Tech Tips From Our Emails

I HAVE A MIX OF APPLE AND ANDROID WIRELESS GADGETS CAN YOU HELP ME FIND A WAY TO PRINT TO THESE USING MY WIRELESS PRINTER?

Just when I thought I had printing all figured out with our desktop computer, everyone in the family now wants to print straight from their wireless gadgets. We have a mix of Android and Apple gadgets. Can you help us? Printing from a computer these days is no big deal. Smartphones and tablets haven’t been around as long, so there are still complications. There are several ways to get the job done. Apple has AirPrint, Google has Cloud Print and there are several third-party printing apps. The best solution for you will depend upon your budget, the model of printer you use, and your mix of smartphones and tablets. If you are in the market for a new printer, then just grab one that supports remote printing for your gadgets. A number of new printers from HP, Epson, Lexmark, Canon, and Brother support Apple’s AirPrint. Cloud Print is available on many HP and Epson printer, as well as several Kodak Hero and ESP series printers. Note that AirPrint only supports Apple gadgets, while Cloud Print supports Android but also Apple, to a more limited extent. Some Epson and HP printers include both AirPrint and Cloud Print. In a mixed-OS household such as yours, one of those printers will be your best bet. What if you want to use your older printer that doesn’t have AirPrint or Cloud Print? Consider third-party apps that can help you print from a smartphone or tablet. Print n Share is a popular one for Apple gadgets. PrintCentral is by the same company but adds compatibility with cloud services such as Dropbox and allows map and text message printing. Android users should look at Print from the same company. Since you have a number of gadgets in the house, the cost of these apps can add up quickly. You might be better off spending a bit more and buying a new printer with the capability built in. AirPrint and Cloud Print are convenient, but a bit tricky to use at first. In order for AirPrint to work, the printer must be connected to the same wireless network as your gadgets. AirPrint won’t work if the printer is connected to the network via Bluetooth, a USB cable, or through a computer. AirPrint can print from iBooks, Mail, Photos, and Safari. Some recipe and other third party apps support AirPrint. Make sure any productivity apps you buy are AirPrint compatible. When you want to print a document or photo, tap the action arrow icon. Tap the Print button, configure the printing options and tap Print again. The first time you print, you will also need to select the printer. If you have trouble printing, or see a “No AirPrint printers found” message, check that your printer’s firmware is up to date. Also make sure that your devices are running the latest version of iOS. Google Cloud Print works a little differently. Because it’s web based you can print from your smartphone or tablet whether you are in the same room as your printer or across the country. For safety, your documents are sent over a secure HTTPS connection and deleted from Google’s servers once the print job is complete. Cloud Print works with Android’s built-in Chrome browser and Google Docs apps. The Cloud Print Beta app allows you to print email, text messages, web pages, and documents from your Android gadget. Apple users in an otherwise Android household can use the PrintCentral Pro app with Cloud Print. If you have an Epson Cloud and/or AirPrint-ready model, you can use the Epson app for Apple or Android to print wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet. The app lets you print from Google Docs and other popular online storage services like Dropbox and Evernote. You can even check printer ink levels and start a cleaning cycle with your gadget. If you find that you travel a lot, you might download HP ePrint app for Apple or HP ePrint app for Android. It seeks and maps nearby public locations of HP e-printers in hotels, copy shops, and airport lounges, where you can print a document on the go. If you are looking for a printer that will work with your smartphone or tablet, let us help you find the right printer to fit your needs!

SHOULD I UPGRADE MY OLD PC OR PUT THAT MONEY TOWARDS A NEW ONE?

I have an old Windows XP computer from 2005. It is getting to run a little on the slow side. Would it be best to upgrade this computer or purchase a new one? A general rule when deciding whether or not to upgrade is computer is if it is more than 4 years old, it is generally better to replace the system rather than upgrade. Even the most basic of systems is going to be faster and more secure. Hardware upgrades on an older system are often times just as expensive or more than replacing it with a new machine. You could end up spending quite a bit of money and only seeing moderate performance gains. You would be better off saving that money for a new computer down the road. Realize that the information on the old computer can be moved to a new computer, items like documents, pictures, music, email, addresses, and internet favorites can be moved easily. If a new system is purchased through Computer Zone, we do not charge any extra to transfer the data to a new machine. Seven years of use of the same computer is pretty good, it is definitely time to treat yourself to a new faster computer.

DO YOU HAVE ANY COMPUTER RELATED NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTONS TO SHARE?

I am making some resolutions for the New Year and I realized I didn’t have any resolutions dealing with technology. Do you have any computer related resolutions you can share? The first resolution is to make sure all your data is backed up. Hard drives fail, computers die, and natural disasters and other catastrophes can happen at any time. You want your precious data, including documents, photos, and music safe and sound. If you use an external hard drive or flash drive, you have to remember to backup regularly. You can’t make on backup today and then forget about it until March. In a crash, you’d lose all the information you created between now and then. You also need to store your backup in a different location than your computer. That way, a burglary or disaster that takes out your computer won’t hurt your backup. The second resolution is to keep your computer secure. Hackers and viruses dominated the computer news in 2011 and experts warn it’s only going to get worse. Make sure you have computer security software installed and always up to date. Additionally, it is important to keep Windows and other vital programs up to date. For Windows, make sure you have automatic updates turned on. Speaking of up to date programs, your web browser is one of the most used programs on your computer. It is also one of the easiest ways for hackers and viruses to attack your computer. Make sure you have the latest version of your browser and keep it updated. Be sure to practice common sense security. Don’t open unsolicited email attachments or click on suspicious links in email. Before you download files from the internet, make sure you are on a legitimate company site. The third resolution is an extension of the second one. Your computer might have all the security in the world, but leaving your wireless network unsecured still exposes you to danger. Even if hackers don’t attack your computer directly, they can still examine your internet communication. Worse, criminals can use your internet connection for unsavory purposes. Make sure you have your wireless network totally secured. It only takes a few minutes and saves you endless amounts of aggravation. The last resolution can be summed up as, “watch what you say online.” Email, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other social media sites don’t forget. Anything you post is potentially there forever. Before you post something, think if you would want your boss, a future employer, or your mom to see it. Even if your privacy settings are set up correctly, you never know what might happen in the future. The same goes for photos and videos. Any content you don’t want the world to see should stay on your computer and out of your online accounts and email inbox. Once it’s online you have got less control over it. These resolutions aren’t all that hard to keep and they’ll make your computing experience in 2012 much nicer.

I HEAR THAT FACEBOOK IS CHANGING TO SOMETHING CALLED TIMELINE. CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT IT?

Facebook just made it possible to voluntarily upgrade to Timeline. Timeline is essentially a digital scrapbook, organized by month and year in reverse chronological order. The tool makes it very easy for you and your friends to find older status updates, photos, and notes. It is voluntary now, but soon Timeline will become the default Facebook profile. That means if you don’t take a proactive approach to shaping your Timeline now, Facebook will tell your life story for you, with everything you’ve posted since you joined the site. Stupid status updates and embarrassing photos you forgot about will be easy to find. Don’t worry though, with some tips you will have a new profile you will be proud of and ready to share. To activate Timeline, you can wait for Facebook to notify you in the coming weeks or you can go to the Introducing Timeline page. If you do nothing, Facebook will eventually move you over to the new look. Once Timeline is activated, you have seven days to edit your information before it gets published. Until the seven days is up, people will see your old profile. Once the clock is ticking on Timeline, your first big decision is to pick a cover photo. It will stay at the top of your Timeline. Like your profile picture, it is public, so choose carefully. You will be asked to review your personal information. Use the audience selector tool next to each bit of information to control its visibility. Things like your cover photo, gender, and name can only be public. With Timeline, Facebook introduces the activity log. This new tool lets you review and manage everything you’ve done since you joined the social networking site. Plus, it allows you to manage content that friends have posted to your wall or in which you have been tagged. You can hide or delete any cringe-inducing updates and photos. To hide a story, hover over the story and click the pen icon. Then select Hide from Timeline. If you want it gone entirely, click Delete Post. The pen icon gives you options such as changing the event’s date. Activity log isn’t just for hiding or removing content. You can add events to your timeline to fill in chronological gaps, if you wish. The event form is at the top of the timeline page and works like a status update. Simply select the type of event and fill in the information. As you’re working, review the privacy setting for each story you decide to keep. Facebook says your previous privacy settings for individual content should stay the same. However, it never hurts to double-check. An audience selector is available on every story. It will display Public, Friends of Friends, Friends, or Custom. Click on the audience selector to change who can see the item. If you’d like to give a story special prominence, roll over it and click the star icon. Starred stories are always visible on your timeline. As you add more and more stories, un-starred entries will fade behind gray dots. Clicking a dot expands the story for viewing. Want to make sure you aren’t sharing too much? You can see exactly how your profile looks to others with a click. On your profile, click the cog icon below your cover picture and select “View As” from the drop down menu. Type the name of a friend to see how your timeline looks to them. Type ”public” to see how your new profile looks to the world. When you are happy with your timeline, click Publish now, or let it go online automatically when the seven-day preview period expires. If you publish it and remember something you didn’t change, don’t worry; you can edit all this information later. It is important to stay up to date on the changes Facebook introduces.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MAJOR CLOUD-BASED MUSIC SERVICES?

I’ve used iTunes for years and have built up quite a library. I’m trying to decide whether I should commit to iTunes Match or go with a music service from Amazon or Google. How do you think these services stack up? Apple has just released iTunes Match, which stores your library on the internet and streams it to your gadgets. Not to be left out, Google started selling digital music last month. Amazon has been running an online music store for five years and began to offer cloud-based delivery and storage last March. These three heavyweights are all competing for the estimated $7 billion per year that is spent on online music. All three services are good, but they each have quirks too. Your decision could boil down to which portable media player you like to use and where you like to listen to music. You used the word “commit” in your question and that’s very appropriate. Once you adopt one of these services, it will be difficult to jump to a different service later. iTunes Match is an $25 per year add on for Apple’s iCloud and iTunes. With iCloud and the latest version of iTunes, Apple started moving away from the cumbersome practice of syncing devices. When you download a new song, book, or TV show with one Apple device, it automatically appears on all your other Apple devices. Of course, to take advantage of this, you have to get your music library on iCloud. That’s where iTunes Match comes in. When you subscribe to iTunes Match, it scans every song you have in your iTunes library, including songs you’ve imported from CDs. It looks for matches from the 20 million songs in the iTunes store and automatically adds the matches to iCloud. This can save hours of uploading for anyone trying to get a huge music library online for the first time. All your songs are immediately available to all your Apple gadgets. In the event that you have a few songs that Apple doesn’t, iTunes uploads them from your computer . Apple provides 5 gigabytes of iCloud storage for these files at no extra charge. If you have a lot of music it doesn’t recognize, you can add more storage for a yearly fee. You can have up to 25,000 songs on iTunes Match. Anything bought from the iTunes store doesn’t count against this storage total. Matched songs play back at a high-quality bit rate of 256kbps, even if your original copy is lover quality. Although iTunes and ITunes Match work fine on a PC laptop or desktop at home, they are really meant for Apple gadgets. The service won’t work with Android smartphones and tablets. If you have an Android or other non-Apple gadgets, you will need to look elsewhere. Let’s move on to Amazon. Amazon’s MP3 store rivals iTunes, with more than 17 million songs. Being in MP3 format, the songs will work on any computer or gadget. Cloud Drive is Amazon’s newest addition to its services. The basic service is free and gives you 5 gigabytes of storage, which is good for about 1,000 songs. Adding 20GB of extra storage costs about $20 per year. Songs bought from Amazon’s MP3 store can be automatically added to Cloud Drive, and they don’t count against your storage limit. Unlike iTunes Match, you must manually upload your existing library. If you have a large music library, that could take quite a while. It also means you’ll fill up your cloud storage much more quickly that you will with iTunes Match. Once the songs are uploaded, you can stream or download them with other gadgets. Streaming can be a big space saver if you have a smartphone or tablet with limited storage space. The downside is that whatever you’re listening to could stutter if you are on the go and moving in and out of Wi-Fi coverage. If you are one of the several million people who’ve snapped up a low cost Kindle Fire Tablet, or plan to soon, signing up with Amazon Cloud Drive is a no brainer. Amazon designed the Kindle Fire to be a key that unlocks its vast online locker of music and other content. With the Amazon MP3 app, you can get the service on other Android tablets too. You can also access the web-based Cloud Player from any Flash enabled browser. Unfortunately, iOS users are left out in the cold. Until Amazon releases an app, there is no easy way to access Amazon’s Cloud Drive on your iPhone or iPad. Lastly, there is the new Google Music. Google Music might be the cloud to choose if you and your friends are on Google+. When you buy a song that you love from Google Music, which is part of the Android Market, you can do better than tell your friends about it. You can post it and they can give it a listen for free. As the new kid on the music service block, Google Music has been running a lot of exclusive specials and offering free music to get users to sign up. It is also trying hard to be a home for indie artists. It is quickly approaching 13 million songs from artists on Sony, Universal, and EMI. However, it doesn’t have an agreement with Warner yet. Bear that in mind if some of your favorite artists are bound to be in the Warner stable. Google doesn’t charge a fee for cloud storage. You can upload up to 20,000 of your own songs for free. Songs purchased from Google, which are high quality 320kpbs MP3s, don’t count against that total. Like Amazon, you do have to upload your entire library, which will take a while. Google Music works best with Android phones and tablets. Download the Google Music app to your gadget, and you’re ready to stream or download. Naturally, it works fine on PC or Mac computers. Like Amazon, support for iOS gadgets is currently non-existent.

WE HAVE MANY WIRELESS GADGETS IN OUR HOUSE AND I DON’T THINK THAT OUR EXISTING ROUTER IS HAVING A HARD TIME HANDLING THEM ALL. WOULD A DUAL-RANGE ROUTER WORK BETTER FOR US?

Routers are a staple of modern home technology. They let you connect multiple computers, smartphones, tablets, TVs, and set-top boxes. You can even hook up security cameras. To take advantage of all your gadgets, you will need a wireless router. Fortunately, most modern routers are wireless. At the very minimum, you will need a router that supports the 802.11n wireless standard. That’s the latest and fastest version of Wi-Fi, and it has the longest range. An 802.11n router is typically backwards compatible with older standards such as 802.11g and 802.11b, so older wireless gadgets will still work. All routers have several ports. There’s the Wide Area Network (WAN) port to connect your internet modem. Then there are the Local Area Network (LAN) ports for connecting wired gadgets , such as desktop computers. Most routers will have four LAN ports, which is enough for a standard home router. However, some come with fewer LAN ports. Make sure you get a router that has enough ports for your needs. The most critical part of any router is wireless security. You don’t want to leave your network open to criminals and nosy neighbors. Make sure the router supports WPA2 encryption. You don’t want a router that only has the old WEP encryption. A hacker can get through WEP in no time flat. That’s it for the basics, but there are some extra features that might interest you. These can make your network safer, faster, and more efficient. Just be aware that the features may require a more expensive router. Some routers are of the dual band variety. They broadcast at two frequencies: the typical 2.4GHz frequency, and the higher 5GHz. Wireless gadgets such as cordless phones and baby monitors operate at 2.4GHz. This leads to signal interference that can slow down your router and limit its range. The 5GHz frequency lets the router bypass this interference. It is also a more powerful signal so you will get a more reliable connection through walls. Of course, buying a dual band router doesn’t automatically improve your network. Your wireless gadgets will need dual band 802.11n wireless capability. You won’t see any improvement with single band 802.11n gadgets. Some routers have built-in gigabit Ethernet. Its wired systems can handle speeds of 1000 megabits per second rather than the usual 100. If you are streaming or copying large files over the wired network, you will find the extra speed handy. Note that your computer will need gigabit Ethernet cards as well. Until recently, computers only had 100 megabit per second connections. On older computers, you will definitely have to add a gigabit Ethernet card. Now, having gigabit Ethernet doesn’t affect wireless speed. Wired and wireless gadgets operate at independent speeds. Most routers have a maximum wireless speed of 150Mbps. However, you can find high end routers that go up to 300Mbps. That “up to” is very important. You will need 300Mbps rated gadgets to get that kind of speed. In addition to WAN and LAN ports, some routers have USB ports. These allow you to connect a printer or a storage gadget. Then everyone on the network can access the gadget at any time. Not every router supports both storage and printers, so check the router’s box. What has been covered here isn’t nearly the end of router features you will find. There are routers that let you create separate wireless networks for guests. Others are geared toward gamers. You will need to decide what features work with your setup and budget.

I LIKE TO KEEP MY PASSWORDS IN A SPREASDSHEET ON MY COMPUTER, IS THIS A GOOD IDEA? IF I DECIDE TO USE A PASSWORD MANAGER THAT IS ACCESSIBLE ONLINE, WHAT HAPPENS IF THE SITE GOES DOWN? WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND?

I would not recommend saving your passwords on the computer or storing them with an online service. Putting them online makes them vulnerable to interception by hackers. Plus, if the service goes down as you suggested, you would be locked out of your accounts. The best recommendation for keeping passwords safe is to memorize them. I know that sounds difficult, but trust me, there is a method that works great. The passwords will even be strong enough to keep out hackers. Now, when most people are making up an easy to remember password, they make the password too simple. Some of the most common passwords, for example are 123abc, 12345, password, a pet’s name, or a last name. Many people use a regular dictionary word like happiness, love, etc. Hackers don’t even need to spend time guessing them. They have computer programs that automatically try the most common passwords and every dictionary word. Given modern computing power, any of the above passwords would be hacked before you could blink. So, what makes a password strong? There are a couple of key features that can slow down hackers. For starters, as I just pointed out, you want to avoid using names and dictionary words. Length is another factor. The longer a password is, the longer it takes to crack. I recommend using at least 8 characters, but more is better. Notice above I said 8 characters, not letters. That’s because in addition to uppercase and lowercase letters you need numbers and symbols in your password. This increases the number possibilities for each character space. More character spaces plus more possibilities per space equals a much stronger password. Let’s use the example IwIhl@M$bi86. It is an easy one to remember. Don’t believe me? Here is how I came up with it. Start by thinking up a sentence, any sentence will do. It could be a song lyric, quote, catchphrase, or just something you make up. I went with: I wish I had looked at Microsoft stock back in 1986. Now, I just take the first character from each word to get, IwIhlaM$bi86. That’s not too bad. It’s got enough characters, a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. It is easy to remember and will also confound most hackers. Of course, not every hacker gets into your account by cracking your password. Your information might be part of a company’s data breach. Perhaps your information gets stolen via an email phishing scam. A hacker could get your secure password in these instances without any effort. If you use the same password for every account, the hacker has access to them all. That’s why you really need a separate password for every account. Don’t panic, this doesn’t mean coming up with an entirely new password for each account. Instead, take a password you created and change it a little for each account. For example, add Gm to the first part of the password you create for your Gmail account. A strong password is a key part for good security.

EVERY ONE IN AWHILE I WILL VISIT A SITE AND MY BROWSER POPS UP A WARNING THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE WEBSITE’S SECURITY CERTIFICATE. HOW DO I INTERPRET THIS MESSAGE? IS THIS A WARNING NOT TO VISIT THIS SITE?

Security certificates aren’t something the average web surfer usually has to worry about. They are typically the domain of security experts and hackers. It is a good idea for you to know what they are. They are a fundamental part of secure transactions and communication. Knowing more about them makes you safer. Let me give you an example. You decide to buy a gift online, so you visit a popular shopping website. After a bit of browsing, you find the perfect gift, select it and click the Check Out button. At this point, the website switches you to an encrypted connection so you can pay without hackers intercepting your credit card information. Feeling secure, you pay and then go do something else. Millions of people do this daily. Hold up just a second though. Did you ever think that the shopping website might not be real? What if it was a hacker-run fake website designed to look like the real one? Could you tell the difference? The simple answer is no. You can’t actually know for certain who is on the other end of your internet connection. That’s one of the internet’s weaknesses. Enter security certificates, also known as digital certificates or SSL certificates. A certificate is what verifies that an online site or company is genuine. Let’s go back to my example. I’m using a shopping site in this illustration, but many other types of companies use certificates. Microsoft uses them when delivering software updates. Banks use them for secure communication. Email providers use them for encrypted sessions. If you start your own website for selling merchandise, you will need one. Sometimes, you can buy them directly from your web host. Your web host might even throw one in with an e-commerce package. When the shopping company started its website, it purchased a certificate from a certificate authority, such as VeriSign. I’m sure you’ve seen the VeriSign logo on many shopping websites, and this is why. The certificate authority, or CA, verifies that a company legitimately owns a website and has rights to a company name. For example, you can’t buy a certificate with the name Microsoft, Apple, or Adobe. So, what happens behind the scenes when you visit a shopping site? Your browser examines the site’s security certificate. It compares the CA’s digital signature to a list of approved CAs. If the signatures match, then your browser trusts the site. You can shop without a problem. The problems start when the CA’s signature doesn’t match the one on file. Perhaps the browser doesn’t recognize the CA at all. That’s when your browser gives you a warning message. I should point out here that just because a site has a valid certificate does not mean it’s a good company. As we all know, legitimate companies can be just as unscrupulous as any hackers. So, always use common sense when browsing the internet. Additionally, just because a sites gives you a certificate warning doesn’t mean that it is a dangerous site. Some organizations issue their own digital certificates that no browser will recognize. Schools, for example, often use self-signed certificates for their campus networks. So, if you encounter a security certificate warning, what do you do? Well, all browsers let you create a security exception. This should be an option available on the warning page. An exception allows the browser to accept the certificate, even if it isn’t recognized. That way you can continue using the site. The big question is: Should you create an exception? In most cases, I would say no, unless it is a special circumstance like a school network or your employer’s site. If you get a certificate error with a major company, such as your bank, then it is time to call its technical support line. Before you ditch any site, make sure you have the latest version of your browser. Older browsers may not support the latest certificates or CAs. That is probably the issue you were having. Another test is to load the site in a different browser. If the site works, then the problem is probably your first browser, not the site. In that case, you would be ok to make an exception. My point is that you should not blindly trust sites and links that don’t give you a warning. Always watch for fake sites, malicious links, and suspicious email attachments. Make sure that your security software is up to date. You also want to keep your browser up to date. It is your first line of defense against online scams.

I GOT A MESSAGE THE OTHER DAY THAT MY D DRIVE WAS RUNNING OUT OF SPACE, SO I STARTED DELETING PICTURES THAT I DIDN’T REALLY WANT. I WROTE DOWN DATA ON ALL OF MY COMPUTER DRIVES AS THEY CHANGED AND NOTICED THAT MY G DRIVE, WITH 840 MEGABYTES DISAPPEARED. TWO OF MY OTHER DRIVES, C AND D HAVE INCREASED IN SIZE, AND E IS HOLDING STEADY. I’M NOT SURE WHAT IS HAPPENING. CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN?

That’s a confusing question. Without knowing more about your computer’s hardware it won’t be easy to answer. Still, I can point you in the right direction. First, it’s helpful to know what drive letters are all about. Windows assigns drive letters to three major things. These are physical drives, hard drive partitions, and removable drives. A physical drive is self explanatory. This can be a hard drive or optical disc drive. You put in one drive and you’ll automatically get one drive letter. Put in two drives and you have two drive letters. Hard drive partitions get a little trickier. A partition is a division of space on a physical hard drive. Think of it like putting up a wall in the middle of your garage. A single hard drive can have multiple partitions. This is useful if you have multiple operating systems on one computer. Computer manufacturers will sometimes use partitions to store recovery information on newer systems. Windows reads each partition as a separate drive, so each one gets a drive letter. Finally, there are removable drives. This can be a flash drive, external hard drive, memory card, or even a shared network folder. Windows automatically assigns any removable drive a letter when it’s plugged in. When it’s unplugged, that drive letter is freed up for another removable drive. The exception is a built-in memory card reader. Like an optical drive, this will have a permanent drive letter. In fact, it could have multiple drive letters if it has slots for more than one type of memory card. In short, every computer potentially has a different arrangement of drives and drive letters. So, I can’t determine what any one drive is on your computer, just from hearing a drive letter. However, given the fact that your G drive was less than 1 gigabyte, I’m guessing it was either a removable drive or a recovery partition. Let’s take those in order. If it was a removable drive, there is no problem. Just unplug your removable drive or eject your memory card and plug it back in. Windows should detect the drive again right away. A recovery partition is a different situation. Given the drive sizes you gave me, I actually think your E drive is your recovery partition. It is about the right size at 2.5GB. However, some computers have two recovery partitions, one for the operating system and one for programs. Windows has been known to drop partition drive letters on occasion. You can check by going to Start and in the Search bar typing “diskmgmt.msc” (without quotes) and hitting Enter. In XP, you would go to Start, Run, and type it in. This command will launch the Disk Management system. You will see a list of all your system’s drives and partitions at the top. Underneath is a breakdown of the space on each drive. Look at this bottom area for your hard drive or hard drives if you have more than one. You will see a breakdown of all the partitions on the drive. If you see a System Reserved partition without a drive letter, don’t touch that; it is normal for Windows 7. Windows XP and Vista won’t have it and that’s ok too. Check and see if there is another partition aside from the System Reserved without a drive letter. If you find one, look at the drive’s size. If it is around 840MB, then it is your missing drive. You can right click on that partition and select Change Drive Letter and Paths. Then select a drive letter from the list. Just be sure not to choose a drive letter that is already in use. Do not touch any other settings in Disk Management, doing the wrong thing can mess up your hard drive and cause data loss. As for your other drives gaining space, that’s because you are deleting information. It sounds like you have pictures spread across multiple drives. Instead of deleting them you might just move them over to a drive with more available space. You might want to check the settings on your picture organization program. You can tell it to store images on a different drive letter if necessary. You should also be aware of this when you are saving pictures and images when you download them or transfer them from your digital camera.

I AM NOT CONVINCED ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF A SOLID-STATE HARD DRIVE OVER A CONVENTIONAL HARD DRIVE. COULD YOU PROVIDE ME WITH SOME MORE INFORMATION?

Thankfully Solid-State Drives or SSD drives have come down in price while at the same time increasing in capacity. Should you make the switch from conventional hard drive? Well, it really does depend upon what you are doing with your system. Both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses. First, here is a quick refresher on the two technologies. Conventional hard drives store information on magnetic disks that spin at high speeds. To read and write information, a mechanical arm has to move across the surface of the disk. It is like a very small record player. The benefit of conventional drives is size and price. 1TB hard drives are pretty common, a 1TB hard drive can hold about 200,000 songs and well over 2 million text documents. The drawback to magnetic media is lower speeds, higher energy use, and mediocre reliability. As I said, the read/write arm has to physically move to access data. That’s always going to mean a delay in finding information. Right now, the hard drive is the slowest part of any new computer. It is a major reason computers take so long to start up or launch new programs. Additionally, while the computer is running, it has to keep the hard drive disks spinning. This doesn’t use a lot of electricity, but it does add up over time, especially in laptops running on a battery. As for reliability, the motor spinning the disks will eventually wear out. Perhaps the disk bearings will freeze so the disk cannot turn. There might be a jolt and the read/write arm will hit the spinning platter causing serious damage. There are lots of ways for a hard drive to fail. That’s why backing up your computer is so important. So, let’s turn our attention to solid state drives. An SSD works pretty much like it sounds. It is a massive block of solid state flash memory. You already use flash memory in a lot of ways. USB drives use it and so do digital cameras. Most new smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players all use flash memory for storage. The beauty of flash memory is there are no moving parts. Data is written and read electronically. So, for starters, a solid state drive is fast. How fast? A conventional drive might have a seek time of 4 to 5 milliseconds (4000 to 5000 microseconds). Solid state drives can find information in 15 microseconds. Operating systems optimized for SSDs start very quickly. Once a conventional hard drive finds and starts reading a large chunk of information, it is fairly quick. However, the data speed can be based on where the information is on the disk. An SSD has a higher transmission speed, and it is a steady speed. Solid state drives are also very reliable. There are no moving parts so you can drop them without worry and they won’t freeze up. In fact, there is very little that can damage them. That makes them ideal for mobile computing. There is also the energy factor. The only time solid state drives use electricity is when information is being written or read. So, when your computer is just sitting there, the drive isn’t using electricity. That’s good news for your laptop’s battery. So what are the downsides to an SSD? Well, solid state drives are reliable, but they do wear out over time. Flash memory is made up of cells. Each cell can only be used so many times before it stops working. That’s why SSDs have wear-leveling technology. It keeps track of how often cells have been used and spreads the wear over the entire drive. In this way, most new SSDs can handle at least 5 years of regular use and often much more. That’s not much worse that the average conventional drive. The real drawback is the price. A 120GB SSD drive can run up to $300! Overall an SSD costs around $2.50 per gigabyte versus the conventional drive’s $0.06 per gigabyte. So a 1TB SSD, for example costs over $2400 versus $90 for a conventional model. That’s why most new systems that ship with SSDs are 256GB or smaller. So what’s the recommendation? If you want fast, reliable, light, energy-efficient, and you don’t mind spending the extra money, then an SSD is the way to go. If you want more storage space for your money the conventional hard drive is the way to go.

I AM CURRENTLY RUNNING WINDOWS VISTA AND I AM THINKING ABOUT UPGRADING TO WINDOWS 7. I WOULD LIKE TO UPGRADE TO THE 64BIT VERSION OF WINDOWS 7, BUT I HAVE A TON OF OLDER PROGRAMS THAT I AM NOT SURE WILL WORK WITH WINDOWS 7. IS THERE A PROGRAM THAT CAN HELP ME FIGURE ALL OF THIS OUT?

Upgrading your operating system is a big undertaking. It can become quite a headache if you are not careful. This is especially true if you have a lot of older applications. Over the years, I have heard many horror stories from those upgrading to a new version of Windows. Fortunately, many modern processors and operating systems have tackled the problem. They have made the core hardware of a computer a bit more versatile. That makes the upgrade process go smoother. Upgrading to Windows 7 is a good idea. Windows 7 increases stability and provides new features. But you will want to make sure your computer, software, and accessories can handle it. It is very important that you verify everything is compatible. If not, you may end up with little or no performance increase. It may also result in a lot of unusable hardware and software. Luckily there is a tool that should identify all these inconsistencies before you start the upgrade. To begin, 32-bit and 64-bit refer to the architecture of the processor in your computer. A 64-bit processor can access vastly more memory than a 32-bit one. This allows them to process more while moving less data. It makes for a much more powerful and efficient processor. The 64-bit CPU architecture is considered backwards compatible. This means you can run a 32-bit operating system using a 64-bit processor. But to run a 64-bit operating system you need a 64-bit processor. Programs follow much the same theory. A 32-bit application will run on a 64-bit operating system, but there is a problem. The developer must follow the proper Application Programming Interface. Otherwise the program may not survive the upgrade to a new operating system. The API is a set of guidelines used to write software. It dictates how that software communicates with system hardware and other software. It is possible to cut corners and bend rules when programming but these shortcuts may not work when upgrading to 64-bit. Fortunately, it is easy to see what will and what will not survive the upgrade. You just need Microsoft’s Windows Upgrade Advisor. Microsoft developed the Upgrade Advisor prior to releasing Windows Vista. You install this program on your current computer. It performs a full hardware and software compatibility analysis on your computer. It will alert you to any problems you may experience when upgrading. You must have all accessories installed and turned on before running the program. It may take several minutes to perform its analysis. The more programs and hardware you have, the longer it will take. Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor breaks down its results in a number of ways. It shows results for both 32-bit and 64-bit processors on separate tabs. Each tab will list problems the upgrade may cause. System hardware, installed programs, and accessories are tested and addressed. The Upgrade Advisor will provide suggestions for optimal performance for your system. It will also tell you which version of Windows 7 you can run. The results include links that help explain potential issues in more detail. After viewing your results, you can also visit the Windows 7 Compatibility Center. This site lists programs and hardware that has been certified Windows 7 compatible. It also shows if certification is pending on product you are considering buying. The Upgrade Advisor certainly takes some of the fear out of upgrading. It can save you a lot of time and money. It may also introduce you to fresh alternatives to older software. If you are uncertain if you want to do this yourself, we would be happy to take a look at your system and help you determine the best course of action.

I HAVE HEARD OF OPENOFFICE, I USE THAT AS A FREE ALTERNATIVE TO MICROSOFT OFFICE FOR WORD PROCESSING. I NOW HEAR THAT THERE IS A PROGRAM CALLED LIBREOFFICE, DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT? SHOULD I BE CHANGING?

OpenOffice has been around for a while now. Does that mean it’s obsolete? Before I go any further, I will explain OpenOffice and LibreOffice for those who aren’t familiar with them. These are free productivity suites that provide an alternative to Microsoft Office. They contain programs for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Either suite works fine for most productivity tasks. They will even open and save Microsoft Office documents. They are great options for home and businesses on a budget. But which is better? On close inspection, you will notice OpenOffice and LibreOffice seem very similar. There’s a good reason for that. They are actually the same program. To understand how this happened, you need a brief history lesson. OpenOffice began in the late 1990s under the name StarOffice. It was a popular open-source software project under the management of Sun Microsystems. In 2009, Oracle acquired Sun and a cloud formed over the OpenOffice project. Oracle really wasn’t that interested in OpenOffice. Development slowed to a crawl. Original developers felt the program was declining on Oracle’s watch, so they drifted away. They took the OpenOffice code and created a new offshoot called LibreOffice. LibreOffice, run by a nonprofit group called the Document Foundation, now gets support from an enthusiastic community of developers. There are also many advanced users who step up to help out newcomers. In the short time LibreOffice has been around, it has already seen several positive updates. Developers have removed a lot of old code that slowed the programs. Meanwhile, features like the interface and support for Microsoft Office files are being enhanced. Most people agree that LibreOffice is now the better program of the two. That’s simply because it is receiving more active development. If you want to switch to LibreOffice, it won’t be difficult. All your existing files will work, and the interface will mostly be the same. Still, if you are happy and comfortable with OpenOffice, you may find it easier to stick it out. Earlier this year, IBM encouraged Oracle to spin off OpenOffice to the Apache Software Foundation. IBM has a stake in all this because its Lotus Symphony business productivity suite is based on OpenOffice. The hope is that the community-driven Apache Software Foundation will do for OpenOffice what the Document Foundation did for LibreOffice. That is why you may have noticed OpenOffice updates picking up a bit.

HELP! MY PICTURES ARE TOO BIT TO SEND IN AN EMAIL. HOW DO I MAKE THEM SMALLER?

One of the most common photography tasks is resizing pictures. You may want to enlarge them to wallpaper size. Or you could be shrinking them for email or online photo albums. Fortunately, virtually any editing program will resize your photos. But before I help, let me give you some advice: Never edit your original files. Always make copies and edit those. It is too easy to make a mistake and ruin the original photo forever. Also, it you are working with JPEGs, you’ll degrade the photo every time you edit and save it. With that said, we can now move on to the software. Adobe makes an online web application called ImageSizer. It lets you upload and resize multiple photos at a time. That’s great because it’s free and easy to use. But uploading and downloading photos can take awhile. It depends on your internet connection speed. You might be better off downloading and editing program. A photo-editing program will also give you more options. One good program to try is Image Resizer. This program works in Windows XP and later. You can right-click an image or a group of selected images. Then choose the Resize Picture option. The program lets you select a preset picture size. Or you can enter a custom picture size under the Advanced options. The program makes a copy of the image and resized it. It takes just seconds. Another great program to use is Paint.Net. It offers a lot of options for working with your photos. It isn’t a full-fledged image editor like Photoshop. But it is great for doing things like resizing images. You can also get a bit more involved with a full featured program like GIMP. GIMP offers virtually all the same features as Photoshop, but it’s free. It is a difficult program to master. I don’t really recommend it for beginners. But more advanced users can do a lot of cool stuff with it. The program you use is only part of the equation. There are some other considerations when resizing a picture. Two important ones are scaling and resampling. Not knowing about these can mess up your picture. I’ll start with scaling. As an example, let’s say your photo’s resolution is 1280 x 768. That means it’s 1280 pixels wide and 768 pixels tall. It’s too big to send via email. So you will want to resize it. When you decrease a photo, it will be decreased horizontally and vertically by the number of your choice. You want to scale the photo proportionally. This will keep the photo’s aspect ratio, or height to width. Most programs used to resize pictures will have a dialog box asking for a new width and height. It may display the pixels, if it does, when you change the width, the height is usually adjusted automatically to keep it to scale. Some programs may adjust the scale by percentage. Most photo sizing programs will tell you how many megabytes or kilobytes the picture will be as you adjust it. The other important factor to watch is resampling. This is particularly important when enlarging an image. But still important when shrinking an image. Enlarging an image without resampling can cause pixilation. This means that the image will look blocky. Pay attention to this as you resize your image. Now you are ready to email that picture. Most internet providers will limit the maximum size your total email can be in order for it to send correctly. I would recommend keeping the picture size well under 500 kilobytes maximum. This should allow you to send any picture without issue. If you are trying to send multiple pictures on the same email and the total size of the email is above 500 kilobytes, simply remove a picture or two and send those in a separate email. Digital cameras have really come a long way since they first came out. The current digital cameras are equipped to create photos that have super high resolutions. It is not uncommon to see basic cameras that create images at 12 to 15 megapixels. This resolution is great to capture great detail in a photo if you are printing it, but not so great for sending to family or friends as an email attachment.

HOW MANY WIRELESS GADGETS IS TOO MANY FOR MY HOME WIRELESS ROUTER TO HANDLE? I DON’T WANT TO CRASH MY HOME NETWORK!

Having a gadget filled home is becoming very common. Not only computers, but cell phones, MP3 players and iPods. The list goes on and on. Theoretically, a single wireless router can handle up to 254 connections. That’s the limit of the built-in networking protocol. In actual practice, it can’t handle nearly that much. The real number depends on your router quality. A decent router should be able to handle 30 to 40 connections. High-quality routers can manage more than 100. If you haven’t run into trouble yet, then your router probably handles things just fine. Of course, as you add more gadgets, you will start to see some negative effects. All your wireless gadgets are using the same frequency. Most routers operate at 2.4GHz. A newer dual band router can handle 2.4GHz and 5GHz. A dual band router can handle more connections. However, if you didn’t intentionally buy one, there’s a good chance you don’t have a dual band router. Also, not many gadgets work at 5GHz yet. So, it may not be helping even if that’s what you have. Numerous gadgets operating at this same frequency can lead to interference. This results in dropped connections or slow connection speeds. It just isn’t iPhones and laptops either. For instance, microwaves and cordless phones also operate at 2.4GHz. Sharing the house with those can also degrade your digital connections. If you do note a slow down, it may mean that you have a weak signal in some parts of the house. If you start dropping connections, you might consider getting a new router. Newer models should be able to handle more connections. So far, we’ve been talking about the router. However, the router isn’t the only variable that affects your data traffic. You also have to be aware of the limitations of your internet connection. You didn’t mention what your internet plan is. Cable connections start at 1 megabit per second. However you can get up to 15 Mbps. A fiber-optic connection can get up to 150Mbps. If you have a fiber connection, you can handle as many gadgets as you want, they won’t be affected. Lower-speed plans, however are more of a concern. A 1Mbps connection, for example, will bog down with just a few videos running. That doesn’t even include web surfing, gaming, or other common digital activities. If you do notice slowdowns, first make sure it isn’t your router. Then consider upgrading to a faster connection plan.

I HAVE RECENTLY SUFFERED A COMPUTER CRASH AND LOST A TON OF MUSIC. I’M NOT LOOKING FOR FREE MUSIC, BUT I CAN’T PAY A LOT TO REPLACE IT. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW ABOUT SUBSCRIPTION MUSIC SITES. FROM WHAT I UNDERSTAND, THESE LET ME PAY A MONTHLY OR YEARLY FEE INSTEAD OF BUYING THE SONG. I AM A NOVICE AT A LOT OF THIS. THANK YOU.

You’d be surprised how much some people pay for music. I know people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on music in their lifetime. Still, I get your point, it is far too much to spend at once. That’s why the subscription model for music is so great. Now, not everyone is familiar with digital music purchasing. So I should probably explain what we are talking about. There are two major models of purchasing digital music online. One model is the per-track system. This is the model iTunes and Amazon MP3 use, for example. You pay anywhere from $0.69 to $1.29 to download a track of music. A full album costs around $10. Sometimes you get a discount if you buy an entire album at once. Under this model, you own the music you download. You can use it on any computer or gadget. It is yours to keep as long as you want it. The subscription model is very different. In this model, you pay a music service a monthly fee. In exchange, you can download or stream all the music you want. The catch is that you don’t own the music. The service embeds the music with digital rights management. If you stop paying the subscription, the DRM locks the music files. You are also limited on what gadgets can play the music. Think of it more like renting the music than owning it. Now, each model will appeal to different people. The per-track model appeals to people who like control of their music. They want to keep their favorite music around forever. Subscription services are good for adventurous music listeners. You can try new artists and styles without fear. If you don’t like the music, you haven’t wasted any money. So, what subscription services are around? There are a number of options out there. Rhapsody, Zune Marketplace, and Spotify are a few. Rhapsody has been around for a decade. It is gone through a few business plans in that time. Now it is going strong as a subscription service. It has a catalog of 12 million tracks and growing. For $10 a month, you can download unlimited songs to one mobile gadget or MP3 player. The $15 a month plan lets you use up to 3 mobile gadgets or MP3 players. It also lets you listen on a PC, Mac, or compatible home theater equipment like a TiVo. You can also stream music from Rhapsody’s website through a web browser. So, you can listen to the music on any computer. Just remember that streaming and downloading aren’t the same. If you lose internet access, you can’t stream your music. Rhapsody integrates with your current music library. That way you can manage all your music in one place. But you will need to use Rhapsody’s desktop software for organization. Zune Marketplace was launched by Microsoft along with the Zune MP3 player. The player is no more, but the Marketplace has taken on a life of its own. Plus, it has one of the best subscription models around. For $15 a month you can get a Zune Pass. This lets you stream or download unlimited music. You also get to select 10 music tracks every month to keep permanently. So, you’re accessing unlimited music and get to keep at least $10 worth! Unfortunately, the options for listening to the music are limited. You can listen to the 10 monthly tracks anywhere. You own those. To listen to the unlimited music, however, you will need a Microsoft product. That means a Windows PC, Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7 smartphone, or a Zune HD. And, as I said above, Microsoft is phasing out the Zune HD. However, if you regularly use any of those other gadgets, you should definitely check out the Zune Pass. Note that on the computer you will have to use the Zune software. Fortunately this is a very good media player program. It takes the solid Windows Media Player 12 and builds on it. You can also use it for managing your existing music library. Finally, for something a little different there is Spotify. This is an incredibly popular service in Europe that just came to the United States. For $5 a month, you can get a basic Spotify subscription. This allows you to stream unlimited music to your computer. Spotify saves all your playlists to your account. You can access your playlists and library from any computer. For $10 a month you can get music streaming to computers and smartphones. There is an off-line mode for smartphones. You can sync tracks so you can listen without internet access. Spotify is primarily a cloud-based streaming service. That means you will need a fast, reliable internet connection. Otherwise your music listening options will be very limited. These three services are good representative examples of subscription services. You will have to decide which one works for you. All of them have limited trial periods, so don’t be afraid to test them out. One good thing about subscription services is that they are mostly immune to computer crashes. You can just re-download or stream your music to another computer. Unfortunately, the rest of your music collection won’t be so lucky. Google is in the process of testing a music storage service. It will let you upload your music library and listen to it anywhere. However, it is still in beta testing, which means final details and pricing are subject to change. Nothing beats having a good backup. Whether you use an external hard drive or a simple USB flash drive, make sure and keep those precious music files save and sound.

I HAVE A BRAND NEW WINDOWS 7 PC. IT SEEMS TO BE RUNNING VERY SLOW. THE COMPUTER CAME WITH 2 GIGABYTES OF RAM. IS THAT ENOUGH? SHOULD I ADD MORE?

It is really disappointing when a new computer doesn’t run like you expect it to. Of course, it would help if we had some more details. There are plenty of ways a computer can be slow. Not all of them have the same causes. So we will try to cover all the bases. If it were an older computer, I wouldn’t be surprised at the slowness. Computers all slow down over time. They get full of digital clutter. That won’t be a problem with a newer computer. Well, it might be, but not in the same way. There is still clutter on new computers. Many manufacturers love to install the so called “value added” software. This is mostly just trial versions of games and other programs. It really does nothing but make them more money and cause you problems. Fortunately, you can remove this junk fairly easily and it is worth doing. Start by going though your Add/Remove programs list in Control Panel. Anything marked as trial-ware, uninstall. These programs will usually only operate for a certain number of days and then will tell you that you need to purchase the full version of the program to use the files you created. Anti-Virus, Word Processing, and Spreadsheet programs are common trial-ware programs that are installed on new computers. At Computer Zone, when we install software on our new systems, we don’t use any trial-ware programs and the programs installed are full versions that are fully functional. Once the junk is gone, things should be faster. However, it may be startup that is running slow. Take a look at the icons that are running down in the lower right hand corner by your clock. Anything that does not need to be down there all the time, you can change the settings in that program not to come up when the system starts up. There are items that have to stay, mainly the necessary Windows icons like the volume control, wireless internet connection manager, and your video card software. Some items that don’t need to be there would be instant messaging software, QuickTime player, digital camera connection software. You will need to take each item on a case by case basis. If you aren’t sure what it does, leave it alone. It is also a good idea to make sure that you haven’t picked up any viruses. Hopefully, you already have security software installed. If not, it is imperative that you have protection installed if you are on the internet. At Computer Zone, all new systems are installed with both anti-virus and anti-spyware protection. So you are protected right out of the box. Again, you never really said what was slow. If the problem is slow web surfing, for example, that doesn’t have much to do with the computer. That is dictated by the speed of your internet connection. It could also be your browser loading pages slowly. Windows 7 uses Internet Explorer 9, which shouldn’t be slow. But you could always try downloading Firefox or Google Chrome and see if that helps. Of course there is only so much you can do with software. The answer could lie in your hardware. You said that the computer had 2 gigabytes of RAM. Technically, the minimum requirement for Windows 7 32-bit is 1GB of RAM. With the 64-bit version of Windows, 2GB is the minimum. So, you have as much or more that are required. Of course, that’s just the minimum amount. You might get better performance by adding more RAM. The amount you add will depend on your version of Windows 7. Go to Start, right-click on Computer and then select Properties. Under System, check System type. It will say either 32-bit or 64-bit. If you have a 32-bit version, more RAM probably isn’t going to help. Any amount beyond 3GB isn’t seen by the system. Two gigabytes should be sufficient. The 64-bit version of Windows 7 can use a lot more RAM. In that case, you may see a performance bump by going to at least 4GB of RAM if not more. This will mostly improve multi-tasking and media editing. Computer ownership is a lot like owning a home. You have to get everything arranged to suit you. Then you have to keep it in good shape.

MY FAMILY HAS SEVERAL COMPUTERS AND MOBILE GADGETS. I WANT TO BEA ABLE TO STREAM MY MOVIES, VIDEOS, PHOTOS, AND MUSIC ALL OVER THE HOUSE. WOULD WINDOWS HOME SERVER 2011 WORK FOR THIS?

Once it is all setup, you will love it, you will be able to watch or listen to whatever you want wherever you want. A server works great in a multiple computer household. It is an easy way to hold all the “stuff” that people in the home create and store. It’s on one server and not spread across several drives and devices. So, what is a server? A server is a computer that is designed to share files. It serves up the files to other computers. Hence the name. See, some computer lingo does make sense! Almost any modern computer can be a home server. The hardware requirements aren’t that steep. However, for full benefit you will need server software. That’s where Windows Home Server 2011 comes in. Windows Home Server 2011 is a version of Windows designed specifically to stream files. It can handle a slew of common file formats. You can stream photo and image formats like .jpg and .png. It will handle mp3 and wma audio files. Plus, you can stream .wmv, .avi, and .mpg video files. Other formats are available as well. Home Server is DLNA compliant. The Digital Living Network Alliance sets standards for streaming media gadgets. Using DLNA certified gadgets makes creating connections simple. Fortunately, most new technology from TVs to tablets to software is DLNA certified. Just look for the DNLA logo on the product box. See if your current gadgets are supported by searching the DLNA product database. Not everything is rosy. There are some limitations with Windows Home Server 2011. Turning that old PC into a media server may not be possible. You see, Windows Home Server 2011 is a 64-bit only operating system. That means it can support 4GB of RAM and more. A lot of RAM is good for a server. However, it also means it requires a 64-bit processor. If that old computer has a 64-bit processor, you will be in good shape. Determining if the processor is 64-bit is just the starting point. The processor must be 1.4GHz, you must have at least 2GB of RAM, and at least 160GB of hard drive to make the software work. In reality, you would want to have a machine that is well above these minimum requirements. If you must purchase a new machine, any modern desktop computer will work just fine. When you install Home Server 2011 it installs from scratch, meaning your computer’s hard drive will be wiped out. If there is any crucial data on this computer you would want to make sure and back that up first before you install the software. One of the new improvements with Windows Home Server 2011 is the Dashboard. This is the control center for your server. Now, you have the option to keep PC logins separate from server logins. This way, if your PC is hacked, your server will still stay safe. With previous versions PC logins and user logins were the same. That’s not exactly great security. The administrator (meaning you) controls the server through the Dashboard application. From here, you can add and configure access for different accounts. There are some good reasons to restrict access for different family members. Kids should be kept out of important financial or work files. The computer and router will run through the setup program. When it’s done, the next step is setting up the domain. You will need a Windows Live account to complete the setup process, Microsoft set aside ” .homeserver.com” domains just for Windows Home Server 2011 customers. There are two kinds of computers in a server configuration. There is the server and there is at least one client. A client is a computer or other gadget that can access the server’s data. Connecting a client computer to your server is simple. Use an internet browser and type in the server name in the URL. It will look like this: http://(your server name)/connect. That will install the Launchpad software. This will keep your computer in contact with the server. Launchpad works with Windows 7, Vista Service Pack 2, and even Windows XP Service Pack 3. Windows Home Server 2011 isn’t restricted just to PC’s. Mac users can access the server too. Home Server also offers Remote Web Access. It lets you log in to your server from computers outside your network. This can be done using the domain URL you created during setup. Be careful about this feature. Anyone can stumble on your server’s address. Make sure you have a strong password setup to safeguard it. You can stream your shared files to any location. It even works with browsers on mobile gadgets. You can watch videos while you’re traveling. Let’s talk about streaming files around your network. It actually isn’t that hard to set up. You just have to turn it on and then specify shared folders. To turn on media streaming, open Home Server’s Dashboard. Click Server settings and then Media. Select the Turn on option. Then click Customize to select which shared folders to include in the media library. Click OK to save your settings. Any files put into a shared folder are visible to your other gadgets. By default, Home Server ha shared folders for Music, Pictures, Documents, Videos, and Recorded TV. You can just put your files into the appropriate folder. As I said above, most common Windows file formats are supported. Note, however, that these are all common Windows formats. Windows Home Server won’t stream some common Mac formats. So some content form iTunes and content with embedded digital rights management may not work. Opening shared files on another gadget is easy as well. All your connected computers will have Launchpad. Just open it from the notification area on the taskbar. You will have instant access to your shared files. Another way to access your music and videos is to use Windows Media Player. Open Windows Media Player and run a search of the Media Library, your shared files should appear. You don’t need a computer to view shared files. The Xbox 360 will let you access your Video, Music, and Pictures. Select your server’s name from the list, you can then browse the shared files and play them. Repeat this for every library type. DLNA Certified, TVs, digital media players, and other gadgets can do this as well. The connection process will vary. Check your gadget’s manuals to see how to connect it. This just scratches the surface of what Windows Home Server 2011 can do. It will set you back around $80 for the software. However, if you have a media heavy household and some free time, it could be worth it.

I RECENTLY READ THAT COMPUTER HACKERS CAN LOOK THROUGH YOUR WEBCAM. THAT FREAKED ME OUT. I HAVE A WEBCAM BUILT INTO MY LAPTOP. COULD A HACKER SEE ANYTHING I’VE PREVOUSLY DONE IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA? WHAT IF THE CAMERA WASN’T ON AT THE TIME?

News stories about webcam spying have been popping up more frequently. Fortunately this situation is entirely preventable. It’s not much different than protecting any other digital information. You just have to use common sense. Before I get into that, let me clear up a few things. Webcams only work when they’ve been turned on. And most webcams have lights to indicate when they’re active. If the light isn’t on, you have nothing to worry about. Additionally, webcams don’t record anything on their own. Unless you specifically make a recording, what is past is past. For example, a hacker can’t dig up previous video chat footage. A hacker would have to find a recording you made. Or he would have to do the recording himself. There is only one way a hacker can control a webcam. He has to slip a webcam control program onto your computer. This would usually be in the form of a specialized virus. There are only a few specialized viruses for webcam control. You can catch them like any other computer virus. You open a malicious email attachment or visit a malicious website. Good security software and common sense should keep you safe. There is another possibility, however. You might have a computer provided by school or work. These sometimes have theft-recovery security programs installed. Theft-recovery programs usually have remote webcam activation. That means a tech guy somewhere could activate your laptop’s webcam. However, these programs usually aren’t hidden. Go to Start, Control Panel, Programs and Features. Look through the list of installed programs. You should be able to find any anti-theft software. There are other programs that can control webcams. But these programs have to be installed in person and you can usually see them running. A hacker could install a keylogger. These programs are designed to record whatever is typed. However, some also record images of what is on the screen. That will include images from a video chat session. Of course, in this situation, the webcam is the least of your worries. You’d actually have to be using the webcam to have images captured from it. And even then, it shouldn’t be a problem. In this instance, I would be more worried about your banking login information. Social engineering is another tactic a hacker could use. He doesn’t have to break into your computer, he just has to trick you. Imagine a hacker breaks into a friend’s computer. He steals their chat program login information. Then he poses as them and tricks you into a video chat. He could then record whatever you send him. But again, that isn’t too damaging. You’d have to be doing something compromising. Plus, it is easy to notice if your friend isn’t videoing back. That could be a tip off. If you are really concerned, you can always cover the webcam. Use a piece of opaque tape or a post-it note. For USB webcams, just unplug them when not in use. It is that simple.

I AM LOOKING FOR AN EASY WAY TO USE BOOKS I GET FROM GOOGLE BOOKS ON MY KINDLE? I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO CONVERT AND TRANSFER THE FILES. IS THERE AN E-READER WITH BUILT-IN SUPPORT FOR GOOGLE BOOKS?

There are plenty of places to get e-books online. Every major e-reader has its own e-bookstore where you can buy new titles. Your local library’s site may have e-books that you can borrow for free. Google is in the process of an ambitious book-scanning project. It plans to scan an estimated 130 million books and host them on the site. Google says it has scanned 15 million titles so far. You won’t find a collection of e-books like this anywhere else. You might wonder how Google plans to scan these books. Flipping through all those pages would take forever! Well, Google has a special camera setup. It can scan 1000 pages per hour. At that rate, Google should be done by the end of the decade. Google Books offers countless free e-books. You will also find titles that are still under copyright, along with rare and out of print books. You’ll have to pay to access these. You can read many of the books online easily. Getting Google’s free e-books onto an e-reader like the Kindle is a little more difficult though. Google says that it’s e-books are compatible with over 80 devices. However, the Kindle does not support the ePub format. This is the format that Google Books and many other sites use. To make the Kindle work with Google Books, you just need to do a little work. You need to download the books to your computer. Then, you can use a program like Calibre to convert them to a compatible format. Finally, you transfer the books to the Kindle. Even e-reader models supporting PDF and ePub books cannot access Google Books directly. You have to download your books and transfer them to your e-reader. This isn’t convenient for those who travel a lot. You can read the books on a tablet like the iPad, but if your only need is an e-reader, a tablet is overkill. There is a new e-reader that accesses Google Books without a PC. It allows you to browse, purchase, and read Google Books. You can do it all through a Wi-Fi connection. It is called iRiver Story HD. It weighs 7.3 ounces, and has a full keyboard. Internal memory is only 2 gigabytes, but it does accept SDHC memory cards up to 32GB. That means it will hold roughly 16,000 books. The downside is that the display is only 6 inches and does not support touch. There is a center button at the top of the keyboard that turns the pages. Battery life is pretty impressive at reportedly 6 weeks. It also supports most Microsoft Office and standard image formats without conversion. If you already own books from other sources, Calibre can help. It can also help convert e-books for other e-readers. Calibre is free and is like a Swiss Army knife for your e-reader. Calibre offers its own built-in e-book reader software. It helps you manage books. Calibre also lets you download news for viewing on your device. It offers its own content server so you can access all your books though the internet. You can add and remove books from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection.

WHAT DO I NEED TO KEEP MY PC RUNNING SMOOTHLY? COULD YOU PROVIDE ME WITH SOME DETAILS?

There is nothing like getting a new computer. It starts up in a flash. Programs load quickly, it’s all smooth sailing, at least for awhile. But then, over time, the computer gets slower and you start encountering warning messages. Frustration sets in. You want to throw the computer out the window and start fresh. Fortunately you can avoid all of this. All it takes is some vigilance and a little know-how. Just like your health and your car, your computer requires regular maintenance. A little work from time to time will spare you hours of frustration down the road. Maintaining a PC is easy. The latest versions of Windows do a lot in maintenance behind the scenes. I’ll start with software. It pays to keep your operating system and programs up to date. Updates often add security and stability improvements to help your system run better. Windows has automatic updating built in. Go to Start, Control Panel. In Windows 7 and Vista, click Windows Update. Click the Change Settings link to enable automatic updating. For XP, click the Automatic Updates icon. Then select the Automatic option. You can then select when updates will be installed. It is also critical that you keep your security software current. New viruses are released daily. If your software is out of date, you aren’t protected. You need security software on every computer on your network. That means one antivirus and at least one antispyware program. Security software helps keep viruses from destabilizing your computer. Another key maintenance item is keeping your hard drive in good shape. Mostly that means leaving enough room for Windows to operate. It is a good idea to have at least 500 megabytes of free space. Windows uses free space for extra memory. If the hard drive gets full, you will see serious slowdowns. Windows might also experience errors and crashes. A program like CCleaner removes temporary system and program files. These are created as you are working. You don’t need them after you complete a task. CCleaner can free up space other programs can’t. In Windows XP, it is a good idea to defragment your hard drive regularly. This rearranges your information for easier access. Your hard drive won’t have to work as hard. Doing this once a month should be fine. The built in defragmenter in Windows 7 and Vista runs automatically. That means you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Running a third party defrag program won’t hurt, but really isn’t necessary either. The exception is if you have a solid state drive. In that case you definitely don’t want to defragment as you are limited on your maximum reads and writes to that type of drive. You also be keeping your physical hardware clean. Dirt and dust accumulation can cause your computer to overheat. Overheating hardware can become unstable. It will also shorten your hardware’s lifespan. Your computer will die much sooner. Cleaning isn’t too hard. Just open the case and get rid of any dust buildup. Compressed air works wonders. Be sure the computer is turned off and unplugged. Never mess around inside an active computer. This last suggestion isn’t so much maintenance as it is important in case a computer catastrophe occurs. I am talking about backing up your data. It doesn’t matter if you use an external hard drive or a USB flash drive, or even subscribe to an online backup service as long as it gets done and gets done often. Computer ownership doesn’t have to be a burden. It helps to know some simple tricks for keeping things running smoothly.

I AM INTERESTED IN GOOGLE+, HOW IS IT DIFFERENT THAN FACEBOOK? WILL IT HAVE THE SAME PRIVACY CONCERNS AS FACEBOOK?

Facebook’s story is certainly amazing. Mark Zuckerberg started the site in his Harvard dorm room less than a decade ago. It started out serving the Harvard campus. Today it boasts about 750 million users across the world and by some estimates, it is valued at $70 billion. Google has dominated the search market for a decade. Android is slowly taking over the mobile market. Chrome is taking over the browser market. Social networking is the one place Google can’t seem to win. Its attempts so far haven’t been that successful. The Orkut service Google launched in 2004 is only popular in India and Brazil. A year ago it launched Google Buzz, which had some privacy problems. Even after the problems were largely fixed, no one really used it. Well, Google is taking another stab at social networking with Google+, and it is off to a good start. Google maintains that Google+ is a social-sharing site, not social networking. However, that’s mostly semantics. It works much like other social networks. For now, Google+ is available by invitation only. Google is keeping a tight reign on how many people join. It is already suspended the invitation system once due to high demand. Invitations are even being sold on eBay! So you probably won’t be able to use Google+ for awhile. However, you may have already noticed some visual changes to Google’s other services. These are in anticipation of Google+’s full launch. Google’s top link bar has a black background, for example. This is to draw more attention to that area. Eventually you will see a new “+You” link up there. It will also highlight a red notification area for Google+ updates. Clicking the +You link will take you to the Google+ main screen. This area lets you do much of what you can on Facebook. You can create status updates, share links, and post photos. It will also show you updates via the Stream. The Stream is similar to Facebook’s news feed. However, it has more space for displaying media. The real difference is how Google+ handles friends. It doesn’t have a Facebook-style “friend” system. When you first start out on Google+ everything you post is public. Anyone on the internet can read it. In that aspect, it is more like Twitter. Where Google+ differs, is a system called Circles. A circle is a group of people you create. This is similar to Facebook’s Groups, but easier and far more useful. Creating a circle is a simple as dragging and dropping friend’s pictures. The you just give the circle a name. You can create any number of circles for different groups of friends. For example, you can create a circle for work friends. You can have one for college friends. One friend can be a part of multiple circles. Once you have circles created, things get interesting. Let’s say you want to post a status update. You can post it to a single circle, like Family. Then only your family members will see that post. You can also post to multiple circles if you wish. Google+ prompts you to select a circle for every post , that means it is much harder to post something publicly accidentally. You can filter your Stream by circle as well. If you only want to see posts from Family, just click on your Family circle. Unlike Facebook, you don’t need permission to add people to circles. You could create a circle of random strangers and read their posts if you wanted to. The posts you will see will only be public posts. You won’t see private posts unless they add you to a circle. Google+ also has Hangouts. Unlike Skype’s group video chat, Hangouts is free. You can quickly set up video chat rooms with your circles. You can share links, chat, and view YouTube videos together. It supports chats with over 6 people. There is a large main window for easy viewing. The person who is talking at the moment shows up there. Google+ also has a feature called Sparks. These are lists of things that interest you. You can see online content related to these interests. Then you can easily share them with others. Google+ integrates other Google services as well. For example, it will pull photos from Picasa. You will be able to browse photos of you and your circle friends. Video sharing will be supplied via YouTube, of course. Google+ also integrates Google’s +1 system. This is Google’s answer to Facebook’s Like button. Google+ will also incorporate Google Buzz. Buzz now seems to function more like Twitter. Only time will tell how it will be fully integrated. Google+ will initially be available for the computer as well as Android smartphones and tablets. Versions for other gadgets are in the works. Overall, it seems like Google is trying to best every social service out there. The problem is getting people to use Google+. It will be difficult to convince Facebook users to also use Google+. But it should be noted that Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, already has a Google+ account. If you do join Google+, you will have to convince your friends and family to join as well. Otherwise, there’s no point. Now, some people will join just because Google+ isn’t Facebook. Google will have to show that it won’t repeat some of the same mistakes Facebook has made. A major problem is Google’s sharing system. Basically you can share anything on Google+. That includes sharing other’s private posts. A picture that someone posts privately to their circle could then turn around and be posted publicly by someone else in their circle whether the original person wanted it to happen or not. There is an option to disable re-sharing posts, but this has to be done for every time you post something. Hopefully Google will fix this before opening it up to everyone. In the meantime there are a few kinks to work out before the full launch becomes available.

I HAVE BEEN WATCHING A LOT OF MOVIES ONLINE LATELY. THERE IS JUST ONE PROBLEM. THE VIDEOS CAN BE VERY JERKY AT TIMES. THEY WILL PLAY FOR A BIT AND THEN PAUSE FOR A BIT. WHAT’S GOING ON? HOW CAN I FIX THIS?

There is nothing worse than your favorite show or movie cutting out just as it gets interesting. Unfortunately, we have all experienced this at some point or other. The problem is with video buffering. Buffering is a pain but it is actually a feature designed to help those with slow internet connections. The video player downloads part of the video before starting to play it. This is intended to prevent the problem with jerky playback. As we all know, buffering doesn’t always work out so well. The video player might miscalculate your internet connection speed. It starts playing too soon and has to keep stopping to buffer more. Even if you have a speedy connection, you can have those dreaded buffering issues. There are a lot of reasons this could be happening. You’ll have to eliminate them one at a time. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be too difficult. One possible culprit is the video provider. They might just have a lot of traffic and it is slowing them down. To test this, load up another site, such as YouTube. YouTube is good because it has a very robust infrastructure. You should rarely see any slowdowns. Make sure you try both standard-definition and high-definition videos. See if you experience a buffering problem. If you do, then the cause isn’t the video provider. You’ll have to look elsewhere. Next, you can examine your internet connection. Streaming video takes a decent amount of bandwidth. You need a solid connection to get good results. The amount of bandwidth varies by what you are trying to watch. A 240p YouTube video can run on as little as a 200 kilobit-per-second connection. A 720p video really needs a connection over 1 megabit-per-second. Many DSL connection packages start at 768kbps. A cable connection is often over 3Mbps. Either should be able to stream standard-definition video with no problem. However, what you pay for and what you get aren’t always the same. Broadband providers list the highest possible speed. Your average speed might be something else entirely. There are several tools you can use to check your speed. Speedtest.net determines your connection speed to an outside server. It tells you how fast your connection can really go. If you find that your connection cannot perform what your provider promised, it is time to call your internet provider. The next thing to look at is your home network. A typical wired network runs at 100Mbps. Older networks may run slower and brand new networks can run as fast as 1000Mbps. A wireless network’s speed can also vary. It can range from 11Mbps to 450Mbps. The speed will depend on your router . Any of these numbers are sufficient for streaming video. Even 1080p HD video will stream okay at around 4 to 5Mbps. If you have a router that is over five years old, it may be time to replace that dinosaur and increase your speed. There are many things that can slow down your home network. You might have multiple people trying to use the internet at one time. They could be transferring files or even trying to stream videos of their own. Each person is taking a chunk of your total bandwidth. On a wireless network, you can also get signal interference. Plug your computer directly into your broadband modem and see if you still get a buffering problem. If everything works fine, it is likely time to replace that router. You may also try plugging a different computer into your network, see if it experiences the same problems. If the new system plays okay, it is likely something with your computer. The computer software can cause streaming problems. Make sure that you have the most up to date version of your internet browser. Some security programs scan data as it is received. That can also slow things down. You may want to look at different security. Viruses and malware can also slow down your system and eat your bandwidth. Make sure your system is free from viruses and malware. There are a lot of things to check. But it is well worth your time to find your culprit. You want to make sure you are getting the best experience possible.

I HAVE A LOT OF PHOTOS THAT I PUT TOGETHER IN A MOVIE USING LIVE MOVIE MAKER. I THEN BURNED THE MOVIE TO A CD. THE CD PLAYS FINE ON MY COMPUTER, BUT NOT ON MY FRIEND’S COMPUTER. I AM USING WINDOWS 7 PROFESSIONAL, MY FRIEND HAS WINDOWS VISTA. PLEASE HELP ME MAKE A DISC THAT CAN PLAY ON BOTH COMPUTERS.

Live Movie Maker is a good tool for making videos. Creating a slide show is the fun part. You get to arrange photos and set them to music. You can also add transitions, effects, and audio commentary. Of course, that is only the beginning. You also want to share your slide show. The easiest way to share it is by burning a disc. Unfortunately, burning CDs and DVDs is trickier than it should be. You want the disc to work on any computer or DVD player. However, there are several problems you can encounter. For starters, there are two ways to burn a disc. The first way is to burn files straight to the disc. This is essentially the same as putting files on a flash drive. The files can be opened and read on another computer. The second method is to author the disc. Files are converted and put on the disc a special way. That’s how audio CDs and movie DVDs are created. These can be read by standalone CD and DVD players. They can also be opened on computers with the proper media programs. A lot of people burn files instead of authoring. This causes problems when they try to play the disc. I’ll cover how to perform both methods of creating a disc. DVD authoring isn’t that tricky. You just need an authoring program. There are several paid authoring programs out there, but you don’t need them. Windows 7 includes an authoring program called DVD Maker. This makes your DVD playable in standalone players. It isn’t difficult to use. Open your project in Live Movie Maker. Find the Sharing section on the Home ribbon. Click the DVD icon and follow the directions. You will have a playable DVD in no time. Incidentally, Windows Vista Premium and Ultimate versions also include DVD Maker. Vista Home does not. Windows XP doesn’t have a built-in authoring program either. Fortunately you can grab a program like DVD Flick. This works on all versions of Windows. It will turn your saved video file into a playable DVD. For more information or to download DVD Flick click here. Creating audio CDs works the same way. You need a program to burn playable audio CDs. Fortunately, Windows Media Player and iTunes can both create playable CDs. Creating a video CD is somewhat different. You typically don’t author a CD for video. Not many standalone or computer media players handle video CDs. Instead, you want to burn the video files directly to the CD. Then you can play the files on the CD using any computer. It is just like playing files off a flash drive or hard drive. Let’s talk about video file formats for a second. This is where video CD creation often goes wrong. You may accidentally burn the wrong type of file. Live Movie Maker saves project files in the WLMP format. Earlier versions of Movie Maker use the MSWMM format. Neither one of those is an actual movie file. You can’t play them in any media player. This is true of most media programs. Your files are saved in a proprietary format. To create a useable video file, you need to export the project. This option is usually found under File, Export. Here is how to export a project in Live Movie Maker. You have two options. Click Publish Movie and then select either Export to File or Recordable CD. Exporting to a recordable CD will do a lot of work for you. However, it is a little more finicky about working on other computers. Try that first and see if it works. If not, choose Export to File instead. You will be asked to choose the file size, format, and video quality. Either WMV or AVI will work for the format. WMV files work more consistently on Windows machines. AVI will work on both PC and Mac. However, some PCs won’t be able to play it. The video quality and size will be up to you. For posting online, you’d want a smaller video. However, that doesn’t really apply in this situation. You will be distributing the file using physical media. So, I would choose the highest quality settings that keep the file under 700 megabytes. That’s the average CD storage limit. Once the video file is created, watch it on your computer. Make sure it works and looks good. Then you can burn it to your blank CD. Note that the following steps also work for video files exported from other programs. Plus, they will work for burning files to a blank DVD disc. In Windows 7 and Vista, put a blank CD in the drive. A dialog box will appear asking you what you want to do with the CD. Select the Burn files to a data disc option. Enter a name for the disc. Then click Show formatting options and select Mastered. By default, Windows tries to use the Live File System for CDs. This is easier to use than Mastered, but you are more likely to encounter compatibility issues. After selecting Mastered, click Next. An empty folder will open. Drag your video file into that empty folder. Then on the toolbar, click Burn to disc. The CD will burn and eject automatically when the process is complete. The CD should now be readable in any other computer. You can open the movie file using Windows Media Player. Windows XP has burning tools built in. However, they aren’t as reliable as the tools built in to Windows Vista and 7. Computers make media creation possible for everyone. You just need the right tools and a little guidance.

I AM INTERESTED IN PURCHASING A NETWORK HARD DRIVE. WHAT KIND OF FEATURES DO I NEED TO MAKE IT WORK WITH MY WIRELESS NETWORK AT HOME?

Setting up a NAS unit, or network attached storage, is a great addition to any home network. A NAS unit is basically an external hard drive that connects directly to your computer over a network. It doesn’t connect to your computer directly. This has a lot of benefits. For one, you can connect to your NAS from anywhere. It also allows multiple machines to access the same storage. So sharing files is a breeze. It is particularly handy if you have a large media collection to share. Now, there are a few things to look for in a NAS unit. First, you will want to consider the storage capacity. This is probably going to be the largest factor in choosing your NAS. Some NAS systems will have a fixed measure of storage. These are typically the lower quality options. Better NAS systems will feature interchangeable drives. In fact, high-end systems often don’t ship with hard drives; you must add your own. This will let you add or swap drives as needed. This is great if you need to replace worn-out hard drives. It is also handy if you want to upgrade the hard drives to larger sizes. You will also want to look for external connections or extra hard drives. This will allow you to connect external hard drives quickly. That’s certainly great for adding even more storage. These extra connections are also handy for sharing portable drives. Just connect the drive to the NAS, and it’s ready to be shared. Then when you’re ready you can disconnect it and take it with you again. Finally, look at how you control the NAS. Most of these systems will allow you to connect to the storage through a web page. Basically you control options for the NAS in you web browser. Some NAS systems are very intuitive and work well. Others aren’t quite as simple and don’t give you a lot of options. I’d read some user reviews on particular models you may be considering.

I JUST INSTALLED THE LATEST WINDOWS SECURITY UPDATES. NOW MY FLASH DRIVES DON’T OPEN AUTOMATICALLY WHEN I PLUG THEM IN. DID THE UPDATE BREAK MY FLASH DRIVES?

The latest Windows update does affect flash drives. It doesn’t break anything, though. It actually fixes a long-standing security problem. Microsoft has finally decided to modify the Autorun feature. Autorun detects and loads new media automatically. It handles flash drives, external hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and more. Microsoft originally added Autorun as an automated convenience. It opens external media so that the Autoplay function can play content. Of course, hackers were quick to take advantage of these features. For example, hackers have been known to plant viruses on flash drives. They leave the drive for someone to find. The unknowing victim plugs the drive into his computer. Windows Autorun would load up the drive automatically. The virus would then run automatically without any interaction from the user. The victim wouldn’t have a chance to stop it. This was the delivery mechanism for several viruses. The Conficker and Stuxnet worms both took advantage of this method. Criminals have also used it in targeted attacks on businesses. That’s why you should never connect an unfamiliar flash drive. It is also important to have security software installed. Most security programs will scan flash drives automatically. Now, Microsoft disabled Autorun for flash drives and external hard drives in Windows 7. XP and Vista were still vulnerable until the latest patch. XP was especially vulnerable. It lacks some core security features present in Vista and 7, it is an easier target for viruses in general. The good news is that your flash drives and external hard drives will still work. They are available when you plug them in. You just have to open the drive and run programs manually. You can do this by clicking Start, Computer in Vista. In XP, you go to Start, My Computer. You should see the removable drive listed. Just double-click on the drive icon to open it. Then you can browse for files and programs. This update doesn’t affect CDs and DVDs. Microsoft felt they weren’t a serious threat. That means you have to protect yourself. Make it a point not to use discs from unverified sources. You can re-enable Autoplay, if you want to take the risk.

HOW DO I OVERRIDE THE EXPIRATION DATES ON INK CARTRIDGES FOR MY PRINTER?

People buy a lot of ink cartridges and store them. Then they don’t get around to using them until after they’ve expired. Maybe you bought some older cartridges. Or perhaps you bought some third-party replacements in which case the casing itself might be old. Some printers will refuse to use expired ink cartridges. You will get a warning, and the printer won’t operate. That can be quite an annoyance. Ink cartridges cost a lot of money. So, on the surface, this sounds like a manufacturer’s scam. But there is actually a good reason behind the expiration system. First, let’s be clear about one thing. Say that you have a Hewlett-Packard printer. Very few HP cartridges actually expire. Consumer-level cartridges don’t have this limitation built-in. That’s because each cartridge is self-contained. A self-contained cartridge has both ink and a printhead. The printhead deposits the ink on the paper. On consumer printers, the printhead is a low-cost part. Office and professional printers, however, are different. The printhead is higher-quality to produce better prints. Some printers even have a separate printhead. These printheads can cost several hundred dollars to replace. In those printers, the ink cartridge acts as a reservoir. It feeds the printhead through an ink delivery system. This lets you replace the ink cartridge without replacing the expensive printhead. Now, ink changes in composition over time. Air can seep into the cartridge and the ink carrier can evaporate. This turns the ink into sludge instead of a liquid. This sludge can clog up the ink delivers system. It can even clog the printhead. On a high-end printer, this means a very expensive repair bill. HP puts a warranty date on its cartridges. It only guarantees the ink up until that date. After this date, you are using the ink at your own risk. However, the warranty date isn’t the same thing as the expiration date. Expiration comes anywhere from 12 months to 24 months after the warranty date. It can also be triggered 18 months to 30 months after the cartridge is installed. At that point, you will see the expiration message on your printer. Some cartridges let you override this warning. The instructions for doing this will be shown on your printer’s screen. You can also find the instructions in the printer manual. Cartridges for the more expensive printers don’t have an override. But there are only five cartridges like that. These are the ones numbered sequentially from HP 10 to HP 14. My recommendation is to bite the bullet and purchase new cartridges. You can find workarounds online, but those aren’t guaranteed to work and some of them can mess up your printer. Trying to save a little money could cost you a lot of money. On balance, it really isn’t worth it. Wanting to save money on printing costs isn’t a bad thing. But the best way to save is by printing less. When printing from a website, many will offer a click here for the printer friendly option. This makes it easier to just print the text you want.

I AM ALREADY SEEING STORIES ABOUT WINDOWS 8. WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE COMING OUT? HOW IS IT GOING TO BE BETTER THAN WINDOWS 7?

You are going to see a lot about Windows 8 in the coming year. Microsoft is working hard on the operating system. Microsoft has already sent very early versions of Windows 8 to content partners. Naturally, these early versions are leaking out to the public. They do give some indication where Windows 8 is headed. Now, it is important to remember that Windows 8 is still in the early stages. That means a lot can change between now and the release date. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we know so far. First, let’s talk about hardware. This is an area where Microsoft has actually been very clear. The new version of Windows will run on more than just PCs. All PC processors run on the X86 architecture. This is true if it is an Intel or AMD processor. That isn’t the only architecture around, however. More than 90 percent of mobile gadgets use the ARM architecture. Windows 8 is going to run on both X86 and ARM processors. That means developers can put it on low-cost mobile gadgets. This will give users a lot more hardware options. Based on this flexibility, we can make a few assumptions about the software. Windows 8 will have to be even more streamlined than Windows 7. Don’t forget that Windows 7 is already a streamlined version of Vista. The Windows 8 user interface will naturally get some tweaks. It will need to work on both PCs and portable gadgets. Right now, Windows doesn’t really work well with touch-screen gadgets. Leaked screenshots show some changes in that direction. Windows 8 is incorporating elements of Windows Phone 7’s Metro user interface. There are even suggestions that it will have a separate dedicated tablet layout. The screenshots show a few other tweaks too. Microsoft seems to be toying with adding a ribbon system. This would be similar to the Microsoft Office ribbon. The ribbon would show up in Explorer windows. It would give you context-appropriate options for handling files. It would probably include more options than what you can access now. Some purely aesthetic changes are also likely. For example, window borders could change color to match the desktop wallpaper. This would happen automatically. On the whole, I would expect a radical departure from the overall look. Microsoft is making incremental changes for now. You shouldn’t see the massive changes that happened between XP and Vista. The software environment might be a different story. Microsoft could introduce an app store similar to what Apple already has for OS X. Microsoft’s store would rely on software packaged in the AppX format. Preliminary reports on AppX sound promising. It can handle everything from traditional software to web applications. Also, AppX will work cross-platform. For example, it could be integrated into the upcoming Windows Phone 8. A single app could work on all your Microsoft gadgets. Speaking of apps, Microsoft is developing a PDF Reader called Modern Reader. Malicious PDF files are one of the biggest security threats around. Integrating a PDF Reader with Windows could provide better security. Windows security should improve as well. Security in Windows 7 is already much better than previous versions of Windows. However, there is always room for improvement when it comes to security. There are also rumors of something called History Vault. This would be a comprehensive backup utility. You could restore individual files and edit past versions. It would be a supercharged version of the current Shadow Copy. Cloud integration is going to be a factor for Windows 8. A few links to online services have started popping up. One of these relates to Windows user accounts. You may be able to use your Windows Live username to log in. That ties together your computer and Windows Live services. At this point we don’t know much more about Windows 8. After all, it isn’t even due out until 2012. Right now it is still in the preliminary stages.

CAN I USE MY SPARE ROUTER TO BOOST MY WI=FI SIGNAL IN MY HOME? IF SO, WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO SET THAT UP?

It is possible to use an extra router to boost your Wi-Fi signal. Doing so may not be as easy as you think however. First, let me explain what a repeater is. A repeater basically receives your wireless signal. It then rebroadcasts the signal, extending the range of your Wi-Fi network. Some routers do come with the ability to function as a wireless repeater. It should say on the packaging if the router offers this feature. You can also check the manual or the manufacturer’s website. Typically, these routers have a special button or switch on them. You use this to change the router into a repeater or vice versa. In other cases, you will have to make changes to the settings. Check the manufacturer’s website for more information. A better option would be to buy a Wi-Fi repeater. These don’t cost very much anymore. You can usually find a decent repeater in the $50-$80 range. Look for the same brands that make reliable routers. In fact, keeping the same brand between your router and repeater in some cases is ideal. Setting up these repeaters is usually pretty straightforward. Some require that you connect it to your router via an Ethernet cable. More expensive models will let you connect the repeater wirelessly. Once the repeater is connected to your network, you just need to change a few settings. Namely, you configure your repeater with the same settings as your wireless network. You need to make sure the SSID, encryption type, password, and channel all match. You can do this at the settings page for the repeater. You access this by typing the IP address of the repeater into your browser. The manual should have instructions. The higher end models make this setup a bit easier. These usually feature a one button configuration option. All you have to do is hit a button on the repeater and it will automatically configure the repeater for your network.

I SAW SOMETHING ONLINE ABOUT INTERNET EXPLORER 9. WHAT MAKES IT DIFFERENT THAN INTERNET EXPLORER 8? SHOULD I INSTALL IT ON MY COMPUTER?

These are excellent questions. I would definitely update to Internet Explorer 9 when it becomes available. Microsoft has a problem and it is called the internet. Computing is moving away from a solitary desktop environment and that’s where Microsoft made its name. Productivity software is moving online where it is easily accessible anywhere. Two of Microsoft’s major properties, Windows and Office are in jeopardy. Microsoft has released some online versions of its software. However it needs a strong web browser to push its online properties. That’s Google’s approach with its Chrome web browser. However, Microsoft doesn’t have a strong web browser. It has Internet Explorer, which has had a long and mediocre history with many security problems. The current Internet Explorer version 8 is basically a capable browser. But it lags well behind Firefox and Chrome in most respects. Internet Explorer 9 has a totally redesigned layout. It’s minimal and designed to maximize screen space. Only the most necessary of controls are shown initially. Everything else is hidden away. The download system has been overhauled. Searching capability has been added to the address bar. Special features like pinned tabs and tag pages are now available. Hardware acceleration has been added. This lets the computer’s video card render website graphics and some video. Media-heavy websites should load faster and put less strain on the processor. JavaScript performance has been improved drastically. This is the code language behind many interactive websites. Internet Explorer 9 JavaScript performance now matches or exceeds Firefox and Chrome. In the past, it was 100 times slower or more. Improved performance should help when rendering future interactive websites. Web standards are not supported correctly. This will make website programming easier. Sites don’t have to be specially tweaked to work in Internet Explorer. Finally, Internet Explorer 9 has improved security. This is one of the biggest problems with previous versions and it is critical as more malicious sites go online daily. Internet Explorer 9 will block a wider range of phishing sites and malicious downloads and it integrates well with Windows’ security features. It also has a tracker blocking option. This will block advertiser tracking cookies from being downloaded. That is a huge step for online privacy. You will definitely want to upgrade to Internet Explorer 9. However, there are two problematic details. The first is that it is still just a release candidate. That means that it has left the beta testing phase, but it may not be the finalized version of the program. You will likely encounter some bugs. Most users will want to wait until it is formally released. The second problem is operating system related. Internet Explorer 9 will not work on Windows XP. It requires Vista or 7. This is due to Internet Explorer’s security and hardware acceleration. Those both require operating system elements XP doesn’t have. Also, Microsoft likely thinks that many XP users wouldn’t upgrade anyway. Many are still using Internet Explorer 6 and 7. So what should you do while waiting for Internet Explorer 9? And what should you do if you are using XP? Internet Explorer 8 is still a decent browser. It does have security problems, but not nearly as bad as 6 and 7. So you are ok sticking with that for now. Internet Explorer 9 should be out in a month or two. XP users should upgrade to Internet Explorer 8 and keep up with security patches. Or look into switching to a different browser like Firefox or Chrome. If you are still running Internet Explorer 6 or 7, upgrade immediately. Running an older browser makes everyone less safe. It is too easy for your computer to be hacked and taken over. Then your computer can be used to attack other computers.

I WAS TRYING TO GET MY BROWSER TO SAVE MY YAHOO! USERNAME AND PASSWORD. AFTER A FEW FAILED ATTEMPTS, IT FINALLY SAVED MY PASSWORD. UNFORTUNATELY, I MISTYPED THE PASSWORD. NOW I’M STUCK WITH AN INCORRECT ONE. WHEN I TRY TO CHANGE IT, I’M ASKED FOR A CURRENT PASSWORD. UNFORTUNATELY, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS. CAN YOU HELP?

Passwords are great for security. But you need to be careful. Otherwise, you can lock yourself out of your account. Your situation is quite common. Browsers often prompt you to save passwords. If you enter the wrong password, that is stored in your browser. It can be a big annoyance. But you can fix it fairly easily. Of course, you have another hurdle to overcome. You need to recover your password too. Fortunately, Yahoo! made provisions for this sort of thing. On the Yahoo! Mail login screen, click the “I can’t access my account” link. Then select “I forgot my password.” You will be prompted to enter your Yahoo! ID. This is the same as your email address. Then fill out a Captcha code and click Submit. You will see a screen asking you to verify your identity. Enter a previously supplied alternate email address. You may also enter a previously supplied phone number. Yahoo! will send an email or text you. It will contain instructions for resetting your password. You won’t need to know the incorrect password to accomplish this. You may not have supplied alternate information when creating your account. In that case, select “I can’t access any of the above.” Click Next to visit the security question section. You will be asked two security questions. These should have been set up with your account. Answering the questions correctly allows you to reset your password. You can type in a new password. You will also need to enter your password a second time as confirmation. This is designed to help you avoid typos. Every webmail service has a similar system for resetting passwords. Now that you have got your password, it is time to fix the problem in your browser. Fortunately, browsers let you manage your saved passwords. So you can delete the incorrect information. Then, you can have it store the correct password. In Internet Explorer, password storage is a function of the AutoComplete feature. Unfortunately, there is no easy management option. To get rid of one password, you have to delete them all. This can be done in Safety, Delete Browsing History. In Google Chrome, click the wrench icon and select Options. Go to the Personal Stuff tab. Then under Passwords, select Show Saved Passwords. You can remove any incorrect passwords. Just select one and click Remove. A browser’s built-in password manager is handy. It is also important to use a good password using a combination of numbers and letters, and even lowercase and capital letters.

I HAVE A 500GB EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE. IT STORES PICTURES, DOCUMENTS, MUSIC, AND OTHER PERSONAL FILES. I TURNED IT OFF AND THEN BACK ON A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO. IT STARTED MAKING CLICKING SOUNDS AND MY PC IS NOT ABLE TO READ IT. I THOUGHT THAT AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE WAS SAFE. IS IT DEAD? IF SO, WHAT CAN I DO?

A hard drive making any clicking, scratching, or grinding noise is never good. It means that the head is dragging on the platter. Or the platter bearings are failing. Either way, it is time go get your data off the drive. In some cases, you can retrieve your data before it’s too late. In this case, though, it sounds like the opportunity is passed. Your best bet is to keep the hard drive turned off to avoid further damage. Your only real option here is to visit a data recovery service. It will probably remove the platters from the drive. Assuming there is no damage; it can put the platters into another hard drive and pull the data off for you. Even with some platter damage, services can usually retrieve data. But it won’t be complete and it will cost a chunk of change. The service should give you a firm quote and a list of data that can be recovered. Now we need to address what appears to be a common myth. I’m talking about the myth that external hard drives don’t fail. As your situation demonstrates, it simply isn’t true. I think this myth arises because external drives are recommended for backups. People assume external drives are more reliable than internal drives. But external drives are just internal drives in a box. They fail about as often. The real misunderstanding here is the purpose of backup hardware. No backup hardware is foolproof. It can easily fail like anything else. The point of a backup is to have a second copy of the data. That way if you lose once copy, there is another copy still intact. The more copies you have, the more protected your data is. But the number of copies isn’t the only factor. Location and automatic updating are key as well. Putting backup hardware next to your computer is convenient. But it also reduces the backup’s effectiveness. All your data is still technically in one location. A power surge or fire can take out both copies of your data. Let’s not forget automatic updating. Lots of people invest in backup hardware. But then they never remember to use it. Or, they use it infrequently. So it really doesn’t do any good. You just have to train yourself into making part of your daily or weekly routine to get your backup done. You will save yourself a lot of aggravation in the long run.

WHEN I AM BROWSING THE INTERNET I AM NOT GETTING ANY PICTURES TO SHOW UP, WHAT DO I DO?

There are many reasons why pictures may not load correctly but let’s see if we can narrow it down a bit. First, web browsers can let you opt not to display images. In Internet Explorer you would click Tools, Internet Options, once there open the Advanced Tab and find the Multimedia section. Make sure that Show Pictures is selected and click OK. If you use Firefox, click Tools, Options, go to Content and make sure Load Images is selected and then click OK. If everything checks out there it may be an ad-blocking or content filtering software issue. If you have any of this type of software installed try adjusting the settings or disabling the software to see if your pictures come back. If that doesn’t work, it may be due to the fact that the image file is large and may just take awhile to download. If you see a red X that means that the picture is not available. If all of that checks out it may be due to the fact that the computer storing the image is busy. If the site is experiencing heavy traffic, you will have problems accessing pictures. Try back at a later time to see if the pictures come back.

MY COMPUTER IS RUNNING SLOW, DO I HAVE ENOUGH MEMORY IN MY COMPUTER?

Memory is a pretty common area to upgrade during the lifespan of your computer. Windows XP needs a minimum of 256MB to run decently. It is a memory hog! Most people run more than one program at a time. So having at least 512MB would be recommended to allow you to run several programs at once. Make sure you get the right type of RAM for your system. There is not just one certain type that will work for all computers. Consult your motherboard manual, the manufacturer’s website, or bring your computer by the store and we can check for you.

HOW CAN MY FAVORITES IN INTERNET EXPLORER BE ALPHABETIZED?

I have got many lumps of folders scattered among many individual links. I want to have all the folders alphabetized in one section and links in another. Internet Explorer simply adds new Favorites to the end of the list. Over time, you can easily end up with a mess. However, the mess is easy to clean up in Internet Explorer 5 and 6. To start, open Internet Explorer. Click Favorites in the main menu. Right click any Favorite in the list and select Sort by Name. Internet Explorer will automatically alphabetize the Favorites listing folders first. Internet Explorer does not automatically sort Favorites inside folders. To alphabetize a list within a folder, first click Favorites from the main menu. Point to a folder until it shows its contents. Then right-click anything in the folders list. Select Sort by Name. You will have to alphabetize the contents of each folder individually. This method only works from Internet Explorer’s main menu. The Favorites button, which shows your list in a sidebar does not offer the Sort by Name option. The same trick works on the All Programs list in Windows Start Menu. It is handy if your program list takes up most of the screen as mine does.

MY FLASH DRIVE IS NO LONGER RECOGNIZED BY WINDOWS, WHAT DO I DO?

There may be several reasons why a flash drive goes unrecognized by Windows. It is difficult to get to the root of the problem without knowing what else is plugged into your computer. Of course there is always the possibility that software may be to blame as well. You can force Windows to try to recognize your flash drive. Start by connecting the flash drive to the computer, click start, control panel, double click on system, select the Hardware tab and them click on the Device Manager Tab. In the list of devices look for an entry labeled Other Devices. If your flash drive is unrecognizable it should be listed there. If so, right click on it and then select scan for hardware changes. Windows XP has built in drivers for USB 2.0. While that covers nearly all USB devices, it is not perfect. If Windows still does not recognize your flash drive check the manufacturer’s website for drivers or updates for your model and make sure they work with the version of Windows you are running. Sometimes Windows may give your flash drive a drive letter that is already been used. To find and solve this problem click Start and then click on Run. In the box type diskmgmt.msc and then click OK. You will see a list of drives including your hard drive and CD or DVD drive. Your flash drive will also show in the list when it is plugged in. Right click on the flash drive and select change drive letter and paths and then click the Change button. You will see a small drop down menu that allows you to pick a new letter for the flash drive. You can select from nearly every letter of the alphabet. After you have chosen a drive letter click OK. Then click OK on the next window as well. If this also fails then you may want to try to use the drive on a different computer. This will tell you if you have a problem with your USB port on your computer or if the flash drive is bad.

WHAT IS THE SAFEST WAY TO SET UP AN EMAIL ADDRESS FOR MY KIDS? Children learn technology early. It is up to parents to protect them. Email is an activity that everyone should learn but kids may prove easy prey for spam messages. A supervised account is a good way to start children with email. Begin by creating an account or even sharing your own. Either way you maintain control. You can also set up a Hotmail account. You and your child can choose an address and a password together. Then secure the account with filters. In the Hotmail Options menu select Mail, Click Junk Email Protection, click Junk Email Filter, and select Exclusive and click OK. The setting filters out messages from anyone who is not a contact. Next click Contacts in the top menu and then click New. Enter your name and email address and then click Save. Repeat the process for trusted family members and friends. By default filtered spam is stored in a junk folder. Your child might open and explore the folder out of curiosity, to prevent that set the account to delete spam automatically. Next time your kids ask for their own email address you have the steps to get it done.

I HAVE SONGS ON MY COMPUTER THAT I WOULD LIKE TO PASS ON TO A FAMILY MEMBER TO PUT ON THEIR IPOD, CAN I BURN THEM TO DISC AS MP3S AND SEND THEM TO HER?

The answer is yes, but you may be violating copyright law. You can use programs in Windows XP to burn to the disc. This works best if the songs are already in MP3 format, but you can also send them in Windows Media format. When you make the disc burn the files as data. If you burn them as music they will be much larger. They will take up a lot of space on the disc as well as the iPod. When your family member receives the disc they can copy the files directly into iTunes. If you send in Windows Media format, iTunes will convert them automatically to a format that the iPod can play. If you send MP3’s, iTunes will send them in that format to the iPod, which can read MP3’s.

WHEN MY CHILD LEAVES THE HOUSE THEY LEAVE THE COMPUTER RUNNING WITH AN AWAY MESSAGE ON AOL INSTANT MESSENGER. ARE WE LEAVING OURSELVES OPEN TO ATTACKS OR OTHER POSSIBLE PROBLEMS?

The AOL Instant Messenger faces the same problems that come with any internet connection. To keep the computer protected it should be equipped with a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware programs. Like other programs AOL Messenger occasionally faces security problems. However, instant messages generally cannot be used to force malicious software onto a computer. Most attacks require human cooperation. That typically means the victim must click a link or download attachments from AOL’ chat window. Because AOL’s messenger is becoming so popular some viruses use it to spread themselves. For example some can send inviting messages and malicious links using the buddy list. Others can rewrite a profile or away message to include harmful links. If your computer is infected you can unknowingly be attacking others. Personally I don’t see a real advantage to leaving AOL’s messenger logged in. Logging back on takes only a minute or so and if you are logged off it will inform your buddies of that fact.

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR MY USB FLASH DRIVE TO SPREAD VIRUSES??

It is possible to spread a computer virus via flash drives, also called thumb drives. Computer viruses are programs. The must be purposely planned and coded like other programs. Unlinke most programs viruses are designed specifically to be annoying or harmful. Some are made to copy themselves into parts of other programs. Others can send copies of themselves through email. The good news is you are able to scan your flash drive just like you would scan your computer’s hard drive for viruses. Usually as long as you keep your virus definitions up to date and run a scan of your hard drive at least once a month you will keep your computer virus free. This means that if you are copying data to a flash drive you will also not have to worry about viruses there either. The problem is plugging your flash drive into a computer that is not keeping virus definitions up to date or may not have up to date anti-virus protection at all. You leave yourself open to attack as you bring the infected drive back to your own computer. So you must be careful when passing your data back and forth between computers or you may end up in the repair shop. As always, if you have computer problems that you aren’t able to fix yourself you are welcome to bring it into Computer Zone for the tech guys to take a look at it for you.

WHEN I WENT TO DOWNLOAD A PROGRAM YOU RECOMMENDED IT ASKED ME TO SELECT A MIRROR. WHAT IS A MIRROR?

Mirrors are computers from which you can download software. Sometimes a mirror is the spitting image of the main computer. More commonly all they have in common is a particular program that is available for download. Let’s say Joe Software writes a program that everyone will love and he is giving that program away. Joe goes to a local freeware distributor and his program turns out to be a hit, so many people have downloaded it that one computer could not handle all of the downloads. That’s not a problem as the distributor has set up several computers around the world. These computers are mirrors. When people come to Joe’s site for the program they click on one of the links. All else being equal you can get a faster download from a mirror near your home. If you find one is downloading the program very slowly, you can just choose another mirror site.

I HAVE AN HP PHOTOSMART 2610 AND SINCE I UPGRADED TO WINDOWS VISTA THE HP DIRECTOR PROGRAM NO LONGER WORKS, WHAT DO I DO?

Internet Explorer 7 has created some problems for people who are trying to use their old HP printer on Windows Vista. Some web sites used code specific to Internet Explorer 6 and programs relying on Internet Explorer will be 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 Internet Explorer 7. HP recently released an update to address this problem. To scan for the update, click Start, All Programs, HP, and HP Software Update. The correct update will be listed as “Critical update to prevent or resolve and HP Director issue.” Otherwise you can download the update from the HP web site. On the company’s home page click the Software and Driver Downloads link. Then enter your printer’s model number. There is no guarantee of an update for every model. For anyone still without an available update, HP recommends a work around. All you have to do is minimize and restore the HP Director window.

I HAVE TWO EXTERNAL DISK DRIVES THAT I USE FOR BACKUPS, USB FLASH DRIVES AND COMPACT FLASH CARDS FOR MY CAMERA. SHOULD I RUN CHECK DISK AND DISK DEFRAGMENTER ON THESE MEDIA TYPES?

Assuming that your drives show up in My Computer you should be able to run these utilities on them. Whether or not you want to is another matter. Drives become fragmented when you write a file and then resave over it. I see no reason why defragmentation should hurt your external hard drives. Same goes for check disk, but before defragmenting do an analysis of the drive it may be unnecessary. To do that click Start, My Computer, right-click the drive and click Properties. Select the Tools tab and click Defragment Now. Highlight the drive and click Analyze. Even if it says no defragmentation is necessary you can still do it. Running check disk occasionally also won’t hurt anything. You can access this off the Tools tab as before. Click check now and select all options, follow any instructions. The flash drives and the camera card is another issue. A flash drive is generally good for 10000 reads and writes so over time they will wear out. So doing extra work on these drives may cause problems. If you really think there is a problem with your USB flash drive I would copy the files off and then perform a quick format of the drive. To do this go to My Computer and right-click on the drive. Click Format, check quick format, and then click start. The quick format will leave the files on the drive but it would break the links to them from the disk index. That tells the disk they aren’t really there. When you reinstall the files they will group together in the same area on the drive. I wouldn’t worry about the Compact Flash cards as they should be formatted in your camera.

In most cases, all of your data is included in a single Outlook.pst file. That includes your Inbox, Sent Items, Contacts and all other folders. Again in most cases your Contacts folder is also your address book. Microsoft has a few ways to backup your Outlook data. The easiest way is its Personal Folders Backup tool. You can download this tool from Microsoft and it works with Outlook 2000, 2002, and 2003. Click on this link to download this program. When you use this tool you can back up to your hard drive, a network server or a shared file on a network. If you back up to the hard drive you would be able to move that backup file to a USB flash drive. You could also burn that file to a CD or DVD. Either way you could then remove that backup from the premises which would protect it from theft, fire, or whatever. You can also export your contacts only. To export Contacts, click File, Import and Export, select Export to a File and click Next. Click Comma Separated Values and click Next. Follow the wizard but pay attention to the folder to which Contacts is exported to. Once the file is exported, you can copy it to a Flash Drive or burn to disc.

I DON’T WANT TO LOSE MY PICTURES, IS IT OK TO PUT MY DIGITAL CAMERA THROUGH AIRPORT SECURITY

X-rays were a problem with traditional film cameras as they can damage the physical film. Often times on film cameras, images were fogged by X-rays so you always made sure that you checked film cameras by hand. Digital gear does not pose the same problems. You can pass flash memory through airport screeners without any problem. You don’t have to worry about losing those digital photos with X-Rays.

IF I WERE TO USE AN INTERNET BASED EMAIL ACCOUNT LIKE YAHOO! OR HOTMAIL WILL THAT HELP ME STOP GETTING VIRUSES THROUGH EMAIL?

Well you cannot be too careful anymore. There are an incredible number of threats out there. If just one gets through it could be lights out for your data. As you suspected, you are safer with the web based email systems. Both Yahoo! and Hotmail scan email for viruses. Other web mail systems probably offer that service too. If you are running antivirus software on your own computer you would be doubly protected. Of course, you have no control over that web based antivirus program. So don’t assume that it is always up to date. You wouldn’t want to let your own antivirus software lapse. The best thing about web based email programs is the ability to access it anywhere from any computer hooked up to the internet.

WHEN I OPEN INTERNET EXPLORER THE WINDOW DOESN’T FILL THE SCREEN, HOW CAN I FIX THIS?

When you close Internet Explorer it will remember the screen size. The next time you open Internet Explorer the window is not maximized. This can happen in many programs, but there is an easy solution. You just need to adjust a few things. The shortcuts on your Program menu are set to open a program in a Normal window. This is smaller than a maximized window that fills the screen. All you have to do is right click a shortcut and select Properties. On the Shortcut tab, find the drop-down box labeled Run. Select Maximized from the list and click Apply and OK. Problem solved!

MY DAUGHTER SPILLED LIQUID ON HER LAPTOP. THE COMPUTER TURNS ON BUT THERE IS NO DISPLAY, WHAT DO I DO?

This is bad news, real bad. You can try taking it to a service center; at least maybe the hard drive can be saved. In an event like this, you should disconnect the power and take out the battery. You should dry as much of the outside of the laptop as possible. If you have removable drive bays they should also come out. Prop your laptop upside down to let any moisture drain out. Imagine propping it up like an A. You can use canned air to blow out some of the water. You can also try using a hair dryer to dry it up a bit. Be careful though as you could melt some of the plastic inside. Only after it is dry should you turn it back on. That is why purchasing that accidental damage warranty could easily pay for itself in no time.

LIKE MOST PEOPLE YOU PROBABLY HAVE A LOT OF DATA STORED ON YOUR CELL PHONE. THAT INCLUDES PHOTOS AND PHONE NUMBERS, YOU MAY ALSO HAVE NOTES AND A CALENDAR ON YOUR PHONE. SO WHAT HAPPENS IF YOUR PHONE IS STOLEN OR LOST?

Have you taken steps to protect the data you have on your phone? If not, now is the time to do so. BitPim is a free program that will put your mind at ease. The program is designed to work only with CDMA cell phones. You can use it to back up the data from your cell phone. It will also help you enter phone numbers into your phone book. BitPim works with many popular phones from LG, Samsung, Motorola, and others. The site lists compatible phones. For more information or to download the program please visit www.bitpim.org.

I HAVE A SMALL MICROWAVE IN MY OFFICE AND IT IS LOCATED WITHIN 5 FEET OF MY COMPUTER, WILL IT INTERFERE OR DAMAGE MY COMPUTER?

My Ethernet hub is also near the microwave will this affect my network at all? You probably will not have a problem. But your question is interesting. There are few things as electronically dirty as microwaves. In certain circumstances they can be a real problem. The risk in this case is relatively low. Electromagnetic interference always has the potential to cause problems but the computer case should block most of this. Plus 5 feet is a fair distance away. You could have problems with data arriving on the internet. Those files arrive in pieces or packets. If any packets are messed up, they have to be retransmitted. So if you find the internet has slowed the microwave could be the problem. I would keep the microwave away from where your internet connection comes in at. I don’t think you will have a problem with the hub. The greater issue might be the cabling. Long cable runs tend to act as antennas. If there is interference, the network system will resend the data. That will continue until the transmitted files are complete. From your standpoint it will look like a big slowdown. Microwaves can be a severe problem for wireless systems. Microwaves and most wireless systems run on the 2.4 gigahertz frequency. Putting microwaves close to such wireless systems is just begging for trouble. Other appliances like cordless phones and baby monitors also can cause problems. I would go ahead and use the microwave. If it causes problems you can always move it.

I DROPPED MY SMART PHONE IN THE TOILET, WHAT CAN I DO TO DRY IT OUT?

You can save a phone that has been for a swim. But you have to act quickly because corrosion moves fast!! First thing you want to do, after fishing it out of the toilet, is to remove the battery. Pat it dry and set it aside. Pat the phone dry too. Remove the sim card if your phone has one. Sim cards are found on phones that support GSM technology. This is going to sound a little crazy, but immerse your phone in a container of uncooked rice overnight. This will help to pull the moisture from the device. You could also use an airtight bag with silica packs. Those are the things that protect goods from moisture. Silica sucks up moisture. You probably could find silica packs at camera stores. You could also use a hair dryer, low heat won’t hurt the phone but you wouldn’t want to heat the battery. The toilet water is city or private well water, as such it is going to have stuff in it that could settle on fine circuitry. Tolerances on circuit boards are tiny and contaminants can cause huge problems. You might displace the contaminants with distilled water or alcohol. I’d prefer the latter since it evaporates quickly and cleanly. It will also displace water. Hardware stores have denatured alcohol which is used to clean electronic parts. Be sure that it is denatured with methanol. If you buy rubbing alcohol be sure it is 91%. The lower the percentage the more water is used as filler. I would go about three days before trying to use the phone again, just to be sure. Fast action is imperative in this situation. Get the phone out quickly because the longer it is in the toilet the more likely the water will penetrate. If your efforts don’t go as well as planned you could just view this as an opportunity to upgrade your phone.

I RECENTLY BOUGHT A LARGE HIGH-DEFINITION LCD TV. I WOULD LIKE THE TELEVISION TO DOUBLE AS A COMPUTER MONITOR. I WANT TO HOOK MY COMPUTER SO I CAN WATCH SLIDE SHOWS AND VIDEOS AS WELL AS SURFING THE WEB. HOW DO I DO THIS?

The temptation to use a large screen TV as a monitor may be too great to resist. Unfortunately though connecting a computer to a TV isn’t as easy as it should be. On the plus side your HDTV probably has a lot of different connections. Hopefully you can match them to your video card. Let’s go through the connections in descending order of quality: HDMI, DVI, component, s-video, VGA and composite. Your computer’s video card probably doesn’t have component or composite connections, but it will have a VGA connection and possibly DVI or s-video. I would try to use an HDMI or DVI connection. DVI connections are the most popular digital connection for video cards. HDMI is the most popular for televisions. This may seem to present a problem but it really doesn’t. HDMI and DVI are compatible. You can buy a cord and use an adapter at one end. Or you may find a cord that will make the connection without an adapter. The only thing you really lose going from DVI to HDMI is sound. DVI cannot carry sound, but HDMI can. You’ll have to connect your computer to your sound system. You’ll need to make some adjustments to the display settings in your computer. Your television will have a native resolution. This is the resolution at which it was designed to display images. You’ll get the best quality picture if you match the computer’s resolution to the television. Consult the TV’s manual to find the native resolution. The television’s native resolution will probably be too high for your video card to display. But the video card may allow you to create custom resolutions. Custom resolutions procedures will vary from video card to video card, consult your manual. If your video card won’t do custom resolutions you have two options. Live with it, or buy a new video card. Make sure that the new card offers custom resolutions.

THE PEOPLE WHO SOLD ME MY COMPUTER INSTALLED A PIRATED COPY OF WINDOWS XP. I WANT TO MAKE IT LEGITIMATE. CAN I INSTALL A LEGAL VERSION WITHOUT DELETING MY STUFF? OR CAN I LOAD XP PRO ON A NEW HARD DRIVE AND USE THE SECOND FOR MY DATA AND PROGRAMS?

Your first idea is probably not going to work. I would be worried about damaging or wiping out the data at that point. It is usually best to install Windows after formatting the hard drive. You will want to copy your data off first as everything will be wiped out when you reformat. Your second question would probably be a better option as you can easily use two hard drives. The new drive should be setup as the primary drive; the old one would be the secondary. Once both drives are installed, put Windows on the new primary drive. You can use the second drive for your applications and files. The pirated edition of Windows can then be deleted. You could also use the second drive externally. External drives are really handy for backups. To do that, you will need to move your applications and files to the primary drive and then buy an external drive enclosure to put your old hard drive into. You may not need to purchase Windows. Microsoft can sometimes help piracy victims or you may be able to buy a product key number. With that you can make your installation legitimate. Microsoft has more information on their site, to read more click here. If you are running operating systems older than Windows XP you will pretty much be out of luck trying to get a hold of a new copy. Microsoft has stopped support for Windows 95, 98, and Millennium. You would have to see if your computer is big enough to handle Windows XP or Windows Vista and if not looking to replace that old computer with something bigger.

MY CELLULAR PHONE IS EQUIPPED WITH BLUETOOTH. I HAVE TRIED TO CONNECT IT TO MY COMPUTER TO TRANSFER PICTURES AND HAVE HAD NO SUCCESS. I HAVE ALSO TRIED TO UNSUCCESSFULLY TRANSFER PICTURES TO MY FRIEND’S PHONE. BOTH MY COMUTER AND MY FRIEND’S PHONE HAVE BLUETOOTH, WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?

For many people Bluetooth can be tricky. That is because Bluetooth requires that you pair gadgets. First let’s explain Bluetooth. It is a wireless networking standard similar to Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is used for personal area networking. That’s a fancy way of saying it connects to gadgets that are nearby. It is most commonly used in cell phones and wireless headsets. People who look like they are talking to themselves probably are using a Bluetooth headset. You will also find Bluetooth in wireless keyboards and mice. There are different types of Bluetooth and ranges vary. Some gadgets can range as far as 300 feet; most gadgets have a range of about 32 feet. To make Bluetooth gadgets communicate you need to make a connection. This involves establishing a shared PIN. Paring will be different from gadget to gadget but I can give a general rundown. First turn on your Bluetooth and allow the phone to be discovered by other gadgets. Likewise the other gadget must be discoverable. Consult the manual for your device for more information. If you want to pair a wireless handset with your phone it will probably have a paring mode, this will require you to hold down a button on the headset. For security reasons you should only make your phone discoverable when paring and you should only do Bluetooth paring in a private place. If you do it in public you could pair with someone else’s phone or computer. Next you need to add the other gadget with which you are connecting. On your phone you should get an option to add device or setup device. From the list select the gadget you wish to connect. When you select it you will be prompted for a passkey. Most devices will have a fixed passkey from the manufacturer and this information should be in the manual. Once this paring is done you won’t have to do this every time you use your headset. To transfer pictures or data via Bluetooth you will have to initiate a connection. You do this by selecting or opening the item. You should then have a menu option that will allow you to send the item via Bluetooth. For the transfer to work the other gadget will need to accept the incoming data, a message will pop up on its screen. It sounds like a lot of trouble, but once you transfer files a few times it will become old hat.

MY DAD IS 79 YEARS OLD, I WANT TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR HIM TO READ THINGS ON THE COMPUTER. WHAT CAN I DO?

Just because someone has vision difficulties doesn’t mean that they cannot use a computer. Many websites are not designed with accessibility in mind; in fact Windows itself is not very accessible. You do have a number of options. First, you could buy a screen magnifier. It fits over the screen and magnifies text and pictures. Another option is a screen reader. These programs actually read the screen aloud. They work with both Windows and web browsers. Screen readers are expensive, be prepared to spend around $1000. You can also change text size in Windows. Right-click on a blank spot on the desktop and select Properties. Open the Appearance tab, under Font Size select Extra Large or Large and then click Apply. The screen will go dim for a minute and when it returns click OK. Windows has other accessibility options and Microsoft has a guide to them on it website, click here to view that page. When your Dad is surfing the web, he can make text bigger. You can press the Ctrl key and use the mouse’s scroll wheel to increase or decrease the size. This trick also works on some sites in Internet Explorer and in Microsoft Word and Excel. Furthermore, you can select a more readable font and font size for web pages. This works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox. And it overrides the fonts and sized established on a given web page. In Internet Explorer click on Tools, Internet Options. On the General tab, click Accessibility. Select Ignore font styles on Web pages and Ignore font sizes specified on web pages. Additionally you can have IE ignore colors. When you are done click OK. Now click Fonts. Select a font that is easy to read, click OK, and OK again. Next you will need to specify a font size. To do this click View, Text Size. Pick out a font size that is easy to read. Opera is a free web browser that can read web pages aloud. In Opera, click on Tools, Preferences and open the Advanced tab. Click on Voice to get the options for voice browsing.

MY BROADBAND INTERNET CONNECTION IS MOVING SLOWLY, IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO SPEED THINGS UP?

There is a way in Windows XP Professional, not Home, to increase your broadband speed. By default, Windows reserves some of your connection’s bandwidth. But you can change that easily. Click, Start, Run. Type gpedit.msc and click OK. The Group Policy Box will open. You will see Local Computer Policy. Click the plus sign to expand the Administrative Templates section. Next, click the plus sign to expand the network section. Highlight QoS Packet Scheduler. In the right side of the box, double-click Limit Reservable Bandwidth. Check Enabled. Change Bandwidth limit to 0 percent. Click Apply and OK. When you restart your computer, the effect should be immediate. Enjoy your blazing broadband speeds!

I SUDDENLY LOST THE ICON THAT IS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE WEB ADDRESS ON THE ADDRESS LINE IN MY FAVORITES LIST, IT IS NOW JUST A GENERIC INTERNET EXPLORER ICON. HOW DO I GET BACK THE ORIGINAL ICON?

Some sites include a favorites icon, sometimes called favicons. Modern web browsers save and display them in Favorites or bookmark lists. Favicons come in handy when you are sifting through a large collection of links. Some sites do not offer favicons. To make this work, an icon file must be developed for the site when the web page is being created. If you delete your temporary internet files your favicons will disappear. Deleting your temp files is a good habit to get into, but to get the favicon back you have to delete and resave the site as a Favorite. This process will have to be completed each time you delete temporary internet files. If you use Firefox you will not have this drawback, your favicons will stay put even after you delete temporary files.

DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? MOM, CAN I DOWNLOAD LIMEWIRE? I CAN USE IT TO SHARE FILES WITH BILLY. LIMEWIRE IS SAFE AND LEGAL. ALL THE KIDS SAY SO. THE QUESTION IS SHOULD I LET MY KIDS DOWNLOAD LIMEWIRE?

LimeWire is a peer-to-peer file sharing program. Hardcore geeks consider it obsolete, but it is still heavily used by kids. Strictly speaking, LimeWire is safe and legal. In practice, it often is neither. In the beginning, Napster was the first big peer-to-peer program. It allowed people all over the world to share their recordings. The file sharing was eventually stopped by court order, but it gave millions access to a vast library of music. Other programs followed Napster; they hid behind the Supreme Court’s Betamax ruling of the 1980’s. That ruling said that Sony Betamax could not be outlawed simply because it could be used to record copyrighted material. The recording industry also took file sharing programs to the Supreme Court. The court held that the Sony ruling did not necessarily apply to them. If the program encouraged theft, it said, they could be sued. The industry subsequently went after the file sharing operations. Most folded, but LimeWire chose to fight. The industry and LimeWire are currently embroiled in a lawsuit. So how is LimeWire used? It certainly has legal uses. For instance, say you develop software as a hobby. You want to share it with the world. Such programs are called freeware or open source. There actually are people who do this and LimeWire and other peer to peer programs facilitate such sharing. Your child may be one to do this, but there are probably specialized sites better suited for this activity. The truth is, children use peer to peer programs to swap copyrighted material. It is a dangerous hobby. The music industry still aggressively trolls for music sharers. You could get a letter out of the blue and many parents have paid thousands to settle such cases. There are terrific dangers involved in sharing files in this manner. That is especially true when naïve children are involved. Peer-to-Peer programs such as LimeWire set up sharing folders on your computer. Anything in that folder can be downloaded by anyone anywhere. You can put the Sharing folder wherever you want. You can, and people have, shared everything on your hard drive. Would you offer your tax returns to the world? Your child could do that. And then there is the spyware. This could be the biggest threat of all. An attacker could easily induce your child to download a Trojan. The spyware could be disguised as a popular song. If that Trojan were enabled you could end up losing your identity. Your bank account could be emptied or your computer could be turned into a slow moving hunk of metal and plastic. If your child uses LimeWire, keep a close eye on it. The potential downsides are many. Children often exhibit poor judgment, but that is part of being a child. Personally I would not let the program be installed on my computer. If you want to download music, there are a lot of legal ways to do it and you don’t have to open yourself up to a lot of other problems.

Comments are closed.