuse your old software, you'll enter two types of settings, which any competent provider should include in its documentation.

The first, more important group tells your computer how to get online. With many broadband services, you don't need to change anything in Windows XP or Mac OS X: Plug in the cable modem in and you're online. With others, you just open the right system control panel -- "Network and Internet Connections" in XP, "Network" in OS X -- enter a user name and password and edit one or two "domain name server" addresses.

(By sticking with the built-in networking software instead of replacing it with some new connection program of unknown reliability, you can also help keep your system stable.)

The second settings tell your e-mail program how to get and send mail. Here, you enter two other server addresses, plus a user name and password, into your mail program's "options" or "accounts" screen. If you read your e-mail in your Web browser, however, you'll first need to set up a mail program (Outlook Express comes with Windows, Mail with OS X) to download old messages, or you'll lose them all in the move.

Your Web browser shouldn't need any reconfiguration at all.

-- Rob Pegoraro

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or rob@twp.com.