Tips and Tricks

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

17. Keeping data on Clipboard
Q. Is it safe to use the Windows Clipboard while using the Web? Can I keep all my sensitive numbers in a Word file and just paste them in? That way, a keylogger won't get me typing them in.

A. You raise an interesting issue. And so that we’re all on the same page... the Windows Clipboard is a temporary holding area where things that you copy are stored.

I’m glad that you wrote because many people are simply unaware of this problem in Internet Explorer. A properly written JavaScript program could be used to swipe your information right off the Windows Clipboard when you’re visiting a Web page. It all happens behind the scenes.

Want to see it in action? Try this. Copy something (this sentence, for instance). Then go to the FriendlyCanadiansite.

If you're using Internet Explorer, you should see whatever you copied.

However, when I did this on my computer, nothing showed up. I use the free browser Firefox. My Firefox is set up to use JavaScripts. But when the FriendlyCanadian site sent code to run JavaScript, something in Firefox kept it from working. I would not bet, though, that Firefox could not be accessed.

When I tried this using Internet Explorer, it worked fine. That means that a malicious Web site could copy anything you have on your Clipboard.

Fortunately, there is a way to secure Internet Explorer. In Internet Explorer, click Tools>>Internet Options. Select the Security tab. Under Web content zones, select Internet. Under Security level, click the Custom Level button.

Under Scripting, you'll see a setting labeled "Allow paste operations via script." For that setting, select Disable. Then click OK. Finally, click OK on the next window.

You could also just turn JavaScript off in both browsers. However, many Web sites will not display correctly. JavaScript is commonly used throughout the Internet.

Firefox may or may not be vulnerable to these attacks. Internet Explorer definitely is. Because Firefox is not an integral part of Windows, it is safer.

Getting back to your question, when you copy and paste your credit card number, for instance, it remains on the Clipboard. It stays there until you turn off the computer, or until you copy something else. You might be able to fool keyloggers, but that won't stop hackers from developing programs that steal information from the clipboard.

Really, you're safer making sure that keyloggers and other malicious programs never find their way onto your computer. Don't open attachments you weren't expecting. Don't download programs you never heard of. And run anti-spyware programs. Those rules will keep keyloggers off your computer. You can find some security programs on my Web site.

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16. Make those Windows fill the screen
Alfred, of Vestal, NY, sent his computer to the shop for repairs. When it came back, he found that when he opened a program, it did not fill the screen. The windows are only about half-size. He wants to fix that.

This is a common problem, Alfred, and an irritating one. The half-size window is called Normal. But I don't know anyone who uses it. You can fix this. Identify the programs with which you are having a problem. Click Start>>All Programs. Find each program in the list. Each entry in All Programs is a shortcut.

I'll use Microsoft Word as an example. Right-click it, then click Properties. On the Shortcut tab, find the Run box. Click the down arrow and select Maximized. This works with any shortcut, including icons on the desktop and in the Quick Start area.

Often, if you click a link in Internet Explorer, it opens a new Window that is not maximized. When that happens, close the original window. Then drag the borders of the "normal" window to the screen's edges. Close that window, too. That should solve the problem.

If it doesn't, download IE New Window Maximizer. This free program works very well. It's available at:
http://www.jiisoft.com/

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15. Should I turn off my computer or leave it run?
Q. I noticed in your News of the Day newsletter that your Computer Minute was about whether to leave the computer on overnight. I didn't hear the Minute, so I don't know what you said. But I have long wondered about this issue. What was your conclusion? -- Donna in Chicago, listening on WLS 890 AM

A. This question has bedeviled computer users for years. If you turn the computer off, you probably save on power. But turning the computer on and off everyday potentially could cause extra wear of parts.

I always considered this question a tossup. But developments in recent years forced me off the fence.

Today, we need anti-virus programs, along with multiple anti-spyware applications. All of this stuff requires updating. Often, the updates are done on a daily basis.

In addition, Windows has to be updated, usually at least monthly. It's important to do this automatically and immediately. Hackers move very quickly to reverse engineer Windows updates. They use what they learn to attack unprotected machines.

The most convenient time for automatic updates is when the computer is idle. For most people, that's the middle of the night. Yes, you can update while you're using the computer. But that could bog it down.

In addition, I run anti-virus and anti-spyware scans every day. I also back up my computers daily. When's the best time to do those things?

Why, in the middle of the night!

So, I leave my computers on all night. I turn the monitor off. I don't think the machine's longevity is affected, either negatively or positively. I just do it for convenience. If you prefer to do your updates, scans and backups during the day, be my guest. Turning your computer off at night shouldn't hurt it. It's really just a matter of personal preference.

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14. Mirroring Your Hard Drive
Q. Is there a simple way to have everything that I do on my computer "mirrored" to a separate, external hard drive? I back up regularly, but I have learned the hard way that redundancy is the best policy.

A. You're right. It's very unpleasant when a hard drive goes south on you.

There is a way to do what you want. You can make an image of your hard drive. Then, if your main drive dies, you simply install the image on a new hard drive and you're back in business.

Two imaging programs are Norton Ghost ($70) and Acronis True Image ($50). You'll find them at, respectively:

http://www.symantec.com/sabu/ghost/ghost_personal/
http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/

If you go this route, continue to do your backups. An image captures a picture of your hard drive. If you make an image monthly, say, you'll need to back up data added after each image.

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13. Printing dates on documents
Q. I listen to your show faithfully every weekend. I am a lawyer who needs to have the date appear at the bottom of anything that I print for a case. Since getting a new printer, I no longer get the date. I tried calling technical support but they were no help. I hardly understood a word the reps said. Can you please lend a hand? Susan Jones

A. Sure I can. I’ll just refer to you as “Sue the lawyer.”

Having the date appear on your printouts is pretty handy. Most programs let you add a date in some way. Let’s go through some programs you may be using.

Microsoft Word Click where you want to place the date. Click Insert>>Date and Time. You will have a selection of choices--date only, time only and date and time. Choose one and click OK.

You can make Word insert dates in all documents automatically.

To do that, you must change the Word template. That is a file named Normal.dot.

You'll find it in these folders:

Windows XP
C:\Document and Settings\[Your Name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

Windows 2000
C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

Windows ME
C:\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

Windows 98
C:\Windows\Profiles\[Your Name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

If you can't find it, use Windows Explorer to search for it.

Once you do find it, make a copy of Normal.dot and save it in another folder, in case you make a mistake. Then right-click Normal.dot and click Open. Click View>>Header and Footer. Click in the footer box at the end of the template. Click Insert>>Date and Time. Select the date style. Click "Update automatically." Click OK.

Microsoft Excel Click View>>Header and Footer. Click Custom Footer. Enter the date.

You can make a template in Excel, too. Open an Excel worksheet and put in the footer (or header) along with the date. Click File>>Save As. Save it as a Template (*.xlt). It goes in the same folder as the Word template. Make a shortcut to the Excel template and put it on the desktop. You have to open the template specifically to get the dated worksheet.

Internet Explorer Click File>>Page Setup. In the box marked Footer, enter "&d" (without the quotes). All subsequent printouts will include the date, which changes automatically.

(Tip inside of a tip: You can print a number of things in the header or footer. To find the codes, click File>>Page Setup. In the upper right corner, next to the X, click the question mark. Then click the Header or Footer box.)

Firefox Click File>>Page Setup. Select Margins&Header/ Footer. Under Headers and Footers, find the position in which you wish to place the date. If this is a one-shot thing, click Custom and write in the date. If you want the date to be there always, and to update automatically, click Date/Time.

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12. What should I Backup and How?
As a preamble to backing up, establish a format for naming your personal data files, e.g., "20030905 Mary" says "Letter to Mary dated September 5, 2003." Always using four digits for the year and two digits each for the month and day will ensure keeping all files in date order and ease your search for a particular file in the future.

Similarly, creating folders for your various needs and interests and placing those folders in a central folder (such as My Documents or a folder name of your choosing) will simplify backing up all your personal data.

Now when you are ready to back up your personal data you have just one folder to copy. Right-click on My Documents, or whatever folder you decided upon as the repository for all your personal data, click Send to, and select the target drive--3.5-inch floppy, R-RW CD drive, or a second hard drive.

Next, to back up your Address Book in Outlook Express, open OE, Address Book, File, Export, select target drive.

If you are interested in backing up your entire Outlook Express, consider a free program that can be downloaded at:
http://www.oehelp.com/OEBackup/Default.aspx

Favorites and Cookies can be backed up in similar fashion. Go to your Microsoft Internet Explorer Home Page, click on File, Import/Export, click Next on the Wizard, select Export Favorites, select Favorites, select target drive. Then repeat the operation to backup Cookies, if desired.

Some programs, such as Quicken, make provision within the program for backing up your data and you should elect to accept that option.

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11. Disk Defragmenter works best alone
Q. My Disk Defragmenter has stopped working! When I try to defrag, it never registers above l% complete and then starts over and over and over. I've got Windows 98. I use anti-virus and anti-spyware, so that shouldn't be an issue. What should I do?

A. The Windows Disk Defragmenter is a great tool. It organizes your hard drive and can make your system a bit faster. But it is sensitive. It needs a good deal of space on the hard drive while it moves things around. And it cannot abide interruptions. Whenever you use Disk Defragmenter, it should be the only program running.

Before we get into solutions, update and run your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. A malicious program running in the background could cause Disk Defragmenter to fail.

Also, I’ve heard from some people that they could not get Disk Defragmenter to work when connected to the Internet. It’s never happened to me. But anything is possible. Try disconnecting and see what happens.

Ready? Let's look at some possible solutions:

Tidy up your hard drive. Start by running Disk Cleanup (Start>>Programs>> Accessories>> System Tools>>Disk Cleanup). Be sure to dump temporary Internet files and clean out the Recycle Bin.

After running Disk Cleanup, check for programs that you don't use. To delete them, click Start>>Settings>>Control Panel. Double-click Add/Remove Programs. Find the programs in the list and click Add/Remove. Use care. Only delete programs that you know you do not use.

Hard drive flaws also can stop Disk Defragmenter. So it's a good idea to run ScanDisk before Disk Defragmenter. You'll find ScanDisk at Start>>Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>> ScanDisk. Select Thorough and Automatically Fix Errors.

Next, click Options. Under "Areas of the Disk to Scan," select "System and Data Areas." Click OK>>Start.

If Disk Defragmenter just won't go, try your luck in Safe Mode. This loads only essential drivers and Windows files.

To get into Safe Mode, shut down your computer. Wait 10 seconds and boot up. Tap the F8 key during boot up. The boot up process should stop, and you should see a menu. Highlight Safe Mode and press Enter. If you don't get the menu, reboot and try again.

Another possible—though improbable—thing to consider is that spyware or a virus could start in Safe Mode. If so, they could make Disk Defragmenter stop. So, when all else fails, check the processes on your machine.

Boot into Windows and pare it down to essential processes. "Process" is a term for any program currently running. You can do this using the Windows Task Manager. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del.

You'll see a list of files there. Malicious programs may be included. If so, they might well have innocuous names, to mislead you. This list also includes necessary Windows files. You don't want to disable them. Non-essential processes should be shut down. Here are the files that you should leave alone:

csrss.exe
dllhost.exe
explorer.exe
kernel32.dll
lsass.exe
msgsrv32.exe
mstask.exe
services.exe
svchost.exe
taskmon.exe

You probably will find anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall files there. Shut them down, but disconnect from the Internet first. Don't tempt fate. To stop a process, click it once to highlight it. Then click End Task.

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10. Start screen saver quickly
Q. My wife and I just got back from a wonderful summer vacation. It took us nine years to save enough money for it. You recently told a caller to your show how to put together a screen saver using the best pictures. I did that and my wife just loves it. I was wondering, is there a special key that I could press that would start the screen saver immediately?

A. Thank you so much for listening to my national radio show. It’s great to get notes like yours. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’m helping a bunch of people.

You can easily put a shortcut to start the screen saver on your desktop. When you want it to run, simply double-click the shortcut icon. You stop the screen saver by moving the mouse, so that could make double-clicking problematic. You have to move fast. Practice getting your hand off the mouse before the screen saver starts. Otherwise, you'll start and stop it nearly simultaneously.

But, if you're working in a window, you would have to close it before you could double-click the shortcut. That would slow things down. There are two ways around that: Put the shortcut in the Quick Launch area, which you can keep visible at all times. Or use a keyboard shortcut.

The latter would be my choice. But I'll tell you how to do both. Then you can decide.

First, let's make the desktop shortcut. Right-click an empty area on your desktop. Click Properties. Click Screen Saver. Under Screen Saver, pick one you like. When you click them, they are shown on the monitor representation.

In Windows XP, the screen saver files are located in C:\Windows\System32. They begin with the letters "ss," which makes them easy to find in the alphabetized listing. The file names are similar to the names in the screen saver list, but you may have to experiment to find the correct one. In case you need it, here are the screen saver file locations in earlier Windows versions:

98 and ME -- C:\Windows\System
2000 -- C:\WINNT\System32

To make the shortcut, right-click an empty area on the desktop. Click New>>Shortcut. Click Browse and surf to the System32 folder. Scroll to the S listings and click the screen saver file. It will end in the extension .SCR. Click OK>>Next. Enter a name for the shortcut and click Finish.

That puts the shortcut icon on your desktop. The Quick Launch area is next to the Start button. If you don't see it, right-click the taskbar. Click Properties. Click Show Quick Launch. Also, enable "Keep the taskbar on top of other windows." Click Apply>>OK.

Drag the shortcut icon to the Quick Launch area. Move the Quick Launch border to the right to enlarge the area, if necessary. To launch the screen saver, click it once. Remember to remove your hand from the mouse quickly.

To create a keyboard shortcut, right-click the shortcut on your desktop. On the Shortcut tab, find Shortcut Key. The word None will be in the box. Position the cursor after the word None and press Ctrl+Alt+S (or another letter). That will create the keyboard shortcut.

To start the screen saver, depress the three keys simultaneously. The screen saver will start immediately and you can day dream about that next vacation!

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9. Closing the hole in Internet Explorer
If you continue to use Internet Explorer, you have to know about ActiveX. ActiveX is a set of rules governing the way applications share information. ActiveX controls are often used to build interactivity into Web sites.

For instance, ActiveX can be used to create an online survey. Users can pick answers or enter comments. It’s also useful for online games and animation.

On the Internet, ActiveX controls are similar to Java programs. Java programs have restrictions that limit how and where they can run. But ActiveX can have full access to Windows. A rogue ActiveX control can snoop around and damage your computer. That includes any personal information you’ve got saved.

Microsoft reduced that danger in Service Pack 2 (SP2). If you still don’t have SP2, go to Windows Update now. You’ll need it for the steps that follow. By the way, Windows Update uses ActiveX to do its job. Windows update is at: http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com

Even with SP2, it’s still up to you to close the security hole. That’s why Internet Explorer has security settings for ActiveX. To find those settings, first open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Internet Options. Select the Security tab. Select Internet under “Select a Web content zone...” Then click the “Custom Level” button. There are seven settings under “ActiveX controls and plug-ins.” Here’s how I have mine set:

1. Automatic prompting for ActiveX controls: Disable. This blocks ActiveX prompts from downloads that I don’t request. It just takes away the temptation to click “OK” when a prompt pops up. But it might be something I’m expecting. I can still click on the yellow bar at the top and select “Install Software...”

2. Binary and script behaviors: Enable. This helps ActiveX controls already on your computer. Otherwise, strange things like program conflicts can happen.

3. Download signed ActiveX controls: Prompt. Signed ActiveX controls are considered safer, because they come from a known organization. But I want to be asked. There are some people from whom I want nothing.

4. Download unsigned ActiveX controls: Disable. Don’t even bother me.

5. Initialize and script ActiveX controls not marked as safe: Disable. Not worth the risk.

6. Run ActiveX controls and plug-ins: Enable. Some major Web sites aren’t even viewable without this. And once I’ve installed an ActiveX control, I don’t want to be asked about it repeatedly.

7. Script ActiveX controls marked safe for scripting: Enable. Ditto.

Still worried about the dark side of ActiveX? Then consider switching to another browser like Firefox or Opera. They don’t bother with ActiveX at all. Most Internet surfers won’t find anything missing from sites. But you'll still need Internet Explorer for Windows Update. Microsoft’s update site requires ActiveX capability.

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8. Buy new computer withWindows XP now or wait for Windows Vista (Longhorn) late next year?
Q. I'm using a 5+-year-old machine with Windows 98. It would be nice to have a new machine, but I can get by with what I have. Should I get an XP machine, even though XP's lifecycle is running out? Or, should I wait for the new operating system (Vista). Thanks for the great show.
-- West in Seattle, listening on KTTH 770 AM

A. We run into this issue every few years. In the case of Windows XP, which came out in 2001, the decision was easy. It replaced Windows ME, the last DOS-based operating system. XP was a definite improvement.

Windows Vista (the new name for Windows Longhorn) will debut in late 2006. One of our guys just went to Redmond for a Microsoft briefing.

Most changes apparently are cosmetic.

Vista does not sound like it has much in the way of security improvements, other than a better firewall. So that's no reason to dump XP. And, as I said, XP is very stable. I think it's an excellent operating system.

It is possible, of course, that fabulous security features will be added to Vista. Then, I'd say go for it. But that doesn't appear to be the case now.

Buying a new computer is an emotional decision. Some people just like to have new things. Others hold on to their old one as long as possible, to avoid the expense.

If your computer does what you want it to, why not stick with it? Most people switch when they decide to do something demanding, like video editing. They discover the old clunker won't do the job. At that point, it's clearly time to trade up.

I also recommend buying new when expensive parts begin to fail. It's easy to dump too much money into repairs. Labor is expensive. Before you know it, you've exceeded the cost of a new machine.

If you buy an XP machine, you will, at worst, have an older but very capable operating system. It is unlikely that that will be a problem. Windows 98 is seven years old, and you're still able to use it.

Vista will probably offer an upgrade version for XP owners. That may or may not be OK; the XP upgrade did not work well, in my experience.

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7. Regaining New Windows PC Performance
Q. Even the fastest computers get bogged down over time. Unnecessary files, never-used programs and programs running in the background consume valuable resources. But it takes just five easy steps to reclaim your once zippy Windows machine.

1. Lighten the load. No matter how big your hard drive, it will slow down once it reaches 90 percent capacity. Free up valuable space by removing unused programs. Click Start>>Control Panel (in Windows 98/ME, Start>>Settings>>Control Panel). Double-click Add or Remove Programs. If you have Windows XP, you'll see the size of the program, how often it's used and the date it was last used. It's helpful but shouldn't be used exclusively as a determining factor.

Click the program you want to remove and then click Change/Remove (In Windows 98/ME, Add/Remove). When uninstalling programs, you may encounter a message asking if you want to remove a shared component. Select "no to all." These files are small and may be necessary for other programs to operate properly.

2. Clean it up. Disk Cleanup will delete downloaded program files, temporary Internet files, items in your Recycle Bin and temporary files. Windows XP's version of Disk Cleanup also deletes offline Web pages and compresses rarely used files.

Click Start>>(All) Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Cleanup. Select the drive you want to clean (probably C:) and click OK. Place a check mark next to the items you want deleted and click OK.

You can also remove Windows components that you don't use. Start Disk Cleanup and click the More Options tab. Click "Clean up" under Windows components. You can remove games, accessories and other non-essential Windows components.

The More Options tab allows Windows XP users to clear old restore points. These hog space over time. Just click the "Clean up" button under System Restore and then Yes.

3. Reduce the start-up. Instant messaging programs, media players and other programs weasel their way into automatically starting with Windows. They just slow down your boot time and guzzle system resources.

You can stop these programs by clicking Start>>Run. Type "msconfig" without the quotes and click OK. Click the Startup tab. You'll see a number of programs listed. Some names are easy to figure out. But the majority are difficult to decipher. You can find a list of entries and explanations here:
http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php

Clear the boxes for the programs you don't need. Click Apply>>OK. You'll be prompted to restart your computer.

After restarting you'll receive a message stating that the System Configuration Utility is in Diagnostic or Selective Startup mode. Just check the box next to "don't show this message again" and click OK.

4. Consolidate. It's easy to have multiple copies of digital picture files, especially if you find yourself using them for different projects. A good photo organizer will help consolidate all of your pictures and remove duplicates.

There are a number of good organizers under $50 from Adobe, Nero and Ulead. There's also a program called Picasa, (http://www.picasa.com/picasa). It has fewer extras than the others, but it's free.

5. Search. Find and remove inordinately large files through Windows' search function. Click Start>>Search>>All files and folders. Then click on the arrow next to "What size is it?" Click Large>>Search.

You'll probably find forgotten video or music files. You also might find data files from games you no longer play. If you're unsure of the nature of a file, conduct an Internet search using the file name.

Computer housekeeping is really a snap. A little diligence will keep your computer clutter-free and speedy.

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6. Windows slow? Try these four solutions
Think that you need a new Windows computer because the clunker is too slow? You may not. Windows doesn't do a great job of maintaining itself. Before you dump Old Faithful, try these simple solutions:

1. Straighten up the hard drive. Start by scanning your hard drive for problems. Use ScanDisk in Windows 98 and ME; in Windows XP, the tool is Check Disk. These utilities find stray data--called lost allocation units--that wasn't properly handled, generally in a system crash. They also rope off bad spots on the hard drive.

To find ScanDisk, click Start>>Programs>>Accessories>>System Tools>>ScanDisk. In Windows XP, click Start>>My Computer. Right-click your hard drive (probably C:) and click Properties. Select the Tools tab. Click Check Now. Regardless of the system, select options to do as thorough a check as possible.

Next, defragment your drive. Windows scatters file fragments all over creation. When you open a file, the hard drive has to work hard to assemble it. Defragmenting the files puts the pieces in adjacent clusters. That makes reassembly easier and faster.

To defragment, click Start>>Programs (or All Programs)>>Accessories>>System Tools>>Disk Defragmenter.

2. Dump the spies. Spyware tracks your surfing and feeds that information to advertising companies on the Internet. In turn, you receive customized ads.

In recent years, spyware has gone from an irritant to a crisis. It can bog down a computer. At its worse, it seizes control. Your choice of search site, or even where you surf, can be severely curtailed.

A number of programs can be downloaded to clean up spyware.

These include Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com),
Spybot-Search & Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org),
Microsoft AntiSpyware (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads),
and Spy Sweeper (http://www.webroot.com).

All but Ad-aware also can be used to block further infections. And they all are free, except for Spy Sweeper, which is $30.

3. Turbocharge your surfing. Are you still using dial-up access? People often use the rationalization that "it's good enough for me." But it is glacial compared to broadband.

Broadband simply means that much more data can be downloaded at once. That translates to a much faster Web experience. People are often amazed at the difference. Try it and you'll never go back.

The primary broadband methods are DSL, over telephone lines, and cable, which moves with television signals. DSL is eight to 30 times faster than dial-up. In some places, cable can be 100 times faster. Either way, this is money well-spent.

4. Replace hardware parts. Undeniably, you can jack up your machine this way. But this can get into serious money.

There is a relatively cheap way to speed things up. If you have, say, 128 megabytes of memory in a Windows 98 or ME machine, you can raise that to 256 MB. Going up to 512 may give you even more of a boost. And memory isn't too expensive.

Beyond that, you're raising economic issues. You could pour money into a new motherboard, chip and video card. You could even upgrade your hard drive. But this will add hundreds of dollars. Why bother?

A new low-end machine can be had, with monitor, for less than $500. It will contain new, reliable parts. And, though it is low end, it will be relatively fast.

So, try cleaning up your old machine. If that doesn't work, think hard about a new computer.

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The following is an excerpt from the July 2005 issue of Smart Computing's Tech Support Q & A's:
Q. I soon plan to defragment the hard drive of a computer that I purchased almost a year ago. When I performed defrags on my previous computer, I disabled the screen saver and McAfee Virus Scan. Now I have a Dell Dimension 8300 running Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) and using a cable internet connection. I also have McAfee's VirusScan, Personal Firewall Plus, and Privacy Service. Should I disable all three of these programs during the defrag session? Because I'm always connected to the Internet, if I disable all my protection, won't that leave me vulnerable to virus attacks, etc.? The hard drive is 120GB (though most of it is free space), so the defrag session will probably take a long time.

A. Defragging your hard drive is an important maintenance procedure for your computer. The defrag utility bundled with WinXP, Disk Defragmenter, works best when it has uninterrupted access to your hard drive. This means you should close and/or deactivate all of the programs you normally have running.

Of course, with an always-on Internet connection, you're prudent to be concerned about shutting off your firewall. Our recommendation is to disconnect your computer from your cable modem and then disable the McAfee applications before defragging your drive. When the defragmentation process is complete, restart the McAfee applications and reconnect your computer to the cable modem.

Also, there are several tactics you can use to speed up the defrag process. The first is to do it frequently. We recommend defragging your hard drive at least once a month. This will reduce the amount of time required for each defragmentation cycle, and you should notice a significant increase in Windows' performance speed.

In addition, consider using a third-party defrag utility, such as Diskeeper 9 (www.execsoft.com). Diskeeper 9 has two specific benefits we like. The first one is that you can configure it to defragment your drive continually. This feature works silently in the background, helping to prevent your drive from becoming fragmented in the first place. The second benefit is that Diskeeper 9 has a high-speed defragmentation system that--when we've used it--is roughly three times as fast as Windows' Disk Defragmenter.

Diskeeper 9 has a price tag of $19.95, but there 's also a free trial version you can download from the company's Web site.

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5. Setting Your Monitor
Q. I was fooling around with the brightness and contrast settings on my monitor. Now, it's all messed up and I can't get it set correctly. What should I do?

A. That's not hard to do. There are so many options and variables to consider, including the type of video card and monitor that you have.

Before we get into the monitor's settings, make sure it's in the right place. To prevent eye strain, your monitor should be at least 25 inches from your eyes, preferably more. Plus, you want the viewing area of the monitor to be between 15-degrees and 50-degrees below horizontal eye level.

Lighting is important, too. You want to use indirect lighting in your office or work area and avoid overhead fluorescent lights. If necessary, install blinds or shades to control outside light.

Most monitors have buttons that let you set brightness, contrast, focus, readability, convergence and more. In there, you may find a button that will bring the monitor back to its default settings. Those are the factory settings. Or better yet, your monitor may have come with software that helps set it up properly.

If your monitor did not come with software and you can't deal with the monitor's buttons, there is hope. DisplayMate for Windows is a user-friendly program but it costs $69. Learn more about it here: http://www.displaymate.com.

And by the way, a good monitor setting using the Internet is 800 X 600. Unless you have a minimum 19-inch monitor, Web pages will probably look too small at 1024 X 768. And if you use a lower resolution, such as 640 X 480, you might have to scroll from left to right to see the whole page.


4. Changing camera software
Q. I'm using Windows XP Home on a new Dell. We also have a digital camera. When we first plugged the camera in to the computer, I had to choose which program to run automatically. I chose a Dell program that came with my computer. Now I'd like to switch to the camera's software, but I don't know how.

A. It's all in the associations. Files can be associated with programs so the computer knows how to open them.

For instance, you can associate the DOC file extension with Microsoft Word or Wordpad. When you double-click a DOC file, it will open using Word or Wordpad.

As you pointed out in your e-mail, this is a different animal. Instead of a file, you've associated your camera with a program. So you can't change it through the standard file association.

All hope is not lost, though. Here's how to make the change: Click Start>Control Panel. Double-click Scanners and Cameras. On the window that opens, right-click your camera's name. Click Properties and select the Events tab. You should find the program you want, along with the Dell program, listed in a dropdown box. Select the program that you want to use and uncheck the Dell program.

This process also works for scanners, which are often associated with programs.

If for some reason this process does not work, I would delete both programs and start over. For the proper deletion procedure, go to this tip.

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3. Spyware can cause bad links
Q. Kim, please help! My wife thinks that I'm a pervert! Links to bad videos keep appearing in Internet Explorer’s history menu. I delete them, but they're back the next day. I recently installed Spy Sweeper and I also use Norton AntiVirus. Norton indicates there is a Trojan that cannot be deleted. Also, I am unable to open hyperlinks in e-mail messages. Are these problems related?

A. I would bet that they are related. Because of the sheer amount of money that these sites make, the people who distribute porn spyware are getting trickier and trickier. This makes it harder for us to get rid of it once it infects our systems.

I know this firsthand. Just the other day, my very own dear and smart mother, who listens to my show, gets my tips, and is probably reading this too, was bitten by an ad that looked like a legitimate Windows error message. Kids nowadays!

Anyway, the links that are appearing in Internet Explorer's history probably come from spyware. You may need to run more than one anti-spyware program to remove whatever is on your computer.

Spy Sweeper is one of the best anti-spyware programs available. It is a simple program to use and includes things such as automatic notifications of any changes, locking the Hosts file, shields and other features that other programs do not offer. In the interest of full disclosure, Spy Sweeper is one of my radio show advertisers; I use it and recommend it.

I also recommend Ad-Aware, Spybot-Search & Destroy and Microsoft AntiSpyware. They're all free for personal use. You can find download links for them on my Web site.

The Trojan that Norton can't delete is probably in System Restore. Both Windows XP and ME have this utility. It takes snapshots of Windows' system state regularly. You can use these snapshots--called restore points--to rescue Windows if it becomes unstable.

However, there is an unintended consequence of System Restore: When it creates a restore point, Trojans and viruses are included. Anti-virus programs are unable to clean these files.

This isn't a problem, so long as you don't need to restore your system. But if you were to use a restore point, your system would be re-infected.

So, to remove the Trojan completely, you must clear your restore points. Fortunately, this is done quite easily.

Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click System. On the System Restore tab, check "Turn off System Restore on all drives." Click Apply.

A box will appear warning you that restore points will be deleted. It asks if you want to continue. Click Yes, then OK.

Now reboot your computer. Do a full system scan with Norton AntiVirus. You shouldn't receive any warnings about the Trojan.

Once the virus scan is complete, run the anti-spyware programs, one at a time. Remove whatever they find. Don’t worry. You’re not likely to cause any major havoc by doing so. You shouldn't see the pornographic links in your history menu anymore.

After you've solved your problem, re-enable System Restore. It will help you if you ever find yourself in a tight spot. Follow the steps listed above to access System Restore options. Deselect "Turn off System Restore on all drives."

The problem opening links in e-mail is probably a side effect of the spyware. Spyware programs usually add entries to your Registry. The Registry is a database that tells Windows how to run. Bad entries can cause your computer to function incorrectly.

The anti-spyware programs will remove the spyware keys from the Registry. Once your system is clean, you shouldn't have problems opening links.

While you're cleaning up your computer, I recommend that you switch Internet browsers. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer is not a secure browser. Hackers love to target IE's many security holes.

I use and recommend Firefox. It's more secure than IE. You can download it for free from Mozilla.

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2. Free screen savers may contain spyware
Q. I downloaded a beautiful screen saver with a waterfall and flowers around a lake. My friend told me that the screen saver contains spyware. Is this possible? And if it contains spyware, what are the risks of using it?

A. Yes, the screen saver you downloaded could contain spyware or even viruses. In fact, any executable file you download can contain malware.

The makers of free or inexpensive software need to make a living, too. So they often accept money from advertisers to include spyware with their programs. If the screen saver is legitimate, the spyware should be disclosed in the user terms. So read them before installing the screen saver.

If the product is not legitimate, the screen saver may simply be a Trojan horse. Many Trojans and viruses are distributed via spam as screen savers. Never open a spam attachment that includes a screen saver. It almost certainly includes a malicious program.

Spyware can collect a lot of information about you. Most spyware records your Internet surfing habits. This information is used to serve you targeted advertising.

Other types of malware are more pernicious. I call it snoopware, but some people group it with spyware. Snoopware can steal passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information. No reputable company will distribute programs that contain snoopware.

Regardless of what else it does, spyware can slow your computer to a crawl. So it is frustrating at best.

You should always read the user agreement before installing anything, but especially free programs. Frequently, the user agreement alerts you to the presence of spyware. By accepting the agreement, you are accepting whatever accompanies the screen saver.

Screen savers are plentiful on the Internet. A Google search for "free screen saver" returned more than two million links. I'm sure many of these screen savers are identical.

Why is this important? Some sites have been known to take others' screen savers. Often they will repackage them with spyware. So two screen savers that look identical could be very different, indeed.

If you have your heart set on a particular screen saver, you might find a similar one without spyware. However, you could compromise your security trying to find it. I don't recommend downloading free screen savers except from trusted sources.

Fortunately, you do have other options. First, you can create your own screen saver. Windows XP and ME allow you to use your own photos as a screen saver.

Right-click on the desktop and select Properties. On the Screen Saver tab, select My Pictures Slideshow. It will display the photos in My Pictures in succession. Click Settings to specify a different folder or to select other options. Click Apply and then OK. These instructions are for XP, but ME is similar.

IrfanView, a free photo-editing program, also creates screen savers. I like IrfanView because it allows you to save the screen saver. You then can share it with others. This is a great way to share your precious digital memories.

You can find a download link for IrfanView on my Web site.

In IrfanView, click File>>Slideshow. Use the navigation tools to find the photos you want to use. Then click Add. Click "Save as EXE/SCR file." Select "Create SCR file" and specify any options you want to apply. Then click Create. Your screen saver is ready to go!

Also, you'll find cool screen savers on fan sites. So check the sites for your favorite movies, television shows and music artists. And if you're a car buff, don't forget automobile manufacturers' sites. You'll be amazed at what you'll find.

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Computer Security and Maintenance
Keeping your computer running smoothly, up to date, secure and virus free is not difficult. Of first importance, your Windows program should be current. Do this by checking that you have the latest updates or, preferrably, by setting Windows to automatically download updates.

Of next importance, use a Firewall. Service Pack 2 (SP2), which you should be running if using Windows XP, turns on a built-in firewall that runs by default. According to Kim Komando and others, however, a third-party firewall is recommended, such as the free version of Zone Alarm which can be downloaded from www.zonelabs.com. Be very careful in the selection process, as you want the free version and not the Pro or trial versions. Finally, if youdecide to use Zone Alarm and you are running Windows XP, turn off the Windows Firewall by going to the Control Panel, Windows Firewall and select Off.

Next, a good anti-virus program is a necessity and a good, free one is AVG, which can be downloaded from www.grisoft.com. As in the case with ZoneLabs, be careful that you select the AVG Free Edition. If you are already running Norton or McAfee, that's fine; don't run more than one anti-virus program. And remove any current anti-virus program before installing another.

The most important thing about any anti-virus program is to be sure you arrange to have all definitions downloaded and installed, whether manually or automatically. If the definitions are not current, you are not fully protected from known viruses.

If you're using Windows XP, regularly run (1) Disk Cleanup and Defrag to be found at Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools and (2) Error-checking which can be found by going to My Computer, right-click C:, Properties, Tools, Error-checking. Error-checking will then start the next time you boot up.

Finally, to determine just how secure your system is, go to the Gibson Research Corp. at www.grc.com. Click on Shields Up; scroll down and click on a second Shields Up; click on Proceed; click on Common Ports, and hopefully you will see "Passed TruStealth Analysis."

Now scroll down and this time click on "All Service Ports." Here, hopefully, you will see that all 1055 ports checked Green.

You can keep current on the latest in computer maintenance by subscribing to Kim Komando's Tips at www.komando.com. A recent Tip of the Day ("It's a cruel world. Protect yourself!") reviews the foregoing in more detail and would be worth reading before making changes to your system. It is quoted below for ready reference:

1. It's a cruel world. Protect yourself!
Dangers continue to grow on the Internet. It is a rare day that does not bring a new virus, worm or some other type of threat.

Furthermore, this malicious software is growing in sophistication. Historically, viruses and other malicious programs have been written by young vandals. Today, much of it is produced by skilled programmers in Eastern Europe. Many of these people became criminals when communism collapsed.

You must take the time to protect yourself. If you do not, you could easily lose your identity. Or your bank or stock market account could be raided.

Fortunately, the threats are generally well understood. Protecting yourself is not difficult, although you may have to travel a learning curve.

The information that follows is written for the owners of Windows machines. There have been no successful attacks on Apple's Macintosh computers, to my knowledge. Why?

Apple believes its operating system--OS X--is inherently more secure than Windows. That may be. However, Apple has released many, many security fixes.

The bigger reason, I believe, is Apple's smaller market share. Criminals are looking to make money. Apple has a tiny slice of the computer market. Windows has over 90 percent. It makes a much juicier target.

If you own an Apple, be sure it is updated. Information is available at:

http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=61798

The following instructions are for Windows XP. Many also apply to earlier Windows versions.

Anti-virus
There are tens of thousands of malicious programs circulating on the Internet. These include viruses, worms, Trojans, dialers and other monsters. This stuff poses a terrific threat to computer users.

To counter these programs, use anti-virus software. If you have a new computer, it probably comes with an anti-virus program. Having that on your computer is not enough. You must buy the program so you can get updates. If you let the software tryout expire without subscribing to the updates, you are asking for trouble.

So, here's what you must do. If you want to subscribe to the program that came with your computer, do so. That subscription allows you to update the program. Updates are critical. New threats emerge constantly. The updates allow you to keep up with them.

If you don't want to subscribe, remove the anti-virus program from you computer. To do that, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Add or Remove Programs. Find the program in the list. Click it, then click Remove.

Then, install the anti-virus program of your choice. Free ones are available through my Web site at:

http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

There are also many anti-virus programs available for sale. If you have problems with the anti-virus program, a paid program will probably offer more support. Three good programs are Symantec, McAfee and Panda. They're available at, respectively:

http://www.symantec.com/index.htm
http://www.mcafee.com/us/
http://www.pandasoftware.com/home/default.asp

Any name brand is fine. I use Symantec at the office and Panda at home. Settle on one and keep it updated.

Firewalls
A firewall performs two duties: It hides your computer from automated attackers. And it blocks outbound transmissions if something awful takes root on your computer. Let's look at those two issues.

Automated programs on the Internet ping computers on various networks. When you go onto the Internet, you are on your Internet service provider's network. Without a firewall, these programs can find and attempt to communicate with your computer.

Your Windows system should not respond to unsolicited communications. The original Windows XP, as published in 2001, had a flaw that allowed Windows to respond. In that case, a malicious program could have been downloaded to your computer. That flaw was fixed ages ago in the Windows Update process.

Even with that flaw, however, a firewall would have protected you. Again, the firewall makes your computer invisible. The communications from malicious programs would not have reached your computer.

With a properly updated computer today, a malicious program could only identify your computer. It could mark you as a target for a spam attack. It could not automatically infect you. But if you have a firewall, it could not even identify you.

So, let's say that despite your best efforts, the crooks on the Web trick you into opening an attachment. A Trojan infects your computer. Its first job is to report back to its home computer on the Internet. A good firewall will block that attempt. It will ask your permission before releasing the transmission.

Some firewalls cannot block these transmissions. The firewalls that come with Windows XP and Apple's OS X have this limitation. Most firewalls in home-network routers also let these transmissions through. This is a dangerous situation. I do not recommend that you depend on such limited firewalls.

Instead, check the firewalls on my site. I use and recommend ZoneAlarm. The personal edition is free and works very well. Download and install it. You can find it at: http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

Anti-spyware
This threat is generally not as serious as that posed by viruses, worms and Trojans. But it is growing, and it can make your computing experience miserable.

The terms spyware and adware are often used interchangeably. In general, spyware tracks your Web surfing and reports your interests to a computer on the Internet. Adware sits on your computer and feeds you ads. Both are intrusive and undesirable.

Spyware also can direct you to its own lame search sites. It can take over your Internet browser and limit where you go on the Web. It can change your home page. Or, it can paint your monitor with the grossest pornographic images imaginable.

Anti-spyware protection is two-fold. You need programs that will keep most spyware pests from taking root. And you need other programs to annihilate spyware that collects on your computer.

None of the anti-spyware programs can do the job alone. I use several on my computer. You can get them off my site at: http://www.komando.com/bestshareware.asp

Windows Update
When Windows XP debuted in 2001, it had about 45 million lines of programming code. The rule of thumb in programming is one mistake per 100 lines of code. That translates into thousands of programming mistakes in XP. Some were doozies.

Over the years, Microsoft has issued many security fixes. Still, holes continue to be found. It is critically important to keep your copy of Windows updated.

I recommend the automatic update feature in XP. To activate that, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click System. Select the Automatic Updates tab. Make your choices. I make mine as automatic as possible.

You also can update manually in all versions of Windows. Open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Windows Update. Let Microsoft scan your computer. Download any updates marked critical or security.

Updates are essential. An unprotected computer will be attacked within minutes on the Internet, guaranteed.

Rules of the road
People are often their own worst enemies when they get on a computer. Following these rules will keep you out of trouble.

• Don't open spam. Many threats are delivered through spam. Just delete it.

• Never open an unexpected attachment. If you do, you almost certainly will be attacked by a malicious program. Even if it appears to come from a person you know, check first. Other people's addresses are easy to steal and use as return addresses.

• Do not respond to unsolicited offers on the Internet. If an ad on a Web page says you have spyware on your computer, ask yourself: How do they know that? The answer is: They don't. They're trying to sell you a product that may well do more harm than good. Don't bite.

• Don't go for free offers that suddenly appear on the Internet. They almost certainly carry spyware.

• Free programs often are offered on the Internet. Some are well worthwhile. But many carry spyware. That's how the authors get paid. Check the terms and conditions before installing programs.

• Do not buy products with which you are unfamiliar. There are many products that claim to protect you from spyware. Some work, some don't. Some will put spyware on your computer. Stick with the programs I recommend. I know they work.

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