April 2011 Q&A
Q: I got a message to update Java, but the update didn't work.
A: The easiest solution is to uninstall and start from scratch. There are ways to diagnose the problem, but they take longer than it's worth. Spam
Q: My spam was way down for quite a while, but now I'm getting lots more than I used to and kinds I never got before, including Russian dating services.
A: A bunch of the worst offenders were shut down through Microsoft's legal action, but they can pack up and go elsewhere. Fighting spam and malware is a continuing effort.
Internet Explorer 9
Q: I downloaded IE 9, and I'm finding it hard to get into some sites that we use for tax preparation. One is an IRS site, and the other is for the company that makes the software we use. I can't get in through Mozilla, either.
A: Michael Shalkey: IE 9 is now the most standards-compliant browser there is, failing only 16 of the 10,000 tests for standards. But that wasn't always the case, and sites that were built for the quirks of older versions don't work on IE 9. Microsoft is trying to get all users away from all versions of IE below 7 and would prefer that everyone use 8 or 9. You may have to uninstall IE9 to make it work. Toby Scott: IE 9 won't work on XP, just on Vista and Windows 7, so those of you on XP can ignore this discussion. If you want to go to sites that require IE in Firefox, get the latest IE Tab add-on and use it. You might be suffering from an Active X problem.
Intel Sandy Bridge chips
Q: Is Intel distributing its new chips yet?
A: Yes and no. The Sandy Bridge chip is supposedly in the channel now, but we can't get them. The chip, a monumental improvement, is the latest Intel chip and motherboard combination, with much better graphics than previous motherboard's had available. Not only that, but if you aren't using all the memory area set aside for graphics, the processor can use it for regular instructions, so it's hugely more effective at providing maximum power from its resources. The problem Intel had with the original boards was quite obscure, would have probably affected only a handful of people and most of them after several years had gone by. Most manufacturers would have let the 100,000 boards stay in play and figured it would be much cheaper to give new motherboards to anyone who had issues down the line, but Intel recalled all the boards at a cost of billions and is ramping up to deliver the fixed board as soon as it can. It won't be adequate for extreme games, but I doubt that's much of an issue for the people here.
IE 8 vs. IE 9
Q: IE 9 is better than IE 8, right?
A: The reviews have been good, but I tend not to be an early adapter, although I did download Firefox 4 when it was released. Microsoft boasted that IE 9 had more than 2.4 million downloads on the day it was released, but Firefox reported more than 6 million downloads on day one.
Q: Firefox has usually done automatic updates for me, but it didn't do that for version 4.
A: Michael Shalkey: That's normal for most software. Incremental upgrades -- changes within a version, such as 3.0 to 3.1 -- will be automatically downloaded and installed. Changes resulting in a new version number -- from 3 to 4 -- will ask first because some users could have problems with hardware with the new version. If you're in doubt, check the system requirements for the new version of the software.
Toby Scott: That's an industry standard for changes in versions.
Q: A lot of my add-ons don't work in the new version.
A: Toby Scott: That's another reason not to be an early adapter.
A: Michael Shalkey: FYI, IE 8 and 9 have some extensions available. Toby Scott: To be fair, IE 3 had the first extensions with the addition of Active X, but security wasn't fully considered, and Active X has become one of the major sources of malware installed through a browser.
Q: I love NoScript, which has saved me several times.
A: Toby Scott: One of the reasons I like Firefox so much is the number of add-ons available for it and its security. NoScript is built into Firefox 4. It was an add-on for Firefox 3.
Q: But the number of add-ons available is overpowering. It would take weeks to go through all of them.
A: But that's what geeks want. Where's your sense of adventure (smile). You don't really have to look at all of them. Stick to those with ratings of 4 or 5 as you look through the categories. The download page is periodically redesigned, but the most current version has a list of "Top Rated" items on the right hand side below the "Alerts & Updates" box. Many of the add-ons are quite specialized, and you don't need most of them. I had to install several new extensions when I installed Firefox 4. Valid Windows check
Valid Windows check
Q: Am I correct in my belief that there is no way to stop Microsoft's periodic check to determine if I have a legitimate copy of Windows? It's on a government machine.
A: Yes, you are. Governments are the No. 1 users of hijacked versions of Windows.
Michael Shalkey: If you have the sticker with the key code on your computer, call Microsoft, and they will update their records. They sometimes get a false positive when they check. It might take a while on the phone, however.
Toby Scott: Write that code down somewhere safe if the sticker is on the bottom of your laptop because stickers on the bottom of laptops often become illegible, and without that number you can't reinstall Windows if you need to.
Q: I've done lots of upgrades, but I've never had that sticker.
A: If you installed Windows, you had to have the 25-character key code or it wouldn't install. That label is on the package, and if you don't put it on the computer, be sure to keep the package where you can find it if you have to reinstall. The CD is not the key to reinstalling; computer shops have discs to reinstall from. But the installation won't complete without that key code, and you'll have to buy a new copy of Windows.
Michael Shalkey: Or Office or anything from Adobe.
Q: I am getting about an update a day from Adobe. What happened?
Comment: Photoshop Elements 3 doesn't work well with backup software. After backing up, it gave an error message and wouldn't start. It wiped out my license. There's a fix on their website, but it took me forever to find it. Supposedly, it's fixed in Elements 4.
Q: My understanding is that if things are working fine, I don't have to update drivers. Am I right?
A: Yes. Unless you're having problems, don't update drivers. The Windows Update is notorious for misidentifying hardware. If you have problems with hardware, be sure you download the right driver (check the product designation). Do a System Restore point and do a backup before installing the driver.
Q: I have the same feeling about Windows 7 Service Pack 1. I tried to install it at home, and it didn't work.
A: Michael Shalkey: You're one of the few people who have reported problems with SP 1.
Toby Scott: A wrong version of a Windows DLL is often the cause of update problems. There's a check for that from http://Windows.microsoft.com/en-US/Windows7/troubleshoot-problemsinstalling-service-pack: "To run the Windows Update troubleshooter: Open the Windows Update troubleshooter by clicking the Start button and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type troubleshooter, and then click Troubleshooting. Under System and Security, click Fix problems with Windows Update. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation." Before trying SP 1, use the SP 1 readiness tool. The readiness tool is downloadable from Microsoft's Windows Update page or directly at the Microsoft Download Center; information about the tool is at http://help.adobe.com/en_US/reader/X/using/EnhancedSecurity_WhatIsIt.html ). Also, turn off your antivirus and if there's a problem run Spybot and Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware to check for problems. Malware will stop the service pack cold.
OEM version of Windows Vista
Q: I have an OEM version of Vista. Can I buy Windows 7 off the shelf to upgrade?
A: Yes, but I'm not sure I'd be in a rush to do it if you're not having problems. Windows 7 is basically Vista with the warts sanded off. If you've spent time sanding off the warts one-at-a-time on Vista, there's not a lot you'll get for your money.
Going back to XP
Q: A computer was given to me with Vista on it, but I don't have a disk for it. How do I get rid of it to put XP on it?
A: Format the drive and install. You can do that through the installation disk. It will see you have an unknown operating system and ask if you to format and install or install XP on a separate partition. You will lose all the data on the drive so be sure to back up if you have anything you want to save.
Q: It was working OK until one of the techs at the office did something to it.
A: Michael Shalkey: The tech probably wiped out Windows files while trying to clear data or software before giving it away. Toby Scott: You can probably restore Vista without too much trouble if you want to. We can burn a Vista disk for you if you have the key code, but call first and tell us what version you need so we get the right version.
Norton slows computer
Q: I loaded Norton on my XP machine with 512 Meg, and it became a dog. And I'm getting popup ads for Norton online backup and other products.
A: I'm a big fan of Norton Antivirus, which is compact and runs well, but not of Internet Security and Norton 360, which add a lot of things you don't really need and slow the machine way down. Internet Security won't run on 512 Meg beyond SP 1. You can turn off the ads, but I don't remember how because I haven't done it often. A Google search turns up nothing, so you may be the only one getting the popups. Could it be malware?
Q: What's a TWAIN driver?
A: -Toby: Let's talk conceptually. Scanners and faxes are just graphics, pictures that are essentially collections of dots. Those things have to be able to deliver a picture that Windows can read. What Microsoft has is a twain driver, and the twain driver is a Windows standard driver that devices can talk to, and when they do the signal that comes in from your scanner will then be understood by your computer. Now, you need two things to make this work: the driver for your scanner, which is the hardware driver, and then the TWAIN software driver. You need the hardware driver to connect things like your Cannon scanner to your computer, and then you get the TWAIN driver, and that is what will deliver the graphic images to Photoshop, Paintshop Pro, Windows Paint, or whatever you are using to view the video that comes in. Is that clear?
Michael: You just need the TWAIN driver for XP from www.twain.org.
Toby: Download it, and it will give you a package; just make sure it is the XP version. Sharing photos, videos on TV
Q: I wanted to share photos and videos with my TV, Direct TV. I turned on the sharing to the network, and then it was blocked so I went into my router settings, turned off the net and enabled the TCP445 work so that it would show up. All of the stuff showed up except the videos, which were blocked; however, something is still blocking it. Actually, all the photos show up on the screen, but it has a little "x" next to it. Could it be that the virus protection might be blocking the TCP445?
A: Almost any anti-virus, if you find it down in the right corner wherever your anti-virus is, you can turn it off for a period of time, like 15 minutes. Go to settings again try Real Time Protection and turn that off, and see if that makes a difference. I am betting that it will not make a difference.
Michael: If your TV is now on your network and can see things it means your TV has to have software to be able to display. It can display your JPEG images, no problem, but it is not displaying your videos, which are a different format. The video on your computer has a file name that ends in .AVI, .MPG, .MPEG or even .WMV. I believe your problem is your TV cannot display the videos on your computer because it does not know how to deal with the file format. The JPEGs are no problem, because they are so universal, but because you have "x" on the icon for the videos your TV can't play them. Read your instruction manual for your DVR and see what formats it supports. If it says it can do only AVI files, or any other file formats, those should play, but I believe you have a problem with the file format your videos are in that Direct TV does not like. Ask next month about converting video formats from one to another and we can discuss that.
Free wireless vulnerabilities
Q: On that free wireless, did we not have a talk about how vulnerable that kind of stuff is?
Michael: Thank you. I was going to tell everybody to go to onguardonline.gov. The U.S. government has done a very good job telling you what you need to know if you go to a Wi-Fi hot spot like a Starbucks. It tells you how to be safe online if you are using a smartphone or whatever. It is a wonderful thing, explaining what you should know before you go there, and when you are there, what to do.
Toby: Just assume that everything you do on a public Wi-Fi spot or in a hotel if you are going online there, or wherever you go that has an Internet connection, ASSUME, that everything you put into your computer or you distribute out to the Internet can be read by a hacker. Just assume it and once you make that assumption, you will not hurt yourself. Please do not do online banking using your password and all the rest of that information. There probably is no hacker eavesdropping at that particular moment, but you are playing Russian roulette.
Wi-Fi problems at home
Q: One of the computers in our home on a Wi-Fi system has to be logged into the Wi-Fi system every time it is turned on, and then I have to indicate to it the system to go to for the password before it will go into the network. Once it is shut off and turned back on again, I have to go through the entire procedure again. Do you know what the problem could be?
A: Are you using the Windows wireless software or do you have like a Linksys setup?
Response: It is a Linksys system and I am using the Linksys software on an XP computer.
Toby: The Linksys dialer is problematic. You can make the Linksys wireless network card work with the Windows network manager, and it works much better. The problem is that uninstalling the software and getting it all to work is difficult. I have done it, but it is not an easy job. Otherwise, you will probably have to live with that; however, you might try to update your Linksys software. Go out to the website for Cisco, which bought Linksys about five years ago, pick out the exact model you have of your wireless unit and see if they have an update for it. That might fix it, but it might not. If it does not, the only solution I know is to go back to the Windows wireless manager. If you have the Linksys software installed and you go down to your wireless connector in XP -- it looks like a little computer with radio waves coming out -- and right mouse click on it, and it will say another program is managing your wireless connection and you have to use that program. It is real easy when you uninstall it to also uninstall the drivers, and then it will not work at all. It really is a mess to uninstall only the program half of it, leaving the drivers in and transfer over to Windows management. It can be done, but I have done it like only twice three years ago, and I do not remember how I got it working.
Michael: I cannot tell you verbally without seeing your machine, but there is a way to go into Control Panel wireless connections and say let Windows be the one that is in charge with this one. You are right; it is rather tricky going from one machine to another.
Toby: As we have said many times, if you have a desktop computer, move heaven and earth to wire it. Wireless is inevitably challenging. There are probably 100 times as many problems with wireless connections as there are with wired. Whatever the order of magnitude is, it is very large. Wireless is really great when you go to Starbucks and you fire up your laptop and log in and it works fine for the hour you are there, but using it on a continuous basis where you are logging into same thing day after day, you are just asking for trouble with wireless connections. Some of you will have them and it works fine, but there will be others of you who have them and they are nothing but trouble.
Using old drives on different computer
Q: I have some old drives. How can I use them on my new computer?
A: If you have an old drive, you can buy a USB enclosure like a case and you can use a USB cable and plug it into your computer with the USB cord and plug the power in, if it is a desktop hard drive, and you are good to go and you can read it. However, it will install like a flash drive -- drive F or G or something like that. It will be whatever the next drive letter is after the C drive, your CD and any other internal drives. Once you are there, you can access it just like you can any other drive.
Response: Will Windows index it?
A: Oh, indexing. What operating system?
A: You can go to indexing service and tell it to index it. The first time you click on it in Vista you will get a little popup that says, "this thing can do searches faster if you enable indexing on this area." Right click that and go index. Vista indexing service will ask you if you want to index any new drive you put into the computer. It is Vista that indexes, not the drive. If you have several hard drives and you want to be able to use them interchangeably and just to get data off, the universal hard drive plugs work really well. They are external things you just plug into the drive. If you are going to use them for regular backups, I would encourage you to get an enclosure for the drive. It is not very convenient to change hard drives all the time, but if you have an old drive you want to use for backup purposes, it is not vulnerable. If you leave the drive sitting out in the open using one of the universal plugs, you can create all kinds of problems, so you want to make sure you put them on a nonstatic pad or something that does not conduct electricity. They work fine for one at a time use. This is the kind of thing we use in our shop to fix your hard drive, and when we are done with that one, then we fix another hard drive, and so on. It works great for that, but it will not work very well if that is going to be the one and only drive you are using. In that case, go get an enclosure. What you can buy is a SATA/PATA/IDE Drive to USB 2.0 Adapter Converter Cable like I am showing you on the screen here (see illustration). When you plug it in the computer does not know if you have a hard drive or a flash drive.
Q: Up to six months ago, I used to get an email every so often from a company that used to offer operating manuals online. I kept deleting the emails, so I guess they realized I was not interested so they stopped sending emails. Now, I need some manuals that are not written by a company called Creative for MP3 Players. I would like to know if anyone can tell me what that site that is, or has a site that I can go on to get a manual that is not written by Creative.
Michael: Everyone knows I am not an Apple fan boy, but their products work and are easy to use and understand. Cheaper MP3 devices are cheaper because they do not have the same functionality and no money for English-speaking writers of their manuals. I paid $45 and I got iPod shuffle and don't need a manual. I understand what you are saying. The only problem with iPod devices is iTunes, which I despise. Quick tip: iShuffle is great -- this software you put on your iPod is great and you never have to use iTunes. You merely drag and drop from Windows Explorer your MP3 files to your iPod Shuffle and when you run the software, iPod thinks it is using its own software. It is great!
Toby: I have a Sansa Clip MP3 player, and the manual is understandable. It is not the greatest manual ever written, but it is better than the Creative manuals. For me, I do not buy Apple.
Windows SP3, USB 3
Q: I have two questions. I have a computer which was provided by a contractor at work to go out on the road and tape seminars. One of the computers got messed up, and we had the contractor re-image it, but they said they could not download SP3. It is an older machine, and we are trying to keep it going for awhile. I know you spoke about SP3, and I do not remember what you said. I just could not understand why they could not download SP3. The second question is about USB 3 vs. USB 2. Should I be buying external hard drivers that are 3 now, even though my computer is old?
A: Let's start with the SP issue. Does your laptop have a CD? If you had the installation CD, we have copies of SP3 for XP that could be put on a CD to run it, but my suspicion is that there something in the setup that they tried to run SP 3 and it failed. It is hard to think of a way they could have installed XP SP 2 on it and you could not install SP 3. Assuming they are remotely clueless, they should have been able to do that. SP 3 will sometimes give errors, and they probably could not work around the errors. That would be my guess. If this is a machine that you use extensively on the road or for backups, as long as this computer is not used too much and you are going to known websites, I would not worry about it much. I would not go and do a lot of advance Google searching on sites where I am clicking on stuff I do not know about. If you are doing PowerPoint and not going online, you are good.
Burning CDs, DVDs
Q: I can't burn CDs or DVDs. What software can I install to fix this?
Michael: If all you need to do is burn CDs, go to download.com and search for ashampoo burning. You will get this result. This clearly explains the difference between the free burning software (to burn your CDs) and the other options you can purchase. My guess is that you do not need SP3 to solve your problem.
Q: Should I be buying USB3 rather than USB2 now?
A: Right now it's a tough call because none of us have computers that will do USB3 yet. Perhaps, a couple of them are out if you bought it in the last few weeks. Besides that, Intel took all the motherboards off the table. Chances are excellent that no one in this room has a USB 3-capable computer. If you have an old computer and your USB hard drive gives up the ghost and depending upon how much use you make of the hard drive, you might very well consider buying a USB 3. Right now, there are fairly hefty premiums for USB 3 over the same device with USB 2, which will go away relatively shortly, but if you have to buy right now and it's for light use, I would not pay for it. If it is something you use heavily and you are going to be buying a new computer in the next year or two, then maybe you want to think about paying the extra for USB 3. It is kind of an awkward time right at this moment to consider whether to buy USB 2 or 3. As the price differential collapses, you might want to think about geting USB 3. Somewhere under a $10 differential USB 2 will go away because at some point they will not sell them. USB 3 is downward compatible with USB 2. USB 2 is not upward compatible with USB 3.
Moving files to CD, DVD
Q: This is a question about downloading to a CD, DVD in Windows 7. In XP you click on the picture file, copy to CD and it works all the time. On Windows 7 when I do that, somehow the file opens. Would you show me how you would do it.
Michael: It is a drag and drop action. You open up Windows Explorer, music, photos -- take all theses folders and burn them, and if I had a DVD in there it would show up and I drag them to my CD drive.
Q: What is Thunderbolt?
Michael: How many of you remember FireWire? FireWire (or IEEE 1394) was created by Apple in 1995. It no longer makes FireWire devices. Basically, FireWire was kind of like USB, a way to get stuff on and off devices. Apple was always trying to get newer, faster, bigger, more objects. The newest thing is called Thunderbolt, which is going to be coming from Intel -- first to Apple MacBook Pros. Thunderbolt began at Intel Labs with a simple concept: Create an incredibly fast input/output technology that just about anything can plug into. After close technical collaboration between Intel and Apple, Thunderbolt emerged from the lab to make its first appearance in MacBook Pro. Do not worry about it for another two years, because the first devices that will show up with it are Apple only, they will be very expensive and they are going to work out all the bugs, and about the time it gets down to us and we get our Thunderbolt devices they will figure out exactly how to make it stable. They hope that all devices are going to be using this connection, especially with the videos now and all kinds of large files -- external drives and backups. One of the problems with Thunderbolt is that you can also have external security problems. Since Thunderbolt will have full bus access to the motherboard and possibly disks, malicious devices may be able to read RAM and disks without authentication. Imagine if you have a Thunderbolt-enabled laptop, for instance, and you take your laptop and plug it into a podium at a conference center to show PowerPoint slides. The connection is so powerful that if there were any infection or virus in the podium itself, it could literally copy your entire hard drive and you would not even know it, it is that fast. That is especially dangerous, so they have to work out some of these things in Thunderbolt.
Toby: Just so we are all on the same page, anytime you have a connection between two computers or two devices, the speed of transmission is restricted by the slowest link in the chain. On the Internet, that is going to be your Internet connection. If you have a 768 DSL line, that is all you are going to get, no matter how fast your hard drive is or whatever receiving devices.