Personal Tech Live with Rob Pegoraro

May 21, 2010

Rob Pegoraro answers your questions on recent gadget reviews, technology news and provides personal tech buying and fixing advice.

I just flew in from San Francisco, and boy are my arms tired!

Well, no, that's not true. But I am tired, courtesy of a 2 a.m. arrival. (Since the alternative to an aircraft swap was taking a plane that had an issue with the aft door, I'm OK with that overall.)

Anyway... I've had a busy week covering Google's latest news and would be glad to talk about that, along with anything else I've covered in the ... wow, three weeks since the last chat. Let's go!

So my question about the new devices is: Will they include tuners for OTA signals, and will those tuners be any good? Just moved into a ground level condo in Falls Church, across from West Falls Metro, and had to get basic cable, at $25/month, because I can't pick up channels 7 or 22 at all, and channel 4 barely comes in.

It depends on which box you get Google TV in. If you buy Sony's upcoming HDTV including that software, it should come with an over-the-air tuner, just like its other sets. (I've had pretty good results with the tuner in my own Sony.) But if you get Sony's Blu-ray player or Logitech's separate box, then there's no over-the-air tuner in those--though Google's product managers did say the Google TV program guide was compatible with over-the-air programming too.

Rob, you suggested in your post on GoogleTV that it might prompt Apple and others to improve their offerings in this area. What features do you think Apple might add? I have an AppleTV and an Apple-heavy media ecosystem at home and would love to see Apple add a DVR and maybe even a tuner a la Eye TV, but I wonder if there aren't licensing and other problems that keep Apple from going in that direction. As I understand it, GoogleTV is positioned as an add-on to Dish or DVD players, so it isn't really taking on that aspect. I know even Apple refers to AppleTV as a hobby, but is it really neglected, or is there just nowhere else for it to go right now?

The feature the Apple TV most desperately needs is a pulse, or some other sign of life. Aside from some maintenance updates for its software, the only major change Apple has made to it in the last couple of years is making the bigger hard drive standard. At a minimum, I think Apple has to add some way to view other streaming-media sites, like Netflix and Amazon.

It was interesting to hear about Google's release of the WebM codec. But it seems unlikely that a codec which is as good as H.264 and can also stand up to its patent claims. In a situation like this, can't some big companies get together and buy the IP rights from MPEG-LA, and then collectively release it into the ether? I suspect that it would "only" cost $1B or so, and could break a logjam with respect to the future of the Internet.

WebM doesn't have to be "as good as H.264"--and, if you read the writings of some critics, it isn't. If it's good enough--in terms of bandwidth efficiency, encoding times, picture quality and so on--the fact that nobody has to pay anything to use it could very well push it over the top.

(I realize that suggesting that every single bit of video online will be re-encoded in this format sounds a bit ridiculous. But when you remember that Google can help this transition along through its YouTube site, maybe it's not so ridiculous.)

Why not buy out the H.264 patents? A lot of companies have a stake in them, and my understanding is that they'd get to vote on that sort of sale.

Hi Rob, Looking into your crystal ball... When do you think that the BIG Wireless Service Providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) Will be forced to do away with all this per minute/MB nonsense and provide us hard working folks with affordable, reasonable and "Rock-Bottom" priced unlimited Voice/Data Wireless plans? Thank you, Adam

When competitive pressures force them to do that. Mind you, voice is already de facto unlimited: between free calls at night and weekends and free calls to other mobiles on the same network (or, in Sprint's case, to any mobile), it's extremely difficult to max out your minutes quota. Data is de facto unlimited for many users too, in that it's hard to use up 5 GB or so on a phone's small screen.

Markets work differently in some other countries. At the  panel discussion I moderated on Monday at the SF MusicTech conference, the Nokia rep talked glowingly about the situation in Indonesia, in which mobile-data plans are both cheap and unlimited, and in which most people get online by phone instead of by PC.

If Adobe thinks that Steve Jobs is wrong about Flash and the iPad, wouldn't it make sense for Adobe to develop apps on an iPad? That way, Adobe could demonstrate the feasibility of Flash on an iPad. Or, is Adobe afraid that apps using Flash on an iPad might prove Mr. Jobs is correct in his comments about Flash Would this end the back-and-forth? What do you think?

I'm sure Adobe has signed up for an Apple developer license and has written a Flash player for the iPad. But if Apple won't approve it, they can't distribute it. Adobe will have an easier time making this case with Flash on Android--but now that the company's nailed its colors to the mast with yesterday's public demo, it had better deliver on its promises.

Rob. I'm going to Russia and Scandinavia in June. What options do I have to be able to use a cell phone to be reached there, and to call back. I have an older (Nokia AITT) phone and currently suscribe to Verizon (LG phone). I'm not into texting, email, web cruising by phone. Thanks, Dave

I'd assume you'd need a GSM phone and would be best off buying a cheapo model and then getting prepaid SIMs for each country. But the one and only time I've been in Russia it was still called the Soviet Union. Anybody with more informed advice?

can you comment whether these 2 devices can "play" together? can I have a document/book on my iPad and easily move it to a kindle? what about vice versa?

If it's an e-book you bought on Amazon's Kindle Store, absolutely--Amazon's Kindle and Kindle apps automatically synchronize your state, so when you "put down" the book on a Kindle and then open it on an iPhone's Kindle reader, it opens to the right page, or at least the right chapter.

Did the plane you were on have WiFi or a charging station?

Nope. (This was United 220, SFO-IAD, for those of you as tired as me today. Virgin America's planes have those things, but its fares were a lot more expensive for my itinerary.)

How unlocked is "unlocked"? Could I take an American-bought Ipad 3G across Europe?

You can, as long as you get a prepaid microSIM card. But because very few carriers use that format, your choices aren't great... unless you're willing to cut a regular prepaid data SIM down to the right size.

In one of your recent chats, you mentioned that if you had to choose, you would pick the Droid over the Iphone. I was surprised by that--could you elaborate? And do you still hold that view, given the impending release of a new Iphone in a few weeks?

I don't--I'd get the Droid Incredible instead. (Here's my review of that phone.) Why?

* Better coverage

* Tethering included

* No Apple gatekeeping in the Android Market

* Better camera, better screen

* Multitasking today, not this summer

* Froyo (Android 2.2) upgrade will greatly improve it

The iPhone syncs directly to a Mac or PC's software, has a better soft keyboard, and it's more elegant than Android in many places. But I prefer Android overall. Some of that is personal--as somebody in the business of mouthing off, I strongly resent Apple banning some kinds of political speech from the App Store. But I will say that if you're looking at a smartphone and don't consider Android at all, you're making a mistake.

Does someone with OTA reception (here in DC), have anything to benefit from a Google TV set-top-box? I get the hulu, amazon integration, but does it do anything my HDMI-capable laptop cannot? Thanks!

It won't require you to mess with computer-to-TV connections. That's not as simple as a lot of people think... even I have had issues. (For example, this  HP laptop wouldn't output sound via HDMI until I changed one obscure audio setting.)

Hi, Rob. Thanks for taking my question. I am a Comcast customer here in Central IL and have no problem with their service - so far. Comcast says they are changing to ALL DIGITAL cable signal in mid November and I will have to have a cable box or converter for all of my TVs. They says all signals except local broadcast channels, will be scrambled because of FCC requirements. Is this true? Does the FCC require scrambling? Are the cable channels (AMC, TNT, USA, etc.) requiring Comcast to scramble their signals? (Comcast will provide 1 cable box and 2 converters at no cost)

Not for the first time, a Comcast phone rep has been talking out their... coax cable jack. There is no FCC requirement for that. None. See my column on cable's digital transition.

Why is Google permitted to get into every aspect of communications but when Microsoft introduced a product everyone yelled antitrust! I don't want Google running everything anymore than I want Apple to be dominate.

Then don't use their services. It's not as if Google is forcing them on people--AT&T's Backflip is an Android phone, but it comes set to use Yahoo as its Web-search engine. (It's apparently a very bad Android phone, but still...)

Is there a free or cheap program for Mac (OS 10.4) that will combine two PDF files into a single file and also split up a multiple page PDF file into a separate file for each page?

The app that most people seem to recommend for that (though I haven't tried it myself) is PDFpen.

Hi Rob, My laptop recently experienced the black screen of death. I've had it for four years and it's no longer under warranty. So, I checked the HP troubleshooting instructions and tried testing memory modules; no response. I've also performed hard resets, restoring BIOS, and other suggestions. Hard resets did work a couple of times, but I had to keep the laptop on all the time in order to use it. Now, it's finally down for the count. Is it worth the money to take it in for diagnosis? I can certainly purchase a new netbook or laptop, but hate to see this one go to waste. If it's not worth fixing, I would like to donate this laptop. How can I erase data from my hard drive before donating if I can't boot up? Is this something that a professional would have to fix so that I can boot up before wiping the hard drive? Help!

The BIOS battery might need replacing after four years--have you checked that?

But if it's really dead, any technician should be able to open the laptop, disconnect the hard drive, pop it into an enclosure and use Darik's Boot and Nuke to wipe its contents.

What danger is there of identity theft when sending PDFs of documents containing bank account or tax information by email attachment (assuming the wireless connection used when sending is secured by a password)? Thanks, EJ Wood

Unless you encrypt the entire message, somebody could read its contents in transit. The odds are it will go unread amidst the billions of other e-mails... but why take that chance?

Thanks in advance, as always. Okay, we have an iPad in the house and have some trouble with the WiFi network's strength in rooms a room or two away from the base station. I've determined that I have an early version of the Airport Extreme Base Station 802.11b/g. before I upgrade, I'd like to know if 'N' would help the strength of the WiFi network for my iPad and whether my TimeWarner cable connection supports the extra speed 'N' supposedly adds to the network. Is there any way to figure out the TWC speed - I know how much I pay per month - $58.99 in Southern CA - but of course the web page seems to not allow me to see what speed that translates to, or at least it doesn't in a way that I've been able to ferret out. Thanks!

802.11n should offer better range and speed (thought 8 should already cover what you get on that TWC connection). But as an intermediate step, try setting the base station to run only in 802.11g mode, assuming your computers can handle that. Mixed b/g networks carry a performance penalty.

I'm using Safari 4.0.4 on a Mac iBook G4 with OS 10.5.8. I have the browser set to block Pop-Up ads, but sometimes they still pop up. What might be causing this? Also, I got an email offering Smith Micro's Spring Cleaning for $29.99. What can I do myself that would replicate what that application does? I clear Safari History and empty the cache at least weekly, as well as delete cookies every month or so.

Time for a generic sermon here: You are Wasting Your Time with this monthly deletion of cookies and history. Set Safari to decline third-party cookies--its default setting--and leave it alone otherwise. Don't spend money on the spring-cleaning app either; Mac OS X doesn't need that sort of housekeeping.

I use a desktop computer. I only have dial up available where I live, and the phone company has no intention of improving on that. People I talk to say that satellite is not reliable, is slow , and very limited on monthly usage. I see some cell phone companies offer a plug-in modem for laptops but I have not seen anything for desktops. I did recieve a laptop modem offer but it was limited to 5gb a month and was expensive. Do you know of something that would be cheap, fast, unlimited usage, that would work out here where there is no cable or fiber??

Note: It's easier to answer these questions if you say where in the world you are (southwest Virginia? the North Dakota prairie? the bottom of a mine shaft?). But in general--satellite and wireless, by virtue of not needing wires, are your only options if you don't have wired broadband. Any wireless service these days offers USB receivers that will work on a desktop or a laptop; I don't know why the one you mentioned wouldn't.

And yes, satellite is slow, expensive and comes with bandwidth caps.

Recently listening to discussions about cybersecurity made me think that it might be time to add some type of anti-virus program. I use undercover in case someone steals my macbooks, and 1password to protect my passwords but I have never run any kind of anti-virus. Oops, I just checked and found out that my firewire was turned off on my imac so I turned it back on. I also don't have any sharing enabled. Is there anything else I should do to protect my system other than not opening suspicious emails or visiting dangerous websites?

You meant the firewall was turned off, right? (That's the single worst default setting in OS X.) You're fine as is. Keep your software current--including the Flash plug-in--and don't go to sketchy sites, click on scareware ads or run strange app installers that ask for an admin password.

No question, just a big thank you. I decided to take the leap and get a smartphone, wanted to stay with Verizon, and was getting ready to start some in-depth research on which phone to buy...but your review of the Droid Incredible did most of the work for me! This after your columns helped me buy a new laptop last summer, and will help my sister buy a new pc next week. You rock. So thanks. p.s. I guess I do have a question -- this is the first live chat you've had in a while. Are they monthly now?

This isn't Melanie or Sherri from Verizon PR, is it?

We skipped one week due to a scheduling conflict, but on the next Friday I was traveling. It's nice to know that people noticed my absence.

Rob, if I recall, you (and much of the tech community) were a little dubious (at best) about the IPad. Given that we now have a few months of experience, have any of your thoughts changed?

You should see the follow-up column on the iPad I wrote a few weeks ago. In general, I've grown to like it as a read-first device. I could see keeping one on the coffee table... but it might be parked next to a laptop. See, for writing and creating at length, I remain skeptical. (I did see quite a few people writing on iPads at this week's two conferences, FWIW.)

Hi Rob, I've grumbled to everyone at HP and Microsoft who'd listen, so I doubt that you'll have much to add, but I have a few minutes to kill before your chat starts, so I figured I didn't have anything to lose. I have a friend who has two almost identical HP laptops in her family. When both of them recently tried to install Vista Home Premium SP1 via automatic updates, the update trashed the systems. I got one of them to work by restoring it to factory settings and downloading the full SP1 update and installing that. Afterward, SP2 and all other updates installed successfully. There seems to be no hope for the second machine, however. I restored it from the recovery partition, ran the disk and memory diagnostics, etc, and got the same result. Microsoft, HP, and I agreed that maybe the recovery partition was corrupt, so my friend ordered a recovery DVD from HP and I got the same result when I tried to install it. I won't detail all the steps I've gone through during the past month, but I will say that I was thorough. The system is 2 years old, and out of warranty, so HP doesn't want to be bothered with it. They told me that for a mere $400 I could return the system to them, and they'd "repair" it. On further questioning, I determined that "repair" meant that they'd restore it to its factory settings and return it to me, but I've done that 8 or 10 times already for free. I tried both telephone and online chat support, but they had no interest in actually troubleshooting the problem. They just gave me a list of things to try (all of which I'd already thought of). I did get the problem escalated to a case manager, but he said, "Restore it to its factory settings, disable sleep and hibernate, enable Windows Update, and it will automatically install all the updates for you. It should take about a week." Of course, this is what was going on when the problem occurred originally, and I wasn't polite when I told him this. His final response was, "The machine is out of warranty. HP did not sell the machine with SP1 installed. We don't guarantee that SP1 will run on it. Why do you want to install SP1 anyhow?" He also asked me if I'd tried Google. I had tried Google, and saw that this was not the only Pavilion with SP1 problems, but I didn't come up with any solutions. I can understand HP wanting to move on to W7, but it is a real shame that they'd turn their corporate back on a customer with a computer that is only 2 years old.

I guess they just don't need you as a customer anymore. Business must be going great for them to feel that confident!

(I would try downloading the standalone installer and running that in Safe Mode when you restart.)

I need to buy another desktop. I see different processors listed in different computers. Are there any processors one should avoid? (Thus are there any that would limit what software one can run?)

No. Processors are irrelevant for everyday, generic desktop PC computing. (They can make a difference in netbooks, but you didn't say "netbook.")

Hi Rob -- Does your recommendation to get the Incredible hold true for folks like me who use Macs? I'm not particularly good at (or interested in) dealing with complicated syncing issues, so that's the thing that's pushing me to wait for the new iPhone. Are my concerns misplaced? Does the Incredible play nice with a Macbook? Many thanks.

The primary Android sync issue is the same whether you use a Mac or a PC--getting your data into Google's Web services or finding an offline equivalent. In Windows, some HTC Android phones include an HTC Sync program that will sync your calendars and contacts from Outlook, but I've yet to see a Mac equivalent included with an Android device. You can sync Address Book and iCal with Google Calendar. If you don't want to use Google's apps at all... that's a problem. Mark/Space's Missing Sync advertises the ability to sync Address Book to Android (though I haven't gotten that to work in my limited tests) but I don't know of any iCal-to-Android direct sync tools yet.

So after I moved to Falls Church, and got cable, I fired up the iMac and... couldn't connect to the net. Cable modem lights are all good, Airport base station light is green, but somewhere the connection isn't happening. So I call Cox Tech support. After disconnecting the ethernet cable from the wifi and plugging it into the iMac they reset the modem (or their connection to it?) and I could connect. So I reconnect the wifi and... No connection. Hmmm. Did the Airport (with no moving parts) die during the move? Try doing a full reset (to factory settings) of the base station and then re-entering all the setup by hand and ... Everything now works. Apparently something in the Airport base station got corrupted. Kudos to Cox tech support, btw, they were really good.

It's so rare I hear praise for somebody's tech support, so I have to share this.

You're a good person to ask: For most of the week I have been unable to access the WaPo website, including the Local website, using Safari 4.0.5 on an intel-based iMac - just get a blank white screen, no other error message, never a problem before. What's up?

There's something screwy with your browser. Have you tried deleting your cache?

What is a "web application" in the context of Google's Store and WebM plans?

A Web application is... an application that exists as a Web page. Think of Gmail as compared to an e-mail client like Thunderbird or (ugh) Outlook Express, or Mint.com as compared to Quicken. The basic selling points with one are that you can use it in any modern browser from any Web-connected computer, there are no install or uninstall routines, and updates happe automatically.

Hi Rob, We're in the market for our first smartphone and after doing our research, we're definitely going with the iPhone (our immediate neighbors have iPhones and have had no service issues - given that we have no landline, that was important to us.) But with the new release coming out within (presumably) the next 6 weeks or so, should we wait to buy? The multitasking feature and the folders sound helpful, but I'm concerned about the slightly smaller screen even with the higher resolution. At 41 years old and 51 years old, we found ourselves having to expand some of the screens on the already-existing iPhone. So what do you think? Buy now, or take a chance on the unknown? Will the new bells and whistles off-set the potential drawbacks? Thanks.

I'd wait. A higher screen resolution won't mean smaller icons, it will just mean more finely drawn graphics and text. (Note that you'll get multitasking and folders for free when the iPhone OS 4 upgrade ships; the benefits of the next iPhone should come in hardware features like a camera with a flash, the higher-res screen and maybe better performance and/or battery life.

I use an iMac with Time Machine and a Time Capsule to do automatic backups. My wife recently purchased a Sony laptop and I would like to set it up to do automatic backups to a separate external drive. Can you point me to any of your past columns on recommended backup software/hardware. Thanks!

Windows 7 includes a pretty good backup utility (although it's not helpful for recovering individual files). Use that.

I saw the following on a non-tech message board. Any truth? Should I worry? "Every single website you visit with flash stores an invisible cookie. The files are basically cookies that store information on surfing habits. Every site that uses flash stores a file called a Local Stored Object and it doesn't count as a temp file or a cookie. Since most people don't like having files stored on their computer they don't know about I figured I'd share. You can see all the files and delete them by using a firefox plugin or you can go to adobe's website and they have an application built into the browser that let's you see them all and delete them. When I checked mine I had hundreds of these files."

As a general rule, beware of anything that uses words like "every." (I know I just contradicted myself. But writing as a journalist, I know that throwing around language like "any," "every" or "always" tends to require a correction later on.)

Anyhow, not every Flash site uses Flash cookies--many don't. But the rest of that description seems about right. Wired has a good writeup about this issue and what you can do about it.

I was recently in Russia for a few weeks, and Rob's advice is correct -- you need a GSM phone (which means Verizon and Sprint phones won't work) and you should definitely consider buying a prepaid SIM card when you get there. Two things to keep in mind, however: (1) Keep your calls back to the US to a relative minimum, since outbound international calling and/or international roaming charges are very high. (2) If you bring a phone from the US, having GSM is not enough - it must also be an "international" or "quad-band" phone, or else it won't work on the frequencies used by cellphone carriers in Russia and Europe. (Also, depending on how old your "old" AT&T phone is, it might not even be GSM)

Spasebo!

Nope, not a Verizon PR person. I did think of a question -- I've been told I don't need to worry about antivirus anything with a smartphone -- is this true? Thanks again.

It's true. Although you could pick up a virus from the Android Market--Google doesn't screen individual apps beforehand and only yanks them after getting enough user complaints--if you only install programs you've seen recommended by trusted sources you should be fine.

Hi, If you are running Leopard, you can join any two pdf pages...or more...very easily. Open both pages. Click on the button on top right that says "sidebar" on each of the open pages. Now drag the second page onto the sidebar of the first page. Bingo! You now have a two page document. I assume if you want to break up a document, you just reverse the process. Mind you, this does NOT work on Safari, but it is a sweet feature in Leopard...or Snow Leopard, I assume.

Ah--I did not know that. Thanks!

Yep, I tried the standalone installer and safe mode. I also tried uninstalling all the HP bloatware (does anyone actually use Vongo?) before installing updates, I updated the BIOS and the firmware the peripherals, I ran msconfig and disabled non-Microsoft services and all startup programs, I installed using the standalone installer immediately after restoring to factory settings, I installed all of the Vista updates until Windows Update offered SP1, and then I ran the standalone installer. That's just the highlights. The SP1 update stage 3 of 3 failed every time in the same place and exactly the same way. I think you're correct that HP doesn't want me as a customer. My friend won't be buying another one, but with margins so thin I doubt that they'll worry about it. It would cost them more to help me find the problem than they'll loose on a sale to a home user.

And people wonder why I tend to recommend Macs...

How do you think HP's acquisition of Palm will help the market for the Pre and related products?

It takes away the "what's going to happen to Palm" worry. Developers can write webOS apps with confidence that there will be more devices running the Pre's operating system, and users can count on future updates to that software. I think it's a great move for the smartphone industry in general; Palm's software is better positioned than Microsoft or RIM's to compete with the iPhone and Android on things like Web access, add-on apps and multitasking.

I'm toying with getting the HTC Incredible, but I've seen various reviews that said the signal strength and audio quality are not as strong as with other Verizon phones. Did you notice this when you tested the phone?

Nope. I took the loaner Incredible with me to San Francisco and didn't notice any issues with its reception outside the innards of Moscone Center. Which was a problem, since on Wednesday the WiFi there was @#$!%&! AARGH!! unusable. Seriously. It took a sustained effort of will to avoid throwing my laptop at the wall in frustration.

When Comcast went all-digital here in Maryland, they said my first (and only) "digital receiver" would be free, too. They lied. My first bill after the installation showed that they would start charging me for it in June. Two customer reps told me that that "free" receiver was a sales promotion. It was the last straw. I switched to DirecTV, and so far, so good!

Hmm. Comcast executives have told me multiple times, face to face, that any analog customer subject to its digital conversion gets two simpler digital converters (a tiny box sometimes called a "DTA") and one digital receiver (the regular set-top box). If that's not the case, I want to hear about it--e-mail me at robp@washpost.com

I like foursquare and use it more and more. do you see an issue with safety in broadcasting to the world where you are, with a small pic of yourself? can nasty strangers get that info somehow, and stalk you? from Florida Chick

I'm a Foursquare user myself. The key is choosing who your friends are--my own rule is that if I don't know your home address or your cell phone, preferably both, I'm not accepting your request--and remembering that you can always decline to broadcast your check-in to anybody.

I'm assuming that the site doesn't have some security vulnerability that's being silently exploited. But that's why I don't check-in at my house or when I'm hitting an ATM. I also don't broadcast my check-ins to Twitter or Facebook (though that's also a manners issue, as many people on those sites don't care about Foursquare).

Mr. Pegoraro, Since the last update, of which there were 4, on May 11th, My PC has had a big problem. There comes a black screen, with white words, apologizing, than gives me many choices to get PC to start, by using those 'up, down, right, left' keys. Have tried every one, several times, others have also. Pulled all cords and renewed the connection, did the reset, everything I could think of. Is there anything you know of...any first steps, to get my computer back on? Hoping I don't lose everything. Mercy_

I'm sorry, I have no idea about this. If you can take a picture of that message and e-mail it to me, I might.

FYI to the universe: screen shots are my friend! I'd much rather see the exact error message than a rough paraphrase or the infinitely-less-helpful description that something "didn't work." To quote Jerry Maguire: Help me.. help you!

Rob, I recently ordered a new laptop without any productivity software. I did this because I had a copy of MS Office 2007 that I planned to install on the new laptop. When I went to pull out my copy of Office 2007 I found that I have lost the disc and may need to purchase a new copy. Unfortunately I have an overseas work trip scheduled for 11 June and will need some form of Office on my laptop for the trip, thus ruling out waiting for Office 2010. The debate I am having with myself is whether it is worth buying a full priced copy of 2007 that comes with a free upgrade to 2010 (Best Buy) or buy a single use copy of 2007 for $10 through the Microsoft Home Use Program and possibly buy a copy of 2010 through the employee purchase program later this year. Basically, is 2010 going to be worth the extra money right now or will 2007 be sufficient for the rest of the year? My wife and I only use Office at home for basic word processing, occasional excel sheets, rarely use PowerPoint, and sporadic One Note use. Thanks.

Microsoft has a free-upgrade policy for home users of Office--with some restrictions--that might let you buy Office only once. Otherwise, if you can live without OneNote in the short term, download the free, open-source OpenOffice.

So, you're saying no anti-virus program is necessary for an iMac, as long as the user is cautious about what to open or click on?

Correct. There aren't any viruses afoot for OS X. There have been trojans that required the user to take action and run the program, so if you think you can't resist the temptation to download a random app, run its installer and type your admin password on requrest, you might want to get an AV utility.

For more context, see Mac security expert Rich Mogull's advice in the TidBits newsletter. The article's a little old but still applies.

...I could slip my little phone into my pocket and head out, secure in the knowledge that anyone needing to communicate me would call and I could talk to them. Now, I need cargo pants to carry my iPhone in its protective skin, and another pocket to carry the reading glasses I need to be able to read the phone's screen. I thought the future meant smaller, more portable technology...

You mean phones didn't break until the iPhone arrived? That's funny... I remember when one of the hinges on my 2003-vintage flip phone broke in 2005, a month before I could get a discount on a new model. I spent the next few weeks holding both halves of the phone together when making a call. I looked more than a little ridiculous.

Can you tell me anything about the HTC Evo, scheduled to be released the first week of June? (Sorry if you've already addressed it -- I can't figure out how to search the chat archives!) All I hear are amazing things; sounds too good to be true!

I got the chance to use an Evo briefly at Google I/O. It's bigger and heavier than most smartphones--going from a 4-in. screen to a 4.3-in. screen makes more of a difference than I expected. I'll have more to say once I get some hands-on time with the review model Sprint has sent my way.

 

I know the chat usually ends at 1, but since I haven't done one in three weeks--and my 2 a.m. arrival meant I had breakfast late this morning, which in turn means I'm not hungry for lunch yet--I'll stick around for another 10-15 minutes.

I'm starting a new job! As my celebratory treat to myself once my steady paycheck starts coming, I thought I'd join the 21st century and finally get an i-pod. I've heard rumors there will be a new generation coming out sometime, possibly with a camera. Should I wait a bit longer (I've waited this long) for the new one, look for deals on the current (3rd?) generation instead or something else?

Odds are that Apple will be introducing new models fairly soon--especially of the iPod touch. See MacRumors.com's always-helpful Mac Buyer's Guide.

Hey Rob, I have a problem making and receiving calls in my house in Germantown, MD, is there a cheap solution to my problem?

Switching to a different carrier? They all provide street-level maps of their coverage, which should  help you decide who will provide acceptable service there.

(If you're talking about landline calls... well, that's a harder problem to solve.)

I need to purchase an external hard drive to back up the data on my laptop. Besides the amount of storage space, what other factors should I consider before I plunk down my credit card? I have a handful of spreadsheets and text documents, and probably fewer digital photos than the average person but more digital music.

I am a huge fan of "bus-powered" external drives that don't need their own power brick--they get their electricity over the same USB or FireWire cable that connects them to the computer. They're far more useful with laptops, and even on a desktop it's nice not to have to fuss with another plug.

I use both Safari and Firefox browsers with my G5 PowerMac (6GB RAM). Opening a new Safari window takes less than a second. Recently, opening a new Firefox window has started to take about two minutes. Quitting and reloading Firefox, and quitting all other applications make no difference. Any suggestions?

See my advice to the Safari user before about trashing the cache, but also see what extensions you have loaded. There is no way Firefox should take that long to launch without some other factor holding it up.

Rob, Probably a dumb question, but if you already have Verizon's phone/data package for the old Centro, the package for the Incredible isn't any more expensive, right? I recall there being premium pricing for data on the older Palm Treos. Thanks!

Should be the same $70-ish plan either way. Remember that Verizon doesn't include texting in that voice-data bundle, and that visual voicemail (an option on the Incredible) also costs extra.

Sony Alpha EX -5's - could you comment or rate this camera that is due out the end of July?

Since I haven't seen it or tried it: No.

You wanted an honest answer, right?

I won a lenovo X61, great machine that came with Vista, so awful I stopped using it until I downloaded W7 professional that is wonderful but gave me BSOD constantly at first, now only occasionally. Reviews of w7 claim BSOD is common. MS always asks me to forward message to look for fix, which it still hasnt accomplished. Tech advice is to wipe out hard drive, install clean W7 and if problem recurs, it is a lenovo problem, not a W7 problem. True?

I haven't seen any widespread blue-screen-of-death issues in 7. Bad driver software is a common cause of "BSODs." But a clean install might solve that at the cost of depriving you of access to some of the ThinkPad's hardware. Is there a driver-update utility you can run to get the latest software from Lenovo? I seem to recall seeing that on ThinkPads.

Hi Rob, My question is about PC back up. I have Norton 360 security and it keep asking me to back up files-which I been doing through it to an external drive. After several back ups my drive is running out of space (is 160GB). Since I also manually back up my files to the same drive, should I keep all Norton back ups or only the last one? Maybe is better to turn it off? Thanks, Adrian from Silver Spring

Sure, delete the older backups. Norton's software doesn't delete old back-ups automatically? That's kind of a standard feature...

I was recently reading the article of that subject in one of my computer magazines (PC World). It reminded everyone to make certain to remove personal information from computers before disposing of them. It emphasized that "computer" today means smart phones, tablets and in-vehicle systems. I have always been careful about doing this. However, the subject of in-vehicle systems is especially intriging (he mentioned songs on the vehicle hard drive). I recently sold my car and deleted as many stored entries as could find. Of course, we all know just deleting does not really remove the information. So, how do you really remove information? I am particularly concerned about sensitve information such as the coordinates in the GPS (especially "HOME"). Is there any way to do this?

In a car? I have no idea, honest. You're asking a good question. The only sure way to delete a file is to overwrite it with other data, as a "delete" command usually just removes the computer's records of where the file is. But if you can't remove the hard drive to run a data-eraser utility on it, it would be equally difficult to run a data-recovery tool to find that old information.

I wouldn't recommend selling your car to somebody interested in breaking into your house, that's for sure.

Tried your suggestions of deleting cache and also reset Safari, no luck. All other webpages (other sites) work fine. Oddly, if I search for washingtonpost.com on google I can link directly to a specific page, like Jobs, but can't link out. Seems like it may be on the Website's end here.

No, because I visit washingtonpost.com in Safari 4.05 on an Intel-based Mac about every day. (We have a lot of Mac-using readers. Do you think they wouldn't all be descending on our offices with pitchforks if the entire site broke in Safari?)

The odds are overwhelming that it's something on your computer. Do you have any extensions active in Safari, like PithHelmet?

Hi Rob, Other than the iPhone, which phones have the best cameras for still shots? Thanks!

Pretty much anything with a flash. The iPhone's camera is better than its megapixel number would suggest for available-light photos, but indoors it's not so good.

I tried loading a technical journal article onto a Kindle 2, but there was far too much effort required to chop up the PDF pages into pieces. Now apparently Amazon will release a "zoom" capability for the Kindle later this month. Any idea as to whether this will let me read my journal articles? Alternatively, when do you think the price of the Kindle DX will come down, given the iPad competition? I'm surprised it hasn't come down already. Have you tried reading a book on an iPad? Did you experience eye fatigue?

I have no idea if that new feature will solve your problem--since you've already paid for your Kindle, you'll have to hope for the best.

No idea about future pricing for the Kindle, but I have to imagine that Amazon's going to experience serious competitive pressure.

I haven't read an entire book on an iPad, but I've read for long periods of time and didn't mind. But bear in mind this: If staring at LCDs for hours on end bothered me, I would have washed out of this job a decade ago.

Okay, I'm intrigued by Google TV, but am concerned that the whole concept is based on a fatal flaw. Because it is so interactive, it seems to me that surfing the internet is more of a solitary activity. It's a personal relationship between the user and the browser. Television, on the other hand, is more a communal event. You typically have several people watching a show together. With the exception of someone watching alone, I wonder if the whole "internet on TV" concept will just create rancor. You know, it will be like watching television with someone who insists on channel surfing.

This'll be my last question. Don't think of Google TV as "Internet on TV"; think of it as "Internet media on TV." Its using a general-purpose Web browser means it can display any site, but the principal and intended use is watching videos and photos and playing Web radio--like the iPad, it's supposed to be a read-first system. Some users may also answer their e-mail through Google TV, but I doubt they'll have much company.

Appreciated all your questions, but now I have to return to the day job.

By the way, have you looked at Google's home page today? You should. Especially if you grew up in the 1980s. I'm just sayin'...

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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post's Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro, writes about computers, the Internet and consumerconsumer electronics. His latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.

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