Tips and Tricks

NOTE: For handy reference, selected Kim's Tips, copyright 2005 WestStar TalkRadio
Network, are reprinted below with permission. Subscribe to Kim Komando's
free e-mail newsletters and Kim's Tip of the Day here.


Directory (Last revised 5/24/11. Latest additions immediately below.)

Get the best home theater experience, 6/10/2011 (207)
Take Good Family Photos, 5/24/2011 (206)
Defrag a hard drive (205)
Dejunk a new PC the easy way (204)
Filming RAW Photos (203)

The new USB is faster, 11/10/2010 (202)
Bring an old PC back to new computer shape 3/27/2010 (201)
E-book files vary among readers 7/28/2010 (200)

Computer jargon made simple 6/22/2010 (199)
Kindle, Kobo & new e-book readers 5/31/2010 (198)
Extract photos from any video 3/13/2010 (197)
What in the world is "cloud computing?" 12/30/2009 (196)
Buying a digital photo frame 12/29/2009 (195)
Sharing a printer on a mixed network, 9/25/2009 (194)
Getting around ink expiration, 9/21/2009 (193)
When Software is too cheap, 9/2/2009 (192)
Flash Player and 64-bit Windows, 8/4/2009 (191)
Attaching a hard drive to your network, 8/1/2009 (190)
Using System Restore, 7/30/2009 (189)
Using System Restore, 10/18/2005 (188)
Removing bloatware from new computers, 7/22/2009 (187)
Correct your file associations, 7/17/2009 (186)
The mysterious case of the TV cables, 7/15/2009 (185)
Choosing the right computer monitor, 7/13/2009 (184)
Windows 64-bit vs. 32-bit (183)
Limit editing of PDF files (182)
Adding a printer to your network (181)
Windows 7 (180)
Slow Wireless Hotspots (179)
Removing a Password in Vista (178)
Using Hibernation to save power (177)

Changing your file associations (176)
Hibernate vs. Sleep. What's the difference? (175)
Recovering a Windows profile (174)
Vista's User Account Control (173)
Television's fat people (172)
Picking a microprocessor (171)
Interlaced video and still shots (170)
Vista Service Pack 1, and more (169)
Easy ways to add storage . . . and more (168)
Vista virtual machine vs. dual-boot setup (167)
Vista CDs sometimes incompatible (166)
Worrying about a full hard drive (165)
Vista handwriting and speech recognition (164)
Hard Drive or flash drive camcorder? (163)
Digital television and converter boxes (162)
More DVD confusion (161)
Blu-ray player profiles (160)
Making System Restore work (159)
WiMAX vs. 802.11g and 802.11n (158)
Installing gadgets in Windows Vista (157)
eSATA external hard drives (156)
System Restore and Shadow Copy (155)
Media Center in Windows XP and Vista (154)
Diagnosing a slow computer (153)
Like something you heard on the radio? (152)
Wearing out flash memory (151)
Watch out for Power Surges (150)
Digital Photography--Shooting in RAW for High-Dynamic range-imaging (HDRI) (149)
Printing photos at home (148)
Which programs will run on Vista (147)
Running multiple operating systems (146)
Running Office XP on Vista (145)
A mysterious new account (144)
Is that Spam message from you (143)
Backing up Outlook Express files (142)
Choosing a Macro lens (141)
Putting your Social Security number online (140)
Downloading photos from a cell phone (139)
What do Web sites know when you visit? (138)
Moving Favorites or Bookmarks (137)
Rookie Rundown: Tips to get you newbies up and going! (136)
Quad-core vs. dual-core processors (135)
A Browser from Apple (134)
Removing files from Vista's Instant Search (133)
Photographing Fireworks (132)
Choosing a photo-sharing site (131)
Understanding Network Equipment (130)
Easy ways to back up data (129)
IE 7 problems with HP printers (128)
Finding a DVR without a subscription (127)
Finding a computer with software (126)
Photographing documents (125)
Coping with daylight-saving time (124)
Buying a computer to edit video (123)
Which programs will run on Vista? (122)
Building a Web site from a template (121)
Protecting data before PC repair (120)
Playing DVDs in Windows Vista (119)
New features in Windows Vista (118)
Moving up from Windows 98 to Vista (117)
Finding a decent scanner (116)
Hard drive warning messages signal trouble (115)
Recovering files from a hard drive (114)
Optimizing photos for the Web (113)
Resolving resolution (112)
Which files should you back up? (111)
Creating envelopes in Word (110)
Upgrading to a digital camera (109)
Selecting a wireless desktop (108)
Opening a Works file in Word (107)
XP Repair vs Reformat and Install (106)
Breaking a BIOS password (105)
Edit MIDI files for the Web (104)
Some online pictures load slower than others (103)
Secure a new PC before going online (102)
To defrag or not to defrag (101)
Finding a lost Windows product key (100)

Continue scrolling to earlier Tips not indexed.

207. Get the best home theater experience
Q. I just bought a new HDTV and surround sound system. The store offered to set things up for me, but it wanted hundreds of dollars. I'm tapped out! Can you help me set up my home theater? I want to make sure I'm getting the most from my investment.

A. I hear you, Bill! You probably spent $1,000 or more on your TV and surround sound system. You don't want to spend hundreds more getting it set up.

Still, it is important to set up your home theater properly. Otherwise, you aren't getting your money's worth from your investment. Your enjoyment of your home theater will suffer.

There are several things you need to do to. First, you need to position the television the right distance from where you will sit. You need to use the right cables to connect all your components.

Next, you need to calibrate the television. This will ensure that you're getting accurate colors. Finally, you need to position your surround sound speakers properly.

Let's start by talking about viewing distance. You'll find a lot of recommendations for viewing distances online. Viewing distances aren't written in stone. So, you may want to do a little experimenting. See what looks best to you.

If you sit too close to the screen, you may see pixels. It's kind of like looking closely at a picture in a newspaper. It will deteriorate into dots. If you sit too far away, you might miss some detail. You won't get the picture quality you paid for.

Consumer Reports has easy guidelines for determining viewing distances. Multiply the screen size by two and three. The lower number is the minimum distance you should sit from the set. The higher result is the maximum distance.

Let's say you have a 37-inch HDTV. You want to sit between 74 and 111 inches from the set. That's between six and nine feet.

You might also want to visit MyHomeTheater. It has a viewing distance calculator that takes a few more factors into consideration. For example, it will help you determine the right viewing angle.

After you get your set positioned, you'll want to connect all the cables. This is probably the trickiest part. I recommend reading the instructions carefully. But, you'll probably need a little more help. So click here for instructions on connecting all the cables.

Now it is time to calibrate your HDTV. I'm sure many people are unfamiliar with HDTV calibration. So let me do some explaining before we jump into instructions and options.

There is stiff competition between television manufacturers. They all want their sets to stand out in the showroom. So, they make the displays bright, and colors often have a cool bluish cast.

These settings will probably look horrible in your home. In fact, a poorly calibrated HDTV will look worse than an old tube-style set. Also, the showroom settings can increase energy consumption. You'll actually pay more for a worse picture.

Retailers often offer calibration services when you buy an HDTV. Expect to pay $300 or more for the service. Independent calibration services offer similar rates. Fortunately, there are other alternatives.

You can buy calibration discs. Simply put it in your DVD player. Then, follow the steps to calibrate your set. This is a quick and easy way to calibrate an HDTV.

Calibration discs are also affordable; you can buy one for about $30 at a local electronics store. But first, check your DVDs. Pixar and Lucasfilm DVDs often have calibration tools. Look for the THX Optimizer in the Set Up or Special Features section.

The results from the disc won't match professional calibration. Professionals have more advanced tools. They may also be able to access service menus that you can't.

If you want better results, purchase a colorimeter. For example, you can buy Datacolor's Spyder TV. Expect to pay between $100 and $200 for it. Make sure you buy a colorimeter specifically for televisions. You don't want one that's designed for computer displays.

Spending $100 or more may be difficult to swallow. But TVs need to be calibrated regularly. Over time, your investment will pay off. Besides, you can use it on multiple sets.

The colorimeter attaches to the front of your machine. You'll need to connect the cord to a computer so you can use the included software.

The software runs through test patterns. It will tell you to adjust certain settings. It makes calibration much more objective.

Try a calibration disc before the colorimeter. If you're still not happy, hire a profession. Just check for certification from the Image Science Foundation first.

After you've calibrated your set, you're ready to set up surround sound. There are several different flavors of surround sound. You'll see 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 versions.

These numbers refer to the number of speakers, or channels. That .1 refers to the subwoofer; all systems will have one.

With a 5.1 system, there are center, left and right front speaker. There are also left and right rear speakers. A 7.1 system builds on this by adding left and right side speakers. A 6.1 system is the same as a 7.1 system. The only difference is there is just one center rear speaker.

All the speakers should be positioned at ear level. You want to place the subwoofer on the ground. It produces omni-directional sound. Bass will sound like it's coming from everywhere.

The subwoofer can be placed anywhere. But it is probably best to place it to the right or left of your television.

The center speaker can go above or below the television. See which sounds best. Angle the speaker toward your couch, if necessary.

Place the front speakers beside the television equidistant from each other. They should be at a 45-degree angle to one another. Point them at the same spot on the couch.

Place the rear speakers beside or slightly behind the couch if you have a 5.1 system. Point them toward the front of the room or angle them toward the couch.

Place the side speakers beside or slightly in front of the couch with a 6.1 system. They can face each other, or you can angle them at the couch. The rear speaker goes behind the couch and faces the television.

With 7.1 systems, the side speakers go in front of your couch. The rear ones go slightly behind the couch.

Some manufacturers recommend point the speakers at the wall. You should try this to see if it improves the sound.

Finally, you'll need to adjust the sound levels for each speaker. The receiver should play sounds to help you. The sounds should be at the same level for each speaker. Sit on the couch when adjusting the levels.

Most sound will come from the front speakers. You don't want the side and rear speakers to be too loud. You may encounter sound delays. That means sounds may not match up with on-screen action. Your receiver should have options to help you minimize delays. Check your manual.

Finally, turn off your television's speakers. Otherwise, you could hear an echo. If you can't disable the speakers, turn the volume all the way down.

Make your home theater the envy of your block. Visit my site for more help creating the ultimate home theater set up:

There's a wealth of entertainment online. Learn how to stream movies and shows to your HDTV the easy way.

Don't let remotes clutter up your coffee table. Use a single remote to control all your home theater gear.

Did you know that you can get over-the-air HDTV? Find out how to pick up free shows in HD using a simple antenna.

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206. Take good family photos
Q. My granddaughter is graduating from high school in a couple weeks. I will be taking photos at graduation and her open house. I'm a decent photographer, but I'd like some tips. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I want the photos to be as good as possible.

A. My grandfather used to love taking photos at family events. Half of the photos would turn out well. Unfortunately, though, the other half would have his thumb in the corner. It was a running joke in our family. I just wonder how many memories we lost because of this.

Graduation is a milestone event. Your granddaughter has worked hard to get to this point. So you will want to remember everything about this day and the celebrations. I'm sure she will be surrounded by family and friends. So this is the perfect time to get some great photos.

First off, make sure you are familiar with your camera and the settings. If you haven't used your camera in a while, break it out and dust it off. Spend some time getting reacquainted with it. When the big day comes, you won't be fumbling for this setting or that option. You can focus more on getting the photo.

Now, there is more to taking good photos than keeping your thumb off the lens. And knowing where all the settings are is only half of the battle. You want to make sure you get the lighting right. You also want to make sure you get all the shots that matter.

Many of these tips will apply to any camera. Some of it encourages you to use your settings. If you're not sure what your camera can do, check your manual. Even inexpensive cameras have some adjustable settings.

Whenever possible, try to take your photos outdoors. Morning or afternoon light is the most flattering. You can use fill flash to eliminate shadows on subjects' faces.

Avoid indoor shots if you can. Indoor lighting can trick your camera. Low-light photos appear overly warm and yellowish. Flash washes out subjects and causes a cold, bluish tint. You can fix some of this in editing, but it is easier to get it right in camera.

Spring is also a great time for outdoor shots. There are plenty of flowers and lush foliage. It will make for stunning backgrounds. You can even make foliage a centerpiece of some pictures. For example, take some shots of your granddaughter beside a bed of flowers. Or maybe take some of her below a tree in the yard.

Take these shots of your granddaughter early in the morning. She'll be relaxed and fresh, and the lighting is just right. Shoot with the sun behind you. Otherwise, you can get ugly lens flares and fading from the sun. Just watch for your shadow.

I recommend using a polarizing filter. This will eliminate glare from glasses and add some contrast to the picture. This can make your photos pop a bit more. Polarizing filters are available for SLRs and some point-and-shoots. Get a circular polarizing filter for a digital camera. Linear polarizing filters are designed for film.

Your camera may not accept filters. In that case, there's an easy solution. Hold the lens of a pair of polarizing sunglasses over the camera's lens. Just watch where you put your thumb!

Distracting backgrounds can ruin photographs. So, try to fill the frame with your subject. This draws viewers' eyes to the subject. You do want to capture some of the background. So, use background and foreground elements to frame the subject.

Think of the colors in your photos as well. Spring is about pastels and bright greens. Look for framing elements that showcase these colors. It will put the feeling of spring in the picture.

You also want to think about aperture size. Aperture is the opening that lets light into the photo. I recommend aperture priority mode for your photos, if possible. Use a smaller aperture (larger f-stop) when you want more of the photo in focus.

Larger apertures (smaller f-stops) blur the foreground and background, creating a narrow focus range. Distracting backgrounds are minimized. And your subjects will stand out more. This is perfect when shooting a portrait or a small group of people.

You don't want to miss a single moment. So, use continuous (or burst) mode. This will eliminate some of the lag between shots. Try to keep your portraits simple. Engage your subjects while you photograph them. This will help them relax and show their personality.

Don't be afraid to look weird. You need to shoot from a lot of different angles to get the best photos. Sometimes, you need to get low or get up on something to get the right shot.

Now, let's talk about some specific shots. You'll want to get a shot of your granddaughter as she walks across the stage. You'll also want a photo of her accepting her diploma.

You'll probably need a telephoto lens for this. Try to learn a little about the graduation venue in advance. Get an idea of how far you'll be sitting from the stage. Make sure your lens is adequate. On graduation day, arrive early to get the best seat.

When using a telephoto lens, you're more likely to get blurry photos. You can avoid some of this shakiness by using a tripod. This may or may not be possible, but a tripod will help a lot.

Don't forget to take some photos of your granddaughter at school. Take some photos next to the school's sign. Take some serious shots, but don't be afraid to have a little fun. Have her toss her cap in some of the photos. You may not be able to take photos in the school, but you can take shots on campus.

At the open house, try to get photos of the guests as they arrive. They'll look their best. Plus, you don't want to overlook anyone. You can set up a camera by the door, if you like.

You'll also want to get plenty of group shots. Take some staged shots and plenty of candid ones. Get photos of your granddaughter with the family. Also take some with her friends and teachers.

A little planning is needed for group shots. Start by scouting out a location where you will take the photos. Make sure the background isn't distracting. For large groups, try shooting downwards from a high place. This helps you fit more people in the photo. Try to take these shots early on in the celebrations.

Put tall people in the back or in the middle of a single row. Start shooting while your subjects arrange themselves for more relaxed photos. Use continuous mode to take plenty of photos. You may need to use a smaller aperture (larger f-stop) for bigger groups. Otherwise, they may not all be in focus.

You'll want to be in the photos, too, of course. So get a remote shutter release, if your camera will accept one. Otherwise, use your camera's self timer.

Mingle and take plenty of pictures throughout the day. This increases your chance of getting good ones. And take pictures before and after the celebrations. These shots will add to your memories.

Try to tell a story with your photos. How did the day start? What did you have to eat? What was it like when family and friends arrived? What was the cake like? When did they leave?

This will make the photos more interesting to look through later. In a few years, you'll still want to go through all the photos, beginning to end.

Finally, don't spend too much time behind the camera. Take time to celebrate your granddaughter's day!

For more help shooting photos in any situation, check out my photography book. Click here to buy my Essential eGuide to Digital Photography. You can download the book immediately and start learning! It's great for amateurs and pros alike!

For more help taking photos, visit my site:

If you're taking photos outside, make sure you're shooting at the right time. Click here to learn the right time to take outdoor photos where you live.

Depth of field can be a difficult concept to grasp. But, it is important for any photographer to master. Learn how to use depth of field to create more compelling photos.

After you take your photos, you'll want to share them. Find out the best way to share your holiday photos.

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205. Defrag a hard drive
Q. Is it necessary or appropriate to defragment a solid-state drive? Thanks.

A. I love this question, Sydney; it's short and to the point. So I'll start off with the short answer. No, defragmenting solid-state drives isn't necessary. In fact, it's not a good idea at all. Read on to find out why.

Let's refresh our memories about how hard drives work. That will help you understand why SSDs follow different rules. We'll start by talking about the traditional hard drive.

A traditional hard drive uses magnetism to store information. Inside each drive is one or more "platters." These platters are metal disks that spin rapidly. The standard speed for desktop hard drive platters is 7,200 RPM.

Each platter contains billions of microscopic magnetic regions. These regions can be either magnetized or de-magnetized. The computer reads those as binary ones and zeros, respectively. Strings of ones and zeros are how all computer information is stored.

A magnetic head reads and writes information on each platter. The head is mounted on a swinging arm. It has to physically move across the platter to find information.

It's actually the same idea as a turntable record player. The magnetic head is like the record needle. The difference is that the hard drive head hovers over the platter. When the head touches the platter, you have a serious problem.

This approach has worked for decades, but it has some drawbacks. One major problem is reliability. There are a lot of moving components that can fail. And when they fail, your information is often severely damaged. That is why having a backup system is essential. I recommend my advertiser Carbonite for backups.

Another problem is speed; the components can only move so fast. This limits how quickly information can be written and read. Some drives spin the platters at 10,000 RPM or higher. That increases data transfer, but it also wears the drive out faster.

The moving parts are also a problem as hard drive storage gets bigger. There is more information on the drive to search. Finding the right file can take longer.

That leads us to the most common problem, which is fragmentation. Fragmentation occurs on every computer during normal use. Files are constantly being moved, written, changed, deleted and overwritten.

You often end up with one program file in one spot. And a related program file will be in a completely different spot. You might even have one file broken up into several locations.

What happens when the computer accesses that program or file? It has to visit several spots on the platter to assemble it for you. And that takes extra time. Your computer slows down.

You can visualize it this way. Imagine listening to a vinyl record where every song is broken into segments. And those segments are scattered around the record.

Listening to a song would be annoying. The needle would have to lift and move to each new segment. That means the song would keep pausing. And listening to a complete song would take forever.

That is why defragmentation programs exist. These move related information back together on the platter. This means the head doesn't have to move so much. It helps your computer run smoother.

Now let's talk about how solid-state drives work. These have been around for years. But until recently, they were way too expensive for most consumers.

They are still more expensive than traditional hard drives. But prices are falling rapidly, and SSD storage size is increasing. In fact, SSDs are the only option on some laptops now. The MacBook Air is a good example.

SSDs are built around flash memory. That's the same technology used for thumb drives and memory cards. Most media players, tablets and smart phones use flash memory as well.

Flash memory is made up of cells. There are a few different kinds of these cells. But we don't need to worry about that for the moment.

The upside is that there are no moving parts, hence the "solid state" moniker. Everything is read and written electronically. That increases both reliability and speed.

It also makes fragmentation a moot point. It doesn't matter where files are located on the SSD. There are no moving parts to slow things down. Reading files from multiple locations takes no extra time.

In fact, defragmenting an SSD is actually not good for it. That's because flash memory has a major drawback: It wears out over time.

Flash memory is made up of billions of cells. Writing information changes the contents of the cell. Unfortunately, each cell can only be changed so many times. After that, it won't change anymore. Eventually, your SSD loses all its storage space.

Flash cell lifecycle is being steadily improved. A modern, SSD from a reputable manufacturer should last at least 5 years. Much of that is thanks to wear-leveling controllers.

These controllers monitor how often each cell is used. They make sure data is spread evenly throughout the drive. This keeps cells from being worn out too quickly.

Manufacturers are also over-provisioning. This is putting more memory in the drive than is listed. If some cells fail prematurely, they can be ignored with minimal impact.

Defragmenting a drive moves a lot of data around. This means you are changing a lot of cells at once. And that means you are wearing the SSD out more quickly.

Of course, the impact is slight overall. It would take a lot of defragmenting to wear out the drive. But, again, it doesn't actually help performance.

If you want to get an SSD, make sure you have Windows 7. It is designed to work properly with SSDs. Earlier Windows versions will treat the SSD like a regular hard drive. This means you won't get many of the benefits.

Also, remember that SSDs are still largely new to the consumer market. You will probably encounter poor products and manufacturing errors. Having your sensitive information backed up is still very important.

Again, check out my advertiser Carbonite if you don't already have a backup system. It's the best backup solution I've found. It keeps your data securely backed in a remote location. Sign up now for a 15-day free trial and get two months free when you join!

Hard drives are essential to the modern computer. They are required to handle the ever-increasing amount of information being stored. It's a good idea to learn as much about them as possible:

RAID is an option appearing on some consumer computers. Learn what RAID is and why you don't want it.

Hard drives have gotten incredibly capacious. But you might not see all the storage space you paid for. Find out why this is.

It's easy to accidentally duplicate files. These duplicates can fill up your hard drive quickly. This program can easily remove duplicate files.

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204. Dejunk a new PC the easy way
Q. I recently bought a new laptop that I was really excited for. But when I opened it up, there were tons of programs on it already. None of them look at all important. Most seem to be free trials of random software that I've never heard of. Is this stuff necessary? And can I get rid of it all?

A. There are a lot of names for software that comes installed on new computers. Some are less forgiving than others. We'll use the term "bloatware." Bloatware is unnecessary and often causes new computers to run slowly.

The profit margins on computers are slim. So, manufacturers install these annoying programs to increase profits. Developers pay manufactures to include their software on new computers.

This is usually why you get annoying registration and trial reminders when you boot up. The developers nag you in hopes that you'll buy the full versions of their software.

Make no mistake, however. The majority of this stuff is junk, and you need to get rid of it. Otherwise you can expect slow performance and more annoying messages.

That's because most of these programs are set to open at startup. Have you ever booted up your computer and waited 10 minutes before anything happens? Likely, bloatware is to blame. Your computer can't handle opening everything at once.

At best, these programs are wasting space on your hard drive. I'd rather fill that space with family photos or work documents.

Fortunately, you can remove bloatware from your computer. In most cases, it won't be terribly difficult. But it will take some time. You also need the right tools to remove everything.

First, remove any icons on the desktop that you don't want. Hold down the Control key and click on each icon that looks like bloatware. After you've selected them all, drag and drop them into the Recycle Bin.

Removing the desktop icons won't uninstall the software. In fact, Windows should display a message to that effect. So now it's time to uninstall these programs. Click Start>>Control Panel. Depending on your operating system, the next screen will look different.

If you have Windows 7 or Vista, double-click Programs and Features. You will see a list of all the programs you have installed. Select one you want to get rid of and click Uninstall. Follow the prompts to remove the program. You'll have to do this for each program you want to remove.

If you use XP double-click Add or Remove Programs. Select the program you want to uninstall and then click Change/Remove. Follow the prompts to remove the program. Repeat for other programs you don't want.

There are also some free programs that will wipe out a lot of bloatware for you. One is PC Decrapifier. (The name says it all!) You can download it for free here.

Using PC Decrapifier is pretty straightforward. Install the software on your machine and run it. Your antivirus software might flag it. Don't worry—it's clean. I've checked it thoroughly.

Once open, Decrapifier will ask you a couple of questions: Is your computer new? Do you want to make a restore point before you begin? Creating a restore point is a good idea.

Once that's done, Decrapifier will look for any known bloatware. It's surprisingly good at finding a lot of the junk that's installed.

The last screen lets you select other programs to uninstall. Select any programs you want to uninstall. Click Next to confirm. PC Decrapifier will remove all the programs you've selected.

Sometimes uninstalling the program isn't enough. Files attached to bloatware can be floating around on your computer, hidden from plain sight. To clean those out, I recommend CCleaner. Download it for free here.

CCleaner is a useful program to have. It removes these orphaned files. It can also work as a disk cleanup tool. It's a good idea to run it periodically to keep your machine running smoothly.

You can do one last thing to make your new machine as fast as it should be: Limit what programs open when you start the computer.

Navigate to Start>>Run in Windows XP. In the Run dialogue box, enter "msconfig" (minus quotes). Now hit Enter on your keyboard. If you're using Vista or Windows 7, click Start and type "msconfig" (minus quotes) in the Search box.

In the System Configuration box, click the Startup tab. You should now see a list of the applications that are set to open when you start your machine. Uncheck programs you don't want to launch at startup.

You can also hit "Disable all" in the bottom right to stop all of them. This isn't such a good idea. It will prevent your antivirus and spyware programs from running at startup.

For more help maintaining and cleaning your computer, hit my site:

Is your computer not running the way it used to? Learn how to bring it back up to speed.

Cluttered computers are no help to anyone. Click here to get things organized.

Had your computer for a while? Here's how to clean up your old junk.

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203. Editing RAW photos
Q. I just got a new Canon 5D for Christmas. I'm so excited to start shooting photos with it. But this is my first DSLR, so I'm a bit green when it comes to editing RAW photos. Can you explain how I edit RAW photos?

A. That's a very cool camera, Maria. Congratulations! Before we talk about editing RAW photos, a quick explanation is in order.

For those who aren't so photo-savvy, RAW format isn't like most digital photo formats. RAW photos are basically the untouched data right from your camera's sensor. And RAW images are usually uncompressed. They're much like a digital negative.

Shooting in RAW isn't for everyone. The fact that only SLRs and high-end point-and-shoots offer RAW should tell you something. The format is really designed for advanced photographers.

RAW format give you higher-quality photos, provided you know what you're doing. You have greater control over editing your photos. And you don't have to worry about the editing process degrading photo quality. Of course, there's more data than, say, a JPG; more data means better photos.

But, editing RAW pictures can be challenge. That's because most programs aren't compatible with RAW formats. Additionally, RAW isn't a universal format. Most camera makers have their own proprietary versions of RAW. It often varies from camera to camera.

That means you'll need dedicated software to edit RAW pictures. Of course, there's a number programs out there to do the job. With your Canon SLR you probably got a copy of Digital Photo Professional. That's Canon's free RAW editor.

A lot of other DSLR manufacturers also include RAW-editing programs. But these typically work only with that brand's proprietary RAW formats.

So I'm going to use a free program that anyone can download. RawTherapee is a pretty robust RAW editor. Better yet, it's totally free to use.

It sports a lot of the same features of pricey programs like Lightroom and Aperture. And it works with a wide range of proprietary RAW formats; check for compatibility with your camera.

Getting started with RawTherapee is simple. Once it's installed and opened, you'll see it's made up off few different parts.

First is the file browser in the lower-left corner. Use it to search your computer for your RAW files. In the center is the main image viewer. Here you can see the picture you're editing. And finally on the far right is the adjustment panel. This is where you'll tweak most of the settings to edit your photos.

Once you've chosen a photo to edit, you can start adjusting it. The first thing I like doing with photos is fixing the exposure and color. Click on the Exposure tab in the adjustment panel. You'll see a list of tools for fixing exposure. The big ones here are Exposure, Tone Curve and Shadows/Highlights.

Using the different sliders in Exposure will help brighten or darken photos. Keep in mind that this isn't the same as adjusting Brightness. Instead Exposure works to simulate the picture if more or less light hit the sensor. It will give you more or less detail.

Tone Curve is an advanced way to control contrast for the overall image. You just click and drag on the curve to adjust it. Each point on the curve affects a certain tonal range. As you move from left to right, you affect darker to lighter tones.

Shadows/Highlights will let you adjust the brightest and darkest areas of your photos. In this section, you can make the blacks in the photo darker. Inversely, you can make the whites in the photo brighter.

Now to my favorite part: color correction. Click on the Colour tab-yes, it's spelled the British way. Here you can adjust White Balance and color levels.

White balance is particularly important for good photography. This essentially tells the photograph what white should actually look like. Often white balance is overlooked, resulting in bad photos. A common example of poor white balance is a picture that looks too blue or too yellow.

We can fix that in RawTherapee. The easiest way is to click on the Spot WB button. Then click a portion of the photo that should be white. You'll see the image automatically fix itself. This typically does a pretty good job on its own. But you can adjust the Temperature and Tint sliders to fine tune it.

Also in the Colour tab is the Channel Mixer. This will let you emphasize particular hues. You can adjust for more or less amounts of red, blue or green. Different color effects can give a picture certain feelings

For example, you can make pictures look warm and welcoming. You do this by adding a bit more yellow or red and taking away some blue.

Sharpening is also an important function of any RAW editor. That's because all RAW photos need sharpening; unlike JPGs, they are not sharpened in the camera. Thankfully, RawTherapee has some powerful sharpening tools.

Go to the Details tab. The first section is for Sharpening. Use the sliders to fine tune the amount of sharpening you'd like to apply. Also note the Sharpen only edges and Halo control options.

Sharpen only edges will help define the image a bit more. But it also reduces distracting noise. That's because it doesn't sharpen every pixel on the image. Halo control is equally as handy. It helps hide the banding that can occur from over sharpening photos.

Another key feature of RawTherapee is noise reduction. This is especially important when shooting in low light. That's because the higher ISOs required for low-light shots will create more noise.

To denoise your photo, click on the Detail tab. You'll see two noise reduction options: Luminance and Colour.

Luminance Noise Reduction will blend noisy pixels based on their brightness value. Colour Noise Reduction will blend noise based on the pixel's hue.

Of course, you can do some basic edits in RawTherapee as well. Look directly above the image viewer. Here you'll find buttons to crop, rotate, flip and straighten the image.

Once you've finished, you can either save the image or open it in another editor. You'll first want to choose the format of the image, however. Do you want it to save as a JPG, a PNG or a TIFF?

To do this, click on Preferences. A new window will pop up. Select the Output Options tab at the top. In the file format area, use the dropdown menu to select your desired format.

Anyone can take a picture. But it takes skill, practice and the right equipment to be a good photographer. I've got the advice you need to take the best pictures you can:

A digital SLR is the weapon of choice for avid photographers. Read this buying guide if you're looking to take exceptional pictures.

You might have some really good lenses that were made for you film SLR. Learn how you can use some of those old lenses on your new camera.

Looking for the right lens for a tricky shoot? Use this simulator to determine what your photos will look like.

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202. The new USB is faster
Q. I'm in the market for a new desktop. I've been shopping around lately. I've seen that a few of the models include USB 3.0. I'm assuming that is a newer version of the USB connection that I use now. Is it only different in terms of speed? Or are there other differences I should know about?

A. Good observation. USB 3.0 is the next generation of USB connection. The current generation is USB 2.0. It's been around for more than nine years.

USB 3.0, or SuperSpeed USB, was released in 2008. While it isn't commonplace yet, it has a lot of potential.

USB 3.0 has a transfer rate of up to five gigabits per second. That's nearly 10 times faster than USB 2.0. Speed isn't the only difference. But it's certainly the most noticeable.

If you're big into digital media, this is a no-brainer. With earlier versions of USB, transferring large files can take a few minutes. With USB 3.0, you can transfer large files in a few seconds.

Another notable difference is in power consumption. USB 3.0 devices take advantage of an idle mode. While it's not in use, whatever is connected draws less power from the computer. This helps in a lot of ways. For example, it extends laptop battery life.

On top of all this, USB 3.0 is backwards-compatible with earlier versions. That means pretty much all existing USB devices will still work with it. You can plug older gadgets into a USB 3.0 port and they'll work.

Keep in mind that you won't get faster speeds if you're using a USB 2.0 device with a USB 3.0 connection. You'll be limited to USB 2.0 speeds.

It is also important to note that USB 3.0 gadgets require new cables. That's because the B plug has changed. The B plug is the end that connects to printers, hard drives and the like. The new USB 3.0 B plug has a different form factor. It won't fit in a USB 2.0 B port.

Compatibility with older products makes USB 3.0 an easy upgrade. After all, you really don't have to worry about it working with your stuff.

On top of that, a number of USB 3.0 devices are coming into the market. There are a bunch of external hard drives that take advantage of the faster connection. And a few manufacturers have even started creating USB 3.0 hubs.

Of course, you can still upgrade an old computer to USB 3.0. That is, provided you have a desktop. You can install an add-on card inside your PC. This will give you the new USB 3.0 ports.

Adding these cards to your current PC isn't difficult. But it takes some know-how and requires that you open up your computer. I don't recommend doing this if you aren't familiar with repairing computers.

In that case, it might be smarter to hold off on USB 3.0. Wait until you buy a new PC to upgrade to USB 3.0.

If you're in the market for a new laptop, you may have a harder time upgrading. That's because the laptop usually needs to have built-in USB 3.0 ports. Right now, not very many laptops include USB 3.0.

The only laptops that are upgradable are ones that offer ExpressCard slots. For these, you can find ExpressCard adapters that provide USB 3.0 ports. Expect to spend about $40 for one of these adapters.

Also laptop makers may be slow to adopt USB 3.0. That's because USB 3.0 isn't directly supported on Intel chipsets yet. USB 2.0 and other high-speed ports do have direct support. It's easier for manufacturers to add USB 2.0 ports than 3.0 ports.

Additionally, USB 3.0 won't make much difference for many devices. For example, printers wouldn't see a benefit. So manufacturers are still waiting to see how high the demand is for USB 3.0.

On top of that, other high-speed connections are in the works as well. One that seems particularly promising is Light Peak.

Intel is the company behind Light Peak. Light Peak uses optical cables to transfer information using light.

Intel has said that Light Peak can transfer data at 10Gbs. That is double the speed of USB 3.0. Click here to learn more about Light Peak.

Upgrades are just part of owning a computer. It seems like every month there's something new and improved out there. Let me help you make sense of it all:

Are you still using a PC with Windows XP on it? You're going to have upgrade sooner or later. Learn how to update to Windows 7.

These days, many laptops are just as powerful as desktops. Find out how to pick the ultimate mobile computer.

Computers get slower with age. That's just what happens. But there are a few tricks to get it running like it was new again.

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201. Bring an old PC back to new computer shape
It’s not your imagination. That computer you bought a couple of years ago really is slower. Programs take longer to open and so do Web pages. Booting your machine takes an eternity. This doesn’t mean it’s time for a new computer. There’s probably life left in that old clunker.

You just need to bring it back up to speed. I'll tell you how to do just that.

Check for malware
Spyware, adware and viruses slow your machine. Malware shouldn’t be a problem if you use security software. Still, scan your machine for viruses and spyware. If you need security software, visit my site for free programs. Remove anything that is found.

Clean your hard drive
A full hard drive slows down your computer. It will take longer to access files. So, clean it up. Windows often creates temporary and setup files. Use Disk Cleanup to remove them. Access Disk Cleanup by clicking Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Cleanup.

After the program scans your drive, you’ll see a list of file categories. Clear Temporary files, Temporary Internet Files and the Recycle Bin. Make your selections and click OK. It may take a few minutes to delete the files.

Remove unwanted programs
You probably have plenty of programs that you no longer use. They’re probably slowing you down.

Remove unwanted programs via the Control Panel. Click Start>>Control Panel. In Vista, double-click Programs and Features. In XP, double-click Add or Remove Programs. Select a program to uninstall and click Uninstall in Vista. In XP, click Change/Remove. Follow the prompts.

Clean restore points
System Restore lets you roll back your Windows settings to an earlier time. It's a handy feature. But too many restore points can slow down certain processes. Clearing old restore points can speed up your PC.

Click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>System Restore. In XP, click System Restore Settings. Select “Turn off System Restore.” Click Apply and then Yes to confirm. Restart System Restore. When prompted, click Yes to re-enable System Restore.

In Vista, click “open System Protection.” Deselect your Drive and confirm your choice. Click OK. Close and reopen System Restore. Click “open System Protection.” Click OK. Close System Restore. Reboot your machine to create a new restore point.

Defragment your drive
Windows often splits files, storing parts in separate areas of the drive. Your computer must work harder to access files. Overcome this problem by defragmenting the drive. Data is rearranged for more efficient access. Read and write times will improve.

Click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Defragmenter. Select your C: drive and click Analyze. Then, click Defragment. Don’t use your computer or leave programs running while using Disk Defragmenter. It will cause errors.

Check for errors
Errors may also be slowing your hard drive down. Error Checking finds and fixes them for you. It also checks the integrity of your files.

Open (My) Computer and right-click the C: drive. Select Properties. Click Check Now in the Error-checking section of the Tools tab. Select “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.” Click Start. Fix any bad sectors that are found.

Switch to OpenDNS
You can speed up Web browsing by using a different DNS server. A DNS server helps your browser locate pages online. Your DNS requests may be going through several, distant servers. Instead, use OpenDNS.

OpenDNS sends requests to the closest server. Once you sign up for an account, you have to make a few simple changes on your machine. The service’s site walks you through the process.

Clean your hardware
The outside of your computer needs cleaned, too. Your keyboard is filthy, and your monitor is covered with dust. The fan vents are magnets for dust, pet hair and other things that don’t belong inside your computer.

Start by wiping down your monitor. Turn it off and unplug it from the power socket. Use a soft, lint-free cloth that is slightly damp. Avoid paper towels and window cleaners; they can scratch and cloud the display.

If you have a standard, no-frills keyboard, run it through the dishwasher. Allow it to dry completely before using. Otherwise, unplug the keyboard and wipe it down with a damp cloth. Canned air can remove debris between keys. Likewise, use canned air to clear your computer’s vents.

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200. E-book files vary among readers
Q. I'm looking at buying an e-book reader. What e-book formats are used by Google, Amazon, Borders and the rest? Are they interchangeable? For example, can I use Amazon e-books on an iPad? Many thanks.

A. That's an excellent question, Brian. Not a lot of people seem to think about file compatibility before buying. But it's definitely a good thing to check.

E-book compatibility can get complicated. There are actually 15 different e-book formats available. But it isn't just file formats that you need to worry about. DRM, or digital rights management is used to protect e-books. This often restricts purchased e-books to a particular reader.

Apple's iBook service sells books in the ePub (electronic publishing) format. This standard is gaining popularity. All e-book readers except the Kindle support this format. But, due to DRM, the books won't work with other readers.

Amazon predominantly sells books in the proprietary AZW format. This is only compatible with Amazon e-book readers. However, Amazon does have a Kindle app.

This app works on computers, Apple products and smart phones. The Kindle app makes the e-books you've purchased from Amazon available anywhere. That is, with the exception of other e-book readers, of course.

Borders sells books in the ePub, MOBI and PDF formats. Barnes & Noble sells e-books in the proprietary PDB format. However, it is now including ePub as well. Each service has its own DRM that restricts e-book use.

However, both sellers also have apps similar to the Kindle app. You can read purchased books on other gadgets. That includes computers, smart phones and Apple products.

Google Books doesn't actually use one format. It links to books on a number of Websites. That includes paid sites like Amazon or Borders.

For public domain Websites, you will see all sorts of formats. But most should have a TXT or ePub version available. Those won't have DRM and should work on most e-book readers.

The iPad is a pretty safe choice for a reader. It supports ePub and PDF files without DRM. Plus, all the major booksellers have an app for it. So, it can handle pretty much any e-book.

The nook can read public domain ePub e-books and PDF files. It also supports Barnes & Noble ePub and PDB formats with DRM. However, it doesn't support TXT, which is still a common format.

The Kobo will support DRM-free ePub e-books and PDF files. It will also accept ePub files with DRM from Borders. It doesn't support any other file formats or services.

The Kindle primarily supports Amazon's AZW format with DRM. It can also read DRM-free MOBI, TXT and PDF files. Unfortunately, it does not support the ePub format. That may put it at a disadvantage on some public domain e-book Websites.

There is a way around some of the compatibility issues. E-book files without DRM can be converted to other formats. You just need the right program.

One of the best programs for the job is Calibre. This free program can read almost any e-book format available. You can easily import and organize your entire e-book collection.

But more importantly it can convert e-books to other formats. This means a DRM-free ePub e-book can be converted to Kindle-compatible MOBI. And TXT files can be converted to nook or Kobo-friendly ePub. Calibre can even transfer e-books to any major e-book reader.

That means you can download unprotected e-books from anywhere. And they can be used with any e-book reader. That increases your e-book reader's usefulness.

The real sticking point is buying e-books with DRM. Check each bookseller's Website for books you want to buy. And see which one has the best selection for you. That should help you decide.

It took a while, but e-books are finally taking off. Here's what you need to know before you spend your money:

There are quite a few e-book readers on the market. Which one is right for you? Find out with this free video from TVKim.com.

E-books are often discounted, but they still cost money. Find out how to find thousands of e-books for free instead.

E-books are okay, but some people still like real books. Read all the books you are interested in for free. Learn how to swap books online.

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199. Computer jargon made simple
Q. I'm getting ready to buy a laptop. But I don't understand all the terminology. It's just a bunch of numbers and letters to me. I'd like to know what everything means before I get to the store. Is there a Website that has all that information? Do you have a recommendation for a $500 to $600 laptop? Thank you very much.

A. I'll explain the most important computer terminology to you. You should also look at my budget laptop buying guide. It covers the most important things to look for in a budget laptop.

Let’s start by talking about the processor, or microchip. This is also known as the central processing unit (CPU). These days, processor speed is measured in gigahertz, for example 1.6GHz.

The processor is the brain of the computer. It performs all the computations. Without it, the software wouldn’t run. It used to be that faster was better. But that's not always the case anymore. Multiple-core processors change the equation a little.

Multi-core processors are single microchips that contain several processor cores. Each core essentially works like an individual processor. The two most common versions are dual-core and quad-core. Dual-core processors have two cores, while quad-core processors have four.

The benefit of more cores is better multitasking. Each core can be working on a separate task simultaneously. A slower multi-core processor is often more useful than a fast single-core processor.

Single-core processors are still available, and they're very inexpensive. But I'd go with a multi-core instead. Multi-core processors have become quite common; you won’t pay much more for a dual-core processor.

Few budget laptops offer quad-core processors. That’s ok. A dual-core processor will be fine for general computing.

You’ll also see 64-bit and 32-bit processors. Basically, 64-bit processors can work through twice as much data at a time. To get the full benefit, you’ll need a 64-bit version of Windows.

There are two major processor manufacturers: Intel and AMD. Both make good products. AMD has the edge on price, but Intel has better performance.

You might see information on something called a chipset. The chipset is part of the motherboard. It allows the CPU to interact with all the other components. There are several different kinds of chipsets for every processor.

For a budget laptop, you don't need to worry about chipsets. Chipsets are more important in high-end computers.

The graphics card is what generates information for display. This includes basic computing, gaming, and media. There are two types of graphics cards: integrated and discrete.

Integrated means the graphic system is built into the motherboard. A common integrated graphic system is the Intel GMA 4500MHD. It's ok for basic computing. Just don't expect to run intensive video games.

Discrete graphics cards are much more powerful. That's good for gaming and heavy visual media creation. But they aren't great for battery life or price. Discrete cards are manufactured by ATI and Nvidia.

Next up is the RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory. It is often just called memory. RAM acts as a temporary storage space for information. Click here to find out what you need to know about selecting RAM.

Hard drives store a lot of information, but they're slow. So frequently accessed information is loaded into RAM, which is much faster. The more RAM you have, the smoother your computer will run.

You want at least 2 gigabytes of RAM. For Windows 7, 4GB would be preferable. It will make a difference when a lot of programs are open. The amount of RAM your computer can use will depend on whether you’re using 32- or 64-bit Windows. Click here to find out what you need to know about selecting RAM.

Computers also have storage. There are HDDs and SSDs. This is where programs and data are kept. HDD stands for hard disk drive. These use magnets and spinning platters. There relatively fragile. But, most computers still use them.

SSD stands for solid-state drive. Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no moving parts. That makes them faster and studier than regular hard drives. However, they also store less and are much more expensive. You won’t see these on budget laptops.

HDDs are pretty inexpensive these days. Most laptops will come with at least a 160GB drive. More are shipping with 320GB drives. That’s more storage than most people need.

Any laptop drive should hold all your data. Just don't try storing an entire library of movies. Photos and music will also take up space, but not as quickly. If you need more storage, you can always get an external hard drive.

Sometimes you will see an RPM number for HDDs. On a laptop, this number will be either 5,400RPM or 7,200RPM. As with all mechanical equipment, RPM stands for rotations per minute. It's how fast the hard drive's mechanism spins.

Laptop hard drives usually run at 5,400RPM. That makes them slower to access information, but they use less energy. That's better for battery life, and the speed difference usually isn't noticeable.

The optical drive is what reads and burns CDs and DVDs. Don’t worry too much about specifications when it comes to optical drives. Just make sure they burn DVDs as well as CDs.

Higher-end laptops may come with Blu-ray Disc drives (BD). These can read Blu-ray discs. And they work for CDs and DVDs. It's up to you if you want to spend the extra money.

Most laptops have built-in networking options. Almost all of them come with an Ethernet connection. That's what you use for a wired network. All modern Ethernet connections go up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps). That's fine for most situations. However, 1000Mbps, or gigabit, connections are also available.

Gigabit connections are great for transferring large files over a network. However, you will also need a gigabit router. And all your other computers will need gigabit connections. Otherwise the extra speed is wasted.

Laptops also ship with wireless networking capability. You will see the number 802.11 followed by a letter. The letter will be "a," "b," "g," "n" or a combination. You want 802.11n or 802.11g, which are the most common choices.

The newest wireless standard is 802.11n. It's the fastest and has the longest range. However, you need an 802.11n wireless router to reap the advantages of it. The 802.11g standard is even more common. All laptops should have this by default. The 802.11a and 802.11b standards are rarely used anymore.

It would be good for the laptop to have 802.11n. That makes it more future-proof. But 802.11n can be added later with an adaptor, if needed.

Laptops come with many types of connections. USB, or Universal Serial Bus, is one of the most important connections. You use it to connect mice, printers and external drives

You might see VGA or DVI for video output. Go with DVI if possible, as VGA is the older connector. Some laptops also have an HDMI port. This allows easier connections to HDTVs. You won't see too many of these on budget laptops.

The laptop's screen resolution is determined by screen size. Pick a screen size that works for you. This is where in-store testing comes in handy.

Speaking of screens, laptops use LCDs, or liquid-crystal displays. You may see some higher-end laptops labeled LED. LED, or light-emitting diode, is a type of LCD backlighting. Click here to learn about the advantages it offers.

Buying the correct computer is just the beginning. Make sure you set up your new computer with security in mind:

Connecting to the Internet is dangerous. But it doesn't have to be. Learn more before you take a new computer online.

Even security software doesn't completely protect against user error. Malicious sites can be tricky to spot. These free software tools can help you.

More people are setting up wireless networks. These are convenient, but can be unsafe. Make sure your wireless network keeps the bad guys out.

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198. Kindle, Kobo & new e-book readers
Q. I got an e-mail about a new e-book reader. It will be available from Borders in June. It is called the Kobo eReader. Do you know anything about it? I recently watched your video on e-book readers. It sounds like the Amazon Kindle is still the best one. But I wondered how the Kobo compares. I would really like to know your opinion.

A. I'm glad you asked, Carolyn. If you’re in the market for a gadget, it always pays to check out new products. Something better could be in the pipe. So, let’s take a look at that Kobo.

The Kobo should hit shelves in a couple of weeks. One of the main selling points will be its $150 pricetag. The Kindle is $260, which is about the norm for e-readers. The larger Kindle DX is $490. So, the Kobo has a major advantage.

I personally like the Kindle DX. The large, 9.7-inch screen is great for reading. But many people don't want to pay that much.

The Kobo's screen is 6 inches, the same as the smaller Kindle. Like the Kindle, the Kobo uses an e-ink display. However, the Kobo's display won't be quite as good.

The Kindle can display 16 shades of grey. The Kobo can only display 8 shades. That won't make much of a difference when reading text. But it allows the Kindle to display more than just text.

Control layout is also something to consider. The Kindle has its buttons on the front, along with a full keyboard. In comparison, the Kobo has a single, directional pad on the front. Its other buttons are on the side. Those will be harder to access.

The way the Kobo lays out content on the screen looks pretty good. Everything is nicely organized, and you can select several layout styles. Browsing through your book collection will be pretty easy.

The Kindle does have the edge in built-in memory. It has 2 gigabytes, where the Kobo only has 1GB. But you can increase the Kobo's storage to 4GB with a microSD card.

The Kindle also has a cellular connection. You can purchased and download books from any location. The Kobo requires a computer or a supported Bluetooth smart phone. It is worth noting that it cannot connect to an iPhone.

The Kobo does have a longer battery life. But both readers will run more than a week on a full charge. And the Kindle can turn off its wireless connection. That will increase battery life further.

Both e-readers have similar e-book policies. For example, purchased e-books can be read on a computer or iPhone. And both allow you to view free e-books. Speaking of free e-books, click here for thousands of titles.

Border's e-book pricing is similar to Amazon's, for the most part. But, Amazon seems to have more deals. However, Borders has some current bestselling e-books available that Amazon doesn't.

The Kindle supports more e-book formats that the Kobo. But it doesn’t support the ePub format. The Kobo does. This ePub format is a very popular open e-book standard. It is popular with free e-book sites.

I have free software that will convert e-books to different formats. That means you can get free e-books to work with pretty much any e-reader you buy. It only works with books that don’t have copy protections.

Books purchased from a particular store are another matter. For example, books sold in Amazon’s format will only work on the Kindle. (They’ll also work with Kindle software for the iPhone or your computer.)

The Kindle does have other special features that set it apart. This includes annotating books, text-to-speech and audio book support. Work documents can also be loaded and viewed for a small fee. However, these features aren't essential for everyone.

The Kobo should be an adequate e-reader. Thanks to its price, it’s a good way to dip your toes in the e-reader waters. But it won't have as many features as the Kindle. You'll have to decide if the Kindle's extras are worth $100 more.

Every type of media is going digital, including books. Read these tips so you don’t get left behind:

   * You don't have to sacrifice quality for convenience! Click here to find sites offering high-quality music downloads.

   * Some people prefer to listen instead of read. Learn how to find and listen to free audio books.

   * Don't run into trouble sharing digital files illegally. Find out how you can use the files you download.

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197. Extract photos from any video
Q. I was trying to capture a picture of something with my digital camera. But instead, I took about five seconds of video. Can I pull a picture out of the video?

A. Most digital cameras can take videos. Even some smartphone cameras can do this. It's a cool feature. But taking a video when you wanted a photo could be frustrating.

However, you're not out of luck. You can pull a photo out of a video. This can actually be a handy feature. Maybe you don't have lightning-fast reflexes with the shutter button. You can shoot something and grab the best stills later.

There is a big caveat here. Photos extracted from video will not be high quality. They probably won't match true photos. That said, they're good enough for sharing online or e-mailing to friends.

There are a few ways to do this. The easiest method uses VLC Media Player. This program handles almost every file type under the sun. It works on any PC or Mac. And you can download it free from my site.

Open the video with VLC Media Player. Pause the video, if it starts playing automatically. Click on the timeline to navigate through the video. Find the frame you'd like to turn into a photo. Then, click Video>>Snapshot. That's it.

By default, the photo should be saved on your desktop. It will be saved as a PNG file. You can change the file format and location, if you want. It just takes a quick settings change.

On a PC, click Tools>>Preferences. Select Video from the side menu. On a Mac, click VLC>>Preferences. Click the video tab. In both cases, find the settings under the "Video snapshots" heading.

Now, maybe you don't want to download a program for this purpose. It can be done with some software already on your computer. It is more complicated. But it is doable.

On a PC, open your video in Windows Movie Maker. It will show up as an icon in the Contents pane. Click on it to view it. Find the slider under the video. Use it to navigate to the frame you want. Use the Next and Previous Frame buttons to refine your selection.

Then click Tools>>Take Picture from Preview. Name the picture and choose the save location. Finally, click Save. The picture will be saved as a JPG file.

On a Mac, open your video in iMovie. You'll see the video stretched out in the lower half of the window. Hold your mouse over this timeline to navigate through the video. You'll see where you are in the upper right of the window. Find the frame you want a photo of.

Once you've found it, right-click and select "Add Still Frame to Project." You'll see a new entry in the upper portion of the window. iMovie will likely apply a visual effect to the photo. Ignore this. Right-click the image and select "Reveal in Finder."

The photo will be named something like Still 1.jpeg. The number will change when you create multiple stills. You can rename and move the file from here.

Photography isn't just for professionals:

   - Want to take stunning photos? You need a great camera

   - Keep people from looking fat in your photos

   - Are your photos good enough to sell? Learn how to do it

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196. Q. What in the world is "cloud computing?"
A. I like you, Phil. No beating around the bush. No extraneous detail. Your question is directly to the point!

The term "cloud computing" isn't terribly clear. But it's better than some acronym. (In fact, there is an acronym--SaaS, or software as a service. See, isn't cloud computing better?)

Cloud, as used by geeks, refers to the Internet. So, people computing in the cloud are running software on somebody else's computers. They access those computers via the Internet. The computers could be next door or overseas.

When they do that, they don't have to install the software. They don't have to update it. They don't have to upgrade whenever a new version appears. They don't need more powerful computers to run new versions.

The guys on the other end take care of all that. Does that save the user loads of money? Probably not. These services are not cheap, especially for business. But they certainly can reduce aggravation. Not having to futz with software means firms can focus on business.

This is a growing trend. Companies that run their own programs put a fortune into computer equipment. More money is spent on the people who run them. Neither the people nor the computers, in most cases, produce revenue. They're a support service.

There are many other services--for instance, janitorial, public relations and security. They are all costs. Companies are in business to make money. One way they make money is by outsourcing services. And one cost reduction might be software.

There's a downside to this. Outsourced service isn't always first rate. Sometimes, dealing with people hundreds or thousands of miles away isn't worthwhile. This is actually a big fly in the ointment.

Let me give you a couple examples from my experience. My salespeople use customer relationship management (CRM) software. These tend to be complicated programs. Rather than install and maintain software, we use Salesforce.com. We have had no problems with it. We don't have to worry about security, updates or upgrades. Salesforce takes care of that. That situation has worked out well.

And here's one that didn't work out: Years ago, a hosting company ran my Web site. It also handled my e-mail. I had numerous little problems with that. Eventually, I brought all of that in-house. Running all that stuff is expensive. And it took a long time to find people who could run it properly.

My Web site and e-mail are absolutely critical. I've got first-rate people now. I know they're on top of the computer system. So, I sleep better with it in-house.

Phil, you are using cloud computing now. When you do an Internet search, you are using Google's computers. Or, Yahoo!'s, or Microsoft's. The search software is not on your computer.

There are many photo-editing programs, both free and paid. Just check my site. But you can also do that in the cloud. Here are five free ones. There are many others.

Google also has an office package online--Google Docs. It includes a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program. Is it less complete than Microsoft Office? Oh, yes. But it's free, and Microsoft Office costs hundreds of dollars.

Furthermore, Microsoft Office has regular security problems. If you use Google, that shouldn't be your concern. Google should take care of those issues.

Some security experts worry about the security of cloud computing. Companies that host these Internet systems insist that they're safe. Are they? How can you know? I'm sure some companies will avoid cloud computing for just that reason.

There's also the matter of the Internet. Will it always be up and running? That is rarely a problem. But it's not something you can control.

Whatever the downside, the world is moving toward cloud computing. Most people don't want to bother with software. As they become aware of the cloud, they will move toward it. But, as your question illustrates, advocates don't make it terribly clear.

Anyway, that's a long-winded answer to your question. Cloud computing could have a more illustrative name. But it's better than SaaS!

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195. Buying a digital photo frame
Q. I have tons of photos of my family on my computer. I'd like to display them around my house. But there are way too many to print out and hang. So, I'm looking into digital photo frames. What kinds of photo frames are available?

A. Digital photo frames are really cool. You can hang them on your wall or put them on your desk. Most can hold thousands of photos. And they’ll automatically rotate through them. Some can even pull photos from online photo-sharing sites.

Several companies make quality digital photo frames. The main differences are in price and screen size. But a few models have unique features.

Pandigital makes a wide range of simple photo frames. They range from 5.6 to 12 inches. Prices range from $50 to $200. These are fairly barebones. They feature some internal memory. But a memory card reader can take photos right from your camera. They accept SD and Memory Stick cards and USB drives.

Pandigital does have two frames that stand out. The 12-inch model ($200) is one of the largest I've seen. You’ll also find a collage multi-frame ($80). It’s made up of four 7-inch frames – two horizontal, two vertical. You could show off a lot of pictures with it.

Hewlett-Packard sells a few digital photo frames. Its 7- ($100), 8- ($130) and 10.4-inch ($180) frames have the same features. Each has a memory card reader and USB port. They can show videos, complete with audio, as well as photos.

Pandigital also has an 8-inch ($160) frame with built-in Wi-Fi. It can pull photos from Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Picasa and more. If you store your photos online, they can show up automatically. It also shows the weather, streams videos from YouTube and accesses Twitter.

Sony has nearly a dozen photo frames. The prices range from $100 to $300. You’ll find screen sizes from 7 to 10.2 inches. All come with a remote control, memory card reader and USB port.

Again, a few models have unique features. For $200, you can get a 7-inch frame combined with a printer. View all your photos. Then print them on photo paper at the touch of a button. The 10.2-inch frame ($300) includes CreativeEdit software. This allows you to decorate photos right on the frame. Think of it as digital scrapbooking. It also features an HDMI output. Hook it up to an HDTV to really show off your photos.

Kodak sells 15 photo frames. They range from 5 inches ($60) to 10 inches ($230). All have memory card readers and USB ports. You can also connect them directly to a computer to transfer photos. Some of the more expensive models have built-in Wi-Fi. They can pull photos from Kodak Gallery and Flickr.

And maybe you have a wheelbarrow full of cash. If so, Kodak offers the world’s first OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display. This 7-inch frame has built-in Wi-Fi and a stunning screen. It runs a mere $1,000!

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194. Sharing a printer on a mixed network, 9/25/2009
Q. I have a home network with two XP desktops. I also have a MacBook. I want to share a printer, but my router doesn't have a USB port. I don't want to invest in a print server. So, I have to leave the printer connected to one of the desktops. I've spent hours trying to get the network configuration right. But I am still unable to print from the MacBook. Can you help?

A. Networking trips up a lot of people. Eeven if you're a pro, it is easy to get into a muddle. Even a simple mistake will mess things up. Mix operating systems, and lotsa luck!

Fortunately, you're dealing with a fairly simple problem. However, you haven't figured it out because it is obscure.

Rather than blurt out the solution, I'll go through the entire process. I'm sure there are others who would like to share a printer between Windows and Macs. They could use the step-by-step instructions.

Obviously, the printer needs to be connected to a computer. Both must be powered on. And all computers must be on the same network. Make sure the network name is EXACTLY the same in each computer.

Next, let's enable printer sharing in Windows XP. Click Start>>Printers and Faxes. You'll see a list of your printers. Right-click the printer you would like to share. Select Sharing. This opens the printer's Properties box to the Sharing tab.

Click "Share this printer." Enter a name for the printer. This is how you will identify the printer on your Mac. The name cannot have more than 12 characters. Otherwise, Mac OS X won't recognize it.

I'm 99.9 percent sure that this is what's tripping you up, Hal. But there could be one other problem. Before you close the Properties box, open the General tab. Click in the Comment box. Remove any special characters. And make sure that there is no hard return at the end of the comment.

Uh-huh, you're saying. What was that?

Let's start with the Comment box. Maybe you've put something in there for future reference. Or perhaps a printer puts something in there. Maybe it's blank. Whatever. You're limited on what you can have in that box.

If something is written there, you can't have special characters. Those are any typed characters other than A-Z, 0-9, !, $, *, (, ), _, +, -, ' ,. . That is, you can use letters, numbers, exclamation mark, dollar sign, asterisk, open parenthesis, close parenthesis, underscore, plus sign, minus sign, apostrophe and period. Anything else must be deleted. Nothing to it.

What's a hard return? You enter a hard return when you press Enter. There's a basic problem with getting rid of them: They're invisible.

So, place the cursor in the last line of the comment. Depress the right arrow button. If the cursor stops at the end of the line, you're OK. If it goes to the next line, there's a return at the end of the comment. Press the backspace.

Move the cursor a few characters to the left. Depress the right button. If the cursor stops at the end of the line, great. If not, press Backspace. Test it again. Repeat until the cursor stops at the end of the line.

Of course, the Comment box could look blank. It probably is. But there could be hard returns there. They're invisible, remember? (There could be hadrons there, too. But the Mac can live with them.)

So click near the bottom of the box. If the cursor jumps to the top left, you're OK. If it jumps somewhere else, depress the backspace until it goes to the beginning of the box.

If it stays where you click, you must be in a field of hard returns. (Yeah, I'm tired of this, too!) You'll have to delete and backspace until everything is cleared up. What have you been doing in that box?

When you're done, click Apply and OK.

Note: If you're sharing multiple printers, also check their properties. Delete special characters and returns from the Comment section. Special characters in one shared printer can affect the sharing of other printers.

Now you're ready to add the printer on the Mac. Click System Preferences on the Dock. Or, click the Apple menu and select System Preferences.

Click the Print & Fax icon. You'll see a list of printers that your Mac can use. Click the + sign below this list.

In the Printer Browser window, click Windows. In the first column, select the workgroup name. Then select the name of the computer to which the printer is attached.

If prompted, enter a user name and password for the computer. In the third column, select your printer. Click the Print Using dropdown menu. Select the driver for the printer. Click Add.

You'll probably also want to specify the printer in the Default Printer dropdown box. When you're done, close System Preferences. You should be good to go!

For more help with Macs, iPods and Apple software, hit my site:

    • 8 tips for new Mac users
    • 5 insider tips for iTunes
    • Backing up an iTunes library
    • Recovering music from an iPod
    • Tracking a lost or stolen iPhone

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193. Getting around ink expiration, 9/21/2009
Q. How can I override the expiration dates on Hewlett-Packard printer cartridges? I can insert an unused cartridge and the system tells me it has expired. Is there any program I can use to override this?

A. I don't know of a program that will override the expiration. However, there might be some work-arounds.

Hewlett-Packard says relatively few of its cartridges expire. And many of those can still be used. You just have to follow instructions on the screen. However, some are not usable. That sounds like your situation.

According to the company site, expiration is intended to protect printers. Air and water can cause the ink to deteriorate, HP says. In printers with separate cartridges and printheads, the printer can be damaged.

This is an old problem. I haven't heard anything about it in some time. I'll bet you have an older printer.

Apparently, this is often a case of expired cartridges bought on eBay. The expiration can turn a great buy into a complete loss.

HP may well be right about protecting printers. But this expiration also hinders efforts by refillers to sell ink. That certainly works to HP's advantage. Remember, manufacturers practically give away printers. They make lots of money selling replacement cartridges.

I'm not sure that's a fair criticism, though. Most of HP's cartridges include the printhead. And it doesn't expire them.

I found some ways online to get around the expirations, supposedly. I'm not recommending any of these! If you wreck your printer, don't call.

Also, these instructions are at least a few years old. I didn't see anything that mentioned a Windows version. So I assume they're for Windows XP, and maybe its predecessors. I don't know if they work on Windows Vista.

--The chip in the cartridges supposedly looks at the computer clock. Set the clock back one year. Do your printing, then reset the clock. Sounds like a hassle to me.

--Disconnect the printer cables. Find the battery inside the printer. Disconnect it for an hour. Sounds like another hassle. You can find instructions for various HP printers online. Numerous people say this works.

--Look for a file or two beginning with hp and ending with .ini. Here's a possible path: Windows\system32\spool\drivers\w32x86\3\hp*.ini. Find a line that reads:

Pencheck=0100

Change it to:

Pencheck=0000

--If you can't find the hp*.ini file, try editing the Registry. In Windows XP, click Start>>Run. Enter "regedit" (minus the quotes) in the box and click OK. In Windows Vista, click Start. In the Start Search box, enter "regedit" (minus the quotes). Press Enter.

Follow this path: HKLM/software/Hewlett-Packard/HP Printers/HPWH Toolbox/Common. On the right side, right-click Ink and select modify. Change 0100 to 0000. Close regedit and reboot.

(Before you start fooling around in the Registry, back it up. Check my tip for instructions.)

There are probably more ideas on the Web. If you root around, I'll bet you'll find them.

I assume the printers involved are old. So the warranties would be expired. But if yours is still good, be careful. Mucking around inside the printer could void the warranty.

Can't get enough about printers? Here's more:

• Good printer prints bad stuff

• What does your printer remember?

• Laser printers (Buying Guide)

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192. When software is too cheap, 9/2/2009
Q. I purchased software from HiTechGate.com in early May. I was unable to install it. (The program was looking for a file that it could not find.) After a number of e-mails, most of which they did not answer, I concluded that I have been ripped off. I don't see how I can get my money back, but I would like to make my ordeal public for the benefit of others (and to satisfy my own sense of justice). Can you recommend an agency or forum to which I can address my complaints?

A. HiTechGate.com is selling software very cheaply. In fact, it's too cheap.

HiTechGate says it sells OEM (original equipment manufacturer) version software. These versions are included on new computers. They are much cheaper than the retail copies.

OEM stores abound on the Web. They presumably get their software through computer manufacturers. The software industry grumbles about these sellers, but registers their software.

Typically, the software is sold with a piece of hardware, such as a cable. That apparently makes it legal. The programs are complete, but manuals and support are not included.

HiTechGate carries an array of expensive programs. For instance, it offers Adobe's Acrobat 9 Pro Extended for $27. I found that program online at OEM stores for about $170. Adobe's retail price is $699! So, HiTechGate's price is quite a bargain.

HiTechGate notes on its site that the software cannot be registered. That may be an indication that it's not legal. You may have a disc burned from a legitimate copy. Long ago, software publishers found ways to block counterfeit copies.

I think this is a case of too good to be true. Anyone with common sense should smell something fishy. Basically, you tried to get something for nothing. Instead, you got nothing for a little something. Count yourself lucky that it was no worse.

You can save money buying from OEM stores. But you won't get HiTechGate's prices. I'd just chalk it up to life's lessons.

However, you can complain, if you want. I'd start with the Better Business Bureau. You could also complain to the Attorney General's Office in Georgia.

The software industry maintains an agency that pursues software counterfeiting. That is the Business Software Alliance. I would drop it a line.

Not all great deals are bummers. I list hundreds of free programs on my site. Check them out in my Downloads section.

Adobe's Acrobat, mentioned previously, is used to produce PDF files. These are great for exchanging documents over the Internet. But you don't have to pay Acrobat's high price. Try these free PDF programs:

    • Split and merge PDF documents
    • A PDF creator for Macs
   • Convert PDF files to Word documents

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191. Flash Player and 64-bit Windows, 8/4/2009
Q. I just bought a laptop. It has a 64-bit processor and 64-bit Windows. I'm trying to download the Flash Player for Internet Explorer. However, I get an error message. It says that Flash Player won't run on 64-bit Internet Explorer. Does that mean I can't view any Flash content on my machine?

A. It hasn't been long since the first 64-bit version of Windows was released. Now, it is showing up more and more on new machines.

Unfortunately, not all of the wrinkles have been ironed out. For example, you'll have trouble finding drivers for older hardware. And manufacturers have been slow to introduce 64-bit software.

This is the case with Flash Player. Adobe Systems is working on a version for 64-bit browsers.

Flash makes the Internet more interactive. For example, it is often used in graphic ads. But it's really known for Web videos. YouTube uses it for its video format.

So, surfing the Net without Flash would be dull. You won't even be able to watch my Videos of the Day!

Fortunately, you can use Flash Player on 64-bit Windows. You just can't use the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer.

Fortunately, though, there is a 32-bit version included in Windows. It should be the default version on the Quick Launch bar and the programs menu.

You can track it down, if necessary. Go to Windows Explorer (Right-click the Start button. Click Explore.) Open C:\Program Files (x86)\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe.

You may want to make a shortcut to it on your desktop. Right-click the iexplore.exe file and select Send To>>Desktop (create shortcut). You can access it easily when you need to access a Flash-based site.

You have another option. You can use the free Firefox browser. It is a 32-bit browser. So, you shouldn't have any trouble with Flash Player. Download Firefox from my site now!

As I said, machines running 64-bit Windows are increasingly common. But is one right for you? Find out in my handy tip! For more on the major benefit of 64-bit computing, check this tip.

Finally, the free programs in my Security Center work with 64-bit Windows. That is, with one exception. You'll need to look elsewhere for a firewall. Fortunately, I have a free firewall for 64-bit Windows on my site! Protect yourself now!

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190. Attaching a hard drive to your network, 8/1/2009
Q. I would like to share data between my laptop and desktop computers. I don't want to use a thumb drive to move the data between machines. Rather, I want the data to be available automatically. Also, I don't want to leave a computer on all the time. So, can I attach a hard drive to my router?

A. Yes. This is called network attached storage. Any machine on your network could access the drive.

Your first option is to purchase a NAS drive. These look much like external hard drives. However, they have an Ethernet port to connect to a router. They often contain USB ports for connecting additional hard drives or printers.

You'll pay a premium for NAS drives. That's because they are more complex than standard external drives. They're much like computers. They have an operating system and software for managing the flow of data.

You can buy NAS units that contain one or more hard drives. You can also purchase NAS enclosures and add drives. If you have spare hard drives, this can save you money.

You may already have an external hard drive. In that case, you can purchase a NAS adapter. Basically, that's a small box that attaches to your router. It has a USB port for connecting your plain-Jane external drive.

You may have trouble finding these adapters. I've only seen a few. Expect to pay $50 to $100. Pogoplug and Addonics are two companies to check.

The adapters can be tricky to set up. And they allow for only one external drive. Consider that before going with this option.

A better solution is to upgrade your router. Many routers contain built-in USB ports.

Research routers carefully. The presence of USB ports does not mean you can attach a hard drive. Some routers only accept printers.

Likewise, you'll find plenty of print servers. These allow you to attach USB printers to your router. However, they cannot be used to attach hard drives.

Networking can trip up even the most computer-savvy folks. But you don't have to struggle with your network. Check out these great sites:

    • Step-by-step, secure your wireless network

    • Setting up a network in Vista

    • 6 things to know about wireless networking

    • Stay secure on an open network

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189. Using System Restore, 7/30/2009
Q. I'm having trouble installing hardware. I would like to roll back my computer to an earlier time. Can you help me with System Restore?

A. System Restore is one of the handiest features in Windows. It lets you roll your machine back to an earlier point in time. Your data is not affected, just your Windows configuration. It can be a lifesaver when dealing with a computer problem.

I have a tip on my site that covers XP's System Restore. If you're using Vista, keep reading!

To access System Restore, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>> System Tools>>System Restore.

System Restore will present you with a few options. First, you can select the recommended restore point. This is the last restore point created on the machine. For it, select "Recommended restore."

You can also use an earlier restore point. Select "Choose a different restore point." This screen also lets you create restore points. I'll have more on that in a minute.

Once you've made your selection, click Next. You'll see a list of available restore points. The list that appears by default is limited to five days of restore points. But, you can see more, if you choose. Click "Show restore points older than 5 days."

You don't need to select blindly. A brief description appears next to each restore point. You should see the event that triggered each. Select one and click Next.

On the next screen, click Finish. This will restart your computer. So, make sure all your programs are closed before proceeding.

Windows creates restore points periodically. For example, it creates them when you boot your machine or install new software. They're also created before updates and hardware drivers are installed.

You can also create a restore point on your own, if you wish. To do this, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>System Restore.

Click "open System Protection." In the dialog box that opens, click Create on the system Protection tab. Click Apply and OK. Your restore point is created.

Now, Windows only provides a limited amount of space for restore points. Once the limit is reached, it starts deleting them, oldest ones first.

By default, System Restore can use 15 percent of hard drive space. You can alter this via the Command Prompt. However, I discourage this. You should be fine with the allotted space. And you can create problems if you misuse the command prompt.

If you run out of room, you can easily free up space. Disable and re-enable system restore. This wipes out the restore points.

To disable system restore, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>> System Tools>>System Restore. On the screen that opens, click "open System Protection."

In the list of available discs, deselect your hard drive. Click Apply. Then, reselect it, and click Apply>>OK.

Incidentally, malware often hides in System Restore. So, clean out restore points after recovering from malware.

Now, in Vista, System Restore is tied in with Shadow Copy. Shadow Copy is a feature available in some Vista versions that helps you recover files. You can learn all about it—and its dangers— in my must-read tip. (See Question 188, next below.)

Need more help with Windows Vista? Don't miss these excellent tips on my site:

    • Tweak UAC to end annoying pop-ups

    • Get a detailed health report of your machine

    • Should you use Vista's BitLocker?

    • Teach Vista to read your writing

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188. Using System Restore, 10/18/2005
Q. My son downloaded a game demo last week. The game would crash at random times and we would have to restart the computer. I finally uninstalled the thing, but the same thing is still happening. How can I just get my computer back to normal? I'm using Windows ME.

A. Games, especially free games, can be of dubious quality. Some are created by programmers as practice or a hobby. And low-quality games can come with low-quality uninstallers. So there are probably a few traces of that game left on your computer.

Fortunately, Windows has just the thing for these circumstances. It's a built-in tool called System Restore. System Restore debuted in Windows Me. It is also part of Windows XP. It takes snapshots of your system. The snapshots are called restore points.

System Restore is useful if you run into sudden problems in Windows. You can return your system to the way it was before problems started. By default, System Restore may keep restore points for the last 90 days. Choose a date and Windows will become its former self.

Restore points are made automatically every 24 hours. That's assuming the computer is turned on. Otherwise, the restore point is created when you boot up. Restore points also are created when you install a program or download an unsigned driver. Drivers tell Windows how to use devices like printers. Unsigned drivers are those not certified by Microsoft.

To find System Restore, click Start>>All Programs>> Accessories>>System Tools>>System Restore. To choose a restore point, select "Restore my computer to an earlier time." Then click the Next button.

System Restore will display a miniature calendar. Select any day emphasized in bold. Look for the day that you installed the game. That day's restore points will be listed beside the calendar. Each restore point also bears a short description to help you choose. They typically look something like "Windows Update" or "Installed iTunes."

Select a restore point and click the Next button. System Restore will prompt you to confirm your choice. Click the Next button. Your computer will automatically shut down and restart using the restore point.

System Restore does not disturb your e-mail or other documents. In fact, it leaves the entire My Documents folder untouched. And a new restore point is made when you use System Restore. It ensures that you can undo the restore if you're not satisfied.

System Restore is handy, but it involves a trade-off: It uses a lot of space. It can use up to 12 percent of your hard drive. But you can adjust the amount of space allowed for System Restore.

In Windows Me, click Start>>Settings>>Control Panel. Double-click System. Select the Performance tab. Click the File System button. Select the Hard Disk tab. Under Settings, you'll find a slider to adjust System Restore's allowed space. But don't be too stingy. System Restore requires at least 200 megabytes to continue making restore points. And the allowed space determines how far back you can restore your computer.

In Windows XP, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click System. Select the System Restore tab. You'll see the slider to adjust the space reserved for System Restore.

Do not rely on System Restore as a general backup. It won't recover old versions of your documents. Neither will it recover documents that you've deleted. It simply restores Windows to an earlier state.

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187. Removing bloatware from new computers, 7/22/2009
Q. My computer came with a bunch of shortcuts already on my desktop. Most seem to be for games. But there are other programs, too. I would love to have some additional desktop space. How do I get rid of these preinstalled programs?

A. New computers typically come with pre-installed software. These are mainly trials of programs.

These pre-installed programs are sometimes called bloatware or craplets. They take up space, power and time. Plus, they're trying to sell you things you probably don't need.

Software companies pay computer manufacturers to install these programs. The bloatware helps hold down computer prices. So, I guess it's not all bad.

Getting rid of the stuff is easier said than done. You may be able to remove some through Control Panel. Click Start>>Control Panel. Select Classic View on the left. Double-click Programs and Features. Select the programs and click Uninstall.

But that's not going to work with everything. Not all of the trial software will be on that list. Some will run as standalone applications. They don't actually install anything. So, you have to find another way to get rid of them.

A common type of bloatware is security programs. You'll often find trial versions of McAfee or Norton software. Both companies make quality products. But you don't really need to pay for good security programs. I have everything you need in my Security Center.

Removing these security programs can be tough. There are often multiple components hidden in dark corners. Thankfully, McAfee and Norton offer great removal tools.

Game services are also popular pieces of bloatware. They're not free games like Minesweeper and Solitaire. These shortcuts often connect you to online game stores. To remove these, I recommend using PC Decrapifier.

In fact, PC Decrapifier is great for all new computers. It removes many common types of bloatware. Using it gives you a nice clean slate to start from. You won't have shortcuts crowding your desktop. And only the programs you want will be taxing your processor.

If you're looking for games, I have free ones on my site.

If nothing else works, remove bloatware in Windows Explorer. First, go to Windows Explorer (Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>Windows Explorer). Click Computer>>Local Disk C:>>Program Files. Delete the bloatware from Program Files.

Don't forget to secure your computer:

    • Learn how to protect your new computer

    • Even new Macs need to be secured

    • Your home wireless network needs protection, too

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186. Correct your file associations, 7/17/2009
Q. My computer is acting funny. My photos are opening in Microsoft Word. My videos are opening in the wrong video program. What is going on? How can I get everything straight again?

A. This problem is actually pretty common. It's also fairly easy to fix. File associations tie file types to specific programs. When you double-click a file, it opens in that program. Your file associations apparently are mixed up.

There are a couple of ways this happens. You can do it by accident. That's probably what happened to your photos. There's no other reason they should be opening in Word.

Installing new programs can also change file associations. Music and video programs are notorious for doing this. They want to take over the role of default player. And they'll do it if you're not careful.

Thankfully, resetting these associations is fairly easy. You didn't say if you were using a Mac or PC. So, I'll cover both. Either way the process is simple. First, find one of the files you're having trouble with.

In Windows Vista, right-click the file. Select Open With>>Choose Default Program. You'll see a list of programs. Select the program you want to use. Or hit Browse to add a program to the list. Check the box labeled "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file." Click OK.

In Windows XP, right-click the file. Select Open With. Find the program you want to use. Or click Browse to find another program. Again, check "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file." Click OK.

In Mac OS X, right-click the file. Select Get Info. Click the heading labeled "Open with." Use the dropdown menu to select a suggested program. Or click Other to browse for something else. Click Change All. Close the window.

Now those files will open with the correct programs.

Sometimes, a program isn't available to open a particular file. These free programs will handle common file types:

    • Video files come in a ridiculous number of formats. This media player can open them all.

    • You need a suite to open office documents. Microsoft Office is the standard, but it's expensive. For a free alternative, try OpenOffice.org.

    • PDF files are easily opened with Adobe Reader. But it isn't the best program. Instead, try Foxit Reader or Sumatra.

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185. The mysterious case of the TV cables, 7/15/2009
Q. I need help with HDMI cables. I recently signed up for U-verse television service. The receiver has an output for HDMI. Should I use this output? Cables range from $25 to $100. Are the expensive cables really that much better?

A. The short answer to your question is no. Inexpensive cables have been found in tests to work fine. So I wouldn't waste money on the expensive stuff.

However, television connections confuse a lot of people. With so many choices, it's difficult to know which to choose. You don't necessarily have to use HDMI. Let's look at that first. Then we'll talk about prices.

AT&T's U-verse service includes high-definition programming. I assume you want that HD service. Typically, signal-receiving boxes include two HD connections: HDMI and component video. That's true of TVs, too. Component is an analog connection. HDMI is digital.

Many people prefer HDMI, because it is simpler. There's only one cable; it carries both video and audio.

Component has three connections for video alone. The cables carry red, blue and green channels. Separate audio cables are required.

Because component is analog, the television must convert the signal to digital. Component video is often considered inferior to HDMI for that reason.

However, that is not necessarily true. Various digital encoding techniques are available. So, the TV probably must convert digital signals, too.

For example, DVD recordings have non-square pixels. Your television's pixels are square. The television must scale the digital signal from a DVD player.

The quality of signal conversions depends on your gear. Digital-to-digital conversion isn't necessarily better than analog-to-digital conversion.

You also need to consider cable length. An analog cable can transfer a signal over a relatively long distance. You won't notice much degradation in quality. In comparison, data loss is more likely with long digital cables. You could get pixel dropouts, resulting in a sparkly picture.

Finally, with HDMI, you need to worry about High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. HDCP is designed to prevent the copying of digital content.

HDCP-compliant gadgets can't transmit high-definition digital content to non-HDCP-compliant gadgets. Your set-top box could use HDCP. But your television might not. In that case, the box won't transfer a signal to the TV over HDMI. That should only be a problem with older TVs.

HDCP is not an issue with component video cables, because they're analog.

So, let's get to your question, already! We'll assume you're going with HDMI. You'll see a wide range in cable prices.

The prices are often skewed toward the high end. The stores are making up for low TV prices with expensive accessories. Sales clerks often tout the benefits of high-priced cables.

I shudder to think that anyone is spending $100 on a cable. Studies have shown that these so-called premium cables aren't better than lower-priced ones.

You said you found a cable for $25. This is a reasonable price for an HDMI cable. You can do even better by a few dollars if you shop online.

This guidance goes for component cables, too. In fact, most cabling can be found at very high prices. Forget it; buy the inexpensive stuff.

Gear isn't everything! When it comes to home theaters, make sure the setup is right. Kick your home theater experience up a notch with these handy tips:

    • Are you sitting the right distance from your TV?

    • Bridge the gap between computer and TV

    • Calibrate your HDTV for a better picture

    • Get the best surround sound experience

    • Catch your favorite shows for free online

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184. Choosing the right computer monitor, 7/13/2009
Q. I'm in the market for a computer monitor. I need one that is 24 inches or wider. But I'm not sure about specifications. I've heard you talk about response time, contrast ratio and candelas. Can you offer me some advice and tell me what these things are?

A. These days, you really only have one choice when it comes to monitors. You're going to get a flat-panel LCD, or liquid crystal display.

However, you may see two types of LCDs. You can get a regular LCD. Or, you can purchase an LCD with an LED backlight.

A backlight that uses light-emitting diodes carries a hefty premium. For example, Apple's 24-inch LED-backlit LCD is $900. A traditional 24-inch LCD starts around $250.

Of course, there are many advantages to LED backlights. They use less energy. So, you'll save money in the long term. You'll also get a much better picture. I have all of the advantages in my tip; just click here.

LED backlights are not yet common. Only a few such monitors are available. Their prices will fall as the technology matures.

When you look at monitors, pay close attention to resolution. You want 1920x1080, minimum. This will give you full high definition for watching movies.

Response time and contrast ratio are both important. With a fast response time, you won't see smearing when you watch videos.

Response time is measured in milliseconds. The lower the number, the better. These days, you can get a monitor with a 2ms response time for a low price. Set 6ms or 8ms as your cutoff.

Contrast is expressed as a ratio, like 1,000:1. It is the ratio of the whitest white to the blackest black. A high contrast ratio should give you a clearer, crisper picture.

Unfortunately, the operative word here is "should." There is no universal standard for measuring contrast ratio. So, the numbers you will see are of limited use. They're helpful for comparing monitors from the same manufacturer. I wouldn't use them for much else.

Candelas is not a feature you look for, per se. Rather, it is a unit of measurement; it refers to a screen's luminance. Luminance, or brightness, is measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m2).

Again, with luminance, you want to aim for a high number. I wouldn't accept less than 300 cd/m2.

Viewing angle is another issue. The wider the viewing angle, the easier it is to see from the side.

When selecting an HDTV, you want a wide viewing angle. But you may want a narrower viewing angle with a monitor. That will give you more privacy.

The monitor's inputs must match the outputs on your computer. Most likely, you'll use a DVI connection. That is digital, as is HDMI. However, HDMI is rare on monitors.

Failing DVI, use VGA. VGA is a common analog connection; most computers and monitors support it. It may be inferior to digital, though.

You might want to consider extras. For instance, manufacturers are increasingly building in Webcams. That's nice if you like to video chat.

You might also want a monitor with speakers and USB ports. The benefits of these extras should be obvious.

Look for an adjustable stand, too. Many monitors don't have them. An adjustable stand will help you position the display correctly. Proper screen height is essential for good ergonomics.

Do your neck, back and shoulders ache after you use your computer? Then your monitor setup likely isn't ergonomically correct. My tip will put an end to back pain caused by a bad setup. You don't want to miss it!

Want to get more from your computer monitor? I have plenty of great tips on my site that will help you do just that:

     • Monitors double as TVs

     • Get a better picture from your flat panel

     • Use two monitors for better productivity

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183. Windows 64-bit vs. 32-bit
Q. I am building a computer. I have seen the upgrade offer for Windows 7 and plan to use it. I just have a question about 64-bit computing. What are its pros and cons? Also, what is required for a 64-bit machine? Is it just software, or do I need specific hardware?

A. The transition from 32- to 64-bit computing has been less than smooth. Publishers have been slow to develop 64-bit programs. And peripherals, like printers, sometimes don't work.

But the biggest obstacle may just be consumers. Many are unaware of the difference between 32- and 64-bit machines. Others, like you, don't know what's required for 64-bit computing.

Virtually all processors today are 64-bit. Be sure the chipset on your motherboard is also compatible with 64-bit. (It probably is.)

You can run either 32- or 64-bit Windows on 64-bit hardware. However, to get the benefits of 64-bit computing, you need 64-bit Windows.

Microsoft first released a 64-bit version of Windows XP several years ago. Virtually all versions of Vista are available in 64-bit Windows. In fact, it is increasingly common to find 64-bit Windows preinstalled on PCs.

I mentioned that publishers have been slow developing software. This shouldn't concern you too much. You can run most 32-bit programs on 64-bit Windows. It includes an emulation program to handle them.

Most compatibility problems with 64-bit Windows have been ironed out. It is increasingly common for manufacturers to offer 64-bit drivers. Drivers were a major hang-up in the early days of 64-bit Windows. Drivers help hardware work with Windows.

You shouldn't have many problems with newer hardware. But you may find that older peripherals are incompatible.

The biggest problem with 64-bit Windows is finding a firewall. There are very few of them. Fortunately, though, you do have options. Learn about them in my must-read tip. It even includes a link to a free firewall for 64-bit Windows!

The biggest benefit of 64-bit Windows is memory capacity. Thirty-two-bit Windows is limited to 4 gigabytes of memory. Sixty-four-bit Windows can access exponentially more. I recommend that you read this excellent tip on my site. It offers a quick, easy-to-understand rundown of the benefits of 64-bit computing. Read it before you get any deeper into building your computer!

Finally, let's talk about Windows 7 for a minute. It's true that Microsoft is offering special upgrade deals. You can learn all about the deals in my informative tip.

There are a few problems with your plan to take advantage of these deals, though. First, the discounted upgrades expire today. Microsoft has also limited the quantity of discount upgrades. Stores may be all sold out.

Also, the discounts only apply to upgrade versions of Windows 7. You won't be able to install the software on a machine unless it already runs Windows. Since you're building a machine, you need a full version of Vista.

You do have another option, though. You could download and install the free Windows 7 Release Candidate. That should run OK. It will die next June, so you'd eventually have to buy a full version of Windows 7. But you could skip Vista. Click here to download it.

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182. Limit editing of PDF files
I write confidential reports and need to send them to attorneys. I'd like to convert them to PDFs that cannot be modified. I could do that with Adobe Acrobat, but that's a $600 program. I can't afford it. Are there alternatives?

Before I address your question, let's get everybody up to speed. PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It was developed by Adobe Systems, a software company. With it, documents can be shipped around the Internet at will. They will hold their format. So PDF is popular with business (and attorneys, I guess).

Adobe's program for creating PDFs is Acrobat. There's a family of Acrobat programs, and a range of prices, Rosemarie. The Pro Extended version runs $700. However, there's a Standard version for $300.

That's still pretty stiff. And, to answer your question, there are alternatives. They tend to be much less expensive. For example, there's Nitro PDF Professional ($100, list) or Avanquest's MyPDF Maker ($30).

There are also free PDF programs. You'll find tools for creating PDFs. You'll even find programs that merge and split PDFs. And there's a little program that does exactly what you need.

There are really inexpensive PDF programs. Click here for info.

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181. Adding a printer to your network
Q. I have two computers at home. One runs Windows XP; the other, Vista. The Vista computer is new. I needed to network a printer for both computers. I bought the printer at Best Buy. The Geek Squad said they could network it for $300. I about fell through the floor. I told them never mind, I'll go to Kim Komando and find out how it is done. The Geek Squad guy actually asked for your Web address. You are my hero, Kim!

A. Well, thank you very much. This is a sweet note. I'm glad I was able to help you. And I'm REALLY glad I could save you $300!

I get quite a few questions about printers. People are often vexed by networking setups. But, really, Windows makes it easy. In fact, it gets easier with each version of Windows.

You have several options. You can hook your printer directly to the router. The printer can be connected to a networked computer. Or, you can use a print server. And if you have a wireless network, it may connect wirelessly.

Assuming the printer isn't wireless, cabling to the router is simplest. Some printers have Ethernet ports. In such cases, simply run an Ethernet cable from the printer. Also, some routers will accept a USB cable. Again, cable the printer to the router.

A print server is also easy to use. These are small machines that cost as little as $20. Run a USB cable from the printer to the print server. Then run an Ethernet cable between the print server and router.

In either case, already networked computers should see the printer automatically. That's true of the wireless method, too.

How do you network a printer? Let me walk you through it.

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180. Windows 7
Q.
I've been hearing a lot about Windows 7 lately. All I know is it will replace Vista. I've heard nothing about new features. What can you tell me about it? Will I want to upgrade?

A. Will you want to upgrade to Windows 7? I can't answer that question, Chris. But I can give you some information on Windows 7. And you can decide for yourself.

It's no secret that many avoided Microsoft's much-maligned Vista. Businesses in particular did not want to upgrade to Vista. Vista requires much more powerful machines than XP. Microsoft heard this complaint.

In truth, Windows 7 requirements are about the same as Vista's. It requires a 1GHz processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM and a DirectX 9 memory card with 128MB of memory.

But Windows 7 manages these resources better. Early testers found it runs well even with minimum equipment. And it can be installed on low-power netbooks.

You could encounter compatibility problems with older software and hardware. Windows 7 is based on Vista's code.

Windows 7 will include an XP Mode. This should eliminate most compatibility problems. But XP Mode is only supported by certain chips. They must use Intel's Virtualization Technology.

Windows 7 improves boot times and performs better on multi-core processors. New tools help you fine-tune on-screen type and calibrate your monitor. And User Account Control can be tweaked to be less intrusive.

Most changes improve the way you interact with the computer. Touch screen support is improved, as is handwriting and speech recognition. For example, Microsoft has added multitouch. This allows iPhone-like interaction.

One of the most obvious changes is to the taskbar. Program buttons can be rearranged. Jump lists provide quick access to frequently used files.

Among other nice changes are libraries and HomeGroup. Libraries group specific file types, no matter their location.

HomeGroup makes file and printer sharing easier. When you join a home network, simply enter the password and select the locations to share. You can even access a user's files if the user is not logged on.

Surprisingly, Microsoft has removed some features from Windows 7. For example, Windows Move Maker and Windows Mail are gone.

Instead, Microsoft will direct users to Windows Live. The Windows Live Essentials download replaces the missing software.

Microsoft has a good reason for unbundling the programs from Windows. It can update the programs more frequently.

Microsoft is planning six versions of Windows 7. Microsoft says consumers only need worry about two versions: Home Premium and Professional.

The Windows 7 release date has not been set. But it should be available by year's end. Also, Microsoft will reportedly launch an upgrade program. You can get a free upgrade to Windows 7. This applies to machines with Vista Home Premium, Business or Ultimate preinstalled.

The new features in Windows 7 may not be compelling to you. But it may be time to upgrade your old computer. Once Windows 7 debuts, new computers will have it.

It's been nearly eight years since Windows XP was released. At this date, many of those machines are approaching old age. If you're holding out, go ahead and buy a Vista computer. Be sure your version is upgradeable, if you want Windows 7. Vista's bad reputation is undeserved. We've used it since January 2007, with no problems.

Have more questions about Windows? Head over to my site:

Tweaking Vista's User Account Control feature

Running XP as a virtual machine in Vista

Moving data to a new PC the easy way

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179. Slow Wireless Hotspots
Q. I travel frequently for work, so I connect a lot from hotspots. Unfortunately, I often get a slow connection. Is there any way to speed up my computer at wireless hotspots? I don't want to buy a new computer.

A. Hotspots provide an easy way to connect to the Internet. But they can seem incredibly slow at times. That's particularly true if you're accustomed to a wired connection.

You can improve your connection, though. And you don't need a new computer. You just need to tweak your machine.

Settings in your Web browser are probably slowing you down. And you'll want to check for Windows problems.

Let's start with the browser. There are several things you can do to speed it up. Unfortunately, most will limit your surfing experience. You're sacrificing surfing pleasure for speed.

You can block content and add-ons that slow you down. This includes images, JavaScript and Flash.

Let's start with Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Internet Options and open the Advanced tab. In the Multimedia section, you can uncheck several options. They include "Play animations in webpages," "Play sounds in webpages" and "Show pictures."

Next, open the Security tab and select Custom level. Find the Scripting section. For "Active scripting," select Disable or Prompt. For "Scripting of Java applets," select Disable or Prompt. Click OK.

Open the Programs tab and click Manage add-ons. In the window that opens, you'll see a list of add-ons. To disable one, select it and click Disable at the bottom of the window. Click OK. Then, click Apply and OK. Hint: To disable Flash, select Shockwave Flash Object and click Disable.

In Firefox, click Tools>>Options and open the Main tab. Click Manage Add-ons. In the Extensions section, you can disable extensions you've added to Firefox. Just select one and click Disable.

The Plugins section lets you disable other Firefox additions. To disable Flash, select Shockwave Flash and click Disable. Close the window and click OK.

There is one more thing in Firefox: prefetching. This helps Firefox automatically download content from certain pages. You can learn more about prefetching in my informative tip. It also provides instructions on disabling it.

These changes will go a long way to speeding up your connection. But, wait, there's more!

Try to do less on a slow connection. Use the connection for light tasks like checking e-mail. Try to do all of the intensive tasks from a better connection. You could do them before you leave on a trip. Or, maybe a co-worker can help you with some tasks from the road.

You might also consider a cellular laptop card. You'll pay about $60 a month for service. And cellular connections are often slower than Wi-Fi. But you'll be able to connect wherever you have cellular service.

It is also a good idea to try different hotspots. Some will be faster than others. In fact, there could be a faster one right around the corner. I have a handy download that will help you find hotspots.

Finally, IE and Firefox are the two most popular browsers. But they're not the fastest. Google's Chrome has received good marks for its speed. You can download this great, free browser from my site!

You might also try the free Opera Web browser.

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178. Removing a password in Vista
Q.
I have Windows Vista. How can I sign on without having to type in my password?

A. There's nothing easier. But I have found that passwords are pretty handy. I'll get into that in a moment.

To remove your password, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts. Under "Make changes to your user account," click "Remove your password." Enter the password in the box. Click Remove. Close the Control Panel window.

This is also easily done in Windows XP. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts. Double-click your account. Click "Remove my password." Enter your password in the box. Click Remove Password. Close the open windows.

However, you might eventually find that you need a password. For instance, say you use Windows encryption to safeguard a folder. After encryption, the file still opens automatically after the sign-on to Windows. But its key is linked to your password. Others can't sign on and see the folder.

You'll also need your own password if you have a Guest account. Such an account is really handy when you have company. Guests might well want to use your computer. People using the Guest account can't download anything or see your files. The Guest account never takes a password.

Setting up a password is as easy as removing it. In Vista, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts. Click "Create a password for your account." Enter your new password twice. Enter a hint, if you like. Click "Create password."

In Windows XP, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts. Click "Create a password." Enter your password and click Remove Password. Enter the password twice, along with a hint if you like. Click Create Password.

Passwords are also easily changed.

Here are other tips from my site that you will find interesting:

Breaking a BIOS password

Help with a lost Windows password

Password memorizer

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177. Using hibernation to save power
Q. I work at a local public school. The state just informed us that our budget will be slashed. I’m looking to save money on our electricity usage. I’d like to have our computers hibernate when not in use. But there’s a problem. The teachers have to log in every time they come out of hibernation. This takes too much time. I’d like them to stay logged in and connected to the network. Is there any way to do this?

A. Reducing your school’s electricity bill is a great idea. And using hibernation is a good way to do it. Plus, anyone can use this to save power at home.

Hibernating a computer saves its current state to the hard drive. And then the computer is shut down. When the computer is booted, it returns to the saved state. Programs are still running. All the windows are in the same place.

Hibernation is nearly identical to sleep (or standby in XP). If you’re curious, read about the difference in this tip. Vista also includes a hybrid version of sleep.

You might want to use the hybrid sleep setting. So, I’ll tell you how to access it below. But, since you’re particularly interested in hibernation, let’s start there.

Hibernation is a convenient way to save power without restarting from scratch. But you can run into problems with incorrect settings.

You want teachers to go in and out of hibernation without hassle. That means they shouldn’t have to log in each time. This is possible. You just have to know what settings to change.

Setting up your computer to hibernate is simple on any system. The best option is to tie hibernation to the power button. The users push the power button when they’re done. Then, the computer will hibernate. When the users want to restart, they again push the power button. The computer comes alive, with all windows in place. That’s easy enough for anyone.

Correct settings
So, let's get started. In Windows Vista, click Start>>Control Panel. Click Classic View on the left side of the window. Double-click Power Options. Locate your selected plan under "Preferred plans." Under the selected plan, click "Change plan settings." Click "Change advanced power settings."

Click the "+" sign next to "Power buttons and lid." Click the "+" sign next to "Power button action." Click Setting and choose Hibernate.

Next, click the "+" sign next to "Additional settings." Click the "+" sign next to "Require a password on wakeup." Click Setting and choose No. Click Apply>>OK. Now, the computer will stay logged in when starting from hibernation.

In Windows XP, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Power Options. Select the Advanced tab. Select Hibernate from the drop-down menu labeled "When I press the power button on my computer." Uncheck the box labeled "Prompt for password when computer resumes from standby." Click Apply>>OK.

Macs show only sleep as an option. But it is really a hybrid. It saves to RAM and also the hard drive. That way, if the computer loses power, your files are safe on the hard drive. Click the Apple logo at the top of the screen. Select System Preferences. Click Energy Saver. Select the Options tab. Check the "Allow power button to sleep the computer" box.

Vista, too
Click the back arrow at the top of the window. Select Security. Click the General tab. Uncheck the box labeled "Require password to wake this computer from sleep or screen saver." Close the window. The changes are saved automatically.

Vista also has a sleep-hibernate combination, called hybrid sleep. The computer’s state is stored to the computer’s RAM and hard drive. This gives you the best of both worlds. Once turned on, hybrid sleep will take over automatically. Hit the button to put it to sleep. When you're ready, hit the button again and everything is there.

To turn hybrid sleep on, click Start>>Control Panel. Then click Classic View on the left side. Double-click Power Options. Locate your selected plan under "Preferred plans." Under the selected plan, click "Change plan settings." Click "Change advanced power settings." Click the "+" next to Sleep. Then, click the "+" next to "Allow hybrid Sleep." Click OK.

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176. Changing your file associations
Q. I just bought a new computer with Windows Vista. No complaints, except for opening e-mail attachments. I get the following message: "This file does not have a program associated with it for performing this action. Create an association in the Set Associations Control panel." I can't find this panel! Also, for some reason, my pictures open in Microsoft Word. Any help with these problems?

A. Both of these problems are easy to fix. Your two problems are actually one in the same. Your file associations are all mixed up.

Windows uses file associations to tie file types to specific programs. Each file type needs an association. So, when you double-click a file, it opens in the correct program. These various associations are often set up automatically. But they can be changed.

Your file associations were either set up wrong or changed. As your error message said, you can fix this. There is a file association control panel in Vista. But it can be hard to find. Don't worry. There's an easier way.

First, find the file you want to open. Choose one of the pictures you're having trouble with. Or save one of those e-mail attachments to the desktop. Right-click the file. Select Open With>>Choose Default Program. You'll see a list of programs. Select the program you want to use. Or hit Browse to add a program to the list. Be sure to check the box labeled "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file." Click OK.

Windows XP
The process is almost the same in Windows XP. Right-click the file and select Open With. You can select a suggested program. Or, click Browse to find the program you want. Select "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file" and click OK.

You may already know what program to use for your files. You may have installed a program for that purpose. If not, I can help.

Let's start with your pictures, which seem to like Microsoft Word. Both Windows XP and Vista have a built-in photo-viewing program. In Vista, use Windows Photo Gallery. In XP, use Windows Picture and Fax Viewer.

What about other files?

    • If they're office documents, use the proper Microsoft Office program. Or use the free OpenOffice.org.

    • If they're PDF files, use Adobe Reader. Or try Foxit Reader or Sumatra.

    • Maybe someone is sending you Flash video files. These can be difficult to open. Try the VLC Media Player or Riva FLV Player. Both are free.

Doing it the hard way
If you prefer, you can use the Set Associations window. Vista does a good job of hiding it. To find it, click Start>>Control Panel. In the left of the Control Panel window, select Classic View.

Double-click Default Programs. In the next window, click "Associate a file type or protocol with a program." That will take you to the Set Associations window.

To change an association, find the correct extension in the left column. Click it, then click "Change program…" When you finish, click Close.

That strikes me as the hard way to fix an association. But some people like to burrow into Windows.

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175. Hibernate vs. Sleep: What's the difference?
Q. Hibernate and Sleep seem mighty similar. Is there a notable difference? A friend suggested that prolonged use of Hibernate can damage a PC. Is that true?

A. Hibernate and Sleep (called Standby in XP) are both power-saving features. You'll find them on both PCs and Macs in some form. I'm not surprised they have you confused. They appear to do the same thing.

When you shut down your computer, you turn everything off. All of your applications, windows and documents have to be closed. Starting up your computer again can take some time. And then you have to reopen everything you want to use.

To save time, you can use Hibernate or Sleep. Both of these save the exact state of your computer. You don't have to close anything. All your windows, programs and documents are stored as-is.

When you start up the computer, everything is restored. All your windows are just as you left them. They're even in the same place on your desktop. And you can pick up right where you left off.

They both still seem the same, don't they? But each offers a different level of power saving and convenience.

Sleep
When using Sleep, your computer's state is stored in RAM. The display is turned off. Your hard drive is stopped. And other components are shut down. But a minimal amount of power is still applied to the RAM. This allows the RAM to hold on to your computer's state.

So, your computer isn't completely off. Starting the computer from Sleep is almost instantaneous. That's really convenient. You can jump right back into what you were doing.

The downside of Sleep is that it still requires some power. If you lose power for any reason, the RAM is wiped. You'll lose your computer's stored state. That could also mean losing any work you haven't saved.

Hibernate
When using Hibernate, your computer's state is stored on the hard drive. Your hard drive doesn't require power to hold on to that information. So, your computer can turn off power to everything.

Starting from Hibernate has the same result as from Sleep. Your computer is restored to exactly where it was before. But coming out of hibernation takes longer. So, it's less convenient.

But you don't have to worry about losing power. Even if power is cut, the computer's state is still stored. Nothing will be lost.

Coming up: Hybrid Sleep, Safe Sleep. Click here to finish this tip!

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174. Recovering a Windows profile
Q.
Yesterday, my wife logged on to the computer. Her entire profile was lost. Her photos, Word documents and Outlook e-mail are all gone. It's like she never existed. There are four other accounts on our computer, which runs XP. The other profiles are all fine. Can you help?

A. It must be worrying to turn on the computer and find everything gone. This is why I always stress data backups.

In your case, though, things aren't as bad as they appear. Your wife's account or profile was somehow damaged. She may lose some of her settings. However, her data should still be there.

Before we start, let's clarify accounts and profiles. The account is what you use to log on to the computer. An account will have a profile associated with it. The profile contains a user's preferences and settings.

So, let's fix this problem! Log on to the computer with an administrator account—other than your wife's. Once you're logged on, you can find your wife's data.

List of folders
Open Windows Explorer and navigate to C:\Documents and Settings. You'll see a list of folders that correspond to the computer accounts.

Find your wife's account folder. Double-click to open the folder. Among the subfolders, her Documents folder is probably most important. So, you'll want to copy the entire contents of it. You can use an external hard drive or removable media.

Now, there will also be data hidden in other locations. For example, you'll need to dig up her Outlook PST file. This should be located in the Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook folder. Again, copy the file to removable media.

After you back up the data, you can try to recover the profile.

The first thing to try is System Restore. This returns the system to an earlier point in time. It only affects programs and settings—not user data.

Changes could be lost
There's a pretty good chance that System Restore will recover the account. But remember, running System Restore will affect all accounts on the machine. Recent changes made to other accounts could be lost.

To run System Restore, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>System Restore. Click Next. Then, select a restore point. Use the last one created before the profile was damaged. Click Next. Click Next again.

System Restore may take several minutes. When it finishes, the system will restart. Your wife should try to log on to her account. Hopefully, her settings will all be restored.

If it doesn't work, there are other things to try. But first, undo the System Restore. Open System Restore again. On the opening screen, you should see an option to undo the last restoration. Select it, click Next and follow the instructions.

The next option is to create a new user account. You can then try to copy the profile information to it.

Create an administrator account
In an administrator account, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts and click Create A New Account. Name the account and click Next. Make sure the name is different from her original account. Opt to create an administrator account and click Create Account.

Close any open windows. Click Start>>Log Off. Click Log Off in the dialog box that opens.

On the Welcome Screen, select the name of the account you just created. When you log on, Windows will create a profile for the account. When you get into Windows, log off again.

Log in to Windows with the original administrator account again. Click Start and then right-click My Computer and select Properties. Open the advanced tab. Click the Settings button under User Profiles.

In the User Profiles dialog box, find the profile from your wife's original account. Select it and click Copy To. In the box that opens, click Browse. Navigate to the folder for the new account. It's located in the C:\Documents and Settings folder.

After you select the account folder, click OK. Click Yes to confirm you want to copy the profile. Close the open windows and log off the computer. Log on to the new account. Hopefully this will recover the profile.

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173. Vista's User Account Control (UAC)
Q. I just bought a computer with Windows Vista. It seems that Vista is plagued by dialog boxes. I get one every time I start the machine. It asks if I want to run the software for my Wi-Fi adapter. I also get them when I try to install software or run certain programs. Do I have to put up with this? Or can I disable this annoyance?

A. Ah, yes—Windows User Account Control (UAC). This is one of the new security enhancements in Windows Vista.

Most of us appreciate tools that make our computers more secure. However, UAC has many foes. That's because it can be a real nuisance.

In Windows XP, you sign on with an administrator, limited or guest account. Only administrator accounts can install software. But suppose you opened some attachment while working as an administrator? With your administrator privileges, something bad could be installed.

Things are different in Vista. You may log on with an administrator account. You still have full control over the computer.

However, privileges are lowered when it comes to installing software. Same goes for running unauthorized software. (Unfortunately, Vista often doesn't recognize some legitimate software as authorized.)

The intention is to stop criminals gaining control of your machine. Should software attempt to install, you'll be prompted to allow it.

In theory, User Account Control is a great feature. However, the dialog boxes quickly become tiresome. I'll bet some people become so desensitized that they permit the software out of rote habit!

Fortunately, there are ways to get around User Account Control. Vista will allow you to disable UAC. You can do this before you install software on your machine.

To turn off UAC, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts. Click “Turn User Account Control on or off.”

Ironically, you'll get a UAC dialog box asking if you want to open the UAC options. Click Allow. Then, deselect “Use User Account Control (UAC) to help protect your computer.” Click OK. You'll need to restart your machine. You must do this every time you change UAC settings.

Of course, you could leave UAC off permanently. This will remove one of the layers of protection you have in Vista. But many people find this more acceptable than the endless alerts.

If you decide to turn off UAC, you are taking a risk. So think carefully before disabling it permanently. Of course, you want to make doubly sure that you have all the security software you need. I have everything you need at my Security Center.

Now, there is a third solution. I recommend it for most users who are annoyed by UAC. You can install TweakUAC. This free program puts UAC in quiet mode.

UAC will still run with TweakUAC. You won't see any of the annoying UAC warning boxes. Also, you can turn quiet mode on or off without having to restart your machine.

So, you could put UAC in quiet mode when you're installing software or working offline. Then, turn off quiet mode when you go online. It's the best of both worlds! I have a download link for TweakUAC on my site.

Since you're new to Vista, you'll want to brush up on some of the new features Vista offers. My tips will get you started:

     • Media Center and Vista
     • ReadyBoost enhances system memory
     • Understanding Shadow Copy

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172. Television's fat people
I have televisions that make everyone look fatter. I really don't want that. What causes that?

This could be caused by our growing epidemic of obesity. But I'm betting that you are using a widescreen television.

Widescreens, which are prevalent today, have a 16:9 ratio. They are 16 inches wide for every nine inches high. Old-style televisions are 4:3—four inches wide for every three inches in height.

Broadcasts in one do not fit well in the other. It sounds like you are watching 4:3 broadcasts on a widescreen television.

There are three ways to handle this situation. You can display shows in 4:3 on your widescreen. That means you would have wide black bars on each side. That could be a problem on older plasma televisions. The 4:3 picture frame could be burned into the screen. That is much less of a problem with today's plasmas. And it is not a problem with LCD sets.

You also can expand the picture to fill the black bars. When you spread the picture horizontally, the people on-screen are distorted. Thus, they look fatter. That sounds like your situation.

The third way to handle this is with a zoom. I use the lowest zoom setting on my television. Zoom spreads the picture vertically and horizontally. That avoids distortion. But the 4:3 picture won't fit perfectly. So, the zoom slices off the top and bottom of the picture. People sometimes get severe haircuts. But the zoom usually works well.

However, that vertical trim is a problem with sports events. Important information often is displayed at the top and bottom of the picture. Fortunately, that usually isn't an issue today. Many sports events are broadcast in both 16:9 and 4:3.

More and more programming is being shot in high definition. That typically fits a 16:9 screen. Some old programming, originally shot in 4:3, is remastered in 16:9. That usually works well, although screen items are occasionally out of proportion.

If you don't like distorted people, try your TV's zoom. Your manual should explain your choices. Some televisions spread parts of the picture, leaving other parts untouched. Try that, too, if your TV offers it.

Also, be sure you're watching high-definition channels. In Phoenix, we are offered both high-definition and standard TV. Most of the high definition shows are broadcast in 16:9. So, you won't usually have to worry about 4:3 pictures.

I hope this has been helpful. I have lots more information about televisions. For instance, would you like to use yours as a computer monitor? Check out my tip. Being able to record programs when you're not around is nice, too. You can do that with a personal video recorder. You don't have to buy one; a computer can suffice.

Here is more on digital TV:

     • Watching video on your television
     
Gearing up for the digital television transition
     • Watch TV from anywhere

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171.Picking a microprocessor
It's time to move up from my old Intel Pentium 4, 3GHz system. Where can I learn about what's out there? Dual Core? Dual Quad? I need a simple explanation about these processors.

A lot has happened since your microprocessor was introduced. The 3GHz Pentium 4 goes back about five years. That qualifies as an eon in computers.

For most people, that old Pentium 4 would still be adequate. Today's cutting edge chips are running far in front of consumer software. So, unless you're editing lots of video or playing the most demanding games, you don't need to worry about the chip.

Today's chips are more advanced than your Pentium. As you point out, they have multiple cores. They are also 64-bit chips, while yours is 32-bit. The architecture of these things is just brilliant. But most of it is going unused.

Let's start with the cores, since you mentioned them. Each core is its own little processor. Both Intel and AMD are producing multi-core chips. The most advanced Intel chips have four cores.

AMD had the chip lead at one time. But it struggled with its quad core chips. It did finally get them out, well after Intel.

Quad-core chips work well on servers. But they are overkill in the consumer space. A quad core gives you one thing—bragging rights.

Windows is capable of running on multiple cores. So it can take advantage of these advances. But few consumer programs use more than one core. In fact, porting consumer programs to multiple cores is a huge concern.

The same type of thing applies to 64-bit chips. This number refers to the amount of data a core can crunch at once. AMD and Intel chips now are 64-bit. That's pretty meaningless, though. Practically everything else is 32-bit.

True, you can get a 64-bit version of Windows Vista. But I don't recommend that. You would probably discover that drivers are hard to find. That would mean that certain peripherals couldn't be used.

You could probably get by with Intel's Celeron, or AMD's Sempron. Both are budget microprocessors. But you can't be sure of what the future will bring. So I would go with an Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X2. If future programs use dual-core technology, you'll be ready.

You might see high-end computers with Intel Extreme or AMD Phenom chips. Those are very powerful. They should work well in gaming and video-editing situations. Otherwise, you can't use the power.

I assume you'll be buying Windows Vista. You will see one of four versions. I have a chart that explains them. There is a fifth version—Enterprise. You won't see that in stores.

Vista is more capable than its predecessor, XP. Consequently, its video requirements are pretty stiff. Get a minimum of 128 megabytes of video RAM. Go for 256MB, if you have room in your budget.

I prefer a separate video card. But integrated graphics will also work. I have a tip that explains this further.

Don't overload your system with random access memory. I recommend 2 gigabytes. If you need more, go up to 3GB. Over that, and you're probably just throwing your money away.

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170.Interlaced video and still shots
Q. I breed, show, train and sell horses for dressage and show jumping. Good videos are important for my marketing, and I often take still captures from the videos. I have a Mini DV camcorder. Stills captured from the interlaced video are not good. I've even used software to enhance them. Would stills captured from an HD camcorder be any better?

A. Before I answer your question, let me explain interlaced video. Video generally plays at a rate of 30 frames per second.

But interlaced video breaks each frame into two fields. One field covers the odd-numbered lines of the frame. The other holds the even-numbered lines. When played back, the two fields give the impression of a single frame. So, there are 60 fields in each second of interlaced video.

In comparison, progressive video captures the entire scene on a single frame. So one second of a progressive video is 30 frames.

Because of the way interlaced video works, good stills are difficult. You'll see lines and jagged edges.

To make matters worse, camcorders require less resolution than still cameras. So, any picture taken with a camcorder—or from a video shot with one—will likely be subpar.

Also, camcorders often have smaller sensors than still cameras. Sensor size plays an important role in the quality of a photograph.

For example, a 5-megapixel camera with a large sensor may take better photos than a 7-megapixel camera with a small sensor. You'll see less noise in the images.

A high-definition camcorder may improve things. The sensor of a high-definition camcorder is likely to be larger than one in a standard-definition model. In fact, some manufacturers use the same sensors used in digital SLRs. These are bigger than sensors in point-and-shoot cameras.

High-definition camcorders shoot either interlaced or progressive video. You want progressive video. Otherwise, you'll be right back where you started.

Personally, I wouldn't mess around trying to capture stills from videos. After all, this is your business. You want high-quality photos. They will improve your business' image (No pun intended!).

Rather, use a camcorder to take videos of the horses. And yes, a high-definition camcorder will yield better results. But use a quality digital camera to capture the still shots. You'll get much better results. And you won't need to mess around cleaning up the photographs.

I can help you find a high-definition camcorder and a good camera. Check out my buying guides:
     
Buying an HD camcorder
     
Choosing the right digital camera
     
Upgrading to a digital SLR
     
Finding lenses for an SLR

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169. Vista Service Pack 1, and more
Q. I've been hearing a lot about Vista's Service Pack 1 lately. It's bringing back unpleasant memories of XP Service Pack 2. That caused me problems with some programs. So I'd like to get your take on the Vista Service Pack. Should I go ahead and install it? Or should I wait a bit?

A. I know what you mean about XP Service Pack 2. I got plenty of questions when it was released!

That said, I generally recommend installing Service Packs. The exception would be if you know you will encounter a conflict. Of course, there is always the possibility of a conflict.

Microsoft issues security patches every month. It also releases Service Packs periodically. The Service Packs contain the monthly security patches. Sometimes Service Packs introduce new features. But they all improve features already present in the operating system.

Vista Service Pack 1 improves the performance and reliability of the operating system. It also adds support for emerging technologies. As for security, it includes previously released fixes, along with new security patches.

Service Pack 1 will also improve compatibility with hardware. Vista is currently compatible with about 40,000 pieces of hardware. Service Pack 1 nearly doubles this. Many people have complained about hardware compatibility problems in Vista. It also improves compatibility with some programs.

Microsoft is pushing the Service Pack out to users via Windows Update. However, it isn't automatically installed on your machine. That's true even if you have it set to install updates automatically.

Vista Service Pack 1 has a feature that will help you avoid conflicts. When you download Service Pack 1 from Windows Update, it can identify problematic drivers. Don't download the Service Pack manually from Microsoft's site. Otherwise, you'll miss the check for problematic drivers.

Drivers are pieces of software that help hardware run. They're a frequent cause of compatibility issues.

If problematic drives are discovered, installation of Service Pack 1 is postponed. You can install it when new drivers or other applicable updates have been installed. This lessens your chance of encountering problems.

You still may experience problems with hardware drivers after installing Service Pack 1. The drivers will work with the Service Pack. However, an error may occur during the installation process. You may need to reinstall some hardware drivers. So keep your discs handy!

There are several things you should do before installing Service Pack 1. First, back up your data. This is important whenever you're making a significant change to your system.

Next, create a System Restore point. If anything goes horrifically wrong, you should be able to revert your machine.

To create a System Restore point, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>System Restore. Click "open System Protection." On the System Protection tab, click Create. Name the Restore Point and click Create. Click OK. Click Cancel in the System Restore Wizard.

Next, you will want to make sure your machine has the latest drivers installed. Visit your computer manufacturer's site to check for updated drivers. Install any that are necessary. You should do the same for printers and other connected gadgets.

Finally, make sure you have enough free space on your main hard drive. You need at least 4.5 gigabytes. To check, click Start>>Computer. You'll see the used and free space of your hard drive.

When you're ready to install Service Pack 1, click Start>>All Programs>>Windows Update. In the box that opens, click "View available updates." You'll see a list of updates. If there are others besides Service Pack 1, install them first.

Then, select Windows Vista Service Pack 1. Click Install. The download will take awhile. After the prompts, follow the steps to install the Service Update. It will take a considerable amount of time. Your computer will reboot during the process. Make sure you do not turn off your computer until it is complete.

When Vista restarts, you won't see a noticeable difference.

Need more help with Vista? I have all the help you need on my site!

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168.Easy ways to add storage . . . and more
Q. I have a computer, and recently received my mother's old one. I take a ton of pictures. Also, I'm a woodworker, so I collect patterns, tips and helpful hints. I desperately need memory space. I would like to connect my computer with my mother's old one. My husband tells me that can't be done. Why can't he connect the two with a cord?

A. When you refer to "memory space," I assume you mean hard drive storage space. Memory is different. It refers to RAM. This is where the computer stores data that it anticipates using. RAM is volatile; it is emptied when the computer is turned off.

Now, you have several options. If you just need more storage, you can accomplish that easily. You wouldn't even need to connect the two computers.

You could add another hard drive to your current computer. I have a tip that includes detailed instructions on installing a hard drive. Just last week, I saw an ad for a terabyte hard drive. It was about $200. A terabyte is approximately 1.1 trillion bytes. That will hold a lot of pictures and patterns!

Installing a hard drive isn't too difficult. But maybe you don't feel like opening up your machine. In that case, you could buy an external hard drive. Or, you could build an external housing for an internal drive. Sound too difficult? My tip will make it easy!

How old is your mom's old computer? If it came with Windows XP, it might be worth keeping. Anything older probably isn't worthwhile. Maintaining an old machine can nickel and dime you to death. I would recycle an old computer.

If her old machine isn't too old, they can be connected. There are several ways to do that. For example, you could use a USB bridge cable. These are sometimes called USB link or network cables. They have a node at the midpoint of the cable. It contains extra circuitry for a safe connection. I've seen them online for less than $10.

If both computers have Ethernet jacks, you can use them to connect the computers. You could use a hub, or a crossover Ethernet cable. Ad-hoc connections can be difficult to set up, though.

Ad-hoc connections also leave little room for expanding your network in the future. Besides, your broadband modem probably connects to your Ethernet jack. You don't want to rearrange cables when you access the second computer.

Of course, the computers may not have Ethernet jacks. Or maybe you just don't want a bunch of cables running through your house. In that case, you could use Wi-Fi.

Again, you can create wireless ad-hoc connections. But I would buy a wireless router and one wireless card. That way, you can set up a full-blown network. Expect to pay about $100 on networking gear. Not sure what to buy? My buying guide will help you decide.

The wireless router would connect to your broadband Internet. Then, you would connect one computer to the router with an Ethernet cable. You'd put the wireless card in the second computer. I have more on connecting two computers on my site.

You also need to set up your network in Windows. That's easy. I have a tip that will walk you through it. You'll also want to set up file and printer sharing. My tip has you covered there, too.

Once your computers are connected, you can share the Internet connection. You can also transfer data over your network.

If you take the wireless route, make sure your network is locked down. Otherwise, intruders could use your network. I have a tip that will help you keep your network safe.

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167. Vista virtual machine vs. dual-boot setup
Q. I have a computer that runs Vista Ultimate. However, some programs won't run on Vista; they require Windows XP. I don't want a second computer. I also don't want a dual-boot setup. I've heard that I can install XP as a virtual machine in Vista. Is this true? How does one set up a virtual machine?

A. Vista is an improvement over Windows XP. There are nice new features for you to enjoy. And, security is enhanced in Vista.

However, Vista isn't perfect. Not all software will run in it. And many users have encountered problems using old hardware.

Creating a dual-boot setup is one option. But for many people, creating a virtual machine is much better. You won't have to reboot in order to change operating systems. You can even work in both at the same time.

Before you install a virtual machine, make sure your computer can support it. You must be running Vista Business, Vista Enterprise, Vista Ultimate, XP Professional, or XP Tablet PC. You'll need at least 2 gigabytes of hard drive space.

You also need to consider RAM. You need 256 megabytes minimum for Windows XP. If you plan to run intensive programs in XP, increase that to a gigabyte.

Keep in mind that this is in addition to Vista's requirements. It needs 1GB of RAM minimum.

Next, you must have the correct software. You'll need a copy of Windows XP that you can install. It should be a retail version, not one that came preinstalled on another machine. You also need a copy of Microsoft's Virtual PC. I have a link to this free program on my site.

After you install Virtual PC, you're ready to go. Click Start>>All Programs>>Virtual PC. The New Virtual Machine Wizard should start. If it doesn't, click New to start it. Click Next.

Select "Create a virtual machine" and click Next. Name your virtual machine and select the location for your virtual machine file. Click Next.

In Vista, the default operating system for your virtual machine is XP. But you can select a different operating system, if needed. Click Next.

The wizard will set the RAM for your virtual machine to 128MB by default. But you will probably want to change this. Select Adjusting the RAM and enter the amount of RAM you want to use. It can be adjusted later, if needed. Click Next.

Next, you'll need to set the amount of hard drive space to allocate to your virtual machine. Select "A new virtual hard disk." Click Next.

I recommend setting a maximum amount of hard drive space to use. Let the virtual machine expand automatically until it hits the limit you specified. This is the default option. Click Next.

Specify the size and location for your .VHD file. This is your virtual hard drive. Click Finish.

In the Virtual PC Console window, select the virtual hard drive you created. Click Start. Your virtual machine will be loaded. Now you're ready to install Windows XP on the virtual machine.

Insert your Windows XP disc. Setup should begin automatically. If it doesn't, select CD>>Use Physical Drive. Hit Enter.

Wait for Windows XP to install on the virtual machine. Now you're ready to install some additional tools. In the window showing the virtual machine, click Action>>Install or Update Virtual Machine Additions.

The tools will let you move your mouse freely between the XP window and Vista. And you'll be able to copy files between XP and Vista by dragging and dropping. You can also share the Clipboard and folders between the two operating systems.

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166. Vista CDs sometimes incompatible
Q. I sent a friend photographs on a CD. She was unable to view them. She told me she's previously encountered this problem. It happens with CDs that were created in Windows Vista. When I finished the disc, a message popped up. It said something like, "Please wait while Vista formats this disc to be read on all computers." However, my friend told me that I need to select something before I burn the disc. I don't see any options when I create a disc. Help!

A. Things like this annoy me. Computers can read CDs so long as they have a CD or DVD drive. And you're presumably using a common format like JPEG. Ergo, you shouldn't have trouble exchanging CDs between machines.

In reality, Microsoft has thrown you a curve. Vista introduced a new format for writing discs—Live File System. Those CDs aren't necessarily compatible with all computers.

CDs created by Windows XP use the Mastered format. That format requires you to finalize the disc after it is burned. So, it must be completed in one session. Rewritable discs can be written to again, but must be erased first.

By default, Vista uses the Live File System. With this format, you can write files to the CD whenever you want. You can also erase files whenever you want (provided you're using a rewritable CD). A rewritable CD can be used like a floppy disc or USB drive.

When I make a disc for Vista, I just use Live File System. But when the disc will be used on other machines, I use the Mastered format. You shouldn't run into too many problems with this format.

To select the Mastered format, insert a blank CD in your computer. Click "Burn files to disc" in the box that opens. Enter a name for the disc and click "Show formatting options." Select Mastered and click Next. Your CD will be formatted. You can then add files and finalize the disc. Now, that isn't too complicated—once you know where to look!

Before we go on, let me remind you about the links. When something is underlined in our newsletters, click it. It's a link for you to learn more.

You don't have to use Windows' burning programs. There are many other programs available. I have links to three on my site—BurnAware, CDBurnerXP and DeepBurner.

There is a solution that will eliminate CD-burning problems. Ditch discs and find a different way to share photos!

Photo-sharing sites are the easiest way. My tip will help you select a site. Make sure you know what rights you may be surrendering first.

You might like Picasa Web albums. It works seamlessly with Google's free Picasa photo-management program. Again, Picasa is free. You can download it from my site.

You could also use a program like FolderShare. You share the photos directly from your computer. It really works! FolderShare is free. I have a download link on my site.

Or, you could use a site where you upload files for others to download. Here are two free sites for you to try:
     
MailBigFile
     
YouSendIt

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165. Worrying about a full hard drive
Q. I have an HP Media Center computer. It has three hard drives. The C: drive has 214 gigabytes free. The D: drive is 7.2 GB with only 602 megabytes free. The E: drive has 293 GB free. Should I be concerned about the limited space on the D: drive? If so, how do I free up space? When I access the D: drive, it displays a warning. It says this is the recovery partition and instructs me not to make changes.

A. This is a really good question. Many people wonder the same thing. Let me explain what is going on. I think it will put your mind at rest.

For starters, you have two physical hard drives in your computer, not three. First, there is the main drive. It has been divided into two partitions so even though it is one physical drive, you actually see two drives: the C: drive and the D: drive. Each appear as separate drives in (My) Computer.

Then there is the secondary drive. The E: drive is presumably where you store data and your backups.

The C: drive should contain your operating system and programs. The D: drive contains your computer's recovery files.

About the recovery goodies
Many computer manufacturers have done away with recovery discs for new computers. Instead, they partition the main hard drive. Recovery files for Windows and preinstalled applications go on a second, smaller partition.

The recovery partition makes it easy to restore Windows and programs. HP should include a program to help you use the recovery partition. Of course, you don't need any recovery discs.

Now, it doesn't matter that the recovery partition is almost full. You won't be adding anything to it. So, you don't need to worry about the contents outgrowing the partition.

In fact, manufacturers make the partitions as small as possible. That way, you have more room to store your data on the computer. So you could forget about the recovery partition until you need to use it.

However, there is one thing you should do sooner rather than later. Make recovery discs from the partition. Your manual should include instructions on doing this. You'll use the recovery program to make the recovery discs.

Why would you want to make discs? Well, the entire drive could fail. That means you'd need to install a new drive in your computer. To put Windows and the preinstalled applications back on the computer, you'd need the recovery discs. You can't use the recovery data on the failed drive.

It will take about 10 CDs to back up the recovery partition. Keep them in a safe place. You may want to make copies of them periodically. CDs deteriorate over time. I have written about that on my site. So, if you want to learn more, click here.

If you really want, you could then delete the data in the recovery partition. However, the partition will remain on your hard drive. You could use it to store data. But such a small partition would probably be a hassle.

Changing partitions
There is a way to change the partitions on a hard drive. Vista has built-in tools that will help you with this. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Administrative Tools and then Computer Management.

Click Disk Management. At the bottom of the window, you'll see your physical drives. You'll also see the partitions on each. To delete a partition, right-click it and select Delete Volume. Then, right-click the other partition and select Extend Volume. Extend it to use the space recovered from the deleted partition. You'll get a dialog box that will help you with this.

If you're using Windows XP, you can reformat the drive and reinstall Windows. Or, you'll need to purchase a program to change the partitions. This will be a headache. My tip covers all the gory details. Click here to read it.

Personally, I would leave the recovery partition on the machine. You have plenty of room on the C: drive. The extra eight gigabytes of storage isn't going to matter that much at this point. And it's nice to know that you can restore your computer at any time. You won't need to search for your recovery discs.

Hopefully, you'll never need to restore your computer. But if you need to use your recovery partition, I have a tip on my site that will make it a snap.

Now, when those massive hard drives start getting full, you'll want to do some cleaning up.
     
• A free program that is a better uninstaller than the one built into Windows
     
• I have a tip that will help you remove unnecessary junk from your PC.
     
• You can also compress files to save room.

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164. Vista handwriting and speech recognition
Q. My hands hurt after a long day of pounding the keyboard. I'd like to enter data without using the keyboard. A friend told me that Vista includes a handwriting recognition feature. I haven't been able to find it. Does it exist? If so, how do I use it?

Yes, Vista does include a handwriting recognition tool. But that isn't your only option. Have you tried speech recognition? It is also included in Vista.

Speech recognition does have its advantages. First, you probably talk faster than you type or write. And speech recognition won't put any strain on your hands at all. If you want to try Vista's speech recognition, check out my tip.

But, many people are too self-conscious to use speech recognition. Or maybe you just want to be more discreet. Also, handwriting recognition may be more accurate than speech recognition. But that depends on your handwriting!

I assume you aren't using a tablet PC. If you were, the handwriting recognition component would be obvious. So, you'll need one thing to use Vista's handwriting recognition: a graphics tablet. (Theoretically, you can your mouse. But that would be very difficult.)

Graphics tablets include pens that let you input text, drawings and the like. To learn more about graphics tablets, read my buying guide. These things are great for photo editing!

Once you have your tablet, you're ready to get going. Just click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>Tablet PC>>Tablet PC Input Panel. Once open, the panel will float above any open window.

There are three buttons at the top left of the input panel. One lets you write. The second lets you print letters. And the third opens a keyboard panel. Click the first button. Then, begin writing on the line in the yellow box.

As you write, you'll notice that Windows places boxes under your words. This shows you how Windows is reading your writing. If you notice a mistake, click a word. A panel opens that will let you correct the word letter by letter. Also, suggested words are listed. Just click on a suggested word to replace the incorrect one.

Depending on your settings, the text may not be inserted in your document or program automatically. In that case, hit the Insert button or press Enter when you've entered your text.

Vista's handwriting recognition feature is surprisingly accurate, at least with my handwriting. But, you may encounter problems. In that case, you'll need to do a little extra work.

You can personalize the handwriting recognition feature so it better recognizes your writing. To do this, click Tools>>Personalize Handwriting Recognition. A wizard will open that will help you correct problems. You can target errors with specific characters. Or, you can provide an extensive sample of your writing.

If you want to customize the way the handwriting recognition panel works, you can. Just click Tools>>Options. You'll find a plethora of options. For example, you can customize where the panel docks. Or, you can have text automatically inserted in your document.

When you want to close the handwriting panel, simply click Tools>>Exit. If you use window controls, it will just be minimized.

If your hands regularly hurt from typing, this could be the start of repetitive stress injury. You do not want this! In addition to looking for alternative input methods, take regular breaks. I have a freebie that will remind you to do this.

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163. Hard drive or flash drive camcorder?
Q. I’m in the market for a digital camcorder. Canon has new camcorders coming out. One has a 16-gigabyte flash drive. Which do you think is better—a hard drive or a flash drive?

A. Camcorders have certainly come a long way. Just the other day, I was watching a video of myself at a family birthday party. I was 5. I think the video camera jumped around more than I did.

Today’s hard drive camcorders have benefits. For starters, there’s usually more than ample storage for videos and pictures. Most models are over 30GB.

To put this in perspective, you’ll be able to record around nine hours at high quality mode. You can usually get around 25 hours by recording at a lower quality. Plus, it’s relatively easy to get video onto your computer. You simply connect the camcorder to your computer via USB or Firewire.

But hard drives are relatively delicate. One good drop could break the hard drive. If you’re like me, delicate doesn’t always describe us.

Flash memory also transfers video to your computer easily. It is much more compact than a hard drive. That means camcorders can be smaller. Plus, flash memory uses less power.

Flash memory is more durable than other types of storage. There are no moving parts to wear out. Bumps and jolts are not likely to break the memory. So, it is ideal for portable gadgets.

There is one big drawback to flash memory: its cost. You’ll pay a premium for flash memory. That’s particularly true when the memory is built into a gadget.

I picked two Canon models as examples of what memory will cost. Both are high-definition camcorders. That’s the only way to go now.

The Vixia HF10 has 16 GB of internal flash memory. It will sell for $1,100. In comparison, the HF100 only takes SD or SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards. Its other features are very similar. It will sell for $900.

Personally, I wouldn’t spend the extra $200 for the internal memory. Rather, I’d simply buy a large memory card and the less expensive model. This is a much cheaper route.

I’ve seen 16 GB memory cards for about $60. Or, you could buy several smaller cards. You’ll save a little money.

There are other benefits as well. You can use the memory cards in other gadgets. Also, the memory cards can be swapped easily.

With the HF10, you can record about two hours in high-definition. If you’re travelling, you’ll use this memory up quickly. You’ll probably end up purchasing a memory card to use anyway.

With the HF100, you can have a few memory cards on hand. When you need more storage, simply pop a new one in.

It is worth noting that not all SD/SDHC cards will work in these camcorders. You must use a Class 4 or higher memory card for high definition. Class 4 refers to the speed of the memory card. Class 4 has a minimum write speed of 4MB/s. Find out what you need to know about memory card speeds in my buying guide.

Before you purchase your camcorder, check the buying guides on my site. You’ll get the advice you need to find the perfect camcorder.
     
Buy the right HD camcorder
      • What to look for in a digital camcorder

Once you get a camcorder, you’ll want to edit your videos. I have many free programs that will help you work with your video.

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162. Digital television and converter boxes
Q.
You said that you don’t necessarily need an analog-to-digital converter box for digital television. Certain VCRs and DVD recorders could be used in place of a converter box. Can you give me a list of models and brands that I can use? It would save me buying one extra gadget.

A. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the digital television transition lately. That’s not a bad thing. Many people are not aware of the transition!

I’m not going to go into the details of the transition here. You can find everything you need to know by reading my column. It’s free for the taking on my site.

Now, I can understand why you don’t want to buy a converter box. It costs money, even with a $40 coupon from the government. In case you need a coupon for your older television, click here. And it is another piece of gear cluttering your family room.

Now, you bring up an interesting point. You can use a VCR or DVD recorder in place of a converter box. However, you need to have the right kind of VCR or DVD recorder. There’s always a catch!

I could try to list all the models that would work in place of a converter box. But I’m not familiar with every model on the market! Besides, that would bore too many people.

So, you’ll need to do some research on your own. It’s not hard and won’t take long. The DVD recorder or VCR needs to have an ATSC tuner. Unlike NTSC tuners, ATSCs are capable of picking up digital broadcast signals.

Old VCRs will use analog NTSC tuners. So, if you’re holding onto a VCR from the mid-90s, it isn’t going to help you.

Newer VCRs and DVD recorders should have ATSC tuners. Any model that you buy today will definitely have one. From March 2007, all gadgets with TV tuners were required to be digital.

If you purchased a DVD recorder in recent years, check the manual or the manufacturer’s Web site. It should describe the type of tuner. I assume that you haven’t purchased a VCR recently. But if you have, the same advice applies.

If you use a DVD recorder or VCR, you’ll change the television channels through it. And your antenna will connect to the recorder.

For help picking the right antenna for digital broadcasts, read my tip. Then, find out how to position the antenna correctly.

I have a slew of other television tips on Komando.com. Here is a quick list of some popular ones:
     
Explore your options when getting HDTV programming
      • Buying an HDTV
      • Using a computer monitor to get HDTV

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161. More DVD confusion
Q. Now that Blu-Ray has won the DVD battle, what becomes of the HD DVDs we own? Will the Blu-ray players play them? Will existing DVD players play Blu-ray, but with lower picture quality?

Q. I am putting pictures on a DVD-R for slide shows. I'll play them on TV for guests. (We have three grandkids, so we have a lot of cute pictures, we think.) With Blu-ray, will we have trouble playing these in the future? Will I have to have an old DVD player to play them? Or am I confusing technology?

Q. We just purchased two new Hi-Def TVs with HD DVD players. Can we play Blu-ray DVDs in our HD DVD players?

A. As you probably know, I'm a great optimist. To me, the glass is always half full. Sometimes, it is three-quarters full, even.

So, when the high definition DVD war ended, I was ecstatic. This will bring simplicity to the masses, I thought. Ho, ho, ho! Silly me. Now people are REALLY confused. I should have known better. We ARE talking about DVDs!

Let's recap the recent war. Both Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD are high-definition formats. Sony is the prime backer of Blu-ray; Toshiba was pushing HD DVD. With the proper players, either delivered a lovely picture.

Unfortunately, the two formats are not compatible. So, if you wanted a well-rounded movie collection, you needed a machine for each. Until recently, each ran hundreds of dollars.

In January, Warner Bros. announced it would make movies for Blu-ray only. That was the death knell for HD DVD. Toshiba subsequently decided to phase out that product. Stores are clearing out their stocks of HD DVD players.

So, why would people buy these machines? They are upconverters. You can play regular DVDs on them. You'll get a better picture than is available with a regular player. Of course, you need a high-definition television, too.

You may find HD DVD movies on sale, too. Sources on the Internet say there are nearly 400 HD DVD titles. Some of those are probably also available in Blu-ray.

So, why not just buy a Blu-ray machine? They also upconvert standard DVDs. But you'll probably pay $400 for a Blu-ray player. You might find an HD DVD player for as little as $100.

Blu-ray machines are costly

So, to recap the questions above, Blu-ray will not play HD DVD discs. HD DVD will not play Blu-ray discs. These machines will play Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, respectively. Standard DVD players will play neither.

However, both Blu-ray and HD DVD machines will play standard DVDs. And they are upconverters; standard DVD will look better than it does on a standard player. That is, assuming you have a high-definition television.

I assume the first questioner has an HD DVD machine. Just continue using it to play your HD DVDs. Some day it will wear out. But given the quality of today's electronics, that could be well down the road. Nothing else will play your HD DVD discs.

Slide show should be OK

And the second question: The Blu-ray and HD DVD machines we have looked at play DVD-R and DVD+R. So do most standard DVD machines. So your slide show should play in the future.

And, finally, the third question: Did you buy your players in the last two months? If so, your salesman stuck you. Warner Bros. announced its decision on Jan. 4. It was immediately obvious that HD DVD had lost the war.

Circuit City is accepting returns of HD DVD players. Other stores may be, too. I would take them back. Be very insistent.

You need an HDTV to display high definition DVDs. Check out my buying guide. You have choices in high-definition programming. I addressed that in a column. High definition has spread to the video world, too. High definition camcorders are now affordable. I have a camcorder buying guide. And if you plan to edit videos, don't stint on your computer. You're going to need horsepower.

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160. Blu-ray player profiles
I know that Blu-ray has won the high-definition DVD format war. So, I felt that I could finally buy a player with confidence. But then I heard about player profiles. Does that mean there are different kinds of Blu-ray players? What do I need to look for when shopping for a player? Thank you, Kim! I love your show and tell all my friends about it.

Thank you, right back. I love what I do. And I’m glad you love it, too.

I want to make sure you buy the right Blu-ray player. If you don’t know some important facts, you could end up with old gear.

You heard right; the format war is over. HD DVD is dead. Blu-ray Disc is the way to go for high-definition DVDs. But yes, there are different kinds of Blu-ray players.

I know it feels like I just threw you another curve ball. But it may not be as big a deal as you think. The profiles concept isn’t complicated. But it’s important to understand if you’re shopping for a player.

The Blu-ray format is adding new functionality to DVD players. New features will bring interactivity to your movies. But they are rolling out slowly. New Blu-ray profiles add different features. As new profiles emerge, older ones will be phased out.

Here’s what you need to know.

The first Blu-ray players were profile 1.0. This profile was often called the Grace Period Profile. These players simply played Blu-ray movies. They provided HD quality video. But they didn’t include any extra features.

All players manufactured after Nov. 1, 2007, must be profile 1.1. This profile adds picture-in-picture capabilities. Blu-ray movies can show bonus content in a picture-in-picture window. And they can show it while the movie is playing.

Profile 2.0 is coming soon, probably in the fall. It will add Internet connectivity to Blu-ray players. You’ll be able to access movie-related games, blogs and other content. And you’ll be able to interact with this content on your HDTV.

Salespeople may not know a lot about the different profiles. Just know that if the player supports picture-in-picture, it’s profile 1.1. And, in the future, if it has Internet connectivity, it’s profile 2.0.

So, should you go out and buy a profile 1.1 player? Should you wait for profile 2.0 players? There are probably profile 1.0 players still on the shelves. What about those?

I recommend picking up at least a profile 1.1 player. Profile 1.0 players should still play all Blu-ray discs. But format standards and requirements can change. It could become obsolete in the future. Then you’d have to buy a new player.

If Internet connectivity sounds enticing, you might wait for profile 2.0. It’s not available just yet. But several Blu-ray releases already include Web content. It’s a feature that you can expect in future Blu-ray discs.

Another option is to buy a PlayStation 3. The PS3 plays Blu-ray movies. It can already connect to the Internet. And it’s capable of receiving firmware updates online. A PS3 can be upgraded to profile 2.0 when the time comes. Plus, PS3s are priced on par with stand-alone Blu-ray players.

Tips for going HD:
     • Want to make home movies on HD?
     • Don’t get stuck with a dud HDTV
     • Where do you get HD programming?

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159. Making System Restore work
Q. What is the purpose of System Restore? I have tried to use it numerous times when something went wrong. I picked a date for System Restore, but it said it could not restore to that date. No matter what date I picked, it said the same thing. How does this work? I am using Windows XP.

A. System Restore is kind of like "isosceles triangle." It sounds vaguely like something you should understand. But, really, who has the time?

Sorry to say, I know little about isosceles triangles. (Actually, they're triangles that have two sides of equal length. I know that only because I double-checked the spelling in the dictionary.) However, I'm up to speed on System Restore. It's actually pretty cool.

System Restore is intended to correct major boo-boos. It restores Windows' system files to an earlier date when Windows was working properly.

Let me give you an example. Let's say you download and install a program from the Web. You reboot. When Windows comes up, it doesn't look right. It doesn't work right, either. This qualifies as a major boo-boo.

Pick a date; almost any date!

So, you go into System Restore. You pick a date there—say, yesterday. You tell Windows to roll back. The system files that have been altered return to their earlier state. Voilà, your computer is steady again.

The date you have picked is called a Restore Point. Windows automatically makes one every 24 hours. It also makes one when you install a program. You could have used that one in my hypothetical example.

System Restore only works on Windows system files. It does not affect your personal files, or program files.

I have used System Restore only once. It worked.

Where do you find it?

System Restore looks different, depending on your version of Windows. But it is accessed the same way in Windows XP and Windows Vista. Click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>System Restore.

In Windows XP, select "Restore my computer to an earlier time." Click Next. You'll see a calendar. Bold dates have a restore point. Click one. Click Next>>Next. Windows will roll back.

In Windows Vista, you can select the recommended restore point, or pick your own. If you choose the latter, you'll get a table of restore points. By default, they go back five days. You can choose to go back about two weeks, if you prefer. Click Next>>Finish to roll Windows back.

So, we haven't tackled your question, have we? Let's do that now.

Keep System Restore working! Click here for the rest of this Tip!

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158. WiMAX vs. 802.11g and 802.11n
Q. I’ve heard you talk about 802.11g and 802.11n. But what about WiMAX? Instead of investing in 802.11n routers, shouldn’t we just be upgrading to WiMAX? Or is there a reason why you’re not recommending WiMAX?

A. Well, yes. There’s a very good reason I’m not recommending WiMAX: It isn’t available. There have only been a few trial runs of WiMAX service.

Also, WiMAX and Wi-Fi differ, although many people have confused the two.

Just so we get our terms clear, WiMAX stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. Wi-Fi stands for wireless fidelity.

As I’m sure you’re aware, Wi-Fi lets you connect to other computers and the Internet wirelessly. But to connect to the Internet, you need a modem as well. Wi-Fi has a range of about 300 feet. Of course, 802.11n promises to double the range.

In contrast, WiMAX combines Wi-Fi and the modem. WiMAX covers 30 miles. So far, two companies have teamed up to conquer the WiMAX market. Sprint will take the urban areas. Clearwire will provide WiMAX to rural areas.

For the sake of discussion, let's say you have Sprint's service. You would get a modem that’s about the size of a router. This connects to your laptop. Wherever you wanted to access WiMAX, you’d need to take the box. Umm, not very convenient.

Here's the problem: Your computer doesn't have a WiMAX card. However, that's going to change in June. That's when Intel will release its Centrino 2 platform.

Centrino integrated Wi-Fi into laptops; Centrino 2 will do the same for WiMAX. When this happens, the external modem won’t be needed. WiMAX will function much like a cellular laptop card.

That brings me to an important point. WiMAX won’t be free. Details on pricing haven’t been released. I’d expect WiMAX to cost the same as home broadband or even cellular broadband access. However, competition from cable and DSL should hold prices down.

Sprint and Clearwire hope to have a sizable coverage area when Intel Centrino 2 launches in June.

Now, there are advantages to WiMAX. It provides an alternative to cable broadband and DSL. That’s particularly welcome in rural areas.

Aside from the improved range, WiMAX is also capable of faster speeds than Wi-Fi. However, many things can affect the speed of a WiMAX connection. For example, there’s the network configuration and the number of concurrent users. WiMAX will probably provide speeds similar to cable broadband.

WiMAX also has a fairly low lag time. So it is good for handling telephone service and online games. Satellite services tend to choke on these applications.

WiMAX should be here before too long. Will I recommend it when it arrives? We’ll just have to wait and see!

In the mean time, brush up on your networking skills with these tips:
   
What’s going on with 802.11n?
   
Power gadgets over your network
   
Stop interference on a wireless network
   
Secure a wireless repeater

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157. Installing gadgets in Windows Vista
I recently saw something about gadgets in Windows Vista. They sound like really useful tools. But I can’t figure out how to add them to my desktop. Can you fill me in on what I need to do?

Windows Vista adds many new features to Microsoft’s operating system. A very useful addition is Windows Sidebar. Sidebar is the feature you heard about. It’s a bar that sits on the side of the desktop. It holds gadgets that can do any number of things.

Sidebar may not be turned on by default. If you’re new to Vista, you may not even know it exists. It isn’t obvious where the Sidebar program is located. To find it, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>Windows Sidebar.

You can have Sidebar start along with Windows. It’ll show up on your desktop every time you start your computer. Click Start>>Control Panel. Then click Classic View and select Windows Sidebar Properties. Lastly, check the box labeled “Start Sidebar when Windows starts.”

The Sidebar gadgets can do many things. They are like specialized mini programs. Several come pre-loaded with Vista. There is a photo viewer, weather utility and RSS reader, among others. It’s pretty cool to have these tools right at your fingertips.

You don’t have to settle on Sidebar’s default gadgets. Click the “+” at the top of the Sidebar. You’ll see a list of available gadgets. Double click any gadget to add it to the Sidebar.

The initial selection of gadgets is pretty limited. No problem. Hundreds are available online. If you can think of a useful gadget, you can probably find it.

To download new gadgets, click the + at the top of the Sidebar. Then click “Get more gadgets online” at the bottom of the window. This will open the gadgets site in your browser. There you can explore and rate many popular gadgets.

If you tire of a gadget, it’s easy to remove. Hold your cursor over the gadget. Small icons will appear next to it. Click the X to remove it.

Many gadgets are customizable. You may be able to change how they look or function. Hold your cursor over a gadget. Then click the small wrench symbol next to the gadget. You’ll get a new window with customization options.

Your gadgets aren’t locked to the Sidebar. You can place gadgets anywhere on the desktop. Just drag and drop the gadget anywhere you want.

Many gadgets have two states. They look and act differently when attached or detached from the Sidebar. When moved to the desktop, a photo viewer will grow in size. A weather gadget may change from current conditions to an extended forecast. Play with your gadgets to discover new abilities.

I like Windows Sidebar and use several free gadgets. I have links to some of them in my Downloads section. One gadget I really like is Magic Folder. It makes organizing your folders a breeze. Give it try.

More Vista features:
   
Could you benefit from Vista’s security features?
   
Vista makes PowerPoint presentations easier
   
Need help picking the right version of Vista?

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156. eSATA external drives
Q. I bought an external hard drive for backing up my computer. The drive has USB and eSATA connections. I’m unfamiliar with eSATA. The manual claims it is faster than USB. Can you explain eSATA? Also, how do I connect the eSATA drive to my computer?

A. I’m seeing more and more external drives with eSATA connections. But I’m sure many people are still unfamiliar with eSATA.

It stands for external serial advanced technology attachment. Now that’s a mouthful! eSATA is the external version of a SATA drive. Many computers today use SATA drives instead of older IDE drives.

eSATA provides benefits over USB and FireWire connections.

Most notably, eSATA is much faster. There are two iterations of eSATA. The slower one transfers data at 1.5 gigabits per second. Newer eSATA connections can transfer data at 3Gbps. There are rumors of an eSATA that will hit 6Gbps.

USB and FireWire are not in the same league. USB 2.0 transfers data at 480 megabits per second. USB 1.1 topped out at 12Mbps. FireWire is available in two speeds: 400 and 800Mbps.

USB 3.0 has been announced. It will offer speeds up to 4.8Gbps. Firewire will also get a boost—to 3.2Gbps. To achieve these speeds, however, you’ll need to upgrade your computer.

eSATA is able to achieve high speeds for one important reason. The data is not translated as it passes into the computer.

In contrast, USB and FireWire drives use bridges. The hard drives themselves are SATA or IDE. A bridge is needed to connect them to USB or FireWire cables. The bridge must translate the data so the cable can transmit it. The translation process slows things.

eSATA will also let you access S.M.A.R.T. information on your hard drive. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology. It is a set of tools built into hard drives.

The S.M.A.R.T. data can alert you to pending hard drive failure. For more on learning about the health of a hard drive, read this tip on my site.

eSATA also has drawbacks. An external peripheral cannot receive power through a SATA cable. So it requires an external power source. Some peripherals can be powered via USB and Firewire connections. Thus, no external power source is needed.

The lack of power can be a hassle. However, eSATA connections should soon be able to power external gadgets.

Not many computers have eSATA connections. So, you may have to do some minor surgery to your computer.

Adapters are available for desktops. They allow a direct hookup to an internal SATA connection. (eSATA and SATA connections are physically different.)

Or, you could install an expansion card. These plug into PCI or PCI Express slots. They usually provide several eSATA connections. And you don’t need to use one of your internal SATA connections. A card will run about $50.

eSATA cards also are available for laptops. They plug into the PC Card or ExpressCard slot.

You might also be interested in Wireless USB. It lets you connect to USB gadgets wirelessly. To learn more about Wireless USB, visit my site.

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155. System Restore and Shadow Copy
Q. I just upgraded from Vista Home Premium to Vista Ultimate. The upgrade went smoothly and all my data is still on the machine. But I noticed something creepy. I was poking around in the Properties of my Documents folder. I clicked on a tab labeled Previous Versions. There were copies of documents I had deleted months ago! Is this normal? What’s going on?

A. You’ve stumbled across one of the quirks in Windows Vista. As you know, not all versions of Vista have the same features. I have a tip that covers what’s in each edition.

The Previous Versions feature is available in all editions except Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium. It is driven by the Shadow Copy utility, which is tied to System Restore. The latter is used to rescue your computer if something fouls it up. I have a tip that explains System Restore. It was written for Windows XP, but Vista is about the same.

Each time a restore point is created on your machine, Shadow Copy creates a previous version for each of your documents. This is intended to help you if you need to recover a version of your document.

Of course, Shadow Copy also creates previous versions of folders. That way, you can retrieve an accidentally deleted document.

You can access the previous versions by right-clicking a file and selecting Properties. Then, open the Previous Versions tab. You can select one of the previous versions. Click Open to view it. Or click Copy or Restore to retrieve the document.

To access the previous versions of a folder, open the folder in Windows Explorer. Right-click inside the folder and select Properties. Open the Previous Versions tab.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Now for the downside. Shadow Copy exists in Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium. That means Windows is creating previous versions of your files. However, Microsoft took away the tools to let you access the previous versions.

This poses a security risk. Copies of your sensitive files are being made without your knowledge. And they’re hidden away on your hard drive where you can’t find or access them.

But, as you’ve discovered, this data is retrievable with a simple upgrade. Yikes!

Unfortunately, there is no way to turn off Shadow Copy. Nor is there an easy way to delete the previous versions of your documents.

There is a work-around, though. You can turn off System Restore. This will turn off Shadow Copy. Turning off System Restore could create problems, though. If you need to restore your computer to an earlier time, you’re out of luck.

However, you could turn off System Restore and then turn it back on. Turning off System Restore will clean out all your old restore points. It will also remove all the previous versions of your files and folders. You could do this periodically, if you’re concerned about what’s lurking on your machine.

To turn off System Restore, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click System and then click “System protection.” On the System Protection tab, you should see your hard drive under Available Disks. Deselect it. When prompted, click Turn System Restore Off.

To enable System Restore again, follow the above steps. But select your hard drive instead of deselecting it.

Here's another tip that will interest you:

Removing files from Instant Search

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154. Media Center in Windows XP and Vista
Q. I’ve been thinking about upgrading my XP machine to Windows Vista. I want a version like XP Media Center Edition. But it looks like Microsoft hasn’t released one. Do you know if this is on the horizon? Or should I just hunt down a copy of XP Media Center Edition?

A. You’re right. Microsoft does not offer a Media Center Edition of Vista. That’s because it has changed things around a bit. Instead of releasing it as a separate operating system, Microsoft includes Media Center as a program.

Media Center comes installed on two versions of Vista: Home Premium and Ultimate. So you just need to decide which version is right for you. I have a comparison guide that will help.

For those unfamiliar with Media Center, it is designed to make it easier to access your media. You can play DVDs, and browse your music, videos and photos. It even lets you play and record television. For that, you’ll need a TV tuner.

To find Media Center, click Start>>All Programs>>Windows Media Center. When you start it, you’ll be greeted by a welcome screen. It will ask you to select a setup type. Or, you can opt to forgo the setup process. On my machine, I selected Custom Setup.

The program will walk you through the setup process. It is fairly straightforward.

Once you’re done, you can begin browsing the media on your computer. The program is designed to be used with a remote, but your mouse will do just fine.

Navigating can be confusing. You’ll see functions listed vertically. Options for each function are listed horizontally.

If you have a TV tuner on your computer, you’ll need to set that up, too. To do so, click Tasks in the vertical column. Scroll right to Settings. Click it and select TV and Set Up TV Signal.

Follow the instructions to set up your television tuner(s). Media Center supports a maximum of two tuners. They will automatically scan for available television stations.

Once you’ve set up your television tuners, you can begin watching television on your computer. If you want to record shows, you’ll need to set up more options.

To set up recording options, go back to Tasks. Scroll right and select Settings, TV and Recorder. You’ll want to set up storage options first. So, select Recorder Storage. You’ll be prompted to select a storage area and allocate space to your shows. When you’re done, click Save.

Next, you’ll want to check the recording defaults. You can change when Media Center overwrites old recordings. You can also change the default start and stop times for recordings. For example, you can set a margin to make sure part of a show isn’t missed. Click Save when done.

Media Center includes a program guide. Click TV + Movies and select Guide. You can use it to schedule recordings of shows. To record a show, simply select a show and click the Record button. If the show is part of a series, you can click the Record Series button.

If you later decide to cancel your subscription to a series, you can. First, select TV + Movies and Recorded TV. You’ll see a thumbnail of each recording. Scroll through to find one of the shows from the series. Click it for more information. Click Cancel Series.

Playing a show is just as simple. On the information screen for a recording, simply click Play. To delete a show, you can click Delete on the information screen. Or, set an expiration date using the Keep Until button.

To record a show that is in progress, click the Record button. It appears in the controls that appear when you move the mouse.

Media Center also lets you burn shows to DVD or CD. On a show’s information screen, click the Burn CD/DVD button. Follow the prompts to select the format and burn the disc.

Here are some more tips that will interest you:

Preparing for the digital broadcasting transition
& Connecting a computer to a television

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153. Diagnosing a slow computer
Q. I have Norton 2007 Internet Security and have kept it up to date. When I’m online, numerous processes run in the background. Norton identifies these as worms, Trojans or spyware. Here are the processes I’ve identified: LuCallBackProxy, lsass.exe, csrss.exe, smss.exe and wuauclt.exe. My computer runs very slowly. And I keep getting e-mail offers to make a body part larger. I have also run anti-spyware to no avail. I'm about ready to buy a new computer. Can you help?

A. Diagnosing problems in our computers can sometimes be complicated. Looking for various pieces of malware and spyware is a good start. But I question whether malware is your problem.

First, let's look at your suspect processes. All are valid; none should be disabled.

LuCallBackProxy
Several people have asked me about this process. It is actually part of your Norton Internet Security software. It assists LiveUpdate in retrieving and loading updates for Norton programs.

This is important for keeping security programs up to date. Don’t disable it. If you do, your computer could be open to malware.

lsass.exe
This is a Windows system process. It deals with local security and log-in policies. It’s used to authenticate users trying to sign on to your computer. This is crucial for the security of your PC.

However, Isass.exe is a virus. Wait, don’t they look the same? Yes, and that’s the point. The good process’ name begins with a lowercase L. The bad one begins with an uppercase I. When looking at processes on your PC, the font is usually san-serif. This font can make it difficult to tell the difference. The use of the upper-case I is not coincidental.

Isass.exe can disable your security programs, including your firewall. It also opens a backdoor for hackers. This program should be disabled and removed immediately. But be careful not to mix it up with lsass.exe.

csrss.exe
This is part of the Microsoft Client/Server Runtime Server Subsystem. It handles most of the graphical commands for Windows.

You need this file for your PC to run properly. Leave it alone.

smss.exe
This process is part of Windows. Its real name is Session Manager Subsystem. It controls sessions for your PC.

If you end this process, many programs will not function properly.

wuauclt.exe
This process manages automatic updates for Windows. It runs in the background and continually checks for updates. It uses your Internet connection to do the checking.

It’s important to stay on top of Windows updates. They routinely fix problems with Windows and close security holes. For the safety of your PC, keep this one around.

Adding RAM
How much random access memory do you have? If your RAM is minimal, that will slow your computer seriously.

When RAM overflows, the extra data goes into the paging file. This is a special section on the hard drive. When something there is needed by Windows, RAM clears space by sending something to the hard drive. Then it retrieves the needed data from the paging file.

This to-and-fro from the paging file slows the computer. Why? The hard drive is much slower than RAM. The process works, but it requires patience.

The cure is more RAM. For Windows XP, I would use 1 gigabyte of RAM. In Windows Vista, I recommend 2 gigabytes. I have a buying guide that covers RAM purchases.

If you have plenty of RAM, test it. Microsoft has a test program, as does Memtest86. Both are free.

Check for rootkits
It sounds like your antivirus and anti-spyware programs aren't finding anything. That means nothing is there. But you may have another problem: a rootkit.

Rootkits are some of the newest tools in a hacker’s arsenal. They can hide in the most basic of Windows operations. They also mask themselves to look like other programs. Rootkits can carry viruses, worms and other malware.

This tool usually fools both Windows and antivirus programs. Luckily, there is a solution. There are several anti-rootkit programs available. I have three free ones on my site: AVG Anti-Rootkit, Rootkitrevealer and Panda’s AntiRootkit.

Defrag hard drive
Another cause could be a badly fragmented hard drive. Fragmentation happens as files are written to the hard drive. Components are placed wherever the drive has space. This can scatter related files all over the drive. It’s much harder for the drive to call up scattered files. This can slow your computer.

To correct fragmentation, use the Windows Defragmenter. Click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Defragmenter. Choose your hard drive and hit Analyze. Windows will check your drive to see if defragmenting is necessary. If Windows says it is, click Defragment.

While you’re looking at the drive, do some house cleaning. Using Windows’ Disk Cleanup Utility will remove files you no longer need. Extraneous files just take up space. This is especially important if you have limited space on your drive.

Click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Cleanup. Select your disk and hit OK. Windows will show your options. Be sure to delete Temporary Internet Files and dump the Recycle Bin.

Too many start-up programs
Another possibility is that you have too many start-up programs. Some programs are set to start in the background upon log-in. So, when you try to start the application later it opens quickly. Many programs do this by default, even programs you don’t use often. Too many can cause slow performance.

I can explain the best way to minimize your start-up programs.

E-mail offers
Your e-mail about a certain body part is another issue. Spam is just part of life for most people. Just because you’re getting spam doesn’t mean your PC is infected. Spammers don’t need to use malware to send you spam. They just need your e-mail address.

Block lists and anti-spam tools can help cut down on spam. But spammers are smart. And they usually find ways around those programs. It can be simple, like tweaking a letter in their e-mail address.

Take a look at my tip on filtering spam more effectively.

If, after all this, you decide to buy a computer, check my buying guides. I have buying guides for basic laptops and desktops.

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152. Like something you heard on the radio?
Q. I spend a lot of time listening to the radio. Often, I’ll want to download a song I hear from iTunes. But I don’t know the name of the song or musician. How can I find the songs I hear on the radio?

A. I get this question often. There are many ways to find the songs' names.

I'd first visit the radio station’s Web site. Stations often post their playlists. Look at the time of day when you heard the song. Maybe the title or artist’s name will be obvious.

If not, you can probably narrow it down to a few songs. Visit iTunes and listen to the samples of those songs. There’s a good chance you’ll find it.

Radio stations usually feature a "now playing" section on their sites. It will have the name when the song is played.

There are still more ways to get a song's name. If you remember a phrase from the song, enter it in Google. Surround the phrase in quotes.

Many sites feature lyrics, so the song should pop up. I’ve found many songs using this method.

Some sites will let you search for lyrics specifically. Try Yahoo!’s lyrics site or FindMeATune.

For a more innovative way to find a song, try Tunatic. This is a free music-identification program.

You’ll need to hold the radio to your computer’s microphone. It will compare the song and music in its database. How fun!

For more tips on music and audio, visit my site.

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151. Wearing out flash memory
Q. My flash drives die about every two years. My friends tell me that they can be written to millions of times. But I have a theory. Maybe my computer is writing to the same section of the drive all the time. I use my drives about 10 times a day for two or three years. So that’s only about 11,000 writes. What’s going on?

A. Consumer flash drives probably can’t be written to millions of times. Sandisk says flash memory can endure tens of thousands of write cycles, if not hundreds of thousands.

Before we continue, let me explain "write cycle." A write cycle is writing a file to the memory and then deleting it.

Now, it is possible for cells in flash memory to go bad. But that won’t prevent you from using the rest of the drive/card. You just won’t be able to write to that one section.

Some flash memory includes wear-leveling algorithms. They're designed to prevent the computer from repeatedly writing to the same cells. It chooses different areas of the memory to which to write. This prevents specific areas of memory from wearing out quickly.

It is unlikely that your flash memory is wearing out so quickly. Other factors could be causing problems. Without more information, I can’t make an exact diagnosis.

First, you could be plugging and unplugging the flash drive a lot. This can cause problems with the USB connector. If the connector goes bad, you can’t access the card's data.

You can also introduce errors on the flash drive. Errors could make it appear that the drive's memory is going bad.

One example: removing the drive while the computer is writing to it. Or, maybe you’re using the flash drive with a laptop. If the laptop is low on juice, errors are possible.

In these cases, the drive can be saved. Just format it. Simply attach it to your computer. In Windows Explorer, right-click the drive. Select Format and wait while it goes through the steps.

This should fix any data errors introduced into the card. But if the problem is with the USB connector, you’re probably sunk.

All of this assumes you’re using flash drives from reputable manufacturers. Some shadier operations use inferior memory. Also, the build quality probably wouldn’t be as strong. That might cause problems with the connectors. So, spend a little extra to buy name brand flash memory.

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150. Watch out for power surges
My neighbors had a power surge that burned up most of their electronics. Fortunately, I wasn’t affected by the surge. But how can I protect my computer and electronics from surges? I currently use a 3350 joules surge protector.

Unfortunately, protecting electronics from large power surges isn’t easy. That’s particularly true when you’re talking about lightning. In fact, a surge protector won’t protect your computer from lightning strikes.

I use an uninterruptible power supply, rather than a surge protector. An online (AKA continuous or true) UPS should protect your gear from lightning strikes.

With these units, the computer draws power from the battery. It is not connected directly to an electrical outlet. If lightning strikes, your battery probably will be fried. But the computer should be protected.

The UPS' main job is to keep you running if the power fails. The battery will run the computer for about 10 minutes. Because it is already running the computer, there is no hesitation.

Batteries can fail. Even so, the unit still functions as a super-surge suppressor. But if the power fails, the computer goes dark.

Expect to pay a minimum of $150 for an online UPS.

You’ll also see offline (or standby) UPS's. If the power fails, there is a momentary outage as the UPS switches to battery power. You could lose data.

Line interactive UPS's are more sophisticated then offline units. They still have to switch to the battery. But the switch is faster. You also may get better lightning protection.

Your surge suppressor sounds pretty capable. It will protect you against household power spikes. These can be caused when an appliance starts, for instance.

A buyer should look for a couple things in a surge suppressor. First, consider energy dissipation. This is the amount of power the suppressor is able to absorb.

Energy dissipation is measured in joules. Higher numbers are better. In the past I have recommended a minimum 800 joules. So, at 3350 joules, you’re sitting pretty.

Also look at the suppressed voltage rating. It refers to the voltage that a suppressor lets through. Lower numbers are better. I recommend one rated for 330v.

Power can enter through your cable and phone lines, too. So make sure your surge suppressor has these connections.

A surge suppressor is much less expensive than a good UPS. One such as yours can be had online for about $35. But it will not protect you from lightning. I have a sad story online, if you are still a disbeliever.

If lightning is common in your area, I recommend an online UPS.

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149. Digital Photography - Shooting in RAW for High-Dynamic range-imaging (HDRI)
Q. I’ve been taking photographs semi-professionally for years. I see where photography is headed, so I recently made the leap to digital. I hate it! I miss the dynamic range of film-based photography. A friend told me about high-dynamic range-imaging. I’m not sure what this is, but it sounds like a solution. Can you offer me some insight?

A. First off, don’t give up on digital yet! Many die-hard photographers find the switch to digital difficult. A digital sensor behaves differently from film. You just need to learn the nuances of digital photography.

For those who aren’t familiar with dynamic range, let me explain. Dynamic range is the range from the darkest to the brightest levels in a photograph. The greater the dynamic range, the more detailed and realistic the photograph.

It is true that digital photography doesn’t offer as much dynamic range as film. But even film can’t match the human eye's tonal range.

Camera manufacturers are making advancements in dynamic range. And higher-end cameras usually have a much improved dynamic range.

Now, if you’re not shooting in RAW format, begin immediately. RAW format has many benefits. A dramatically improved dynamic range is one of them. I have a tip that explains that.

High-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI) may or may not be right for you. It depends on your tastes. Many photographers are dedicated to HDRI. Many more hate it.

High-dynamic-range photographs are achieved using special software. Newer versions of Photoshop also will do the trick.

To create an HDR image, you need three or more versions of the same photo. Each is taken at different exposures.

Take the photos in manual mode and turn manual focus on. Change shutter speed to achieve different exposures. That’s because changing the aperture will affect the photograph’s depth of field, resulting in different photographs. Obviously, the subject of the photograph should be still.

The software essentially combines the images so that you can see detail in both highlights and shadows.

Displaying HDR images is a problem. Monitors and paper prints can't show the full dynamic range. So tone mapping is used.

There are different ways to implement tone mapping. The highlights might be compressed in order to brighten the rest of the image. Contrast would be improved in the rest of the picture.

Or, the brightness and darkness of certain pixels may be changed depending on surrounding pixels. This essentially tricks the eye into believing the image has greater contrast and range. For example, a pixel in a highlight may actually be darker than a pixel in a shadow in a different part of the photograph.

If you have Photoshop CS2 or CS3, you might want to experiment with HDRI. Or, there are some free programs you can use. Try FDRTools Basic or easyHDR Basic.

It is difficult to achieve realistic results from HDRI. Many HDR images have a look that gives them away. Maybe you’ll appreciate the effect. Maybe not.

Fortunately, camera manufacturers haven’t given up on dynamic range. They’re looking for more ways to improve it.

And, remember, no HDR image can beat good lighting.

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148. Printing photos at home
I want to print photos on photo material sheets. If I do that, will the prints fade? Would it be better to have a photo place do them.

There is a lot of contention around this issue. Printer manufacturers sell their own paper. Other companies also sell photo paper. Everyone thinks theirs is the best.

The printer manufacturers are well aware of this issue. In addition to paper, they also sell archival-quality inks.

The manufacturers say their printers, ink, ink cartridges and paper were made to work together. They insist that using them together will give you the best results. It appears that they are right.

A good deal of research has been done on this subject. One leading expert is Henry Wilhelm, of Wilhelm Imaging Research. He has done numerous studies on inkjet photos' permanence.

I couldn't find articles on tests later than 2005. But I believe those results are still relevant.

Basically, Wilhelm found that Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard turned out long-lasting pictures. Epson was best, with pictures lasting nearly 100 years.

Of course, Wilhelm doesn't have 100 years to test them. So he kept fluorescent lights burning on prints. That caused fade, eventually. The fade then was translated into years.

Epson uses pigment-based inks, instead of dyes. That may be the reason for its good showing.

You'll have to decide how much you want to spend. High-quality paper is relatively expensive. And the printer manufacturers categorize their papers from good to super-duper. Of course, prices climb with quality.

One of the also-rans in Wilhelm's paper tests was Kodak. It essentially was selling all-purpose paper for every printer. Wilhelm said it was mediocre. (Kodak strongly disagreed.)

However, Kodak began selling its own printers this year. I haven't seen permanence tests on that system. But I'd bet that it's pretty good. No one has more experience with photo paper than Kodak.

You asked about taking your photos to a "photo place." That could be problematic. Who knows what they use? You can maintain more control by doing it yourself. But that is more expensive, given the cost of paper and ink.

An exception might be camera shops. Owners have a great deal of experience with photography. They may be able to guarantee long- lasting prints. But they will probably be more expensive than a drugstore.

One other thing: Wilhelm's tests were harsh. They really apply to pictures that are displayed. Most people put pictures in an album or shoe box. If they aren't subject to light, they are less likely to fade. But they can still be affected by temperature, humidity and air quality.

So, what's the bottom line? I would use ink, cartridges and paper from my printer's manufacturer. You will have to decide what you want to pay for paper. Most manufacturers have a number of grades.

For really, really important photos, I'd go to a camera shop.

If you are producing many prints, consider an online service. They can save you significant money. Both Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly say they use archival paper. They will probably be much cheaper than doing it yourself. But you lose some control.

My last choice would be the corner drugstore. Who knows what they use? Their clerks are generally not photography experts. However, the drugstores are cheap and quick.

Remember, you can store the originals on your computer. They are 1's and 0's, just like a Word document. So they'll never fade. You can do new prints whenever you like.

Hard drives can fail. If yours fails, it will take your pictures with it. So back up your data. Check out my tip on online backups.

I also have a book on CD about digital photography. You'll find it helpful. It's in my e-store. And if you have pictures you really like, why not enter my photo contest?

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147. Which programs will run on Vista?
Q. How can I tell if a program that runs on Windows XP will be compatible with the new Vista operating system? I need to buy a second PC for my home, and I was thinking about a Vista machine. I don't know if my expensive software (which runs well on XP) will run properly on Vista. Please let me know!

A. I can’t give you definitive information, since I don’t know what your programs are. We switched to Vista in January, and found compatibility was a mixed bag.

Most programs we use made the switch without problems. For example, Firefox runs well on Vista. And Microsoft products, including the ubiquitous Office suite, are also good bets.

On the other hand, our Web site management program is dicey. It works on some machines, and doesn’t on others. We’ve also had minor problems with Adobe’s Dreamweaver.

Unfortunately, there is no sure way to predict which programs will transfer to Vista. However, Microsoft's Vista Upgrade Advisor is a good start before you make the switch. It will notify you of known program compatibility problems. You could also search online for any complaints about your program's behavior on Vista.

Some changes in Windows Vista can cause problems. One example is User Account Control. It restricts the privileges of your default Vista account. This can help limit the dangers of viruses or other malicious programs. But it also can put up obstacles when you try to run programs.

In XP, the default account has full Administrator privileges. Many XP programs are coded with the assumption of Administrator privileges. This is especially common with games. You'll hit problems in Vista if the programs expect you to have full Administrator privileges.

Although User Account Control is a security feature, I don't consider it terribly important. You can disable it. I have instructions on my site.

Windows Vista includes Program Compatibility Wizard to help run uncooperative older programs. However, it was not helpful for us.

Maybe you'll find it helpful. To start Program Compatibility Wizard, click Start>>Control Panel. Click Programs. Then click "Use an older program with this version of Windows." You can browse for the program on CD or on your hard drive.

Vista can simulate the behavior of versions all the way back to Windows 95. You can even choose monitor settings from the old days. Vista can save the settings to open the program similarly in the future.

So, what’s the bottom line? Compatibility problems are certainly possible. If your programs are published by major companies, they should be able to tell you. Also, search online. If they are custom, check with the programmers.

If there is any doubt, and these programs are important, stick with XP. Get a powerful machine. That way, you can upgrade to Vista later if you like.

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146. Run multiple operating systems
Windows Vista is a beautiful operating system. New features give it eye appeal. And Microsoft has tightened security.

But Vista has its problems. For example, not all programs and hardware run on it.

Does this mean you can't use Vista? Nope. By all means, upgrade. And download Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.

This program lets you create virtual machines in Vista or XP. On these virtual machines, you can install other operating systems. You could even go old-school with MS-DOS!

Okay, virtual machines sound complicated. But Virtual PC simplifies matters. A virtual machine program allows you to run an operating system. So you could run Windows XP withinVista, for instance. You can switch between operating systems as you would between programs.

Virtual PC runs on XP Professional, XP Tablet PC, Vista Business, Vista Enterprise and Vista Ultimate.

Back up your computer before creating a virtual machine. You’ll need valid licenses for operating systems you install. That includes those you install on virtual machines.

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145. Running Office XP on Vista
Q. I am going to upgrade to Windows Vista. Will I be able to load my Office XP on Vista? Or, do I have to purchase Office 2003 or 2007?

A. According to Microsoft, Vista supports Office XP, also known as Office 2002. It also supports Office 2000, 2003 and 2007.

Microsoft says Office 2007 was developed specifically for Vista. So, it says, Office 2007 is the "recommended and best version" for Vista. I'm not sure what that means.

I would install Office XP. It will probably run fine. If it's unacceptable, uninstall it and move up to 2007. We use Office 2007 on all of our office machines. We have had no problems with it.

Some of my people use Office XP on home computers. The operating system on those machines is Windows XP. That version of Office and the one at the shop work equally well for them. So they don't feel compelled to buy Office 2007.

Actually, Microsoft does a good job in this area. Backward compatibility has always been a Windows selling point. At least one of my employees runs ancient DOS programs on Vista. (MS-DOS preceded Windows. The last stand-alone version of MS-DOS was published in 1994.)

So, I would be surprised if earlier Office versions had problems.

Vista has a backup plan: the Program Compatibility Wizard. I have a tip on my site that covers that. In brief, the wizard simulates the environment of earlier Windows systems. It goes back to Windows 95.

We didn't have much luck with the Program Compatibility Wizard. A better solution might be a virtual machine. With that, you could run Windows XP within Vista, along with programs developed for XP.

Microsoft has a virtual machine program—Virtual PC 2007. It's free. It runs on Vista Business or Vista Ultimate. I have more information on my site.

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144. A mysterious new account
Q. I've noticed a new user account on my laptop--"asp.net machine account." Are you familiar with this? I'd like to delete it, but decided to check with you beforehand.

A. This is an ancient problem, long since corrected by Microsoft. It is created when you download Microsoft .Net Framework 1.1.

The Microsoft .Net Framework 1.1 is used by software developers. Asp.net projects will not run correctly without the framework.

If you're developing asp.net software, you need the framework. Otherwise, you don't. So, you can delete the user account.

In September 2004, Microsoft issued Service Pack 1 for .Net Framework 1.1. That corrected the account problem. It also added a number of security features.

Maybe your copy of Windows needs to be updated. If so, please do that. Without those updates, you could be wide open to attacks.

To update, open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Windows Update. Download and install everything marked Critical or Important. If you are way behind, this will take awhile.

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143. Is that spam message from you?
Q. I have been receiving e-mail messages with my address in the From field. It looks like I sent them. When I look at the headers, I can see that they are sent by someone else. Should I forward them to spam@uce.gov? Will they know that I’m reporting the actual sender, or will they come after me? Is this kind of trickery common?

A. The FTC owns spam@uce.gov. You can forward fraudulent spam to this address. You might get messages promoting weight-loss, credit repair and pyramid schemes. If they make misleading or false claims, the FTC wants them.

The FTC uses the spam to find and stop fraudulent spammers. So, I recommend that you forward these messages to the FTC.

When you forward the spam, send the full headers. The headers contain information about the message. The FTC is especially interested in the headers' Internet Protocol addresses.

The messages will contain the IP addresses of the machines where they originated. They also contain IP addresses for the servers that relayed the messages.

The FTC knows spammers use deceptive techniques. And, of course, it is seeking deceptive messages in particular. The FTC won’t take information in the From field at face value.

It isn’t uncommon for spammers to spoof e-mail addresses. In fact, return e-mail addresses are usually fraudulent.

I often see spam messages in my inbox bearing my own e-mail address. So have many other computer users. I really wouldn’t worry that the FTC will come after you.

I don’t know if there will ever be a solution to spam. However, I have links on my site to free anti-spam programs. Of course, you should never, ever respond to spam.

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142. Backing up Outlook Express files
Q.
Can you explain how to back up Outlook Express files and folders?

A. Sure. I assume you want to back up your Inbox, Sent Items, Deleted Items, etc. There's a relatively easy—but inelegant—way to do it.

Outlook Express files end with dbx. So, you'll get Inbox.dbx, Folders.dbx, Offline.dbx, etc. The trick is finding the dbx files.

A search in Windows Explorer probably won't work. The search function is awful. Besides, Microsoft doesn't like to expose system files. So we'll just have to track 'em down!

To do that, open Outlook Express. Click Tools>>Options. Select the Maintenance tab. Click the Store Folder… button. You'll get a little Window that says Store Location. A box within the windows contains the path to the dbx files. This is the inelegant part.

Here's my path: C:\Documents and Settings\Kim\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{86757014-3806-4091-ADBB-3CD3F270ECE0}\Microsoft\Outlook Express.

Use Windows Explorer to follow the path. The dbx files are in the Outlook Express folder. As I said, Microsoft really doesn't want us messing with these files. So they may be hidden.

If you don't see them, click Tools>>Folder Options in Windows Explorer. Click View. Under Advanced Settings, select "Show hidden files and folders." Deselect "Hide extensions for known file types." Also deselect "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)." Click Apply>>OK.

If you have a regular backup routine, just include the dbx files. If you don't, copy them to a flash drive, second hard drive or CD. Do not copy them to the hard drive on which they reside. Your biggest danger is a hard drive failure. If that were to happen, it would take the backup with it.

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141. Choosing a Macro lens
Q. I recently purchased a digital SLR. I’m interested in macro photography. I have a telephoto zoom lens that is supposed take macro photos. However, my photos haven’t been successful. Do I need to activate macro settings? Or do I need different equipment?

A. Let's start by explaining macro photography. This is close-up photography. It is used to photograph such things as plants, insects and coins.

Some lenses have a switch for macro mode. However, most lenses don’t require this. Macro shots are done automatically. Check the information that came with your lens.

Many people buy telephoto zoom lenses. They are versatile, and convenient for travelling.

But, as you’re discovering, no lens is good at everything. Telephoto zoom lenses generally don’t do macro photography well.

I recommend a prime lens for macro photography. A prime lens has a fixed focal length. For example, you can buy a 50mm lens that has macro abilities.

A macro lens simply has the ability to focus close to a subject. The subject will be magnified and appear large in the photo.

Now, let me explain what you need to know to select a macro lens.

First, look at the minimum focusing distance. This is how close you can get to your subject and focus. I’d aim for seven inches or so.

Next up is magnification. That is expressed as a ratio. Traditionally, macro lenses have a magnification ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. This means that objects would be either life-size or half life-size on a 35mm frame of film.

But you’ll find lenses that have a 1:4 or 1:3 magnification ratio. A subject photographed with a 1:4 lens would be life-size on a 4x6 print. Your telephoto lens probably has a 1:4 or 1:3 magnification ratio. So I would look for a lens that has a 1:1 magnification ratio.

There are other ways to take macro photographs. One of the most popular tools is an extension tube. This fits between the camera and the lens. It simply changes the focusing distance.

If you have a prime lens, you might try an extension tube with it. Extension tubes also increase magnification with macro lenses.

They're relatively inexpensive. For example, you can pick up a set for less than $200. But you’ll make some sacrifices. First, your images will be darker.

Second, you might find that some camera features are disabled. You might lose autofocus abilities. Or, you might not be able to use the internal light meter. Problems will vary, depending on the lens and extension tube. So research the extension tube before you buy.

If you’re looking for a third option, try close-up filters. These attach to the front of your lens. Again, they allow closer focusing, magnifying the subject. They’re much less expensive than extension tubes or lenses. Prices start around $35.

Close-up filters have different diopters, or powers. The higher the diopter, the stronger the magnification. For example, a +10 diopter may give you a half life-size or larger reproduction. You can also stack close-up filters for greater magnification.

There are still more solutions for macro photography. For example, you can use a bellows or a reversing ring. You can use a macro coupler to reverse mount a lens on the front of an existing one. These are bulkier solutions. But if you’re interested in trying them, you’ll find plenty of information online.

To learn more about digital SLRs and lenses, visit my site.

And did you know that you can find close-up lenses for point-and-shoot cameras?

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140. Putting your Social Security number online
Q. My employer wants me to sign up for benefits online. This requires me to enter my Social Security number on a secure site. I’m told that I need to use Internet Explorer 6 to enroll. Is this process safe?

A. Yes. Internet transmission is the least risky aspect of this transaction. Your number is much more likely to be stolen through corporate carelessness. Or, if you mail it, it could be stolen by thieves. I feel much safer with the Web than with the postal system.

However, I'm surprised that they require Internet Explorer 6. It was replaced by IE 7 last year.

Some people do continue to use IE 6. Version 7 did not always work well with Windows XP. Microsoft has continued to update IE6. Assuming the computer with IE 6 has been updated, you are safe.

Both versions of Internet Explorer use SSL (Secure Socket Layer). This is a currently unbreakable encryption method. It is used to transmit data over the Internet. (Other browsers, such as Firefox and Safari, also use SSL. It was developed by Netscape years ago.)

If the data is intercepted, it can’t be read. The encryption is too strong to be broken. I have a tip that explains SSL.

The truth is, other organizations also require your Social Security number. One such is the Internal Revenue Service. Others include the credit agencies—Transunion, Experian and Equifax. Any of those might require you to transmit your Social Security number. You are always safe transmitting it, because you are using SSL.

Crooks can set up SSL sites, too. So make sure you’re visiting the correct site and not a phishing site. Phishing sites are set up by crooks to steal your personal information. You are unlikely to run into this problem in your case. Just double-check that you are using the proper Web address.

I assume the benefits company has appropriate security measures in place. However, many companies have faced data breaches. The company will probably put your data into its computer system.

In fact, you are worrying about the wrong thing. There have been no instances of transmission theft, to my knowledge. But there have been many instances of theft through corporate carelessness.

You're much more likely to be the victim of an inside theft. Or, your records could be found in the trash by dumpster divers. Or, the company's database could be penetrated electronically by criminals. Or, a computer loaded with Social Security numbers could be stolen.

These failures are extraordinarily common. And in none of these cases can you exercise control. You must trust that the corporate world will protect you. Good luck with that!

Finally, consider what machine you’re using. It should have Windows XP or Vista installed. Earlier consumer versions of Windows aren’t safe. Also, never enter sensitive information on a public computer, such as one at a library. It could be compromised by criminals.

The computer you're using should have the latest Microsoft security patches. They fix vulnerabilities in Windows, along with other Microsoft programs. Browsers such as IE 6 and 7 require regular security updates.

Windows Update will download and install the patches for you. But you must have it enabled. Or, you can run it manually. Either way, you need these patches to make sure your software is up to date security-wise. To learn more about Windows Update, read my tip.

Next, the computer should have appropriate security software installed. That includes at least two anti-spyware programs, an antivirus program and a firewall. This will protect your computer from viruses, Trojans and other malware.

Of course, these programs should have the latest updates, too. Criminals come out with new programs regularly. So, security programs need to be updated in order to fend off these attacks.

I have links to any security software you may need. And it’s all free.

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139. Downloading photos from a cell phone
Q. I would like to download photos I’ve taken with my cell phone. I would like to print them out. How do I go about doing this? Is there a Web site or something I can use?

A. There are many ways to get photos off a cell phone. But your options will vary, depending on your phone and service provider.

If your phone accepts a memory card, you can use it. There should be an option to move photos to the memory card. Then, insert the card into a reader and connect it to your computer. Moving the photos will be as simple as dragging and dropping.

Bluetooth may also do the trick. Your computer will need a Bluetooth adapter, if it doesn’t have Bluetooth. Then, pair your phone with the computer. Select a photo and look for a Bluetooth option.

You’ll also find cables to connect your phone to your computer. Check with your electronics store for one compatible with your phone model. Special software will help you move the photos off the phone.

I have a link on my site to a free program that might help. It works with many popular phone models.

If your phone isn’t supported, don’t worry. You can purchase software that will do the trick. Often, software and cables can be purchased together.

You can also use the cable and software to back up your phone. I highly recommend that!

E-mail is another option for transferring photos. Attach a photo to the e-mail and send it to your account. When you open the e-mail, copy the picture to your hard drive.

You can also upload the photos to a Web site like photobucket. But this generally adds a few more steps to the process. The site will give you an e-mail address where you can send your photos. Once there, download the photos to your computer. These sites are really designed for sharing your photos with other people.

I mentioned that your options may vary, depending on your cellular provider. Unfortunately, some providers block Bluetooth transfers. Others don’t let you send pictures via text messaging. They want you to sign up for another service, instead.

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138. What do Web sites know when you visit?
Most people surf the Web for both entertainment and information. But did you know that each site you visit also gets information from you? More information is exchanged than meets the eye.

Each link that you click on the Internet is a request for a file. Usually, that file is a Web page. As part of each request, your Web browser shares information about itself and your computer. You can see this information for yourself by visiting analyze.privacy.net. Below are some of the major parts of the story your computer silently tells online.

IP address
One bit of information every Web site gets from you is your IP address. IP addresses allow computers to locate each other on the Internet or other networks. You may have seen them without knowing it. A common IP address in home networks is 192.168.1.1.

Your IP address doesn't give away your identity. However, it can be used to determine which ISP (Internet service provider) you're using. The ISP is a clue to which region or city you're in. That's a bit too specific for some folks.

Tools such as Tor, JAP and Privoxy can help hide your true IP address. They put other computers between Web sites and your PC. Their IP addresses are exposed to Web sites rather than yours.

These tools do not make you completely anonymous. After all, Web servers still must deliver information to your computer. Privacy tools only make the communication path difficult to follow. They won't help you evade law enforcement if you're up to no good.

Cookies
Web sites also have access to cookies. These are text files that allow sites to save information between visits. The typical cookie contains a single number. Web sites can't identify you, so they just give you a number. That allows sites to see the path of the average visitor.

Cookies are handled by your Web browser and saved with its files. You can view or delete them if you wish. To see cookies in Internet Explorer, click Tools>>Internet Options.

Under "Browsing history," click the Settings button. Then click "View files." You'll see the cookies among other bits of information the browser saves.

In Firefox, click Tools>>Options. Select Privacy. Then click the Show Cookies button.

Generally, cookies can only be read by the sites that create them. That is, most browsers don't allow a site to read another site's cookies. Some marketers work around this rule with third-party cookies that track your Web surfing. You can read about third-party cookies on my site.

Network ports
With your IP address, malicious sites might scan your computer for open ports. Ports are numbered paths of communication to or from your computer. Most ports are reserved for specific programs by convention. For example, Web browsers typically use port 80.

Open ports can indicate particular programs you're using on the Internet. For example, an open port 5190 indicates AOL Instant Messenger. It also invites attacks through potential security holes in the program.

A good firewall makes your computer invisible to port scans. Firewalls also can close ports you don't need.

Browser and Windows security holes
Web sites may also determine the Web browser and Windows versions you're using. This information can help site owners improve their pages. Malicious sites can use the information to customize their attacks.

Your best defense against these attacks is an updated computer. Updates often fix the security holes upon which hackers rely. To catch any threats that get through, run antivirus software and several anti-spyware programs. You can get free security programs on my site.

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137. Moving Favorites or Bookmarks
Q. I bought a new computer and moved my data over. Well, some made it, and some didn't. My Favorites didn't. I went on my old PC and found an Internet Explorer 7 file that I thought was my Favorites. I copied that file to the new PC, and, of course, it doesn't work. So I tried to copy them from AOL and can't get that to work, either. What can I do?

A. Actually, I get this question a lot. Tracking down each Favorite would be a real bear. So we need a way to automate this.

In fact, moving the Favorites (or Bookmarks in Firefox) is easy. We'll do Internet Explorer first, since that's the question at hand. Then we'll look at Firefox.

Start in Internet Explorer by clicking File>>Import and Export. A wizard window will open. Click Next. Click Export Favorites and click Next. Select the main Favorites folder and click Next. Select Export to a File or Address. Click Browse. Navigate to Desktop and click Save. Note that the file name is Bookmark.htm. Click Next>>Finish.

Your Favorites are on the desktop in a file named Bookmark.htm. Burn this file to a CD-R or copy it to a flash drive. Go to the new computer and copy the file to the desktop.

Open Internet Explorer on the new computer. Click File>>Import and Export. A wizard window will open. Click Next. Select Import Favorites and click Next. Select Import from a File or Address. Click Browse. Find Desktop and open it. Click Bookmark.htm and click Open. Click Next. Click Favorites as the destination folder. Click Next>>Finish.

Firefox is just as easy. Click Bookmarks>>Organize Bookmarks. Click File>>Export. Browse to Desktop and click Save. The file's name is Bookmarks.html. Burn the file to a CD-R or save it to a flash drive.

Take the file to the new computer. Save it to the desktop. Now, open Firefox on the new computer. Click Bookmarks>>Organize Bookmarks. Click File>>Import. Under Import Bookmarks From:, select From File. Click Next. Click Bookmarks.html and click Open. That's it.

Do you have dead links in your Favorites or Bookmarks? I have a program that will fix that. If you use more than one computer, you might want to store your Bookmarks or Favorites online.

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136. Rookie Rundown: Tips to get you newbies up and going!
Ron wrote from Seattle because his son will start college soon. He needs help finding a laptop for him.

Your first stop should be the school’s Web site. Many schools will list minimum system requirements. If your son has decided on a major, take that into consideration. A graphics design major needs a more powerful computer than an English major.

Next, you’ll need to decide between an Apple and a Windows machine. This is really a matter of preference. But your son may be required to have one or the other. That’s because certain programs only work with one of the two operating systems.

If you go with a Windows machine, you’ll have more options. And prices will be lower.

Opt for Vista Home Premium. There are several versions of Vista. This version best balances price and features.

The minimum amount of RAM required is a gigabyte. I’d double that. Today’s programs require a lot of RAM.

Get a hard drive that is at least 100 gigabytes. This provides ample room for software and files. Many professors offer recordings of lectures online. This can eat up a lot of hard drive space.

These days, a CD burner and DVD drive should be standard. But make sure one is included. Likewise, make sure an 802.11g wireless card and an Ethernet card are included.

You’ll encounter both AMD and Intel chips. I recommend sticking with AMD’s Turion or Intel’s Core 2 Duo. These are very powerful chips. They’re 64-bit dual core processors. Choose the chip based on price.

If you go with a Mac, you’ll be limited to Intel processors. Also, the wireless card will be 802.11n. That’s okay. Opt for at least one gigabyte of RAM and a 100-gigabyte hard drive.

Be prepared to pay more for a Mac. But Apple fans say Macs are easier to use and more secure.

The size and weight of the laptop will matter. Your son will be toting the computer around campus. But a large (and heavier) screen might be more important than portability.

Students often qualify for discounted computers and software. Read my recent column to learn more about these discounts.

There are a couple of other things you should consider:

   A TV tuner card will obviate the need for a television set
   An external hard drive will help with backups

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135. Quad-core vs. dual-core processors
Q. I’m building my first computer just so I can say that I’ve done it. Since I’m putting a lot of work into it, I want it to last for a while. I’m using the best components. Money isn’t a major concern, but I’m trying to be reasonable. My question is this: Should I spring for a quad-core processor?

A. Congratulations! Building your computer can be a lot of work. But it is an excellent way to learn more about computers. You’ll also have a strong sense of accomplishment.

It is understandable that you’d regard the computer as a matter of pride. You want your efforts to pay off.

You didn’t mention how you intend to use the computer. And computers aren’t one size fits all. Some people need more powerful machines than other people do. So I can’t give you a definitive answer. But I can give you some things to think about.

It wasn’t too long ago that dual-core processors started hitting shelves. Now, quad-core chips are coming to market. It won’t be too long before we see even larger multi-core processors.

For those who aren’t familiar with multi-core processors, let me explain. Traditional processors have one processing engine on a chip. Dual-core processors squeeze two engines onto the chip. And you guessed it—quad-core processors have four engines.

A dual-core processor theoretically doubles your computing power. The processor can handle two threads of data simultaneously. So there’s less waiting for tasks to complete. A quad-core chip can handle four threads of data.

As you can see, these processors pack a lot of power. There’s just one hiccup: Most programs aren’t written for multi-core processors. So, the software doesn’t take advantage of additional cores.

Chip manufacturers are pushing multi-core processors. But software developers aren’t keeping up. In fact, some programs will run faster on single-core chips than on dual-core ones. That’s because the software can’t use the second core efficiently.

Hopefully, software manufacturers will catch up soon.

In the meantime, there are advantages to multi-core chips. The chips generate less heat. So you can put them in a smaller box. Also, the chips are more energy efficient. That’s because they use thinner transistors.

There are also situations where you’ll see a performance boost. If you frequently multi-task, you’ll notice a difference. The processor will split the workload. For example, your antivirus program can use one core. Your DVD-burning program can use the other core.

You may also see increased performance if you use your computer for intensive multimedia programs. Gamers may also see improvements.

I’m hesitant to recommend quad-core processors. You’ll pay a premium. Depending on your computer habits, it could be a wasted investment. That extra money could be better spent on RAM and a good video card.

A dual-core processor is more than adequate for most people. These have dropped substantially in price.

Besides, you’ll soon learn one of the advantages of building your own machine. You won’t be afraid to update individual components in the future. So, in the future, you could upgrade the processor. Look at your computer as a work in progress!

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134. A browser from Apple
Q. I have recently downloaded and used Safari. I have found that it is faster and more reliable than Firefox or Internet Explorer. Your comments would be appreciated.

A. Here are my comments, in a nutshell: I think Safari is a mighty fine program.

I have used Safari off and on since the beta was released. I, too, believe it is faster than Firefox and Internet Explorer. And I believe it is reliable. However, I think Internet Explorer and Firefox are equally reliable.

According to Apple, Safari downloads pages up to twice as fast as IE. And it says Safari is 60 percent faster than Firefox. Even allowing for typical hype, Safari seems faster.

Safari is still in beta (the testing stage). The final version will be available for Windows and Mac in October. It will be included in the Leopard version of OS X, also due out in October. The Windows version requires XP or Vista.

Safari is a free download from Apple's site. It installed quickly on my powerful Vista system.

There are a few things Windows users will have to accept. In Firefox and IE, you can use Ctrl+Enter to complete addresses. For instance, to go to my site, you would type Komando in the address bar. Then, you would press Ctrl+Enter to complete the address: http://www.komando.com.

Unless I've missed something, you can't do that in Safari. That isn't really burdensome; you can simply enter Komando.com and press enter. But I'm used to using Ctrl+Enter, so it's irritating.

Safari also has little right-button functionality. Again, most everything is there using the left button. But Windows users are used to finding extra menus with the right button. Some will find that irritating.

Safari offers the same advantage as Firefox—it is not part of Windows. Not having its hooks into Windows makes it safer.

Apple touted its security when it released Safari. Experts immediately found security flaws. As far as I know, Apple has fixed them. The company downloads updates to its software automatically. So you shouldn't have to do it yourself.

Safari is available for download through my site.

If you don't want to use a beta product, try Firefox. I have enjoyed using it for ages. And if you're looking to save time, I have keyboard shortcuts. I've even included Safari!

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133. Removing files from Vista's Instant Search
Q.
I love Vista’s Instant Search feature. But I’m having problems with it. I deleted a bunch of e-mail messages a couple of weeks ago. However, they’re still appearing when I use Instant Search. Is there a way to get rid of them?

A. Instant Search is one of my favorite features in Vista, too. It makes finding e-mail messages and files a snap.

On my machine, Instant Search functions well. When I delete something, it no longer appears in the Instant Search results.

But as we all know, Windows can behave differently on different computers. There could be a couple of reasons you’re seeing deleted e-mail.

First, maybe you haven’t really deleted the e-mail. I don’t mean to insult your intelligence. We all overlook the obvious sometimes!

If you’re using an e-mail program, deleted messages can linger. For example, in Outlook, deleted messages go to the Deleted Items folder. If you don’t empty it, the messages will continue to show in Instant Search.

Empty the Deleted Items folder by right-clicking it and selecting Empty Deleted Items Folder. Other e-mail programs have similar folders. If you’re using a different program, empty its trash folder.

If you’re checking e-mail via the Internet, things are different. Copies of the Web pages containing the e-mail message might be stored in your Web cache.

Now, Instant Search doesn’t index your Web cache by default. But you can customize Instant Search to include your Web cache in the index. Maybe you did that.

Or maybe you are using the advanced options in Instant Search. You can use the advanced options to search non-indexed locations on your computer. This will return items in your Web cache.

So, if you are using Web mail, clear your Web cache. This will remove pages that could contain mail messages.

Fortunately, that’s relatively easy.

In Internet Explorer, click Tools>>Internet Options. On the General tab, click Delete under "Browsing history." Click “Delete files” and “Delete history.”

In Firefox, click Tools>>Options. Click Privacy and Clear Now in the Private Data section. Select Cache and Browsing History. Click Clear Private Data Now.

The e-mail messages should be removed from your hard drive. That means they won’t appear in Instant Search.

If these solutions don’t work, there could be a problem with the Instant Search index.

You can fix that relatively easily, too. But it will take a little time. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Indexing Options. Click Advanced. On the Index Settings tab, click Rebuild. Click OK to confirm.

Rebuilding your index should take care of the problem. Instant Search will re-index all the files on your computer. Files no longer on the computer will be purged from the index.

Hey, did you know that you can save your searches in Vista? That’s a nice bonus for an already great feature.

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132. Photographing Fireworks
Q. I bought a digital camera several months ago. I don’t have a lot of experience taking photographs, and I haven’t had much time to explore the camera. I’ve only used it to snap pictures at family gatherings. I want to take some photos of the fireworks on the Fourth of July. Can you give me some pointers? I’ve heard that it can be difficult.

A. Fireworks are among the more difficult things to photograph. But with some pointers, you should be able to get some good shots.

There are several things you will need. A tripod is essential. You’ll be taking long exposures. Without a tripod, you’ll get camera shake.

A remote shutter release is also required. This will prevent the camera from shaking when you release the shutter. Check with your local camera store for one that will work with your camera. Cable releases are better than wireless ones – unless you intend to be in the picture yourself.

Not all cameras will accept a cable release or a remote control. In that case, you can use your camera’s self-timer.

Your camera must also be able to capture fireworks. You really need a digital SLR or an advanced camera that lets you adjust settings.

But you can try a simple point-and-shoot camera. If it’s all you have, you have nothing to lose. Besides, some models feature a fireworks mode. This might work well for you.

You want to use a low ISO setting – 50 or 100. The ISO setting adjusts the light sensitivity. The higher the setting, the more sensitive the sensor.

This may sound counterintuitive. But higher ISO settings result in noisier photographs. Also, longer shutter speeds and low light increase noise.

Turn your camera’s flash off. The fireworks should provide all the light you need. If you can’t turn your flash off, tape a piece of cardboard over it.

If you can, use your camera’s bulb setting. Otherwise, use a one- or two-second shutter speed.

Now, you may think you need a wide aperture since the sky is dark. You don’t. A narrower aperture will work well. I recommend setting the aperture between f/8 and f/16.

The smaller aperture will prevent overexposure of the fireworks. When they become overexposed, they lose their color.

Use manual focus if your camera has it. Focus the camera on the fireworks at the beginning of the show. The fireworks will probably take place in the same section of the sky. So you won’t need to focus throughout the show.

If you’re using a point-and-shoot camera, focusing is more difficult. Fireworks mode should take care of the focus. If you don’t have fireworks mode, set your camera to landscape mode. This will focus at infinity.

If you want the fireworks to fill the entire frame, use a 100mm lens (or its digital equivalent) with an SLR. If you want to capture more of the surroundings, use a wider lens. A normal lens should work for this.

If you’re using a point-and-shoot model, you can adjust the zoom to suit your preference.

Scout your location carefully. Look for objects that might create a distraction in the photo. For example, street lights will be more noticeable. That’s because of the long exposure.

Position yourself upwind of the fireworks. Otherwise, your photos will turn out hazy from the smoke. Likewise, remember that earlier fireworks will be clearer. There will be more smoke as the show goes on.

Take lots of shots. You’ll be more likely to capture some good ones. But save some for the finale. Most shows save the best fireworks for last. And experiment with vertical and horizontal shots.

One of the hardest parts will be anticipating the fireworks. Release the shutter when you hear the fireworks ignite. Let go of the button after the last burst of the fireworks, if you’re using the bulb setting.

Since your camera is relatively new, skim the manual before you go out to shoot. It helps to refresh your memory on how to adjust your camera.

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131. Choosing a photo-sharing site
Q.
I have used Yahoo! Photos for years. I just learned that they are shutting down. They will transfer my photos to Flickr, Kodak EasyShare Gallery, Shutterfly, Snapfish or Photobucket. Which one has the best free service? I want to be able to share my photos with other people by sending a link.

A. Before I talk about the other photo-sharing sites, let me address what’s happening with Yahoo! Photos.

Yahoo! will begin closing Yahoo! Photos in June. It will focus on Flickr, a photo-sharing site it purchased in 2005.

This is sure to frustrate a lot of long-time users of Yahoo! Photos. But Yahoo! will help its members transition to a new photo-sharing site.

Obviously, Yahoo! would prefer to switch members to Flickr. But, it will offer several other options. You can also select Snapfish, Shutterfly, Kodak EasyShare Gallery or Photobucket.

You must create an account with one of the other sites. Once you verify your Yahoo! information with the site, it transfers your photos.

Now, the move could take some time. This all depends on the site you choose. Your photos will be put in a queue for transfer. The more people transferring, the slower things will be.

Yahoo! says that it will officially close in the fall. So you have some time to choose a new site. But don’t wait too long. When Yahoo! Photos closes, everything will be deleted.

I recommend that you start downloading your photos onto your computer immediately. But you already have them on your hard drive, right?

There could be hiccups with the transfer of your photos to another site. I wouldn’t want to run the risk of losing all of my photos.

Okay, now on to choosing a new photo-sharing site.

Choosing a new photo-sharing service will be a difficult task. They all have different features and restrictions. One isn’t necessarily better than another. It’s a matter of preference.

But it helps to know what you’re getting into before you make the switch. All of the services offer free accounts. I would sign up with all of the services now so you can test them.

The way they work will differ from Yahoo! Photos. But some may be more intuitive to you than others.

I’ve assembled information to help sort out features of the different sites. Keep in mind that this information refers to the free membership option. Many offer a paid service with more options. All of the sites let you invite others to view your photos.

With Flickr, you can upload up to 100 megabytes of photos each month. This refers to bandwidth, not storage; deleting photos won’t increase the amount you can upload.

File size is limited to five megabytes. Only small images are accessible. However, the originals are saved in case you upgrade to Flickr Pro. Also, you’ll only see your 200 most recent photos; if you upgrade your account, you’ll see the rest. Your free account will be deleted after 90 days of inactivity.

Flickr has a strong sense of community. Its users like to comment on others’ work. The photos also have more of an artistic bent.

Shutterfly gives you unlimited storage and no file size limit. It says that it has never deleted a photo. You can create slide shows and add captions to your photos. Of course, Shutterfly promotes products such as prints and calendars.

Snapfish also gives you unlimited storage. High-resolution images are kept for three months so you can make large prints. Then the photos are converted to a lower resolution, suitable for small prints.

Snapfish sells prints and other photo-related products. If you don’t make at least one purchase a year, your account is deleted.

Kodak EasyShare Gallery gives you unlimited storage. It does not specify a limit on file size. Like Snapfish, it deletes your account if you don’t make a purchase once every 12 months.

Photobucket is different from the other photo-sharing sites. It is designed to host images for blogs and auction sites.

Photobucket gives you one gigabyte of storage. You also get 25 gigabytes of bandwidth per month. If your photos are viewed a lot, they may not be available for others to view. Your photos are limited to one megabyte in size.

I hope this information helps. I have more photo tips on my site that you may find helpful:

Kodak’s Preservation Discs

Photo recovery programs

Create a photo slide show screen saver

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130. Understanding network equipment
Q. I wanted to know the difference between a print server, router and a hub. Which would be the best choice when setting up a network?

A. All three of these things can be used in a network. Since we're on the subject, I'll throw in switches, too.

Let's look at hubs, switches and routers first. There is overlap among those three. Then I'll explain print servers.

Hubs—These guys are very basic. A hub receives data from network computers, usually via cables. It then distributes the data to all the network's other computers. The fact that the data is addressed to a specific computer on the network is immaterial. It is shared with all of them.

Sending all data to every computer stretches the network's resources. So, if your network runs at 100 megabits, and the hub has 10 ports, each port runs at 10 megabits. If only one computer is sending data, there should be no problem. But if the network is busy, things can slow down. That's why switches are better than hubs.

Switches—These are more sophisticated than hubs. They do essentially the same job, but are much more discriminating. When computer A sends data to computer B, only B gets it. The data is not also sent to computers C, D and E.

Furthermore, lots of traffic does not diminish network resources. On your 100 megabit network, each of the switch's ports runs at 100 megabits. Every bit of data gets the network's full speed. So a switch is much faster and more efficient than a hub.

Routers—At their most basic, routers connect networks to networks. So, say you want Internet access with your home network. The Internet is a giant network—really, a network of networks. You need a router to connect your network to the Internet. The router does that through the modem.

Theoretically, you need a switch or hub, in addition to a router. You might want to send information from one computer to another. But in the real world, routers include switches. Routers are multi-talented. They can direct data between the network's computers. And they can send data over the Internet.

Print servers—These machines are fundamentally different. They are middlemen on the network. On one side, a print server connects to a printer. On the other, it connects to a router/switch. It makes communication between the computers and printer possible.

A print server is handy, but not essential. A printer can also be connected to a computer. Through that computer, other network computers can access the printer. However, if that computer is turned off, the printer is inaccessible. Sometimes printers are connected directly to the router. In that case, too, a print server is not necessary.

So, let's address your last question. What is best for your network? Well, if you want Internet access, you need a router. Assuming you have multiple computers, you also need a hub or switch. Your best bet is a router that includes a switch.

How about a print server? That would simplify matters, certainly. But it isn't crucial. You might connect the printer to the router. That's assuming they're located near one another. And they need compatible connections. Routers take Ethernet and USB connections. Most printers have USB, and some Ethernet. If you're buying new equipment, double-check.

If you cannot connect to the router, you can use a network computer. That means you have to establish printer sharing in the computer. I have explanations for Windows XP and Vista on my site.

My first choice would be a connection to the router. If that were out, I'd go for a print server. The network computer would be my last choice. That arrangement works well, but the computer has to be on.

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129. Easy ways to back up data
Kim, I am stationed in Iraq. I bought an external hard drive to back up my laptop. Conditions here are unpredictable, and I don't want to lose information. I'm using Windows XP, but am unable to back up the whole system. Can you direct me?

Most laptops probably are not designed for a war zone. One too many shakes or drops might lead to an unbootable computer. If your hard drive is damaged, you may well lose data.

A good backup can preserve priceless documents, photos and other files. Fortunately, Windows XP includes its own backup program.

The backup utility is not installed by default by XP Home Edition. However, it is on the installation disc. I have instructions for installing the backup utility on my site.

To find the backup program, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Backup. The Backup or Restore Wizard will prompt you to read from or save to a backup file. Select "Back up files and settings." Click Next. If you want to back up everything, select "All information on this computer." Then click Next.

You'll be prompted for the location of the backup. If your external drive is connected, it should show up in the list. Otherwise, click the Browse button to help Windows find it.

You can also enter a name for the backup. This will be the name of the file saved to your external drive. Click Next. Then click Finish on the next screen. The backup may take a while, but that's all there is to it.

If your laptop is destroyed, you can use your backup file on another Windows computer. On the replacement computer, start the Backup and Restore Wizard. At the first prompt, select "Restore files and settings."

I don't have enough information to speculate on why you can't back up your entire system. For instance, I don't know which program you're using. Many external hard drives come with a free backup program.

At any rate, I wouldn't back up everything. Instead, I would make an image (clone) of the hard drive. For the most part, Windows' built-in tools do not allow images. But, you could use programs such as Norton Ghost ($70) and Acronis True Image Home ($50).

Supplement your image with a backup of your personal files, e-mail and system settings. There is a setting to do that in Windows XP's backup program. When the Backup or Restore Wizard prompts you for what to back up, select "My documents and settings."

If you're using the computer daily, schedule a backup every day. That is easy in the Windows Backup utility.

One potential complication is the transition from Windows XP to Vista. If you replace your computer, it will probably include Vista. Windows Vista uses a different backup/restore system.

Fortunately, Microsoft offers a workaround for exactly this scenario. It's called Windows NT Backup–Restore Utility. The program allows Vista to read backup files created by XP. You can find it on the Microsoft Download Center site.

The Windows XP backup utility encodes all of your data into a single file. Should the file be lost or corrupted, you might lose your entire backup. If you have space to spare, make an alternate backup.

You could copy and paste important files to your external hard drive. The My Documents folder is a good candidate for copying. Simple copies remain accessible without the aid of a backup or recovery program.

If you copy and paste, read my tip on choosing which types of files to back up.

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128. IE 7 problems with HP printers
Q. I upgraded my computer to Windows Vista. It includes Internet Explorer 7. Now, the HP Director of my HP Photosmart 2610 printer no longer works. I l saw the same story from others on the Internet. Do you know what to do? I love your show, newsletters, etc., and they help me immensely.

A. Internet Explorer 7 certainly created problems. For example, some Web sites used code specific to Internet Explorer 6. As you've discovered, programs relying on Internet Explorer were also affected.

HP Director was the software included with HP printers from 2002 to 2004. It was replaced by HP Solution Center. HP Director is not a stand-alone program. It runs within Internet Explorer.

According to HP, HP Director screens may not render properly in the Internet Explorer 7. HP recently released an update to address the problem.

To scan for the update, click Start>>All Programs>>HP>>HP Software Update. The correct update will be listed as "Critical update to prevent or resolve an HP Director issue."

Otherwise, you can download the update from the HP Web site. On the company's home page, click the Software & Driver Downloads link. Then enter your printer's model number. There's no guarantee of an update for every model. Nevertheless, I was able to find the update for the Photosmart 2610.

For anyone still without an available update, HP recommends a workaround. All you have to do is minimize and restore the HP Director window.

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127. Finding a DVR without a subscription
Q. I've recently purchased a TV with a digital tuner so I can receive over-the-air digital broadcasts. However, I don't have a means to record the digital signal. Does anyone sell a stand-alone digital video recorder that doesn't require a monthly subscription fee like Tivo does? I fail to see why a telephone connection and a service fee are necessary to record broadcast digital signals. Thank you for your help. I enjoy your radio show and your e-mail newsletters very much.

A. Before we talk about digital video recorders (DVRs), let me explain digital television. Traditionally, stations broadcast analog signals. But, starting in 2009, all television broadcasts will be digital. The FCC mandated the change.

As of March 1, 2007, all new televisions sold must contain a digital tuner. This is intended to ease the transition to digital broadcasts. You will be able to purchase boxes to convert digital signals to analog for older sets.

Don’t confuse digital television with high-definition television (HDTV). Digital television simply means that the data is sent in a stream of ones and zeroes. Analog signals are sent as waves. All HDTV sets use digital technology. But not all digital tuners are high definition.

DVRs like TiVo include a TV tuner card. They don’t use your television’s tuner. DVRs and newer televisions should have analog and digital inputs/outputs. You don’t need to use a digital connection to use a DVR with your television. But digital connections give a better picture.

In the United States, we use ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) standards for digital broadcasting. All you need to know is that tuners in DVRs and televisions should handle ATSC.

On to DVRs! Most, if not all, standalone digital video recorders (DVRs) require a monthly subscription. The subscription gives you access to television guides. The television guide is accessed through your phone line or via the Internet.

Television guides help schedule recordings. You can get by without a television guide if you can record shows manually. However, many DVRs lack that manual ability.

You can buy a DVR from TiVo for as little as $50. Monthly subscriptions run $13 to $20, depending on your service contract.

Regardless, TiVo says its current DVRs are not compatible with over-the-air signals. So, even if you paid for the service, you’d have difficulties.

Are you handy with computers? You could always create your own DVR from a spare computer. I have a column that tells you how to do it. It is easy and inexpensive.

You’ll find ATSC tuners for your computer that have digital outputs. A tuner allows you to record one channel while watching another.

There is another option. You’ll find DVD recorders with built-in hard drives. These are essentially combination DVD recorders and DVRs. But these often do not include TV tuners. So you could not record one show while watching another.

Also, I was unable to find one with digital inputs. They have component inputs and outputs. This is the best you’ll get when it comes to analog. You will find ones with HDMI outputs, which are digital. These will upconvert the outgoing signal. I’m skeptical about this technology.

If you buy one of these recorders, research it carefully. Make sure you understand what features are available. And pick one with a free television guide to simplify the recording process.

Toshiba makes the RD-XS35. The list price is $400, but I saw it online for $300. It has a 160-gigabyte hard drive and a DVD-R/RW drive.

You can record shows, watch a recording that’s in progress and pause live TV. With the TV program guide, you get an eight-day program listing and can search by keyword.

Pioneer sells the DVR-640H-S for $400. It has features similar to the Toshiba model, including a 160GB hard drive and a DVD-R/RW drive. However, there is no television guide.

Panasonic sells the DMR-EH55S DVD recorder for $500. It features a 200GB hard drive and the free TV Guide service. You get eight days of listings and can search by keyword. You can watch recordings that are in progress or watch a different show while one is recording.

Speaking of DVRs, what does yours know about you?

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126. Finding a computer with software
Q. My husband and I have been looking at computers. We saw a Lenovo desktop that seemed like a good deal. But we could not find whether the software included Microsoft Office. The salesman told us it did not. But there was no indication of any other word processing software on the computer. The salesman said we would have to purchase Microsoft Office separately. He said the computer included WordPad. In the past, we have never had to purchase office programs separately. My question: How does one find out the software that is included with a computer? We have tried looking on the Internet, but that information seems difficult to find. Thank you so much! Your show is VERY enlightening!

A. I feel your pain, sister! Your note reminds me of the last time I looked at cell phone plans.

I went to Lenovo’s site and looked at desktops. I saw none with Microsoft Office preloaded. Lenovo offers Office as an extra-cost accessory.

Office comes in a number of configurations and prices. It can easily run to $500. You will pay for it, even if it is included on a computer.

Many computer makers do throw in a word processing/spreadsheet/ presentation package. For instance, I recently bought seven computers from Gateway. They included Microsoft’s Works Suite. Sometimes Corel’s WordPerfect is included with computers. These are much less expensive than Microsoft Office. But you’re still paying for them.

Windows does include its own word processor—WordPad. It is usable, but much less so than Office. I wouldn’t want to rely on it. Windows also includes Notepad, a minimal text editor. It offers even less than WordPad.

I would recommend that you buy a computer and software separately, if necessary. I don’t think the software is a big deal.

You have several software options. If you own an older Office package, it will run on your new computer. But it will have to be installed on the computer. So you need the disc.

Alternatively, you could purchase the Works Suite or Corel’s WordPerfect package. Both run less than $100 on the Internet. Or download OpenOffice. That is free and quite complete. (Note: Some sites sell OpenOffice. I have had numerous complaints about this. OpenOffice is available FREE. Please do not complain if you instead pay.)

There are also free word processors and spreadsheets online. Google and ThinkFree are two such providers. You use those programs online, rather than on your computer. Your documents can be saved online or on your computer.

If you are buying a computer, don’t be swayed by price alone. You may find either XP or Vista machines available. A Vista machine will give you more use before it is obsolete. But it also requires more horsepower, so you’ll pay more. Here are the minimum specs I recommend:

Windows XP
Microprocessor – AMD Athlon, or Intel Pentium, Core Duo or Core 2 Duo
Memory – 512 megabytes of RAM
Graphics – 128MB of RAM
Hard drive – 60 gigabytes

Windows Vista
Microprocessor – AMD Athlon, or Intel Pentium, Core Duo or Core 2 Duo
Memory – 1GB of RAM
Graphics – 256MB of RAM
Hard Drive – 100GB

Are you editing video or playing cutting edge games? Then, double the amount of RAM. You will see machines that are much less powerful than my recommendations. They will work. But they’re likely to be slow. However, you may find that a worthwhile tradeoff for the money saved.

More than a few people are confused by the various Vista versions. I can clarify that. I also have more information on microprocessors.

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125. Photographing documents
Q. I have two digital cameras: a Fuji E-900 and a Fuji E-550. Some cameras apparently have a setting for photos of documents. I’m not sure if my cameras have this feature. Can you tell me what I should be looking for on the dial?

A. The scene mode you’re describing is Copy. It is specially designed for documents. However, your cameras do not include a Copy mode.

That’s because they were designed for more advanced users. Modes, on the other hand, are intended for beginners.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t photograph documents. Modes simply optimize the settings for a specific situation. You can manipulate your camera’s settings yourself.

You’ll probably need to do some experimenting. That’s one of the joys of digital cameras: You can explore your camera’s settings at no expense. Of course, when you get the settings right, it makes things easier in the future.

First, you should set up the document properly. If you have some kind of document holder, that would work best. Failing that, lay the document flat on a table.

Next, set up the lighting. Avoid fluorescent lights. They flicker on and off rapidly. Sooner or later, the camera will snap a picture while the light is off.

The lighting should be between the camera and the document. If you’re using multiple lights, make sure the bulbs are the same. This is necessary to maintain the same color balance.

Avoid placing lighting sources behind the camera. Otherwise, you will end up with shadows on the document.

You’ll probably want to use some kind of tripod to stabilize the camera. A desktop model will be more convenient than larger tripods if you’re using a document stand.

If you lay the document flat, look for a larger tripod that allows you to reverse the center column. That way, you can take pictures with the camera pointing down. The tripod legs won’t get in the way. These tripods are relatively expensive. But they’re worth the cost.

Now, you’re ready to look at the camera settings. Turn off the flash. There won’t be enough time for the light to disperse before the shutter opens. So, the text could be washed out. Also, if you’re photographing old documents, the flash could damage them.

You’ll want to set most of the controls manually. Use a small aperture (large f-numbers mean smaller apertures). Use aperture priority mode. The camera will determine the ideal shutter speed. The small aperture will give you crisp, well-focused images.

Because you’re using a narrower aperture, the shutter speed will be relatively slow. Avoid camera shake. The tripod will help. But you can also shake the camera when you press the shutter release. So use the timer feature.

You’ll probably need to experiment to find the best white balance. This will vary, based on the type of lighting.

Sometimes, cameras take pictures that fade at the edges. If you encounter this, try reducing the aperture. And avoid using macro telephoto. If fade continues, leave space around the document in the photo. Use software to crop this space out.

You may also be interested in learning about macro photography. Macro lenses let you focus on close objects. I have a tip that explains how it works. Macro photography is best done with a digital SLR.

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124. Coping with daylight-saving time
Q. I’ve heard that there is going to be a big problem when we switch to daylight-saving time this year. Since it is happening earlier, computers aren’t going to be able to handle the change. Will this affect computers everywhere? And what about our home computers? I’m worried.

A. This is a bit reminiscent of the Y2K crisis. But don’t start hoarding water and canned goods! Most people have nothing to worry about.

This year, daylight-saving time will begin three weeks earlier on March 11. It will also end a week later. This is enough to confuse most people.

But it has the potential to create troubles with your computer. Computers automatically adjust their clock to daylight-saving time. However, the date that daylight-saving time kicks in is programmed into the software.

Daylight-saving time was changed due to the 2005 Energy Policy Act. So your computer could have the incorrect date to switch.

This is inconvenient. But you could probably work around it. However, Microsoft has already pushed out a patch for Windows XP. So if you have XP, and it’s updated, you’re OK. If you haven’t updated XP lately, now is a good time.

I know I have some listeners who use Windows Vista and Office 2007. The change was built in to both. So you don’t have to worry about it.

Most software uses the Windows clock, so your software should be fine, too. But if you’re uncertain, check with manufacturers for a patch.

The Microsoft patch requires Windows XP Service Pack 2. If you’re still on Service Pack 1, you’re out of luck. You should upgrade to Service Pack 2.

Businesses could be hit hard by the switch. They often have custom systems that will need to be updated. But that is unlikely to have serious impacts on individuals.

Now, there are a couple of things you should consider. For three weeks after March 11, you’ll want to be careful when making appointments via Outlook. Even though your calendar is correct, the other party’s might not be. Call to confirm if in doubt.

Other gadgets around the house may also have problems. You’re probably used to changing the dates manually. But if they update automatically for daylight-saving time, contact the manufacturer. There may be patches to fix them.

You should also pay attention to the calendar on your phone, handheld or smartphone. These will likely need patches. Check your manufacturer’s support site.

To find out if you need to update Windows or your Windows phone, visit Microsoft’s site.

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123. Buying a computer to edit video
Q. I'm an aspiring writer/director and I have shot a high definition video. I want to build or buy a computer for video editing. I will be using Adobe Premiere Pro. The computer should render and edit at a fast pace. My budget is under $2,000, and I don't want an Apple. I'm curious about which processor, video card and amount of RAM you suggest. Thanks, and keep up the great show!

A. Generally, I don’t recommend high-end computers. Most people spend their time with office programs or surfing. Neither requires top-notch machines.

Your case is different. Video editing requires either horsepower or patience. You can edit video on a budget machine. But you’ll spend a lot of time twiddling your thumbs.

Fortunately, the competition in the computer business is really fierce. That holds down prices and forces powerful components to market. You can get a killer desktop for less than $2,000. Laptops cost more than desktops, but a laptop is probably doable, too.

I can’t recommend individual components, since I don’t test them. Stick with name brands and you’ll be OK.

Here is what I recommend for an excellent editing machine:

• Microprocessor – AMD dual-core Athlon or Intel Core 2 Duo. Both of these chips rip. I’d stay near the top of the line. For AMD, that would be an Athlon 64 X2 4800+ or higher. For Intel, I recommend a Core 2 Duo E6600 or higher. In magazine tests, the Core 2 Duo is faster. But I doubt you would notice much difference. Buy on price.

• System Memory – 2 gigabytes of RAM. I wouldn’t worry much about the RAM’s speed. There are differences, but they are not significant.

• Video card – 256 megabytes of RAM. Either ATI or Nvidia-equipped cards are fine.

• Operating system – Microsoft Vista. Machines equipped with Windows XP are still on the shelves. XP works well. But Vista is more modern and will be viable longer. I have information about Vista versions on my site.

• Hard drive – Video files are big. And you need lots of space to edit them. Get the biggest hard drive you can afford. Remember, you can install several hard drives in most desktops. Your budget may limit you here. But storage space is important for video editing. You could start with one drive and add more later. External hard drives are more convenient but more expensive. They’ll probably be slower, too.

• Monitor – If you have a good monitor, stick with it. That will save you some money. If not, you can get a large flat panel for a few hundred dollars. Check the response time. I’d look for one under 12 milliseconds (ms). That should ensure that the monitor can handle motion well.

• Other stuff – Be sure to get a FireWire port. Most camcorders use them to transfer video to the computer. Front USB ports are nice. You’ll need an audio system. That should be a given on a high-end machine.

Should you buy a computer, or build your own? I doubt that you would save much money by building your own. And you might prefer to spend that time editing video. However, builders get exactly the components they want. And they do not fear opening the box for repairs or modifications. I generally build my personal machines.

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122. Which programs will run on Vista?
Q. How can I tell if a program that runs on Windows XP will be compatible with the new Vista operating system? I need to buy a second PC for my home, and I was thinking about a Vista machine. I don't know if my expensive software (which runs well on XP) will run properly on Vista. Please let me know!

A. I can’t give you definitive information, since I don’t know what your programs are. We switched to Vista in January, and found compatibility was a mixed bag.

Most programs we use made the switch without problems. For example, Firefox runs well on Vista. And Microsoft products, including the ubiquitous Office suite, are also good bets.

On the other hand, our Web site management program is dicey. It works on some machines, and doesn’t on others. We’ve also had minor problems with Adobe’s Dreamweaver.

Unfortunately, there is no sure way to predict which programs will transfer to Vista. However, Microsoft's Vista Upgrade Advisor is a good start before you make the switch. It will notify you of known program compatibility problems. You could also search online for any complaints about your program's behavior on Vista.

Some changes in Windows Vista can cause problems. One example is User Account Control. It restricts the privileges of your default Vista account. This can help limit the dangers of viruses or other malicious programs. But it also can put up obstacles when you try to run programs.

In XP, the default account has full Administrator privileges. Many XP programs are coded with the assumption of Administrator privileges. This is especially common with games. You'll hit problems in Vista if the programs expect you to have full Administrator privileges.

Although User Account Control is a security feature, I don't consider it terribly important. You can disable it. I have instructions on my site.

Windows Vista includes Program Compatibility Wizard to help run uncooperative older programs. However, it was not helpful for us.

Maybe you'll find it helpful. To start Program Compatibility Wizard, click Start>>Control Panel. Click Programs. Then click "Use an older program with this version of Windows." You can browse for the program on CD or on your hard drive.

Vista can simulate the behavior of versions all the way back to Windows 95. You can even choose monitor settings from the old days. Vista can save the settings to open the program similarly in the future.

So, what’s the bottom line? Compatibility problems are certainly possible. If your programs are published by major companies, they should be able to tell you. Also, search online. If they are custom, check with the programmers.

If there is any doubt, and these programs are important, stick with XP. Get a powerful machine. That way, you can upgrade to Vista later if you like.

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121. Building a Web site from a template
Q. I need a Web site that isn’t expensive to build or maintain. I want to include pictures, links and text. I also need to be listed in search engines. I own a small real estate brokerage and need to compete with larger brokers.

A. Yesterday, I told you how to password-protect your family Web site. I also promised I would offer help on building a Web site. So today, I’ll address this question on building a small-business site. Most of the lessons here apply to a family Web site, too.

For many people, the thought of building a Web site can be overwhelming. But you’ll find plenty of templates and help online.

Programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver include templates. These should be installed when you load the software on your computer. When you open the program and create a new site, you’ll have the option of basing the site on an existing template.

These templates will get you well on your way. They’ll provide the layout of your Web pages. They also include navigational tools and other page elements.

Of course, you’ll need to add your own content and links.

Before you start work, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with HTML. You can buy a book for beginners. Or, you can visit a Web site that provides tutorials. Fortunately, HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) is easy to learn. I have a tip on my site that links to some good tutorials.

You may not like some of the colors or other parts of the templates. These things can be altered fairly easily.

Not all HTML editors include templates. In that case, you can download templates online. A template for an HTML page will be compatible with all HTML editors.

There are many sites that offer templates. Some charge upwards of $50 for a template. Since you will likely need to alter the template, I wouldn’t pay for it.

You can find many free templates online. Free Layouts, Open Source Web Design and Open Web Design all offer free templates.

Most Web hosts also offer templates or tools to get you started. You may find this preferable to hunting down a template. The tools will help you design your pages and upload content with minimal effort.

You may be tempted by a flashy look. I agree that a site should look nice. But don’t sacrifice functionality. Pages should be easy to navigate, with clearly marked elements.

Also, heavy graphics can make a site sluggish and will eat up your bandwidth. Go for a sleek, streamlined template.

If you’re creating a site for your small business, you don’t want to spend a lot of time building and maintaining it. And you definitely don’t want to invest time becoming an HTML expert. So look for hosting plans geared to your needs. I have a column that covers this.

Also, you want a business site to have good placement in search sites. I have a tip on that. And I have a Cool Site that will offer more assistance.

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120. Protecting data before PC repair
Q. I am taking my laptop to the store for an Ethernet card. I want to keep my personal data secure. Will a guest account and password protect my personal stuff?

A. Generally, a guest account will keep people out of your private documents. But I wouldn’t count on it in your case. A knowledgeable technician could crack your Windows password easily.

Besides, a guest account doesn’t allow you to install software. The Ethernet card will probably require software installation.

So the person installing the card will need administrative privileges. An administrator can get into all the files on a computer.

Why not install the card yourself? On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, this is about a ½. Buy a card that slides into the PCMCIA slot on the side of the computer.

Of course, you will need to install its software. That should be a snap, too.

If you have a built-in Ethernet connection, you must disable it. Click Start>>Control Panel and double-click System. Open the Hardware tab and click Device Manager.

Expand Network Adapters by clicking the “+” sign beside it in the list. You’ll need to determine which entry is for your Ethernet card. For example, my computer lists Realtek RTL8139 PCI Fast Ethernet NIC. You may also have a wireless card listed here.

When you find the card, right-click it. Select Disable and click OK to confirm. Close Device Manager and then click OK. You can now install the new Ethernet card.

If you have the store install the card, encrypt your files. Modern encryption is very strong. It will keep prying eyes out of your data.

Encryption basically scrambles the data. You assign a passcode that will descramble the data. I have a column on my site that explains encryption in greater depth.

There are a number of programs that will encrypt your data. Cryptainer LE is a free one. It will let you encrypt up to 25 MB of data. That’s quite a bit, but you may need more.

In that case, try TrueCrypt. It allows you to encrypt an entire partition on your hard drive. Again, it’s free.

And, if you take your computer in to the shop, back up your data first. I have more advice to prepare your computer before you take it in.

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119. Playing DVDs in Windows Vista
Q. Did you notice that you must purchase a codec to play DVDs in Windows Vista Enterprise? I understand there are two Vista versions that include codecs. I thought Enterprise edition is the top-of-the-line version. I don't want to have to buy more software. How can I play DVDs on my computer?

A. First off, Enterprise is not the top-of-the-line version. Ultimate is, well, the ultimate version of Vista. It includes the features found in Enterprise and Home Premium.

Home Basic and Home Premium are geared toward home users. Business and Enterprise are aimed at business users. Ultimate is suitable for both home and business. All include Windows Media Player.

For more on the versions of Vista, visit my site.

In order to play DVDs using Windows Media Player, you need the correct codec. Codec is short for compressor/decompressor.

Vista Home Premium and Ultimate include a codec. With other Vista versions, you need to find one. People encountered this same problem in earlier versions of Windows.

As you noticed, vendors are happy to sell you a codec. But you’ll have to shell out $15 or $20.

Many manufacturers supply a DVD codec with their DVD drives. But Vista Enterprise requires a clean installation. So anything on the computer, including the codec, would have been erased. You could re-install the codec if you still have the DVD software. The manufacturer also may have the codec on its site. Both assume the codec works on Vista.

Additionally, you may find a free codec on the Internet. But this isn’t the most desirable route. You’ll come across sites that could install malware.

Microsoft advises against installing codecs that aren’t listed on WMPlugins.com. They could cause problems with Windows Media Player.

I recommend downloading a program that has codecs built in. Players that handle DVDs include VLC Media Player and Media Player Classic. Both are free.

If you download one of these programs, you’ll have to use it to watch DVDs. But you might prefer that to spending money on a codec.

Coming up in tomorrow's Tip: Protecting data before PC repair.

The video store may soon be a thing of the past. That’s thanks to movie download services. Tune in to tomorrow's Kim Komando Digital Minute to learn about the latest developments. To find out how to listen to my Minute, visit my site.

I hope you've found this Vista tip helpful. Look for more tips about Windows Vista on my site.

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118. New features in Windows Vista
Q. I've seen online photos of Windows Vista, and it is attractive. But I don't really think that it's worth upgrading just for a new look. What's really different about the new Windows?

A. There is certainly a lot of hype surrounding Windows Vista. Do flourishes like transparencies and fade effects improve productivity? Maybe not, but the new version of Windows is more than a mere repaint. I'll give you a few examples of what's new. There is a lot to see.

Gadgets

When you start up Vista, the first thing you'll notice is the new Windows Sidebar. As the name suggests, it sits unobtrusively on the side of the screen. You can use it to open Gadgets, miniature programs that handle simple tasks.

Vista comes pre-packed with several Gadgets. You can keep an eye on news headlines, stocks and the weather. My current favorite is the CPU meter, which reveals how hard the processor is working and how much RAM is in use.

There is a growing bank of additional Gadgets on Microsoft's Web site. Anyone with the right skills can create a Gadget and post it on the site.

Parental Controls

Another significant addition is Parental Controls. It covers all the basics without the need for extra software. I think the most popular feature will be time limit settings for kids' accounts. XP could manage this, but only with the aid of some command-prompt acrobatics.

Parental Controls also allows you to restrict computer games based on their ESRB ratings. More details on these ratings are in my previous tip about choosing appropriate games. You can even block specific games by title.

You get the same degree of control over which programs your children can use. There are other options for the Internet, which is too useful to simply block. Parental Controls includes a Web content filter that can block sites containing pornography, drugs, hate speech and other inappropriate material. The filter works with any Web browser.

Parental Controls offers activity reports to keep you informed. You can see which programs the kids use, which sites they visit and what they download.

Small but useful

Among Vista's new visual effects are some genuinely helpful details. One example is Live Icons. As you browse your documents, you'll see most as miniature true-to-life previews. You don't have to open a document to see if it's the one you want. This is an improvement over what XP does with only photos.

Vista also features some easy ways to sort and switch between all your open programs and files. Flip 3D is an example. It shows all your open windows as snapshots in three-dimensional space. Simply click on the one you want to work with.

There are just too many enhancements and new features to discuss here. You can read about other great features like built-in desktop search, easier backups and DVD burning in my recent column.

You can see some of Vista in action through Microsoft's Test Drive site. I mentioned it recently in my weekend newsletter. In case you missed it, here's the address:
     www.windowsvistatestdrive.com

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117. Moving up from Windows 98 to Vista
Q. I’m using Windows 98. My computer is still dependable, but I know it is on borrowed time. I plan to purchase a new computer with Windows Vista. How do I transfer my files to the new PC? Can an old dummy like me do it, or should I take it to a shop?

A. You don’t sound like a dummy to me. So I assume that was a joke!

Because your machine is so old, your options may be limited. I just added seven new Vista machines in my office. I used Windows Easy Transfer, which involves a cable between the machines. The transfer is supposed to be automatic. Generally, it worked well. I discussed that in my Killer Tip in the Jan. 27 newsletter.

That system only works for Windows XP and Vista, though. Microsoft considers Windows 98 obsolete.

However, Laplink’s PCMover should work. According to Laplink, PCMover works with both Windows 98 and Vista.

Other programs do not show Vista capability. But they might by the time you’re ready to buy. So, check out CA Desktop Migrator ($30), Nova Intellimover ($50) and Stomp Easy PC Transfer ($40).

Generally, you use a USB bridge cable or Ethernet crossover cable to connect the machines. I have more information about them on my site.

Some of these transfer programs can also burn CDs. All of them save your settings. Some can transfer programs and data files; others, just your data. Your new computer will probably have free programs. So you may not need the old ones.

If none of this works, you can burn a CD yourself. That’s assuming you have a burner on the 98 machine, of course. Your new computer will probably have a DVD drive. It will handle CDs, too.

If you burn a CD yourself, you’ll probably lose your settings. But that may not be important to you.

Another possibility is a USB flash drive. Windows 98 does not include drivers for flash drives. So be sure to buy a flash drive that includes drivers for 98. Transfer your data to the flash drive, then plug it into the new computer.

You could do the same thing with an external hard drive. Again, be sure it works on both 98 and Vista.

Still stumped? How about transferring your files over the Internet? Numerous sites will accept such files. Then you can download them to your new machine. Three sites to consider are Streamload, Box.net and Omnidrive. All offer free space.

In the old days, we used floppies to do this job. But your new computer probably will not have a floppy drive. Even if it does, this method would be beyond tedious. Today’s files are just too big for floppies.

Of course, the store could transfer your data. They’ll be pushing hard to sell Vista machines, so maybe you can get a deal. Try driving a bargain. The sales people probably have some negotiating room.

Be sure you get a machine with enough horsepower. My new machines have 2 gigabytes of RAM, Core 2 Duo chips and video cards with 256 megabytes of RAM. With a monitor, that would probably cost you between $1,500 and $2,000, depending on features. My machines are running Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 very well.

If cost is an issue, you could get by with 1GB of RAM, a video card with 128MB of RAM and a less expensive chip. You could have minor performance issues, however, if other programs are power hungry.

If your machine has the power, Vista runs in its Aero mode. Microsoft describes this as a glassy look. That seems to be a good description. The difference in look between Vista and XP is striking. Part of that is also attributable to Office 2007.

Some of my business programs struggle with Vista, so I’m still using XP for them. I’m always struck by XP’s plainness when I use it. Vista will spoil you.

We have used the new machines for more than a week. So far, there have been no crashes. That’s not surprising—our XP machines rarely crash. So it looks like Microsoft has a handle on stability.

Visit my site for more information on upgrading to Vista.

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116. Finding a decent scanner.
Q. Kim, I need to find a decent scanner. I have a lot of old photos I would like to digitize. I would also like to reduce some of the clutter in my office. So I have decided to do away with some of the paper by scanning it in. I don't know much about scanners, so I don't know what I should look for when I'm shopping.

A. I'll bet one of your New Year's resolutions is to become more organized. Well, a scanner can help you with this.

Since you want to scan both paperwork and photos, you'll need a versatile scanner. Although you can buy models for less than $100, you will be better off paying more for some extra features.

I would consider your needs for scanning photos first. I always recommend that people scan negatives rather than actual photos. This will give you a much better tonal range when you print them. So if you have negatives, buy a machine that can scan them.

Some manufacturers have attachments that allow you to scan film. Others have dedicated trays or slots for film. They should all accommodate 35mm film. If you use different types of film, check compatibility before you buy.

When you scan film, you need a scanner with a high resolution. That's because the negatives are so small. You'll want to be able to enlarge them. So I recommend a scanner with a resolution greater than 2,600 dpi, or dots per inch.

Some scanners offer interpolated or digital resolution. You can ignore this. Instead, look at the optical resolution. This will give you more accurate results. With interpolated resolution, the scanner looks at surrounding pixels. It then calculates the colors for missing pixels. In other words, it guesses. Optical resolution only records what is there.

If you're not scanning film, you don't need such a high resolution. That's because you'll be limited by your computer monitor or printer. If you won't be enlarging many of your photos, you can get away with 300 dpi to get decent prints. If you'll be enlarging your photos, go for a higher resolution like 600 or 1200 dpi.

Also pay attention to optical density. This is measured on a scale of zero to four. The higher the number, the more detail you'll see in highlights and shadows. Unfortunately, the scale is not standard from manufacturer to manufacturer. So it is best suited for comparing scanners made by the same manufacturer.

Color depth is another important consideration. I would aim for 24-bit color depth. This is true color. Higher depths are available, but you may not notice any difference.

If you buy a scanner that is suitable for photos and/or film, it should do well with documents. However, there is one addition I would make: an automatic document feeder.

You can load up papers in the feeder and hit scan. You don't need to worry about doing them individually. It is a real time saver. Of course, these feeders have different capacities. I think a 50-sheet feeder is reasonable.

Finally, look at the scanner's software. You want corrective features. This will help remove scratches, dust and fingerprints from scans. It can also help correct exposure problems. Otherwise, you'll need additional software to make the changes manually.

You may also want OCR (optical character recognition) software. These programs turn paper documents into editable files. That's handy if you don't have digital versions of documents.

Good luck with your project! Just keep in mind that it is difficult to get good results with a scanner. So take the time to learn to use it.

Once you scan in your photos, you may need to do some touch up work. I have links to some free photo-editing programs on my site.

Also, if you're into scrapbooking, read my buying guide on large-format scanners. One of these scanners can help you preserve all your hard work.

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115. Hard drive warning messages signal trouble
Q. On boot up, I get a message: "Smart failure predicted on primary slave. Warning: immediately backup your data and replace your hard disk drive. A failure may be imminent." The warning first appeared about a month ago when I used this drive as my primary drive. I installed another one, which is now my primary drive. Where does this message come from? Is the warning real?

A. Yes, this warning is very real.

Modern hard drives have built-in monitoring tools. These tools are referred to as S.M.A.R.T., or Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology.

These tools look at the internal workings of a hard drive. When they detect a problem, you should get a warning.

Any number of things can trigger a warning message. It could be a result of overheating inside the drive. Or, it could have to do with the time it takes the hard drive to spin up.

When you receive a warning like this, act fast. Back up your data immediately. Of course, you should already be doing this.

I would not continue to use the drive. It could die at any time. Hard drives are relatively cheap. Plus you can replace a hard drive fairly easily. I have instructions on my site.

I sometimes receive questions about hard drive monitoring tools. It is nice to have a warning before things go amiss.

However, I wouldn't rely on them to protect my data. Why? There are two kinds of hard drive failures. The first is predictable. This is what S.M.A.R.T. helps detect.

The second is unpredictable. You could drop your laptop. Or something inside your machine could fry your hard drive. When this happens, it is too late to protect your data.

Also, there are problems with S.M.A.R.T. Not all hard drives and motherboards support it.

And the technology relies on several sensors. Legally, a manufacturer could include only one type of sensor and claim S.M.A.R.T. compliance. If so, you might get a warning on specific kinds of failures. Others would come out of the blue.

S.M.A.R.T. isn't the only warning service. I have two programs on my site that also will watch your hard drive. They take information directly from the drive.

HDD Health

HD Tune

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114. Recovering files from a hard drive
Q. My son died this year. Somebody removed his personal files and the music he was writing. Is there a way to retrieve those files? Also, can I tell who deleted the files? It is important to prove that this person removed the songs. I'd like to get them back so the members of his band can finish them in his honor.

A. I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sure it must be difficult for you.

Unfortunately, I know of no way to tell who deleted the files. It is very doubtful that the computer would log that information. However, you probably can recover some or all of the files.

When files are deleted, they're not actually removed. The link to the file is broken. Windows can no longer find the file. Eventually, the file may be overwritten by other data.

So, you want to proceed with caution. If you use the computer at all, there is a good chance you will overwrite some of the data you're trying to recover.

I have some programs on my site that will help you recover deleted files. There's FreeUndelete, Undelete Plus and PC Inspector File Recovery. I've tried them all. They all work. However, some may be better than others.

I recommend you download one of the programs onto a USB thumb drive. That way, you can plug it into your son's computer. Downloading a program to the hard drive could overwrite his data.

You can run the program from the thumb drive. It will return a list of deleted files on the drive. Some programs will tell you the condition of the files. Then, you'll have the option of recovering some or all of them.

I recommend that you also use an external hard drive. Recover the files to the external drive. You shouldn't write to the hard drive until you've recovered everything.

When you finish the recovery, move the drive to another computer. Sort the files. Some may be gibberish; others may be incomplete. But hopefully, you'll be successful.

All this may be more than you want to tackle. In that case, consider a data recovery service. Such services can be very expensive. Recovering the data likely would run into the hundreds of dollars.

You should be able to find local file recovery specialists. If not, plenty are on the Internet. Do some cost comparison.

The recovery specialists will probably examine the drive first. They'll provide you with a list of recoverable files. In most cases, you only pay for the files you want. But, since the computer isn't yours, this could be guesswork.

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113.Optimizing photos for the Web
I have a Web site where I display my horse photography. I use a Minolta 7d and can make large prints. But when I move them to the Internet, I have to reduce their size. The quality of the photos on the Internet is poor. I've tried different programs, but I keep having this problem. Any suggestions?

I looked at your site. I thought the image quality was good, considering that they were on a computer screen. The problem isn't you or your program. Monitors just do a mediocre job of displaying photos.

Your camera only takes photos in JPG or RAW format. Stick with JPG. True, that's a lossy format. So data is lost as the image is compressed.

But the higher the quality setting, the less data will be lost. When you take photos, set the quality to superfine. This will increase the file size. However, it will give you more detail.

When you prepare the photos for your site, do all your editing in one step. First, reduce the photo to the size you want.

Next, set the dpi (dots per inch). For display on the Web, set it to 72 dpi. This is lower than the 300 dpi needed for a decent print. However, extra pixels won't display on the screen. They'll just contribute to a larger file size.

Now, save your file only once. Each time you save a file in JPG format, it is further compressed. That means more data is lost. If you don't like the results, start over again from the original.

Making these changes (if you're not using these techniques already) may improve the site's photo quality. But don't expect miracles.

I suggest you put a caveat beside the photos. Explain the limitations of pictures on a computer screen. Advise that your prints are higher quality. Your visitors should understand. Besides, the problems are probably more apparent to you than your customers.

Also, consider watermarking your images. This will prevent others from copying your photos to their sites. Potential customers are also less likely to make prints from the Web. I've got a tip that will help you. I also have a link to a download that will do it for you.

Now, judging from your photos, you're pretty handy with a camera. But if you need more help working with the digital photo files, I've got a section on my site on digital photography.

I also have a book on CD, "The 50 Greatest Secrets of Photography." Some of it may be too basic for you. But I think the editing chapters are valuable, even for a professional.

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112. Resolving Resolution
I recently upgraded from dial-up to broadband. I really enjoy being able to watch video clips from my favorite programs, but they seem grainy. I have an LCD display set at 1280x1024. Are these clips made for an 800x600 resolution? If I want better picture quality, should I have a dual-monitor card?

I assume you are considering adding a second monitor. That way you can set one at a special resolution for watching videos from the Web.

Resolution trips up a lot of people. So let's see if we can get some things, er, resolved.

First, computer monitors generally display 72 dpi (dots per inch). Some go as high as 96 dpi. These numbers affect quality. This isn't a whole lot of dots (or pixels). In comparison, you need 300 dpi to get a good photo print.

Now, resolution numbers like 1280x1024 and 800x600 refer to the size of the image shown on the screen. The higher the numbers, the more will fit on the screen.

At the same time, the objects on the screen will look smaller. That's because the monitor shrinks the size of the pixels. It enlarges them at lower resolutions.

The videos you watch on the Web will also have a resolution. It will vary from site to site. The video quality is set independent of the resolution. You can usually resize the videos. But this will affect the quality of the video.

If the video has a high resolution, a larger size won't affect video quality too much. If it has a low resolution, enlarging it quickly shows flaws in the video quality.

So you can get around this by changing the resolution of the monitor, right? Nope. As I said, objects on screens with lower resolutions look bigger. That's because the pixels are enlarged. This means you'll see more imperfections in the video.

For example, the video will appear blocky. You'll see patches where the color doesn’t look quite right. Each pixel can only display one color.

So, I don't recommend changing your monitor settings for watching video. And I certainly would not spend the extra money on a dual-monitor setup so you have a separate monitor for video.

If you have a flat-panel monitor, set it at its native resolution. That is the resolution for which the monitor was designed. It will give you the best quality image, since the pixels don't need to be resized. (Old-style CRT monitors do not have a native resolution. They support a range of resolutions.)

So why are you seeing grainy videos? There are a lot of video sites on the Net. They get literally millions of submissions. Many are not high-quality. This is especially true of amateur videos.

Professional videos also can have problems. They may be compressed to preserve bandwidth and ensure quick downloads. This will cause the quality to deteriorate.

Until broadband speeds increase, we're stuck watching poor-quality video on some sites. Fortunately, not all sites are like this.

Since you're enjoying the online videos, I have some site recommendations for you:

Subscribe to video channels. Click here.

Watch historical videos. Click here.

Search for more videos. Click here.

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111. Which files should you back up?
Every computer owner should back up important files. The minutes spent backing up can save you the heartache of losing irreplaceable documents.

Backups are as simple as copying and pasting files to an external hard drive. For small backups, you could even use thumb drives.

The tougher question is this: Which files do you really need to back up? That largely depends on you. But there are categories of files that most people should include.

The priorities should be files that are both important and irreplaceable. Those include photos and financial records. End your list with items that are convenient but not vital.

Files to save
Following is a list of file types that should be backed up.

Photos, music and home video

Financial statements

Personal writing and art

E-mail, contact list and calendar

Web browser bookmarks (or Favorites)

You can cover a lot of ground by backing up My Documents. That folder contains the My Pictures and My Videos folders. Most people also keep their written documents in My Documents.

Saving e-mail
E-mail, contact and calendar information can be harder to find. The following are backup steps for some e-mail programs.

In Outlook, click File>>Import and Export. Select Export to File and click Next. Select Personal Folder File and click Next. Select your inbox or other items you want to save and click Next. Click Browse and locate the place where you are storing your backup. Then click Finish.

Outlook Express lacks an export feature for messages. You can find a workaround on the Microsoft site.

To find Thunderbird data, click Start>>Run. Enter "%APPDATA%" (without quotes) into the box and click OK. Back up the Thunderbird folder.

Saving Favorites (bookmarks)
Web browser bookmarks are also typically outside the My Documents folder. But they're easy to back up. Start by opening your browser.

In Internet Explorer, click File>>Import and Export. A window will pop up with a few questions. Choose to Export Favorites and click Next. Highlight the Favorites folder to select all your Favorites and click Next.

Under Export to a File or Address, click Browse. Then find the location of your backup and click Save. Click Next and, finally, Finish.

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110. Creating envelopes in Word
Q. A while back, you published a tip on printing envelopes in Word. It described how to create a desktop icon. When you click the icon, it opens a new envelope. I had to reformat my computer, so I lost my desktop icon. Can you tell me how to do it again?

A. When it comes time to print an envelope, most people use Word's Envelopes and Labels feature.

But this isn't the only way to create an envelope in Word. You can save it as a template so it's easier to create envelopes in the future.

Start by opening a new, blank Word document. Then, change the page setup so the paper size is the same dimensions as your envelope.

To do that, click File>>Page Setup. Select the Paper tab. Click the Paper Size box and scroll through your choices. Envelope #10 is a standard-sized business envelope. This is probably what you want.

The dimensions for all paper sizes are in the Height and Width boxes. In the case of Envelope #10, they are transposed. That is not a concern; the dimensions will be corrected.

If you don't see a size that suits your need, select Custom. Then, enter the height and width in inches in the respective boxes.

Next, select the Margins tab. Change the document orientation to Landscape. That will fix the transposed dimensions for Envelope #10.

Also, adjust the margins. Specify your margins for the top, bottom, left and right. Click OK.

If your margins are too small, you will receive a warning message. That's not a problem. Click Fix; Word will adjust the margins for you. The margins will be set as small as possible. Click OK after Word fixes the margins.

Now, switch to Print Layout View (View>>Print Layout). The document looks like an envelope. This will help you position addresses.

You probably want to put your return address on your envelope. Also, you can add a graphic. This is a nice touch if you don't have customized stationery.

To add a picture, click Insert>>Picture>>From File. Navigate to your picture, highlight it and click Insert.

Once you have customized your envelope, you're ready to save it as a template. A template is a document upon which other documents are based.

To save the template, click File>>Save. Name it. In the "Save as type" box, click the down arrow. Select Document Template (*.dot).

Word will automatically try to save the document in the Templates folder. Don't do that; it will take you forever to find it.

Instead, save it to the Desktop. Use the "Save in" box to navigate there. Click Save.

To use the template, double-click it. That will open a new envelope. Address it, save it if you want to keep it, and print it. Your template will not be changed.

Is strange text showing up in your Word document? Find out how to eliminate it.

Some word features can be a nuisance. If you're aggravated by Word, learn how to turn off two of its little annoyances.

And don't forget you can add password protection to your Word documents.

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109. Upgrading to a digital SLR camera
Q. Kim, I'm looking at digital cameras. I'm experienced with film-based SLRs. So I think I want to purchase a digital SLR. Can you offer some advice? I understand that there are important differences between film and digital SLRs.

A. There are more and more choices when it comes to digital SLRs. Prices have declined sharply in recent years, driving growth in this market.

SLR (single lens reflex) cameras differ from point-and-shoots in many ways. First, they provide advanced controls. They allow you to adjust shutter speed and aperture size. And that's just the beginning. SLRs provide many options for getting the best photos possible.

SLR basics
There are a few types of digital SLRs, so let's start with the basics. First, there are SLR-style cameras. They're not true SLRs, but they provide many of the same options.

So what makes a true SLR? When you look through the viewfinder, you see exactly what the camera will capture. That's thanks to a mirror inside the camera. When you press the shutter release, the mirror flips up. The sensor then captures the image.

A few digital SLRs have fixed lenses. The inability to change the lens is very limiting. Presumably, you're buying an SLR because you're serious. Why limit yourself with a fixed lens?

I'd put my money into an SLR that allows lens changes. Generally, the digital sensor is the only significant difference between these and traditional 35mm SLRs.

Megapixels
So, how do you go about choosing a camera? People tend to judge digital cameras by the number of megapixels. How many megapixels equal the quality of a 35mm camera? There are too many variables in camera bodies, film types and sensors to make that comparison. Besides, the number of megapixels doesn't necessarily correlate to picture quality.

Megapixels refer to the size of image a camera will capture. The more megapixels you have, the more you can enlarge your pictures. So, if you want to print posters, you need a lot of megapixels. A two-megapixel camera might well make excellent 4x6 prints. It all depends on the quality of the camera.

Many consumer SLRs fall into the six-to-eight-megapixel range. They will give you large prints. But, if you find a camera with more megapixels at a good price, go for it. The extra megapixels will give you the flexibility to make really large prints!

Image sensors
The quality of the camera's sensor is more important than the megapixel count. There are two types of sensors: CCD (charged-coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor). Whew!

CCD is most common. It generally provides the best image quality, with a greater dynamic range. It also offers faster speeds. However, CCDs tend to be more expensive and use more power.

CMOS sensors are larger than CCDs, often resulting in bulkier cameras. CMOS sensors are improving. Some are better than CCDs.

You should also consider the sensor's size. Bigger is always better. That's because the resulting pixels are bigger. Larger pixels mean increased dynamic range and light sensitivity.

Ideally, sensors should be the same size as a frame of 35mm film. Cameras sporting such sensors have big price tags.

Lenses
Cameras with sensors smaller than a 35mm frame magnify the focal length of the lens. This is something to consider if you already own 35mm lenses. In most cases, they will fit the same brand of digital camera.

The magnification is beneficial with telescopic lenses. It will give you even more range. But the magnification narrows the range of wide-angle lenses. Test that. If necessary, buy a wide-angle lens intended for your digital camera.

For more on using old lenses with a digital SLR, read my tip.

A word to the wise: Generally, digital SLR lenses work poorly with a 35mm SLR. The reason? The lenses do not project the image over the entire 35mm frame. The result will be vignetting (dark circles) around the printed images.

Another important feature in SLRs is image stabilization. You won't always have your tripod with you. Image stabilization can sometimes help offset camera shake. However, it is no substitute for a tripod.

If you're working in a low-light situation where shutter speeds will be low, image stabilization won't stop blurring. Also, telephoto lenses tend to magnify camera shake. Again, image stabilization is of limited use with these lenses.

Frame rate and light metering
A big factor for me is the camera's frame rate. At the high end, you find cameras that take photos at 8fps (frames per second). The low end is about 2fps. Higher is better. You'll be able to shoot more continuous shots.

You should also consider light metering. The more types, the better. For example, most offer center-weighted and spot metering.

But there are many more types of light metering. Basically, cameras use a formula to calculate the correct exposure. You can tell the camera to use different variables when calculating the exposure, depending on the effect you want.

Modes and other features
Much of this can be accomplished with mode settings. These are common on point-and-shoot cameras. They help the camera handle movement and light.

More and more, manufacturers are adding these to SLRs. Of course, most SLR buyers are interested in working with the settings themselves. But sometimes, you'll just want to take photos without the fuss.

When it comes to settings, you need the ability to store your own. Having your favorites at hand will save a lot of fiddling. The more settings you can store, the better.

Next up is file formats. You should be able to capture images in JPEG and TIFF formats. But you probably also want to capture RAW images. They're minimally processed, so you can make more changes to the images on your computer. Also, they're smaller than TIFFs, but do not have the data loss of JPEGs.

However, RAW formats are usually proprietary to the camera manufacturer. So, your photo-editing software may not handle the camera's RAW format. Check for software compatibility before you buy. RAW images must be converted to another format for printing and sharing. So ensure that your software can handle the conversion.

You may or may not care about the LCD. You'll probably be looking through the lens finder. But you may want to review shots on your camera. So the LCD should be bright and clear. You should have the option of disabling the display to preserve battery life.

Other nice features are wireless transfer and PictBridge compatibility. Wireless transfer allows you to transmit photos without connecting via a cable. PictBridge is a standard that allows you to connect and print directly to a printer via a cable. These are convenient. But I wouldn't base a decision on them. They're just icing on the cake.

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108. Selecting a wireless desktop
Q. Kim, I read your USAToday article on reducing computer clutter. I was interested in the part about wireless mice and keyboards. But there are so many! Can you tell me the best kind to buy?

A. Wireless keyboards and mice are great. I like not having the extra cord clutter on my desk. I also appreciate the freedom of being able to move around a bit.

But choosing products can be difficult. I did a search on a popular retailer's Web site. There were cordless keyboard/mice combos for as little as $35. Others went up to $200. That's quite a difference. And, the products themselves were quite different.

So let's start with the basics: the type of wireless technology used. There are three different ways wireless mice and keyboards can connect.

First, there's infrared (IR). Infrared requires a line of sight between the receiver and the keyboard and mouse. Personally, I think this is the most limiting type of connection. If you're looking for a combo, you probably won't see these.

Second is radio frequency (RF). These will give you about a 100-foot range. RF is also the most common method. And, in most cases, it will best suit your needs.

The third flavor is Bluetooth. There are a couple types. Version 1.1 only ranges 32 feet. But version 2 ranges 300 feet! Bluetooth keyboard and mice combos are the most expensive.

Why? Well, Bluetooth is a personal area network standard. This means that it can be used to connect various types of gadgets. If you buy a Bluetooth combo, you can connect your Bluetooth-enabled phone, printer and other gadgets – up to eight – via the same receiver. Talk about reducing cable clutter!

Bluetooth isn't for everyone. But for technophiles such as me, it is a must. I like being able to sync my phone, use wireless headphones and surf the Net simultaneously. And, since Bluetooth is considered premium, you'll find more features with these types of combos.

After you decide on the type of connectivity you want, consider batteries. I haven't seen a rechargeable keyboard. However, I have seen plenty of mice that include battery chargers. These are handy. You simply drop your mouse in a charging cradle when it's not in use. That makes it unlikely to die at a critical moment.

While you're looking at mice, think about the type of tracking they use. Most use an optical sensor. This helps you move the cursor around the computer screen.

There's also laser tracking, which is supposedly more accurate. It is also more expensive. Unless you're doing detailed graphics work, laser optical probably isn't necessary.

Finally, many manufacturers add extras to set their products apart. Some keyboards have programmable buttons that open Web sites or programs. Some also include media controls. These boards are marginally convenient.

When you choose a keyboard and mouse, think about ergonomics. Since I use a computer all day long, I insist on comfort. Look for a low-profile keyboard. This will keep your hands level, helping you avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.

The keys shouldn't be too hard to press. Otherwise, they will add strain on your hands. But keys that are too soft can be annoying. As for the mouse, it should fit comfortably in your hand. Contoured ones are the best.

Before you buy any wireless combo, try it out. That's the best way to judge ergonomics.

A number of companies make wireless combos. Three well-known ones are Logitech, Microsoft and Kensington. Low-end combos list for around $70. You can pay $200 if only the best will do.

Enjoy your wireless freedom!

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107. Opening a Works file in Word
Q. I spent seven years working on a manuscript. I have the original file in Microsoft Works 6.0. Recently, I installed Microsoft Office. Somehow, Works vanished from my computer. I cannot open this manuscript and am afraid that it is irretrievably lost. I have tried to reinstall Works, but I keep running into a brick wall. Can I transfer the information in the Works file to Word, or otherwise retrieve it?

A. I can understand your frustration. You've obviously spent many hours on your manuscript.

Incidentally, I have an employee who lost the novel he was working on. It was on a thumb drive. His dog chewed it up. Talk about the dog eating your homework!

Fortunately, there is hope for you. I'm using Word 2003. It provides the ability to open documents from Works 6.0 and 7.0. If you're using this version of Word, you should be able to open your document.

I assume you're having difficulties opening it because of file extensions. Your computer has the Works file extension (.WPS) associated with Works, not with Word.

To open the file, click File>>Open. In the "Files of type" dropdown box, scroll to the bottom of the list. You should see Works 6.0 & 7.0 (*.wps). Select that. Then, navigate to your file. Select it and click Open. Save the file as a Word document.

Now, when you convert to Word, you may get formatting errors. Create a copy of your document before opening it in Word. Better safe than sorry…

If you're using an earlier version of Word, it may convert the document. Microsoft offers a converter for Works 6.0. It will convert documents to other versions of Works as well as Word 97, 2000 and 2002 (XP).

Another solution is to download the Word 2003 viewer. Open the document using the above steps. You won't be able to edit the document. But you can select all the text and paste it into a Word document.

As for the Works installation problems, that's probably a Registry issue. So let's see what we can do.

First, you should uninstall the program completely. Do this by clicking Start>>Control Panel. Select Add or Remove Programs. Find the entry for Works and click Remove. Follow the prompts to remove the program.

Next, you should download and run the Works CleanUp Utility. It is available on Microsoft's site. Follow Microsoft's instructions. It should remove corrupted Registry keys.

You should now be able to reinstall Works.

If you plan on using Word instead of Works, read my article on getting rid of Word's annoyances.

If you have spreadsheets you created in Works, find out how to transfer them to Excel.

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106. XP Repair vs. Reformat and Reinstall
Q. My computer is nearly five years old. It has Windows XP on it. Over time, it has really slowed. I plan to reinstall Windows. But I wondered if this can be done without formatting the hard drive. I'd rather not go through a total reinstallation of my data.

A. Reinstallations of Windows can be a real bear. Personally, I think reformatting and reinstalling everything is best. That way, you're assured that years of detritus is removed from the Registry.

But it is possible to leave XP in place and rebuild it. For that, you'll need a Windows installation disc. You'll also need your Windows product key. That should be on a tag on your computer. Or, it might be on the installation disc packaging.

If you don't have the product key, use Belarc Advisor to retrieve it.

Ready? Put the Windows installation disc in your CD or DVD drive. Then reboot. When you see the message, "Press any key to boot from CD," press Enter.

If you don't see that message, you need to change your boot order.

The installation CD will take you through several setup screens. If you installed Windows XP, you'll probably recognize them. You might also be concerned that you're on the wrong road. You're not.

On the fourth screen, you'll see a repair option. Ignore it. Select "To set up Windows XP now, press ENTER." On the seventh screen, you're given the option of repairing Windows or continuing setup. Highlight your installation of Windows and press R.

Windows will start replacing damaged files. It will leave much of the Registry in place. Once the files are selected, Windows will reboot. Before it does, remove the installation disc from the CD or DVD drive.

When the computer comes back up, you'll be asked for your product key. Enter it. You'll see the usual setup screens as Windows goes along. You're doing fine. Eventually, Windows will reboot. When it comes back up, you'll be at the Welcome to Microsoft Windows screen.

Windows finishes file installations and configurations, and reboots. You're done. You won't have to spend the next three days installing software and hardware. You also won't have to reconfigure your networking setup.

This process is much faster than reformatting and reinstalling Windows. However, if you have Registry problems left over from old programs, they may still be there. In that case, I'd reformat and reinstall everything.

~ ~ ~

105. Breaking a BIOS password
Q. I have an old computer that is password-protected at the BIOS level. I can't remember the password. My wife has her games on it, and she is ready to kill me. Do I need to change out the BIOS chip? I can't get into the Setup screen without the password.

A. Well, there's nothing like having plenty of security. And, of course, we want passwords that others will never guess. But it's a good idea to remember them!

Fortunately, when it comes to this problem, there are several possibilities.

BIOS stands for basic input/output system. It is the Setup area of the computer. BIOS identifies the equipment on the computer and how it works.

BIOSes are made by Award and AMI. These companies have more or less standard passwords. They're listed several places on the Internet. You may be able to find others; this is what I found:

Award--AWARD SW, AWARD_SW, Award SW, AWARD PW, _award, awkward, J64, j256, j262, j332, j322, 01322222, 589589, 589721, 595595, 598598, HLT, SER, SKY_FOX, aLLy, aLLY, Condo, CONCAT, TTPTHA, aPAf, HLT, KDD, ZBAAACA, ZAAADA, ZJAAADC, djonet.

AMI--AMI, A.M.I., AMI SW, AMI_SW, BIOS, PASSWORD, HEWITT RAND, Oder.

AMI, Award and others--LKWPETER, lkwpeter, BIOSTAR, biostar, BIOSSTAR, biosstar, ALFAROME, Syxz, Wodj.

These passwords are case-sensitive. They would only work if you have a factory password. They are pointless if you entered your own password.

Assuming these don't work, you have other options. Generally, they entail changing the BIOS to its factory settings.

Hopefully, you still have your computer manual. You may find that there is a jumper on the motherboard that is used to reset the BIOS. Usually, this arrangement consists of three pins. The jumper connects the middle pin to one of the side pins. To reset the BIOS, remove the jumper and connect the middle pin to the other, previously unused pin. For instance, if the jumper connects the middle and right pin, change it to connect the middle and left pin.

This should be done with the computer off. Leave the pin in place a few minutes, then replace it. In some cases, you must turn the computer on after each change. Hopefully, your manual will explain this procedure.

Didn't work? Onward and upward! Try removing the battery. Generally, the battery is about the size of a nickel. Remove it, and leave it out overnight. Replace it, and boot the computer. With any luck, the computer will boot with the default settings.

Changing out the BIOS chip also should work. However, that may require resoldering the motherboard. Personally, I'd rather have professionals do that work.

Here's one other idea: Remove the hard drive and install it in another computer. Be sure to set the jumper on the back to secondary (slave). The original drive must be set to primary (master). You can copy the files to the primary drive, or leave the old drive in the new machine.

Good luck. And write down those passwords!

~ ~ ~

104. Edit MIDI files for the Web
Q. I need to combine several midi files. I want to play several old songs in sequence on a Web page I am building. How do I tie them together to play in one MIDI file?

A. MIDI files can be both a blessing and a curse over the Web. They're considerably smaller than MP3s or other sound files. That's partly because a MIDI file isn't really a recording. It's more like sheet music for a computer. Among other things, MIDI specifies the notes, tempo and instrumentation.

The computer is responsible for interpreting the MIDI. Most sound cards handle MIDI. But they vary in instrument synthesizer selection and quality. So what you hear isn't necessarily what your Web page visitors will hear. Keep this in mind when choosing MIDIs over MP3 or WMA recordings.

You'll need a program to tie together the songs. Several programs can do the job. One of the better-known ones is Allegro ($199). Others are Jazz++ (free), Orion Pro ($99) and Sonar Home Studio ($149). I haven't tried these.

Some of these programs can also convert MIDI files into WAV files. The WAV files can be edited in programs like WavePad and Audacity, or compressed into MP3s. Both programs are free.

If you need more music, numerous sites are available. I've got a list of them on my site, including MIDI sites. Often the music is free.

~ ~ ~

103. Some online pictures load slower than others
Q. We visit a school Web site where my wife used to teach. We have a telephone connection and it takes forever for their pictures to download. I visit other sites and they download much faster. Is the key the difference in the size of the pictures as set into the camera? Or is it also the setup of the Web site?

A. There are a few reasons why a particular Web site's images would load relatively slowly. First, the photos may not be optimized for speedy loading. Digital cameras are usually set for a much higher picture quality than is necessary for the Web. The high quality amounts to larger files, which take more time to traverse the Internet.

High quality photos are definitely the way to go for archiving and printing. But they're wasted on the average computer monitor. Monitors show pictures optimally at about 75 dots per inch. However, pictures are often saved at 300 or more dots per inch (dpi). Even if an editing program is used to shrink the dimensions of the picture, its dpi could still be way too high.

The same thing can happen if sites use HyperText Markup Language (HTML) to shrink photos. Even tiny thumbnail images can take ages to load. In this case, your computer still has to load giant, high-quality pictures. The HTML code then simply makes them appear smaller on the screen.

Different load times can also be explained by Web accelerators now being bundled with popular dial-up providers. These accelerators typically use a mix of file compression and caching. Compression makes pictures and other files smaller and easier to load.

Caching means that your ISP (Internet service provider) keeps its own copies of Web sites. Because your computer always communicates through the ISP anyway, the copies eliminate the step of contacting other servers to get Web pages.

However, most ISPs don't have the resources to keep pre-loaded copies of every page on the Web. So they usually store only the most visited sites like Yahoo, eBay or CNN. Your school Web site probably does not get this star treatment, so it loads at normal dial-up speed.

I suggest you talk to the school officials. Tell them about the problem. They may not be aware that they can shrink the pictures' dpi. You could also ask your ISP to store the school's pages.

~ ~ ~

102. Secure a new PC before going online
Fresh out of the box, it's vulnerable to viruses, scams and unwanted advertising. So, lock down that new machine by completing the following steps in order:

1. Establish a firewall. Unless your new Windows computer has been sitting in a warehouse for over a year, it should have Windows XP Service Pack 2. This update tightened up the operating system's security.

One way it did this was by having Windows Firewall automatically enabled. But it's best to verify that the Firewall is indeed working.

To do that, click Start>>Control Panel>>Windows Firewall. Ensure that the circle next to "On" is checked. Also, check the "Don't allow exceptions" box. This blocks all requests to connect to your computer from other programs, but still allows you to connect to the Internet.

2. Update Windows. After you've ensured that Windows Firewall is enabled, it's time to update Windows. Microsoft periodically patches holes in Windows that could be accessed by hackers. The computer willneed to be connected to the Internet to download the updates.

To update Windows, click Start>>All Programs>>Windows Update. This will open up your Web browser and automatically take you to Windows Update's Web page. Once there, click "Express."

Some updates require that you restart the computer. Continue with Windows Update until there are no more critical updates to download.

3. Prevent viruses. Most new computers come with anti-virus software pre-installed. Find and start the anti-virus program, then locate its update feature. These updates include definitions, which identify viruses. As new viruses are written, definitions must be updated. This is a never-ending process.

Typically, anti-virus programs that come with new computers are only good for a short trial period. After that, the program will continue to run and monitor your system, but it will do so with old virus definitions. That's better than nothing, but not by much.

To continue receiving updates, you'll have to purchase the full product. Expect to pay around $40 for a year's worth of updates. If you do not want to pay for continued service, AVG Anti-virus (http://free.grisoft.com/doc/1) and avast!
(http://www.asw.cz/eng/free_virus_protectio.html) offer free products for personal use.

4. Stop the spies. Viruses aren't the only bad things that can invade your computer. Spyware and adware are just as prevalent. Adware sits on your computer and feeds ads to you. Spyware collects information about you and reports back to a computer over the Internet. Ads tailored to your interests are returned to your computer.

Far worse are keyloggers. These programs record your keystrokes and e-mail them to crooks. They are used to steal passwords and credit card numbers. Keyloggers are numerous and very dangerous. They are distributed via spam.

A number of programs are effective against adware and spyware. McAfee AntiSpyware (http://www.mcafee.com/us; $20) and Webroot Spy Sweeper (http://www.webroot.com; $30) are two well-reviewed products. Ad-Aware SE Personal (http://www.lavasoftusa.com), Spybot-Search & Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org), and Microsoft AntiSpyware (http://www.microsoft.com) are free. All should be effective against many keyloggers.

Anti-spyware software must be updated like anti-virus programs. After installing the program, update its definitions.

5. Extra protection. Now that you've done steps 1 though 4, your computer is secure enough to surf the Web. But you can still improve things.

Consider a stronger firewall. Windows Firewall does not have the features offered by OutpostFree (http://www.agnitum.com) and ZoneAlarm (http://www.zonelabs.com). Both are free.

You also might want to consider a security suite. McAfee (http://www.mcafee.com), Panda Software (http://www.pandasoftware.com), Symantec (http://www.symantec.com) and Zone Labs (http://www.zonelabs.com ) offer anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall capabilities in one package. Prices range from $40 to $80, depending on
the version you choose.

~ ~ ~

101. To defrag or not to defrag
Q. I heard computer-savvy people are advising against defragmenting Windows. Supposedly, this causes hard-drive wear, since information is written to opposite sides of the disk. Is this correct?

A. To defrag or not to defrag? There's not much proof on either side of this argument. But more importantly, there's not much of an argument. An overwhelming majority of computer professionals recommend regular disk defragmenting, including me.

I agree that the hard drive works hard during defragmentation. It's also true that each operation brings it closer to eventual breakdown. However, that ignores the long-term benefits of defragmentation.

I usually recommend defragmentation to return some speed to a computer. But it can also spare your hard drive from wear and tear.

A fragmented drive will suffer the stress that you're looking to prevent. The read-write head will skip around the disk to find fragments of files.

If you regularly defrag, the hard drive gets an occasional workout. If you don't, it can be stressed constantly. And the more fragmentation, the worse the unnecessary wear becomes.

For anyone new to defragmentation, try Windows' Disk Defragmenter. To find it, click Start>>All Programs>> Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Defragmenter. In XP and 2000, click the Analyze button. Disk Defragmenter can tell you if it needs to run.

Fragmentation happens naturally as files are deleted and saved. Deleted files leave gaps of space. Windows may then save new files as fragments to fill the gaps. To open these files, the different fragments must be found and reassembled.

~ ~ ~

100. Finding a lost Windows product key
Q. I am writing for a friend. She wants to know how to find a product key on a computer using Windows XP Home. She says she may have to format the hard drive and reinstall XP. She said your tips mention Windows 98, but nothing about XP.

A. I have had exactly this problem. I try to keep all of my packaging materials together, so I will have the product keys. But they are very easy to lose, since you might not need them for years.

For the benefit of our readers, let me explain product keys. When you install software, you are asked to enter an alphanumeric code. It is typically printed on the plastic case in which the software is packaged.

In Windows, it is in the form XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX. Without a valid code, you cannot install Windows. Furthermore, it is needed to activate Windows XP, or, in your friend's case, to prove it was previously activated.

The activation requirement is an anti-piracy measure. You can read more about it on the Microsoft Web site.

Your friend can recover the product key from the computer itself. A couple programs are available online that will do the job.

One tool she can use is Belarc Advisor, one of my favorite programs. She can download a copy through my Web site. It's free for personal use.

The product key is just a fraction of the information that Belarc Advisor provides. In its computer scan results, look for the product key under "Software Licenses." Belarc Advisor works with older versions of Windows as well, including 98.

Another program you can get online is ProduKey. It works well. It's a smaller program focused solely on retrieving product keys. It is also free.

Both will retrieve product keys for other programs, in addition to Windows.

One other thing: You could find yourself with a dead computer, on which you need to reinstall Windows. In that case, you would not be able to retrieve Windows' product key from the computer. So do it now. In fact, do it for all of your programs. Then put those numbers someplace safe. If your computer dies, you'll be glad you did.

~ ~ ~

99. Diagnosing problems with burned CDs
Q. I returned with the Marines from Iraq in late March 2005. I had taken over 1,100 pictures, which I saved to my laptop (Windows XP). I was able to burn a few CDs to hold them. These CDs work fine with other PCs/laptops to view the pics and everything, but when I put the CDs in my laptop, the drive just spins. Windows cannot read the CDs. Unfortunately, I deleted all the pictures from my laptop and camera. Now I want them back on my laptop. What's causing this problem?

A. Unfortunately, it's difficult to pinpoint problems with burned CDs. Some disc drives are faulty; others are finicky about the quality of the CD. Since other drives can see your discs, I suspect your drive is faulty.

CD burners typically use separate lasers for reading and burning discs. Your burner's read laser may be damaged or inaccurate. Put other burned discs in the CD drive. If it fails to read them, I would replace the drive.

If your drive can read other burned discs, you could have faulty media. Manufacturers have a few choices for the dyes in their discs. Some materials are better than others. And for manufacturers, some are more expensive than others.

Cheap discs were once easily identified by their blue or green tint. But many discs are now artificially colored to be more attractive or fun. High-quality recordable CDs will generally command higher prices. Consider trying recordable CDs from a name brand manufacturer.

I would take advantage of the fact that your burned CDs are readable on other computers. Copy them to another computer for safekeeping. You can then copy them to your laptop.

Unfortunately, connecting two computers without a hub is difficult. Rather than get into that, I would upload the picture files to a site on the Web. From there, you can simply download them. Try Dropload (and click on Free Online Storage) and SendThisFile.

You probably will want to combine the photo files into a few large files. That is best done with a ZIP utility. Windows XP includes a ZIP utility. To use it, click Start>>My Computer. Double-click the C: drive. Click File>>New>>Compressed (Zipped) Folder. Once you have created the folder, drag the photo files to them. They will be compressed automatically.

Should your burned CDs become unreadable, consider recovery programs like DiskInternals Recovery ($30), BadCopy ($40) or Isobuster ($26). You might also check out data recovery services, which you can often find locally.

In the press of hurricane news and other happenings, we may take for granted that we have military people serving--and dying--in Iraq. So let me take this opportunity to thank you and all the others who have served their country there. Listeners and readers who would like to do something tangible for the troops can do so on my Support the Troops page.

~ ~ ~

98. Keeping data on Clipboard
Q. Is it safe to use the Windows Clipboard while using the Web? Can I keep all my sensitive numbers in a Word file and just paste them in? That way, a keylogger won't get me typing them in.

A. You raise an interesting issue. And so that we’re all on the same page... the Windows Clipboard is a temporary holding area where things that you copy are stored.

I’m glad that you wrote because many people are simply unaware of this problem in Internet Explorer. A properly written JavaScript program could be used to swipe your information right off the Windows Clipboard when you’re visiting a Web page. It all happens behind the scenes.

Want to see it in action? Try this. Copy something (this sentence, for instance). Then go to the FriendlyCanadiansite.

If you're using Internet Explorer, you should see whatever you copied.

However, when I did this on my computer, nothing showed up. I use the free browser Firefox. My Firefox is set up to use JavaScripts. But when the FriendlyCanadian site sent code to run JavaScript, something in Firefox kept it from working. I would not bet, though, that Firefox could not be accessed.

When I tried this using Internet Explorer, it worked fine. That means that a malicious Web site could copy anything you have on your Clipboard.

Fortunately, there is a way to secure Internet Explorer. In Internet Explorer, click Tools>>Internet Options. Select the Security tab. Under Web content zones, select Internet. Under Security level, click the Custom Level button.

Under Scripting, you'll see a setting labeled "Allow paste operations via script." For that setting, select Disable. Then click OK. Finally, click OK on the next window.

You could also just turn JavaScript off in both browsers. However, many Web sites will not display correctly. JavaScript is commonly used throughout the Internet.

Firefox may or may not be vulnerable to these attacks. Internet Explorer definitely is. Because Firefox is not an integral part of Windows, it is safer.

Getting back to your question, when you copy and paste your credit card number, for instance, it remains on the Clipboard. It stays there until you turn off the computer, or until you copy something else. You might be able to fool keyloggers, but that won't stop hackers from developing programs that steal information from the clipboard.

Really, you're safer making sure that keyloggers and other malicious programs never find their way onto your computer. Don't open attachments you weren't expecting. Don't download programs you never heard of. And run anti-spyware programs. Those rules will keep keyloggers off your computer. You can find some security programs on my Web site.

~ ~ ~

97. Make those Windows fill the screen
Alfred, of Vestal, NY, sent his computer to the shop for repairs. When it came back, he found that when he opened a program, it did not fill the screen. The windows are only about half-size. He wants to fix that.

This is a common problem, Alfred, and an irritating one. The half-size window is called Normal. But I don't know anyone who uses it. You can fix this. Identify the programs with which you are having a problem. Click Start>>All Programs. Find each program in the list. Each entry in All Programs is a shortcut.

I'll use Microsoft Word as an example. Right-click it, then click Properties. On the Shortcut tab, find the Run box. Click the down arrow and select Maximized. This works with any shortcut, including icons on the desktop and in the Quick Start area.

Often, if you click a link in Internet Explorer, it opens a new Window that is not maximized. When that happens, close the original window. Then drag the borders of the "normal" window to the screen's edges. Close that window, too. That should solve the problem.

If it doesn't, download IE New Window Maximizer. This free program works very well. It's available at: http://www.jiisoft.com/

~ ~ ~

96. Should I turn off my computer or leave it run?
Q. I noticed in your News of the Day newsletter that your Computer Minute was about whether to leave the computer on overnight. I didn't hear the Minute, so I don't know what you said. But I have long wondered about this issue. What was your conclusion?

A. This question has bedeviled computer users for years. If you turn the computer off, you probably save on power. But turning the computer on and off everyday potentially could cause extra wear of parts.

I always considered this question a tossup. But developments in recent years forced me off the fence.

Today, we need anti-virus programs, along with multiple anti-spyware applications. All of this stuff requires updating. Often, the updates are done on a daily basis.

In addition, Windows has to be updated, usually at least monthly. It's important to do this automatically and immediately. Hackers move very quickly to reverse engineer Windows updates. They use what they learn to attack unprotected machines.

The most convenient time for automatic updates is when the computer is idle. For most people, that's the middle of the night. Yes, you can update while you're using the computer. But that could bog it down.

In addition, I run anti-virus and anti-spyware scans every day. I also back up my computers daily. When's the best time to do those things?

Why, in the middle of the night!

So, I leave my computers on all night. I turn the monitor off. I don't think the machine's longevity is affected, either negatively or positively. I just do it for convenience. If you prefer to do your updates, scans and backups during the day, be my guest. Turning your computer off at night shouldn't hurt it. It's really just a matter of personal preference.

~ ~ ~

95. Mirroring Your Hard Drive
Q. Is there a simple way to have everything that I do on my computer "mirrored" to a separate, external hard drive? I back up regularly, but I have learned the hard way that redundancy is the best policy.

A. You're right. It's very unpleasant when a hard drive goes south on you.

There is a way to do what you want. You can make an image of your hard drive. Then, if your main drive dies, you simply install the image on a new hard drive and you're back in business.

Two imaging programs are Norton Ghost ($70) and Acronis True Image ($50). You'll find them at, respectively:

http://www.symantec.com/sabu/ghost/ghost_personal/
http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/

If you go this route, continue to do your backups. An image captures a picture of your hard drive. If you make an image monthly, say, you'll need to back up data added after each image.

~ ~ ~

94. Printing dates on documents
Q. I listen to your show faithfully every weekend. I am a lawyer who needs to have the date appear at the bottom of anything that I print for a case. Since getting a new printer, I no longer get the date. I tried calling technical support but they were no help. I hardly understood a word the reps said. Can you please lend a hand? Susan Jones

A. Sure I can. I’ll just refer to you as “Sue the lawyer.”

Having the date appear on your printouts is pretty handy. Most programs let you add a date in some way. Let’s go through some programs you may be using.

Microsoft Word Click where you want to place the date. Click Insert>>Date and Time. You will have a selection of choices--date only, time only and date and time. Choose one and click OK.

You can make Word insert dates in all documents automatically.

To do that, you must change the Word template. That is a file named Normal.dot.

You'll find it in these folders:

Windows XP
C:\Document and Settings\[Your Name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

Windows 2000
C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

Windows ME
C:\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

Windows 98
C:\Windows\Profiles\[Your Name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

If you can't find it, use Windows Explorer to search for it.

Once you do find it, make a copy of Normal.dot and save it in another folder, in case you make a mistake. Then right-click Normal.dot and click Open. Click View>>Header and Footer. Click in the footer box at the end of the template. Click Insert>>Date and Time. Select the date style. Click "Update automatically." Click OK.

Microsoft Excel Click View>>Header and Footer. Click Custom Footer. Enter the date.

You can make a template in Excel, too. Open an Excel worksheet and put in the footer (or header) along with the date. Click File>>Save As. Save it as a Template (*.xlt). It goes in the same folder as the Word template. Make a shortcut to the Excel template and put it on the desktop. You have to open the template specifically to get the dated worksheet.

Internet Explorer Click File>>Page Setup. In the box marked Footer, enter "&d" (without the quotes). All subsequent printouts will include the date, which changes automatically.

(Tip inside of a tip: You can print a number of things in the header or footer. To find the codes, click File>>Page Setup. In the upper right corner, next to the X, click the question mark. Then click the Header or Footer box.)

Firefox Click File>>Page Setup. Select Margins&Header/ Footer. Under Headers and Footers, find the position in which you wish to place the date. If this is a one-shot thing, click Custom and write in the date. If you want the date to be there always, and to update automatically, click Date/Time.

~ ~ ~

93. What should I Backup and How?
As a preamble to backing up, establish a format for naming your personal data files, e.g., "20030905 Mary" says "Letter to Mary dated September 5, 2003." Always using four digits for the year and two digits each for the month and day will ensure keeping all files in date order and ease your search for a particular file in the future.

Similarly, creating folders for your various needs and interests and placing those folders in a central folder (such as My Documents or a folder name of your choosing) will simplify backing up all your personal data.

Now when you are ready to back up your personal data you have just one folder to copy. Right-click on My Documents, or whatever folder you decided upon as the repository for all your personal data, click Send to, and select the target drive--3.5-inch floppy, R-RW CD drive, or a second hard drive.

Next, to back up your Address Book in Outlook Express, open OE, Address Book, File, Export, select target drive.

If you are interested in backing up your entire Outlook Express, consider a free program that can be downloaded at:
http://www.oehelp.com/OEBackup/Default.aspx

Favorites and Cookies can be backed up in similar fashion. Go to your Microsoft Internet Explorer Home Page, click on File, Import/Export, click Next on the Wizard, select Export Favorites, select Favorites, select target drive. Then repeat the operation to backup Cookies, if desired.

Some programs, such as Quicken, make provision within the program for backing up your data and you should elect to accept that option.

~ ~ ~

92. Disk Defragmenter works best alone
Q. My Disk Defragmenter has stopped working! When I try to defrag, it never registers above l% complete and then starts over and over and over. I've got Windows 98. I use anti-virus and anti-spyware, so that shouldn't be an issue. What should I do?

A. The Windows Disk Defragmenter is a great tool. It organizes your hard drive and can make your system a bit faster. But it is sensitive. It needs a good deal of space on the hard drive while it moves things around. And it cannot abide interruptions. Whenever you use Disk Defragmenter, it should be the only program running.

Before we get into solutions, update and run your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. A malicious program running in the background could cause Disk Defragmenter to fail.

Also, I’ve heard from some people that they could not get Disk Defragmenter to work when connected to the Internet. It’s never happened to me. But anything is possible. Try disconnecting and see what happens.

Ready? Let's look at some possible solutions:

Tidy up your hard drive. Start by running Disk Cleanup (Start>>Programs>> Accessories>> System Tools>>Disk Cleanup). Be sure to dump temporary Internet files and clean out the Recycle Bin.

After running Disk Cleanup, check for programs that you don't use. To delete them, click Start>>Settings>>Control Panel. Double-click Add/Remove Programs. Find the programs in the list and click Add/Remove. Use care. Only delete programs that you know you do not use.

Hard drive flaws also can stop Disk Defragmenter. So it's a good idea to run ScanDisk before Disk Defragmenter. You'll find ScanDisk at Start>>Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>> ScanDisk. Select Thorough and Automatically Fix Errors.

Next, click Options. Under "Areas of the Disk to Scan," select "System and Data Areas." Click OK>>Start.

If Disk Defragmenter just won't go, try your luck in Safe Mode. This loads only essential drivers and Windows files.

To get into Safe Mode, shut down your computer. Wait 10 seconds and boot up. Tap the F8 key during boot up. The boot up process should stop, and you should see a menu. Highlight Safe Mode and press Enter. If you don't get the menu, reboot and try again.

Another possible—though improbable—thing to consider is that spyware or a virus could start in Safe Mode. If so, they could make Disk Defragmenter stop. So, when all else fails, check the processes on your machine.

Boot into Windows and pare it down to essential processes. "Process" is a term for any program currently running. You can do this using the Windows Task Manager. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del.

You'll see a list of files there. Malicious programs may be included. If so, they might well have innocuous names, to mislead you. This list also includes necessary Windows files. You don't want to disable them. Non-essential processes should be shut down. Here are the files that you should leave alone:

csrss.exe
dllhost.exe
explorer.exe
kernel32.dll
lsass.exe
msgsrv32.exe
mstask.exe
services.exe
svchost.exe
taskmon.exe

You probably will find anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall files there. Shut them down, but disconnect from the Internet first. Don't tempt fate. To stop a process, click it once to highlight it. Then click End Task.

~ ~ ~

91. Start screen saver quickly
Q. My wife and I just got back from a wonderful summer vacation. It took us nine years to save enough money for it. You recently told a caller to your show how to put together a screen saver using the best pictures. I did that and my wife just loves it. I was wondering, is there a special key that I could press that would start the screen saver immediately?

A. Thank you so much for listening to my national radio show. It’s great to get notes like yours. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’m helping a bunch of people.

You can easily put a shortcut to start the screen saver on your desktop. When you want it to run, simply double-click the shortcut icon. You stop the screen saver by moving the mouse, so that could make double-clicking problematic. You have to move fast. Practice getting your hand off the mouse before the screen saver starts. Otherwise, you'll start and stop it nearly simultaneously.

But, if you're working in a window, you would have to close it before you could double-click the shortcut. That would slow things down. There are two ways around that: Put the shortcut in the Quick Launch area, which you can keep visible at all times. Or use a keyboard shortcut.

The latter would be my choice. But I'll tell you how to do both. Then you can decide.

First, let's make the desktop shortcut. Right-click an empty area on your desktop. Click Properties. Click Screen Saver. Under Screen Saver, pick one you like. When you click them, they are shown on the monitor representation.

In Windows XP, the screen saver files are located in C:\Windows\System32. They begin with the letters "ss," which makes them easy to find in the alphabetized listing. The file names are similar to the names in the screen saver list, but you may have to experiment to find the correct one. In case you need it, here are the screen saver file locations in earlier Windows versions:

98 and ME -- C:\Windows\System
2000 -- C:\WINNT\System32

To make the shortcut, right-click an empty area on the desktop. Click New>>Shortcut. Click Browse and surf to the System32 folder. Scroll to the S listings and click the screen saver file. It will end in the extension .SCR. Click OK>>Next. Enter a name for the shortcut and click Finish.

That puts the shortcut icon on your desktop. The Quick Launch area is next to the Start button. If you don't see it, right-click the taskbar. Click Properties. Click Show Quick Launch. Also, enable "Keep the taskbar on top of other windows." Click Apply>>OK.

Drag the shortcut icon to the Quick Launch area. Move the Quick Launch border to the right to enlarge the area, if necessary. To launch the screen saver, click it once. Remember to remove your hand from the mouse quickly.

To create a keyboard shortcut, right-click the shortcut on your desktop. On the Shortcut tab, find Shortcut Key. The word None will be in the box. Position the cursor after the word None and press Ctrl+Alt+S (or another letter). That will create the keyboard shortcut.

To start the screen saver, depress the three keys simultaneously. The screen saver will start immediately and you can day dream about that next vacation!

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90. Closing the hole in Internet Explorer
If you continue to use Internet Explorer, you have to know about ActiveX. ActiveX is a set of rules governing the way applications share information. ActiveX controls are often used to build interactivity into Web sites.

For instance, ActiveX can be used to create an online survey. Users can pick answers or enter comments. It’s also useful for online games and animation.

On the Internet, ActiveX controls are similar to Java programs. Java programs have restrictions that limit how and where they can run. But ActiveX can have full access to Windows. A rogue ActiveX control can snoop around and damage your computer. That includes any personal information you’ve got saved.

Microsoft reduced that danger in Service Pack 2 (SP2). If you still don’t have SP2, go to Windows Update now. You’ll need it for the steps that follow. By the way, Windows Update uses ActiveX to do its job. Windows update is at: http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com

Even with SP2, it’s still up to you to close the security hole. That’s why Internet Explorer has security settings for ActiveX. To find those settings, first open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Internet Options. Select the Security tab. Select Internet under “Select a Web content zone...” Then click the “Custom Level” button. There are seven settings under “ActiveX controls and plug-ins.” Here’s how I have mine set:

1. Automatic prompting for ActiveX controls: Disable. This blocks ActiveX prompts from downloads that I don’t request. It just takes away the temptation to click “OK” when a prompt pops up. But it might be something I’m expecting. I can still click on the yellow bar at the top and select “Install Software...”

2. Binary and script behaviors: Enable. This helps ActiveX controls already on your computer. Otherwise, strange things like program conflicts can happen.

3. Download signed ActiveX controls: Prompt. Signed ActiveX controls are considered safer, because they come from a known organization. But I want to be asked. There are some people from whom I want nothing.

4. Download unsigned ActiveX controls: Disable. Don’t even bother me.

5. Initialize and script ActiveX controls not marked as safe: Disable. Not worth the risk.

6. Run ActiveX controls and plug-ins: Enable. Some major Web sites aren’t even viewable without this. And once I’ve installed an ActiveX control, I don’t want to be asked about it repeatedly.

7. Script ActiveX controls marked safe for scripting: Enable. Ditto.

Still worried about the dark side of ActiveX? Then consider switching to another browser like Firefox or Opera. They don’t bother with ActiveX at all. Most Internet surfers won’t find anything missing from sites. But you'll still need Internet Explorer for Windows Update. Microsoft’s update site requires ActiveX capability.

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89. Buy new computer withWindows XP now or wait for Windows Vista
(Longhorn) late next year?

Q. I'm using a 5+-year-old machine with Windows 98. It would be nice to have a new machine, but I can get by with what I have. Should I get an XP machine, even though XP's lifecycle is running out? Or, should I wait for the new operating system (Vista). Thanks for the great show.
-- West in Seattle, listening on KTTH 770 AM

A. We run into this issue every few years. In the case of Windows XP, which came out in 2001, the decision was easy. It replaced Windows ME, the last DOS-based operating system. XP was a definite improvement.

Windows Vista (the new name for Windows Longhorn) will debut in late 2006. One of our guys just went to Redmond for a Microsoft briefing.

Most changes apparently are cosmetic.

Vista does not sound like it has much in the way of security improvements, other than a better firewall. So that's no reason to dump XP. And, as I said, XP is very stable. I think it's an excellent operating system.

It is possible, of course, that fabulous security features will be added to Vista. Then, I'd say go for it. But that doesn't appear to be the case now.

Buying a new computer is an emotional decision. Some people just like to have new things. Others hold on to their old one as long as possible, to avoid the expense.

If your computer does what you want it to, why not stick with it? Most people switch when they decide to do something demanding, like video editing. They discover the old clunker won't do the job. At that point, it's clearly time to trade up.

I also recommend buying new when expensive parts begin to fail. It's easy to dump too much money into repairs. Labor is expensive. Before you know it, you've exceeded the cost of a new machine.

If you buy an XP machine, you will, at worst, have an older but very capable operating system. It is unlikely that that will be a problem. Windows 98 is seven years old, and you're still able to use it.

Vista will probably offer an upgrade version for XP owners. That may or may not be OK; the XP upgrade did not work well, in my experience.

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88. Regaining New Windows PC Performance
Q. Even the fastest computers get bogged down over time. Unnecessary files, never-used programs and programs running in the background consume valuable resources. But it takes just five easy steps to reclaim your once zippy Windows machine.

1. Lighten the load. No matter how big your hard drive, it will slow down once it reaches 90 percent capacity. Free up valuable space by removing unused programs. Click Start>>Control Panel (in Windows 98/ME, Start>>Settings>>Control Panel). Double-click Add or Remove Programs. If you have Windows XP, you'll see the size of the program, how often it's used and the date it was last used. It's helpful but shouldn't be used exclusively as a determining factor.

Click the program you want to remove and then click Change/Remove (In Windows 98/ME, Add/Remove). When uninstalling programs, you may encounter a message asking if you want to remove a shared component. Select "no to all." These files are small and may be necessary for other programs to operate properly.

2. Clean it up. Disk Cleanup will delete downloaded program files, temporary Internet files, items in your Recycle Bin and temporary files. Windows XP's version of Disk Cleanup also deletes offline Web pages and compresses rarely used files.

Click Start>>(All) Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Cleanup. Select the drive you want to clean (probably C:) and click OK. Place a check mark next to the items you want deleted and click OK.

You can also remove Windows components that you don't use. Start Disk Cleanup and click the More Options tab. Click "Clean up" under Windows components. You can remove games, accessories and other non-essential Windows components.

The More Options tab allows Windows XP users to clear old restore points. These hog space over time. Just click the "Clean up" button under System Restore and then Yes.

3. Reduce the start-up. Instant messaging programs, media players and other programs weasel their way into automatically starting with Windows. They just slow down your boot time and guzzle system resources.

You can stop these programs by clicking Start>>Run. Type "msconfig" without the quotes and click OK. Click the Startup tab. You'll see a number of programs listed. Some names are easy to figure out. But the majority are difficult to decipher. You can find a list of entries and explanations here:
http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php

Clear the boxes for the programs you don't need. Click Apply>>OK. You'll be prompted to restart your computer.

After restarting you'll receive a message stating that the System Configuration Utility is in Diagnostic or Selective Startup mode. Just check the box next to "don't show this message again" and click OK.

4. Consolidate. It's easy to have multiple copies of digital picture files, especially if you find yourself using them for different projects. A good photo organizer will help consolidate all of your pictures and remove duplicates.

There are a number of good organizers under $50 from Adobe, Nero and Ulead. There's also a program called Picasa, (http://www.picasa.com/picasa). It has fewer extras than the others, but it's free.

5. Search. Find and remove inordinately large files through Windows' search function. Click Start>>Search>>All files and folders. Then click on the arrow next to "What size is it?" Click Large>>Search.

You'll probably find forgotten video or music files. You also might find data files from games you no longer play. If you're unsure of the nature of a file, conduct an Internet search using the file name.

Computer housekeeping is really a snap. A little diligence will keep your computer clutter-free and speedy.

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87. Windows slow? Try these four solutions
Think that you need a new Windows computer because the clunker is too slow? You may not. Windows doesn't do a great job of maintaining itself. Before you dump Old Faithful, try these simple solutions:

1. Straighten up the hard drive. Start by scanning your hard drive for problems. Use ScanDisk in Windows 98 and ME; in Windows XP, the tool is Check Disk. These utilities find stray data--called lost allocation units--that wasn't properly handled, generally in a system crash. They also rope off bad spots on the hard drive.

To find ScanDisk, click Start>>Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>ScanDisk. In Windows XP, click Start>>My Computer. Right-click your hard drive (probably C:) and click Properties. Select the Tools tab. Click Check Now. Regardless of the system, select options to do as thorough a check as possible.

Next, defragment your drive. Windows scatters file fragments all over creation. When you open a file, the hard drive has to work hard to assemble it. Defragmenting the files puts the pieces in adjacent clusters. That makes reassembly easier and faster.

To defragment, click Start>>Programs (or All Programs)>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Defragmenter.

2. Dump the spies. Spyware tracks your surfing and feeds that information to advertising companies on the Internet. In turn, you receive customized ads.

In recent years, spyware has gone from an irritant to a crisis. It can bog down a computer. At its worse, it seizes control. Your choice of search site, or even where you surf, can be severely curtailed.

A number of programs can be downloaded to clean up spyware.

These include Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com),
Spybot-Search & Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org),
Microsoft AntiSpyware (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads),
and Spy Sweeper (http://www.webroot.com).

All but Ad-aware also can be used to block further infections. And they all are free, except for Spy Sweeper, which is $30.

3. Turbocharge your surfing. Are you still using dial-up access? People often use the rationalization that "it's good enough for me." But it is glacial compared to broadband.

Broadband simply means that much more data can be downloaded at once. That translates to a much faster Web experience. People are often amazed at the difference. Try it and you'll never go back.

The primary broadband methods are DSL, over telephone lines, and cable, which moves with television signals. DSL is eight to 30 times faster than dial-up. In some places, cable can be 100 times faster. Either way, this is money well-spent.

4. Replace hardware parts. Undeniably, you can jack up your machine this way. But this can get into serious money.

There is a relatively cheap way to speed things up. If you have, say, 128 megabytes of memory in a Windows 98 or ME machine, you can raise that to 256 MB. Going up to 512 may give you even more of a boost. And memory isn't too expensive.

Beyond that, you're raising economic issues. You could pour money into a new motherboard, chip and video card. You could even upgrade your hard drive. But this will add hundreds of dollars. Why bother?

A new low-end machine can be had, with monitor, for less than $500. It will contain new, reliable parts. And, though it is low end, it will be relatively fast.

So, try cleaning up your old machine. If that doesn't work, think hard about a new computer.

~ ~ ~

The following is an excerpt from the July 2005 issue of Smart Computing's Tech Support Q & A's:
Q. I soon plan to defragment the hard drive of a computer that I purchased almost a year ago. When I performed defrags on my previous computer, I disabled the screen saver and McAfee Virus Scan. Now I have a Dell Dimension 8300 running Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) and using a cable internet connection. I also have McAfee's VirusScan, Personal Firewall Plus, and Privacy Service. Should I disable all three of these programs during the defrag session? Because I'm always connected to the Internet, if I disable all my protection, won't that leave me vulnerable to virus attacks, etc.? The hard drive is 120GB (though most of it is free space), so the defrag session will probably take a long time.

A. Defragging your hard drive is an important maintenance procedure for your computer. The defrag utility bundled with WinXP, Disk Defragmenter, works best when it has uninterrupted access to your hard drive. This means you should close and/or deactivate all of the programs you normally have running.

Of course, with an always-on Internet connection, you're prudent to be concerned about shutting off your firewall. Our recommendation is to disconnect your computer from your cable modem and then disable the McAfee applications before defragging your drive. When the defragmentation process is complete, restart the McAfee applications and reconnect your computer to the cable modem.

Also, there are several tactics you can use to speed up the defrag process. The first is to do it frequently. We recommend defragging your hard drive at least once a month. This will reduce the amount of time required for each defragmentation cycle, and you should notice a significant increase in Windows' performance speed.

In addition, consider using a third-party defrag utility, such as Diskeeper 9 (www.execsoft.com). Diskeeper 9 has two specific benefits we like. The first one is that you can configure it to defragment your drive continually. This feature works silently in the background, helping to prevent your drive from becoming fragmented in the first place. The second benefit is that Diskeeper 9 has a high-speed defragmentation system that--when we've used it--is roughly three times as fast as Windows' Disk Defragmenter.

Diskeeper 9 has a price tag of $19.95, but there 's also a free trial version you can download from the company's Web site.

~ ~ ~

86. Setting Your Monitor
Q. I was fooling around with the brightness and contrast settings on my monitor. Now, it's all messed up and I can't get it set correctly. What should I do?

A. That's not hard to do. There are so many options and variables to consider, including the type of video card and monitor that you have.

Before we get into the monitor's settings, make sure it's in the right place. To prevent eye strain, your monitor should be at least 25 inches from your eyes, preferably more. Plus, you want the viewing area of the monitor to be between 15-degrees and 50-degrees below horizontal eye level.

Lighting is important, too. You want to use indirect lighting in your office or work area and avoid overhead fluorescent lights. If necessary, install blinds or shades to control outside light.

Most monitors have buttons that let you set brightness, contrast, focus, readability, convergence and more. In there, you may find a button that will bring the monitor back to its default settings. Those are the factory settings. Or better yet, your monitor may have come with software that helps set it up properly.

If your monitor did not come with software and you can't deal with the monitor's buttons, there is hope. DisplayMate for Windows is a user-friendly program but it costs $69. Learn more about it here: http://www.displaymate.com.

And by the way, a good monitor setting using the Internet is 800 X 600. Unless you have a minimum 19-inch monitor, Web pages will probably look too small at 1024 X 768. And if you use a lower resolution, such as 640 X 480, you might have to scroll from left to right to see the whole page.


85. Changing camera software
Q. I'm using Windows XP Home on a new Dell. We also have a digital camera. When we first plugged the camera in to the computer, I had to choose which program to run automatically. I chose a Dell program that came with my computer. Now I'd like to switch to the camera's software, but I don't know how.

A. It's all in the associations. Files can be associated with programs so the computer knows how to open them.

For instance, you can associate the DOC file extension with Microsoft Word or Wordpad. When you double-click a DOC file, it will open using Word or Wordpad.

As you pointed out in your e-mail, this is a different animal. Instead of a file, you've associated your camera with a program. So you can't change it through the standard file association.

All hope is not lost, though. Here's how to make the change: Click Start>Control Panel. Double-click Scanners and Cameras. On the window that opens, right-click your camera's name. Click Properties and select the Events tab. You should find the program you want, along with the Dell program, listed in a dropdown box. Select the program that you want to use and uncheck the Dell program.

This process also works for scanners, which are often associated with programs.

If for some reason this process does not work, I would delete both programs and start over. For the proper deletion procedure, go to this tip.

~ ~ ~

84. Spyware can cause bad links
Q. Kim, please help! My wife thinks that I'm a pervert! Links to bad videos keep appearing in Internet Explorer’s history menu. I delete them, but they're back the next day. I recently installed Spy Sweeper and I also use Norton AntiVirus. Norton indicates there is a Trojan that cannot be deleted. Also, I am unable to open hyperlinks in e-mail messages. Are these problems related?

A. I would bet that they are related. Because of the sheer amount of money that these sites make, the people who distribute porn spyware are getting trickier and trickier. This makes it harder for us to get rid of it once it infects our systems.

I know this firsthand. Just the other day, my very own dear and smart mother, who listens to my show, gets my tips, and is probably reading this too, was bitten by an ad that looked like a legitimate Windows error message. Kids nowadays!

Anyway, the links that are appearing in Internet Explorer's history probably come from spyware. You may need to run more than one anti-spyware program to remove whatever is on your computer.

Spy Sweeper is one of the best anti-spyware programs available. It is a simple program to use and includes things such as automatic notifications of any changes, locking the Hosts file, shields and other features that other programs do not offer. In the interest of full disclosure, Spy Sweeper is one of my radio show advertisers; I use it and recommend it.

I also recommend Ad-Aware, Spybot-Search & Destroy and Microsoft AntiSpyware. They're all free for personal use. You can find download links for them on my Web site.

The Trojan that Norton can't delete is probably in System Restore. Both Windows XP and ME have this utility. It takes snapshots of Windows' system state regularly. You can use these snapshots--called restore points--to rescue Windows if it becomes unstable.

However, there is an unintended consequence of System Restore: When it creates a restore point, Trojans and viruses are included. Anti-virus programs are unable to clean these files.

This isn't a problem, so long as you don't need to restore your system. But if you were to use a restore point, your system would be re-infected.

So, to remove the Trojan completely, you must clear your restore points. Fortunately, this is done quite easily.

Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click System. On the System Restore tab, check "Turn off System Restore on all drives." Click Apply.

A box will appear warning you that restore points will be deleted. It asks if you want to continue. Click Yes, then OK.

Now reboot your computer. Do a full system scan with Norton AntiVirus. You shouldn't receive any warnings about the Trojan.

Once the virus scan is complete, run the anti-spyware programs, one at a time. Remove whatever they find. Don’t worry. You’re not likely to cause any major havoc by doing so. You shouldn't see the pornographic links in your history menu anymore.

After you've solved your problem, re-enable System Restore. It will help you if you ever find yourself in a tight spot. Follow the steps listed above to access System Restore options. Deselect "Turn off System Restore on all drives."

The problem opening links in e-mail is probably a side effect of the spyware. Spyware programs usually add entries to your Registry. The Registry is a database that tells Windows how to run. Bad entries can cause your computer to function incorrectly.

The anti-spyware programs will remove the spyware keys from the Registry. Once your system is clean, you shouldn't have problems opening links.

While you're cleaning up your computer, I recommend that you switch Internet browsers. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer is not a secure browser. Hackers love to target IE's many security holes.

I use and recommend Firefox. It's more secure than IE. You can download it for free from Mozilla.

~ ~ ~

83. Free screen savers may contain spyware
Q. I downloaded a beautiful screen saver with a waterfall and flowers around a lake. My friend told me that the screen saver contains spyware. Is this possible? And if it contains spyware, what are the risks of using it?

A. Yes, the screen saver you downloaded could contain spyware or even viruses. In fact, any executable file you download can contain malware.

The makers of free or inexpensive software need to make a living, too. So they often accept money from advertisers to include spyware with their programs. If the screen saver is legitimate, the spyware should be disclosed in the user terms. So read them before installing the screen saver.

If the product is not legitimate, the screen saver may simply be a Trojan horse. Many Trojans and viruses are distributed via spam as screen savers. Never open a spam attachment that includes a screen saver. It almost certainly includes a malicious program.

Spyware can collect a lot of information about you. Most spyware records your Internet surfing habits. This information is used to serve you targeted advertising.

Other types of malware are more pernicious. I call it snoopware, but some people group it with spyware. Snoopware can steal passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information. No reputable company will distribute programs that contain snoopware.

Regardless of what else it does, spyware can slow your computer to a crawl. So it is frustrating at best.

You should always read the user agreement before installing anything, but especially free programs. Frequently, the user agreement alerts you to the presence of spyware. By accepting the agreement, you are accepting whatever accompanies the screen saver.

Screen savers are plentiful on the Internet. A Google search for "free screen saver" returned more than two million links. I'm sure many of these screen savers are identical.

Why is this important? Some sites have been known to take others' screen savers. Often they will repackage them with spyware. So two screen savers that look identical could be very different, indeed.

If you have your heart set on a particular screen saver, you might find a similar one without spyware. However, you could compromise your security trying to find it. I don't recommend downloading free screen savers except from trusted sources.

Fortunately, you do have other options. First, you can create your own screen saver. Windows XP and ME allow you to use your own photos as a screen saver.

Right-click on the desktop and select Properties. On the Screen Saver tab, select My Pictures Slideshow. It will display the photos in My Pictures in succession. Click Settings to specify a different folder or to select other options. Click Apply and then OK. These instructions are for XP, but ME is similar.

IrfanView, a free photo-editing program, also creates screen savers. I like IrfanView because it allows you to save the screen saver. You then can share it with others. This is a great way to share your precious digital memories.

You can find a download link for IrfanView on my Web site.

In IrfanView, click File>>Slideshow. Use the navigation tools to find the photos you want to use. Then click Add. Click "Save as EXE/SCR file." Select "Create SCR file" and specify any options you want to apply. Then click Create. Your screen saver is ready to go!

Also, you'll find cool screen savers on fan sites. So check the sites for your favorite movies, television shows and music artists. And if you're a car buff, don't forget automobile manufacturers' sites. You'll be amazed at what you'll find.

~ ~ ~

82. Computer Security and Maintenance
Keeping your computer running smoothly, up to date, secure and virus free is not difficult. Of first importance, your Windows program should be current. Do this by checking that you have the latest updates or, preferrably, by setting Windows to automatically download updates.

Of next importance, use a Firewall. Service Pack 2 (SP2), which you should be running if using Windows XP, turns on a built-in firewall that runs by default. According to Kim Komando and others, however, a third-party firewall is recommended, such as the free version of Zone Alarm which can be downloaded from www.zonelabs.com. Be very careful in the selection process, as you want the free version and not the Pro or trial versions. Finally, if youdecide to use Zone Alarm and you are running Windows XP, turn off the Windows Firewall by going to the Control Panel, Windows Firewall and select Off.

Next, a good anti-virus program is a necessity and a good, free one is AVG, which can be downloaded from www.grisoft.com. As in the case with ZoneLabs, be careful that you select the AVG Free Edition. If you are already running Norton or McAfee, that's fine; don't run more than one anti-virus program. And remove any current anti-virus program before installing another.

The most important thing about any anti-virus program is to be sure you arrange to have all definitions downloaded and installed, whether manually or automatically. If the definitions are not current, you are not fully protected from known viruses.

If you're using Windows XP, regularly run (1) Disk Cleanup and Defrag to be found at Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools and (2) Error-checking which can be found by going to My Computer, right-click C:, Properties, Tools, Error-checking. Error-checking will then start the next time you boot up.

Finally, to determine just how secure your system is, go to the Gibson Research Corp. at www.grc.com. Click on Shields Up; scroll down and click on a second Shields Up; click on Proceed; click on Common Ports, and hopefully you will see "Passed TruStealth Analysis."

Now scroll down and this time click on "All Service Ports." Here, hopefully, you will see that all 1055 ports checked Green.

You can keep current on the latest in computer maintenance by subscribing to Kim Komando's Tips at www.komando.com. A recent Tip of the Day ("It's a cruel world. Protect yourself!") reviews the foregoing in more detail and would be worth reading before making changes to your system. It is quoted below for ready reference:

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81. It's a cruel world. Protect yourself!
Dangers continue to grow on the Internet. It is a rare day that does not bring a new virus, worm or some other type of threat.

Furthermore, this malicious software is growing in sophistication. Historically, viruses and other malicious programs have been written by young vandals. Today, much of it is produced by skilled programmers in Eastern Europe. Many of these people became criminals when communism collapsed.

You must take the time to protect yourself. If you do not, you could easily lose your identity. Or your bank or stock market account could be raided.

Fortunately, the threats are generally well understood. Protecting yourself is not difficult, although you may have to travel a learning curve.

The information that follows is written for the owners of Windows machines. There have been no successful attacks on Apple's Macintosh computers, to my knowledge. Why?

Apple believes its operating system--OS X--is inherently more secure than Windows. That may be. However, Apple has released many, many security fixes.

The bigger reason, I believe, is Apple's smaller market share. Criminals are looking to make money. Apple has a tiny slice of the computer market. Windows has over 90 percent. It makes a much juicier target.

If you own an Apple, be sure it is updated. Information is available at:

http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=61798

The following instructions are for Windows XP. Many also apply to earlier Windows versions.

Anti-virus
There are tens of thousands of malicious programs circulating on the Internet. These include viruses, worms, Trojans, dialers and other monsters. This stuff poses a terrific threat to computer users.

To counter these programs, use anti-virus software. If you have a new computer, it probably comes with an anti-virus program. Having that on your computer is not enough. You must buy the program so you can get updates. If you let the software tryout expire without subscribing to the updates, you are asking for trouble.

So, here's what you must do. If you want to subscribe to the program that came with your computer, do so. That subscription allows you to update the program. Updates are critical. New threats emerge constantly. The updates allow you to keep up with them.

If you don't want to subscribe, remove the anti-virus program from you computer. To do that, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Add or Remove Programs. Find the program in the list. Click it, then click Remove.

Then, install the anti-virus program of your choice. Free ones are available through my Web site at:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

There are also many anti-virus programs available for sale. If you have problems with the anti-virus program, a paid program will probably offer more support. Three good programs are Symantec, McAfee and Panda. They're available at, respectively:

http://www.symantec.com/index.htm
http://www.mcafee.com/us/
http://www.pandasoftware.com/home/default.asp

Any name brand is fine. I use Symantec at the office and Panda at home. Settle on one and keep it updated.

Firewalls
A firewall performs two duties: It hides your computer from automated attackers. And it blocks outbound transmissions if something awful takes root on your computer. Let's look at those two issues.

Automated programs on the Internet ping computers on various networks. When you go onto the Internet, you are on your Internet service provider's network. Without a firewall, these programs can find and attempt to communicate with your computer.

Your Windows system should not respond to unsolicited communications. The original Windows XP, as published in 2001, had a flaw that allowed Windows to respond. In that case, a malicious program could have been downloaded to your computer. That flaw was fixed ages ago in the Windows Update process.

Even with that flaw, however, a firewall would have protected you. Again, the firewall makes your computer invisible. The communications from malicious programs would not have reached your computer.

With a properly updated computer today, a malicious program could only identify your computer. It could mark you as a target for a spam attack. It could not automatically infect you. But if you have a firewall, it could not even identify you.

So, let's say that despite your best efforts, the crooks on the Web trick you into opening an attachment. A Trojan infects your computer. Its first job is to report back to its home computer on the Internet. A good firewall will block that attempt. It will ask your permission before releasing the transmission.

Some firewalls cannot block these transmissions. The firewalls that come with Windows XP and Apple's OS X have this limitation. Most firewalls in home-network routers also let these transmissions through. This is a dangerous situation. I do not recommend that you depend on such limited firewalls.

Instead, check the firewalls on my site. I use and recommend ZoneAlarm. The personal edition is free and works very well. Download and install it. You can find it at: http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

Anti-spyware
This threat is generally not as serious as that posed by viruses, worms and Trojans. But it is growing, and it can make your computing experience miserable.

The terms spyware and adware are often used interchangeably. In general, spyware tracks your Web surfing and reports your interests to a computer on the Internet. Adware sits on your computer and feeds you ads. Both are intrusive and undesirable.

Spyware also can direct you to its own lame search sites. It can take over your Internet browser and limit where you go on the Web. It can change your home page. Or, it can paint your monitor with the grossest pornographic images imaginable.

Anti-spyware protection is two-fold. You need programs that will keep most spyware pests from taking root. And you need other programs to annihilate spyware that collects on your computer.

None of the anti-spyware programs can do the job alone. I use several on my computer. You can get them off my site at: http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

Windows Update
When Windows XP debuted in 2001, it had about 45 million lines of programming code. The rule of thumb in programming is one mistake per 100 lines of code. That translates into thousands of programming mistakes in XP. Some were doozies.

Over the years, Microsoft has issued many security fixes. Still, holes continue to be found. It is critically important to keep your copy of Windows updated.

I recommend the automatic update feature in XP. To activate that, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click System. Select the Automatic Updates tab. Make your choices. I make mine as automatic as possible.

You also can update manually in all versions of Windows. Open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Windows Update. Let Microsoft scan your computer. Download any updates marked critical or security.

Updates are essential. An unprotected computer will be attacked within minutes on the Internet, guaranteed.

Rules of the road
People are often their own worst enemies when they get on a computer. Following these rules will keep you out of trouble.

• Don't open spam. Many threats are delivered through spam. Just delete it.

• Never open an unexpected attachment. If you do, you almost certainly will be attacked by a malicious program. Even if it appears to come from a person you know, check first. Other people's addresses are easy to steal and use as return addresses.

• Do not respond to unsolicited offers on the Internet. If an ad on a Web page says you have spyware on your computer, ask yourself: How do they know that? The answer is: They don't. They're trying to sell you a product that may well do more harm than good. Don't bite.

• Don't go for free offers that suddenly appear on the Internet. They almost certainly carry spyware.

• Free programs often are offered on the Internet. Some are well worthwhile. But many carry spyware. That's how the authors get paid. Check the terms and conditions before installing programs.

• Do not buy products with which you are unfamiliar. There are many products that claim to protect you from spyware. Some work, some don't. Some will put spyware on your computer. Stick with the programs I recommend. I know they work.

~ ~ ~

80. Changing file associations
Q. I got RealPlayer so I could listen to old radio interviews. Now all of my music opens in RealPlayer. Is there a way to change them back, or do I have to uninstall it?

A. This is a pretty common problem, and not just with music files. Often, when you install a photo-editing program, it takes over the job of opening your images. Luckily, it’s an easy fix so long as you know the steps. And to that end, let me show you the way.

The problem is in Windows file association. File associations tell Windows what program to use when a file needs to be opened. So you need to change the association.

First, open Windows Explorer. Click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>Windows Explorer. Find a music file. Right-click it. Click Open With.

If you don't see the program you want, click Choose Program. This will give you a more extensive list of programs. If your preferred program is still not listed, click Browse. Navigate to the program and file you're seeking. Click Open.

Back at the Open With window, select "Always use the selected program…" Click OK. That will change the association permanently.

RealPlayer probably changed the file association when it was installed. When you install new programs, pay attention to each prompt. As I mentioned, this goes double for music players and image programs. There's usually a checkbox labeled something like "Use this as my default player," or "Always use this program to open images."

Sometimes the checkbox is already marked for you. This used to happen with almost every program. The more these programs pop up to open files, the more useful they seem. The latest versions tend to be better about this. Regardless, be careful with every program that you install.

~  ~  ~

79. The following is an excerpt from the July 2005 issue of Smart Computing's Tech Support Q & A's:
Q. I soon plan to defragment the hard drive of a omputer that I purchased almost a year ago. When I performed defrags on my previous computer, I disabled the screen saver and McAfee Virus Scan. Now I have a Dell Dimension 8300 running Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) and using a cable internet connection. I also have McAfee's VirusScan, Personal Firewall Plus, and Privacy Service. Should I disable all three of these programs during the defrag session? Because I'm always connected to the Internet, if I disable all my protection, won't that leave me vulnerable to virus attacks, etc.? The hard drive is 120GB (though most of it is free space), so the defrag session will probably take a long time.

A. Defragging your hard drive is an important maintenance procedure for your computer. The defrag utility bundled with WinXP, Disk Defragmenter, works best when it has uninterrupted access to your hard drive. This means you should close and/or deactivate all of the programs you normally have running.

Of course, with an always-on Internet connection, you're prudent to be concerned about shutting off your firewall. Our recommendation is to disconnect your computer from your cable modem and then disable the McAfee applications before defragging your drive. When the defragmentation process is complete, restart the McAfee applications and reconnect your computer to the cable modem.

Also, there are several tactics you can use to speed up the defrag process. The first is to do it frequently. We recommend defragging your hard drive at least once a month. This will reduce the amount of time required for each defragmentation cycle, and you should notice a significant increase in Windows' performance speed.

In addition, consider using a third-party defrag utility, such as Diskeeper 9 (www.execsoft.com). Diskeeper 9 has two specific benefits we like. The first one is that you can configure it to defragment your drive continually. This feature works silently in the background, helping to prevent your drive from becoming fragmented in the first place. The second benefit is that Diskeeper 9 has a high-speed defragmentation system that--when we've used it--is roughly three times as fast as Windows' Disk Defragmenter.

Diskeeper 9 has a price tag of $19.95, but there 's also a free trial version you can download from the company's Web site.

~  ~  ~

78. The difference between EIDE and SATA hard drives
Q. What is the difference between EIDE and SATA hard drives? Are they compatible on the same computer? I'm thinking of buying a new machine. Most new computers are using SATA drives. So, can I add my old 250 GB EIDE drives? Or, are they junk?

A. Sometimes, computers are every bit as complicated as they seem. Just when you think you have them figured out, they throw you a curve! That's what has happened here.

For years and years, hard drives were connected to motherboards via IDE (Intelligent (or Integrated) Drive Electronics) ports. Then the E (for Enhanced) was added to the IDE. So far, so good.

Then, a few years ago, SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drives came along. SATA offers the potential for bigger, faster hard drives. They use different ports on the motherboard. As you say, many new computers are sporting SATA drives.

If you're still awake, here's the good news: You probably can mix the two types on a new computer. Most motherboards have ports and controllers for each.

The BIOS probably will want to make the primary SATA drive the master. Windows should already be installed there.

I would simply install the old EIDE hard drives, with ribbon cables. Use jumpers on the backs of the hard drives to designate the primary and secondary drives.

When you boot up, Windows should assign drive letters. But with four hard drives and one or two optical (CD and DVD) drives, it may not give them the letters you prefer.

If so, you can change the letter assignments. To do that, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Administrative Tools. Double-click Computer Management. Click Disk Management.

In the right panel, right-click the drive letter you want to change. Click Change Drive Letter and Paths. Click Change. In the drop down box, select a letter. Click OK>>OK.

~  ~  ~

77.Installing a hard drive
Q. I have an older computer that won't boot up. The local repair shop told me the motherboard is damaged. I would like to get the data off the hard drive. Can I install the hard drive from this machine into the second bay on another computer?

A. Sure you can. And if you're comfortable opening your computer, working on it, and also know how to do it safely, this should be fairly easy.

Since your computer is older, let's assume that both hard drives are IDE drives. Here's a fun fact that you can use to impress your friends: IDE stands for "Integrated (or Intelligent) Drive Electronics." If you've ever been inside a computer, you'd recognize this kind right away. It uses bulky, wide ribbon cables.

Once you open your computer, you should see a ribbon cable running from the hard drive to the motherboard.

Before you open the computers, it's important that you follow safety procedures. Make sure that they're unplugged from the power source. Also, unplug any modems, peripherals, etc.

Some computers are easy to open; others can be quite difficult. There might be a panel you can slide off to get to the guts. Or, you might have to undo some screws on the back. If you cannot figure it out, consult your computer manual.

This is very important. Ground yourself on the computer's frame before touching anything inside. Better still, wear an anti-static strap and attach the clip end of the strap to the computer's frame. They're cheap, and they're available at any computer store. Otherwise, static energy might damage the internal components.

Once you open the old computer, find the hard drive. It is usually mounted in a bay near the front of the computer. Two cords connect to the back of it.

One of the cords has four wires in it and leads to the power supply. The other, a ribbon cable, connects to the motherboard. Remove these.

Then, detach the hard drive. Keep any screws to mount it in the new computer. Some drives may be mounted on drive rails.

Now comes the tricky part. You need to change the jumper settings on the drive. The jumper settings tell the computer the boot order.

A computer's primary drive is usually set to Master. But this hard drive shouldn't be the master on the new machine. So you need to change the setting to CS, cable select or Slave. This lets the device's position on the ribbon cable determine its boot order.

There is usually a diagram on the drive showing the jumper settings. If you can't find the jumper settings, consult the manufacturer's Web site.

The jumper block is on the rear of the drive. You will see a clip (the jumper) bridging two pins. Gently pull the jumper off and move it to the new position.

(The terms Master and Slave are sometimes used, rather than Primary and Secondary. Those terms are especially painful for some of my listeners. So I will not use them again.)

Now you're ready to put the drive in the new computer. Install it in the empty bay and connect the ribbon cable. The plug on the end of the ribbon cable goes to the master; the middle plug goes to the secondary hard drive. Be sure the plugs are connected properly. And don't forget to connect a power cable. The striped edge of the ribbon cable always goes on the side closest to the power cable.

You may also have to change the basic input/output system. To do that, enter Setup when the computer starts. You will often see a message that says something like, "Press Del for Setup." If not, check your computer manual. The BIOS must be set to "auto" or "auto-detect."

When you restart the computer, you'll be able to access the information on the drive.

Leave the drive in, and use it for additional storage.

~  ~  ~

76. Creating an electronic journal
Q. I'm being deployed to Iraq this summer and want to do a journal while I'm away. I have a Dell laptop with Windows XP Home. Could you recommend some good journal software that is easy to use?

A. First, thank you for serving our country. My thoughts and prayers go out to you, your family, and friends. And I have set up a special area on my Web site where my listeners can go to learn how to support the troops. You might want to tap into this page, too. There are sites where you can sign up to get a pen pal, have your parents join a network, and more. It's at:

http://www.komando.com/supporttroops.asp

As for creating a journal, that's a great idea. You have many options to get it done. You can create a customized journal using a program you already have. Or you can use a journal program.

Most computers come bundled with a word-processing program such as Microsoft Word. So you probably have one. And if you do not, there are several free ones including OpenOffice.Org. Learn more about it here on my site:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp#openoffice

A word-processing program will give you complete flexibility. You simply create your entries in a blank document. Then, you can format the text and page however you want. It is also fairly easy to insert pictures.

This method does have its downside. You'll have to spend some time setting Up your journal. This can be a chore. I looked at the free templates offered at Microsoft.com. Unfortunately, I did not see anything that would really work for you.

The second option is to purchase a program designed for creating journals. There are quite a few available on the Web. They vary widely in quality and ease of use.

The one I liked best was CSoftLab's Advanced Diary. It has a clean design that is easy to use. You simply click the date on the calendar and start typing.

It isn't cluttered with options you won't use. And it has the ability to insert pictures. This is a must for journal software. It also lets you navigate easily through your entries. Best of all, it is free! http://www.csoftlab.com/Diary.html

There are other journal programs you might also like. One, Windine's ActiveDiary sells for $25. Alpha Realms' Alpha Journal Pro sells for about $30. The professional version is required if you want to insert pictures. Their Web sites are, respectively:

http://www.windine.com/Software/ActiveDiary/activediary.html
http://www.alpharealms.com/journal/index.htm

You also have a third option. You can create a Weblog, or blog for short. These are online journals that are posted for everyone to see. Some people use blogs as diaries, others use them to comment on current events and still others use them to talk about a specific subject.

There are a number of free services available. Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) allows you to post messages and upload pictures. There's a feature called AudioBlogger that allows you to call from any phone and leave a voice message. This message is immediately posted to your blog as an MP3 file.

Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com) is another free blogging service. It has a host of standard features. There are more options, such as text messaging comments, for a monthly fee.

I suggest you get started right away. This way, you can experiment with the software and online blogging and work out any kinks before you deploy.

~  ~  ~

75. Printing with a wireless network
Q. I need to print from my laptop that I keep in the kitchen. The printer is hooked up to the desktop computer upstairs. Can I do it? I've got a wireless network in the house.

A. Luckily, you've already got everything you need in Windows and your network to pull it altogether. You just need the steps, and that's why I'm here.

To share the printer, start sitting in front of the computer that's connected to the printer. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Printers and Faxes. Right-click your printer's icon and select Properties from the menu. Then select the Sharing tab. Choose "Share this printer." Enter a name for the printer in the "Share name" field. That's the name you'll be using when you use your other computer.

Is the other computer using a different version of Windows? If so, then there's another step. After you've entered a share name, click the "Additional Drivers..." button at the bottom of the window. Then select the Windows version of the other computer. You'll be prompted for the location of the other version's printer driver. If you don't have the right driver, check the driver disc that came with your printer. You could also find a driver on the manufacturer's Web site.

Now you need to let your downstairs computer know that the printer's available. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Printers and Faxes. Click the "Add Printer" icon. That will open the Add Printer Wizard. Click Next.

Select "A network printer, or a printer attached to another computer," because that's what you have running. Click Next. On the Specify a Printer window, enter the name of the shared printer. If you don't know the name, click "Browse for a printer" and Next. On the following window, look for the share name that you created. Enter it, and click Next. Mark it as the default printer and click Next>>Finish.

If you've got a firewall (and you should have) on the printer-connected computer, it might block your printer sharing. I have heard of some such problems. Check your firewall maker's Web site for steps to make an exception for printing.

Getting rid of tiled windows
Although Windows' tiling feature is handy, as described in Tip of the Day No. 74, it makes your windows much smaller. You'll probably want to get back to a full, rather than a tiled, Window. A number of readers said they were stuck with the tiled-size windows.

Fixing that in Firefox is easy. Just maximize each tiled window by clicking the empty box--the middle button--in the upper right. Close each window by clicking the X in the upper right. When you next open Firefox, it should be a full window.

Internet Explorer is more difficult. First, assume you have two tiled windows on your screen. Maximize and close each in turn, as with Firefox above. Then reopen Internet Explorer. The new window should be full.

However, when you click a link, the new window will be the tiled size. Click anywhere on the original window to bring it to the top. Then click the X in the upper right to close it.

Next, put the cursor on the border of the tiled window. The cursor will turn into a double arrow. Drag the border until the window fills the screen. Then click the X in the upper right to shut down the window. That should restore everything to a full window.

Tiling is very helpful when you need to look at two windows simultaneously. However, you may have to fiddle with other programs to make them open to full size.

~  ~  ~

74. Double vision with Internet Explorer
Q. Is there a way to have two Internet Explorer windows open simultaneously? I use two financial sites and would like to be able to see both at the same time.

A. Sure, you can. It's actually pretty simple. And thanks for asking. I am sure that today's tip will help a bunch of people.

It's time to learn a new computer term. The trick of showing multiple windows on your monitor is called tiling. Once you've opened two Web sites using File>>New>>Window, follow the steps below:

1. Minimize both windows by clicking the leftmost button on the top right of the open window. There's a little underline inside it. Or if you prefer, press the Windows key+D to minimize all windows and go to the desktop.

2. Press and hold the Control key (Ctrl).

3. Select the windows you want from the taskbar (usually on the bottom of the screen).

4. Release the Control key.

5. Right-click any of the windows you picked.

6. Select "Tile Horizontally" or "Tile Vertically."

Now your favorite Web sites are side by side. The tiling is done by Windows, not Internet Explorer. That means you can use tiling for any programs you're using. For example, you can use Internet Explorer right beside Word.

You can have a lot more than two windows up. I tried 10 windows with no problem. But any more than two becomes clutter, unless you've got a giant monitor.

If you're just looking to switch between sites quickly, consider tabbed browsing. Tabs let you open links without interruption. They load in the background until you're ready to read them. Then you can switch between tabs easily. Unfortunately, tabs are not yet a part of Internet Explorer. However, they're available with the browser Firefox, which you can download free at: http://www.mozilla.org/

There also are programs that add tabs to Internet Explorer. Some of these include Avant, GreenBrowser and Maxthon. But be cautious. These programs often add other features, which you may not want. You can find these programs at, respectively:

http://www.avantbrowser.com
http://www.morequick.com/indexen.htm
http://www.maxthon.com

And, remember, you can also jump between open windows by pressing Alt+Tab.

~  ~  ~

73. Windows slow? Try these four solutions
Think that you need a new Windows computer because the clunker is too slow? You may not. Windows doesn't do a great job of maintaining itself. Before you dump Old Faithful, try these simple solutions:

1. Straighten up the hard drive. Start by scanning your hard drive for problems. Use ScanDisk in Windows 98 and ME; in Windows XP, the tool is Check Disk. These utilities find stray data--called lost allocation units--that wasn't properly handled, generally in a system crash. They also rope off bad spots on the hard drive.

To find ScanDisk, click Start>>Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>ScanDisk. In Windows XP, click Start>>My Computer. Right-click your hard drive (probably C:) and click Properties. Select the Tools tab. Click Check Now. Regardless of the system, select options to do as thorough a check as possible.

Next, defragment your drive. Windows scatters file fragments all over creation. When you open a file, the hard drive has to work hard to assemble it. Defragmenting the files puts the pieces in adjacent clusters. That makes reassembly easier and faster.

To defragment, click Start>>Programs (or All Programs)>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Defragmenter.

2. Dump the spies. Spyware tracks your surfing and feeds that information to advertising companies on the Internet. In turn, you receive customized ads.

In recent years, spyware has gone from an irritant to a crisis. It can bog down a computer. At its worse, it seizes control. Your choice of search site, or even where you surf, can be severely curtailed.

A number of programs can be downloaded to clean up spyware.
These include Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com),
Spybot-Search & Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org),
Microsoft AntiSpyware (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads),
and Spy Sweeper (http://www.webroot.com).

All but Ad-aware also can be used to block further infections. And they all are free, except for Spy Sweeper, which is $30.

3. Turbocharge your surfing. Are you still using dial-up access? People often use the rationalization that "it's good enough for me." But it is glacial compared to broadband.

Broadband simply means that much more data can be downloaded at once. That translates to a much faster Web experience. People are often amazed at the difference. Try it and you'll never go back.

The primary broadband methods are DSL, over telephone lines, and cable, which moves with television signals. DSL is eight to 30 times faster than dial-up. In some places, cable can be 100 times faster. Either way, this is money well-spent.

4. Replace hardware parts. Undeniably, you can jack up your machine this way. But this can get into serious money.

There is a relatively cheap way to speed things up. If you have, say, 128 megabytes of memory in a Windows 98 or ME machine, you can raise that to 256 MB. Going up to 512 may give you even more of a boost. And memory isn't too expensive.

Beyond that, you're raising economic issues. You could pour money into a new motherboard, chip and video card. You could even upgrade your hard drive. But this will add hundreds of dollars. Why bother?

A new low-end machine can be had, with monitor, for less than $500. It will contain new, reliable parts. And, though it is low end, it will be relatively fast.

So, try cleaning up your old machine. If that doesn't work, think hard about a new computer.

~  ~  ~

72. Laptop operates slowly on battery
Q. My laptop operates normally when using external power. But when I use the battery, the CPU usage is 98 to 100 percent. The computer runs slowly on battery. How can I resolve this?

A. It is surprising how often I get this complaint. The machine always seems to be a notebook. This issue is impossible to diagnose from a distance. But the fact that they are notebooks is a good clue.

One of the big issues with notebooks is power management. There are a number of things built into notebooks to keep them from depleting batteries prematurely. Owners are given options for different power settings, depending on their priorities.

These options are included in Windows. Other options are added by the manufacturer. So when this issue crops up, you should go through them carefully. If this problem suddenly besets you, you may have made a change inadvertently.

To access the power options, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Power Options. Select the Power Schemes tab. Try changing the power scheme by clicking the down arrow.

Also, check the Advanced tab. Your manufacturer may have added something there that is adjustable. If you have a factory default setting, try that.

Assuming Power Options is OK, check your processes in Task Manager. To do that, click Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click Task Manager. Select the Processes tab. Click CPU twice. That will list the processes being used the most. If you don't recognize a process, search for it on the Internet. One good site is:

http://www.liutilities.com/products/wintaskspro/processlibrary/

This should give you a good idea of what is eating up your power.

There is always the possibility that spyware is the problem. Most likely, that would happen all the time, not just on battery power. However, there are some serious spyware problems coming out of Eastern Europe and Russia. Those programmers are very good, so anything is possible.

Finally, you may have a bug in the BIOS (basic input/output system). Ask your manufacturer if a fix is available. Normally you have to download the code and install it in the BIOS. This is called flashing.

Flashing is more dangerous than most computer procedures. If you lose power during this operation, your BIOS could be wrecked. In that case, take it to a computer shop.

~  ~  ~

71. Getting Rid of the Red X's in Outlook Express
Bill, in Port Angeles, WA, said that he gets red X's, instead of pictures, in Outlook Express. He's not the only one. I've covered this a number of times. It continues to be a common issue.

If you can't see pictures, you might be blocking them. To find out, click Tools>>Options. Select the Security tab. Uncheck the box next to "Do not allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially be a virus." This obviously raises the risks of viruses, so be sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date.

Also, clear the box next to "Block images and other external content in HTML e-mail." You should now be able to see pictures sent as part of the e-mail. You'll also see gross pictures in spam. Lucky you!

Additionally, ask the people who are sending you pictures to check their settings. To do that, click Tools>>Options. On the Send tab, HTML Settings should be clicked. Select "Send pictures with messages."

If you receive an e-mail with a link to a picture on the Internet, you won't be able to see it if the link is bad. Or, the server maintaining that Web page could be down. And if the picture is on an advertising site that has been blocked by a custom HOSTS file, you will not see it.

Finally, if you just cannot solve the picture problem, change e-mail programs. There are a number of free ones, including Eudora, Netscape and Thunderbird. You'll find them at, respectively:

http://www.eudora.com/download/
http://channels.netscape.com/ns/browsers/download.jsp
http://www.mozilla.org/

You can get red X's in Web sites, too. If you see white boxes with red X's in them, the HOSTS file is probably blocking ads. Or, you may need a small program to run Java applets. You can get one, called a Java virtual machine, at: http://www.java.com/en/index.jsp.

~  ~  ~

70. Mirroring Your Hard Drive
Q. Is there a simple way to have everything that I do on my computer "mirrored" to a separate, external hard drive? I back up regularly, but I have learned the hard way that redundancy is the best policy.

A. You're right. It's very unpleasant when a hard drive goes south on you.

There is a way to do what you want. You can make an image of your hard drive. Then, if your main drive dies, you simply install the image on a new hard drive and you're back in business.

Two imaging programs are Norton Ghost ($70) and Acronis True Image ($50). You'll find them at, respectively:

http://www.symantec.com/sabu/ghost/ghost_personal/
http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/

If you go this route, continue to do your backups. An image captures a picture of your hard drive. If you make an image monthly, say, you'll need to back up data added after each image.

A second way to go would be with RAID (redundant array of independent disks). There are about a dozen RAID configurations.

Mirroring is RAID1.
This requires two internal hard drives. I have never seen a configuration utilizing an external drive, although you may be able to cobble one together. In RAID1, the secondary hard drive

looks exactly the same as the first. When you save a file to hard drive one, it is also saved to hard drive two.

If hard drive one fails, hard drive two automatically takes over. This is really the ultimate in redundancy. It is obviously more convenient than making an image every month or so.

For best results, your motherboard should be capable of handling RAID. Many motherboards are. Check your computer manual.

Windows 2000 and XP can accommodate RAID1 implemented with software. This is less satisfactory, because it ties up the microprocessor.

As with imaging, you must still do backups. RAID1 discs are always current. If you accidentally delete a file, or if a file becomes corrupt, you can't go back in time to retrieve it.

Your ultimate setup probably would be RAID1 with backups to external media. You could back up to a Zip Drive, for instance, and take your disks off premises. That would protect your most precious data in a burglary or fire. An external hard drive is also doable, though it is less convenient to tote around.

~  ~  ~

69. Recovering a Lost Password
Q. I have a laptop that was given to me by my sister-in-law when my brother passed away. When I try to boot it up, it tells me the hard drive is password protected. How can I break this password?

A. Presumably, the password is in the BIOS (basic input/output system). Here are seven things to try:

1. Call the computer manufacturer. The company may have a master password that will work. You'll need the serial number to prove the machine is not stolen.

2. Try to outguess your brother with generic passwords. Try his wife's name, his children's names, the dog's name. Try his company name and the brand and model of his car. Try anything else he might have used.

Also, try "password."

3. Try the BIOS manufacturer's passwords. You'll find a list at:

http://www.elfqrin.com/docs/biospw.html

4. Use a cracking program. These programs, when successful, will tell you the password. Check these programs for viruses before you use them. You can find free programs at:

http://www.cgsecurity.org/

http://www.11a.nu/

http://natan.zejn.si/rempass.html

5. Reset the BIOS to its defaults. This can be done by removing the CMOS battery when the computer is turned off. This is NOT the main battery that powers the computer. The CMOS battery is about the size of a nickel. It is located on the motherboard.

Most motherboards also will let you reset the BIOS by using jumpers. If you have the manual, it might explain this. The manual also may be online. If nothing else, call the manufacturer and ask for help.

6. Take the computer to a shop and have the BIOS chip replaced.

7. Have the hard drive replaced. This means you will have to replace Windows and the applications that are on the drive.

There is a lesson here for those of you who use passwords. Keep a list, and be sure that someone knows where it is. If you should die or become incapacitated, your family or co-workers will need to access your machine.

~  ~  ~

68. What to do With Your Computer When Evacuating
Q. We live in Florida, and twice had to evacuate because of hurricanes. The first time, we took the whole computer; the second, just the tower. Space was at a premium, of course, so we were wondering if there is an easy way to take just the hard drive. Also, could you mention that many people here are still in need from the storms? Thanks, Kim.

A. That's a difficult situation. A computer takes a lot of space when you're packing your family and life into a car. Hopefully, there won't be a next time. But if there is, here are some ideas.

1. Buy an external hard drive and make an image of your hard drive. Use a program like Norton Ghost. Take the hard drive with you when you evacuate. Then, if your computer is destroyed, buy a computer and hook up the external drive. Restore the image to your new hard drive.

2. Back up all of your data to an online service or to a CD or DVD. You could lose your packaged programs, such as an office suite, in the storm, so you would need to back up all of that, too. Restoring everything to a new computer would be a chore, but it could be done. Personally, I prefer the imaging solution.

3. Remove the hard drive and take it with you. In most cases, drives are held in with a few screws. Disconnect the data cable (in most cases, a ribbon cable) and the power cord. Put the hard drive in an anti-static bag.

When working with the innards of a computer, be sure to ground yourself on the frame. Static electricity could destroy the equipment in the machine.

I'm comfortable digging around in computers. So I'd probably go for No. 3. Nos. 1 and 2 should work, but computers have a way of being cranky. Should your external hard drive fail, for instance, you could be left with no data. So the safest thing is to take the computer with you.

~  ~  ~

67. Setting Up Outlook/Outlook Express and Recovering Lost Data
Q. I bought a computer several months ago and have never been able to send or receive e-mail using Outlook. Can you tell me how to make it work? Also, I hired a technician to transfer my data from an old computer to a new one. He lost my entire My Documents folder. There was three years of information there. Can I get the information back?

A. Boy, you're having one heck of a time with this new machine. Microsoft Outlook is pretty simple to set up. But the information you use must be exact. A misspelling will drive you crazy.
Let's check that first.

Open Outlook and click Tools>>E-mail Accounts. You have already attempted to set this up, so select "View or change existing e-mail accounts." Click Next. Click the appropriate account name, if it is not already highlighted, and click Change.

The stuff on the next window is critical. Check it very carefully. Everything must be spelled EXACTLY. That is especially true for Incoming Mail Server and Outgoing Mail Server. Get those names from your Internet service provider.

Double-check your password with your ISP, too. I know of cases where people have used the wrong password. Often, you must use the password supplied by the ISP, at least until you change it. "Remember password" should be checked.

Next, click More Settings. On the Advanced tab, be sure that the port numbers are correct. The ISP should have that information. While you have the technician on the phone, double check that settings on the other tabs are correct, too.

This information applies generally to other e-mail programs, too. In Outlook Express, click Tools>>Accounts. In Eudora, click Tools>>Options.

The loss of three years of data must have been devastating. If the data were simply deleted, it should be in the Recycle Bin. The technician should have checked that, but look anyway.

When data is deleted, it remains on the hard drive. It is easily recoverable until it is overwritten by other data. If you have not used the computer since the mistake was made, the data is probably still there.

If you feel up to it, you can try recovering it yourself. There are many programs that can be used to recover deleted data. Probably the best known is Norton Utilities ($70). You could also try Recover Lost Data ($40). You can find these programs at, respectively:

http://www.symantec.com/sabu/sysworks/basic/

http://www.stompsoft.com/recoverlostdata.html

If you have since used the computer, the data may still be recoverable.

I would take it to a shop that does a great deal of repair business. The same goes if you don't want to try to recover the data yourself.

Be sure to check out the company first. I do it at the Better Business Bureau web site below: http://search.bbb.org/search.html

~  ~  ~

66. Music Sources on the Internet
Q. We gave our grandchildren MP3 players for Christmas. They're thrilled, but don't know where to get legal music. Can't they buy music on the Internet? Is there legal free music available?

A. There are a number of sites that sell music. You give them a credit card number and download the music. They usually have limits on the number of times you can copy the music to another medium, such as an MP3 player. But the limits have gradually gotten less onerous.

The most popular site is Apple's iTunes. It's got loads of tunes and the download process works well. But the music is in a format that will only allow it to be played on a computer or on an Apple iPod. However, it can be burned to an unlimited number of compact discs. Apple's music is 99 cents per song. The iTunes site is at:

http://www.apple.com/itunes/

Restrictions on how music can be played are common. Real also has a proprietary format. Its format will work on many, but not all, players.

Included is Apple's iPod. Apple had a fit when Real announced its files would play on the iPod. It subsequently made its new iPod Photo incompatible with Real. Brother!

Real's music is 99 cents per track. It also offers albums. And Real has deals on certain songs for 49 cents per track. The company has posted a list of players with which its files are compatible. You'll find it at:

http://snipurl.com/bjk5

America Online offers a service called MusicNet for $8.95 per month. The company says more than 700,000 songs are available. AOL charges an extra 99 cents per song if subscribers want to keep them. To access all this, click the Music icon on AOL's toolbar.

MusicNet is also offered by several other Web sites. You can get more information at:

http://www.musicnet.com/

Numerous other music stores exist, including Wal-Mart, Napster and MSN. Here are their Web sites:

http://www.walmart.com/music_downloads/introToServices.do

http://www.napster.com/

http://music.msn.com/

Free music also is available, both legally and illegally. There are numerous free sites, including c|net, ARTISTdirect and Amazon.com.

Those sites are, respectively:

http://music.download.com/

http://www.artistdirect.com/

http://snipurl.com/freemusicdload

Music is still exchanged illegally. However, the recording industry is very aggressive about suing the people who make music available online.

Tell your grandchildren to stay away from that.

~  ~  ~

65. Downloading Digital Camera Pictures
Q. I received a digital camera for Christmas. I've taken some pictures, but I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know how to get them off the camera. The instructions are so poorly written that I can't understand them. Do I take it to the drugstore?

A. Don't be embarrassed. I just received a new digital camera that works great once you figure out the right way the battery goes in. And it doesn't mention this in the manual's three pages of English instruction either.

There are several ways to download the pictures. And, in fact, many drugstores will take the pictures off the camera (download them) and make prints for you. But you'll probably want to download them yourself and store them on your home computer. So, let's discuss how that is done.

1. Cameras come with software. If you install that, it will guide you through the downloading of the images. This software probably also includes rudimentary editing features. That should help you get rid of red-eye and other common problems.

2. You don't have to use the downloading software. Open Windows Explorer. Typically, cameras connect to the computer's universal serial bus (USB) port using a cable. The camera should show up in Windows Explorer as another drive--probably D: or E:, depending on
how many hard drives you have. The pictures will be in the right pane. I would create folders with specific dates or events under My Pictures (C:\My Documents\My Pictures). Store your pictures there.

3. Use a card reader. This has the benefit of not depleting your camera's battery. If you buy a card reader, be sure it can handle your type of memory card. Most can read several types. Card readers don't usually have software. To use one, open Windows Explorer. The card reader should show up as a new drive. Click it, and the pictures will be displayed as files in the right pane. Again, copy them to a new home.

4. Hook the camera directly to a printer. You can make prints without using the computer. A liquid crystal display on the printer shows the pictures. You can also view them on the camera's LCD screen. Paper and ink are expensive, so only print the ones you really want. If you want to keep the original files, you still must download them to a computer or other storage device. See above.

5. Most drugstores will remove the card from the camera and make a contact sheet for you. You pick which pictures you want. The drugstore also can produce a CD with your files. Many also have kiosks where you can make your own prints. They can show you how to use the kiosks.

While we're on the subject, here are a couple more digital camera tips. There'll be a registration form included with the camera. The camera maker may imply that you must submit the form, including a survey, for your warranty. Most states do not permit such a requirement. All you need is your receipt.

But it's not a bad idea to register. The company may well upgrade its software or even recall the camera. It will need contact information to notify you.

Also, keep a record of the model and serial number. You could need them for an insurance claim. I keep those numbers in my safe deposit box, along with my list of household possessions. If a burglar visits, I'm ready!

You don't have to make prints of your pictures. You can upload the pictures to a photo-sharing site. All of these sites work pretty much the same. You sign up for a free account and create a photo album. You then upload your pictures from your computer. From the photo-sharing Web site, you send invitations to others to view the pictures or order the prints that you want. Here are some to check out:

Ofoto -- http://www.ofoto.com

Shutterfly -- http://www.shutterfly.com

Yahoo! Photos -- http://photos.yahoo.com

And at Walmart.com, you can upload your photos and pick up prints at your local Wal-Mart in about an hour.

~  ~  ~

64. One-button Shutdown
Q. I am legally blind. It would be helpful if I could shut the computer down using one key. I'd prefer to use the Windows key. Is this possible?

A. The two Windows keys are on the bottom row of the keyboard. They can be used a number of ways, but they are not programmed to shut down the computer. (Windows + u starts the shutdown procedure.)

You can develop a macro for a shutdown. (A macro is a series of actions combined into a few keystrokes.) But you have to save any open documents, which stops the shutdown.

However, Windows includes the perfect solution for your problem. It's called Hibernation. After setting it up, you push the power button to turn off the machine. Windows copies everything in memory and saves it to the hard drive. Then it shuts the machine down. Voila! The one-button solution!

Hibernation is included in most Windows machines. And you can even set it to turn the machine off automatically. Pushing the power button is optional. Either way, when you restart your computer, Hibernation restores your screen just the way it was.

To set up the automatic shutdown in Windows XP, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Power Options. On the Power Schemes tab, at the bottom, find System Hibernates. Click the arrow and pick a time. After that time, the system will shut down. Finish by clicking Apply>>OK.

If System Hibernates is not present, select the Hibernate tab. Click Enable Hibernation. Click Apply>>OK. Then follow the directions above.

If you want to use the power button, select the Advanced tab. Find "When I press the power button on my computer:" In the drop down box, select Hibernate. Click Apply>>OK.

Now, when you press the power button, the computer will go into hibernation. You may have to hold the button for several seconds.

This process works similarly in Windows 2000, ME and 98. If you do not have a Hibernate tab, the manufacturer did not set up the computer for that feature. Try calling the manufacturer for help.

~  ~  ~

63. Tip: Download All of Google's Tools At Once
Google has some nice tools for your computer. Its toolbar can help fill in Web forms, for instance, and aid in your searches. Google has another tool that will search your computer.

In addition, its Picasa software will help you organize your photos. The Gmail application can let you know when e-mail arrives. And the Deskbar enables searches from all applications.

It's a lot to get your arms around. But Google now has a site where you can download all five with one click. I don't use all of these tools, but the ones I do use are well done. You'll probably like them, too.

You can get them at: http://www.google.com/downloads/

~  ~  ~

62. Tip: More about Moving Files to a New Computer (See also 61, below.)
The excitement of getting a new Windows XP computer quickly fades once you realize the sheer volume of important files saved on your old computer. Fortunately, there are several ways to transfer data, programs and settings. But give yourself plenty of time. No method is hassle-free.

Start the process seated in front of your old computer. Remove programs you've collected over the years that you never use. The same goes for junk files. For this task, use Windows Disk Cleanup. Click Start, Programs, Accessories and then, Disk Cleanup. You don't want to fill your new computer with trash.

Do a thorough scan of your old computer's hard drive for viruses, Trojans and adware. Defrag your old hard drive, too. When you're done, disconnect from the Internet and disable any programs running in the background. This may include instant messaging and security programs, such as your anti-virus software and firewall.

By far, the easiest way to transfer information from an old computer to a new one is by using your existing home network. You put both computers on the network, share each of the computer's hard drives and copy files to and fro. Better yet, use the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard found in Windows XP.

It transfers data and Windows settings, such as wallpaper, colors, sounds, mail and contacts for Outlook and Outlook Express, Internet bookmarks and security settings. It does not transfer programs, though.

At your new computer, click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools and then, Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. You'll be prompted to either create a Wizard Disk on a floppy or to use the Wizard found on your Windows XP CD. Follow the prompts and take the floppy or Windows XP CD to the old computer.

The easy-to-follow wizard walks you through the entire process. You can transfer settings, data and folders, or a select few. You'll have to re-install the programs onto your new computer, using the program's installation discs.

If you don't have a home network, you can still connect the two computers. Ethernet crossover cables and Universal Serial Bus cables are fast methods. You could also use a parallel or serial
cable, but data transfer would be much slower.

In most cases, you'll need a third-party program to go along with the cables. The best known program for migrating data is Alohabob PC Relocator Ultra Control (http://www.eisenworld.com; $69.95). It includes a USB cable to connect the two computers together. Alohabob transfers programs, in addition to data, files and Windows settings.

Move Me (http://www.spearit.com; $39.95) also handles a full move. IntelliMover (http://www.detto.com/intellimover; $49.95) and Desktop DNA Professional (http://ca.miramar.com; $39) move data and settings but will not transfer programs. Intellimover includes cables.

Transferring programs is problematic. Programs install small parts of themselves throughout the Windows operating system. If one file is not copied, the program may run improperly or not at all. That's why it's best to re-install programs on the new system, rather than copy them over.

If all of this sounds daunting, take it to a shop. The store where the computer was bought might cut you a deal. Expect to pay less than $100. Some technicians will come to your home and transfer everything. But that will be more expensive.

After you've transferred everything, keep your old computer around for a month or so. You'll probably forget something, so you'll want easy access.

You might be wondering why I did not mention using removable media, such as an external hard drive, CD or Zip. It's the most cumbersome way to get the job done, aside from using floppy disks, of course.

~  ~  ~

61. Moving Your Data to a New Computer (See also 62, above.)
Q. My new computer is all set up, security-wise. How do I get my data from the old machine to the new one?

A. This is a question that has bedeviled computer users since the arrival of desktops. This transfer is easier today, but it still is not the snap it should be.

There are a number of programs made for this purpose. The best known is AlohaBob PC Relocator ($30). AlohaBob picks up your data, settings and individual programs and moves them to the new computer. A $70 version gives you more control over what is moved.

Other programs in this class include Move Me ($35), Desktop DNA Professional, ($39), and IntelliMover ($50). Following are the links to all four, respectively:

http://www.eisenworld.com/ProductsHome.asp?Item=2

http://www.spearit.com/

http://www.miramar.com

http://www.detto.com

Windows XP also has a transfer utility. It won't move programs, but it will handle your data and system settings.

The utility is called the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. To find it, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools. If you use this wizard, and you're not on a network, you can use a null modem serial cable. You should be able to find that at an electronics store for less than $15.

I have used relocation programs successfully in the past. But members of my staff have had bad experiences with them. They generally ended up transferring their data via a CD or DVD.

Most people keep their personal files under My Documents. In that case, you can just burn the whole My Documents folder to a disc.

You may have other things, such as saved e-mail, that is not kept in the My Documents folder. In some programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, you can easily export your archived mail, contacts and other folders to a file. You can then burn the file to a CD or DVD and move it to the new computer. You also could e-mail it to yourself if it isn't too big. To export files, click File>>Import and Export. Follow the wizard.

Outlook Express is more difficult. You can export the Address Book (File>>Export>>Address Book). You also can export your accumulated messages, but only to Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Exchange. That's not much help if you don't have those programs.

However, you can copy the mail folders. To find them, open Outlook Express. Click Tools>>Options. Select the Maintenance tab. Click Store Folder. A small box will pop up with the path to your mail folders. Highlight the path and click Ctrl+C to copy it. In Windows Explorer, use Ctrl+V to paste it into the Address Bar. That will open the folder, which will have several files in it, ending in "dbx."

Copy the files. Burn them to a disc or e-mail them to yourself. Use the same process to find the proper folder on the new computer. Paste the files into that folder.

Your Favorites can also be exported from Internet Explorer. Click File>>Import and Export. Follow the wizard.

You can use the same process to save your cookies. If you fail to do that, you'll have to re-enter your passwords on those Web sites that require it. Also, merchants won't be able to fill in credit card fields for you automatically. That's not the end of the world; moving the cookies is a minor convenience.

Bookmarks also can be moved in Firefox. Click Bookmarks>> Manage Bookmarks. In the new window, click File>>Export. Save the file and burn it to a disc. If you still have Internet Explorer on your computer, use it to export cookies to a file. If not, copy the cookies and paste them into the new computer. Find the cookies at these locations in Windows Explorer:

Windows 98 and ME--C:\Windows\Cookies

Windows 2000 and XP--C:\Documents and Settings\[your name]\Cookies

Have patience with this task. It will take some time!

~  ~  ~

60. Setting Up that New Computer
Q. Since many people will be getting new computers for Christmas, can you tell us how to set them up?

A. That's a great question. This is often an overlooked issue, until we sit down and actually try to use the computer. I want to get this information out now. This way, you can print it out and have it handy in case Santa leaves you or someone you know a new PC.

Setting up your computer actually involves two things: securing it from attacks, and transferring your information from the old computer.

Today, I'm going to address security, since that is the more pressing issue. I'll deal with transferring your data tomorrow.

The Windows systems distributed with new computers this Christmas should include Service Pack 2. So they will be relatively well-protected out of the box.

However, I would assume the worst and attack potential security problems head-on. Here are the steps I would follow:

--Before going online, activate the Windows XP firewall. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Windows Firewall. On the General tab, select On. Click OK. If you get a blue window in Control Panel that says "Pick a Category," click Switch to Classic View on the left side. Follow the above instructions.

With the firewall set up, you'll be protected from any immediate threats. Viruses cannot attack you unless you open spam and let an attacker in. Use your common sense.

--If anti-virus software came with the computer, use it. Most come with a free trial period. Open the program so that it is running in the background. While you will not be able to update it until you sign on to the Internet, it's better than nothing.

--Double-check your file sharing. This can be a weakness. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Network Setup Wizard. If that is not in Control Panel, click Start>>Help and Support. Put "Network Setup Wizard" in the box and press Enter. Click Network Setup Wizard in the left panel.

When the wizard opens, follow its steps. File sharing appears several pages into the wizard. It is normally disabled by default. If it is enabled, disable it.

--Set up your Internet service. Call your Internet service provider for instructions. Have the ISP walk you through any settings.

--Go on the Internet and open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Windows Update. Let Microsoft scan your computer. Install High Priority Updates. Follow Microsoft's instructions exactly, including reboots of the computer when necessary.

--Download a new firewall. A firewall should do two things: hide your computer from intruders' probes and keep malicious programs on your computer from contacting the Internet. I do not recommend the Windows XP firewall because it does not do the latter.

There are free firewalls that do both jobs well. I have links to ZoneAlarm and Outpost on my site. I use and recommend ZoneAlarm.

You can download either at: http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

Once ZoneAlarm or Outpost is installed and running, disable the Windows XP firewall. Two firewalls can conflict with one another.

Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Windows Firewall. Select Off>>OK. Ignore any warnings.

--If anti-virus software came with the computer, these are generally pay programs with a 90-day tryout period. If you plan to continue to use this anti-virus program, YOU MUST BUY A SUBSCRIPTION. This is critical. An out-of-date anti-virus program will not protect you. Set up the program for automatic updates.

If you want a free anti-virus program, go to my site and download either AVG or Avast! anti-virus software. You'll find them at:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

Once downloaded, update the program on the manufacturer's site. Set up the program for automatic updates.

Afterwards, delete the tryout program. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Add or Remove Programs. Find the anti-virus program in the list and click Remove or Change/Remove.

--Download an anti-spyware program. The programs that I recommend--Spysweeper, Ad-aware and Spybot-Search & Destroy--are available on my site at:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

The anti-spyware program should be run weekly. Always update it first, including the first time you run it. Like viruses, spyware is an ever-evolving pest. You must keep the anti-spyware program's database updated, so it can find the latest threats.

--Change to the Firefox browser. This is optional. I recommend Firefox because it is more secure than Internet Explorer. If you know how to use Internet Explorer, you'll have no trouble learning Firefox. You can download it at: http://www.mozilla.org/

Remember: Tomorrow, we'll discuss how to move your data to a new computer.

~  ~  ~

59. Buy or Build That New Computer
Q. I want to buy my son a computer for Christmas. The store ads are very confusing. Can you tell me what to look for?

A. I know a lot of people have this question. So let's run through the minimums you need, and the maximums.

Microprocessor--In Windows machines, go for either Intel or AMD. Pentium 4s and Athlons are faster and more expensive. Most people would be fine with a Pentium running at 3.0 GHz, or an Athlon 3000+. In the economy range, look for an Intel Celeron or AMD Sempron. There is no choice of microprocessors in Apple machines.

Memory--Your son will need a minimum of 256 megabytes of random access memory. If you can afford it, up that to 512 MB of RAM. Doing lots of video editing? Insist on 1 gigabyte of RAM.

Video--If your son runs office applications and surfs the Web, video built into the motherboard is fine. If he does a lot of photo or video editing, get a video card with 128 MB of RAM. If he plays lots of games, look at a video card with 256 MB of RAM.

Hard drive--In most cases, a 60 GB hard drive will be more than enough. If your son does a lot of video work, get the biggest hard drive you can find.

Optical drive--At a minimum, he will need a CD-RW (also known as a burner). A DVD burner is even better. They can make DVDs and CDs.

Monitor--Very large monitors are inexpensive. Hulking CRTs work best with games and usually display more accurate colors. Sleek flat-panels are more expensive. Better flat-panels are usually OK with games.

Sound system--Most computers come with speakers and the audio built into the motherboard. That is sufficient for most people. If your son is an audiophile, he may want a sound card and custom speakers.

Operating system--You won't have a choice. With Windows machines, you get Windows XP. Apple comes with OS X. Both are excellent.

Windows or Apple?--Both are excellent. Windows machines are cheaper, but suffer from security threats. He'll have to stay on top of emerging threats. Criminals and hackers ignore Apple, mostly because of its small market share. However, Apple machines are more costly.

~  ~  ~

58. Function Keys
Some programs still use function keys. Often, for instance, F1 brings up Help. In your computer's Setup section, function keys are used because the mouse does not work there. In Microsoft Word, you can use all of the function keys for common commands. Here they are:

F1 - Get Help or the Office Assistant
F2 - Move text or graphics
F3 - Insert an AutoText entry (after Microsoft Word displays the entry)
F4 - Repeat the last action
F5 - Choose the Go To command (Edit menu)
F6 - Go to the next pane or frame
F7 - Choose the Spelling command (Tools menu)
F8 - Extend a selection
F9 - Update selected fields
F10 - Activate the menu bar
F11 - Go to the next field
F12 - Choose the Save As command (File menu)

Function keys are also valuable in many games. You use them to load guns, blast aliens and cast spells, among other things.

~  ~  ~

57. Regaining New Windows PC Performance
Q. Even the fastest computers get bogged down over time. Unnecessary files, never-used programs and programs running in the background consume valuable resources. But it takes just five easy steps to reclaim your once zippy Windows machine.

1. Lighten the load. No matter how big your hard drive, it will slow down once it reaches 90 percent capacity. Free up valuable space by removing unused programs. Click Start>>Control Panel (in Windows 98/ME, Start>>Settings>>Control Panel). Double-click Add or Remove Programs. If you have Windows XP, you'll see the size of the program, how often it's used and the date it was last used. It's helpful but shouldn't be used exclusively as a determining factor.

Click the program you want to remove and then click Change/Remove (In Windows 98/ME, Add/Remove). When uninstalling programs, you may encounter a message asking if you
want to remove a shared component. Select "no to all." These files are small and may be necessary for other programs to operate properly.

2. Clean it up. Disk Cleanup will delete downloaded program files, temporary Internet files, items in your Recycle Bin and temporary files. Windows XP's version of Disk Cleanup also deletes offline Web pages and compresses rarely used files.

Click Start>>(All) Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Cleanup. Select the drive you want to clean (probably C:) and click OK. Place a check mark next to the items you want deleted and click OK.

You can also remove Windows components that you don't use. Start Disk Cleanup and click the More Options tab. Click "Clean up" under Windows components. You can remove games, accessories and other non-essential Windows components.

The More Options tab allows Windows XP users to clear old restore points. These hog space over time. Just click the "Clean up" button under System Restore and then Yes.

3. Reduce the start-up. Instant messaging programs, media players and other programs weasel their way into automatically starting with Windows. They just slow down your boot time and guzzle system resources.

You can stop these programs by clicking Start>>Run. Type "msconfig" without the quotes and click OK. Click the Startup tab. You'll see a number of programs listed. Some names are easy to figure out. But the majority are difficult to decipher. You can find a list of entries and explanations here:

http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php

Clear the boxes for the programs you don't need. Click Apply>>OK. You'll be prompted to restart your computer.

After restarting you'll receive a message stating that the System Configuration Utility is in Diagnostic or Selective Startup mode. Just check the box next to "don't show this message again" and click OK.

4. Consolidate. It's easy to have multiple copies of digital picture files, especially if you find yourself using them for different projects. A good photo organizer will help consolidate all of your pictures and remove duplicates.

There are a number of good organizers under $50 from Adobe, Nero and Ulead. There's also a program called Picasa, (http://www.picasa.com/picasa). It has fewer extras than the others, but it's free.

5. Search. Find and remove inordinately large files through Windows' search function. Click Start>>Search>>All files and folders. Then click on the arrow next to "What size is it?" Click Large>>Search.

You'll probably find forgotten video or music files. You also might find data files from games you no longer play. If you're unsure of the nature of a file, conduct an Internet search using the file name.

Computer housekeeping is really a snap. A little diligence will keep your computer clutter-free and speedy.

~  ~  ~

56. Installing XP over ME or 98 vs Clean install of XP
Q. My computer (1.2 gigabyte Celeron) has been running Windows 98SE with a CD burner. Everything worked fine. Three months ago, I upgraded to XP Pro and the CD burner quit burning or formatting CDs. I've tried drivers, different CD-RWs, and I just got a new DVD burner. They all read, but they will not write! I got a new hard drive and installed XP Pro (using the DVD-RW). I also installed Roxio software. None of my three CD drives will burn a CD. HELP!!!

A. Well, let's start with the obvious--this apparently has something to do with the installation of XP. I know, I hear you, "Good job, Sherlock." Here's why.

Windows XP upgrades simply do not work very well. Since you installed a new hard drive, I assume you did a clean installation of XP. (You did, didn't you?) If, instead, you first installed Windows 98 on the new hard drive, then the Windows XP upgrade, that could be the problem. If so, I would format the hard drive and install a full version of XP.

How big is your new hard drive, and how much free space do you have? You need at least a gigabyte of free space to burn discs. Even if you have a large drive, your old BIOS may recognize only a portion of it.

To check your hard drive's free space, click Start>>My Computer. Right-click the C: drive and select Properties. The General tab will show you the free space. If the BIOS is not recognizing most of the drive, you can install software to rectify that. Check for information on the Website of the hard drive manufacturer.

How much memory do you have? Microsoft requires a minimum of 64 megabytes of memory to run Windows XP. That just is not enough. Neither is 128 MB. You need at least 256 MB. At 128 MB, you can load Windows XP. But you may not be able to load Roxio.

Windows XP includes a CD burning program. Try using it instead of the Roxio program. To do that, go to Windows Explorer. Select the files you want to burn. Right click them and select Send To>>CD-RW Drive. Place a blank disc in the drive. Right-click the CD-RW or DVD-RW and select Write These Files to CD. Enter a name for the disc and click Next. Windows should burn the disc.

If you are burning music files, use Windows Media Player 10. If you don't have that program, download it free at:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/mp10/default.aspx

You'll find burning instructions at: http://snipurl.com/b21q

Here are some other suggestions from Plextor, which makes burners: Be sure you're using name-brand media. This is a long shot, but third-rate discs could cause you problems.

Use Diagnostic Startup. Click Start>>Run. Enter msconfig in the box and click OK. Select Diagnostic Startup. Click Apply>>Close. Reboot. When the computer comes up, click OK on the warning message. This will free up memory by keeping other programs from starting automatically. When you finish burning, or attempting to burn, go back to MSConfig and change to Normal Startup.

Be sure you're running in ultra DMA (direct memory access). To check, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click System. Select Hardware>>Device Manager. Click the plus sign next to IDE ATA/ATAPI. Double-click the channel used by your CD and DVD drives (probably Secondary IDE Channel). Click the Advanced Settings tab. The window will show a Device 0 and Device 1 (computers count from 0).
Each Transfer Mode box should be set to "DMA if available." If you make changes, click OK.

Your hard drive, which probably runs on the Primary IDE Channel, should also be set to "DMA if available."

Unfortunately, this burning problem is the type of issue you may encounter if you upgrade an old machine to Windows XP. If you're using a computer with Windows 98 or ME, I recommend that you stick with your operating system as long as it works acceptably.

When you reach the point where you need something better, replace the computer. It may be cheaper than upgrading, and you'll certainly save yourself a lot of aggravation. I expounded on this idea in this Tip:

http://www.komando.com/tips_show.asp?showID=7841

If you continue to use Windows 98 and ME, security will be an issue. Microsoft says, essentially, that if you want to be secure, switch to Windows XP. That's unacceptable. I discussed ways to keep older Windows versions secure in this Tip:

http://www.komando.com/tips_show.asp?showID=8182

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55. When You Can't Get Into Windows
When Windows fails to boot it is normally caused by a user installing a program or device and it has caused a conflict with one or more other programs. This will no doubt give you plenty of heartache if you're not certain which program caused Windows to not boot up.

If you recently installed a program or application and know where it was installed,you may be in much better shape as for as correcting the error. Here are common ways to correct the problem your computer not completely booting up or not booting up at all.

If your computer will not boot-up at all,hopefully you have made a good emergency boot disk. You can always make a windows startup disk by creating one from another computer running Windows 98 or Me.Perform the following if your computer won't Boot-Up At All.

FIRST......Put your boot floppy disk in the floppy drive and turn on the PC. On some computers, you may have to access the bios and select the Boot priority to your A: drive. Save any changes and select "Start Computer without CDROM support" and press Enter.Once you are at the A prompt, type dir c: and press enter.

If your programs and other files are present, try restoring your system Registry by following the steps below. This may repair Windows, the Config.Sys and autoexec.bat files to where the PC may boot up normally. When the files are present, its a good indication of a good hard drive.

SECOND......To correct the problem of your computer not booting up,type in "fdisk /mbr" and press Enter to restore your master boot record.Type "Scandisk C:" to check the hard drive for errors that have occurred. You can also type "Sys C:" to hopefully restore files needed to boot up your computer.

THIRD......If the above procedures fail to repair your computer,you can repeat the first part of step one above and select "Start Computer With CDROM Support" re-install Windows.

Making A Windows XP Bootable Floppy Windows XP users should create a boot disk now by placing a formatted blank diskette in the A: drive, open Windows Explorer to the C:,select Tools,Folder Options, show Hidden files and folders,then View Tab. Now you uncheck "Hide Protected Operating System Files (recommended). You will see a warning and click

Yes and click OK.Copy the files ntldr,ntdetect.com and boot.ini onto the disk.Remove the disk and label it the Windows XP Boot Disk.

After making your boot disk,recheck "Hide protected operating system files and folders (recommended)" in the Folder Options dialog box. To use the disk when Windows XP won't boot,place the disk in the drive,and unto re-booting,the computer, Windows simply bypass the basic boot files on the hard drive and continue to boot up.

If The PC Won't Boot Past Windows

FIRST......If your Operating System is Windows Millennium, turn on the computer and immediately press and hold down the CTRL key.Once the startup options appear,release the CTRL key. Select Safe Mode and press Enter.You are now in Windows limited version. If you know what caused your computer not to boot,you can now either change or delete that program.

SECOND....Repair your Registry by selecting Start, Run and typing "scanregw/fix" and press enter.This will fix any damage done to the Registry. You can also restore your registry which replacesyour current registry with an earlier copy that was backed up by your computer. Click on Start, Runand type "scanregw /restore and press Enter.

To repair your Windows 98 Registry,hold down the CTRL key as you start the PC and select "Command Prompt Only." Type "scanreg /fix" and press Enter and "scanreg/restore" to restore a previousely saved copy of the Registry.

If you have Windows XP,press F8 after rebooting the PC should Windows freeze while booting up. You can select "Last Known Good Configuration" after rebooting to allow the computer to boot the last backed up files. And you can choose "SafrMode" to remove any files you know caused the operating system to hang up.

Be prepared when your operating fails to boot. It would be a great idea to go over this article a few times and print it.Make yourself s notebook and place this and all related articles there.

If your computer fails to boot or begins to become unstable,you can refer to these articles to make corrections that are needed. Learn these steps from your television set with the PC Super Pack.

Be sure to note any changes you make to your Registry and if you're not sure, its best to find a friend that's pc savvy first. Above all, be certain you back up your registry before making any changes and know how to restore as well.

Otis F. Cooper is solely dedicated to boosting the knowledge and confidence of every computer user that is serious about knowing computers. Use his informative articles and videos to understand every aspect about the PC. Read more about his formula for pc training at http://www.ultimatepcrepair.com

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54. Upgrading to XP--Don't
Q. Please help! My hard drive crashed, so I removed my data, formatted the hard drive and reinstalled Windows XP. However, it installed to the D: (not C:) drive. I ran a diagnostic, which found no problems with the hard drive. I went through the process again, and again it went to the D drive. How do I get this straightened out? Please, please help!
--Paula in Effingham, NH, listening on WGAM 560 AM

Q. I recently upgraded from Windows ME to XP Professional. There was no problem installing it, but it installed on the D: drive! Why? And how do I get this program to install on the C: drive? Do I need to format the C: drive? How?
-- Gerry in Pinehurst, NC, listening on WFNC 640 AM/102.3 FM

A. Wow! I had never heard of this problem, and then I get two e-mails in one week. It is hard to address this from a distance, and with so little information. But I'll try Paula first.

Is your hard drive partitioned into C: and D: drives? If not, is Windows inventing a D: drive? If that is the case, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Administrative Tools. Double-click Computer Management. Do you show a D: drive only? If so, you may be able to change the drive letter. Right-click D: and select Change Drive Letter and Paths. Change the drive letter to C:.

If your hard drive is partitioned, it is possible that your C: drive has a problem that did not show up in the diagnostic. If it does, that may be related to the crash. I'm not sure why Windows XP would jump to the D: partition. You could have directed it to D: if it would not
install on C: and not have realized it. Windows messages can be obtuse.

Since you backed up your data, I would replace the drive. Hard drives are big and cheap today. Why continue to struggle with this problem?

If the above ideas don't solve the problem, take it to a computer shop. I don't have a good explanation for Gerry, either. Again, I would guess that you answered the wrong way on a question. Since XP installed to the wrong partition, I assume you still have Windows ME running.

This might have been a lucky break for you. In my experience, XP upgrades don't work well. You might be happier sticking with ME. If you really want XP, remove your personal data and format the hard drive.

You can get a boot disk at Bootdisk.com for Windows ME. Insert it in the floppy drive. When the computer boots from it, type format c: at the prompt.

If the computer does not start from the boot disk, you'll have to change the startup order in Setup. That is accessed when the computer is starting, usually by depressing Del or Esc. Your computer manual should explain that.

If you are inexperienced with computers, I recommend you forget this and stick with Windows ME. Old computers often are not worth updating. See my Web site Tip about upgrading at:
http://www.komando.com/tips_show.asp?showID=7841

I want to say a word about partitioning. I don't recommend it. Given the size of today's hard drives, I see no point in it. Keep all of your personal files under My Documents in Windows Explorer. That will separate them from your system and application files.

Partitioning introduces more complexity into an already complex system. Both of your problems could be related to partitions. Having said that, I acknowledge that I have four partitions on one of my boxes. But I need to run four operating systems. Very few people have to do that!

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53. Old Computer - Checks and Fixes
Q. Our three-year-old Windows ME computer crashed, and we reloaded everything as suggested by Dell. Now our Internet service has slowed to a crawl. A Comcast technician checked our signal, including the modem. He suggested the hard drive may be damaged. I know computers are relatively inexpensive, but my Queen doesn't think we should buy
a new machine. (She wears one of my pant legs!) What do you suggest?

A. You're funny! It reminds me of what Adam said to Eve: "Hey! I wear the plants in this family!"

Now, about that computer... Is your computer slow all the time? Or is it just when you're on the Internet?

Because this problem occurred after the crash, it could be related to the crash. Or you may have failed to make a proper setting when you reinstalled Windows.

If the computer runs slowly all the time, you may have a hard drive problem. Before you do anything else, run ScanDisk. Click Start>>Programs>>Accessories>>SystemTools>>
ScanDisk. Set ScanDisk on Thorough. Select Automatically Fix Errors. Click Options. Make sure System and Data Areas is selected.

If ScanDisk finds errors and repairs them, you may find the computer runs better. However, if it finds significant flaws on the hard drive, you probably should replace it. Bummer, I know.

Next, run Disk Defragmenter. This moves file fragments into contiguous areas, so Windows can reconstruct them more quickly. This can make the computer run faster.

You can also find free utilities on the Internet to test hard drives. For instance, Hitachi's Drive Fitness Test can be downloaded to a floppy. See what these tests say about your drive. The Hitachi download is located at: http://www.hitachigst.com/hdd/support/download.htm

Boy, this is getting to be a really long answer...You also may have a slow setting. Windows hard drives typically runin DMA (direct memory access) mode. However, if your system cannot handle DMA, it may be reverting to PIO (programmed input/output) mode. PIO is significantly slower, because data is routed through the microprocessor.

Click Start>>Settings>>Control Panel. Double-click System. Select the Device Manager tab. Double-click Disk Drives. Double-click the hard drive (mine is marked GENERIC IDE DISK TYPE01). Select the Settings tab. If DMA is not checked, click it.

Reboot the computer. Is DMA still checked? If so, is the computer faster? If not, you may have some other problem.

If DMA is no longer checked, you may have a problem with your BIOS (Setup). That is accessed when you boot the computer, usually by pressing Del or Escape. Your computer manual should tell you how to access Setup.

Once you're into Setup, try to find a DMA or Ultra DMA (UDMA) setting. If one is present, be sure it is enabled.

Is the slowdown only present when you're on the Internet? In that case, I would suspect a network problem. If Comcast said the modem is OK, the problem could be in your computer's network interface card (NIC). Or, your computer may have the network interface built into
the motherboard.

If you have a card, you can replace it for about $15. If the network interface is on the motherboard, you may need to disable it. Your computer manual should tell you how to do that. Then install a NIC. Either way, you're going to have to open the computer. Your manual can give you tips on that.

If none of this works, and the computer is slow all the time, you could have other problems. Check any information from error messages on Microsoft's site.

At three years of age, your computer is edging towards obsolescence. You could have an anomaly in the motherboard or elsewhere that is causing this problem. A computer shop might be able to track it down, but that would be expensive. Tell your Queen that I said it may be time for a new machine.

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52. WIN 98 Defrag not completing
Q. I am a long haul trucker. I have a laptop with windows 98 SE. When I attempt to defrag, it stops around 24 percent. ScanDisk took close to 10 hours last week to complete and said there were no problems. My programs are getting slower and slower. Microsoft sent me a few suggestions to try but they didn't work. I'm about ready to throw the whole shebang out the window @ 70 mph. Diesel Daisy, Canada.

A. Well, don't do that, Diesel Daisy. There may be a less destructive solution.

For those who don't know, ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter are utilities included in Windows 98. ScanDisk is used to tidy up the hard drive and close off any bad sectors. Disk Defragmenter puts the pieces of files in contiguous clusters, so the computer can work faster.

Diesel Daisy, you probably know most of this. But I'll go through the full drill, in case you've missed something.

First, these utilities are extremely sensitive to other programs. If something else accesses the hard drive while they are running, it can make the utilities stop. I once had a little clock program that constantly caused these problems. So it is essential that everything be shut down.

It is possible that you have spyware or a malicious Trojan that is running in the background. These, too, must be shut down (and eradicated). The easiest way to do this is to press Ctrl+Alt+Del. That will bring up the Close Program window. Shut down everything but Explorer and Systray.

Bear with me while I belabor the obvious, Diesel Daisy. Are you using anti-virus software, and is it up-to-date? A virus could cause the symptoms you're suffering. Also, download and run Ad-aware. Use it to get rid of the spyware on your computer. Update the definitions in
Ad-aware before using it. You can get Ad-aware at:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp#adware

Finally, Windows 98 can get very cluttered over time. The best cure is to reinstall it. In fact, you might want to format the hard drive and reinstall everything. Be sure to back up your data; formatting wipes out everything.

That obviously is a great deal of trouble. Try removing the spyware and any viruses first. Don't forget to keep Windows 98 updated, and be sure you're running a firewall, such as ZoneAlarm.

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51. Running Ad-aware and Spybot in Safe Mode
Q. It was suggested to run Ad-aware and Spybot in Safe Mode. What are your thoughts?

A. Spybot Search and Destroy and Ad-aware hunt down and list files that constitute adware and spyware. They can delete the files with your permission. But a file that is being used cannot be deleted.

When you start your computer in Safe Mode, Windows loads a minimum of drivers and other files. The idea is that you can then run Ad-aware and Spybot more effectively. They may be able to kill files that were running previously.

I recently cleaned spyware off one of my employees' computers. Some files could not be touched by Ad-aware and Spybot. But when I went into Safe Mode, I could delete them.

In most cases, you can boot into Safe Mode by pressing F8 as the computer is starting. If that doesn't work, try pressing the Ctrl key during bootup, or check your computer's manual.

Generally, I have been able to clean my computers with a standard bootup. It is rare that I need to use Safe Mode. I recommend that you run Ad-aware and Spybot as you would any other program. Only if necessary should you go through the Safe Mode drill.

One other thing: It is important that you update Spybot and Ad-aware before using them. Even if you have just downloaded them, don't assume they are up-to-date. You can get these programs through my site at: http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp#adware

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50. Accessing Windows Magnifier
Q. My wife and I are in our 80s. We have a difficult time reading our monitor. We do not have the Accessibility Wizard on our computer, so we cannot magnify the screen. We have tried to download it from Microsoft, but cannot. We are using Windows 98. Can you help us?

A. Sure I can. Thanks for writing! I bet there are a lot of folks that I can help with today's tip. The Accessibility Wizard apparently is not installed by default. I checked my installation of Windows 98 and it was not present.

I guess Microsoft assumes that most people won't use it. You do not need to download this from Microsoft. It is present on your Windows 98 disc. To install it:

--Click Start>>Settings>>Control Panel

--Double-click Add/Remove Programs

--Select the Windows Setup tab

--Click Accessibility so it is highlighted, then click Details

--Be sure both boxes are checked. In my case, Accessibility Tools was not checked.

--Click OK

--Click Apply

--You will be prompted to put your Windows 98 disk in the CD drive. Do so, and let Windows 98 install the necessary files.

--When the installation is complete, click OK.

To use the wizard, click Start>>Programs>>Accessories>> Accessibility>>Accessibility Wizard. The wizard gives you two choices for larger type. It then opens the Magnifier, which allows even more choices.

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49. A Conflict with ZoneAlarm
Q. Hi. I love your newsletter tips and cool sites. After I downloaded the ZoneAlarm firewall, I noticed that I could not run Check Disk anymore. I am using XP Home. When I went to the ZoneAlarm site, I found others were having the same problem. The suggested fix was to download an older version (4.5) till 5.0 is updated. I did as suggested, and the older version lets Check Disk run with no problem. What do you think of this solution?

A. I checked with ZoneAlarm after getting this message. The company confirmed that there is a conflict, and that people can use version 4.5 in the meantime.

Check Disk is the equivalent of ScanDisk, which was used in earlier, DOS-based versions of Windows. It is used to check the hard drive for problems, and to fix them. To use it, click Start>>My Computer. Right click the correct drive (probably C:) and click Properties. Select the Tools tab. Click Check Now. Under options, select both boxes. Click Start. A message will ask if you want to run Check Disk when the computer is next started. Click Yes and reboot the computer.

But I think you are putting the horse before the cart. XP is a steady, clean-running operating system. You require ZoneAlarm's advanced protection much more than Check Disk, which needs be run only occasionally.

According to the company, the problem should be corrected within a couple weeks. I plan to stick with version 5. I'll worry about running Check Disk after ZoneAlarm fixes the conflict.

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48. Removing a Virus
Q. I am trying to fix my uncle's computer due to a virus. It needs to be reformatted but he lost the Windows XP recovery CD. According to Gateway, I can't simply order a replacement recovery CD due to Microsoft trying to prevent piracy. I am trying to minimize his cost as Windows XP is $200 and he just purchased the PC a few months ago. I have tried to install Windows 98 so he can just buy an XP upgrade, but I am having issues with drivers. Gateway's drivers CD won't work for Windows 98. I'm very confused. Is it even possible to fix this? None of the drivers work. Thanks for all the info I have received over the years. It has made life easier for me.

A. There are several issues here, Mike. So let's go back to the very beginning. You should be able to remove a virus without reformatting the hard drive. (For the benefit of other readers, reformatting wipes the hard drive clean. But it means that everything must be reinstalled, so it is a last resort.)

You don't say what virus is on the computer or what you have done to remove it. Have you tried the online anti-virus applications? There are at least two good ones that not only find viruses but remove them. And they're free. They are:

Panda Active Scan -- http://www.pandasoftware.com/home/default.asp
HouseCall -- http://www.trendmicro.com/en/home/us/personal.htm

It's possible that you don't have a virus. Maybe you have a nasty piece of spyware. Try running Ad-aware and Spybot Search and Destroy. Update them before you run them. You can download them from my site at:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

If you're not sure what the problem is but a virus or spyware name keeps cropping up, check it on the Internet. You may well find enough information there to eradicate it. A good place to start is TomCoyote:

http://www.tomcoyote.com

OK, let's assume nothing works and you have to reformat. I think you are taking the wrong route. My experience with XP upgrades has been poor. The installations have been unstable. I recommend that
you bite the bullet and install XP clean. Yes, it will cost more, but you'll save a lot of aggravation.

If you're determined to install Windows 98, you'll have to reformat. (I can't tell from your e-mail if you have already done so.). You'll run into a problem right away in getting Windows 98 to work with a
new computer. That's a six-year-old operating system. Gateway probably didn't include drivers for it. Why would they? How many people are going to put Windows 98 on a new machine? That means the various components (video, audio, Ethernet, etc.) may not work.

I installed Windows 98 a few months ago, because I needed it on my test box. EMachines did not include any drivers for Windows 98. I found the drivers I needed online at DriverGuide.com (http://www.driverguide.com/). You'll probably have to use another computer to download the drivers. Burn them to a CD or DVD and install them on the Gateway.

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47. Q. Online Banking - Recommended by Kim
I have been thinking about electronically paying checks online. Does this pose more of a security risk than the traditional paper check mailing? Anything I need to consider to protect myself?

A. I started paying my bills online in the late 1990s. I couldn't imagine going back to the old way. Occasionally, I have to actually write a check for someone who does work at my house. I hate it.

Transactions with banks are conducted through secure connections, either Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS). Both use heavy-duty encryption. These are the same types of secure connections used for other transactions on the Internet.

These connections are considered very secure. Someday, computers will be powerful enough to break them. But, as of today, you are more likely to be robbed at the ATM.

Theoretically, you could have a problem if hackers insinuate themselves onto your computer. But that's true even if you are not banking online. Protect yourself from that by:

--Installing and updating an anti-virus program.

--Installing a firewall.

--Keeping Windows updated.

Many banks today offer free online bill paying. I recommend it. It doesn't make paying bills fun. But it certainly is more convenient.

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46. A Vote for Ad-aware and Spybot from Kim
Q. My teenage daughter is obsessed with AIM instant messenger. Lately,
we have had a lot of problems with our computer crashing. We installed Ad-aware and Spybot Search and Destroy, but things have gotten worse.

I worry that the problems are from AIM. Any advice?

A. I have had security issues with AIM on both personal and office computers. But I have not experienced the crashes you describe.

I suggest you remove AIM from your computer and see if that improves the situation. Trillian, a free instant messaging service, can be used instead of AIM. You can get it at: http://www.ceruleanstudios.com/

Using Ad-aware and Spybot is a good idea. Poorly written spyware can make computers crash. Be sure to update these programs before using them. The battle with spyware is never-ending.

To update Ad-aware, click Check for updates now>>Connect. To update Spybot, click the Update button in the left-hand panel. Then click Search for Updates.

If you are getting error messages when the computer crashes, copy the information from them. Any numbers or phrases could be helpful. Then go to the Microsoft site at: http://support.microsoft.com

Click Search the Knowledge Base. Enter any numbers or phrases one at a time in the form. You may get an answer there.

You conceivably could have a virus. It is important to keep your anti-virus software updated. You can do that at the publisher's site.

Don't forget that you can listen to me this weekend on hundreds of radio stations. Find my three-hour show near you here:
http://www.komando.com/findkimonair.asp

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45. Controlling Tracking Cookies
Q. I went to http://www.networkadvertising.org/ and attempted to opt out of cookies and other adware. I was unable to do so. Why? And what can I do to get rid of adware?

A. The site in the question allows computer users to stop receiving adware from Atlas DMT and DoubleClick. You simply check a couple boxes and submit your form. You are automatically opted out, assuming the process works. Sometimes it doesn't, as the person who sent this message found.

When you check these boxes and click submit, these two companies send you cookies. These are little text files that tell the companies you have opted out. Supposedly, they then leave you alone. However, if you have blocked cookies, or if you have installed anti-adware software, the two companies might already be blocked.

In that case, no cookies, either good or bad, could get through from the two companies. Before we continue, let's explain what cookies do. These are little text files that include some information. They cannot be used to produce ads, steal your personal information or do anything else. As text files, they are inert. They can only be read.

So let's say you regularly go to a Web site that sells books. That site maintains a database of its customers, including you. It knows everything you have purchased there, along with your credit card number and address.

When you go to that site, your Web browser checks to see if there is a cookie from that company. It finds one, probably stemming from your first visit to the site. The browser sends the cookie to the site.
The cookie includes a number. The site matches the number to its database, which tells it who you are. It then produces a welcome page that says, "Hello, Joe! Here are some titles you might like!"

Suppose you buy a book. The company knows who you are, so it already has your credit card number and other information. So you don't have to fill that in. That's an example of a good cookie (which most of them are).

There are also less desirable cookies. They're called tracking cookies. These are sent to you by advertisers. As you visit various sites, ads on those sites receive the tracking cookies and add information. This builds data about where you surf, so ads can be tailored to your interests.

If you are unable to opt-out of adware (or spyware, as it is often called) at networkadvertising.org, you have probably done something to block DoubleClick or Atlas DMT. Many anti-spyware programs are available. Most will block these two companies. You may have installed one. You could try to figure out the problem, but I wouldn't bother.

Here's what I do. I set my cookie level to low. Do that by clicking Tools>>Internet Options. Select the Privacy tab and move the slider. I also installed SpywareBlaster, a free program that does a good job
of blocking adware. You can get it at: http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/spywareblaster.html

Some adware still gets through. I run Ad-aware to find it. Ad-aware lists the objects it finds, mostly tracking cookies. The object's name ends in the form XXX[1].txt. Before deleting the tracking cookies, I go to the Privacy tab and click Edit. In the box marked Address of Web Site, I enter XXX.com and click Block. You can get Ad-aware at: http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

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44. Spyware
Q. Two adult site folders have appeared in My Favorites in Internet Explorer without my knowledge. How can this happen? My wife is accusing me of looking at pornography and I haven't! Can you explain this so I don't lose my marriage? I love your show!

A. I'm going to assume that you are telling me the truth, so tell your wife to ease up. You apparently are the victim of a browser hijacking. As hijackings go, this one sounds mild. Usually they change your home page to the porn site. They also change the search engine, so that all of your searches are redirected to pornography.

I assume you have tried deleting the folders. If not, right-click the folders and choose Delete. Unfortunately, that probably won't rid your computer of this filth. Hijackers usually burrow into the Registry. They reinstate themselves when the computer is next booted.

This is probably a form of spyware. There are two excellent programs that wipe out spyware: Ad-aware and Spybot Search and Destroy. Run them both. You'll find links to them at:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp#spy

They still may not do the job. Hijackers are tough to remove. If you continue to have problems, try the program HijackThis. There is an excellent help site for HijackThis at:

http://tomcoyote.com/hjt/

This site includes two forums where hijack victims can get help. I can't give you much help here because I know nothing about your computer. The people on the forums are dedicated to fighting hijackers, and they can walk you through this.

Now, let's talk about why this happened. Either your version of Windows has not been properly maintained, or someone using your computer downloaded the hijacker.

Windows has to be updated regularly. Until last fall, it contained a flaw that allowed a hijacker in. But that has been long since patched. To see if your computer needs to be patched, open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Windows Update. That will take you to Microsoft's Web site. Let Microsoft scan your computer. Install any security updates.

Hijackers also can be downloaded when you take advantage of free offers. Occasionally, you'll get a pop-up that asks if you want to install a free program. Or a site will ask if you would like to change your home page. Always refuse. It is very possible that these programs will seize your browser.

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43. Maintaining privacy on a web site
Q. I want to set up a family Web site so distant friends can keep up with us. My wife is concerned about the family's safety if we have a site anyone can access. Is there a risk in doing this?

A. I think your wife is wise. There could be a risk. Putting information online can tell strangers where you live and who is in your family.

To maintain your privacy, your best bet is probably a password-protected site. I recommend that you check out MyFamily.com. It is set up specifically for family web sites. You'll find it at:

http://www.myfamily.com/isapi.dll?c=home&htx=loginfront

MyFamily offers a 30-day free trial. So you can set up your site, and test it. If it's not what you want, you can walk away. The standard site price is $29.95 per year. You receive 100 megabytes of space. That should be enough. If not, additional space is inexpensive.

Once you have your site, share the password with your friends. You can even set up a message board or use online chat to talk.

There are other organizations that advertise protected family sites. Try Your Family Hub and ParentShack. They're located at, respectively:

http://www.yourfamilyhub.com/

http://www.parentshack.com/

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42. XP Shutdown problem
Q. I have Windows XP. It will not shut down. I have to use the power button on the computer. How can I solve this? I love your show!

A. Turning off the computer using the power button can do a real number on the system. I'm glad that you took the time to write me for some help.

Usually, when Windows XP fails to shut down, it restarts automatically. It displays an error message on a blue screen, but the automatic restart happens too quickly to read it.

So, first thing, I would turn off the automatic restart. To do that, click Start. Right-click My Computer and click Properties. Select the Advanced tab. Under Startup and Recovery, click Settings. In the System Failure section, clear the check mark from Automatically Restart. Click OK>>OK.

This will give you time to read the error message. Copy any likely phrases or error numbers and hunt for them in Microsoft's Knowledge Base: http://support.microsoft.com/

There have been a few shutdown problems in XP. At least one was repaired in a Windows Update. Be sure that your copy of Windows is updated. In Internet Explorer, click Tools>>Windows Update. Follow the prompts.

If you are using an old Nvidia video card, that could be the problem. There may be a driver available on the Windows Update page. Also, check Nvidia's site at: http://www.nvidia.com/content/drivers/drivers.asp

According to Microsoft, processes that take too long to close also can cause this problem. By default, running processes are given 20 seconds to close. (Processes are parts of Windows and other programs.) If necessary, you can give the processes more time. Doing that requires a change in the Registry. That is the super-critical part of Windows. Before making changes there, you should back it up. See my tip for that at: http://www.komando.com/tips_show.asp?showID=1522

To make the change, click Start>>Run. Enter "regedit" (without the quotes) in the box and click OK. Drill down to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop. In the right panel, find WaitToKillAppTimeout. Double-click it. In Value Data, you will find the number 20000. That is 20 seconds, expressed in milliseconds. Change that to 25000. Click OK and close Registry Editor. Reboot.
If the problem continues, add more time in two-second increments.

After all of this, if you still have a problem, broaden your Knowledge Base search. For example, Windows XP shutdown issues are addressed at: http://snipurl.com/shutdown_XP

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41. Dealing with a Virus Infection
Q. I'm in trouble. I have a virus infection on my computer. I ran the scan at Trend Micro, which said I have 12,000 infected files! It said it could not clean them. Please, can you help me?

A. That's the gist of a friend's telephone call that I received recently. He had an expired version of anti-virus software that came with his computer. He hadn't bothered to subscribe when the trial period ran out.

He realized he had a problem when he continually lost his Web connection. He called his Internet service provider, which told him he probably had a virus. The ISP recommended that he have his machine scanned by Trend Micro, a Japanese anti-virus company. Trend Micro's scanning site is located at: http://housecall.trendmicro.com/

Trend Micro reported that he had 12,000 infected files. However, it said it was unable to clean his system. That's when he called me. He wanted to know if he should just delete the infected files. That seemed extreme to me. It would have gutted his system.

I had my friend run his system through Panda Software's ActiveScan. It found 6,000 infected files. Panda was able to clean the files, although it took quite awhile.

I did not go to my friend's home; I helped him by phone. So I don't know why he was able to stay online long enough to run ActiveScan. I don't know why Trend Micro was unable to clean his system. And I don't know why Trend Micro found twice as many problems as Panda.

But I do know this: The threat of viruses is very, very real. Furthermore, their effectiveness is growing rapidly. Until recently, viruses were generally poorly executed, and often failed to deliver their payload. No more. Viruses such as Bagle and Netsky pose real risks.

My friend came close to losing everything he had on his computer. That would be a disaster, and it is absolutely unnecessary. You can get free anti-virus software from AVG. Or you can pay a little for protection from Symantec, McAfee, Panda or numerous other companies. Just remember to keep the software updated. You'll find the Web sites for these four companies at:

http://www.grisoft.com/us/us_dwnl_free.php
http://www.symantec.com
http://us.mcafee.com/default.asp
http://www.pandasoftware.com

You cannot depend on the online scan engines. They will only find the virus once it is on your computer. It might well do critical damage before you run the scan. And there is no guarantee that an online engine will be able to disinfect your system.

If you have anti-virus software on your computer, it should whack a virus as soon as it rears its ugly little head. So make the effort to protect your machine properly. I have always done so, and I have never had an infection.

I feel like the town scold on this issue. And most of you take care of your computer, so you're probably tired of hearing about this. But this is an increasingly critical issue. Please protect yourself.

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40. Clearing the dropdown list from the Search box
Q. Can you suggest a program that will clear my search history? The same history list exists in all search engines I use. I tried a shareware program, but it didn't clear the list. I am using Windows ME. Thanks for your Web site; it's a great help!

A. I think you must be referring to the dropdown list from the search box. For instance, when you click in the Google search box, you'll get a list of previous search terms. At least, you will if you have AutoComplete enabled. That should occur in other search engines, too.

The dropdown list is a function of Internet Explorer, not the search engine or Windows. So you don't need another program to clear it. You can do it within Internet Explorer.

Click Tools>>Internet Options. Select the Content tab and click AutoComplete. In the AutoComplete Settings window, click Clear Forms.

The Forms section of AutoComplete saves old entries for all types of boxes, not just search engines. When you clear it, everything goes except passwords. If you want to avoid that, you can clear the search engine boxes manually. Click in the box so the complete list is displayed. Put the cursor on an entry so it is highlighted. Click Delete. Do that for each entry in turn, until they are all gone.

You can also keep the search terms from being accumulated in the first place. Again, go to the AutoComplete Settings window. Uncheck the box next to Forms. Remember, that will disable AutoComplete on all forms, not just search engines.

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39. Flat-panel Monitors improved with ClearType (Kim)
Q. I just installed a new flat-panel monitor. I thought these monitors were better than the old-style CRTs. But type on the new one looks blurry. Should I take it back?

A. Type has always been a problem on monitors. Due to screen construction, curves on type don't work. Instead, you get jaggies.

To remedy this, software companies employ a process called anti-aliasing. This smoothes the type edges, getting rid of the jaggies. But anti-aliasing works better on old-style CRTs than on flat-panels. Type on flat-panels often looks blurry. Microsoft recognizes the problem and included a solution in Windows XP. It's called ClearType. It can make type on flat-panels much sharper.

To find ClearType, right-click on an empty area of the desktop. Click Properties. Select the Appearance tab and click Effects. Select the box next to "Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts." Click the down arrow and choose ClearType. Click OK>>OK.

You still have to fine-tune ClearType. To do that, go online to:

http://www.microsoft.com/typography/cleartype/tuner/1.htm.

Follow the wizard and select the type that looks best. I recently bought a flat panel and followed these steps. It works very well. Microsoft says ClearType can also improve readability on CRTs. However, Greg, one of my employees, tried it on a big CRT. It actually made things worse. So, I wouldn't expect much there.

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38. Zone Alarm - Uninstalling (Kim)
Q. I wish to uninstall ZoneAlarm. However, there is still part of it on my computer. It keeps closing my browser. How do I get rid of it? I can't follow the instructions on their site. My screen doesn't have the things they mention, it asks me to go into safe mode, etc. I am not comfortable with this.

A. It is important that ZoneAlarm, or any other program, be removed
properly. If its files are simply deleted, bits and pieces will be left behind, especially in the Registry. These can cause all sorts of problems.

Programs are properly uninstalled by clicking Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Add or Remove Software. Find ZoneAlarm on the list and remove it.

If some of the files have already been deleted, the uninstallation process may not work. In that case, download the program and reinstall it. Once it is reinstalled, you should be able to uninstall it properly. The program is available at: http://www.zonelabs.com/

If this procedure does not work, try ZoneAlarm's virtual technical support agent. Also, there is a user's forum available on the ZoneAlarm
site. Ask for assistance there. Both are at:

http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/support/znalm4Main.jsp

Should that not work, you can call ZoneAlarm. There is a $2.95-per-minute fee for assistance. ZoneAlarm has information at:

http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/support/phoneSupport.jsp

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37. Regarding Unintentional shutdowns (Kim)
Q. My computer is 18 months old. In December, it started shutting down
for no reason. I've talked to a number of people, but no one can solve this problem. I'm ready to buy a new one. But I was wondering if you could suggest a solution.

A. I have seen these random problems in the past. In nearly every case,
they have been caused by heat. As chips have become more powerful since the late 1990s, heat has grown into a critical issue.

At the same time, the chipsets on the motherboard and the processors on video cards have also grown powerful. Throw in gargantuan, faster hard drives and more capable power supplies, and you've got a furnace in your computer.

Proper cooling requires unobstructed air passages inside the computer. If you have never opened the computer, you might well have a dust buildup. The fans in the computer draw air in, usually through the front, and exhaust it through the back or side. Dust can build up in the case vents.

To fix this, by a can of air at a computer store. Unplug the computer and open the case. Ground yourself on the computer's frame--static electricity can kill your computer's circuitry. Using the air, blow out the vents from the inside. This can be messy, so you might want to do it outside.

Also, blow out the fan atop your microprocessor. You may also have fans on your chipset, which will be located near the microprocessor on your motherboard, and your video card, if you have one. Blow those out, too.

While you're at it, blow out the rest of the computer's guts. Dust buildup could conceivably cause a heat problem on the motherboard or other circuitry.

Once you get it cleaned up, turn the computer on. Check that all of the fans are working. Remember to check the fan in the power supply. That is located in the top rear of the computer.

Be sure the ribbon cables that attach the drives to the motherboard are not blocking the airflow. Eyeball the path from the front vent to the microprocessor. If a ribbon cable is in that path, turn off the computer and push it aside.

If you still have these problems, you probably have a hardware failure.
Watch for any error messages, especially if you are getting a blue screen. Copy down any numbers and check them on the Microsoft site (http://www.microsoft.com). I once discovered a memory flaw this way. Power supplies and bad memory are the most common hardware culprits.

You could also have a virus. The Blaster worm, which circulated last year, can cause shutdowns. If you don't have an anti-virus program, install one. Be sure that your anti-virus software is up-to-date. You can update it on the manufacturer's Web site.

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36. Kim explains your Web ID number
Q. As you recommended, I downloaded and installed ZoneAlarm, the
firewall. I get messages that some Web site number has been blocked. What do these numbers mean?

A. These numbers are IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. They come in this form: 255.255.255.255. Web sites have IP numbers. Since people cannot remember numbers that easily, a better way was developed to get to a Web site. Rather than using a bunch of numbers, you can enter in a word.

The IP number for my Web site is 66.210.246.140. That is my site's real address. If you wanted to get to my Web site, you could type the following in your browser's address bar: http://66.210.246.140.

But it is easier to remember my name and enter www.komando.com. When you enter that domain name to go to my site, it is sent to a domain name server. The server translates the name to my IP number, and my site shows up in your browser.

So, the numbers you see in ZoneAlarm's alerts are the addresses of sites sending probes. They may be normal Internet traffic or would-be intruders. If you like, you can track these numbers down. There should be basic information available on the owners.

You can get information on IP numbers on the Web. Just go to the Arin WHOIS Database Search. Enter the IP number. Arin will tell you who owns it. The information is barebones, but it's a start if you want to pursue it. You can find the Arin site here:

http://www.arin.net/whois

There are also programs that will help you identify intruders. One program is called VisualZone and it's free. You will find it online at:

http://visualize.phenominet.com/visualzone/visualzone.htm

One more thing: If you're thinking about a firewall, you might be tempted to use the one in Windows XP. Don't. It's lame. True, it will hide your ports. But if a Trojan horse is planted on your computer, the XP firewall will not block outbound transmissions. ZoneAlarm is a much better program.

If you want to check out the XP firewall, click Start>Control Panel. Double-click Network Connections. Right-click on your Internet connection and click Properties. Click the Advanced tab.

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35. Resolve now to adopt Kim's recommendations for the New Year: (You've heard them before - See Tip 21 below)
1. Back up your data. This is No. 1 for a reason. If your hard drive crashes and you lose your stuff, you'll be pulling your hair. Hard drives are much more reliable than in the old days. But bad things still happen.

Windows includes backup software. Or you can just copy your My Documents folder. You really only need to back up your personal data.

There isn't much point in backing up to your main hard drive. If it fails, it will take the backup with it. The safest medium is something you can remove, like a disk from a Zip Drive. You also can use a CD or DVD burner. Put the disc in a safe place. If you don't want to go to that trouble, use a second hard drive, either internal or external.

2. Install anti-virus software. You can get a free personal copy at AVG (http://www.grisoft.com/us/us_index.php). Programs are also sold by McAfee, Norton and Panda. All anti-virus programs need to be updated regularly. The latter three are at:

http://us.mcafee.com/default.asp

http://www.norton.com

http://www.pandasoftware.com

Install a firewall, too. If you use a broadband connection to the Internet, you're at great risk without a firewall. These programs will hide your computer from intruders. Zone Alarm has a very nice, free firewall at: http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp

3. Never open attachments you weren't expecting. I don't care if the return address is your mother's, she may well have not sent the attachment. Quite possibly, it's a virus.

A self-replicating virus could pick up your mother's address in someone
else's address book, and use it as the return address. Or, it could infect her computer and e-mail itself to you. Either way, your anti-virus software should catch the virus. But why take the chance? If you get an attachment you weren't expecting, ask the sender before opening it.

4. Sign up for broadband, if it is offered in your area. If you're older, you remember the switch from black and white TV to color. Take it from me, broadband will give you the same feeling.

The slowest broadband is five or six times faster than dial-up. True, it's more expensive. But sometimes you can get a deal. Besides, the cost is worth it. Once you get a taste of broadband, you'll never go back.

5. Don't forward the lame jokes that circulate on the Internet. The same goes for virus warnings and urban legends. They're all hoaxes. People are busy. They don't have time to wade through this nonsense. If the joke is a real howler, fine, forward it. But first, clear out the 10,000 addresses that already received it.

As for virus warnings and weird stories, check them if they worry you. Nearly all are hoaxes. Why look like an idiot? There are many sites on the Web that debunk hoaxes. Some are:

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html

http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/

http://www.datafellows.fi/news/hoax.htm

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34. About Carbon Copies
BCC. Blind carbon copy. It's a lovely throwback term in these days when typewriters have all but disappeared from offices. And it's a lovely little feature, all too often underused.

For those of you not of the typewriter generation, here's some background:

In olden days when people used typewriters instead of computers and keyboards, in order to create a copy of a missive they'd slide a sheet of carbon paper - inked on the back side - between two plain sheets of paper, stick all three in the typewriter, and hit the keys. Presto! An original and a carbon copy of that original would result. By interleaving additional sheets of carbon paper and normal paper (and pressing harder on those old mechanical keys), you could create multiple carbon copies.

It was common practice to include not only the name of the addressee (who would receive the original copy) on the document, but also a CC list, indicating those who had received a carbon copy. The carbon copy was also known as a courtesy copy, as it was intended as a 'for your information only' courtesy to the recipients.

A blind carbon copy was simply a copy whose recipient was not noted in the CC list. Thus the BCC recipient would know the contents of the message and the list of people who had received it, but no-one else would know the BCCer was in the know, so to speak.

Addressing email
The CC field in your email program is meant to be used in the same way as the old CC list. For regular email you send to a handful of others, this is the accepted way of using the address fields:

Anyone to whom the email is directly addressed should be placed in the TO field.

Anyone who is receiving the email for informational purposes should go in the CC field.

In the BCC field stick anyone who needs to know the email has been sent but who doesn't need to be involved in any on-going correspondence and whose knowledge of the email is a private or internal matter.

All recipients will be able to see the names included in the TO and CC fields, but names in the BCC field will not appear in the email. If you respond using Reply To, your reply will go only to the original sender of the message. If you respond using Reply To All, your reply will go to everyone except those in the BCC list: The original sender, everyone in the TO list and everyone in the CC list.

Undisclosed Recipients
There's another way to use BCC which not only preserves the privacy of your recipients, it also makes your emails more readable and professional. That is to use BCC whenever you send email to a large group of recipients or a small group who do not know one another.

For example, you can use BCC when sending out the identical email to a number of customers, or when forwarding one of those Internet jokes (if you really must) to every second person in your address book.

If you include all those recipients in the TO or CC fields, their names and addresses will be plastered at the top of the email for all to see. And when anyone replies to the message, that full list of recipients gets placed within the message. It's a little like blabbing about who was at last night's AA meeting: You just don't do it! As you never know quite where a message broadcast to dozens of people will end up, you could well be supplying people's email addresses to spammers or simply disclosing the address of someone who normally keeps the information private.

So stick everyone in the BCC field and address the message to yourself. If you want, you can add a new entry to your address book called Undisclosed Recipients which uses your email address. Then, when you send an email, type 'Undisclosed Recipients' in the TO field while putting all other addresses in the BCC field.

Using the BCC field with multiple recipients has the added advantage of minimising the workload on your email client: Instead of sending, say, 100 separate emails, you send a single email, a copy of which then goes to each of the 100 addressees.

The one pitfall to watch for when using BCC is that some anti-spam filters look for multiple addressees in the BCC field as an indicator of spam. While you may be able to adjust your own spam filter to ensure BCCed email gets through to you, you have no way of knowing what's happening at the recipient's end. It's one of those things which drives me bats about spam and spam filters: Spam kneecaps many useful features, while all too many spam filters make assumptions which should be left up to the individual.

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33. New Mail Prompt (Kim)
Q. When I'm surfing the Net, is there a way to be notified with a sound
that I have new e-mail? I'd like to avoid going to the e-mail program to check each time.

A. There are a couple ways you can do this. That means you will not have to go to your e-mail program to check your inbox just to see if mail has arrived.

Check your e-mail program to see if it provides sound notification. AOL, for instance, has the "You've got mail" sound. Eudora can be set up to play a series of notes when e-mail arrives. You can also set up sounds in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.

In Eudora, click Tools>Options. On the left, scroll down to "Getting Attention." Select Play a Sound. Click OK.

In Microsoft Outlook, click Tools>Options. Select the Preferences tab. Click E-Mail Options. To display a message, check the box next to "Display a notification message when new mail arrives." To set a sound, click Advanced E-Mail Options. Check the box next to "Play a sound."

In Outlook Express, click Tools>Options. On the General tab, check the box next to "Play sound when new messages arrive."

Speaking of sounds, you can assign different sounds to different types of e-mail. Here's a tip on my site that shows you how to do it in Outlook, for example: http://www.komando.com/tips_show.asp?showID=2908

You can also use a program such as ePrompter. It's free. ePrompter will gather mail from up to 16 accounts. It gives you a choice of two sounds to notify you of new mail. An icon in the notification area of the taskbar also shows how many new messages are present. http://www.eprompter.com

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32. Become the Master of Outlook Express
For everything you ever wanted to know about Outlook Express . . . and more, click here. Then click on Outlook Express in the Classroom for instruction in all aspects of OE.

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31. Customizing XP's Start Menu (Kim).
Q. I have some programs that I use occasionally. I would like to list them in the left column of the Start menu (I use Windows XP) instead of the most-used programs. How can I do that?

A. The bottom left column of the Start menu, above All Programs, includes applications that you use most often. Windows handles that automatically. If you delete programs from this list, Windows will add others.

However, you can force the most-used programs out. Right-click the taskbar, which usually runs across the bottom of the desktop. Click Properties and select the Start Menu tab. Next to the Start Menu section, click Customize. On the General tab, set "Number of programs on Start menu" to zero. Under "Show on Start menu," clear the boxes next to Internet and E-mail.

You can now add your own programs in the left column. The easiest way to do that is to click on Programs. All the applications you need should be there. You can right-click on any program and select "Pin to Start menu."

If the item you want to move does not include "Pin to Start menu," it is not executable. There should be another file in that folder that has the option. I was able to cram 14 program icons into to the Start menu.

You can do a similar thing with XP's Classic Start Menu. To set that, right-click the taskbar and click Properties. Select the Start Menu tab. Select Classic Start Menu. Windows 98, ME and 2000 already use this Start menu.

The area above the word Programs can be used. To do that, click Programs and find the applications in which you are interested. Click them in turn, and, holding down the mouse button, drag them to the Start menu.

This will remove them from the Programs list. You can avoid that by first creating a new shortcut. Right click the program and choose Create Shortcut. Then move the new shortcut to the Start Menu.

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30. Changed behavior of the Internet Explorer Scroll Bar. Kim mentioned this problem in a recent Tip, the problem being that clicking on an open area of the vertical scroll bar results in jumping two pages rather than the customary one page. If you are experiencing this problem, try clicking immediately above or immediately below the moving "thumb." Hopefully, you will find that in this way you can again jump just one page at a time.

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29. SAVING PICTURES AND E-MAILING THEM
One of the really great things about the Web is its ability to transfer photos. Think about it: Until a few years ago, getting photos to out-of-town relatives took days. They had to be printed, then mailed. That is reduced to minutes, now, if you have a digital camera. Photos
are easily downloaded directly into the computer from a digital camera. They can then be attached to an e-mail and sent on their way.

When pictures are downloaded from a camera, they should be saved at 72 dpi (dots per inch), assuming they will be viewed on a monitor. If a picture is to be printed, reduce its size and save it at about 150 dpi. You can do that with nearly any photo-editing program, including many that come with cameras and scanners.

If you already have printed pictures, you can scan them into your computer. Again, save them at 72 or 150 dpi, depending on how they will be viewed. Do not save pictures at a higher resolution than necessary. That makes the files large, so the recipients will have more trouble downloading them.

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28. Cleaning Up the Registry
The Registry is a critical part of Windows. Before cleaning it, back it up. Click Start and Run. Type "regedit" (without the quotes) in the box and click OK. In the Registry Editor, click File and Export. Select a folder in which to save the backup. Name the file Registry Backup and click Save. If cleaning the Registry leaves your computer unstable, double-click the Registry Backup file to restore it.

Two free programs, EasyCleaner 1.7 and RegSeeker 1.30, make light work of cleaning the Registry.

http://www.toniarts.com/ecleane.htm
http://www.hoverdesk.net/freeware.htm

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27. WHY YOUR CONNECTION SPEED CAN VARY
Last week, I mentioned in my newsletter that you can test your connection speed online. I received a lot of e-mail because test results can vary. Unfortunately, that's the norm.

Why? The Net is a fantastic collection of routers that zips data around the world. Congestion or slow equipment on the Internet can bog the lines down. Your Internet service provider should be able to tell you your best-case speed. But the Internet is like the drive to work: Sometimes it's fast; other times, it makes you grind your teeth. In case you want to test your connection, below are the sites I mentioned last week:

Bandwidth Place: http://bandwidthplace.com/speedtest/
Broadband Reports: http://www.dslreports.com/stest

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26. WANT TO SEE WHAT YOUR PC IS RUNNING?
They're called processes. These are the programs that are running in your computer. One of them could be using up the system's CPU cycles and causing a system slowdown. Finding the one isn't that difficult. You just need to know where to look.

In Windows XP and Windows 2000, press Ctrl+Alt+Del. On the Windows Security window, click Task Manager. Select the Processes tab. This will show you which processes are running. Under CPU, you'll find the percentage of microprocessor time each process is taking. It should be easy to identify the hog. Make a note of its name, then click the name to highlight it. Click End Process. Then put the process name in a search engine and hunt for information about it on the Web.

Windows 98 and ME do not include process details. But you can get that information with Process Explorer 7.0, available free at:

http://www.sysinternals.com/ntw2k/freeware/procexp.shtml

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25. Check out http://Skype.net . . .
if you are interested in making voice calls over the Internet--FREE. You do need a PC and an internet connection, preferably a high-speed one. Registration is required, of course, follow the instructions on the screen and, with a headset and microphone, you're ready to make a call. A Skype call's recipient has to be connected to the internet--if he or she isn't, a Skype pop-up box will say so. Incoming calls ring just like regular calls, only on your computer.

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24. About that Recycle Bin by Kim
Q. Help! I've emptied files from Recycle Bin and now, I need them back. Is this even possible?

A. Maybe. You see, if a deleted file is in the Recycle Bin, it can be restored. Microsoft says items removed from the Recycle Bin cannot be restored, but that is not always true.

It's important to understand how the hard drive handles deletions. The hard drive has a type of index that tells it where fragments of files are stored. When you open that file, the hard drive throws together those fragments.

When you delete the file from the Recycle Bin, the index links to the file fragments are broken. So Windows no longer can open the file. But it is still on the hard drive. It will remain there until you save something else that goes into that space. At that point, the deleted file is overwritten and is probably impossible to recover.

Until it is overwritten, specialized software can find and recover it. Three such programs include Uneraser (http://www.uneraser.com),Vcom SystemSuite (http://www.v-com.com) and Norton System Works (http://www.symantec.com).

It's important that you recover deleted files immediately. You don't want to install any other software or save anything to the hard drive. You could overwrite the data you're trying to save. That's why I like to use Norton's program for this job. You simply start the computer with the program disc in the drive and follow the menus to restore recently deleted files.

Obviously, the problem can be avoided by not cleaning out the Recycle Bin too often. Windows sets the default size of the Recycle Bin at 10 percent of the hard drive. Given today's monster-sized drives, that's a lot of space. So don't be overly neat. Never remove anything from the Recycle Bin if you think you might need it.

By the way, don't count on System Restore to get you out of this mess. If it is turned on, it sets automatic restore points. However, it only restores applications and the system state. It does not restore personal files in Recycle Bin. So if you delete a letter, it's gone.

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23. A Few Tips by BBCC's Education Consultant, Joyce Espitee

SELECTING A SCREEN SAVER
A screen saver is a moving picture or pattern that appears on your monitor screen when you’ve been away from your computer for a while without turning it off.

Windows 98
1. From the Start menu, choose Settings, Control Panel,
2. Click on the Display icon OR right-click the desktop and choose Properties from the pop-up menu.
3. When the Display Properties dialog box appears, select the Screen Saver tab.
4. Choose a screen saver from the drop-down list (sample will appear in the monitor on the dialog box). Click Preview to see a full-screen version.
5. Click OK.

Windows XP
1. From the Start menu, click on Control Panel.
2. Click on the Display icon OR right-click the desktop and choose Properties from the pop-up menu.
3. When the Display Properties dialog box appears, select the Screen Saver tab.
4. Choose a screen saver from the drop-down list (a sample will appear in the monitor on the dialog box). Click Preview to see a full-screen version
5. Click OK.

CHANGING YOUR DESKTOP BACKGROUND
You can change the background color of your monitor screen or choose a pattern or “wallpaper” for your desktop background. The desktop color is applied to the area behind the icons and windows.

To change the color of the desktop
Windows 98
1. From the Start menu, select Settings, Control Panel.
2. In the Control Panel window, click the Display icon to show the Display Properties dialog box. OR right-click an open area on your desktop and select Properties from the pop-up menu.
3. Click the Appearance tab.
4. Select Desktop from the Item drop-down list.
5. Click the down arrow on the Color list box to see the selection of background colors.
6. Click the color you want.
7. Click Apply to see how the desktop will look in that color.
8. Click OK to accept the color and close the dialog box.

Windows XP
1. From the Start menu, select Control Panel.
2. If “Pick a Category” is showing, you can change that to show the icons. Click on the arrow in the Control Panel box on the left side of the window. Click on “Switch to Classic View” to show the icons and folders listed in the control panel.
3. Click on the Display icon to show the Display Properties dialog box. OR right-click an open area on your desktop and select Properties from the pop-up menu.
4. Click on the Desktop tab.
5. In the Background window, you can scroll through to select what type of background you want. If you want a solid color for your background, select none.
6. Under Color, click on the down arrow to display the selection of colors. You can see more colors by clicking on Other. Click on the color you want.
7. Click Apply, and then click OK.

TO CHANGE THE WALLPAPER ON YOUR DESKTOP
Windows 98
1. Click on Start, Settings, Control Panel.
2. Click Display icon to show the Display Properties dialog box. OR Right-click on your desktop, click on Properties to show the Display Properties dialog box.
3. Select Background tab.
4. Click on the down arrow to scan the list of various wallpapers that are available to place on your desktop. It will appear in the monitor picture so you can see how it will appear on your screen. Choose None to remove all wallpaper from the desktop (the background color will then fill the screen).

Windows XP
1. Click on Start, Control Panel.
2. Click Display icon to show the Display Properties dialog box. OR Right-click on your desktop, click on Properties to show the Display Properties dialog box.
3. Select Desktop tab.
4. Click on the down arrow to scan the list of various wallpapers that are available to place on your desktop. It will appear in the monitor picture so you can see how it will appear on your screen. Choose None to remove all wallpaper from the desktop (the background color will then fill the screen).

TIP: Using the Web to make Wallpaper. A quick way to use any graphic on a Web page as a wallpaper is to right-click the graphic or picture and choose Set as Wallpaper from the pop-up menu.

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22. Do You Have a Virus
Q. I believe I have a virus on my computer. I scanned it with my anti-virus software, which did not find anything. What else can I do?

A. Be sure that your anti-virus program is up-to-date. This is very important; new viruses show up constantly. You can download updates from the manufacturer's Web site.

You can also use online scanning programs. These two are free:

If you still come up clean, you probably are not infected. All major brands of anti-virus software are updated regularly. It is very unlikely that you have a virus that is unknown to these companies.

Sometimes, poorly developed spyware programs can make computers flaky. Spyware is often included with downloads of free programs from the Internet. These programs track your Web browsing habits and report them back to a computer on the Internet. That information is used to tailor ads for you.

It is easy to track down spyware. You can find and delete it with Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com) or Spybot Search and Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org/). Both programs are free. They also must be updated regularly.

Occasionally, a new program can make a system unstable. This is not likely, but if nothing else works, try uninstalling any recent hardware and software.

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21. What should I Backup and How?
As a preamble to backing up, establish a format for naming your personal data files, e.g., "20030905 Mary" says "Letter to Mary dated September 5, 2003." Always using four digits for the year and two digits each for the month and day will ensure keeping all files in date order and ease your search for a particular file in the future.

Similarly, creating folders for your various needs and interests and placing those folders in a central folder (such as My Documents or a folder name of your choosing) will simplify backing up all your personal data.

Now when you are ready to back up your personal data you have just one folder to copy. Right-click on My Documents, or whatever folder you decided upon as the repository for all your personal data, click Send to, and select the target drive--3.5-inch floppy, R-RW CD drive, or a second hard drive.

Next, to back up your Address Book in Outlook Express, open OE, Address Book, File, Export, select target drive.

If you are interested in backing up your entire Outlook Express, consider a free program that can be downloaded at:

Favorites and Cookies can be backed up in similar fashion. Go to your Microsoft Internet Explorer Home Page, click on File, Import/Export, click Next on the Wizard, select Export Favorites, select Favorites, select target drive. Then repeat the operation to backup Cookies, if desired.

Some programs, such as Quicken, make provision within the program for backing up your data and you should elect to accept that option.

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20. A Safe Way to Start Windows, from Kim
Having trouble with Windows? If Windows won't start, sometimes you can get in there and fix what ails you in Safe Mode. Heck, if you cannot get ScanDisk to ever finish, running it in Safe Mode normally does the trick. When you see the "Starting Windows" message, here are the secret keys to press:

F5 -- Safe mode. This allows Windows to start with its most basic configuration, bypassing Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files and using the VGA driver for video and not loading networking software.

F6 -- Safe mode (like F5) but with the addition of network support.

F8 -- Gives you a menu of different options before Startup. This is a really good one to remember!

Tired of Waiting for a Web Page to Appear?
Waiting for a Web site to finish loading is annoying. When this happens to you, don't get all bent out of shape. Simply press the Esc key or click the red X on your browser's toolbar. This stops a Web site from loading.

What if that slow Web page is your start or home page? Then change it! I have my home page set to a blank page. This way, my browser is open and ready for me to go where I want to fast!

In Internet Explorer:
1. Select Tools and then, Internet Options.
2. On the General Tab, click the Use Blank Button and OK.

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19. "How can I take pictures of what I see on the screen and put those in a Microsoft Word document?" Kim says:

Easy! Press the Print Screen (or PrtScn) key on your keyboard. This places a copy of the entire screen on the Windows Clipboard. To capture only the current active window, press the ALT + Print Screen keys.

To paste the image into a document, select Edit from Word's menu and Paste. This tip works in Excel, FrontPage, Outlook, PowerPoint and Publisher, too.

There are software programs you can buy that allow you to do more, such as save the shots in different file formats. Before you go buy a program, though, here are a few free ones to try:

PrintScreen -- http://www.gadwin.com/printscreen/

HoverSnap -- http://www.hoverdesk.net/freeware.htm

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18. Keyboard Shortcuts by Kim:
Q. With all the stuff that you write, you must be one fast typist! Can you pass along any shortcuts that would help me out?

A. Certainly! If you were to see me use a computer, you might be amazed at how little I actually use the mouse. I tend to do much of my moving around on the screen using the keyboard. Here are some of my favorite keyboard shortcuts.

Let's start with the WINKEY. This is the key with the backwards Windows flag on it, which you may not have, depending on your keyboard.

WINKEY + D = Minimizes all windows and shows the desktop
WINKEY + L = Locks the computer (Windows XP only)
WINKEY + F = Brings up the Windows Search box
WINKEY + Tab = Lets you cycle through the programs shown on the taskbar

Here are some goodies for Internet Explorer.
Ctrl + Enter = Quickly completes an Web address.
So, type komando in the address bar. Then, press CTRL + ENTER to get http://www.komando.com.
Esc = Stops page from loading
Ctrl + N = Open New browser window.
F5 = Refresh current page / frame.
F11 = Display the current website in full screen mode. If that's not what you want, press F11 again
Alt + Left Arrow = Go back a page
Alt + Right Arrow = Go forward a page

There are also mouse shortcuts.
Double-click = Selects a word.
Triple-click = Selects a paragraph.
Ctrl + Mouse wheel = Use it when you want to zoom in and out of what is showing on the screen.

Finally, here are some shortcuts for Microsoft Word.
Ctrl + A = Selects all the contents of a page
Ctrl + C = Copy selected text
Ctrl + X = Cut selected text
Ctrl + P = Paste the selected text
Ctrl + F = Opens the find box
Ctrl + B = Bolds the highlighted selection
Ctrl + I = Italicize the highlighted selection
Ctrl + K = Insert a link to a Web site
Ctrl + U = Underline the highlighted selection
Ctrl + Y = Repeat the last action performed
Ctrl + Z = Undo last action (I love this one!)
Ctrl + End = Moves the cursor to the end of the document
Ctrl + Home = Moves the cursor to the beginning of the document

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17. A Tip from Woody's Windows XP book
Have you ever surfed to a Web page and noticed that the Back button suddenly doesn't work? You can click Back over and over again, and you never get off the page. I think Dante reserved the sixth ring of hell for Web sites that hijack the Back button. Or at least he should've. Unfortunately, you can't do anything to prevent the hijacking. But there is something you can do to bypass it.

If you right-click the Back button, a list of the sites you have visited recently appears. Even if the Web page commandeers your Back button, it can't wipe out your history. Right-click Back and move back to some place safe.

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16. Kim's Warning Re: Address Book Ploy
I continue to get calls and e-mail about using AAAAAA or something like it in your e-mail program's address book. The idea is that when worms go there to send themselves elsewhere, they'll hit that bad entry (it's presumably the first one) and be stopped cold.

This ploy has been around for years. And it may stop some worms. But your computer will already be infected, so it won't protect you. Besides, worm writers have had years to work around this trick. Some worms just go to the next entry. Others start at random places in the address book. So, don't bother with it and don't forward to everyone you know, thinking that it's a terrific idea. Protect yourself with three easy steps: (1) Buy and install an anti-virus program. (2) Install a software firewall. (3) And keep your operating system updated.

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15. Take control of those programs in Windows Startup
Q. How can I disable a program that starts up everytime I turn on my computer?

A. WinXP, like all other versions of Windows except Windows 95 and Windows 2000, has a program called Microsoft System Configuration Manager, better known as MSConfig. It's a component of the System Information program you'll find in Start > Accessories > System Tools folder. You can use it to control which programs start up when you log in. To reach MSConfig, do the following:

Log in as an Administrator.

Click Start, click Run, and type "msconfig" (without quotes).

Go to the Startup tab.

Uncheck any option you don't want to run at Startup. Make sure you know what a program does before disabling it.

Click OK and restart your computer.

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14. Do you use "Links" on the Internet Explorer toolbar?
It's one of the handiest tools, just waiting to be used. It's also the fastest way to visit a site you use on a regular basis--yes, faster and handier than using your Favorites.

If you do not see "Links" on your Internet Explorer toolbar, right click on the toolbar and check Links or click on View, Toolbars, and click on Links. Links will appear at the far right of the Address line.

To use Links, simply--(1) Drag the icon for the page from your Address bar to your Links bar; (2) Drag a link from a Web page to your Links bar, or (3) Drag a link to the Links folder in your Favorites list.

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13. A Kim Tip: Opening a document in Outlook Express
Q.I sent a Word document to my cousin, but she can't open it. When she clicks on the paperclip icon, the file name is grayed out. She uses Outlook Express. What's wrong?

A. She has Outlook Express set to block messages that can carry viruses. Word files can be infected with macro viruses. If one of these is opened, it can spread to other documents on the hard drive. If your cousin has protected herself with anti-virus software, she needn't worry about this. To view the file, she needs to change a setting in Outlook Express. To do that, she should click Tools>Options. Select the Security tab. Click the box to remove the check mark next to "Do not allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially be a virus."

In addition to Word, macro viruses can be carried by other Office programs. It is never a good idea to open an attachment, regardless of the extension it carries, unless you were expecting it. However, macro viruses have been around several years. Any decent anti-virus program will catch and quarantine an infected file. It is important that the anti-virus program be kept up to date so it can recognize new viruses. So even if a bad attachment is opened, the virus will be stopped.

Microsoft is well aware that Outlook Express is targeted. That's why it has a setting to block documents that can carry viruses. But, obviously, blocking these documents limits the usefulness of the e-mail program. An up-to-date anti-virus program is a much better solution. Additionally, OE users should keep their software updated. A flaw was discovered in Outlook Express years ago that virus writers could exploit. Microsoft issued a patch. But viruses are still using the flaw because people do not update their software.

Outlook Express is part of Windows. Windows XP can be set up to receive updates automatically:
--Click Start>Control Panel
--Double-click System
--Select the Automatic Updates tab
--Select "Automatically download the updates, and install them on the schedule that I specify"
--Create the schedule using the two boxes
--Click Apply and OK.

In Windows Me:
--Click Start>Settings>Control Panel
--Double-click Automatic Updates
--Select "Automatically download updates and notify me when they are ready to be installed"
--Click OK.

Windows 98 requires manual downloads. Select the Windows Update icon off the Start button. Or open Internet Explorer and click Tools>Windows Update. In fact, all three Windows versions can be updated manually that way.

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12. A Kim Tip regarding the Recycle Bin
Q. I use Windows 98. My Recycle Bin has disappeared. Can I get it back?

A. The Recycle Bin icon is one of the fixtures on Windows 98's desktop. When you right-click it, you'll see there is no delete option. The people who developed Windows 98 did not intend to let you do without it. So, normally, it should not disappear.

However, Microsoft has an unofficial program called Tweak UI. It will allow you to remove Recycle Bin and Network Neighborhood, another fixed icon. If you have downloaded Tweak UI, you may have opted not to have Recycle Bin on the desktop.

To check, click Start>Settings>Control Panel. If you have Tweak UI, it will be listed in Control Panel. Double-click it, and select the Desktop tab. Be sure Recycle Bin is checked.

Recycle Bin is also listed in Windows Explorer. It's in the bottom of the list on the left. You can open it there by clicking it.

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11. The following Tip from Kim is a MUST READ and MUST DO!!!
Q. One day, we noticed that our hard drive was nearly full. We found a 20 gigabyte file on the hard drive. When we opened it, we found 6,000 files of who knows what. When I logged off, I got a message that said, "Other People are using this system . . ." Do you suppose someone was actually using my computer? Is that possible.

A. This message was from Maggie in Shady Hollow, TX. She was very frightened by this situation. There are a couple things that could be going on.

To answer your question, Maggie, it is possible for an intruder to get into your computer. There have been cases of people storing data on computers that belong to others. That usually happens with a business server. But it could happen to an individual, too.

Storage isn't the only thing intruders could do. They could plant a program that steals sensitive information. They could plant a spy program that tracks all of your keystrokes, to get your passwords. Or they could turn your computer into a zombie. Zombie computers are used to attack other computers. They are also used to send spam. So your computer could be sending pornographic spam, when you know nothing about it.

Last week, computers were being attacked by the MSBlaster worm. It took advantage of a flaw in Windows XP. Once it gets into your computer, it can take control. This is precisely what I am talking about. But it is only happening to people who have failed to protect themselves.

To protect yourself, you need to do three things:

1. Open Internet Explorer. Click Tools and Windows Update. Let Microsoft scan your computer. Download any critical updates. Among other things, they protect you from the MSBlaster worm. Don't fail to do this. It is very important.

2. Go to http://www.zonelabs.com for a firewall. Click on the link that says "ZoneAlarm (free)." Download and install it. That will keep MSBlaster or another worm from finding your computer.

3. Acquire anti-virus software. After you install it, you MUST go to the manufacturer's site and download the latest virus information. You have to keep the program current. The battle against viruses is never ending. You can get a free program from Grisoft. Other anti-virus companies are McAfee, Symantec and Panda. On the Web, they're at:

http://www.grisoft.com/us/us_dwnl_free.php
http://us.mcafee.com/default.asp
http://www.symantec.com
http://www.pandasoftware.com

But you may not have had an intruder at all. Your problem might have been a runaway log file. For instance, I once had an anti-virus program that created a log file. This thing listed every file the program checked, and any action that was taken. Every day, it appended new information. It was eating my hard drive.

Eventually, I did a search in Windows Explorer. I limited the search to files that were at least 1 gigabyte. When I found this log file, it was at 8 GB. I deleted it, which ended the problem.

So, when you have a problem with hard drive space disappearing, look for a gigantic file. In Windows XP, open Windows Explorer (click Start, All Programs, Accessories, Windows Explorer). Click Search and All Files and Folders. Enter *.* in the file name. Tell it to search My Computer. Select Specify Size and pick At Least in the first box. Enter 1000000 in the second box. Click Search.

If you have Windows 98 or ME, you can also search in Windows Explorer. In ME, click the Search button. Enter *.* in the first box. Tell it to search in My Computer. Under Search Options, click Size. In the first box, select At Least. In the second, enter 1000000. Click Search Now.

In Windows 98, click Tools>Find>Files or Folders. Enter *.* in the Named box. In the Look In box, select C:. Click the Advanced tab. Next to Size Is, in the first box, select At Least. In the second, enter 900000. Click Find Now.

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10. Maintaining the Correct Time (A Kim Komando Tip)
Q. The time on my computer is not right. I have to fix it every few weeks. Is there a way around this problem?

A. Let's start with Windows XP. It includes a utility that sets the time. To access the utility, click Start>Control Panel. Double-click Date and Time. In the Date and Time Properties window, select the Internet Time tab. Check "Automatically synchronize with an Internet time server." That will synchronize the clock weekly. It works best with an always-on broadband connection.

If you have a dial-up connection, automatic synchronization might not always work. Solve that by using the Update Now button. Windows 98 and ME do not have a time utility. But you can download Atomic Clock Sync from World Time Server.com. It's free and works well:

http://www.worldtimeserver.com/

You can set Atomic Clock Sync to update your computer clock daily. Or you can run it manually. World Time Server promises that no spyware will accompany the Atomic Clock Sync download.

If you continue to have time problems, your computer battery may be bad. The clock runs off the battery. This problem is especially likely in a Windows 98 machine, which is probably several years old. The battery is located on the motherboard. Some snap in and out, and are easy to replace. If the battery is soldered in, I would take it to a computer shop. There's more on batteries in my online tip:

http://www.komando.com/tips_show.asp?showID=3614

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9. Do It Yourself Data Recovery

Find out how to recover your data if your drive turns to dust

By John Christopher

Hard drives are mechanical devices that contain moving parts. There are certain things you can do to prevent an extreme data disaster, but every drive manufactured (yes, even your drive), is going to stop working one day. When it does, it will take all the data you've ever created right along with it.

This type of failure can be catastrophic, such as a severe "head crash," in which the drive's read/write heads scrape the platters and literally turn your data into dust.

Take precautions
But your drive doesn't have to experience a complete failure before you lose access to your files. A simple freeze of your favorite application can lock up your computer and lead you to a reboot. Then suddenly your computer loses contact with your hard drive. In this scenario your drive's directory simply did not get updated properly when the crash occurred.

You might be able to recover your data and get on with your computing life. Of course the best solution for getting up and running quickly is to restore from the daily backups you've been running for years, right? (In case the backups are not as up-to-date as you thought they were, read on.)

Recover data
If your hard drive hasn't suffered a catastrophic failure (such as the aforementioned head crash) or some other mechanical malfunction, you can use disk utility software to try to fix the damage.

Common sense caution: If your hard drive is making any unusual noise, clicking, scraping, buzzing, grinding, or what have you, do not attempt to recover the drive on your own. Instead, contact a professional data recovery service company.

Two disk utility options
To recover data yourself you need to use a disk utility.

The Microsoft ScanDisk program, which is built into the Windows operating system is one option.

For more powerful recovery options you can invest in a commercial software product like Norton Utilities from Symantec.

These programs run fix-it routines that scan the hard drive and review the various directory structures used to maintain a record of where data are stored. The disk utility makes its best guess about the way your drive is organized, fixes whatever damage it finds, and brings your drive back to the way it was before your machine crashed.

While these programs are very capable of fixing a damaged disk, they should be used with extreme caution. Remember how we said they made assumptions about the directory structure? Well, occasionally these assumptions can be incorrect, causing you to lose data.

As a rule, you should never attempt to fix a damaged directory with a disk utility unless if offers a way of backing out. Both of the programs mentioned allow you to save an UnDo file to a floppy disk in case your fix-it routine doesn't work as it should.

John Christopher is a data-recovery engineer at DriveSavers.

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8. The Windows Logo Key Does Have a Purpose, or Two
The Windows Logo key located in the lower-left-hand quadrant of most keyboards (if you can't find this, just look for a key that resembles the Windows Logo) is actually a very quick access point for a number of useful and commonly used Windows commands. Here's the short list:

  • Hit the Logo key once to access the Windows Start menu.
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit D to minimize or restore all open windows.
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit E to open the Windows Explorer file management application.
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit F to launch the File search interface. It will say "Search Results" at the top of the window.
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit F1 to access the Help and Support Center.
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit R to access the Run dialogue box.
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit Break (this key is usually shared with Pause) to access the System Properties box
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit Tab to step through taskbar buttons. Repeatedly hit Tab to keep stepping through them.
  • Hold down the Logo and Ctrl keys and hit F to search for another computer on your network.
  • Hold down the Logo key and hit U to open the Utility Manager.

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7. Run Things Now
You can add instant access to your Run Dialogue box by adding it to the desktop. Select Start and then hold down and drag the Run icon onto the desktop. It will appear as a desktop shortcut with this name &Run.

To edit the name and remove the ampersand, right-click on the icon and select Rename. You can then access the filename and call it whatever you please.

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6. Customize the Folder Detail View
Like its predecessors, Windows XP gives you multiple ways to view the documents and files in folders.

Set your file folder view to Details. Do so by selecting the View drop-down menu and then Details. The default view shows the Name, Size, Type, and Date Modified fields. You can add others. Right-click anywhere on the column/fields header (where it says Name, Size, and so on). A list will appear with all the field options for the folder view.

You can add and remove columns by clicking on any of them (those that are set to appear will have a check next to them). You can change only one field at a time.

For more control, click on More... at the bottom of the list. A Choose Details dialogue box will appear. Select and deselect the fields you want by clicking on the check boxes (or use the Show and Hide buttons on the right side of the box). You can even use this dialogue box to change the column viewing order. To do so, click on the name of the column and then click the Move Up or Move Down button.

When you're all finished, click OK.

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5. Display the Quick Launch Toolbar
It's pretty much a guarantee that the Quick Launch Toolbar appears on your desktop for those running Windows 9.x or 2000. But Microsoft has gone out of its way to hide Internet Explorer from the standard Windows XP desktop, and as a result it has hidden Quick Launch. The toolbar, which also gives you access to the Show Desktop and Windows Media Play icons, isn't far away, though. You can access it and have it reinstated to your desktop:

Right-click the taskbar and select Toolbars | Quick Launch. You can now add items to the Quick Launch bar by dragging any icon from the Desktop, Start menu, or any Windows Explorer box to the Quick Launch area on the taskbar.

(The foregoing compliments of PC Magazine.)

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4. Free Online Security Analysis
Visit http://www.dslreports.com/scan for a thorough check of your system to learn if your computer is visible. If you are advised that you have open ports, install the free version of ZoneAlarm which can be found at http://www.zonelabs.com/. Another source for security analysis of your computer is provided by Gibson Research Corp. at http://www.grc.com/. Click on "ShieldsUp!" and scroll down to "ShieldsUp!" - then down to "Test My Shields" and "Probe My Ports." Run both checks and, hopefully, all your ports will be invisible and their status reported as Stealth. And while at this site take a few minutes to read "Explain this to me!" Now you should feel better about your computer's security.

And speaking of ZoneAlarm, here's what Kim Komando has to say on the subject: If you're thinking about a firewall, you might be tempted to use the one in Windows XP. Don't. It's lame. True, it will hide your ports. But if a Trojan horse is planted on your computer, the XP firewall will not block outbound transmissions. ZoneAlarm is a much better program.

If you want to check out the XP firewall, click Start>Control Panel. Double-click Network Connections. Right-click on your Internet connection and click Properties. Click the Advanced tab.

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3. Good Habits Will Keep Your Computer Virus-Free
Even the newest computer users have heard about viruses. There are literally thousands of programs that fall into the category of virus. Their writers are looking for attention, or maybe they're mad at the world. Whatever, you have to guard against them.

Here's how it works: Let's say there's a guy named Joe. Someone sends Joe an e-mail. It has an attachment that says "Interesting Program." Curious, Joe clicks on the attachment to open it. Whatever he sees doesn't interest him, so he deletes the e-mail.

Unbeknownst to Joe, the real payload in the attachment was a virus. When he clicked on the attachment, the virus was activated. It installed itself on his hard drive and began its dirty work. It also went to Joe's address book, where it found your e-mail address. So it sent itself to you, and used the return address of Tom, who is also in Joe's address book. When you received the e-mail, you saw the return address was Tom's, so you opened the attachment. Now you're infected, and everybody in your address book will get a virus message.

Rule No. 1: Don't open attachments you weren't expecting! Call the sender to be sure he or she sent it.

Rule No. 2: Buy and install anti-virus software. Set it up so it is always running in the background. Also, tell it to update itself automatically. This is very important. New viruses come out regularly.

The anti-virus programs must be updated regularly so they recognize and kill the viruses. Anti-virus programs can go to the manufacturer's site automatically when you are on the Internet, and update themselves.

Free Anti-Virus Protection
Free anti-virus protection is available at http://www.grisoft.com. There you can download the latest version (AVG 6.0 Anti-Virus System). Thereafter, be sure to update your virus definitions on a regular basis. If you last updated your definitions a month ago, you are not protected against a virus that was introduced since then.

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2. Do Not Call
If you want to be free of those annoying, unwanted calls at mealtime, click here, read the instructions, type in your telephone number and e-mail address, and click on Register. Then await a reply by e-mail and click on the link to confirm your registration.

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1. Create a Desktop Shortcut to Shutdown
(It works and it's handy . . . from Kim Komando.)

On the Windows desktop, right-click and select New and Shortcut. In the command line path, if your operating system is Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows ME, type the following exactly:

C:\windows\rundll.exe user.exe, exitwindows

Please note that there is a space between "exe" and "user". There are no other spaces.

If you are using Windows XP, in the command line path, type the following exactly:

SHUTDOWN -s -t 01

Please note the spaces before the hyphens and after the "t". Click Next, name the shortcut, and click Finish. Now, to shutdown Windows, just double-click this shortcut.

P.S. If you would like a similar button for Restart, substitute an "r" for the "s." The command line path would then read:

SHUTDOWN -r -t 01

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Copyright 2005 WestStar TalkRadio Network. Reprinted with permission. No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the written consent of WestStar TalkRadio Network. Visit Kim Komando and sign up for her free e-mail newsletters at: www.komando.com

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