Don Edrington - PC Columnist for The Californian & San Diego's North County Times - Specializing in Help to Seniors Who Are New to Computers
Specializing in Help to Seniors
Who Are New to Computers
Home       Brief Bio

Counter-Top Juke Box  Vintage Pop,
 Classical, &
 Country Music

PC Tips - HOW TO:

  1. Make BCCs - Blind Carb. Copies
  2. Crop & Resize Photos
  3. Run Scandisk/Chkdsk & Defrag
  4. Make Filename Extensions Show
  5. Use MSCONFIG on Startups
  6. How to Make Your Own Icons
  7. Use Keyboard Shortcuts
  8. Make Mailing Labels & Envelopes
  9. Make & Use Screen Prints
10. Create Special Symbols:
    ¡ ¿ ñ ² ® ³ © ¼ ½ ¾ ¢ ÷ • °

WWII  Los Angeles, Hollywood
Pershing Square - Clifton's
 Traveling LA's Old Subway
 Singing in Carmen
 Seductive Divorcee
 Chet Huntley (before TV)
 First Date - First Kiss?
 Love at First Sight
 Blind Date Heartache
 New Thing Called Television
 1st Stereo Radio Broadcast
 Mom Wanted Me to Smoke
 Dropping Out of Hollywood High
 She Had to Sharpen my Pencil
 Ken Murray's Blackouts
       with Marie Wilson

Fort Ord - Fort Belvoir - Korea
Flying with MATS
 Dance Studio Temptress
 Cross-Country Hitchhiking
 No Time for Sergeants
 Havana - Kissed by Celia Cruz

Buddy to Start his own Church

Korea - I Turned a POW Loose

Late 20th Cent. Calif. Memories
1st Job & All Those Pretty Girls
 Starlight Ballroom Mystery
 Rollercoaster Romance
 Flirtatious Chicana
 Fired, Rehired, then Quit

My 1st PC, Radio Shack TRS80
 1991 - Started a PC Club
 Eye-Opening 5-Year-Old
 Flying Lessons & Valium
 Teaching at Fallbrook High
 Grandson Found Loaded Gun

Costa Mesa
Cycling in Fairview Park
 More About the Park
 Finding Old Friends Online
       after 50+ Years

Strange Cyber Stuff
Getting Kicked Off AOL
 Broke my Clavicle at the PC
 Secret Online Sweetheart
 Surprise Invitation from
       a Married Woman

Assorted Fun Stuff
Vintage Jokes
 Don's Vintage Cartoons
 Shaved Legs

I Like the Girls Who Do
 Sharing a Springtime Shower

Silly Stuff
I Like to Look at Pictures
 It Was Midnight on the Ocean

Fun Snapshots

Computer Tutor Don Columns for 2004

Don Edrington's Columns for: 2003 & 2005 & 2006 & 2007 & 2008

The Californian          North County Times
Please Send Comments or Questions to:

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Dec 27

Copying Data from Your Old PC to Your New PC
"Flash" Drives Can Be Used Just Like Hard or Floppy Drives
Managing Those "Startup" Programs

Dec 26

Creating Columns in a Word Processing Document
Creating Your Own Special Forms
AT&T CallVantage Still Not Working

Dec 20

Text Being "Swallowed Up" When Typing in New Text
"Right Click" Key
"Device Manager" May Revive Dead Hardware Items
Requesting Email "Receipts"
Making Your Own Icons

Dec 19

VoIP - Voice over Internet Protocol
Using a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply - a.k.a. battery backup)

Dec 13

Downloadable Holiday Clipart
Thumbnail View in Windows XP
Changing Icons

Dec 12

Free Alternative to MSWord
Free Alternative to MSOffice or WordPerfect Office

Dec 6

Changing Default Settings in MSWorks
Canceling an Account with AOL

Dec 5

Copying an Individual PowerPoint Slide
Copying Names Between Various Email Address Books

Nov 29

Creating a Holiday Greeting with PowerPoint

Nov 28

COPY and PASTE Basics
Changing the Default Font in MSWorks
Using Macromedia Flash Player
How to Get Rid of Ebates MoeMoneyMaker

Nov 22

Blank Box with a Red X Where a Picture Is Supposed to Be

Nov 21

Internet Scams & Schemes
JPG Pictures Can Contain a Virus

Nov 15

Using MSWord's "AutoCorrect" to Help with Foreign Languages

Nov 14

Drawing Tools in Your Word Processing Program

Nov 8

Protecting Yourself from Online Fraud

Nov 7

When Links are Not Clickable
Using Special Symbols, such as ¡¿áéíóúüñÑ ®©²³°ª¼½¾¢«»÷—†‡•±§ and Many Others

Nov 1

Posting Your Photos on a Web Site
Inserting Pictures into a Holiday Newsletter
Using Window Envelopes

Oct 31

Choosing "File Associations" for Picture Files

Oct 25

Google's "Desktop Search" Tool
Using Start>Search Options

Oct 24

Printing Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWord & Excel

Oct 18

Is It Time to Abandon Microsoft?

Oct 17

Printing Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWorks

Oct 10

More Information on "Media Players"

Oct 3

Information on "MP3 Audio Players" (such as the iPod and its competitors)

Sep 26

Helpful WinXP Book Recommended by a Reader
Musical Tip from Another Reader
Automatic Backups in MSWord & Excel

Sep 19

Backing Up Quicken Files to a CD
Backing Up Files to an External Hard Drive

Sep 12

Downloadable Music
Playing Songs Sequentially via Windows Media Player

Sep 5

Spam on Hotmail & Yahoo
Outlook vs Outlook Express
MSWord vs WordPerfect

Aug 29

Understanding Adware, Ad-Aware, Adaware, & Ada-Ware

Aug 22

Window XP Service Pack 2
Some FAQ about Don's PC Chat (Computer Tutor Don) Newsletter

Aug 15

Why Does Text with "Double" Line Spacing Sometimes Refuse to Be Changed to "Single" Spacing?

Aug 8

Automatic "Bulleting" & "Numbering"
How to Set Your Own "Bullet" & "Number" Options

Aug 1

More on Improving Text Legibility
Alternative Browsers & Email Clients

July 25

Trouble Reading Tiny Text in Emails & on Web Pages
Another Useful Freebie from Google

July 20

Rules of Cut, Copy and Paste
Exception to Cut, Copy and Paste Rules
Using the UNDO & REDO Commands

July 18

The Importance of File Name Extensions
Important Windows Maintenance Tools
Playing Various Music Files

July 13

Retrieving "Permanently" Deleted Files
Doing Arithmetic with MSWord

July 11

Using Other Browsers
A World of Information Online
Your Doctor Will Love You
External Hard Drives

July 4

Beware of Offers to Join a "Do Not Email List"
Editing an Image in MSWord

June 29

Fine-tuning a "Name & Address" DataBase
Creating Mailing Labels

June 27

"Drawing" & "Painting" Programs
Windows "PaintBrush (aka "Paint" & "PBrush")

June 22

Trying Out Microsoft's "OneNote" Program
Seeing Desktop Icons as "Thumbnails" in WinXP

June 20

Accessibility Options for People with Disabilities
Working Without a Mouse

June 15

AIM Adds Voice Capabilities
4 Corners of Security
Talking to a Friend in Belgium for FREE

June 13

Alternative Way to Save Items Found on the Internet
Using IMs (Instant Messages)
Missing Volume Control Icon

June 8

More About IMs (Instant Messages)
More Than Text Messaging Now Possible + Create a Private "Chat Room"

June 6

Chat Rooms Pro & Con
Using IMs (Instant Messages)

June 1

Creating Email Offline
Password-Protecting a Document
Some Spreadsheet Experiments + A Spreadsheet Challenge

May 30

Emailing a Folder Full of Photos
Making Sure the Photos Arrive in a Recipient's Inbox
Outlook Express Automatically Deleting Incoming Attachments

May 25

Working with "Text Boxes"

May 23

"Disk Cleanup" Not Working
Good, Reliable, FREE SOFTWARE Available

May 18

Creating Graphs with a Spreadsheet
A Couple of Basic Spreadsheet Functions

May 16

Lost Windows Calculator
Better than the Windows Calculator
Icons Changed Appearance
Making an Icon from an Existing Graphic
Making an Icon from Scratch

May 11

The Windows Calculator
Adding Sound to Outlook Express + Calculator Downside
Spreadsheet Shortcut
Automatic Spreadsheet Functions

May 9

Getting Rid of the Preview Pane in Outlook Express & Netscape
Adding Sound to Outlook Express + Having Multiple Email Accounts

May 4

Page Numbering
Clearing Clutter from Word Toolbar

May 2

Downloading Music
Have We Been Breaking the Law All These Years?

April 27

Google Dictionary
Doing Calculations in Word Tables

April 20

Tab Settings or Tables?
What If It Is All Too Long for One Line?

April 18

Drag & Drop Just About Anything

April 13

Deleting Files
The Ultimate Delete Method
Recovering Files from the Reycle Bin
Temporary Internet Files & "Cookies"
Screen Resolution Problems

April 11

Traveling Taskbar
Beware of Free Gifts
Not All Freebies Are Out to Get You
More Spam than Ever Out There
Screen Resolution Problems

April 6

Changing a Document's Page Margins
Backing Up Personal Files
Online Data Storage
Two Ways of Burning Data Files

April 4

RAM Size vs Hard Drive Size
Good Time to Do Routine Maintenance
Incremental File Saving

March 30

Lining Up Numbers in a Column
Using Word's Horizontal Ruler
Numbers Will Follow As Ruler Marker is Moved
Using "Leaders" with Tabs

March 28

A Few Fundamentals about Emailing Photos
What Are "ART" Files?
Emailing Multiple Photos
Copying a Picture from the Internet

March 23

New Viruses Arrive in Emails Without Attachments
How to Completely Eradicate a Hard Drive's Data
Not Enough Memory?

March 21

Too Many "Startup Programs" Slowing Down Your PC?
More on Managing Your Email Addresses

March 16

Managing Your Email Addresses

March 14

Using a PC Without Having to Deal with Spam, Viruses, Spyware & Hackers?

March 9

Why Does a Spell-Checker Miss Some Words?
Managing Bullets & Numbering + More About Printing Labels

March 7

ALL CAPS - Upper And Lower Case - Regular sentence style.
Import/Export Filters in Office-type Programs + Setting an Image Size for Printing in Irfanview

March 2

Who Needs a Firewall?
Working with Avery Labels

Feb 29

How to FIND Files & Folders on Your Computer

Feb 24

Creating a "Shortcut" Icon + Creating a "Shortcut" to a Personal File
Creating a "Shortcut" to a Folder
Using Filters in a Database

Feb 22

Getting to Know "Windows Explorer"
Easy Way to Move Files & Folders
"My Documents" = Default Folder for Storing Personal Files

Feb 17

Making a Scanned Form Editable
Boxes in MSWord with Rounded Corners
Making "Read Only" Files Editable

Feb 15

Saving PowerPoint Slides as Individual Pictures

Feb 10

Some Outlook Express Questions
Copying OE Message Folders to a New Computer

Feb 8

Make Your Own Icons
Free Anti-Virus Tools

Feb 3

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
Free OCR Program
Most Users Have Multiple Image-Editing Programs + Changing File Associations for Image-Editing Icons

Feb 1

World-Wide Virus Assault
Fix Windows "Hidden Filename Extension" Problem
Keep Your AV Program Updated + Norton "Tools"
Bait & Switch Anti-Spyware

Jan 27

Do-It-Yourself Business Card Templates
Turning Off a HyperLink in MSWord + "Setup Files" for Programs
Outlook Express Page Layout & Margin Options

Jan 25

Dealing with Those ">>>>>>" Symbols in Forwarded Email
Downloading 101
Free Office Suite

Jan 20

MSWord Problem & Its Fix + DeFrag - Important PC Maintenance
Dealing with Spyware
"SpyBot - Search & Destroy" and "AdAware"

Jan 13

Do-It-Yourself Business Cards

Jan 18

Yellow Sticky Notes
More on Printing a Web Page
Other Print Options
Turning Off HyperLinks

Jan 11

Blank Box with Red X
Type Your Initials & Have Your Complete Name & Address Appear
Other "AutoCorrect" Features
Copying Addresses from One Email Program to Another

Jan 6

Printing Out an Entire Web Page + Using a Word Processor's TABLE Feature

Jan 4

Playing Continuous Music via the Windows Media Player
Making WAV Files Work on a Regular CD Player + Making a Print-Out Larger
Retrieving BCC Names in Outlook Express
Mini-History of Font Availability + Exchanging Fonts via Email

Dec 27

Top of Page

Copying Data from Your Old PC to Your New PC

A question often heard at this time of year is, "How can I copy data from my old computer to my new one?"

Well, there are many ways, but I think the most practical is to use a USB flash memory drive. These thumb-size devices are available with storage space up to a full gigabyte and will show up as an additional drive under My Computer when plugged into a computer's USB port. Simply drag and drop folders and files onto the drive, plug the drive into the new PC, whereupon they can be dragged into your choice of locations.

Flash Drives Can Be Used Just Like Hard or Floppy Drives

The drive can then be cleared, and used multiple times to transfer more items, after which you might want to use it to backup important files. USB drives can be found in several storage size and price ranges. Some even come with password protection.

One of the most important things new computer users should do is make their all filename extensions visible. Double-click any folder and go to Tools > Folder Options > View and uncheck "Hide extensions for known file types." You do not want these extensions hidden. Why? Well for instance, if you do any image-editing, you know that bitmap formats such as JPG, BMP, and GIF have some unique characteristics, and that seeing the appropriate extension appended to a filename makes the job easier.

Managing Those "Startup" Programs

Another thing we should all do is keep certain programs from running in the background. Since computers are capable of multi-tasking, some software companies instruct their programs to launch when you boot up your PC and to continue running in the background, whether you are using the program or not.

Yes, certain programs should be running continuously, such as your anti-virus software and your firewall. However, there is no need to have AOL or QuickTime running when you are not actually using them. The tiny icons seen to the left of your Taskbar's digital clock represent some of these continually-running programs.

Here's the fix: Click on Start > Run and type in msconfig (Microsoft Configuration). Click OK and then click the Startup tab. You will see a number of program names with checkmarks preceding them. SysTray is an essential system program, so do NOT uncheck it. Your anti-virus software may list several files that should also be left alone. Certain special software, such as for a 4-button mouse or a trackball, need to be left running, for the proper operation of the pointing device.

However, I always uncheck any file name containing "Real" (RealSched, RealAudio, etc.) along with any other media player I see. Beyond these you' ll see a number of cryptically-named files that can usually be deselected as well. A link on my Web site goes to a site that lists most of these programs and what they do.

In any case, deselecting a program does not delete it - it merely keeps it from starting up when you turn on your PC, and it can always be rechecked if you find it is needed for something. Beyond that, many of these files have sneaky ways of rechecking their boxes, so it pays to check msconfig at least monthly.

Dec 26

Top of Page

Creating Columns in a Word Processing Document

Rob Edwards called to ask how to create “newspaper-like” columns in a word processing document. Well, there are two approaches; one uses the Format > Columns command, and the other uses the Tables command. The first works well for volumes of text that one wants to make more legible by dividing it into bible-like columns. However, Tables allow you manipulate text and graphics in all kinds of creative newspaper-like ways.

In your favorite word processor go to Tables > Insert>Table (or Create>Table) and choose the number of Columns and Rows needed. Choose multiple Rows for creating a spreadsheet-like page, or a single row if you will just be typing in (or pasting in) normal text.

A Table Cell will automatically expand downward to accommodate any amount of text entered into it. Individual Table Columns and/or Cells can be formatted very much like individual pages, except that the TAB key jumps from one column to another, rather than indenting the beginning of a paragraph. This can be overcome by clicking inside a Cell and going to Insert > Text Box, whereupon a box can be drawn that will accommodate text formatted in any way you prefer.

A Text Box’s black outline can be made transparent by clicking it and choosing Format > Text Box > Colors & Lines > Line Color > None.

Table Column widths can be adjusted by going to Table > Table Properties > Column > Size, or by simply mouse-grabbing a vertical border and moving it left or right.

Creating Your Own Special Forms

MSWord Tables are also handy in creating business forms, such as invoices or purchase orders. Go to Tables>Draw Table, and draw any configuration of Cells needed to accommodate your form. The width of an individual Table Cell can be adjusted by mouse-selecting its text (or selecting a blank Cell) and adjusting its left and right borders.

Columns, Rows, and Cells can also be formatted with colored backgrounds and/or colored borders by going to Format > Borders & Shading. While in this area, border-formatting can be applied that affects line thickness and style, as well as making one or more of a Cell’s borders (lines) transparent.

As for the Format > Columns command - in an existing MSWord file you can convert the whole document to, say, three columns, or you can mouse-select one or more paragraphs to be converted to a columnized format. You can even columnize alternating groups of text differently within in the same document. However, MSWorks restricts you to a single kind of column-formatting for the entire document.

In MSWord you also need to be in the View>Print Layout mode (as opposed to “Normal” or some other mode under View) to see your work in columns.

AT&T CallVantage Still Not Working

I recently talked about having AT&T’s “Callvantage” cable phone service installed and how we couldn’t get it to work properly. It has been a full week now, and it’s still not doing the job, despite the best efforts of some very nice tech support people. I would love to hear from someone for whom this service is working properly.

Dec 20

Top of Page

Text Being "Swallowed Up" When Typing in New Text

Rarely does a week pass that I don't get a call from someone who says trying to type a word into the middle of an existing sentence causes the text to the right to be "swallowed up" rather than moving over to make room for the new typing. The fix: press your Insert (or Ins) key once. Pressing it again will return you to the "swallow up" mode.

The INS key is a hold-over from pre-Windows days when it had a useful purpose. Although some programs let you use it to PASTE copied or cut items, I wish keyboard manufacturers would eliminate it - or, at least, move it to a location where it's less apt to be accidentally pressed.

"Right Click" Key

Another "mystery" key is the one portraying a tiny arrow overlapping a tiny page. Pressing it is the same as pressing your mouse's right button, which brings up option menus in various situations.

Another Mysterious Key

Pressing your Windows "Flag" key is the same as clicking your Start button. Pressing this key simultaneously with "E" brings up Windows Explorer; doing so with "D" will toggle between your Desktop and your open files. My favorite use for the Flag key is to press it simultaneously with the Pause/Break key. This displays the "Systems" window, which allows you to access "Hardware" and "Device Manager" for checking on the status of peripherals that may be malfunctioning.

Device Manager May Revive Dead Hardware Items

If, say, a CD drive has stopped working, you can right-click its icon under Device Manager and choose "Uninstall." Restarting your computer will attempt to reinstall the device and, in many cases, fix the problem. It's not guaranteed, but it's worth a try.

Requesting Email Receipts

A number of folks have asked how to request a "receipt" for email they send, so they know it has been received. Outlook Express users can click on Tools > Request Read Receipt. Outlook users can choose Tools > Options > Email Options > Tracking Options. AOL users will see a Request Receipt spot to check at the bottom of their "Write" window.

Making Your Own Icons

Others have asked how to create their own Desktop icons. There are several ways. Here's one: go to Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint. Next go to Image>Attributes and change the size of the white "canvas" to 32x32 pixels. Then go to View>Zoom>Large Size to make the icon's "view" large enough to "paint" on. Use the painting tools and palette colors to create a design on the canvas. Experimenting and using Paint's "Help" files will make an icon painter of you in no time.

When finished, go to File>Save As and save your painting as a BMP file in your "My Documents" Folder. Finally, rename the file (right-click the icon and choose Rename) by changing BMP to ICO. Now when you right-click an existing icon and choose Properties>Change Icon, you can "browse" to My Documents and double-click your creatively-made icon. If you make a lot of icons, create a special folder for them named, say, ICONS, by right-clicking your Desktop and choosing New Folder.

Dec 19

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Voice over Internet Protocol

I have written previously about using a computer as a substitute telephone, wherein a headset is connected to your PC's speaker and microphone jacks. If you have a PC friend with a similar setup you can have free long distance voice conversations via IM services offered by AIM, Yahoo, and others. Check their Help files for details.

Now, however, we can use our standard telephones via the Internet - not for free, but at cheaper rates than we pay for landline service. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is catching on quickly, and was originally offered by companies such as Vonage, to compete with traditional phone service offered by the likes of ATT. Well, we just signed up with ATT's new "Callvantage" service and have learned a few pros and cons about VoIP.

You can choose between connecting your telephone wall outlets to a special Internet connection or connecting your existing phones to a PC with a special router. The former requires some rewiring of your outside phone line receptacle. We chose the latter, since two cordless phones connected to a PC cover our small house with room to spare.

However we were surprised to learn that ATT's resulting voice over Internet capabilities were less than ideal. Once we got everything connected, following ATT's instructions, we found that phone calls had continuous voice drop-outs that made having a normal conversation impossible. ATT's phone support people were very gracious, but had no solution to this problem, telling us only that the drop-out problem would correct itself over the next one to three days.

My response to this was, "Cancel this plan immediately and give us back our previous phone service!" This demand quickly got me through to a supervisor who spent the next hour going over a number of steps that could be taken to hasten the repair of this problem.

The bottom line appears to be that analog telephones do not immediately adapt themselves to digital PC/Internet protocols, where voice transmission is concerned, and may take a day or two to work properly. Ours are working better one day after the installation - but still not perfectly.

No Electricity, No VoIP

Other things to be aware of include the fact that any disruption in your Internet service also stops your phone service. And since your PC and peripherals need electricity, any power outage will interrupt your phone service. A simple solution to this, however, is to install a good UPS (uninterruptible power supply) between your components and your AC outlet.

UPS Worth Having

Having a UPS (a.k.a. battery backup) in place is good even if you aren't using VoIP, since it protects your PC from power spikes and outages. A simple spike protector may help with the former, but does nothing for the latter, which can zap a hard drive if it is in use when the power goes out.

If you have any experience with VoIP you'd like to share with readers of this column, please let me know.

Dec 13

Top of Page

Downloadable Holiday Clipart

Liz Jones wrote to ask if I put any downloadable holiday clipart on my Web site this year. Well, just a little, since free clipart is so easy to find online nowadays. Go to (or any other favorite search engine), click on "Images" and type in something like "holiday clipart" or something more specific, such as "angels" or "Santa Claus." If you want the cute animated drawings that can be inserted into an email, try typing GIF along with your other search words.

Some sites, like, will try to sell you a subscription service - but just keep searching. There are thousands of free graphics available on the Internet.

Thumbnail View in Windows XP

Speaking of graphics, one of the advantages of WinXP is being able to see miniatures of all your pictures. Inside any folder, click View>Thumbnails.

However, your Desktop does not offer a thumbnail view. Well, if you only have a few icons on your Desktop, this probably matters little. I, on the other hand, keep all kinds of icons there so that I can quickly jump from one project to another. However, I sometimes have trouble finding an icon among the dozens in view.

An easy fix is to right-click a blank area on the Desktop and choose Arrange Icons By > Name. This distributes them in alphabetical order - but it also puts many of mine into locations other than where I expect to find them. The fix? Keep a "Desktop Folder" on your Desktop, that will let you arrange icons by name, or by type (among other choices) and which will also allow you to view them as thumbnails.

Go to Start > Search > All Files & Folders and type "desktop". Double-click each folder that appears to see which is your "main" Desktop. Right-click it and choose Send To > Desktop (Create Shortcut).

A folder named "Desktop" will now appear on your Desktop, which will allow the View > Thumbnails option when double-clicked. You can also click on View>Arrange Icons By, and further refine your listing preferences. If you choose "Name" the icons will be displayed alphabetically; but this will not rearrange the icons on your actual Desktop.

Speaking of "View" options, choose "Details" inside any folder to display things like "File Size" and "Date Modified." The latter can often help you locate a file whose name you may have forgotten, but which you know was recently edited. You can also click on View > Choose Details, and create columns for items such as, say, Artist or Album Name in a folder containing MP3s.

Clicking any column header a second time will cause your files to be displayed in reverse (Z-A) order. Another click puts them back into A-Z or, say, "most recent date edited" order.

Changing a File's Icon

Another thing that can make important files stand out on your Desktop, or in any folder, is to change their icons to something more distinctive. Right-click any icon and choose Properties > Change Icon, whereupon you will be offered many colorful icons from which to choose.

Dec 12

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Free Alternative to MSWord

Greg Kunde wrote to say his new computer came with a trial copy of Microsoft Office 2003, which eventually disabled itself and informed Greg that it could be permanently reactivated by arranging to buy it. Greg said he had created several MSWord files with the program, which had now became inaccessible, and asks if there is a less expensive alternative to MSWord.

Well, one alternative comes built in with all Windows-based computers. WordPad (Start>Programs>Accessories>WordPad) is a light-weight word processor that lets you open and edit MSWord (.DOC) and text (.TXT) files. However, advanced formatting in MSWord files may be lost in the conversion.

A better solution is to download AbiWord from, which is a totally free word processor that is very full-featured and which will let you save documents as MSWord ".DOC" files. AbiWord will also open WordPerfect ".WPD" documents, but does not recognize MSWorks ".WPS" files.

AbiWord is a very advanced program that is even available in different languages. (I chose Spanish since I occasionally work in the language.) AbiWord has all of MSWord's table, dictionary, spell-checker, and mailmerge features, and is also faster than MSWord in every way that I tested -- especially in launching the program.

Free Alternative to MSOffice or WordPerfect Office

For those looking for a totally free "suite" of programs, OpenOffice contains components compatible with MSWord, Excel, and PowerPoint. This large and full-featured office suite is available from and can take quite a while to download.

A number of people have been asking, "Which is the best browser to use?" Well, Internet Explorer continues to be used by over 90% of computer users, since it comes built in with Windows. However, a number of people have been trying Mozilla Firefox, which is reputedly less prone to attacks from hackers. I like Firefox, but still do most of my browsing with IE, since not all Web pages are completely compatible with Firefox.

One reader likes Firefox so well she asked how to delete Explorer. She didn't say if she meant Windows Explorer or Internet Explorer, but I assumed the latter. I replied that both are fundamental components of Windows and that trying to delete either could do serious harm to her operating system.

A reader who prefers the Netscape browser, along with its email client, asks if the program has a spell-checker and a "block sender" option. The former is available at Options > Check Spelling, but there is no option similar to Outlook Express's Message > Block Sender.

In any case, if you expect this option to block repetitive spam emails, it's not likely to help because spammers use a different "spoofed" return address on each letter they send.

Regarding spell-checkers, Outlook Express uses the one that comes with MSOffice programs, such as MSWord, Excel, or PowerPoint. Without one of these, OE has no spell checking options.

I continue to receive questions about printing mailing labels and envelopes. A comprehensive set of illustrated instructions can be found here: page25.html.

Dec 6

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Changing Default Settings in MSWorks

Regarding a recent column explaining how to change the default font in MSWorks, several people said they could not find NORMAL.WPT, which is where default settings can be edited.

Yes, MSWorks has changed considerably over the years - and NORMAL.WPT does not exist in all versions. However, here is a trick that will not only let you change your font, it will make launching the various MSWorks applications faster and easier.

Most versions of MSWorks contain a word processor, a spreadsheet program, and a database utility - but we are required to click the MSWorks icon before we can choose one of these components. Let's say you do spreadsheet work regularly, and would like to begin one without going through the usual preliminary steps.

Well, start a spreadsheet in the conventional way - and then do this: choose your font and establish any other preferred settings. Next go to File>Save As and give the file a template-like name, such as "SS-DEFAULT.WKS" (caps optional). The file would normally be saved in "My Documents," but I suggest choosing "Desktop" from the "Save In:" list.

Henceforth, double-clicking SS-DEFAULT.WKS will launch MSWorks and bring up this basic spreadsheet. Each time you begin using it for a new job go to File>Save As and give it an applicable name, saving it in a folder of your choice. This will preserve SS-DEFAULT.WKS on your Desktop to be used over and over.

Speaking of MSWorks, a reader recently sent me a ".WPS" file that she could not open, which was supposed to be a list of car parts and their prices. Well, I also tried opening the file with MSWord and WordPerfect, but to no avail - it had obviously become corrupted.

Nonetheless, I was able to retrieve the lady's data by changing the .WPS extension to .TXT, which allowed the file to be opened as a "plain text" Notepad file. The data, however, was mixed in with lots of unintelligible hieroglyphics, which made the information basically unreadable.

The fix? Using Notepad's "Find & Replace" tool (Ctrl+H) I copied repetitive batches of hieroglyphics (such as #%//?&) and pasted them into the "Find:" box. Leaving the "Replace With:" box empty, I clicked "Replace All." Eventually all the illegible coding was removed, leaving the file's actual text.

Why am I telling you this? Well, when all else fails in opening a corrupted file - or a file with no extension - applying a .TXT extension will usually allow the file to be opened and display something useful you can use.

Canceling an Account with AOL

I'm not normally a complainer, but when I recently tried to unsubscribe from AOL, I was handed from person to person whose job it was to make this virtually impossible. They offered all kinds of incentives to stay with them, such as getting one month free.

When I insisted on Canceling, I was told to call back on the next payment-due date, at which time they gave me another runaround, at which point I said I no longer wanted the service and would refuse to pay for it.

If you want to quit AOL, call your bank and cancel the AOL credit card withdrawal or ETF (electronic funds transfer) widthdrawal.

After doing all of the above, I received a snail-mail from AOL thanking me for renewing my account and telling me when my free month of service would begin. It took several more phone calls before the ordeal was over.

(AOL's toll-free number is 1-800-827-6364.) Good luck.

Dec 5

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Copying an Individual PowerPoint Slide

In response to my recent column on PowerPoint slide shows, Joe Santos asked how to save a slide from a presentation as a separate picture. Well, first it's important to understand that PowerPoint filenames can be saved with a .PPS or a .PPT extension.

PPS means "PowerPoint Show," which will begin running with a double-click.

Changing the "S" to a "T" (right-click the filename and choose Rename) will put the file into an editing mode. Right-click on a desired slide and choose Copy Slide, whereupon it can be pasted into your favorite image-editor or onto a word-processing page.

If the slide is a photo with some superimposed text, you can delete the text by moving your pointer around its edges until it becomes a "four-pointed" curser. Hit your Delete key to remove it. Do Ctrl+Z (undo) if you delete the wrong thing.

WinXP users can create a PowerPoint-like "SlideShow ScreenSaver" of, say, favorite photos. First, put the desired images in your "My Pictures" folder and remove any you don't want in the show.

Next, right-click your Desktop and choose Properties. Click the "Screensaver" tab and choose "My Pictures SlideShow." This will create a slide show of all pictures in that folder. Finally, click on Settings to adjust your screen-saver preferences. Enjoy the show.

Copying Names Between Various Email Address Books

Al Roller called to ask how to copy the names from an AOL Address Book into another e-mail program's Address Book. Some e-mail programs make this easy with File>Import/Export options. However, the following works with any of them: In AOL click "Write" to begin a new e-mail. Click Address Book and select all names by holding down SHIFT while you click the top and bottom ones.

Right-click the selection and do Ctrl+C to COPY the names, whereupon they can be pasted into the outgoing e-mail (which you send to yourself) or PASTE them into a text document.

Outlook Express users will click on Addresses and follow the above steps.

Now the names can be individually copied and pasted into another Address Book.

However, there is no way of pasting them all at once. This is why I keep all my contacts in a Word document, which makes them accessible with all the various e-mail programs I use. When I send out a newsletter to multiple recipients, I just copy and paste the names, as a block, into an e-mail program's BCC (blind carbon copy) box.

An even faster way to access these names is to put them on a "Yellow Sticky Note" that always remains on your Desktop. However, putting sensitive data on a sticky is not recommended if your PC is located where others can see easily see it.

Nonetheless, I find stickies invaluable for copying and pasting bits of data found on Web sites or an e-mail. This amazingly helpful program is completely free. It is item No. 12 on my home page at:

Nov 29

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Creating a Holiday Greeting with PowerPoint

Have you thought about creating a holiday greeting with PowerPoint? The program comes with MSOffice, but often goes unused because many folks don't understand how it works.

PowerPoint was designed to create a "slide show" presentation, which is a series images and text. However, animations and other special effects can easily be added.

A line of text, for instance, can be made to appear one word or one letter at a time. The items can be made to slide in from one edge of the screen, or the whole phrase can appear as a "venetian blind" effect. These are just a couple of examples.

Here are some tips to get you started. After launching PowerPoint you can click on AutoContent Wizard and be led through a series of prompts that will have you up and running in no time. However, I go to "Blank Presentation" and build one from scratch.

This will display a window with a collection of suggested layouts. Dark bars represent text boxes, cartoon faces represent picture boxes, while other boxes represent bulleted lists and graphs.

However, I prefer the "totally blank" frame, because everything found in the "suggested layouts" can be created manually. Here's an example:

With a blank slide showing, click Insert > Text Box. Draw a rectangle of the approximate size needed for some text, and then type a "Happy Holidays" message into it. You'll see a toolbar that lets you edit the text, re: font, style, size and color.

Now let's have some fun with this. Mouse-select the text and click Slide Show>Custom Animation. Next click the down-arrow under Entry Animation & Sound and choose one of the special effects.

Click OK and then click Slide Show>View Show. Your screen will go blank and wait for a mouse click to start the show. After the animated text does its thing, click twice to return to editing.

Now go to Insert > Picture > From File, and browse your way to a photo. Move the inserted picture to wherever you want it and then return to Slide Show > Custom Animation, where you can choose a special "entrance" effect for the graphic.

Press F5 and watch your message and picture magically materialize. Finally, go to Format, and choose "Background" or "Apply Design Template" to give your slide a colorful backdrop. When ready to build Slide 2, go to Insert > New Slide.

This is just the tip of the PowerPoint iceberg. Animated cartoons can also be used, as can background music and/or a vocal narration. The possibilities are endless.

As for emailing out your creative efforts, the recipient must have PowerPoint or a free PowerPoint "viewer" which can be downloaded from Just type "powerpoint viewer" into the Search box and click Go.

PowerPoint also works well as a simple "Desktop Publishing" program. Just leave out the animation effects, and use the drawing and lettering tools as you would in any other DTP program.

More tips and a Powerpoint Holiday Presentation can be found at

Nov 28

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Using Macromedia Flash Player

Claire Michaels wrote to say she installed Macromedia Flash Player, but cannot find an icon for running the program. Well, Flash is a program that displays high resolution animations, and runs automatically when you encounter a Flash presentation on a Web page.

Getting Rid of "Ebates MoeMoneyMaker"

John Simpson wrote to ask how to get rid of "Ebates MoeMoneyMaker," which purports to be a "rewards" program that saves one money on certain purchases. A little research showed the program to be an "adware" scheme that makes itself nearly impossible to delete. Info on how to get rid of it can be found here:

COPY and PASTE Basics

Linda Maag wrote to ask how to copy and print just a portion of text found in a Web page article. Well, "COPY" is one of the most fundamental commands in computer use, and almost anything can be COPIED, whereupon it can be PASTED somewhere for subsequent editing and/or printing. However, the text or graphic to be copied first needs to be SELECTED - and there are many ways to do this.

If you want to copy just a section of text in an email or on a Web page, simply select (highlight) the text with your mouse. Now you can copy the selection by going to Edit>Copy, or by doing a keyboard Ctrl+C, or by right-clicking the selection and choosing Copy from the popup.

Then you can paste the selected text into an outgoing email or into any kind of a word processor, as well as into a spreadsheet or database cell. Use Edit>Paste, or Ctrl+V, or right-click the target area and choose Paste.

As simple as this sounds, however, problems can arise. For instance your selection might be pasted in as a "picture" of the text, leaving you with no way to edit it. This can be circumvented by choosing Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text. This choice, however, removes special formatting such as bold or colored type. More copying tips can found on my Web site.

Changing the Default Font in MSWorks

Kelly Johnson called to ask how change the default font size in MSWorks. Well, changing the default font in MSWord is easy; go to Format>Font, make your choices and click on Default. WordPerfect users can do this with Format>Font>Settings. MSWorks users have to work harder to accomplish this:

Launch the MSWorks word processor and click on File>Open and choose Document Templates (*.wpt) in the "Files of Type" box. Click on NORMAL.WPT. Choose your font styles and go to File > Save As. Keep the name NORMAL.WPT and choose Document Template (*.wpt) in the "Save as Type" box.

Alphabetizing the Favorites in Internet Explorer

Cathy Carver called to ask how to alphabetize her Favorites in Internet Explorer. Well, the Favorites can be found in two places, as a Menu item at the top of the IE window, and as a "Star" icon on the IE toolbar. The list of Favorites displayed when the Star is clicked can NOT be sorted. However, when you click the word "Favorites" you can then right-click any item and choose "Sort by Name."

Nov 22

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Blank Box with a Red X Where a Picture Is Supposed to Be

A number of readers have been asking why email they send and/or receive containing pictures often arrives with blank boxes containing a red X where the pictures are supposed to be. There are many reasons for this; here are the main ones:

If the email is one of those cute greeting cards or inspirational messages that has an animated graphic with each paragraph, it was professionally prepared as an HTML document that should look the same to anyone who receives it.

However, not all email programs are completely compatible with all others, and each has a different way of handling pictures - especially when it comes to forwarding a picture-bearing email to someone else. If you are an AOL or CompuServe user who receives such an email, and you use your FORWARD button to send the letter on to others using these services, there's a good chance the pictures will arrive with no problem.

Forwarding the same letter to users of other email services, however, may or may not cause the pictures to arrive intact. If, instead of clicking your Forward button, you use Edit > Select All to copy the entire contents of the letter and then use Edit > Paste to put the contents into a new, blank outgoing email, the pictures are more likely to arrive without problems.

Pasting everything into a new letter also works well with other email clients, such as Outlook Express.

Another way to help insure that the pictures arrive is to send an image-bearing letter as an attachment to a new, outgoing letter. Juno and Hotmail do this automatically when you click the Forward button. When clicking Forward in Yahoo Mail you will be given the choice of sending the letter as "in-line text" or as an "attachment." Choose the latter if the email contains pictures.

Outlook Express, however, offers no such choice when its Forward button is clicked - but clicking on Message will display a Forward As Attachment option.

If the pictures you are sending are not an integral part of the messages (as in a greeting card) it's better to send them as attachments. Outlook Express offers an Insert > Picture option and an Attach option that lets you browse to a picture (or any other kind of file). If you choose Insert, the picture will arrive positioned in the message wherever your cursor was when making the choice. If you choose Attach, the picture will not only arrive as an attachment, it will also show up at the bottom of the text message (at least, when received by another Outlook Express user).

Another thing that can cause enclosed or attached pictures to be dropped along the way is the file size limitation of the recipient's ISP. However, this has become less of a problem since Hotmail and Yahoo increased their mail storage limitation to 100 times what they were before, along with increasing the file sizes they accept. Others appear to be doing likewise to compete with Google's new G-mail features.

Nov 21

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Internet Scams and Schemes

Internet scams and schemes are on the increase. Some are designed to steal your money, others to steal your identity, and others to con you into giving out your email address so you can be put on spam lists. Almost all are designed to get you to click on a link that takes you to a larcenous web site.

Cheryl Clarke wrote to tell me about recently receiving an official-looking email that claimed to have received $270 from her PayPal account for the purchase of a video game. Included was a link to a site she could go to for "additional information." Her immediate reaction was to click the link, since she had made no such purchase.

However, Cheryl had the presence of mind to call PayPal directly, where she was told no such transaction had taken place and no money had been withdrawn. In other words, the email was designed to get Cheryl to click on a dangerous link.

What might Cheryl have encountered by clicking the link? Well, stories abound of people conned into believing they would get help recovering stolen money or goods, if they would just pay an up-front fee - often to the crook who did the stealing.

JPG Pictures Can Contain a Virus

Beyond theft, there are virus writers who tempt you with links that can place an infected file on your computer. One such virus can be written into the coding of a JPG picture, which can wreak havoc with your PC if downloaded. JPGs are easily downloaded by right-clicking them and choosing Save Picture As - and some can look very tempting indeed. Sites that have something to sell are not likely to scare away customers with a virus; but be careful of suspicious-looking "underground" sites.

Everyone needs a full-time anti-virus program these days (which is frequently updated) as well as having a periodic virus scan. Having taken those precautions, however, you are still not guaranteed to be virus-proof. Why? Because virus authors create new germs just as fast as the AV companies supply protection from previous ones.

Most viruses are received as email attachments, often sent by "someone you know." Don't accept any email with an attachment you are not expecting, and don't assume that a suspicious email is from a trusted source, since most mal-intentioned emails have a "spoofed" return address - usually harvested from computers that have been virus-compromised.

So which anti-virus software is the best? Well, I don't have the resources to do product comparisons, but I have posted info on my site from companies that do.

Also, I feel silly warning my readers that emails from an "International Lottery," which says you've won a huge jackpot, or from the "widow of the late Prime Minister of Nigeria`" who needs a "partner" to help hide millions of dollars, are nothing but a ruse. But, considering how many of these phony balonies I receive each week, I fear that some people may be actually falling prey to the scams.

Nov 15

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Using MSWord's "AutoCorrect" to Help with Foreign Languages

"AutoCorrect" was originally created in MSWord as a "typo-repair" function that corrects misspellings as we go, such as automatically changing "recieve" to "receive." Well, MSWord also lets you add your own items to AutoCorrect.

This can be useful for saving keystrokes in a phrase that needs to be repeated periodically: For instance, type your name and address in whatever font size and style you want, and then highlight the finished typing. Next go to Tools > AutoCorrect, and your phrase will appear in the "With" box.

Now type a "code" (such as your initials) into the "Replace" box. Finally, choose Plain or Formatted Text and click Add > OK.

From then on, whenever you type the code, followed by pressing ENTER or the SPACEBAR, your name and address will appear just as you formatted them. However, this obviously means your code should not be a regular word. If your initials are, say, BE, you wouldn't be able to type the word "be" without it turning into your name and address.

While examining AutoCorrect's stock "Replace/With" items, you'll see that :) turns into
J and that (c) turns into ©.

You can also use this feature to display foreign words with their correct symbols. The special letters used in foreign words can be found in MSWord by going to Insert > Symbol and choosing the font that matches the one you're using (or by choosing "normal text").

This means typing words such as senorita, manana, or nino can be made to automatically become señorita, mañana, and niño.

For those who do a lot of typing in a foreign language, special keyboards and programs are available that make the job easier. One such source is , although many others can be found by typing something like "Spanish language keyboards" into any search engine's Find field.

My emphasis on Spanish here is because it is so omnipresent in Southern California where I live. In fact, I used to teach Beginning Spanish for Palomar College and prepared all my lesson plans in MSWord, using AutoCorrect to convert hundreds of words into words with properly accented vowels (along with other Spanish characters) as I typed.

Spanish contains many English cognates whose main differences are the use of accented vowels. For instance, mecanico (mecánico), simbilo (símbilo), and mision (misión) lack only the proper accenting for them to mean mechanic, symbol, and mission. With AutoCorrect, when I type mecanico, for instance, it becomes mecánico automatically.

However, a little help is needed to transform some words into proper Spanish. For instance, "incision" is spelled the same in both languages, but needs the "o" accented in Spanish. Therefore, I spelled my "code word" for the transformation with a double "i" (iincision). This preempted my normal spelling the word in an "English" document from turning into Spanish.

Windows also comes with some foreign language options which can be found by double-clicking My Computer > Control Panel and choosing "Regional and Language Options."

Nov 14

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Drawing Tools in Your Word Processing Program

Although word processing programs are not usually thought of as "drawing programs" they do have some helpful drawing tools. In MSWord, go to View>Toolbars>Drawing. In WordPerfect, go to Insert > Graphics > Draw Picture. In Works, go to Insert > Picture > New Drawing.

The way these tools work varies considerably among the word processors, and are best learned by experimenting and consulting each program's Help files.

Here's a brief sampling of what can be done in MSWord. Click on the rectangle or the oval to draw a corresponding shape in whatever size you want. Click on AutoShapes to find a collection of useful designs, including a heart, a happy face, and all kinds of stars and arrows.

Click the Pen tool to choose an outline color and click the Paint Bucket for a fill color. Click on the Lines icon to choose the thickness of a line or outline, and on the Dash icon if you want the line broken.

Click the Shadowed Box to add a shadow to a shape, or the 3-D icon to add perspective to a rectangle. Click the Rotate icon and then grab a corner "handle" of any shape to rotate it to any angle.

If you want two or more objects to move as one unit, click each of them while holding down Shift. Then go to Draw > Group. If you want to flip the combined objects, go to Draw > Rotate or Flip. If you want to align them on their centers or along a particular edge, go to Draw > Align or Distribute. The latter option puts equal spaces between objects.

If you have overlapping objects and want to change the order they are in, click on an object and go to Draw > Order.

These tools are no substitute for a full-featured drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw, but they are easy to use and come in handy for a quick and simple illustration.

Another handy tool is WordArt. As its name suggests, you can do artistic things with a word or a phrase. Go to Insert > Picture > WordArt. For MSWorks users, a box will appear reading YOUR TEXT HERE. The regular word processing toolbar will be replaced with a new one that lets you edit the WordArt "drawing."

Click on "Plain Text" and a drop-down window will show a variety of shapes, such as a waving banner, an arch, and a stop sign. Click on a design and your phrase will conform to its shape, whereupon you can edit the drawing by giving it, say, a shadow or a 3D look.

MSWord users will be presented with a "WordArt Gallery" from which a number of colorful pre-designed templates can be chosen. Click OK and a floating WordArt toolbar will give you even more options. WordPerfect users have similar options with TextArt.

MSWord also has some photo-editing tools. Click on an image and a toolbar icon will let you crop the picture, along with letting you adjust lightness, darkness, and contrast. Again, using Help and experimenting is the best way to learn.

Nov 8

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Protect Yourself from Online Fraud

Internet fraud is increasing at an alarming rate, so it's worth reviewing some of the steps needed to protect yourself.

So-called "phishing" emails appear to be from a bank (possibly yours) or other legitimate business and often begin with "Due to the recent increase in identity theft, we must ask all our customers to verify their accounts..." A clicked link will then take you to what appears to be a legitimate site of the bank, where you will be invited to fill in all your personal data.

Legitimate businesses do NOT ask for personal data via email. If in doubt, phone the company and inquire.

Perhaps less sinister than being told you need to update bank info is being told by your ISP that you need to reaffirm your user name and password. I have many horror stories from folks who thought AOL had sent them such an email and who gave away their user data to con artists who used the info to send spam touting things like porno sites.

"Key-logging" programs, which can log your keystrokes and send them to a crook, are another growing threat. How does such an insidious program get on your PC? Well, keep in mind that computers are two-way devices which can receive as well as send - and unscrupulous webmasters have ways of sending these things to your machine, even if you are extra cautious in avoiding suspicious sites.


One way is to send you an innocuous-looking email bearing a link to click if you want "to be removed from their mailing list." The link, however, might exist only to make you a better target of such a spyware program. Yes, legitimate companies also include a "remove from list" link (which they will honor) - but did the letter really come from that business? Be careful.

Another way they can attack your computer is by surfing networks looking for "unprotected ports." A "firewall" that can protect these ports is available as a hardware "router" or as a software utility. Microsoft's Service Pack 2 for WinXP includes such a firewall, although I prefer the free one from ZoneAlarm that I've been using for years.

I also run "Ad-Aware" and Spybot" (anti-spyware programs) daily to rid my PC of malicious "cookies" encountered while surfing the net. Although legitimate companies have been sending us "legitimate" cookies for years, the harmful ones are a fast-growing threat. Unfortunately, among the main sources of such malware are downloads purporting to be "anti-spyware" which, rather, install theirs while removing spyware of their competitors. Furthermore, "anti-virus" software is not "anti-spy" software. You need both.

PC World Magazine recently published a comprehensive article on spyware programs, and named some names:,aid,118362,00.asp

Nov 7

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When Links are Not Clickable

Outlook Express user Gary Hood wrote to say the hyper-links in much of the email he receives do not respond when he clicks them, and asked if there is a fix for this. Well, clickable links are a function of HTML (hypertext markup language). If your email program displays font style and color options when composing a letter, your typing will be seen in HTML formatting. This means any Web site or email addresses you include will become clickable links, which will normally be displayed as underscored blue text.

Clicking a blue email link should initiate a pre-addressed outgoing letter, while clicking a Web address should take you to the corresponding site (if you are online).

In the early days of email everything was done in "plain text," meaning no part of it was clickable. Nowadays the distinction between HTML and non-HTML text has blurred, meaning that even though a letter was composed and/or received as simple text, a Web or email address therein may still be clickable. So why were they not clickable in emails received by Gary?

Well, some of Outlook Express's options are found in Internet Explorer. Here's what Gary did to fix the problem: Double-click Internet Explorer and choose Tools > Internet Options > Programs. Be sure that "Internet Explorer should check to see whether it is the default browser" has a checkmark.

Click "Reset Web Settings" and uncheck "Also reset my home page." Click "Yes," "OK," and "OK" again. Then go to Start > Run, and type in: REGSVR32 URLMON.DLL. Click "OK" and "OK" again to insure URLMON.DLL's registration.

This will make incoming links in Outlook and Outlook Express clickable. If you receive non-responsive addresses in other email programs, let me know and I'll look for a fix.

Using Special Symbols in Text

Another frequent question is: "How can I insert symbols into my documents, such as the degrees (°) or cents (¢) signs, or the special characters used in foreign languages?"

There are many ways. The most common is to go to Start > Run and type: CHARMAP (character map). Click OK and a chart will appear displaying all the special symbols available in all of your various fonts. Choose a symbol, click Select > Copy. Right-click where you want the symbol to appear in your document and choose Paste.

Another way is to create the symbols on the fly using your ALT key along with a numeric code. For instance, ALT+0191 will generate the inverted question mark used in Spanish (¿). These codes can be found in the lower right corner of the chart described above. If you would like a list of these codes, it can be found by clicking Item #7 on my home page, where you will also find many other keyboard shortcuts, all of which can be easily printed out.

Users of MSWord can go to Insert > Symbol to find a similar chart. If you plan on using a group of, say, special characters in Spanish (¡¿áéíóúüñÑ), copy and paste one of each somewhere from whence they can be copied and pasted as needed, without constantly returning to the chart.

Nov 1

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Posting Your Photos on a Web Site

One of the main advantages of having a computer nowadays is being able to share photos with friends and family. The obvious way to do it is to send them as email attachments. However, an even better way is to post them on a website, where they can be viewed and downloaded. Sending multiple photos via email is easy, in theory, but fraught with Murphy's Law possibilities. The photos might not arrive because a recipient's mailbox is full, because the file size exceeds an email client's limitations, or because a recipient doesn't have the means to "unzip zipped files."

So how do you get your pictures on a site? Well, there are many free personal homepage services, such as,, and These services provide templates, such as text boxes for typing in messages or stories, and photo frames for displaying your pictures.

Many ISPs, such as AOL, also provide free homepage services.

Beyond this, there are sites designed mainly for displaying pictures, along with text labels, such as and Of course, what makes all these services free is the fact that they include advertising along with your pictures.

If you would prefer an ad-free site, I've seen some advertised for as little as $10 a month. TFBnet in Fallbrook, CA has hosted my site for a number of years, which costs somewhat more because mine contains many pages. However, when you pay for a site you are free to put whatever you want on it and do not have to be burdened with someone else's advertising. And even though I get constant offers from those who would like to pay to advertise there, I politely decline since I want the site to be totally ad-free.

Adding Photos to a Holiday Newsletter

Another way to send out family photos is to include them in a "holiday newsletter" that will be mailed via the US postal service. If you prepare your letter with a word processor such as MSWord, you can place photos right in with the text. Type your letter in the usual way, after which you can put photos on the page.

Using "Text Boxes" for Inserting Pictures

Click where you want the upper left corner of the photo to be and go to Insert > Text Box. Use the Text Box pointer (a small cross) to draw the approximate shape of the picture you plan to use. Click inside the Text Box and go to Insert > Picture > From File, and browse to target picture, whereupon the image and Text Box can be fine-tuned to your specifications.

Finally, click on the box and choose Format > Text Box, whereupon you will be able do even finer tuning, such as eliminating the box's border.

You will also be able to move the Text Box around on your page as you see fit. MSWorks and WordPerfect have similar "Text Box" options.

Window Envelopes Can Make Everything Much Easier

If you plan on sending a lot of holiday letters, why not use a window envelope that allows the recipient's name and address show through, thus eliminating the need to print envelopes, along with the danger of putting a letter into the wrong one.

Oct 31

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Choosing "File Associations" for Picture Files

Mary Casey wrote to say that when she got a new graphics program her image files switched to the new application for display and editing; and she asks how to choose another program for these actions.

This is a question I hear frequently, as more people are buying digital cameras, scanners, and other devices that often come with their own image-editing software. When these programs are installed they normally ask if you would like to have your image "file associations" access the new software. Many people choose YES without really understanding the question.

WinXP comes with its own "Windows Picture & Fax Viewer," which is the default application that opens when JPG, GIF, BMP, or other bitmap image files are double-clicked. This happens because the default "file associations" of these images look for this particular application. If you prefer another image-editor, you can right-click any picture icon and choose "Open With," whereupon all such programs will be listed.

If you then click "Choose Program" an option to "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file" will be offered. Whichever program you choose will then become the default for working with pictures in the future. This can be done in Win98 by right-clicking the filename while holding down SHIFT, after which you should find "Open With" options similar to the above.

If you are new to working with digital pictures, you might wonder which image-editor is best, and if you should consider getting a program that is more comprehensive than whatever you have. Well, all versions of Windows come with a program called Paint (a.k.a. PaintBrush) which can be accessed at Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint. How is this program different from the Picture & Fax Viewer?

Well, it has drawing tools for creating original images or adding things to existing ones. It also offers font options for superimposing text on an image. Other options include changing a picture's dimensions, as well as editing its colors on a bit-by-bit basis.

However, as image-editors go, Paint is relatively under-powered. Professionals buy programs like Adobe PhotoShop or Paint Shop Pro. I use Corel PhotoPaint.

However, I also use a free program available from Furthermore, I use Irfanview as my default picture-opening program. Why? Well, it is quick and easy-to-use; and it handles most of what I need to do when opening an image - such as re-sizing it, cropping it, or changing its brightness, darkness and contrast levels.

If I need to do more sophisticated things, such as adding text, I click its Copy icon and Paste the picture into PhotoPaint or Paint Shop Pro.

Irfanview also works great on "screen shots." If, for instance, you find a picture online that can't be downloaded, press your PrtSc (print screen) key. Launch Irfanview and click its Paste icon. Everything that was visible on your screen will now become an Irfanview image. Use the pointer tool to crop the target section, and the scissors icon to Cut it. Finally, click the Paste icon to end up with the picture you wanted.

Oct 25

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Google's "Desktop Search" Tool
Using Start>Search Options

There's a new way to find things on your PC's hard drive. But first let's review the old ways.

Go to Start > Run > Search (or Find) > Files & Folders and type in the name (or partial name) of a file or folder. If the file you're seeking happens to be an image or a media file, go to Pictures, Music, or Video and choose accordingly.

If you don't remember the file's name, but you remember something that was written in a document, choose "A Word or Phrase in the File" and type in the target text. Using a distinctive word, such as a city's name, will make the search more efficient than using a more common word such as, say, "city."

Advanced options, such as an approximate date the file was created or modified will also speed things up. And be sure the "Look In:" box indicates your entire hard drive/s, rather than an individual folder.

If you do want to look in a specific folder, right-click it and choose Search from the popup menu, whereupon you can use the options described above.

If you're seeking a word or phrase within a document or a Web page, pressing Ctrl+F will bring up a Find box.

But none of this works for finding saved emails or IMs (instant messages). However, the new Google Desktop Search program will search for Outlook and Outlook Express emails, as well as MSWord, Excel, Powerpoint, Notepad, and Internet Explorer Web page files. It will also find saved AIM files. The program is a beta version, with updates expected soon that will find even more types of files.

When you first install Google Desktop Search, it will index everything on your hard drive, just as it does with data on the Internet. This indexing means when Google searches your hard drive it will deliver results almost instantaneously and will give them to you in the same format you see when searching for items on the Internet.

I've been using this tool for about two weeks, and am dazzled by the speed and efficiency with which it works. I've resurrected Outlook Express emails that I wrote years ago, which could have taken hours to find using OE's own search tools.

Google Desktop Search Might Be "Too" Good

However, I must confess to having read warnings that this utility is so efficient that it can find things that are supposed to be password protected. Therefore, Google's Desktop Search might not be suitable for computers with multiple users who have privacy concerns.

Here's another thing I have discovered regarding this program. There are certain sites I access that require a username and password, and on which I can store this private information so it doesn't have to be entered each time. In the past, after deleting the cookies in my Temporary Internet Files folder, I would then have to enter my username and P/W info on these sites upon my next visit. Google, however, has made this unnecessary. I have no idea how.

Oct 24

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Printing Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWord & Excel

We talked recently about printing mailing labels and envelopes with MSWorks. Here's how it's done with MSWord.

In recent versions, a helpful "wizard" can be found by clicking Tools > Letters & Mailings > Mail Merge Wizard.

With any version of Word it's best to use Excel as the "database" of names and addresses, while Word will be used to format the actual printouts.

Excel, technically, is a spreadsheet program - but works fine as a database if you use the top row as a "header row." Type: First Name, Last Name, Street Address, City, State, and Zip into the top row's first six cells.

Now go to File>Save As, and name your database, say, "Holiday Address List.xls." It will normally be saved in your "My Documents" folder. You can alphabetize the database by last names by clicking on Data > Sort > Last Name > Ascending.

If you want a hard copy of this database, it's best to go to File > Page Layout > Landscape before printing.

Keep in mind that the font used in the database has nothing to do with the one to be used on the finished label or envelope. Formatting the final printout is where Word comes in.

Launch Word and use File > Save As to name the file, say, "Holiday Mailing List.doc." Click on Tools and you'll see a menu item called "Envelopes & Labels." Don't go there! Instead, click on Mail Merge > Create, and choose "Envelopes & Labels."

Let's start with labels. Click on Active Window and then click Get Data > Open Data Source. This should take you to the "My Documents" folder - but you probably won't see your Excel file. This is because Word looks for files ending with a ".doc" extension. Click on "Files of Type" and choose "MSExcel *.xls" (or just choose "All Files").

Double-click your Excel Address List's icon. You'll get some prompts about "using the entire spreadsheet" and "setting up your main document." You'll eventually arrive at choosing a specific label. The Avery 5160/laser and 8160/inkjet are the most popular, with 30 labels to a sheet.

Next you'll see an enlarged, blank label, where you'll be asked to insert the "Merge Fields." Click "First Name," press the spacebar and click "Last Name." Press Enter to start the next line and fill in the other fields accordingly.

Feed the names into this file by clicking Merge to New Document > All Records. Next click Merge. Finally, go to Edit > Select All and choose the font, style, and color you want.

Going to File > Print Preview will display how the first page of completed labels will look. Pressing your PgDn key will show subsequent pages.

Formatting envelopes is similar to the above, but you'll also be given the opportunity to insert a return address.

Some newer versions of MSWorks have replaced the program's older word processing utility with MSWord. Users of these versions can combine the MSWorks instructions I gave last week with the ones shown above to simplify the job.

The above instructions can also be seen at www.pcdon.compage25.html, along with helpful illustrations

Oct 18

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Is It Time to Abandon Microsoft?

The questions I'm hearing most often lately pertain to the installation of Microsoft's Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, along with many expressing fear about buying Windows-based computers altogether, citing the fact that Macintoshes don't seem to have the security problems plaguing PCs. Others have asked if they should switch to a non-Microsoft browser, such as Netscape or FireFox, as well as to a different operating system, such as Linux.

Well, if it's of any comfort, I practically live on the Internet using Microsoft products, and am not plagued with viruses or other malware. Furthermore, I have not installed SP2.

However, this does NOT mean I'd advise others to avoid installing SP2. I'm holding off until SP2's conflict with a certain program I use has been resolved. For most XP users, however, it appears that SP2 is a valuable tool that plugs many of the security leaks in Internet Explorer and other Windows products. If you have questions, Microsoft's toll-free number is 866-727-2338.

So how do I deflect all the malware that's aimed at me?
(1) I have Norton Anti-Virus running all the time.
(2) I have the ZoneAlarm Firewall running all the time.
(3) I delete all "cookies" daily.
(4) I use Ad-Aware and Spybot daily to eliminate spy-ware I occasionally get stuck with while surfing the Web.
(5) I never open any suspicious email.
(6) I change my email address periodically to avoid spam.
(7) Although I have Norton AV, I use the free virus scan and removal service of TrendMicro HouseCall periodically.

So wouldn't I be better off with a Macintosh and not have to take all the above precautions?

Well, I was an instructor in a Macintosh Desktop Publishing Lab at Fallbrook High for three years, and used Macs at Fallbrook's local newspaper when this column began over ten years ago. I love Macs, but no long use one. Why? Well, there is only so much space available for this column, so it needs to written about the machine owned by most computer users - and PC owners outnumber Mac owners by about 10 to 1.

But what if all the fed-up PC users were to suddenly switch to the Mac and to non-Microsoft software?

Well, let's think about this - if you were a virus or spy-ware author, wouldn't you aim your guns at the largest group of potential victims? And if the majority of computerists were suddenly using Macs, who would become the target of your malicious efforts?

Alternatively, what if PC users just dumped Windows and switched to Linux (the free or very low cost alternative to Windows)? What an exhilarating idea! And why haven't I done it (yet)?

Well, Linux is great for highly skilled PC users and hobbyists - but for the average user, the learning curve would probably be unacceptably long, in addition to discovering that some of their favorite programs might not be compatible with the OS.

In summary, Windows and other Microsoft programs work great for me, and I see no reason to abandon them at this point.

Oct 17

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Printing Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWorks

As the holidays approach, I've been receiving questions about printing envelopes and labels. This is a function of two applications: a "database" and a "word processing" program. The former is where the names and addresses are listed, while the latter is what's used to format the print-outs.

MSOffice users normally use Excel for their database and MSWord for the formatting.

MSWorks users normally use the Database utility for their database and the Word Processing utility (or MSWord) for the formatting.

What is a database? It’s an alphabetical listing of data, along with additional pertinent information. The database used by most of us is a collection of names, addresses, and phone numbers, which may include email addresses, along with fax and cell numbers.

MSWorks users will choose its "Database" utility to list the names, while its "Word Processing" application will be used for the formatting (some versions of MSWorks use MSWord for the word processing). Recent versions of MSWorks offer a step-by-step "wizard" to help you along. The following mini-tutorial applies to all versions of Works.

Create your list of names and addresses by launching Works and getting into its "Database" utility, which invites you to create column headings called "Fields." Overtype "Field1" with something like "FirstName." Click on Add and "Field2" will appear, over which you would type "LastName." After typing in all your "Field" Headings, click on Exit or Done.

Now go to File > Save As, and name the file, say, "Holiday Address List." By default, the file may suggest being saved in the MSWorks\Documents folder, or in your My Documents folder. However, you can designate any folder you want. Works will add the extension ".wdb" to the database filename.

Now comes the hard part; typing in all the names, addresses, and any other data for which you have created fields. Alphabetize your data by going to Records > Sort Records, and following the prompts.

Now we'll format the printing of the labels or envelopes. Go to File > New > Word Processor (or launch MSWord if you have it). Use File > Save As to name the file, say, "Envelope Printing Template." Works will add the extension ".wps" to the filename (Word will append ".doc").

Next go to Tools>Labels (or Tools>Envelopes) where a rather intimidating multiple-choice window will pop up; but don't let it scare you. Just click Next.

For labels, choose Avery #8160 for inkjet printing or #5160 for laser printing. Click Next two more times.

A window will open to display any databases you have created. Choose "Holiday Address List.wdb." (or Holiday Address List.doc). Now, assuming you plan to print a label or envelope for every name on the list, keep clicking "Next" until you arrive at "Label Layout" or "Envelope Layout."

Here you'll click "Add Field" and "New Line" until you get a layout that displays "First & Last Name" on the top line, "Street Address" on the second line, and "City, State, Zip" on the third line. Using an additional line for "Apt." (or whatever) is optional.

Additional formatting options, such as font styles and colors, are available by clicking "Advanced." Go to File > Print Preview, to see just how your print-out will look.

Next time, we’ll look at how this is done with MSWord and Excel. Illustrations of the above instructions can be found on my Web site (as soon as it is up and running again).

Oct 10

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More About Media Players - Both Software & Hardware

Regarding my recent column about portable music players, Phil Broughton wrote to correct my saying that Apple's iTunes for the iPod are "MP3" files, and that they are actually "M4P" (or "AAC") files. Another reader pointed out that the column didn't mention "CD/MP3" players, which play music from CDs rather than internal hard drives or flash memory systems.

Yes, there are many of these devices available, which play regular audio CDs as well as those which can be user-created with MP3 or other types of music files (such as WMA). These players are cheaper than the iPod-like devices, with some costing less than $50. However, those that include accessories such as an FM radio or CD-burning software can be priced over $200.

New Hand-Held Video Players

An even newer genre of hand-held entertainment devices coming online is the miniature video player. These devices play audio and video content, which can include music, TV shows, movies and even JPG images, such as digital photos. Microsoft sells its Portable Media Center (PMC) for $499, but is licensing the technology to other hardware manufacturers, such as Creative Zen.

The PMC is like a mini computer with a 4-inch screen and a 20 GB hard drive, but with no keyboard or input system other than ports to copy content from other devices.

Microsoft has also come out with its MSN Music Store to compete with Apple's iTunes Store. This past week Microsoft also came out with an update to its Windows Media Player, Version 10, which competes with other media players such as WinAmp, iTunes, and RealAudio.

To newer computer users some of this terminology may be a little confusing. For instance, what's the difference between, say, Microsoft's Portable Media Center and its Windows Media Player? Well, the former was described above, while the latter is a program that lets you play music and/or display videos on your computer screen. WMP comes bundled with Windows and can be upgraded with a free download whenever newer versions comes out.

The other above-mentioned media players are also free downloads (except for RealAudio, depending on which version you get). In addition to dispensing audio/video content, media players let you create play lists that can be copied to other devices, such as CDs, DVDs, or a portable player - or just be played in a particular sequence on your computer.

Not surprisingly, Windows Media Player 10 offers an easy online connection to the MSN Music Store, as does the iTunes media player with the iTunes store. If you have not purchased music online, it is quite a different experience than buying CDs at a traditional store.

Go to, for instance, and type in the name of a music genre or an artist or the name of a song or an album. You will instantly be presented with one or more albums that match your criteria. You can then choose to purchase an entire album (or a single song from it for 99 cents) along with being able to first play a sampling of the song. Sure beats fighting that traffic to the mall.

Oct 3

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Information on "MP3 Audio Players" (such as the iPod and its competitors)

Jack Templeton wrote to ask for a description of the various portable music players that have proliferated since the introduction of Apple's iPod, which is now in its third generation with three different players available.

25 years ago, the Sony Walkman introduced the concept of having a portable audio player with cassettes that could play up to two hours of music. Eventually, CD players vastly extended available play periods.

Nowadays, computerized digital recordings with various compression techniques make it possible to place many hours worth of music on much smaller devices. However, these devices are not all created equal.

The iPod, and many of its competitors, use a miniature "hard drive" on which their digital music is stored. Other players use "flash memory" technology, such as the type used with digital cameras, meaning no moving parts are involved.

Some of the players include a built-in microphone for voice-recording, while others include an FM radio. In fact, there are so many different players available, it would be impossible to describe them all here.

However, Web sites such as and offer extensive descriptions of the various players, along with user-reviews and price comparisons.

One of the things to look for is "audio file type compatibility." Digital music is available in several different formats, and not all players accept all formats.

The format accepted by all players is MP3, and the 99-cent "iTunes" available online are in this format. If, however, you have a collection of songs in, say, WAV or WMA formats on your computer you will want to make sure the player you buy will accommodate these files.

This is especially important if much of the music you intend to play is currently on your computer, as opposed to music you plan to buy. I have hundreds of songs on my PC and Web site and seriously doubt that I would be spending much money for additional content.

All players come with "ear bud" headsets, and some come with auxiliary ports that connect to docking stations or home stereo systems. I've also heard that some players are rather weak on the headset output - so anyone with a hearing impairment should test the ear buds carefully.

The various screen displays and button arrangements are way too many to describe here, but thought should be given to choosing a player whose functions are easy to understand and operate.

Battery play-periods between recharges vary among devices, as do overall battery life-spans. Battery prices also vary, with iPod replacements currently costing about $99. However, third party batteries are available for some players, as are add-on AA battery kits.

Devices can also be played with their battery chargers connected, meaning that for players which tend to remain in one place, battery life is a relatively minor issue.

In summary, all I can suggest is spending some time checking out these features online before heading to your favorite electronics store.

Sep 26

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Book Recommendation from a Reader

I get messages daily from businesses who want me to plug their products or services in this column. Well, I'm not here to supply free advertising; but if a reader recommends something useful I make an occasional exception. Jack Cramer wrote to say he found a book named "Windows XP Pro - The Book that Should Have Been in The Box" published by Pogue Press. He says the book gave him instructions for doing a "system backup" that he could find nowhere else. Jack went on to say he paid $20 for the book at Fry's, but that it came with a mail-in rebate coupon for the full price.

Musical Tip from a Reader

Another reader asked if I knew how to extract music files that sometimes come embedded in Outlook Express e-mails. When I regretfully replied that I didn't, she figured it out for herself and sent me the information. First, however, let's look at how to embed music in an e-mail so that it begins playing when opened.

After composing your letter, click on Format>Background>Sound and locate the target song. Click OK and the musical message is ready to send.

To extract the song the recipient needs to launch Outlook Express and click on Tools>Options>Read and check off "Read all messages in plain text." The song will then appear in the "Attach" field as a file that can be saved just like any other attachment.

Adding Background Colors or Images to an Email

Other OE options available under Format>Background are a color or an image that will fill the e-mail's background. AOL and CompuServe users can find color and image options by right-clicking inside an outgoing e-mail.

Automatic Backups in MSWord & Excel

When I wrote recently about MSWord creating automatic backups to user-created documents, Scott Adams wrote to say he couldn't find any. Normally this feature is turned on by default; but here's how to access the option: click on Tools>Options>Save, and choose "Always create backup copies."

Excel users will find this choice when they click on File>Save As>Tools>General Options.

An additional, and somewhat confusing, option available to MSWord users is "Save AutoRecover info every ___ minutes" (with the default being 10 minutes). This means the program is periodically saving a document in progress, even if the user forgets to do ongoing saves. If you've ever noticed any files in your My Documents folder that begin with a tilde "~" and end with a .TMP extension, you've seen an "AutoRecover" file. Such a file can be accessed in a worse-case scenario in which one's main document and backup document have been lost or corrupted.

Another MSWord question I often hear is "How can I change my default font?" Open a document and go to Format>Font and make your choices. Finally, click on the Default button to make the changes stick.

While you're in the Format>Font area, take a look at options such as: Outline, Shadow, Emboss, and Engrave, which can help make MSWord a versatile desktop publishing program.

Sep 19

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Making Backups of Important Files

WinXP and Quicken user Marilyn Gramwall called to say she wanted to save her daily updates to a CD, but wasn't able to do it using the program's "Backup" options. Before explaining how to do this, however, it might be helpful to define the term "backup."

In its simplest form a backup is a second copy of any file you create. Some programs, such as MSWord, create an updated backup each time you SAVE a document. Word then puts both files in your My Documents folder. This means if a file currently in progress gets corrupted, you will have another copy that is equivalent to your most recent SAVE. The work in progress will have the extension "doc" appended to its name, while the reserve file will be called "Backup of (your file's name) and have a "wbk" extension.

Important Files Should Have Backups at Another Location

Another main purpose of a backup is to have a copy of a file stored somewhere other than the hard drive on which it was created. If your hard drive dies, both the original file and the backup described above would very likely die along with it. This is why copies of important files should be stored on another disk of some kind (such as a floppy, a CD, a flash drive, or another hard drive).

For many years our only choice was the relatively low capacity "floppy" disk. Expensive Zip disks held way more data, but were eventually made obsolete by CDs and DVDs which hold more yet, and store it on media that is cheaper and more reliable.

My current recommendation for backing up important files is an external hard drive, since they have recently come down in price (most under $200) and offer storage space of 40 to 200 gigabytes. Another advantage of an external HD is that it can be plugged into another PC and have all its data copied onto it in one fell swoop. Beyond that; whenever I leave the house I take my Maxtor 120-gig HD with me, knowing that if the house burns down while I'm away my backups will be safe.

Backing Up Quicken Files

Getting back to Marilyn's "putting Quicken files on a CD" question, it's simply a matter of "drag and drop." Quicken's backup files are placed in a folder named Backup, which is inside the C:\Program Files\Quicken folder.

WinXP comes with built-in CD-burning software, which means you can drag files from your Quicken Backup folder (or any folder) onto your CD-burner icon, which is displayed inside My Computer.

You can simplify all this by putting a Shortcut to Quicken's Backup folder on your Desktop. Right-click My Computer and choose Explore. When you find the Backup folder, right-click it and choose Send To: Desktop (create a Shortcut). You can also right-click your CD-burner's icon (probably Drive D or Drive E) and send a Shortcut to the Desktop.

Double-click the Backup Shortcut icon to display the target files, whereupon you can drag them onto the CD-burner Shortcut icon and follow the prompts to complete the job.

"Oldies, But Goodies"

If you like songs out of the "big band" era (i.e.: music of Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Benny Goodman, the Ames Brothers, Harry James, Artie Shaw, Andrews Sisters, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Dinah Shore, Teresa Brewer - as well as old time country - Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Tammie Wynette, the Statler Brothers, etc.) I have dozens available on this site.

Sep 12

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Downloadable Music

One of things I enjoy most about my PC is finding music online that can be saved and played back through the computer's media player. I'm not talking about music exchanged via the controversial file-swapping services whose legal issues are often in the news; but rather music found on various Web sites which can be freely downloaded. These songs are usually in a WAV, MP3, or MIDI format, although some are in the RA (RealAudio) format.

Explaining these various formats in detail would take more space than is available here; but here is a brief overview:

The WAV format was originally designed to create brief sounds such as the one you hear when Windows begins, as well as the famous "You've got mail" announcement. The format is also used to compress music files so they take up less disk space, but still sound very much like the original recordings. Many of the popular songs you hear when accessing various Web sites are in the WAV format.

MP3 is the compression format generally used on songs played via portable devices such as Apple's iPod.

A MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) file is one that is normally created by playing an electronic keyboard connected to a computer. MIDIs are technically considered "data" files, since the keyboard input is completely "digital" as opposed to music that has been recorded via microphone. They are also used as background music on many Web sites and are usually much smaller files than WAVs, MP3s, WMAs and RAs.

In order to play music or videos on one's computer, a "media player" is required, and most computers come with the "Windows Media Player" built in. Many other media players, such as Musicmatch Jukebox and QuickTime can be freely downloaded from, but RealAudio was not free (the last time I looked). However, RA files can be heard only via the RealAudio player.

Playing Music Continuously with the Windows Media Player

The Windows Media Player can be used to organize "play lists" of favorite songs for continual background music. The lists can also be "shuffled" so the songs are not always played in the same sequence.

Drag your favorite MIDIs, WAVs and MP3s into a separate folder, which can be created by right-clicking your Desktop and choosing New > Folder and giving it a name.

Next open the Windows Media Player. If you don't see an icon for this program, go to Start > Programs > Windows Media Player, or Start > All Programs > Accessories > Entertainment > Windows Media Player.

With the viewer open, click on Playlists > New Playlist. Under "Playlist Name" type a title for the collection, or ignore this and the name of the folder holding the music will be inserted.

Finally, drag the songs from their folder into the large open area of the media player. Use Ctrl+A to Select All of them. You may have to move the media player and/or the folder so they can both be seen for the dragging and dropping (which actually creates "shortcuts" to the files, leaving the songs in the folder you created for them).

If the music doesn't start automatically, click the Play button, whereupon the first song in the Playlist will begin (unless another song is currently highlighted). The songs will be listed alphabetically, but any song can be moved to another location by clicking it and then clicking the Up or Down Arrow at the top of the player. Clicking the red X will display Delete options for a selected song or the whole Playlist.

If you want the songs to play in random order, click the double-arrow "Shuffle" button at the bottom of the player. Another click will return to the Playlist order displayed on-screen, while double-clicking any song will cause it to start playing immediately.

These are just a few of the things that can be done with the Windows Media Player. Others include picking up Internet radio stations and displaying online or DVD videos.

If you would like to convert songs from music CDs to MP3s or WAVs, inexpensive software is available for "ripping" your favorites and putting them on your computer or portable player. You can use or your favorite search engine to find these programs.

The Windows Media Player can also be used to convert WAVs and MP3s into CDA files that can be burned onto a CD for playing on some CD players. For details, launch Windows Media Player and click on Help.

As for downloading music from a Web site, a song's title will often be listed as a hyperlink that can be right-clicked to display a "Save Target" option. If you don't see the song title, look for it in your Temporary Internet Files folder, from where it can be dragged onto your Desktop or into a folder.

WinXP users may have multiple Temporary Internet Files folders. Go to Start > Search > All Files & Folders and type in Temporary Internet Files. (Be sure you have Search System Folders checked under More Advanced Options as well as Search Subfolders.

"Oldies, But Goodies"

If you like songs out of the "big band" era (i.e.: music of Glenn Miller, Dorsey Brothers, Harry James, Artie Shaw, Andrews Sisters, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Dinah Shore, Teresa Brewer - as well as old time country - Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Tammie Wynette, etc.) I have dozens available on my site at

Sep 5

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More Questions About Spam

"How can I stop the spam?" is still the question I hear most. Well, a number of major software companies and ISPs are working on improved technology to weed out junk mail; but for now, the only sure cure is changing your email address (followed by being careful about giving it out). Although the big companies have yet to agree on a plan that is universal and consistent, some appear to have made progress on their own.

Hotmail Used to Be Spam City

I used to receive lots of spam on my Hotmail and Yahoo accounts, but it has been disappearing significantly in recent weeks. Some of used to suspect Microsoft of encouraging spam in order to nudge us into exceeding our Hotmail storage limits, thus prompting us to sign up for a paid account.

In any case, I don't do much personal correspondence via Hotmail or Yahoo; so I don't know if any legitimate messages might get unintentionally zapped as well.

This is the ongoing problem with spam filters; being expected to know the difference between mail you want and mail you don't want without ever making a mistake. This newsletter is getting shot down more and more frequently by filters that perceive it as spam.

Having More than One Email Account

If you make online purchases or sign up for things on the Web it's wise to have a secondary email account, such as Yahoo (who recently increased by 100-fold the online storage space it gives users). It is rumored that Hotmail is about to do likewise, since Google announced that storage space for its upcoming "Gmail" will be a full gigabyte.

Outlook vs Outlook Express

Another frequent question is, "What's the difference between Outlook Express and Outlook?" The former is an email program that comes with Internet Explorer, which comes with all versions of Windows. The latter is business-oriented time-management database that includes a web-based email client. Outlook comes with some higher-priced versions of MSOffice, or it can be purchased separately.

Some Outlook users complain that I give lots of space to Outlook Express questions, but little space to theirs. Well, limited room here means I write mainly for the larger readership and OE questions outnumber Outlook questions by about 100 to 1.

The same holds true for MSWord and WordPerfect questions; users of the former seem to outnumber users of the latter by more than 100 to 1.

Using Plain Text in Email

We've recently discussed the pros and cons of sending email as "plain text," which Outlook and OE users can do by starting a message and clicking on Format > Plain Text. AOL and Compuserve mail users can do this by right-clicking inside the body of an outgoing message and choosing "Compose as Plain Text."

Speaking of text formatting, Don Stillman asked if there is a format other than "plain" that can be read by all word processors. Yes, get into your favorite word processor and create a document. Then go to File > Save As, give the document a name, and choose Rich Text Format (RTF) in the "Save as Type" or "File Type" box.

If you send an RTF file as an email attachment, the recipient should open open his/her word processor and go to File > Open and look for "RTF" or "All Files" in the Files of Type box. However, if you have only one word processor, double- clicking an RTF file will very likely open itself in the program automatically.

Aug 29

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Understanding Adware, Ad-Aware, Adaware, & Ada-Ware

A free program I've long recommended is called "Ad-Aware." This program looks for "adware" and "spyware" that may have been placed on your computer while you were on the Internet. "Adware" is a generic term meaning advertising that pops up periodically once it's on your hard drive. "Spyware" is software that can find personal data, such as credit card and password information, and send it back to the hacker who infected your computer.

"Ad-Aware" is a free program that will find and remove malicious adware and spyware. But how can they offer this program for free? Well, the program's author,, does have other services for sale, and will even accept donations for Ad-Aware.

But there is a problem

Ad-Aware's success has prompted others to put out programs with similar names, but which are NOT "Ad-Aware" and which have some features you might not appreciate. For starters, many of these programs advertise themselves as being anti-adware/anti-spyware which you can "download for free" and which will "scan your computer for free"

After scanning your hard drive, you are usually told that spyware has been found and that by "registering" the program for $30-$40 the malware will be removed and the program will be yours to keep. In fact, I've heard that you may even be told that spyware has been found when none actually exists. Some of these Ad-Aware competitors are even suspected of removing the adware and spyware they find so they can install their own.

Numerous programs have appeared recently that are suspected of operating on these principals. I won't name names, of course, but I can say with confidence that Ad-Aware is a legitimate program that performs a valuable service. Another free program that does the same thing is "SpyBot - Search & Destroy." I use both of them.

Links to Ad-Aware and SpyBot S&D can be found on my site at, along with links to many other useful free programs.

But shouldn't we be suspicious of anything that claims to be "free?"

In a word, YES! Most "free" things found on the web have strings attached. The very least they want is your email address so you can be added to one or more spam lists.

So how do we know what "free" stuff can be trusted? Well, searching for trustworthy free services is a never-ending adventure that some of us spend a lot of time at. I've listed many of them on my site - but only after personally checking them out from a number of different angles.

Again - how can anybody afford to constantly give away stuff for free?

Well, may I use my web site as an example? I'm at an age where I have some retirement income, which allows me to have a "hobby." My hobby has become helping people learn about computers - particularly retirement-age folks to whom computers are often new and bewildering. Also, San Diego's North County Times does pay me to write a newspaper column, which helps absorb some of the costs of maintaining a completely non-commercial site with NO advertising of any kind.

Furthermore, I have always put my phone number (949-646-8615) at the end of each article. In fact, phoning will usually get a question answered much faster than sending an email.

Aug 22

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Phone Calls vs. Email
Ever since I began writing this newsletter over ten years ago I have always included my phone number. (949-646-8615)
Email questions have always been welcome - but have become increasingly difficult to answer lately.
As computer technology has increased, so has the jargon it uses - thus making it more complicated to adequaely describe a problem in an email. Over the phone, however, we can usually get to the root of a problem more easily and come up with a faster answer.
Therefore, if you have a question, picking up the phone is likely to get you an answer much sooner than sending an email.

Q Who pays for the time spent answering questions via phone or email?
A No one. Don and Mary do this at their own expense.
Q How can you afford to do this?
A We can't really - and will not be able to offer this service forever.
Q Don't you get paid by somebody somewhere along the line?
A The North County Times and The Californian pay Don to write a weekly newspaper column, but not for any additional expenses in personally answering readers' questions.
Q Where did you learn to become such computer experts?
A We are NOT experts (at computers or anything else). If there is any such thing as a "computer expert" it is someone who specializes in one or more specific areas, such as hardware (building & repairing PCs), programming, web page creation, network administration, etc, etc, etc. Our only "specialty" is helping folks understand the basic concepts of using a PC and working with many of the most-used software titles, such as Windows, MSWord, MSWorks, Excel, PowerPoint, Windows Paint, Outlook Express, etc.
Q So where did you learn to do all this?
A Don bought his first PC in 1977 when the then new devices first appeared on the market. From then on, Don devoted most of his time to learning how to use these machines by spending long hours reading, studying, and experimenting. This qualified him to teach Computer Applications in a number of high schools and junior colleges over the years, as well as do personal tutoring in homes and offices. Mary learned most of her PC skills the same way, and still studys every day.
Q Can you tell me whether or not to install Windows XP Service Pack 2?
A Read the newsletter below.

Don Edrington's PC Chat
San Diego's North County Times Sunday, August 22, 2004

Windows XP Service Pack 2

It’s been a busy week, Internet security-wise. As every Windows XP user must have heard, Service Pack 2 is available for download. You may have also heard that this major security upgrade might keep some of your existing software from working properly and that you should wait until Microsoft has fixed all the bugs before you install the program.

Well, much has been written in recent days to help make this decision easier to arrive at. I would suggest going to, where you can find a number of articles on the subject. The consensus seems to be that SP2 is a trade-off between security and convenience that favors the former while offering a number of guidelines to deal with the latter.

I’ve read some pretty convincing arguments that suggest installing SP2 ASAP would be the best thing for the average home PC user to do, since it immediately plugs a number of holes in various Microsoft products through which cyber terrorists may find ways to attack our computers.

I, however, intend to do some other pre-emptive things that will cause me to put off installing the upgrade for a while. Why? Well, among the programs that Microsoft lists that may not work properly under SP2 is the FTP (file transfer protocol) utility I use daily to maintain my Web site. In the meantime, I will be (as I always have been) super-cautious about maintaining my PC’s security through the use of anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware programs, along with installing the periodic critical updates Microsoft has offered right along.

New Windows Firewall Will be Turned ON by Default

Speaking of firewalls, this is one of the major issues with SP2. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, a firewall only allows certain data to travel between your computer and the Internet, based on the permission you give it. I’ve been using ZoneAlarm successfully for several years and see no reason to abandon this free program for the firewall that is built into SP2.

Windows XP has always come with a built-in firewall that is turned off by default, and which runs only if you choose to activate it. The SP2 firewall, however, begins working the moment the update is installed, and may deny Internet access to things you do not want kept off limits. Yes, there are instructions for adjusting the firewall, but many analysts say there will be a major learning curve needed for dealing with it.

In any case, it is highly recommended that XP users who download SP2 have a “restore point” established in advance. A restore point is a recent date to which you can return your computer’s settings in case of a major problem. To establish a restore point, do this:

Go to Start>Run, type msconfig, and click OK. Next choose General and click the “Launch System Restore” button, which will guide you through establishing a restore point, along with how to use the point if needed.

Aug 15

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Double-Spaced Lines That Won't Go to Single-Spacing

Katie Harte wrote to ask how to control line spacing when working with documents in various types of programs, such as Outlook and Outlook Express. The problem usually occurs when trying to edit a received email or something that has been copied from a Web page. A common problem is that the document you want to edit has "double" line spacing, even though your Format>Paragraph options are set at "single" spacing.

Well, explaining how you can fix the problem is a lot easier than explaining why the problem occured in the first place. In any case, it’s helpful to understand that computer-generated text is normally either “formatted” or “unformatted.” The latter is also known as ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange).

Line spacing was not an issue with early PCs, because there was no such thing as “text formatting.” When you pressed a certain letter or number it always looked the same on the screen, and all lines of text were single-spaced (unless you manually put one or more “carriage returns” at the end of a line).

Modern text formatting options let you pre-assign your choice of line spacing (such as single, one and a half, or double) and will also let you change it later. Here’s an example:

Type a paragraph that contains a few lines of single-spaced text. If you’re using a word processor such as MSWord, click anywhere in the paragraph and then click Format>Paragraph. Under “Line Spacing” a variety of options will appear. In some programs “Line Spacing” is referred to as “Leading” (rhymes with wedding).

Most email programs, however, do not offer multiple line spacing options. Yet it’s not uncommon to receive an email with double line spacing, along with other special formatting whose options don’t appear in your menu choices. Furthermore, if you receive an email with double line spacing and try to copy and save it with single spacing, there is no obvious way to do it - it insists on remaining double-spaced. Why?

Here’s where it gets technical - but we’ll make it as simple as possible. If you received an email with very fancy formatting, it was very likely a professionally prepared newsletter or advertisement, which was created using HTML (hypertext markup language) as are most Web pages. If you then copy and paste this into an outgoing email, with the idea of reformatting it in some way, you may not find the formatting options needed in your menu choices.

However, if you change the whole thing to “plain text” all the line-spacing will automatically revert to “single.” In Outlook Express you can do this by going to Format > Plain Text. If you have pasted everything into, say, an MSWord document, go to File > Save As, and choose “Text Only” in the “Save As Type” field. The file will then be saved as an ASCII document with a .TXT extension. The plain text can then be copied and pasted back into Word (or any other document) where your formatting commands will again be available.

But my favorite way of converting formatted text to plain text is to paste it into a “yellow sticky,” which is a free download at

Aug 8

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Bullets & Numbers that Start Automatically

Q How can I avoid the automatic numbering or “bulleting” of paragraphs that occurs in MSWord if I begin by typing a number or a letter before starting the actual paragraph?

A This is a default function whereby typing a character of some kind, followed by pressing your TAB key, suggests to MSWord that you intend to create a series of paragraphs the will be incrementally numbered as you’ve done with the first one. This type of paragraph formatting is often referred to as “hanging indents” or “outdents.”

If, for instance, you begin a document by typing “1” followed by pressing TAB and then start typing the actual paragraph, the left margin of subsequent typing will line up with the first letter in your paragraph. When you finally press Enter to begin a new paragraph, a “2” will appear at your far left margin, and your cursor will automatically tab over to match the newly-established paragraph alignment.

Although this is a default function in MSWord, it can be easily defeated so that you can create “hanging indents” to suit yourself. Go to Tools > AutoCorrect > AutoFormat As You Type and UNcheck “Automatic Numbered Lists” and “Automatic Bulleted Lists.” You also need to UNcheck “Automatic Bulleted Lists” under AutoFormat.

Setting Bulleting & Numbering Options to Suit Yourself

Now then, do you have to reverse all these settings if you want to create a series of paragraphs with hanging indents? Nope - establishing your own personal “outdent” settings is easy. One way is to use the horizontal ruler at the top of your page. If you don’t see it, click on View > Ruler.

(The following rules also work in MSWorks.)

Notice the three markers at the far left of your ruler. They will normally be stacked one above another to match the left margin of your page of typing.

Do Ctrl+A to Select ALL of your document. Now grab the middle marker and move it to the right. Notice how all the typing, except the first line in each paragraph, moves to the right with your marker.

Now move the top marker and see how easy it is to fine-tune the appearance of these “hanging indent” paragraphs.

Should you want to change the indent settings of, say, just a single paragraph, place your cursor anywhere inside the paragraph and follow the above instructions. (You do not need to highlight the whole paragraph.)

OK, this gives you a page full “outdented” paragraphs, but what if you want them incrementally “bulleted” as you can do with MSWord’s default settings? Easy - just type your document with normal paragraph spacing. When finished, highlight everything with Ctrl+A and go to Format > Bullets & Numbering. Here you’ll find choices for itemizing your paragraphs “1,2,3” or “A,B,C,” or “I,II,III” along with several other ways.

Another way to get into and out of Bullets & Numbering is have certain icons on your toolbar. If you don’t see them go to Tools > Customize > Commands > Format and choose the icons you would find most helpful.

Aug 1

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More on Improving Text Legibility

My recent column on improving a document’s legibility by enlarging the text generated quite a bit of email, including one from Ralph Ewton who said he occasionally wants the text smaller so that an incoming email might be printed on a single page. Ralph went on to say that when he does this, however, the text doesn’t always “word wrap” properly, meaning the printing does not extend across the page the way it should.

Here’s what happens: Those of us who grew up using typewriters had to do a CR (carriage return) at the end of each line of text in order to continue on the following line. Most computer programs, however, “wrap” the words automatically; meaning we now normally do a CR only to begin a new paragraph.

Furthermore, most programs let you change a finished page’s margins so that the text automatically adjusts itself to match the new settings.

However, when text is sent via email, its formatting is sometimes changed along the way by having had a CR inserted at the end of each line. This means that if the recipient adjusts the margins in any way the text may turn into an unsightly collection of alternating long and short lines.

This can be fixed by manually removing the surplus CRs; but a much easier way is to use a free program called “StripMail,” which can be downloaded from my site at (Look for Item Numbers 10 and 11).

Another thing that improves text readability is choosing a legible font. My personal favorite is “Verdana.”

Getting back to enlarging text, Joe Ranos wrote to point out that all browsers have certain View or Zoom or Text Size options. However, these options don’t always work in Internet Explorer (for technical reasons I won’t belabor here). But these options work beautifully in Netscape Navigator and Mozilla Firefox. In fact, a number of people now prefer these browsers because of all the security leaks they’ve heard about regarding IE.

Personally, I have no problem with the vulnerabilities occasionally found in Microsoft products, since I keep a close eye on their update bulletins and post them on my site for others to see, as well.

Downloading Other Browsers

By the way, Netscape and Mozilla also have their own email clients, which some folks use instead of (or in addition to) Outlook Express. Using the web-based mail version of Netscape can also be helpful in other ways. For instance, when I began receiving too much spam at I created an account under

Mozilla, Netscape, AskJeeves, Momma, DogPile, and other browsers can be freely downloaded at

Another item I recently mentioned was the free image viewer called “Picasa.” For a while Google had a link displayed on its home page, but now you need to type PICASA into the Google search box - and it’s definitely worth the effort. (Make sure it's spelled with one C and one S. Spelling it as PICASSA takes you to an entirely different web site.)

I also mentioned that Microsoft had apparently eliminated its “Multiple Clipboard” feature in recent versions of Word. Jack Lucey and others wrote to say it is now found under Edit>Office Clipboard.

July 25

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Trouble Reading Tiny Text in Emails

A frequently asked question is: "How can I make the tiny text that arrives on some e-mail large enough to read?" The easiest way is to do Ctrl+A (Select All) to highlight the text, and then click your Reply button. This will let you choose another font size. It will also let you choose a different font style and/color, in case changing the text's contrast would improve its legibility.

Trouble Reading Tiny Text on Web Pages

Another frequent question: How can I make the tiny text seen on some Web pages easier to read? Well, my favorite way of handling this has always been to mouse-select the text and do Ctrl+C to COPY it, followed by using Ctrl+V to PASTE it into a blank word processing document, whereupon the text can be edited in whatever way that seems most helpful.

A Windows tool for enlarging tiny text is the "Magnifier," which can be found at Start>Programs>Accessories>Accessibility. However, in addition to making everything twice as tall, it doubles the width of everything, which means both vertical and horizontal scrolling are required to follow the text.

Well, Roger Wakefield introduced me to a program that has a brand new approach to controlling the text size encountered on Web pages. "WebEyes" not only makes the text larger, it literally redraws each character using "anti-aliasing" technology to achieve maximum legibility.

Furthermore, you can choose a "Read Like a Book" view that places the target text into a window that makes each line of lettering automatically wrap to the next line as it approaches the right edge of the window, thus eliminating the "left/right scrolling" normally required in an enlarged view. When your eye finally arrives at the lower right corner of the "Book View" window, clicking a "Next Page" icon displays the following page in perfect sequence.

Another of the program's well-thought-out features is the enlargement of various types of forms that require the filling in of boxes with one's name, address, and phone, etc. Vision-impaired users will see clearly and precisely what data they are submitting to an online company.

Normally this column is restricted to reviews of various add-on utility programs that are available at no cost; however, I consider the $19.95 price of WebEyes to be a worthwhile investment for anyone with vision limitations. More details can be found at, where a copy of the program can be downloaded for a 15-day free trial.

Another Useful Freebie from Google

Speaking of no-cost utilities, Google now makes the image-management program "Picasa" freely available at Just type PICASA into the Google search box and press Enter. One of the features of Picasa is its ability to scan your entire hard drive for all images and display them as a collage of "thumbnails." If you have ever lost track of a digital photo whose name you've forgotten, this feature alone makes the utility worth the download.

Multiple Cut, Copy & Paste Feature in MSWord

On another matter, my recent description of MSWord's "Clipboard Toolbar" generated quite a bit of email. A number of people said they could not find this feature in their version of Word. Well, in Word XP and later, it can be found at Edit > Office Clipboard, whereupon a panel will appear that lets you manipulate up to 24 cut or copied items.

One reader wrote to say the Clipboard Toolbar really bugs him and that he would like to disable it. It can be disabled by going to Tools>Customize>Toolbars and UNchecking Clipboard.

July 20

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Rules of Cut, Copy and Paste

Among the oldest features of any computer system are Cut, Copy and Paste, which can be activated with Ctrl+X (think scissors), Ctrl+C (copy) and Ctrl+V to paste. Why was “V” chosen for Paste? Because these commands are executed frequently; and a keyboard’s V comes right after X and C.

The basic rule for these functions is that once an item has been cut or copied (such as a phrase in a text document or an object in a drawing) it will be hidden on the “Windows Clipboard,” where it waits to be pasted somewhere.

Furthermore, the item will remain on the Clipboard until another item is cut or copied, or until the computer is turned off or rebooted. In other words if you copy, say, “Hello” in a text document, and then go to another document (or even another program) and do Ctrl+V, “Hello” will be repeated as many times as you care to keep pasting it somewhere.

As with many computer functions, there are multiple ways to activate these commands. Cut, Copy and Paste are found in the Edit menu of all programs, and their toolbar icons are: a pair of scissors, two overlapping sheets of paper, and a paper sheet overlapping a clipboard.

Exception to the Rule

However, MSOffice programs offer an interesting exception to the “one-at-a-time” cut, copy and paste rule. MSWord, for instance, lets you cut or copy up to 12 separate items, and then choose which ones you want to paste where, as well as in what order. Here’s how it’s done:

Click on View > Toolbars > Clipboard, and a floating “Multiple Clipboard” will appear. Now if you cut or copy a word or a phrase in your document, a tiny symbol will appear on your Clipboard, along with the notation “Clipboard (1 of 12).” Cut or copy another phrase, and a second symbol will appear with the notation “2 of 12.” At any time you can choose an item's symbol to be pasted in wherever you want it.

If you want to start over, click the Clipboard’s large “X” and the accumulated cut/copy symbols will disappear. Click on the upper-right corner “Close” button and you will be back to the normal “one-at-a-time” rules.

Using the UNDO Command

Another computer fundamental is the “Undo” command, which is also found under Edit, and which lets you reverse your most recent editing command. Most programs allow only one Undo; meaning that if you, say, change a phrase’s font style to “bold,” and then change your mind, you can do Ctrl+Z to go back to the original style. However, subsequent Undo commands will simply toggle the phrase between the two styles.

MSOffice programs, however, allow you to Undo multiple things. Also, you can use Ctrl+Y to Redo something you’ve undone. The toolbar icons for Undo and Redo, respectively, are a left-facing bent arrow and a right-facing one.

Although most image-editing programs allow only one Undo, Windows Paint allows three. Most programs don’t tell you how many Undo commands they allow, so it pays to experiment.

July 18

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The Importance of File Name Extensions

This column has always been mainly for users new to computers, and periodically certain basic fundamentals are repeated for their benefit. One of the most important things to understand is that all Windows file names have a descriptive extension that usually contains three letters. Some of the more obvious examples are: EXE = executable file, DOC = MSWord document, BMP = bitmap picture, TXT = plain text document, while HTM or HTML = hypertext markup language.

However, for reasons I’ve never understood, Microsoft hides these extensions on new Windows computers. XP users should double-click any folder and go to Tools > Folder Options > View and UNcheck “Hide extensions for known file types.” Users of earlier Windows versions will go to View > Folder Options > View to find this choice.

Why do we need to see these extensions? Here’s an example: A reader wrote to say she had renamed a number of photos taken with her digital camera. But when she later tried to view them, she got an error message asking what program she wanted to open them with.

Here’s what happened: A picture named, say, JAMES.JPG was displayed as simply JAMES. She changed it to JIM, but was unaware that “.JPG” needed to be typed in, even though it would subsequently be hidden. After she finally added .JPG to each file name, all pictures were again viewable.

Some extensions are identified with one specific program, while others can be opened with different programs. For instance, TXT refers to files created and read with NOTEPAD, while XLS indicates an EXCEL spreadsheet file, and WPS means MSWorks word processing file.

DOC normally refers to MSWord documents. However, there was a time when WordPerfect also used this extension; so some older DOC files may need to be tried in both programs.

Some graphics programs have proprietary extensions (such as Adobe PhotoShop’s “PDS” and Corel PhotoPaint’s “CPT”) but most picture extensions (such as JPG, GIF, TIF, and BMP) are recognized by nearly all bitmap-editing programs. When I owned a screen-printing business my default program was Corel PhotoPaint (a high-powered image-editor), but since my image-editing needs are now simpler I prefer Irfanview (free from

Important Windows Maintenance Tools

Some routine Windows maintenance tools beginners should know about are SCANDISK and DEFRAG for pre-WinXP users. WinXP owners use CHKDSK instead of SCANDISK. There are different ways to activate these tools, but the easiest is to go to Start > Run and type in any of the above commands. Pre-WinXP should always run SCANDISK before doing DEFRAG.

You can also go to Start > Run> and type in MSCONFIG to disable unneeded Startup programs that can slow down your computer.

Playing Various Music Files

Another frequent question is: “How can I get the songs on your music page to play?” Well, most of the songs are MP3, WAV, or MID files, and can be played via Microsoft Media Player 9 (freely downloadable at

MID (or MIDI, i.e.: musical instrument digital interface) files can only be played through a computer, while MP3s and WAVs can be copied to CD and played on certain other stereo devices. Some stereo units require WAVS and MP3s to be saved as WMAs (or some other file type compatible with certain stereo units). A few of the songs are RealAudio files and require RealPlayer to be heard.

July 13

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Retrieving "Permanently" Deleted Files

A question I'm often asked is: "If I delete a file and then empty the Recycle Bin, is there any way to recover the file?" Well, emptying the Recycle Bin does not instantly destroy the files it contains; their names are altered slightly and will remain out of view on your hard drive for a while. The sooner you try to recover a purged file, the better your chances for success.

There are data recovery companies that specialize in restoring these files; but Jack Konen wrote to tell about doing it himself. Jack went searching for software on the Internet and found a number of programs at different prices. However, he also found a free one.

Jack downloaded it onto an external hard drive, and has used it to successfully recover a number of files. The program is called "Restoration v2.5.14" and can be found at: . The magazine also has some helpful free newsletters at

One of the main things to be careful about, when trying to recover a deleted file, is not to give another file the same name. Windows folders can only hold one file with a given name - adding another with the same name will replace the first one. Yes, you can have identically named files in different folders, but giving each its own distinctive name is much safer.

Doing Arithmetic with MSWord

Since MSWord is the word processing program used by most businesses, it's helpful to know that it has some built-in "calculating" commands. If, for instance, you prepare an invoice which lists the name of an item, a quantity, a unit price, and a blank space for the total, you can have Word calculate and insert the correct amount. You can also have the grand total of multiple calculations appear at the bottom of the invoice, along with tax and/or shipping costs, as needed.

This is done with Word Tables, and here is a simple example: Let's say you are billing a customer for 24 Widgets at $89.99 each. Go to Table > Insert Table and choose, say, 10 Rows by 4 Columns. Click OK and your Table will appear.

In the upper left cell type Widgets. In the next cell type 24. In the third type 89.99. Finally click in the fourth cell and go to Table > Formula, whereupon =SUM(LEFT) will appear. This is Word's way of saying it sees some numbers in the leftward preceding cells and assumes you want them added up. However, if you overtype SUM with PRODUCT and click OK, the correct answer of 2159.76 will appear.

Repeat the above steps as needed for additional items. Then click in the cell below your column of totals and go to Table > Formula, whereupon =SUM(ABOVE) will appear. Click OK for the correct grand total. Tax and shipping can be added accordingly, meaning Word can be used as a mini-spreadsheet program when needed.

This was a very simplistic example of a Word feature that has many more sophisticated functions available. You can use the Word Help files to learn more.

July 11

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Using Other Browsers

One of the things I get asked most about is Internet security. It seems Microsoft announces a newly-found security leak in Windows or Internet Explorer almost daily. A number of readers tell me they have switched to another browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Mozilla Firefox, in order to avoid the attacks on Internet Explorer.

Well, these browsers do have some attractive features and can be freely downloaded from However, I still do 90% of my surfing with IE, since that is what most people continue to use. But I also check with the Microsoft Update Center regularly and have yet to suffer an online attack or receive a virus.

Yes, I do pick up some occasional "ad-ware" or "spy-ware," but Ad-Aware and Spybot (links on my site at clean my system as needed, and ZoneAlarm (the free firewall w/link also on my site) protects me from hacker attacks.

A World of Information Online

One of the things I find most useful about the Internet nowadays is that you can find information on just about anything. When a reader recently asked about some cryptic files that appeared when she pressed CTRL+ALT+DEL, and which seemed to be slowing down her computer, I simply typed their names into Google's search box and found all kinds of information on each of them, including details on how to get rid of them. (I also use "Ask Jeeves" at

Another example: type in "drug interactions" to get all kinds of valuable information on how various medications affect each other.

Your Doctor Will Love You

Speaking of medications, one of the first things I ever did with a computer was to create a list of my prescriptions that could be handed to a new doctor, should the occasion arise. I also include a list of all my surgeries, complete with dates, hospitals, and surgeons. Such a print-out can be very helpful in, say, an unexpected trip to the ER.

External Hard Drive

Al Roller called recently to tell me how pleased he was with an external hard drive he bought, and convinced me to get one for myself. I bought a Maxtor 120GB model that connects to a USB or FireWire port and which does a smooth, fast job of transferring files. (External hard drives are available from a number of manufacturers and in a variety of gigabyte sizes.) I find this to be a much easier way of backing up my personal data than copying it onto CDs. However, for extra security I also make CD backups of the most important files.

My Maxtor has a "One Button" procedure for backing up an entire hard drive. However, I have all my original program CDs available in case of a major crash, and prefer just to back up certain files.

With an external HD installed, you can simply drag and drop files onto it, just as if it had come built into your PC. Double-click My Computer, and the drive will be listed right along with your others. Something to be aware of, however, is that your "My Documents" folder may not let you drag and drop it the way you do with other folders.

What happens instead is that a "Shortcut" to "My Documents" is placed on the external hard drive, pointing back to the folder on your "C" drive. One reader wrote that he did this and mistakenly thought the whole folder had been copied, whereupon he deleted the contents of the original folder. Be careful.

July 4

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Beware of Offers to Join a "Do Not Email List"

You may have read that Microsoft and Yahoo are working on plans to help control spam by using advanced software that will identify those who send it. Let's hope such a system becomes operational soon. In the meantime, beware of offers to join a "Do Not Email" list that purports to be similar to the national "Do Not Call" list. The latter can be enforced, since phone calls can be traced. The former is a scheme to collect more email addresses. The recently passed "anti-spam law" is currently unenforceable since spammers use bogus return addresses to avoid being caught, and send much of their junk mail from out of the country, anyway.

Cropping a Picture in MSWord

A lady wrote to ask how to crop a picture she had received in an MSWord file. Well, to "crop" a picture is to make it smaller by removing unneeded elements such as, say, excess sky and landscape or everything except someone's face for a portrait. However, cropping is done differently in different programs.

We don't normally think of MSWord as being a "picture-editing" program, but if you right-click an embedded image and choose "Show Picture Toolbar" you will have a few editing tools at your disposal. The one resembling a pair of Xs is the "cropping" tool, which lets you grab any of the image's edge or corner "handles" and push them toward its center.

As you adjust an edge or corner, you will make the picture smaller. The result will indeed be a cropped picture; but it will still be an image that is embedded as part of an MSWord page. If you would like to copy the picture and save it as, say, a separate JPG file, there are other steps needed.

You can right-click the picture and choose Copy, followed by going to Windows Paint (Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint) and doing Edit>Paste to insert the picture for editing. However, if the pasted-in picture does not look as good as the original, do it this way instead:

With the MSWord picture centered on your monitor, press the PrtSc (PrintScreen) key on your keyboard. Now when you do Edit>Paste in Windows Paint, the whole MSWord page will be displayed (without any noticeable change in screen resolution). Next, use the Paint rectangular "selection" tool to "crop" the part of the picture you want to keep. Finally, do Ctrl+C to Copy the cropped selection, do File>New to create a new blank "canvas," and do Edit>Paste to place it on the canvas.

Now you can use File > Save As to give the picture a name and location, and choose a file format for it (such as JPG).

Creating a "Watermark" in MSWord

Getting back to MSWord's "Picture Toolbar," it has Brightness and Contrast controls, along with a "Watermark" setting that will turn an image into a light gray object that can be typed over. The "Format" options will let you type over, behind, or around an image and will let you determine how close the text will be when typing around it. You can also use "Format" to put a border around the image.

June 29

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Fine-Tuning a "Name & Address" Database

Bob Tavano showed me a list of business contacts in an Excel spreadsheet and asked how he could make mailing labels from the list. Well the first thing that needed to be done was to place certain elements of Bob's list into their own columns. The list had only two columns:"Last Name, First Name" and "Street, City, State Zip."

Well a label that reads "John & Jane Doe" looks better than one that reads "Doe, John & Jane." Also, dividing the address into two lines works better than having it all on one long line, which rarely fits on a standard mailing label. Here's how I separated these various elements and placed them in their appropriate columns:

First I selected the Name column and did Ctrl+C (Copy). Then I clicked into a blank MSWord page and went to Edit > Paste> Special > Unformatted Text. This made each line look something like this:

Doe, John & Jane 123 Main St, Fallbrook, CA 92028.

Now all those commas needed to be replaced with TAB Settings. This can be done in all Microsoft programs by using Ctrl+H (Find & Replace).

In the "Find" box we typed a comma and a blank space. In the "Replace" box we typed ^t. You get the "carat" symbol by typing Shift+6, which must be followed by typing a lower case "t" to generate Microsoft's code for TAB. Finally we clicked on "Replace All" which removed all commas and shifted the First Names over to the next TAB position.

Now we highlighted the whole thing and did Ctrl+C (Copy). Next we did Ctrl+V (Paste) into the upper left cell of a blank spreadsheet. Then, everywhere Excel found text that had been tabbed, it put that text into the second column, which meant all the last names were in Column A and the first names ended up in Column B. We repeated the above to get the address elements into their own columns. We then combined them with the name columns and gave the file a name.

Well, Excel makes a great database; but you need a word processor to format the actual mailing labels.

Using a blank MSWord page, go to Tools > Mail Merge > Create, and choose "Envelopes & Labels." Click on "Active Window" and then click Get Data > Open Data Source. This should take you to the "My Documents" folder. Click on "Files of Type" and choose "MSExcel Worksheet " (or just choose "All Files") and ouble-click your Address List. You'll get some prompts about "using the entire spreadsheet" and "setting up your main document."

You'll eventually arrive at choosing the kind of label you want. Avery #8160 is the most popular, with 30 labels to a sheet.

Next you'll see an enlarged, blank label, where you'll be asked to insert the "Merge Fields." Click "First Name," press the spacebar and click "Last Name." Press ENTER to start the Address line and fill in the remaining fields accordingly.

Illustrated instructions to the above can be found at

June 27

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"Drawing" & "Painting" Programs

When I recently mentioned using programs with "drawing" capabilities, Bob Sheaf wrote to ask which programs I use. Well, first a definition of "drawing" and "painting" programs is in order.

The word "painting" normally refers to a "bitmap" image. This is a graphic made up of many tiny colored squares called "bits" which are "mapped" on a background to give the illusion of "continuous tone" shadings, such as those seen in a photograph. These images are also often referred to as "raster" graphics.

With a "drawing" program, on the other hand, one normally creates images by establishing points that are connected by straight or curved lines, resulting in shapes such as a rectangle or an oval. The shapes can then be filled with colors resulting in, say, a red heart or a green shamrock. Many of the cartoon-style "clipart" drawings found on the Web are considered drawings rather than paintings. These drawings are also often referred to as "vector" graphics.

Windows "PaintBrush"

Nonetheless, "painting" and "drawing" elements are often used together to create a finished graphic. For instance, all versions of Windows come with a program called PaintBrush (a.k.a. Paint or PBrush) which can be accessed by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > Paint.

After launching PaintBrush a white "canvas" will appear, along with a variety of drawing tools and a color palette. The lower right corner of the canvas can be mouse-maneuvered to adjust its shape, while the "paint bucket" tool can be used to fill it with a different background color.

The "oval" and "rectangle" tools can be used to create simple shapes that can likewise be filled with a color of your choosing. By first clicking the "line" tool, a different thickness for an object's outline can be selected. The "S-shaped" symbol will let you draw a straight line which can then be curved by mouse-grabbing it and reshaping it.

Two dashed-line "selection" tools can be used cut (Ctrl+X), copy (Ctrl+C), and/or paste (Ctrl+V) selected areas on the canvas. Use the "star-shaped" tool for free-hand selections.

A finished graphic can be saved by going to File > Save As, where picture formats such as BMP, GIF or JPG, are available. I normally choose GIF for simple drawings, which is the format used for much of the clipart seen on Web pages and in email. (GIFs are limited to 256 colors.)

When you use PaintBrush to open and edit photos, however, JPG is the format used most often. (JPGs can be made up of millions of colors.)

PaintBrush, therefore, can be used as both a "drawing" and a "painting" program for simple projects. Professional graphic artists generally use heavy-duty programs such as Adobe Illustrator for "drawing" and Adobe PhotoShop for "painting." I prefer Corel Draw and Corel PhotoPaint, which are much less expensive than the Adobe products, but which have the same comprehensive capabilities. Paint Shop Pro (PSP) is also a popular program with both raster and vector capabilities.

"Drawing" Tools in Your Word Processing Program

Users of MSWord or WordPerfect also have some "drawing" tools available. Click on View > Toolbars, whereupon Word users will click "Drawing" while WP users will choose "Draw Shapes."

Word users can then click on AutoShapes > Basic Shapes for a comprehensive selection of patterns, such as a heart, a star, a crescent moon, a variety of arrows, and even a happy face. More info can be found in the programs' Help files.

June 22

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Trying Out Microsoft's "OneNote" Program

By way of introducing its newest software, Microsoft is making "OneNote" available for a 60-day free trial. If you go to and type onenote into the search box, you will be guided through the download steps.

In case you haven't heard about OneNote, it was designed to be a quick and easy note-taking application where you can enter text, scribble a simple drawing, and even record your voice. Unlike most text editors, where typing begins in the upper left corner, OneNote lets you click anywhere on a page to begin typing, after which the typed entry can be moved around much like a "Text Box" in a word processor.

A simple line drawing can likewise begin on any part of a page with the program's "pen" tool, which will draw with your choice of a thin or thick line in any color you want. I found that using an optical mouse makes the "pen" reasonably easy to control.

Unfortunately, however, I can find no way of editing a drawing other than reshaping it by adjusting its "handles." An "eraser" tool does not let you erase just a part of a drawing - it erases the whole thing. But you can do that by clicking on the drawing and hitting your DEL key.

The program has the same AutoCorrect features found in MSWord, meaning many commonly misspelled words will be corrected on the fly. MSWord's other spell-checker features are also available in OneNote. A Find box is part of the program's toolbar and always available for entering any text to be searched for.

All the various text formatting options found in a word processor are also available, but must be accessed by clicking Format>Font. The only option always in view is B for toggling between bold and plain text. The theory is that with a simple note-taker you are unlikely to do a lot of font formatting other than making an occasional entry bold.

Would Like to Hear from OneNote Users

I'm still experimenting with OneNote; but other than its drawing and voice-recording features, I don't personally find the program all that helpful, especially in view of its list price of $200 (with a $100 rebate to owners of MSOffice or MSWorks). I have other drawing programs with better editing options, and I use the Windows WAV Recorder for voice messages. However, if someone sends me some ideas on how this program can be used productively I will be glad to pass them along in this newsletter.

Viewing Desktop Icons as "Thumbnails" in WinXP

One of the advantages of WinXP is that files inside a folder can be viewed as Thumbnails by clicking that option under View. However, this view is not available for icons on one's Desktop. But Desktop Thumbnails can be seen by doing the following: Go to Start > Search > All Files & Folders and type in desktop. Double-click each folder that appears to see which is your "main" Desktop. Right-click it and choose Send To> Desktop (Create Shortcut). Now your Desktop will have the same "View" options as found in all other folders.

June 20

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Accessibility Options for People with Disabilities

Did you know that your computer has a number of built-in aides for people with visual or other physical limitations? The most obvious aide for someone with visual problems is to buy the largest monitor available. However, text and graphics on any monitor can be made larger. The default screen resolution for most desktops is 800x600 pixels (picture elements) - but this can be changed to suit your needs.

Right-click your Desktop and choose Properties. Click on Settings to find a horizontal slide-knob which can be moved to change your “screen area” or “resolution.” Moving the knob to the left should display 640x480, which means everything will be larger. Having objects larger, of course, means less of them will fit on your screen; so scrolling may be required to see everything.

For those who want more but smaller items displayed, moving the knob to the right will display higher resolutions, such as 1024x768. Changing resolutions on standard CRT monitors does not change the clarity of text and objects, but doing so on some flat-screen monitors may cause some “fuzziness.” If you are buying a flat-screen take some time to check out the various resolution settings.

Another way to increase the size of on-screen items is by using the Windows Magnifier. Go to Start > Programs > Accessories > Accessibility > Magnifier.

Other Accessibility Options can be found under My Computer > Control Panel, such as switching to high-contrast colors. If you have difficulty holding down multiple keys simultaneously, such as CTRL, ALT, and DEL, choosing “StickyKeys” will let you press them individually to get the same result. “ToggleKeys” and “FilterKeys” will help with other keyboard problems, such as unintentional repetitive keystrokes.

Under “Mouse” you will find ways to change the rodent's “click” and “scrolling” speeds. Go to Control Panel > Mouse for options in changing cursor shapes and sizes.

If you have trouble double-clicking, doing a single-click followed by pressing ENTER will accomplish the same thing; or you can do a right-click followed by a left-click on “Open.”

Working Without a Mouse

In fact, navigating in Windows can be done without a mouse at all. Using your keyboard’s arrow keys, along with TAB and PgUp and PgDn, will get you around the screen, whereupon various key combinations can accomplish other things usually done by your mouse.

In text editing a word or phrase can be highlighted by holding down SHIFT while you use your directional keys. Function keys such as F1 will bring up Help options, while F7 will initiate a Spell Check and SHIFT+F7 will bring up a Thesaurus in most Microsoft programs. ALT+F4 will close an open file, while subsequent uses of ALT+F4 will close an open program and eventually lead to an orderly shut-down of your computer.

Within an open program you can activate menu items with your ALT key. For instance, ALT+F will open the File menu, while ALT+E opens the Edit menu, whereupon a menu item can be chosen with your “down arrow key” and activated by pressing ENTER. Experimenting with other key combinations can be be enlightening and useful.

June 15

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AIM Adds Voice Capabilities

Last week I mentioned having used Yahoo Messenger's voice feature to talk online verbally with long-distance friends. Now AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) the world's most-used messenger service, is offering similar features. After downloading and installing the program (from click on People>Connect to Talk.

Talking with another AIM user PC-to-PC is free, but connecting with others from your PC to their telephone will incur charges.

Using the Internet for free or low-price voice communication is not new; but it is becoming more reliable. I was using a free service called DialPad more than two years ago, but the sound quality left much to be desired. A lot of improvements have been made since then. Before long, using Internet telephony may be just as common as using e-mail and IMs. For information about existing services look for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) via any Web search engine.

Speaking of instant messages, a number of folks have asked if using them puts one's computer in danger of being attacked via the open connection. No, the real hazard is in clicking on a link sent to you by a stranger. Ignore any such link and the hacker is unlikely to bother you again. However, closing the IM and beginning a new one might also make you feel more secure.

4 Corners of Security

Having said that, however, don't forget the four things we all need to do by way of protecting our computers nowadays: (1) Have an anti-virus program installed and updated. (2) Have a firewall in place. (3) Run anti-spyware as needed. (4) Check with Microsoft for updates and fixes for security flaws in their products. Free links to all these services can be found on this site.

Another hazard is the number of alleged "anti-spyware/adware programs" which are themselves spyware and which delete legitimate anti-spyware, while installing their own systems. I have found "Ad-Aware" to be the best free anti-spyware program currently available, and use it regularly.

Nonetheless, you can't rely on any one person's recommendation these days. Arm yourself by going to sites like or and read their reviews. Also, type SPYWARE into the Google search box for additional information.

Subscribing to the PCWorld newsletter is another way of staying abreast of technical things regarding your computer. Also, look for articles about the fact that hackers are now eyeing ways to infest Internet telephony services.

Getting back to IMs, they are still my most-used means of free long-distance communications. In fact, I just talked with an Air Force friend in Belgium, and saved the IM to show to his grandmother in Vista, California.

Saving an IM

Using AIM, a conversation can be saved by going to Save, where you can choose between an HTML or a plain text file.

AOL and CompuServe users can go to File > Save As, and choose between plain text and "RTX." RTX can only be read via AOL or CS; however the extension can be manually changed to HTM or HTML, which makes the IM viewable via any browser.

June 13

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Alternative Way to Save Items Found on the Internet

Harry Springer wrote about a trick he uses to save interesting pictures he finds on the Internet. Instead of right-clicking each one and doing Save As, he simply collects them all from his Temporary Internet Files folder. In case you weren't aware of it, a copy of every image you see online is saved in this folder.

Harry's trick can also be used to collect sounds heard online, such as a Web page's background music (usually a file with an MID extension). The "oldies" songs on my site's music page will also end up in this folder if you first click the ones you want. Look for files with a WAV or MP3 extension.

In fact, I keep a link to this folder on my Desktop. To find your folder, go to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders, and type Temporary Internet Files. WinXP users may have more than one folder so named; but examining the contents of each can identify the one you want. Then, right-click it and choose Send To > Desktop (Create Shortcut).

If you want to check out picture or music files found in this folder, double-clicking any will generate a warning that opening it there may be dangerous. (I have no idea why.) So just drag the files onto your Desktop or into a folder before opening them.

If you have clicked on a number of, say, MP3 files and then go looking for them in this folder they may be scattered and hard to find. If you go to View > Arrange Icons > By Type, however, they will all be grouped in one place.

If a chosen file has a cryptic or meaningless name, you can change it by right-clicking it and choosing Rename. However, I prefer another method; single-click the name, wait a second, and click it again. This puts the name into an "editing" mode.

Just be careful not to change a filename's 3-letter extension. If you don't see an extension, go to my home page ( and click on Item A. For a listing of all extensions and what they mean, click on Item F.

Bear in mind that the Temporary Internet Files folder is a cache whose older items eventually get purged as new ones enter it. Thus, an MP3 song you played online a month ago may no longer be in the folder.

Missing Volume Control Icon

Speaking of sounds, a couple of people wrote to say their Volume Control icon had disappeared from their System Tray (near the Taskbar's digital clock). Well, icons in this area are sometimes hidden if used infrequently. However, they can be kept always in view by right-clicking the Taskbar, clicking Properties > Taskbar, and UNchecking "Hide Inactive Icons."

If the Volume Control icon really has been lost, double-click My Computer > Control Panel > Sounds & Audio Devices, and click the box saying "Place Volume Icon in the Taskbar." Alternatively, you can do a Search/Find for "sndvol32.exe" and put a Shortcut to this file on your Desktop.

June 8

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More About IMs (Instant Messages)

Although IMs began as a way for friends to communicate via their computers, they are now used extensively in business. The cost-savings of having real-time long distance conversations for free has not been lost on office personnel.

If you are unfamiliar with IMs, here’s how they work: you and your correspondents must normally be members of the same messaging service, whereupon a “Buddy List” will display your buddies' names whenever they are online at the same time you are.

Nowadays, with cable connections, some folks are hardly ever offline - and often see their cable-using buddies online at most any time of the day or night. Simply double-click a buddy’s name to initiate a two-way conversation, wherein you type messages back and forth.

More Than Text Messaging Now Possible

Originally, IMs were confined to typed text messages, but some services now offer voice communications, as well as file-transfer capabilities. Some even offer games and the ability to listen to radio via one’s IM connection.

Some ISPs come with built-in IM tools, while anyone can install a free non-ISP-based service. The most-used service is AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), with ICQ (I Seek You) being second. MSN and Yahoo are other services. Each of these only works for those who are members of the same service; however a service called Trillian links to all of them (although I was recently told it no longer connects with AOL).

So which service do I use? Well, for quite a while AOL was my ISP, during which time I made a lot friends there. When I switched to a local cable service I installed AIM, which meant all my AOL buddies were still available for IMing (along with a number of CompuServe friends I had made, since CS is owned by AOL). My AIM name is MrPCChat.

However, when I wanted to take advantage of free voice messaging, a long-distance friend and I each installed Yahoo Messenger. You need to plug a microphone into your computer to use its voice capabilities, and can hear your correspondent through the PC’s speakers. What works better, however, is plugging a microphone-head-set into your computer.

This Yahoo feature works very well, and I recommend it to anyone who talks long-distance with a computer buddy on a regular basis. In the meantime, I'll stay with AIM for plain-text IMs, since I currently don’t do that much long-distance calling.

Create a Private "Chat Room"

Another feature of theses services is being able to create your own private chat-room and inviting multiple buddies to participate. On AIM this is done by clicking the Chat icon, whereupon all your online buddies will appear in a new window. Delete any whom you don’t intend to invite, whereupon clicking Send will ask all the others to join you in the room.

How can all this service be provided for free? Well, not surprisingly, advertising messages are always in view as long as your Buddy List window is displayed - but you can hide the window any time you want.

June 6

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Chat Rooms Pro & Con

Have you ever been in a chat room? If not, you may have heard things about them both good and bad. Here’s a brief overview of the concept.

A chat room is an online place where a number of people are conversing all at once by typing sentences or phrases into an entry box. Upon pressing ENTER your message is displayed at the bottom of a window for everyone else in the room to see. Additional messages, from you or from others, will likewise appear at the bottom of the window and push previous messages upward until they eventually scroll out of view at the top of the window.

The idea is to type something you would like others to respond to and/or for you to respond to messages posted by others. Many chat rooms are established with the idea of having folks express opinions or exchange ideas on a particular topic such as, say, music, movies, pets, or politics. “Getting Acquainted” chat rooms are popular with young people who post things about themselves while looking for self-descriptions of others whom they might find interesting.

I could tell you stories of people who have met in a chat room, then arranged to meet in person, and who eventually went on to a successful relationship. However, there are also horror stories about predators who pretend to be something they are not - a middle-aged lecher posing as a teenager, for instance, who entices naïve victims into dangerous situations.

Another downside to chat rooms is that they are always being monitored by spammers looking for e-mail names to whom they cans send junk mail (often invitations to pornographic Web sites). Yes, you can enter a chat room under an assumed name, but not everyone takes that precaution.

Nonetheless, chat rooms can be a fun experience for those who are aware of the hazards and knows how to protect themselves.

Using IMs (Instant Messages)

You can also create your own private chat room that is restricted to people you invite into it. However, in order to do this, you need to be familiar with the concept of corresponding with IMs (instant messages) in general. I’ve found that young people generally learn about IMs within minutes of their first exposure to a computer. Conversely, I know many elders who have had been using a PC for months and who have no clue as to what an IM is.

Built-In IM Services

If your ISP is AOL, CompuServe, Netscape, or MSN, instant messaging comes built-in with their service. The AOL browser, for instance, has an IM icon on its toolbar. Folks using other ISPs can sign up with a free IM service from AIM or MSN, as well as from several others. AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) is the most popular, and can be downloaded from

I’ve been using IMs for free communicating with friends and relatives all over the country for many years, in place of expensive long distance phone calls, and can’t imagine ever being without this feature.

We’re out of space for now, but I’ll give you many more details next time.

June 1

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Creating Email Offline

A Hotmail user who sends out a lot of email asks if it’s possible to compose a number of letters offline, complete with the address and subject lines filled in, and then go online to send them all at once. Well, this can be done with email programs such as Outlook, Outlook Express, MSN, AOL, and Compuserve. However, it cannot be done with Web-based email programs such as Hotmail and Yahoo. Netscape offers both Web-based and user-based email.

In any case, we can all compose a letter using our favorite word processor, copy the message, and then go online to paste it into an outgoing email.

If the email you send tends to be lengthy and/or business-oriented, composing it offline has several advantages. For instance, if your phone or cable connection goes down as you are about to send a letter you always have a back-up. Also, you won’t use up any of your Web-service’s space limitations by keeping copies in their Sent Mail folder. Beyond that, your word processor has spell and grammar-checking capabilities.

Password-Protecting a Document

If you use MSWord, you can also password-protect your documents. Go to File > Save As, click on Tools > General Options > Save and fill in the "Password to Open" field and/or the "Password to Modify" box. Checking "Read Only" is also recommended.

The above steps also work for password-protecting Excel files.

Speaking of Excel (and other spreadsheets) we talked recently about how dragging a cell’s “little black square” causes things to happen incrementally in the dragged-over cells. Try these experiments:

Some Spreadsheet Experiments

Type a number into any cell. Grab the black square in the cell’s lower right corner and drag it in any straight-line direction.

Well, nothing interesting here, because the number simply got repeated in all the cells. But suppose you wanted each successive number to be increased by a value of one in each subsequent cell, starting with, say, 100.

Type 100 into any cell and 101 in the cell to its right. Mouse-select both cells. Now grab the black square in the 101 cell and drag to the right. The numbers 100, 101, 102, 103, etc., will continue for as far as you drag your mouse. If you pull the mouse to the left, each successive number will be one less in value.

If you type 50 into a cell and 55 into its right-hand neighbor, doing the above will generate 50, 55, 60, etc., if you pull to the right. Going to the left would make each successive number 5 less in value.

Pulling the little square in a downward direction does the same as pulling it right, while pulling it upward gives the same type of negative results as pulling to the left.

Now type Monday into any cell. If you guessed that dragging the little square to the right would produce Tuesday, Wednesday, and etc., you would be right.

Try This Challenge

Suppose you needed a table with headers that read Monday through Friday, and then went to Monday again - in other words, a chart that showed only normal work days and skipped weekends. You’ll find clues to doing this in the above numeric examples. Also, the answer is posted here: page100.html.

May 30

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Emailing a Folder Full of Photos

Al Roller wrote to ask if it's possible to attach a folder full of photos to an email so he wouldn't have to attach them one at a time. No, folders cannot be attached in the usual way, but you can do this: right-click the folder and choose Send To > Compressed (zipped) Folder.

This will compress the folder's contents into a file which bears the folder's name along with a ".ZIP" extension. The zipped file can then be attached to an outgoing message, and will be unzipped by the recipient's email program. The zipped file in no way affects the original folder or its contents, and can be safely deleted after sending the email.

The above can also be accomplished by right-clicking a group of files independently of any folder. If the files are contiguous, hold down SHIFT while left-clicking the first and last, to include all those in between. If they are not contiguous, hold down CTRL while left-clicking each file.

The above SHIFT+Click and CTRL+Click procedures also work when selecting files to be manipulated in other areas of Windows, such as your Outlook Express or AOL Inbox, where you may want to move or delete selected files all at once.

Speaking of emailing graphics, a number of people have written to say their pictures do not always arrive on the receiving end; particularly those that were "forwarded." Well, email programs such as Outlook Express and AOL offer two ways of sending pictures; in the body of the email, or as an attachment.

"Attaching" vs "Inserting" Graphics

"Attaching" is a more reliable way of getting an image to its destination. "Inserting" it into the body of an email usually works when the recipient has the same email program as the sender, but may not be reliable otherwise. Beyond that, "forwarding" an image-bearing email may be likewise unreliable.

If you have received a picture and want to pass it along to someone else, it is best to copy the image to your own hard drive, by right-clicking it, choosing Save As, and giving it a name and location. Then "attach" the picture to the email you send.

I realize that sometimes the picture(s) may be associated with the text of an email, such as a cartoon accompanying a joke. Well, instead of just clicking on "Forward" try inserting the material into a new outgoing email. Mouse-select the image and text, right-click it and choose Copy, followed by right-clicking in the new email and choosing Paste. OE users should also click on Format > Send Pictures with Message.

Another way of sending an image is to make it the background of an email. OE users will click on Format > Background > Picture and browse to the target image. AOL and CompuServe users can right-click in the body of an email and choose Background Picture.

OE users who have incoming attachments automatically removed can go to Tools > Options > Security, and UNcheck "Do not allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially be a virus."

May 25

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Working with "Text Boxes"

Bob Tavano wrote to ask how to make text in a newsletter wrap around a "Text Box" he had inserted. Let's start by defining a Text Box: it's a rectangle placed within a document, into which other text and/or objects can be placed.

When a WordPerfect or MSWorks user goes to Insert > Text Box, a small rectangle (whose size and shape can be adjusted) will appear at the current cursor location. When an MSWord user goes to Insert > Text Box, the mouse pointer will become a small cross that can be used to draw a Text Box anywhere in the document. Text can then by typed or pasted into the box and formatted independently of the surrounding text.

However, when Bob did this the box hid part of the underlying body text. In Word and Works this is fixed by clicking on the box and going to Format > Text Box, while WP users will go to Insert > Graphics > Custom Box.

Bob would then choose Layout, which will display options for having the body text wrap around the Text Box, go behind it, or go in front of it, along with offering options for positioning the box in the center of the page, or aligned to either side. "Wrapping" of the text can be either "tight" or "regular."

Text Boxes Not Just For Text

But a Text Box is not limited to holding text. If you want to display a graphic inside a Word document, you can go to Insert > Picture, find the target image and insert it at your cursor location. Having done this, though, you will not be able to independently move the image. An image placed in a Text Box, however, can be repositioned by grabbing an edge of the box and dragging it.

Word users can dress up the box by going to Format > Text Box > Colors & Lines, where "No Line" is also an option in case you want an unframed graphic. A graphic and/or its Text Box can be made larger or smaller by grabbing a corner and adjusting accordingly. If you hold down SHIFT while adjusting, the aspect ratio (proportions) of the object will remain unchanged.

Creative use of Text Boxes can make Word a very formidable newsletter editor, when used to display items such as graphs, clipart, line drawings, and even scanned images. However, it is not as stable as a dedicated word processing program at having Text Boxes stay in place. I once wrote a 200-page instruction manual with Word; but if I were to write another I would choose a program like QuarkXPress.

However, for creating a manuscript with few or no graphics I would still use MSWord - not because I consider it the "best" word processor, but because it is the one most of the world now uses. In any case, many publishers will only accept manuscripts submitted as PDF (portable document format) files. Converting a Word file to PDF is usually done with Adobe Acrobat, which can cost up to $500. A free PDF program called PrimoPDF can be found at

May 23

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"Disk Cleanup" Not Working

A number of people have written to say their Disk Cleanup command (My Computer > right-click C:> Properties) has stopped working. So has mine, and I could fix it by reinstalling Windows. However, since it so easy to do the cleanup manually, I won’t bother.

The purpose of Disk Cleanup is to delete unneeded files, such as those in your Recycle Bin and Temporary Internet Files folder. The former can be emptied by right-clicking it and choosing “Empty Recycle Bin” while the latter can be purged by clicking on Internet Explorer and going to Tools > Internet Options > Delete Files.

Other temporary file folders can be found by going to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders and typing TEMP. Empty as needed. Purging temporary files is especially helpful on older PCs with smaller hard drives, but can be optional on newer machines with lots of storage space. In any case, the Temporary Internet Files folder holds only a finite number, and then purges old files as new ones are added.


Speaking of this folder, I’ve begun regularly deleting all the “cookies” in it. I used to ignore them - but many of them nowadays are part of “spyware” attacks on our computers. I still accept cookies, since some Web sites deny access if you reject them, but remove them later.

To set your cookie acceptance options go to Internet Explorer > Internet Options > Privacy > Advanced.

The main downside to deleting all cookies is that some contain passwords to my various email accounts. However, I keep all my logon IDs and passwords on a desktop “yellow stickie” and copy them as needed. (A free "Yellow Stickie" program can be found on my site). I realize many folks dare not have passwords displayed on their desktops, but strangers don't have access to my PC.

Regarding “spyware,” it is becoming increasingly more pervasive, along with “home page hijacking” and all the numerous virus threats. Consequently, I post all the free remedies I can find to these problems on my site at

Good, Reliable, FREE SOFTWARE Available

Although my home page lists some excellent free anti-virus sites, I continue to pay for Norton Anti-Virus because I have found it reliable and easy to update. However, I do NOT buy “suites” such as "Norton Tools" or "Norton Internet Security," since so many similar services are available for free, including ZoneAlarm, Spybot, Ad-Aware, CWShredder, and HijackThis. Information about (and links to) these tools are also available on my site.

Where does all this spyware come from? Mostly from links we’ve clicked on, thinking we are accessing a legitimate site of some kind. Many ask us to download an “essential program” for, say, seeing special animations or for reading a special message. A lot of these programs will switch your home page and/or browser toolbar to ones that advertise stuff they are selling, including pornography and various “phishing” schemes that try to con you out of private personal information.

Nowadays using anti-virus software is not enough - we need a firewall and we need to run anti-spyware programs fairly often.

May 18

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Creating Graphs with a Spreadsheet

One of the most useful features of a spreadsheet program is its ability to create charts and graphs. It's one thing to see rows after row of, say, monthly sales totals; but the numbers are more meaningful when displayed as a colorful chart. Here's a sample of doing this in Excel:

Let's say you have a row of months, from January to December, with a row of sales totals underneath. Mouse-select the two rows and click on the "chart" icon on your toolbar. If you don't see this icon, go to Insert > Chart. This will bring up the Chart Wizard, which displays miniature samples of bar, line and pie charts, among others. Click on a miniature and choose additional options, such as line and fill colors.

Bar charts can have their bars displayed vertically or horizontally, and can be shown in flat or "3D" views. The possibilities are limited only by your own imagination, as the wizard continues to provide all kinds of colorful options. For more elaborate formatting, click on the finished graph and go to Format > Selected Chart Area.

The finished chart will normally appear at the bottom of your spreadsheet, but can be copied and pasted into other types of documents. Right-click near the inside edge of the chart and choose Copy, followed by right-clicking in, say, an MSWord document and choosing Paste.

As for how the monthly sales totals were determined, let's look at some other spreadsheet basics. Create a spreadsheet with 31 rows to indicate where daily totals would be inserted. For practice, type in some random numbers. Next click in the cell following the bottom of the first column, and then click the Sigma symbol (å ) in your toolbar. This "AutoSum" function will place the total of the entries in the cell.

A Couple of Basic Spreadsheet Functions

You could then repeat this procedure in the "Total" cells of the other columns - but there is an easier way. Grab the tiny black square in the lower-right corner of the first column's Total cell and pull to the right. The other column totals will fill in automatically, since the black square means "copy the formula used to generate the value in this cell" and "paste the formula into the next cell while adjusting the formula to accommodate the cell's location."

To expand on this simple example, you could create a "Daily Expenses" area similar to the above, and then subtract its totals from the Sales to get a Daily Gross Profit. Let's say your Sales totals are in Row 31, beginning with cell A31, and that your Expense totals are in, say, Row 70.

Click into Cell A71, type this formula: =(A31-A70) and press Enter. The value in A70 will be subtracted from the value in A31. Drag the black square rightward from A71 to get all the other calculated values.

These simple steps are just the tip of a spreadsheet iceberg, but should help get you started.

May 16

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Lost Windows Calculator

Regarding the on-screen Calculator I recently mentioned, Marj Lawson wrote to say hers had been accidentally deleted. Well, the tool has always come with Windows, so it can be replaced by simply reinstalling Windows.

Better than the Windows Calculator

However, another reader wrote to tell me about a calculator that is a big improvement over the Windows tool, in that it keeps a record of each step of a calculation so a math chore can be easily reviewed at any time. Beyond that, the Moffsoft Calculator has a bigger, easier-to-read display, and can be freely downloaded at

Icons Changed Appearance

Wilson Bogan wrote to say a couple of Web site icons he uses, Google and Yahoo, have lost their distinctive "G" and "Y" appearance and now look like the generic Internet Explorer "e" icon. Well, many icons come with alternative designs, which can be found by right-clicking them and choosing Properties>Change Icon. You may have to click some other tabs to find the "Change Icon" button, but rarely does the option not exist.

MSWord users can right-click their blue "W" icon and find variations on the symbol they might prefer. These icon choices are normally part of the programming code of various applications, and are not individual files that can be user-edited. Nonetheless, it is very easy to create one's own icon, which can be substituted for a default icon.

You can build an icon from scratch or you can copy any design seen on your screen. Homemade icons are small files that have an ".ICO" extension and they can be placed in a folder you create by right-clicking your Desktop and choosing New>Folder.

Making an Icon from an Existing Graphic

Let's say you found a cute puppy online and would like to use its face as an icon. Using Irfanview ( makes this super easy. With the puppy in view, press your PrtSc (PrintScreen) key. Next launch Irfanview and go to Edit>Paste. Your whole desktop will appear in the Irfanview window. Now, with your left mouse button depressed, draw a square around the pup's face and do Edit>Cut, followed by Edit>Paste.

Next go to Image>Resize and type in "32" for the graphic's height and width (in Pixels). Finally, go to File>Save As, type in a name (say, PUP) and choose ICO in the Save As Type box. Now PUP.ICO can be dragged from wherever it was saved (probably in your My Documents folder or on the Desktop) into your ICONS folder.

To substitute this icon for an existing one, right-click the target, choose Properties and click on the "Change Icon" button (which is in different places in different versions of Windows). At this point you will browse to your special icon and double-click it.

Making an Icon from Scratch

You can draw your own icon with Windows Paint (Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint) by clicking Image>Attributes and choosing 32x32. Use the Palette and various painting tools to create your design. However, Paint does not have .ICO as a Save option; but you can save it with .BMP and later change BMP to ICO manually.

May 11

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The Windows Calculator

Did you know that Windows comes with a built-in calculator? Go to Start > Run, type in CALC.EXE, click OK, and a floating "pocket calculator" will appear.

I can already hear you saying, "That's cute; but who needs it? I have calculators all over the office." Right - but can you do some math on your hand-held and then paste the answer into a document you are creating in, say, MSWord?

After doing some math with the Windows Calculator, go to Edit > Copy. Click into your other document and do Edit > Paste (or Ctrl+V) wherever you want the answer to appear.

If you use this tool as often as I do, you may want a Shortcut on your Desktop. Go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders, type in CALC.EXE, and click the Search button. When the Calculator icon appears, right-click it and choose Send To > Desktop.

Besides simple math, the Windows Calculator can also do square root and other advanced functions. Check the Help files for details. For those who are into really advanced calculations, click on View > Scientific, and the tool becomes a true scientific calculator.

Calculator Downside

If a hand-held or on-screen calculator has one major disadvantage, however, it's that it produces no print-out of the series of steps that may have gone into a math problem. This is why you have a spreadsheet program, such as Excel or Quattro or the one in MSWorks.

If you enter a series of values to be added with a calculator, you have no easy way of reviewing the entries to check for errors. With each entry in its own spreadsheet cell, however, error-checking is easy.

Spreadsheet Shortcut

I also keep a Shortcut to Excel on my Desktop. Do this by searching for EXCEL.EXE and following the above steps.

Establishing a Shortcut to the MSWorks spreadsheet is a little trickier, since it is not a stand-alone program with its own name. Nonetheless, you can create a blank Works spreadsheet file, name it something like "DEFAULT.WKS" and keep a Shortcut to the file on the Desktop. Each time the file is opened with a double-click, give it a new name and leave the original file unchanged for future use.

Automatic Spreadsheet Functions

If you are new at spreadsheets, many functions are automated for easy use. Here's an example:

Type the name of a month into any cell and look for a tiny black square to appear in the cell's lower right corner. Now grab the square and pull it in any direction. Surprised at what happened? If you pulled the square down or to the right, subsequent months appeared sequentially in the cells your cursor crossed. Pulling the square up or to the left reverses the sequence.

This also works with the names of the days of the week, and any number preceded with an alpha character. However, a plain number will simply get repeated if its black square is dragged in any direction. More on useful spreadsheet tricks next time.

May 9

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Getting Rid of the Preview Pane in Outlook Express & Netscape

I am periodically asked if there is a way to turn off the Preview Pane in Outlook Express and Netscape email. Some are worried that seeing the message in the viewer is the same as opening it, thus increasing the risk of receiving a virus. Although my understanding is that this is NOT the same as opening an email, here is how to turn these viewers off.

OE users can go to View > Layout > Preview Pane, while Netscape users can go to View > Show/Hide Message Pane. OE users can also put an On/Off Preview Pane button on their toolbar by going to View > Layout > Customize Toolbar and adding the “Preview” icon.

Adding Sound to Outlook Express

OE users can include sound in an outgoing email by going to Format > Background > Sound and browsing to the target audio file, which can be a WAV of your voice previously made with the Windows Sound Recorder. Yes, you can “attach” a sound file to any outgoing email, but the above procedure makes the file part of the message’s formatting code, meaning there is no “attachment” for the recipient to “download” - something to consider, given today’s natural reluctance to download anything we are not sure of.

Not Hearing Sound from Your PC?

Speaking of sound files, some folks have written to say they don’t hear anything when they click on a song on my site’s music page. There can be a number of reasons for the silence. First, of course, make sure your speakers are turned on and properly attached to your audio card’s speaker jacks. If the speakers are battery-powered, check on the condition of the batteries.

Next, click the Speaker icon in your System Tray (near your Taskbar’s digital clock). Make sure the Mute button is NOT checked and that the volume knob is at or near the top of its slide bar. Then double-click your Speaker icon and check out the other items that have muting and/or volume level options. Finally, your media player may have become corrupted. Go to and get a copy of the free Windows Media Player version 9.

Getting back to email, many of us use more than one account. Most ISPs allow multiple names/addresses on a single account. Beyond that, there are many free email services such as Hotmail, Yahoo, and Juno. With most, you still need to be a signed up with an established ISP, but Juno does have an account that offers limited free email and Internet access.

Is there an advantage to having multiple email accounts? Well, beyond the obvious of having one for each family member, or having one for business and another for personal use, abandoning any that become hopelessly inundated with spam and/or virus attacks is an attractive option.

Once an email address gets on one or more spam lists, there is little defense but to change the address or employ an anti-spam filtering service. In the early days of email (I started corresponding in1978) it was fun to give out your address and get acquainted with new online buddies. But with spammers and virus-writers constantly on the lookout for new victims, we now have to be very cautious in this regard.

May 4

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Page Numbering

Beverly Layton created a 12-page business report, but was unsure of how to add page numbers to the document. Well, describing all the intricacies of page numbering options would take more space than we have here; but a good place to start is with the concept of "Headers" and "Footers." The former is an area at the top of a document that is carried forward from one page to the next (such as the document's title) while the latter is an area at the bottom where page numbers are usually placed.

In MSWord go to Insert > Page Numbers. In MSWorks, go to View > Header & Footer, click inside the Footer, and then go to Insert > Page Numbers. In WordPerfect, go to Format > Page > Insert Page Number. These beginning steps will then display options regarding the alignment of the numbers (left, right or center) along with options for size, style and color formatting.

You will also be asked if you would like left/right-aligned numbers to alternate on odd and even pages. Other options include choosing a number for the first page, and whether you want the first page's number to show.

Once Headers and/or Footers have been created in MSWord, they will appear in gray while you are working on the body text. Double-clicking either will turn the body text gray and display the Header/Footer items in their actual colors, while also making them available for editing.

Clearing the Clutter from the MSWord Toolbar

Speaking of MSWord, its default Toolbar is usually overloaded with many icons you will seldom, if ever, use. Pruning the ones you don't need makes the remaining ones easier to find and work with.

To remove unneeded icons, go to Tools>Customize and drag them into the dialog box that appears. Only you can determine which ones you don't need, but I always delete the "Bullets & Numbering" icons, since I rarely use this feature. When I do want a bulleted list of some kind, I highlight the items (paragraphs) and go to Format>Bullets & Numbering.

Two icons that never appear on MSWord's default Toolbar are "Find/Search" and "Ruler" - yet I use these features constantly. Here's how to add them to your Toolbar: Go to Tools>Customize and click "View" under "Commands." Then drag the "Ruler" icon onto your Toolbar. Now click "Edit" under "Commands" and drag the "Find/Search" icon (binoculars) onto your Toolbar.

I click the binoculars when looking for a word or phrase in MSWord, but use Ctrl+F (Find) in other documents and on Web pages. I click the "Ruler" icon when I want to see my Horizontal Ruler for tab-setting and paragraph indents, and then click it off when I'm finished. By default, MSWord also displays a Vertical Ruler, which I never use, so I go to Tools>Options>Print & Web Layout Options and deselect it.

In this same area, I go to General, and choose "9" for the "Recently Used File List." (Most programs only show your 4 most recently-accessed items when you click on File.)

Experimenting with the various Toolbar options in MSWord can make working with the program a whole lot easier and more efficient.

May 2

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Downloading Music

One of the omnipresent issues in computer discussions nowadays is the downloading of music files. We read of Apple's enormous success with its iPod players and its 99-cent iTunes, while services like Kazaa still offer P2P (peer to peer) tools for trading songs between site visitors. And rarely does a week pass without news of another copyright infringement suit, regarding this kind of file-swapping.

I am constantly asked if it's legal to download songs found on various non-commercial sites, such as mine ( along with questions about how to convert songs from one audio format to another or how to "rip" selections from an LP or CD to be placed on a computer for subsequent file-sharing and/or copying to another CD.

Have We Been Breaking the Law All These Years?

Well, I'm neither a lawyer nor a technician, and I've begun to wonder if it was legal for us tape music off the radio back when cassette recorders first came into being. And were we committing a crime when we recorded a movie shown on TV with our VCRs? And was it really legal to buy a dual-deck recorder for the express purpose of duplicating cassettes?

My answer to all of the above is, "I don't know." In any case, a brief overview of some PC audio history might be helpful for newer computer users.

The only "sounds" emanating from early PCs were a variety of "dings" and "beeps" which acted mostly as error alerts or to accompany hits and misses in pong-type games. Later, brief musical sounds were added, along with voice messages such as "You've got mail." These sound bites are called WAV files, and your PC came with lots of them. Go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders and type *.WAV. The asterisk acts as a "wild card" which will find all your WAV files. Double-click them to hear what they sound like.

As computers evolved, the ability to record one's own WAV files was added, using Windows' "Sound Recorder." Go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders and type sound recorder. When the Recorder icon appears, drag it onto your Desktop. Double-clicking this icon brings up a miniature "recording panel" with buttons for Record, Play, Stop, etc.

With a microphone inserted in your computer's "Mic" jack, you can create a voice file by going to File > New. Next, click the round red Record button, and speak into the mike.

To quit recording, click the square black Stop button. To save your file, go to File > Save As and give it a name.

Over time, it was discovered that music files could be "ripped" from various media - and suddenly full-length songs were popping up on sites all over the Web, which can be easily downloaded, saved, and/or copied to a CD. My site has dozens of popular hits, mostly from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Another thing done with WAVs is to convert them to MP3s, which can reduce file sizes using "compression" techniques, such as removing data beyond the range of human hearing. Having said this, I realize there are many MP3 songs whose file sizes are much larger than their WAV equivalents. I have no idea why, and would love to hear from someone who can explain it to me.

For other information on performing some of these feats of digital musical magic, type "WAV" or "MP3" or a phrase like "audio file conversion" into any Web search engine.

April 27

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Google Dictionary

If you need to find a quick definition for a word or a phrase, go to and type define: followed by the word or phrase. It works great.

Conversely, you can type in your idea of a word's definition and Google will guide you through steps to find words or phrases which fit your description. I'm beginning to wonder how I ever got along without Google.

Calculating with Tables?

Word processor "Tables" are great for creating various kinds of business forms, from simple inter-office memos to invoices and statements. You are limited only by your own imagination.

But will they do arithmetic? Bob Tavano wrote to ask if there is a way to do calculations with numbers in various cells of an MSWord Table. Yes, there is.

As an example, let's say you have a Table with a row of cells, each containing a number; and you want the sum of those numbers to appear in a blank cell at the end of the row. Place your cursor in the blank cell and then click Table>Formula. The following will appear in a dialog box: =SUM(LEFT). Click OK and the sum will appear in the cell.

In this example, clicking "Formula" caused Word to assume you wanted a "sum" when it saw a row of numbers preceding the blank cell. Had this assumption been incorrect, you could have inserted a different formula.

Furthermore, numbers can be followed by text, which will be ignored when doing a formula. In the above example, summing "320 red" and "240 green" and "100 yellow"would produce "560" in the "total" cell.

Table vs Spreadsheet

A Word Table is, in many ways, a no-frills Spreadsheet, whose rows are identified with numbers (1, 2, 3) while columns are identified alphabetically (A, B, C). Well, even though a Table shows no alpha/numeric headers, the designations still exist.

This means the upper left cell of a Table is A1, while the cell below it is A2 and the cell to its right is B1.

Here's an example of multiplying a value in A1 by a value in B1 and having the product appear in C1 (or any other cell you want). Place your cursor in the "answer" cell, click Table>Formula, type this formula: =(A1*B1) and click OK.

If you have now concluded that doing formulas in a regular Spreadsheet would be easier, you are right. Nonetheless, there have been times when I found using formulas in a Table very handy. For more calculating instructions, press F1 (Help) and type "table formula" into a Search box.

Another neat feature of MSWord Tables is being able to adjust individual cell widths. Normally, a column is the same width from top to bottom; however, you can change the width of any cell within a column. Mouse-select it, grab its left or right edge and adjust as needed.

If you plan on having lots of variable-width cells, you can click on Table>Draw Table, and use the Pencil tool to create the shapes you need.

Each cell in a Table becomes a miniature word-processing page. Your TAB key, however, will jump your cursor from one cell to the next. If you want to tab within a cell, at default 1/2-inch Ruler settings, hold down SHIFT while pressing TAB. You can also create custom Tab settings within any cell by going to Format>Tabs or by clicking tab stops onto your Horizontal Ruler while your cursor is in the target cell.

April 20

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Tab Settings or Tables?

Mike Rose wrote to say he understood my recent explanation of how to line up numbers using "right-align" Tabs, but asked how to follow each number with descriptive text that would align to the left. Well, all word processors let you place multiple Tab Stops in their Horizontal Ruler.

If Mike wants his numbers to right-align at, say, 5 (five inches from the document's left margin) to be followed by text left-aligned at 5.5 he could go to Format > Tabs and choose these settings.

In MSWord, this is even easier if you click the little L at the Ruler's left end until it changes to a "backwards" L (which means Right Tab). Next click on the Ruler at 5, and a Tab Stop will be established there. Now click the "backwards" L until it reverts to a regular L (meaning Left Tab) and click on the Ruler at 5.5.

If Mike's document is a price sheet, an item's description could be typed beginning at the left margin; its price would right-align at 5; and a comment could begin at 5.5. Pressing Enter would carry these Tab Stops to each subsequent line.

What If It Is All Too Long for One Line?

But what if an item's description and/or comments were such that they would not fit on one line? Well, creating a "Table" would be the way to go.

Using MSWord for the above example, go to Table > Insert Table and choose three columns, along with the approximate number of rows needed. (Rows can be added or deleted at any time.)

By default, each column will have the same width (1/3 of the space between page margins). However, these widths can be adjusted by placing your pointer above a column, where it will become a downward arrow and cause the column to turn dark. Now, the edges of the column can be grabbed and adjusted left or right.

If you prefer to type in numbers to establish column widths, highlight the column(s) and go to Table > Table Properties > Column. You can even adjust the width of an individual cell in a Word Table by selecting it and moving its left/right borders. In fact, you can draw an entire odd-shaped table by going to Table > Draw Table, and using the Pencil tool.

Tables Are More Versatile than Tab Stops

The advantage of using a Table for the above-described price list is that there would be no limits on the amount of text that could be typed in as a "description" or "comments." Text inside a Table cell automatically word-wraps to additional lines, while other cells in the row remain neatly aligned.

In fact, each cell in a Table becomes a miniature word-processing page with most page-formatting options available to it - except for the Tab key. This key moves you from one cell to another. Making numbers right-align in a cell (or column of cells) is done by highlighting the cells and clicking the Right-Align icon in your toolbar.

If you don't have "Align" icons in your toolbar, go to Format > Paragraph > Indents & Spacing > Alignment.

If your Table would benefit from being in color, you can select rows or columns or individual cells and go to Format > Borders & Shading.

"Shading" refers to the "fill" color of a cell, while "Border" means its outline. A border can also be formatted with different thicknesses and styles, such as various-length dashes. A double-border often looks good around the perimeter of a Table.

April 18

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Drag & Drop Just About Anything

One of the handiest things about using a computer is being able to drag items from one place to another. You undoubtedly know that Desktop icons can be dragged to different locations, including into a folder, which, in turn, could be dragged into another folder. Multiple icons can be selected as a group by holding down CTRL as each is clicked, and then moved all at once.

Important icons can be dragged on to your Taskbar, which keeps them in view and accessible with a single click. If an icon doesn't want to stay there, right-click the Taskbar, choose Toolbars > Quick Launch, and try again.

If you find a Web page you expect to access frequently, you can drag its blue Internet Explorer "e" symbol directly onto your Desktop, or onto the IE "Links" bar. If you would rather have it in your "Favorites" folder, click the "gold star" and drag it into the list that opens up.

AOL and CompuServe users can drag a Web page's "red heart" onto the Desktop, or click the heart to see other storage options.

Words, phrases, and paragraphs in word processing documents can be mouse-selected and easily dragged from one part of a page to another. They can also be dragged into another document. You can have multiple word processing pages and/or e-mails open on your Desktop and drag text from one into another.

The trick to dragging blocks of text is getting your cursor near the bottom edge of the block, where its "I-beam" shape will turn into an arrow. This means you can depress your left mouse button and start dragging, whereupon the arrow will show a little "box" attached to it (which represents the block of data being moved).

Columns and rows in spreadsheets can also be dragged and dropped. Select a column by clicking its header and then drag it to another column - or into another open spreadsheet page. The same can be done with rows.

Items can even be dragged out of your Recycle Bin onto your Desktop or into a folder.

Dragging and dropping items within "Windows Explorer" is the principal means of file management available to Windows users. Right-click Start and choose Explore to see a "tree" arrangement of your files and folders. Click the plus (+) and minus (-) signs to see branches open and close.

Any file or folder displayed can be dragged into any folder. A new folder can be created by going to File > New > Folder, and typing a name for it.

Another example of "dragging" is copying files on to a 3.5-inch floppy disk or a CD. With a floppy inserted, files can be dragged on to the "A-Drive" icon which appears when My Computer is double-clicked. They can also be dragged on to a "CD-Burner's" icon in My Computer (if your burning software is configured to work this way). By default, WinXP computers with a CD-Burner let you "drag" files and then display options for "burning" them on to the CD.

Files dragged onto other media are "copied," leaving the originals in place. Text blocks can be "copied" (rather than moved) if CTRL is depressed while dragging.

April 13

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Deleting Files

Marilyn Halpny wrote to ask how to delete files she no longer needs. Well, back when hard drives were relatively small, periodic file purging was necessary to free up space for new work. With today's high-capacity disks, however, it's easy to let stuff accumulate. But when you are ready to prune the deadwood, here's how:

Normally, user-created files go into the My Documents folder, which can be opened with a double-click. Next, click any file you don't need and press your DELETE key (or click the toolbar's red X). You'll be asked if you want the file to be sent to the Recycle Bin.

Alternatively, you can drag the file directly into the Bin.

If you want to bypass the Recycle Bin, holding down SHIFT while pressing DELETE will totally zap the file.

Multiple files can be grouped for deletion by pressing CTRL while you click them. A group of contiguous files can be selected by clicking the first one, pressing SHIFT, and clicking the last one. The above Delete options will then work on the selected group.

Another way to delete a file is from within a program. Going to File > Open will display a list of files, any of which can be right-clicked to bring up a "Delete" option. In the "Files of Type" field, it's normally best to choose "All Files."

The Ultimate Delete Method

The ultimate way to purge a file is to overwrite it with another file of the same name. If you wrote a 10,000-word essay named, say, IDEA.DOC and then created a one-paragraph memo which you decided to give the same name, saving the paragraph would wipe out the 10,000 words. Indeed, a prompt will ask if you are sure you wanted to replace IDEA.DOC - but you would be surprised at how many documents have been lost when YES was unwisely clicked in such a case.

If, however, you had been making regular backups of the file, you would only lose whatever had been added since the previous Save.

Files sent to the Recycle Bin remain there until you double-click the Bin and go to File > Empty Recycle Bin. You can also right-click the Bin to bring up the "Empty" option.

Recovering Files from the Reycle Bin

Double-clicking the Recycle Bin will display its contents, whereupon you can retrieve a file by clicking it and going to File > Restore.

Not All Personal Files Are in "My Documents"

If you want to delete a file that is not located in the My Documents folder - and you don't know where it is - go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders, and type its name (or partial name). When the file appears, use any of the above Delete options.

Temporary Internet Files & "Cookies"

Temporary Internet items can be deleted by double-clicking Internet Explorer and choosing Tools > Internet Options > Delete Files (and/or Delete Cookies). Cookies are small text files placed on your hard drive by various Web sites you visit, ostensibly to make future visits better for you.

You can choose to accept ALL cookies, NO cookies, or only certain types of cookies by going to Tools > Internet Options > Privacy, and adjusting the vertical slide lever.

April 11

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Traveling Taskbar

Frank George wrote to say his Taskbar had moved to the top of his screen, and asked how to get it back to the bottom. Well, why one's Taskbar occasionally relocates itself has always been a mystery, but getting it back is easy: Grab the Taskbar in a blank spot (as near as possible to its center) and yank it to the bottom of the screen.

WinXP users can keep this from happening again by right-clicking the Taskbar, and choosing Properties > Lock Taskbar. Alternatively, this is also where you find the "AutoHide" option, which will keep the Taskbar out of view until you move your cursor to the bottom of the screen.

Beware of Those Free Gifts

Have you noticed how many offers there are lately to "take a free survey" or to "download a free screen saver" or get something else for free? Well, responding to these offers is a pretty sure way to get your email address on another advertising (i.e. spam) list. As for the "surveys," you may also be clicking on something that takes your name off the national "do not call" telemarketing list. Read the fine print!

Not All Freebies Are Out to Get You

Having said the above, don't let this discourage you from checking out the various free programs and services found listed on my website. These are time-tested and proven services that actually do give you something of value with no strings attached.

More Spam than Ever Out There

Despite anti-spam filters and a recently-passed law, spam seems to be increasing. I stopped the dozens I was receiving daily by changing my main email address and by being very cautious about giving out the new one. I no longer post it on my Web site as a "clickable link" and require that part of it be typed in, thus keeping robotic address-harvesters from easily picking it up.

Also, when sending a joke to your 40 best friends, be sure to use BCCs (blind carbon copies) so each recipient only sees his or her own address. Yes, we realize your friends would never carelessly distribute the 40 names seen when they receive a joke sent via ordinary CC (carbon copy), but you have no control over who else may see all those email addresses at some point. Many email services easy-to-see BCC boxes, into which multiple addresses can be placed - but if your service doesn't, BCC info can be found here:

Email addresses are also harvested by certain viruses which look for all those on each hard drive they infect, and then send them to the virus's author. Old tricks like having a phony email name at the beginning of your Address Book do NOT keep the other addresses from being scavenged. Keep your anti-virus software up to date at all times. Links to free anti-virus services can be found at

Desktop Icons Missing?

I recently heard from a reader who said certain important icons had disappeared from his Desktop. What actually happened, however, is that his screen resolution had somehow changed, thus displaying only part of his Desktop. Whenever possible, screen-res numbers should be as high as your monitor can handle them, thus displaying more of everything on your screen.

Folks with vision problems, however, may prefer a lower screen-res, which makes everything bigger, but which may require scrolling to see it all. Screen-res can be adjusted by right-clicking your Desktop and choosing Properties > Settings > Screen Resolution, where a slide-lever can be moved left for lower numbers (bigger text and objects) or right for higher resolution (smaller and sharper text and objects).

April 6

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Changing a Document's Page Margins

Lorraine Edmonson wrote to ask how reduce the width of the page margins on a document created with her MSWorks word processor. Well, margin settings for all Microsoft and WordPerfect documents are found under File > Page Setup > Margins. Also found in this area are page size settings and the choice of Portrait (upright) or Landscape (wide) page layouts.

The default margin widths differ among the various programs, and can only be reduced within the limitations of whatever printer is connected to the computer. If you try to make the widths too narrow, an error message will ask if you want them automatically adjusted to your printer's specs.

Backing Up Personal Files

Michael DeWald wrote to ask what the best method is for backing up important data, to avoid losing it all in case one's hard drive dies. Well, with the improved reliability of today's hard drives it's easy to become complacent and continue putting this chore on the back burner. But having the hard drive crash is not the only danger we face - what if your laptop is lost or stolen?

For many years, the 3.5-inch floppy disk was the most-used means of backing up data, with Iomega's Zip/Jaz drives giving us greatly increased storage capacity. Now CD-burners give us even more capacity on cheaper media, with DVD-burners offering still greater capacity.

"Thumb" drives that plug into a USB port and use "flash" memory are another option. Many companies use tape machines that do nightly backups of each day's business, while others use a second hard disk to mirror the data on the main drive. A second hard drive can be installed internally, while external ones are available that can be removed to another location for additional security.

Online Data Storage

Another option is online storage. Many businesses offering this kind of backup service are listed on Google and other search engines. Speaking for myself, most of what I create with a computer goes on my Web site, while I also make periodic backups on CD-Rs (CD-Recordable discs). For my purposes, these discs are more cost-effective than using the re-writable ones.

Well, it's one thing to list a number of backup options, but I've found that many folks are unfamiliar with how to make backups using the tools they have. Since most newer PCs come with a CD-burner and Roxio software, here's a brief overview of how to use them:

WinXP users can start by dragging files onto the CD-Burner Drive icon that is displayed when My Computer is double-clicked. A series of prompts will guide you through the actual CD "burning" steps.

For users of all Windows versions, Roxio offers two methods for copying data files to a CD: (1) Drag and drop the files onto your CD-Drive icon, much like it's done with a 3-1/2" floppy disk in the A-Drive. (2) Assemble the files to be copied into a group, and then tell Roxio to "record" the group onto a CD.

When you place a blank CD-R or CD-RW in the disc drive you should get a message asking what kind of files you want to copy (Data, Music, etc.). For this example we would choose "Data." A window displaying a "Make a Data CD" button will let you choose "Direct CD" or "Data Project."

Two Ways of Burning Data Files

Choosing the former gives you the "drag and drop" option. Choosing the latter lets you browse for files in a top window and click them into a bottom window, where they will await the "Record" command.

When you choose Direct CD, a button will appear inviting you to "Format the Disc." The Data Project method does the formatting automatically.

Once you've gotten beyond these beginning options, you'll be prompted on finishing the burning process and giving the CD a name. A CD-R disc can be written to, but files cannot later be overwritten, as they can with a CD-RW disc.

I have found the best way to learn how to burn CDs is to experiment with the various options that are presented, and use the Help menus when needed. CDs are much cheaper than floppy disks, so messing one up now and then is not a major expense.

April 4

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RAM Size vs Hard Drive Size

Rarely does a week pass that I don't get an email from someone saying an error message tells him he has "insufficient memory," whereupon he tells me he has free hard disk space of, say, 20 GB. Shouldn't that be plenty of spare memory?

Well, the message refers available RAM (random access memory) rather than the amount of free storage space on his C-drive.

Most Windows-based computers will run on 128 MG of RAM, but really should have 256 MG to work at peak efficiency. The additional 128 MG can be purchased and user-installed - but I prefer having it installed by a technician at an established computer store or service center. The additional RAM is not all that expensive - and will make most PCs run faster and more efficiently.

To see how much RAM you have, click on Start > Help & Support and type "RAM" into the Search box.

To check your free hard disk space, double-click My Computer and then right-click the C-drive icon. Click Properties to see the ratio of used/free disk space. The mammoth sizes of today's hard drives give many of us all the storage space we will ever need, unless we tend to fill it up with tons of graphic and/or media files.

Good Time to Do Routine Maintenance

While in Properties, you can click on Tools and perform important hard drive maintenance for pre-WinXP computers, by choosing ScanDisk and Defrag; or by choosing Defrag and Check Disk on XP machines. If these programs get hung up in any way, additional "run" options can be found at

Automatic File Saving

Another frequent question is "Can I recover a file that crashed, but which I had not saved?" Well, unless an automatic backup option had been established within the program, the answer is normally no. MSWord users can find these choices by going to Tools > Options > Save.

Many folks will type a lengthy email message, but lose it if the email program suddenly crashes. Outlook Express users can protect against this by doing a periodic Ctrl+S (Save) which will place a copy of the current message in their Drafts folder. This copy will be automatically deleted after the completed message is sent.

AOL/CompuServe users can go to File > Save As and keep a newly-typed message as an HTML or as a plain text file, by giving the message a name and location. However, I can find no way outgoing Juno messages can be saved while being typed.

Incremental File Saving

In any case, the best way to save any new email message is to create it off-line in your favorite word processor, followed by saving it and copying and pasting it into your email client's outgoing message box.

Even this method, however, is not fool-proof if the backup copy is deleted or over-written. Those who are serious about backing up any kind of lengthy document will give its copies periodic incremental names, such as Message-1, Message-2, etc. By the time the document is completed as, say Message-10, the preceding nine versions will still be in place as extra insurance.

March 30

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Lining Up Numbers in a Column

A reader wrote to say he had written a business letter that included some prices listed in a column; but that the numbers didn't line up properly on his printout, although they appeared okay on his screen.

Well, back when this sort of letter was created on a typewriter with mono-spaced characters, using the spacebar to line up numbers worked just fine. But it's even easier on a computer, using Tab settings and your TAB key.

In all word processing programs the default Tab settings are 1/2 inch apart, meaning each time you hit the TAB key the cursor moves 1/2 inch to the right. However, you can override these settings and create your own.

Let's say you have a menu of items that have a brief description followed by a price, and that you would like the prices to line up on their right edges. In MSWord you can go to Format>Tabs and choose to have the numbers right-align at, say, five inches from the left margin. This will let you type a description and then hit your TAB key, whereupon any price you type in will be right-aligned.

Each time you press ENTER to begin another line, the Tab settings will be carried forward. When your menu is completed and you want to return to the default settings, go to Format>Tabs and click Clear All. These options are also found in MSWorks under Format>Tabs, and in WordPerfect under Format>Line>Tab Set.

Using the Horizontal Ruler

Another way to set Tabs in MSWord is to use its Horizontal Ruler. If you don't see the Ruler, click on View>Ruler, whereupon a tiny "L" will be displayed at its left end. This means "Left Tab" and clicking the "L" will display symbols for Right, Center, and Decimal Tab, among others.

Using the above-described "menu" as an example, you would click on the "Right Tab" setting and then click "5" on the Ruler.

Numbers Will Follow As Ruler Marker is Moved

One of the handiest features of this type of menu is that the tabbed items can be easily moved left or right. Simply mouse-select all lines in the menu and drag the Tab marker seen on the Ruler. Be careful not to drag it off the Ruler, or the settings will be lost.

Setting multiple Tabs (as in prices for Small, Medium, and Large) is equally easy. Establish them in the first line and they will be carried forward to each subsequent line by hitting ENTER.

Using "Leaders"

Other options found under Format>Tabs are "Leaders," such as dots or dashes that automatically lead from one item to another. No more pecking away at the "period" key, like we did on a typewriter.

Even more advanced settings can be created by adjusting the three movable Tab markers seen on the Ruler, such as a "hanging indent" whose first line of a paragraph begins near the left margin, while subsequent lines begin, say, a half inch to the right. It pays to experiment with these markers.

March 28

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A Few Fundamentals for Emailing Photos

One of the first rules of sending photos as email attachments is to crop them whenever possible. The larger a photo is, the longer it takes to upload and download, not to mention taking up more disk space. Many snapshots feature one or two people surrounded by acres of blue sky and green grass, or by walls and furniture that do nothing to enhance the subject of the photo.

The easiest program I've found for cropping is Irfanview (free from Use the left mouse button to draw a rectangle around the important part of a photo and click the toolbar scissors to CUT the selection. Then click the toolbar PASTE icon to replace the original picture with the cropped one. Finally, go to File > Save As and give the cropped picture a new name with a JPG extension.

Why JPG rather than one of the other 18 file formats listed? Well, JPG has become the accepted standard for compressing a snapshot's file size while maintaining its visual integrity. Beyond that, one can choose different size/quality ratios when saving JPGs - however Irfanview's default "80%" setting works very well for most "family snapshots."

As for the other format extensions (BMP, TIF, etc.) they are best left to photo technicians.

Nonetheless, it's helpful to know a little about the GIF format. Although JPGs can contain millions of colors, GIFs are limited to 256 and are often used for creating drawings seen on Web sites. Furthermore, some GIFs can be animated and used as attention-getters on Web pages and in emails. (However, GIFs should not be confused with FLASH and other high-tech/high-resolution animation files.)

Getting back to making pictures smaller, you may want to reduce a large one to fit on a standard 8-1/2x11 page or into a particular pre-defined space. Go to Image > Resize/Resample and make your choices.

What About "ART" Files?

Although Irfanview works with most image formats, it does not recognize files with an ART extension. ART is a compression format peculiar to AOL and CompuServe, and is their default for downloading images from the Web.

AOL and CS users can defeat this default by going to Settings > Internet Options > AOL Browser, and choosing "Never Compress Graphics," whereupon their downloads will be in the same format as everyone else's.

Non-AOL/CS users who find themselves with an ART file can double-click it so it opens in their default browser. Then they can use File > Save As to change its format to BMP. Finally, open the BMP with Irfanview (or any other image-editor) and use File > Save As to make it into a JPG.

Emailing Multiple Photos

When you attach multiple photos to an email, they are automatically compressed for faster uploading/downloading, and then decompressed on the receiving end to appear in their original form. However, different email clients have varying file-size limitations, which may explain why a particular batch of photos could not be transmitted. Spreading the photos over additional emails can fix this.

Copying a Picture from the Internet

To copy an image from the Internet, right-click it and choose Save Picture As, followed by giving it a name and choosing a location. An easier way is to simply drag it onto your Desktop. However, dragging doesn't work with an image that is a "hyperlink" (showing a pointing finger) - so use the right-click method.

March 23

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New Viruses Arrive in Emails Without Attachments

Now that we know of the dangers of opening unrequested email attachments, we are told our computers can be infected by opening an email with no attachment but which has a worm embedded in its text. The anti-virus companies are rapidly distributing updates to catch these germs; however they may not always arrive on time.

I've received a number of these emails, about half of which were caught by my AV software. The others I spotted and manually deleted.

So what made me suspect them of being infected emails? Well, their size, for one thing. A normal text message is rarely more than 5 or 6 KB, with a an HTML newsletter going up to perhaps 60 KB. However, the ones I deleted (along with emptying my email trash can) were over 200 KB in size.

Besides that, they all had suspicious text in their Subject Lines. Because of this column, I receive tons of email; and I've learned to spot suspicious Subject Lines over the years. Yes, I get fooled once in a while - but still manage to avoid viruses.

Regarding the size of a suspicious email, Web services such as Juno, Netscape, Yahoo, and Hotmail display each message's size. Outlook Express does not automatically display sizes, but right-clicking a message and choosing "Properties" will show it.

I have been unable to find a way to display message sizes in AOL or CompuServe. If you know how, please tell me.

Jackie Ragland wrote to say that she has been using MailWasher to help fend off spam, and that she is very pleased with the way the program works, including the way it tells you the sizes of incoming emails.

MailWasher can be freely downloaded at, where a contribution is asked for, but not required in order to use the program.

Thanks for the information, Jackie!

David B. Duval of Claiborne Advisors, Inc. wrote to say he went to the GRC (Gibson Research Corp.) site to check for "port vulnerability" on his computer and found valuable information there.

GRC can be accessed at

Thanks for this information, David!

One of the anti-virus companies sent me a collection of Subject Lines seen on many of these infected emails; but it is too long to list here. However, they can be seen on my Web site, along with links to AV sites that offer virus removal tools.

Completely Eradicating a Hard Drive's Data

I continue to receive questions about totally erasing a hard drive before donating an old computer to a school, church or charitable organization. Using the traditional Delete and Uninstall tools that come with our PCs will not totally clean their hard drives. They may appear to be clean, but data can still be recovered by a technician.

Two sites that offer tools and information for clearing off all data are:, and

Not Enough Memory?

Another question I often see is: "Why am I told I don't have enough memory to do certain things? When I went to My Computer, right-clicked my C: Drive and then clicked Properties, I was told I have 27.9 gigabytes of capacity. Shouldn't that be plenty of memory?"

Well, "capacity" means available hard drive storage space, not RAM (random access memory). Click on Start > Help & Support and type RAM into the Search box, followed by choosing "Get information about your computer" (or a similar phrase) to find out how much RAM your PC has.

If your PC has 128 MG of RAM or less, increasing it to 256 MG is definitely worth considering. Memory chips are relatively inexpensive nowadays, and are user-installable. However, I prefer to have a technician install mine.

March 21

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More on Managing Email Addresses

My recent suggestion that email addresses be kept in a text file that can be used with any email program drew a lot of response. Peg Wozniak asked why I preferred a plain MSWord document over Excel or using MSWord's Table function.

Well, it depends on whether you need to maintain information beyond your contacts' email addresses. If my newsletter were a commercial one, with something to sell, I would gather and store as much information about my prospective customers as I could. Using MSWord's Table capabilities, I would have columns for home and business addresses, along with phone and fax numbers and personal data such as age and gender.

However, I'm not selling anything, so a single column of email addresses is all I need. If you do need to store additional personal data in your contact list, MSWord's Tables work fine, but Excel or the DataBase in MSWorks are much more powerful and flexible.

Back to contact addresses, I have seven email accounts, including Outlook Express, AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, Netscape, and Juno, among others. Why? I use them for different purposes, and change any that start collecting too much spam or malware. (The latter four are free Web-mail services, and you can do the same thing.) But I have only one address list, and it works for all seven email programs.

But what if all your addresses are currently stored in a particular email client, such as Outlook Express or AOL? Is there an easy way to copy them into an MSWord or other text file? Well, this varies considerably from one program to another. If your email program has a File > Export > Address Book function, it may be fairly easy. Otherwise, look at your program's Help files.

Another method is to click all your Address Book entries into the Carbon Copy box of a dummy outgoing message, whereupon they can be highlighted, then copied and pasted into a text document. (Just don't send the dummy message to anyone.)

Too Many "Startup Programs" Can Slow Down Your Computer

One of the complaints I hear most is that someone's computer has slowed down over time. One of the reasons this happens is that too many programs start up and run in the background when the computer is turned on.

Some of these programs have icons which appear in your System Tray, just to the left of your Taskbar's Digital Clock. To see the complete list go to Start > Run, type msconfig and click OK. Then click the Startup tab and look at the items with checkmarks. Uncheck the ones you don't need continually running, and then click OK.

How do you know which ones should be deselected? Well, you need to have SysTray running, along with your firewall and anti-virus programs. Beyond those, the list of startup programs varies greatly from one PC to another and cannot be fully detailed here.

However, a link to a Web site devoted to explaining what should and should not be running can be found here:

MSCONFIG is not a function of Win95, 2000, or NT - but instructions for dealing with "startup programs" can also be found at the above-mentioned web site.

March 16

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Managing Your Email Addresses

We have all heard about worms that copy names found in email address books and use them to send out more worms and/or spam. This is why I keep my collection of email addresses in a word processing file, rather than in my Outlook Express Address Book, from where I simply copy and paste them into my "To:" or "BCC:" box. I always use "BCC:" (blind carbon copy) rather than "CC:" (carbon copy) so that no recipient sees any name but his or her own.

Another advantage of keeping addresses in a text file is that they can be used with any email program, without your having to deal with import/export headaches, going from one email program to another, or to a new PC.

I prefer MSWord for storing addresses; but any text editor or spreadsheet program will do. I even keep my most frequently used addresses on a "yellow sticky note" that is always on my Desktop for quick access.

MSWord has certain features that make address maintenance very easy. To begin with, each address goes on a separate line and can easily be sorted (alphabetized) by clicking on Table>Sort.

If you send a newsletter to several hundred names, your ISP may not let you send to more than a certain quantity at a time (for fear you might be sending spam). Extracting the allowable number from an MSWord list is easy. When I use a 12-point font with Word's default page margins, there are 47 addresses on a page. If my ISP only allows 150 BCCs, I simply select three pages of names (knowing that it's safer to have too few than too many).

In order to find the three pages I want, I click the down-arrow next to "100%" in Word's Toolbar and choose "10%," which lets me see 50 pages at a time. As I select and copy each group of three pages, I click the "A" in the Toolbar and choose a different color, thus being able to see where I left off from one group to the next.

After each newsletter mailing, some names bounce as "unknown addressee." I select each one, do Ctrl+F (Find) on my master list and paste it into the search box with Ctrl+V, which then flags it for deletion.

As always, I have Word do a backup with each change, by having gone to Tools>Options>Save and checking "Always Create Backup Copy."

When selecting a group of names to put into a "BCC" box, most email clients will let you insert them stacked one above another, whereupon the program will rearrange them sequentially with a comma or semicolon separating each one. If your email program requires you to arrange them with, say, comma separations, do this:

Highlight the group you want to insert and then do Ctrl+H, which will initiate "Find & Replace." In the Replace box type ^p (i.e. Shift-6
a lower case p) and in the With box type a comma followed by a blank space. Reverse these steps to remove the commas and stack the addresses as before.

The free "Yellow Sticky" program can be found on this site at

March 14

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Using a PC Without Having to Deal with Spam, Viruses, Spyware & Hackers

Can you believe there was a time when we didn't have to worry about spam, viruses, spyware, or hackers trying to steal our data? Although it's hard to visualize now, there once was life without the Internet. But high-speed two-way connections have made it almost as easy for others to get into our PCs as it is for us access distant Web sites or send email.

Therefore, we all need a variety of constantly-updated defenses in place. An anti-virus program does NOT deflect spam or spyware; and its virus protection abilities need to be constantly updated to defend agains the most recent germs, which are being created daily nowadays.

However, the best defense against getting a virus continues to be simple and free - DO NOT OPEN ANY EMAIL ATTACHMENT that you are not expecting, even if it appears to be from your mother.

Some worms are designed to steal names from email address books and then send spam and/or viruses to others, using the stolen names as bogus "return addresses." I periodically receive virus-bearing email which has my own return address on it - and you, too, may receive viruses which appear to come from me, or from your best friend.

When you receive email with an attachment you are not expecting, delete it immediately and empty your Deleted Items folder. Then write to the presumed sender to ask if he/she sent the email and attachment. If it came from a relative who sent you a photo of her new grandchild, just ask her to send it again. She'll understand.

But wouldn't your installed anti-virus program have flagged the infected email? Usually - but not always. No AV program is 100% perfect; you need to have alternative defenses in place.

Even though my PC has Norton AV and all its latest updates, I frequently use the free virus-scan at

Neither program guarantees 100% perfection; and using both improves one's odds against being infected. Can't afford Norton or McAfee? A free AV program that is highly-recommended by many users is available at

However, none of the above is meant to protect against hackers or spyware. Hackers look for "unprotected ports" on your PC, through which they can access your personal data. A properly-configured firewall, such as ZoneAlarm, blocks access to these ports. Spyware can get into your computer if you sign up for things like "Your Opinion Counts! Take Our Free Survey & Give Us Your Ideas on (Whatever)," whereupon your name is added to more spam lists.

I use both Spybot-Search & Destroy and AdAware to remove spyware from my PC. These free programs can be downloaded from, where you will also find programs like SpyHunter, which will scan your computer for free - but require payment of $29.95 to remove the malware.

Beyond all this, we are being told with increasing frequency about weaknesses in our operating systems and browsers that hackers can infiltrate. Go to and look for the "security updates" link, whereupon your PC will be checked for needed fixes, which you can then download.

I see that some major ISPs have filed suit against some of the biggest spammers, using congress' recently-passed anti-spam law. The millions of spam emails being sent daily hurt the ISPs right along with individual recipients - so maybe this will help. However, my guess is that it will just drive them off-shore. Just as we can send email anywhere in the world, spanners can reach us from anywhere in the world.

However, I've also read that many of the larger ISPs are trying to put anti-spam filters of their own in place, in order to better serve their members. I think that's our best hope for relief from the onslaught.

March 9

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Why Does a Spell-Checker Miss Some Words?

Lionel Lizarraga wrote to say his Outlook Express spell-checker occasionally misses misspelled words, and asked if there is a way to fix this. Well, to begin with, OE has no spell-checker of its own; it uses the one that comes with MSWord and other MSOffice programs.

One of the default settings in most spell-checkers is to ignore words in all caps. This keeps acronyms such as FBI from being flagged. However, some folks type their documents in all caps, thus defeating their spell-checkers altogether. (Emails I receive in all caps look like they're shouting - and are ususally the last to get read.)

In MSOffice programs, spell-checking defaults can be changed by going to Tools > Options > Spelling & Grammar. (I turn off "Check Grammar As You Type" since I don't always agree with their grammar rules.)

All spell-checkers allow us to add words to our own "custom dictionaries" by right-clicking a flagged word and choosing "Add" or "Learn." You can edit your MSOffice Custom Dictionary by going to Tools > Options > Spelling & Grammar > Dictionaries.

The word "dictionary" is something of a misnomer in MSOffice, since there are no actual definitions. However, selecting a word and pressing Shift+F7 will bring up a Thesaurus, whose synonyms can be often be used as definitions. WordPerfect comes with an Oxford Dictionary, which can be accessed at Tools > Dictionary.

The various features in all programs' spell-checkers can be found by pressing F1 and typing "spell" into a search box.

Managing Bullets & Numbering

Harry Carpenter wrote to ask if there is a way to control "bullets" in MSWord, since they pop up whenever he starts a list of some kind, and are very hard to manage.

This can be fixed by going to Tools > AutoCorrect > AutoFormat and UNchecking "Automatic Bulleted Lists." This also needs to be UNchecked, along with "Automatic Numbered Lists" under "AutoFormat As You Type."

When you do want list items bulleted or numbered, select them and go to Format > Bullets & Numbering, where all kinds of options can be found. When finished with a list go to Format > Bullets & Numbering and choose "None."

You can also get in and out of Numbering by clicking the "Bullet" icon on your toolbar. If you don't see this icon, email me for instructions on how to install it.

More About Printing Labels

Sometimes a problem's solution is so obvious you could kick yourself for not seeing it right away. I recently wrote about printing one Avery label on a sheet's top row, and how to print subsequent ones without getting the sheet jammed in a printer. Well, Ed Ehrhart and Bob Fulton each wrote to say they do this by starting with a sheet's bottom row and working up, thus keeping all those above smooth and unlikely to cause a jam. Thanks, Ed and Bob!

Speaking of labels, professional videographer Tom Turney says he buys high-gloss labels from, and that he is very pleased with their quality and prices.

Robert Zippel asks how keep numbers properly aligned in a column, since lining them up with his keyboard doesn't do it. Well, all word processors have an "align" icon that lets you choose "right" for keeping numbers in order; or you can go to Format>Paragraph for these options.

Better yet, you can set Tabs for lining up numbers (by their right edges or by their decimal points) by going to Format > Tabs, and then using your keyboard's Tab key to make the numbers jump into position.

March 7

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ALL CAPS - Upper And Lower Case - Regular sentence style.

John Naranjo wrote to say he has a number of old text documents that were typed in all capital letters, and asked if there is a way to convert them to a normal upper and lower case sentence structure. Well, MSWord has an easy conversion feature.

Select any sentence in an MSWord document and then press F3 while holding down Shift. Subsequent pressings of F3 will cause the sentence to change from all caps to all lower case, to all lower case with the first letter of each word capitalized, and to all lower case with the first letter of the phrase capitalized.

WordPerfect offers these options when you select a phrase and go to Edit > Convert Case.

If you don't have MSWord or WordPerfect, the free OpenOffice suite offers similar options by going to Format > Change Case.

Speaking of OpenOffice, I have been very favorably impressed with this free suite ( that has most of the same features as MSOffice, WordPerfect Office, and MSWorks.

Users of OpenOffice can easily open files created in programs such as Word, Excel or Powerpoint, by clicking on File>Open, choosing the appropriate program from the Files Of Type list, and then navigating to the target file. Conversely, OpenOffice documents can be saved as MSOffice files, including saving them to a particular version (such as Word97 or ExcelXP).

OpenOffice also handles most graphic files, such as BMP and JPG, along with HTML files.

Import/Export Filters in Office Suite Programs

Speaking of opening a file in a program other than its original, Dave Silvestri said he had a Quattro spreadsheet that needed editing. When I asked if he had Excel, Dave said yes; so I explained that Quattro files (as well as Lotus 123 and MSWorks spreadsheet files) are compatible with Excel, using "Files Of Type" as explained above. This inter-compatibility applies to most files created with all up-to-date "office suite" programs.

Regarding a recent column on printing labels, George Roberts asked if there is a practical way to print just one label on a sheet. Yes, it's just a matter of placing your text in the upper-left cell on your Avery layout and printing accordingly. However, if you want to print subsequent labels there is an inherent danger of the label sheet getting jammed in your printer because of the removed label/s causing an uneven surface.

Nonetheless, I have no problem with this when I smooth out the used label area with my fingers and feed the sheet into my printer by itself. Once I have used all the labels in the top row, I turn the sheet around and feed it from the other end. However, the margin settings may be different than those set for feeding the sheet normally. I compensate for this by simply going to File > Page Setup and changing the Top Margin setting accordingly.

Having said this, though, I will acknowledge that printing on subsequent labels beyond the top and bottom rows can be more of a challenge, and usually just toss the rest of them.

Establishing a Print Size with Irfanview

I've been asked if there is a simple way to change a picture's dimensions when printing from Irfanview (my favorite free bitmap editor ( Yes; go to Image > Resize/Resample, click on Inches, and set the appropriate width or height.

Because of the margin-printing limitations of most printers, it's best to keep your Width at 7" or less, and the Height at 10" or less.

March 2

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Who Needs a Firewall?

"Do I need a firewall?" is a question I hear frequently, and the answer, in most cases, is yes. A firewall challenges various types of data that come your way from unknown computers or from someone on a network to which you may be connected, and asks if you want to accept the data. A firewall is not specifically anti-virus software, and should be installed in addition to your AV program.

Since your PC is a two-way device, capable of both sending and receiving data, malicious hackers are always looking for ways to access your PC through various unprotected "ports." A firewall monitors these ports and only allows access with your permission.

Although WinXP comes with a firewall, many technicians say it is underpowered and advise getting a separate program. I've been using ZoneAlarm for several years and have been very pleased with it. A free version for individual use can be found at

After installing the program, you are asked a few questions which will help you configure it to your needs. After that, when data from an outside source comes your way, a popup message will ask whether or not you want to accept it, along with the option to "Use the same answer for future arrivals from this source."

My experience has been that it takes a day or two before you have all your YES or NO answers in place; but, once past that point, ZoneAlarm works unobtrusively in the background to help protect your computer.

Too Complicated?

One reader wrote that he found ZoneAlarm "too complicated" and asked if I could recommend an easier program. Well, using an "easier" program could be counter-productive since it would make most of the YES or NO decisions for you. If you get to a point in ZoneAlarm where you are unsure about the parameters you have chosen, as I did the first time I used it, simply uninstall the program and reinstall it. It's really easy.

One of the things needed in most businesses nowadays is an easy way to print on Avery labels that come in a wide variety of sizes. Each size has an "Avery number," which is also used by less-expensive-brand competitors, and which can be found in most stationery stores.

Using Avery Labels

I've written previously on how to create mailing labels, using mail-merge features in MSWord and MSWorks, but printing individual labels is even easier.

In MSWord, go to Tools > Envelopes & Labels and click the Label tab. Next click the Label box and choose the Avery style you need, followed by clicking OK and New Document. You will then see a layout that matches your sheet of labels. If you don't see the layout, click on Table > Show Grid Lines.

Text typed into these boxes will usually be horizontally centered, but this can be changed by clicking your toolbar's Left or Right icon. The default vertically centered alignment can be changed by clicking on Table > Table Properties > Cell, and choosing Top or Bottom. In the MSWorks word processor similar choices are available at Tools > Labels.

Feb 29

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How to FIND Files & Folders on Your Computer

One of the questions I hear most is "How can I find a lost file on my PC?"

Well, there are many FIND options available. If you know the name of the missing item, you can go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders, type in the name, and click Find or Search.

If you are unsure of the exact spelling, you can type in just part of a name. For instance, typing LAND would find files named ISLAND, LANDING, and BLANDINGS.

You can also use an asterisk (*) as a "wild card" to substitute for unknown characters in a name. For instance, if you are looking for a file named AFGHANISTAN, but are unsure of how to spell it, typing in AF*AN would not only find AFGHANISTAN, it would also display files named AFRICAN or AFGHAN or AFTER THE BAN.

(Caps are used here for emphasis only; searches ignore "case" unless "Advanced Options - Case Sensitive" has been chosen.)

If you can't remember any part of the name, but you know it was a ".JPG" image, you can type *.JPG to display all your JPGs. This, of course, could display zillions of filenames. However, if you had edited the picture within a particular time frame, you can narrow down the search by clicking on "When Was It Modified?" and using the "Date" options.

Something that can keep an item from being found is searching only part of your hard drive. Where you see "Look In:" make sure your "C-Drive" is selected, rather than just part of it (such as "Document Folders").

In rare instances you may also need to have Advanced Options > Search System Folders or Search Hidden Files & Folders selected. However, these "system files" should not be altered by anyone other than an experienced technician.

If you are unsure of the missing item's name, but remember some of the text it contains, you can type in something distinctive where it says: "A Word or Phrase in the File." An unusual name or seldom-used word can be helpful here.

If you are sure of which program was used to create the file, you can click on Advanced Options > Type of File, and look for, say, "Microsoft Word Document." Be aware, however, there are many similar-looking choices here, and choosing "Microsoft Word Template" or "Microsoft Word HTML Document" might not be what you are actually seeking.

So, what can be done with a file that is found, using any of the above? Well, you can move it by dragging it out onto your Desktop, or by right-clicking it and choosing a destination with the "Send To" option. If it is an .EXE file, or some kind of a "system" file, you may see a message saying it cannot be moved, and asking if you would like to create a Desktop Shortcut pointing to it.

One other FIND option that works in many areas is Ctrl+F. Pressing Ctrl+F inside any text document or Web page will bring up FIND options. In a text document, one of the options will be REPLACE, which lets you replace a chosen word with another.

In Microsoft programs, FIND & REPLACE options can also be brought up by pressing Ctrl+H.

Feb 24

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Creating a "Shortcut" Icon

Susan Busch wrote to ask how to put a Shortcut to MSWord on her Desktop. Well, there are different ways. One is to click on Start>Programs (All Programs in WinXP), followed by navigating to the program icon you want and then dragging it onto your Desktop, where it will appear with a little bent arrow. The arrow tells us the icon is a "Shortcut," rather than an actual file.

There is an easier way to put a program Shortcut on your Desktop if you you know the name of the "EXE" file that launches the program. For MSWord the file is winword.exe. Go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders, and type in winword.exe. When the filename appears, drag it onto your Desktop, whereupon you'll see a message asking if it is OK to create a Shortcut to the file on the Desktop. Click YES.

Creating a "Shortcut" to a Frequently-Accessed Personal File

If the icon you want on your Desktop is, say, a frequently-accessed personal file, it won't be listed under Programs - but you can find it with Windows Explorer. Let's say you have created a folder named "Business Leads" on your C-Drive and you have a file inside it named "Daily Update."

Right-click Start, and then click Explore. You should then see your C-Drive icon, with a number of folders displayed below it. If you don't see the folders, click the plus sign (+) in front of "C:" to display them.

Open the "Business Leads" folder with a double-click and then right-click "Daily Update." Choose "Create Shortcut" and a Shortcut icon will appear at the end of the file list. Drag it onto your Desktop, or onto the Desktop icon at the top of the folder list in the Windows Explorer left pane.

Creating a "Shortcut" to a Folder

Should you prefer to create an icon to the "Business Leads" folder, right-click a blank spot on your Desktop and choose New>Shortcut. Click Browse, and follow the prompts to create the desired icon.

Another way to do this is to right-click any item found in Windows Explorer, click Send To, and choose "Desktop (Create Shortcut)."

Bear in mind any icon with a "bent arrow" is a just a "Shortcut" and, should you decide to delete it, doing so will only remove this "directional sign." The item to which it points will remain intact.

Nonetheless, if a Shortcut points to a folder, other items can be dragged onto it, whereupon they will disappear from the Desktop and go directly into the folder.

Using Filters in a Database

Ralph Magerkurth wrote to say he has a list of navy veterans in an MSWorks database; and that he'd like to be able to break the list into groups of personnel who served on 80 different ships.

This can be done by displaying the entire list of veterans, along with all their respective ships. As an example, let's display those who served on the USS Missouri. Click on the "Ship" column header and then click Tools>Filters. Under Filters choose "Contains" and type in "Missouri."

This procedure would find all who served on the Missouri and put them into a separate list.

Other choices under Filter include: "Is equal to," "Is not equal to" "Does not contain," "Begins with," "Ends with," and many others which will help you isolate the pertinent data needed.

These filtering options are also available in Excel, by going to Data>Filter>AutoFilter, whereupon a little down-arrow will invite you to choose the desired filter.

Regarding OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software which can scan various forms and make them editable, Dee Schaffer wrote to say Pagis works very well for her.

Feb 22

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Differences Between "Internet Explorer" & "Windows Explorer"

I've found that new computer users are often confused about the difference between "Internet Explorer" and "Windows Explorer." The former is the "browser" most of use for accessing the Internet, while the latter is a "file management" system for keeping track of items on our PCs.

To access Windows Explorer right-click Start and then left-click Explore.
(You can also find "Explore" by right-clicking My Computer - or you can press E while holding down your "Windows Flag" key.)

A double-paned window will appear, displaying a collection of icons in the left pane, with "Desktop" at the head of the list. Next will be a list of your various disk/disc drives, with "C" indicating your computer's main hard drive.

If you don't see the C-drive icon, click the plus sign (+) to the left of "My Computer." If the C-Drive has a minus sign (-) you will see a collection of yellow folders displayed below it. If you see a plus sign, clicking it will display these folders.

Notice that many of these folders also have plus signs, which means they contain other folders. Clicking a folder's plus sign will display the folders nested therein, some of which may have plus signs of their own.

Experiment by clicking various plus and minus signs to see what happens. Doing so can show you the locations of all the folders on your hard drive.

However, no "files" will ever be displayed in the left pane; they will always appear in the right pane when their folder is double-clicked. If doing so doesn't display a list of files in the right pane, click the message that says, "Show All Files."

An Easy Way to Move Files & Folders

So what's the advantage to seeing all our files and folders displayed in this double-paned window? Well, one advantage is being able to easily move files and/or folders from one location to another. To move an item into a different folder, just drag it from the right pane into any target folder - or drag it onto the A-Drive icon if you want to copy it to a 3-1/2" disk. This also works on a CD if it has been formatted for "drag and drop" copying.

When dragging an item from one folder to another, the item is physically moved (usually*) whereas dragging an item onto a disk/disc copies the item, leaving the original in place.)

*Some items, such as certain executable files, may NOT be moved, when dragged, but will have a "Shortcut" pointing back to them placed in the target folder.

Default Folder for Storing Personal Files

One of the yellow folders shown in the left pane will be My Documents, where most of the personal files you create will automatically be stored. An icon of this folder may also be seen on your Desktop or on the list of items seen when you click Start. Also, this folder can be sub-divided with additional folders to make it even easier to keep track of your files.

Double-click My Documents, and then click on File>New>Folder, followed by naming the blank folder that appears. New folders can also be created on your Desktop by right-clicking it and choosing New>Folder.

How do we use these folders? Well, let's say you have created a document with MSWord or MSWorks. Go to File>Save As, and My Documents will appear in the "Save In" field. However, any special folders you have created inside My Documents will also show in the Save As box. Double-click the one you want before clicking Save.

Feb 17

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Making a Scanned Form Editable

When I recently mentioned using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to convert a printed form into a page whose blanks can be easily filled in on one's computer, Jim Fix wrote to say Visioneer Paperport does this very nicely, while Jim Orosco called to say the same is true of Caere Omniform. Reviews and price comparisons on these and other business programs can be found at and at

Boxes in MSWord with Rounded Corners

A user of MSWord wrote to say he likes to accentuate some his text and graphics by putting them inside frames, and asked if there is any way of putting rounded corners on the frames. Yes, it can be done with Word's drawing tools.

Go to View > Toolbars > Drawing. A floating bar will appear, bearing various drawing tools. Click on AutoShapes > Basic Shapes and then click on the small rectangle with round corners. Now draw a rectangle on your Word page. The result will be a black on white rectangle with rounded corners. A yellow diamond near the box can be moved to adjust the amount of roundness on the corners. Other tools will let you change the color, thickness, and style (solid or dashed) of the rectangle's outline.

If you want your rectangle to be square, hold down Shift as you draw it.

If you want to place something in this frame, go to Insert > Text Box and draw a rectangle inside of it. Click inside the Text Box and begin typing - or go to Insert > Picture > From File and browse your way to a graphic. Don't worry about things fitting inside the rectangles exactly, since you can always reshape the various elements as needed.

The Text Box will have a black outline, but it can be made invisible by clicking it and going to Format > Text Box > Line > Color > No Line. In order to have the Text Box centered exactly inside the round-corner rectangle, hold down Shift while you click the Text Box and then click the rectangle. Now go to Draw > Align/Distribute and choose Center and Middle.

If you click the Text Box and rectangle while holding down Shift, you can glue these elements together by going to Draw > Group. Now the finished group can be moved anywhere on the page. If you move it into a typed area, though, it will hide the text it covers. However, the text can be made to go around it if you click the rectangle and choose Format > Borders & Shading > Layout, and select one of the text-flow options found there.

Making "Read Only" Files Editable

Del Ross wrote to say he has some files that are designated "read only" and which cannot be edited without renaming them. He asked if there is a way to fix this. Yes, right-click the filename and choose Properties, where the "Read Only" marker can be UNchecked.

Feb 15

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Saving PowerPoint Slides as Individual Pictures

Barry Elkin wrote to say he received a PowerPoint presentation of the "Best Pics of 2003" and asked how to save the various slides as individual pictures.

Well, PowerPoint slide-shows normally arrive ready-to-run by double-clicking the filename, which will have an extension of .PPS. By changing the extension to .PPT, however, the presentation will appear in an editable format when the filename is double-clicked, and will display all the slides in a thumbnail view.

Double-clicking a slide's thumbnail will enlarge it, whereupon you can use File>Save As to give it a name and choose a location, along with selecting a picture format (such as JPG) from the "Save As Type" list. You will then be asked if you want to save every slide in the presentation as a picture, or just the one currently displayed.

If a slide consists of a picture with superimposed text, and you just want the graphic, click around the edges of the text until you see a box appear. Hit your Delete key, and the framed text will vanish.

To do the above, you must have PowerPoint on your computer; Microsoft's free PowerPoint "Viewer" has no editing capabilities. However, it is possible to capture a slide when it is displayed on your monitor during a presentation. Simply press your PrtScr (PrintScreen) key and launch your favorite word processor or image-editor, whereupon doing Edit>Paste will insert the picture.

If you have chosen an image-editor to receive the pasted image (such as Windows Paint) name it as described above, by using File>Save As. If you pasted the picture into a word processing page, it will be saved as a normal word processing document (and will be a much larger file than it would be as a JPG).

Regret Having to Occasionally Say No

It's nice being able to say "yes" to "can this be done" questions I'm asked; but sometimes I have to say "no" - or, on occasion, "not very easily." For instance, some readers have asked if there is a way of scanning a printed form so that it can be displayed on their computers, whereupon it can be filled in from the keyboard and then printed.

Well, with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, it may be possible to make a particular form editable - but making it so the blanks can be filled in easily could be a big challenge. Programs like MSWord have "form" capabilities that make it possible to create "fill-in fields" that can accessed sequentially by hitting one's Tab key - but using these advanced tools can require a long learning curve.

Another frequently asked question lately is: "How can I copy everything, including all my applications, from one computer to another - and do it without installing everything from the original program CDs?"

Well, we would all like to be able to do this; but here's the problem: when programs are installed, bits and pieces of them are spread all over a computer's hard drive - and these locations won't necessarily be the same on a different PC. Thus, most things do have to be installed anew.

Feb 10

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Some Outlook Express Questions

A number of questions about Outlook Express have arrived recently, and I'll try to cover them all here. To begin with, OE comes with Internet Explorer, which means all Windows users have this email program. This also means users of other email programs, such as AOL or Juno, can normally open incoming messages that were created with OE (whose filenames have an .EML extension) by double-clicking the filename.

Copying Outlook Express Folders to a New Computer

Several OE-users have written to ask how to copy their message folders to a new computer. Well, all these folders are automatically compressed into cryptic files that have an extension of .DBX, and they are stored in a folder named "Outlook Express."

However, this folder is usually buried several layers deep on most computers; but can be found by going to Start > Search/Find > All Files & Folders and typing OUTLOOK EXPRESS (caps optional). Once found, the folder can be copied onto a CD or a 3.5-inch floppy, whereupon it can be copied onto the new computer's hard drive.

If the target computer already has OE installed, the OUTLOOK EXPRESS folder can be "pasted" to replace the existing one, meaning the user would be able to have all his previous message folders ready for use on the new PC.

If, however, one has already begun using OE on the new computer, here's how to avoid overwriting files and folders with others of the same name: Copy and paste the OUTLOOK EXPRESS folder onto your Desktop, and then open it with a double-click. Rename all the .DBX files you see by adding, say, "-OLD" to their filenames.

Next, copy and paste all the old .DBX files into the new computer's OUTLOOK EXPRESS folder. Now "INBOX-OLD.DBX" will appear right along with "INBOX.DBX." The latter would receive all new incoming messages, while the former can be double-clicked to access all the older INBOX files.

It's important to understand that all .DBX files are compressed and encrypted in such a way that they can only be read when opened within OE. Double-clicking a .DBX file will only produce a bunch of illegible code. It's also a good idea to backup all your .DBX files onto another disk periodically, in case of a computer crash, or if you ever need to copy them onto yet another PC.

Speaking of backing up email messages, there are other ways to do it if you are dealing with just a few. In most email programs, while an incoming or outgoing message is open, you can go to File > Save As and choose a name and location for the message. You will also have the option of saving the message as a plain text file (with a .TXT extension) or as an .HTML file. The latter will preserve any special fonts or colors in the message.

As for copying and pasting a file or folder, you can right-click the desired item and choose "Copy," followed by right-clicking the target location (be it another folder or a Disk Drive displayed under My Computer) and choose Paste. You can also right-click the item to be pasted and choose Send To, followed by choosing the target location. If the target is a disk drive, the item will be copied and pasted. However, if the target is another folder, the item will normally be physically moved. But if the item to be moved is an .EXE file, and you choose "Send To: Desktop," the file will stay put and a Shortcut to it will be placed on your Desktop.

Feb 8

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Make Your Own Icons

Have you ever thought of creating your own desktop icons? It's easy. Click on Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint to launch the Windows painting program.

Next, click Image>Attributes and create a "canvas" of 32 pixels in width and height. This will create a white icon-size square. However, painting a pattern this small is difficult, so enlarge the view by clicking on View>Zoom>Large Size.

Now comes the fun. Use the drawing tools at the left and the colors at the bottom of your work area to create your design. If you want to, say, put your initials in green on a yellow background, do this:

Click the yellow of your choice and then click the "paint bucket" in the toolbar. Click your white square and it will fill with yellow.

Now click the green you like, and then click the "straight line" tool (shown at a 45-degree angle) to begin painting your initials. Choose the "pencil" to paint one pixel at a time.

If you have "straight" initials, such as HTE, the drawing will be easy. Curved letters are more challenging; but this is where you get to experiment and show your creativity.

Save your drawing as a BMP file by clicking File>Save As and making your choice of the options shown in "Files of Type." If you want to UNDO anything, Paint allows you to Edit>Undo (or Ctrl+Z) your three most recent edits.

So how do we turn this BMP file into an icon? Find the file in your My Documents folder and change the extension of .BMP to .ICO, by right-clicking the file name and choosing Rename.

An even better way to change the BMP to an ICO file is to use open the BMP in Irfanview ( ) and choose ICO - Windows Icon in the Save As Type box, when you do File>Save As.

To put your newly-created icon in place of an existing one, right-click the target icon and choose Properties>Change Icon or Properties >Customize > Change Icon. Experimenting with all this can be very rewarding.

Free Anti-Virus Tools

The virus-writers have really been keeping the anti-virus companies busy these days. As a result, four of the AV companies are offering free online virus-checking and removal services, and I've put links to their URLs on this site.

Having mentioned this, however, I feel compelled to mention a problem with Norton's AV services that a number of people have reported. I'm told that installing either Norton AV 2003 or Norton AV 2004 and getting regular updates on these versions is working fine - but that installing version 2004 over an existing version 2003 can cause problems. If you plan to put 2004 on a PC that already has 2003, completely uninstalling the older version first is recommended.

Another option is using the virus protection offered by Grisoft AVG, which is free to home users of a single computer. Also, because of the "backdoor entry" capabilities of some of these infections, firewall protection is recommended on all computers that connect to the Web. ZoneAlarm is free to individual home users; and its link, along with Grisoft AVG's link, can also be found on this site.

Feb 3

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Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

I've heard from a number of people who have a desktop scanner and who have scanned documents whose text they would like to edit. Well, these devices are designed to create a "bitmap image" of what they scan, and tend to view a line of text as just another picture. However, special "Optical Character Recognition" software is available that can turn these "pictures of text" into text that can be edited.

The purchase of a scanner normally includes some kind of image-editing software, but most do not include OCR. You can find out by going to your program's Help files and looking for information on "OCR" or "text."

If your picture-editing software is OCR-equipped you should see "Text" listed under "What kind of image do you want to scan?" along with "Color Photo," "B&W Photo," etc.

After a scan's conversion of text from "picture" to "OCR" you should see a list of text-editing programs available on your computer. If the scanned document is a "table" of some kind, you may also see your spreadsheet program listed. Click the program you want to use, and the OCR/text will be fed into it.

If you are new to using OCR it's important to understand that it is no better than the document that has been scanned. If the text has not been accurately aligned to the scanner's edges, or if it bears coffee stains or pencil notes, the output could contain a lot of errors. Even a scan that looks perfect should be proof-read and spell-checked, since a "B" or an "S" can be misinterpreted as an "8" by the software.

Free OCR Program

If your image-editing software is not OCR-equipped, stand-alone OCR software can be purchased, with ScanSoft-TextBridge being one of the oldest and most reliable. However, I've been told that a free program which can be downloaded from also works very well.

Speaking of image-editing software, most PC users have more than one program available, and can benefit from spending some time with each to see how they all work. We all have "Paint" (a.k.a. Paintbrush), since it comes with Windows. Beyond this, bitmap software normally comes with the purchase of a scanner or a printer or a digital camera, each of which may have different image-editing capabilities.

Furthermore, some of us download free tools such as Irfanview ( because they are faster and easier than other programs for certain chores. Something that often puzzles owners of different bitmap programs, however, is that the icons associated with pictures sometimes change. Well, you can change these options back to what they were, or to match a different program altogether.

In WinXP, right-click an image's icon and choose Open With. Next, click Choose Program. Then check "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file." Finally, OK the preferred program.

This can be done in Win98 by right-clicking the filename while holding down SHIFT, after which you will find "Open With" options similar to the above. WinME will be similar to one of the above procedures.

Feb 1

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World-Wide Virus Assault

The flood of emails with virus-bearing attachments unleashed this past week illustrates once again the importance of having an updated anti-virus program installed at all times. Even with Norton AV installed, however, I've seen a number of these emails slip through unchallenged - which illustrates an equally important maxim: never open an attachment you are not expecting, even if it appears to be from someone you know.

Recent viruses are usually written to steal email addresses from computers they succeed in infecting, and then sending infections to others from these addresses. The rogue messages are also being written to fool recipients into thinking they are legitimate notices of failed email transmissions, or messages that are only partially legible with the attachment needing to be opened to read the whole thing.

Although many viruses have historically been written to damage computers that accept them, the current batch appears to be aimed mainly at causing "denial of service" problems for and certain other Web sites. Web-based newsletters from and, among others, are full of detailed information on these germs; so I won't try to elaborate here.

Free Online Virus Check & Removal

However, if you are unsure about having received a virus, I would recommend going to and using their free online virus scanning and removal service. I do this regularly, even though I have an updated AV program onboard at all times.

Another clue to a virus-bearing attachment is that it will often have a double file name extension, such as .txt.pif. However, you may only see .txt and be fooled into thinking it is a harmless plain text file. Why would you not see .pif in this example? Well, Windows has always come with certain extensions hidden, and this is something you need to fix, if you haven't already done so.

Fix Windows "Hidden Filename Extension" Problem

WinXP and WinME users should double-click My Documents and go to Tools > Folder Options. Click the View tab and look for the option that reads: "Hide Extensions for Known File Types." UNcheck it! Win98 users will find this line under View > Options > View.

In the above example, leaving this option checked would meant that the real (and dangerous) extension of .pif would be hidden, while the bogus extension of .txt would be displayed.

Keep Your AV Program Updated

One other thing - it's important to be aware that certain emails have been known to contain a virus within the actual message, and bear no attachment at all. I have no explanation for this; but Norton has saved me from them more than once - which means diligent deletion of suspicious attachments should not be your only means of blocking infections. Keep an updated AV program onboard at all times.

What do I mean by "updated?" Well, an AV program is only as reliable as the most recent virus it was written to watch for. Virus-writers are busy all the time, hoping to slip a new one by us that our last AV update didn't know about. This means that if you install, say, Norton AV, you should also sign up for regular online updates.

Norton "Tools"

Speaking of Norton, I only use its AV program and avoid its "Tools" program. My experience has been that their "Tools" are fine for technicians, but often create more problems than they solve for non-tech users.

Beware of Bait & Switch Anti-Spyware

Along with AV software, it has become increasingly important to have anti-spyware software installed, and I see more and more of it advertised online. I recently spotted a link that read: "Free software to remove spyware from your PC." Clicking the link took me to a site where I was invited to download the "free SpyHunter" program, which would scan my computer for malware. It did so; but then said it would remove the bad stuff only if I bought the program for $30.

Well, I am not against programmers being paid for their efforts - but I resent "bait and switch" advertising. "Spybot - Search & Destroy" and "AdAware" do the same things as "SpyHunter," but for free. Yes, they do ask for donations - but complying is left up to the users.

Spybot - Search & Destroy" and "AdAware" can be downloaded from

Jan 27

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Do-It-Yourself Business Card Questions

Regarding a recent column on printing do-it-yourself business cards with MSWord, I got some interesting responses. A few said the Microsoft templates were confusing, while some WordPerfect and MSWorks users said they, too, would like a business card template. Well, WP and Works users do have some built-in tools; but, to make things easier, I've put a couple of ready-to-use templates for Word and WordPerfect on my site at

However, I could not get these layouts to work with the word processor in MSWorks. Since newer versions of Works are using MSWord, it appears that Microsoft has stopped updating and supporting the previous Works word processor.

Turning Off a HyperLink in MSWord

Regarding a recent column on how to convert hyperlinks in MSWord to plain text, Al Roller wrote with another method: right-click the target email or Web site address, and choose Hyperlink > Remove Hyperlink. Thanks, Al.

More on Downloading "Setup Files" for Programs

Harry Carpenter wrote to say he was puzzled by a recent column explaining that, to download a "program," a "setup" file is what's really downloaded, which creates the actual application when it is run. Harry suggested this meant the downloaded file must be very large, since it contains the actual application inside of it.

No - the finished application will always be larger than the setup file (or set of zipped files) that created it. How is this possible? "File compression."

Almost any file can be compressed (or "zipped") to a much smaller size, meaning it can be uploaded and downloaded faster. However, the downloaded file must be decompressed ("unzipped") to use it. Beyond this, a downloaded "setup" file is normally decompressed to create a finished program.

How are files compressed? Well, if a lengthy phrase is repeated several times in a file, it may be temporarily replaced with, say, a two-character code. In order to actually use the file, however, the phrase/code procedure has to be reversed. This, of course, is an over-simplification; but think of a zipped file as a package of dehydrated food - the package is smaller and lighter for shipping - but water has to be replaced so the food will be usable.

Not too many years ago, when hard drives were much smaller than now, it was not uncommon to use software that zipped and unzipped all your files on the fly. This meant a hard drive could hold about twice as much as it otherwise might. This feature is still built into recent versions of Windows, although few users need it anymore. Email or call me if you would like details.

Outlook Express Page Layout Options Found in Internet Explorer

Outlook Express user John McMenamin wrote to say the email messages he prints out had suddenly lost their normal left margin and would print near the edge of the paper. I explained to John that OE margin settings can be adjusted by double-clicking Internet Explorer and going to File > Page Setup > Margins.

Marshall Byer wrote to say he often receives photos via e-mail which are larger than an 8.5x11-inch sheet of paper, but that he found a way to make them fit using Irfanview (my favorite image-manager, which is free from Open a photo with Irfanview, and go to File>Print, whereupon a dialogue box will appear which offers resizing options, including "Best Fit to Page."

Jan 25

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Dealing with Those ">>>>>" Symbols

Max Busbee wrote to ask how to get rid of all those pointy "greater than" symbols that often arrive in forwarded e-mail. Well, I handle this problem with "StripMail," a free utility that also fixes the bad formatting often seen in forwarded e-mail, with its alternating long and short lines of text. StripMail can be downloaded from my site at

Downloading Basics

Speaking of free software, Delores Folstad wrote to say she doesn't understand how to download the Sticky Notes program I recently mentioned. Well, for the benefit of new PC users, this might be a good time for "Downloading 101."

To "download" a file means to "save" it on your computer, after having found it on a Web site or in an e-mail. Once a "Download" prompt has been clicked, you will normally be asked if you want to "Open" or "Save" the file.

If the file is, say, a text document or a picture or a music file, deciding which to do is usually simple and straightforward.

If you want to download a "program," however, you will actually be downloading a special file that will then need to be opened (executed, run) so it can create and install one or more other files, which will comprise the actual program.

When asked if we want to "Open" or "Save" the file, we usually click "Save" and then click on "Open" after the "installation file" has been downloaded.

When you choose "Open," the downloaded file may very well create and install the desired program without any further prompts; or it may ask you a series of questions regarding how you want the program configured.

Once the program has been fully installed, you need to decide what to do with the original file you downloaded. You can keep it, in case you ever want to reinstall the program, or you can delete it, in case you want to free up hard drive space.

Finding a Downloaded File

Getting back to "downloading," I hear from a lot of folks who say they can't find a file after it has been saved. Well, the default download location can vary on different computers. All my downloaded files go into the "My Documents" folder, while some users find the files on their Desktop. Other users, such as AOL and CompuServe members, have their downloaded files sent to a folder named "Download," which is inside their ISP's main folder.

If you can't find a downloaded file, the easiest way to locate it is to repeat the download process, and make it a point to look at the name of the default folder the file will be saved in. At this juncture you can also type in the name of a different folder, if you prefer.

Free Office Suite

Speaking of other free software, I have been testing the "office suite" available from The suite includes a word processor, a spreadsheet utility, a drawing program, and a PowerPoint-like presentation program. The suite is in many ways similar to Microsoft Office and WordPerfect Office. The program is compatible with MSOffice, and its files can be saved with familiar MSOffice extensions, such as .DOC for word processing documents.

OpenSource software is part of an ongoing effort by a number of developers who want to make as many programs as possible completely free for anyone to download and use, such as the "Linux" operating system. Linux has been designed to compete with Microsoft Windows, and is available free, or at a nominal cost when it comes packaged with a CD and instructions.

Linux has been in development for a number of years, and is still not ready to replace Windows altogether; but for someone willing to study the program and its available add-ons, it can be a formidable competitor. If interested, a lot of literature on the subject can be found by going to a search engine such as and typing "linux" into the Search box. The OpenSource suite works with both Windows and Linux.

Jan 20

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MSWord Problem

Bill Lautenbach wrote to say his recent attempts to use MSWord had begun to freeze his computer and require a manual reboot each time. Bill went on to say he tried reinstalling Word from its original CD, but that the freeze-up problem did not go away.

I suggested that Bill delete a file named NORMAL.DOT, and reboot the computer. He wrote back to say that doing so fixed the problem, and everything is back to normal.

Let's look at what happened.

All versions of MSWord come with a file named, which contains the program's default settings, such as font style, page setup dimensions, and other formatting specifications. If a user changes any of these defaults, the changes are stored in; and the file will remain intact even if the whole program is reinstalled.

The Fix

Well, MSWord has never been the most stable program in the world and has always been prone to developing glitches that can make one's computer do strange things. The fix? Go to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders, and type in When the file name appears, click on it and hit your DELETE key, followed by restarting the computer.

During the reboot, Word will recreate the file (along with its original default settings) and, very likely, fix any problems that might have been in residence. I hate to tell you how many times I've had to do this over the years—but it's always worked.

Reformatting 3.5" Floppy Disks

Ralph Magerkurth wrote to say he has used a number of floppy diskettes to copy files from one computer to another, and asks what the best way is to empty them so they can be used again.

Well, the existing files could be selected and zapped with one's DELETE key, but this doesn't do a thorough job. The prescribed method is to insert the target floppy into its drive, and then double-click My Computer. Do a single-click on the A-Drive icon and go to File > Format. Finally, follow the prompts for reformatting the diskette.

DeFrag - Important PC Maintenance

One of the best things you can do for your computer is to "defragment" it periodically. As new files are placed on our hard drives, the are added sequentially. When items are deleted, however, the files become "fragmented" and can cause your PC to slow down.

Well, Windows comes with a built-in program called Defrag, which will realign your files and help speed things up. Pre-WinXP users also have a program called ScanDisk, which should be run before running Defrag. There are a number of modes in which these programs can be run, and describing them all would take more space than we have here.

However, a complete set of instructions can be found on my site at, including tips for WinXP users on how to use another helpful program called chkdsk (CheckDisk).

Dealing with Spyware

A number of people have written to say they downloaded a program called "Hotbar" and that they now want to get rid of it, but can find no way to do so. Well, programs like Hotbar and Bonzi Buddy are classic examples of "spyware" that usually get downloaded because they are promoted as "helpful tools" of some kind. What they actually do, however, is bombard users with all kinds of advertising, and often change one's home page, as well as various other settings. Furthermore, once installed, they offer no way to uninstall them.

Fortunately, there are a couple of free "anti-spyware" programs that can get rid of these problems. "Spybot - Search & Destroy" and "Adaware" can be obtained at I prefer the former, and use it regularly. It searches my computer and lists all the spyware it finds, after which it asks which ones I want removed. I choose ALL, and they are immediately zapped.

If you use the program periodically, be sure to click on Update > Scan for Updates, because new spyware is always being created somewhere, and upgrades to Spybot are also always in the works.

WARNING: Some programs advertise themselves as being "anti-spyware" when they are actually spyware programs that will eliminate other spyware and stay installed to do their own spying on you.

Jan 18

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Yellow Sticky Notes

Do you use little yellow stickies for quick notes around your home or office? Well, they are also available for your PC, and they are free! A link to the program's download site can be found at

Here's a brief overview of how the Stickies work: Let's say you suddenly need to jot down a phone number on your computer. Well, you could launch your word processor, type in the number, and then save the document with a file name. Or—you could click the Yellow icon in your System Tray and type the number into the Sticky Note that suddenly appears—all in less time than it takes for your word processor to open.

Furthermore, you don't have to go to File>Save As and give the Sticky a name or location. It can be moved anywhere on your Desktop, and will stay there until you delete it—even if you re-boot the computer.

Options for Saving Your Stickies

If you do want to save your note with a file name, you can right-click its header bar and choose Save As, whereupon you will be able to save it as a Sticky Note with an extension of .STI, or you can save it as a Notepad file, with a .TXT extension.

When a blank Sticky first appears, it will be small—but it will expand as needed if you type more data into it. Furthermore, you can grab an edge and re-shape the Sticky to suit yourself.

As for relocating a Sticky, you can move it beyond any edge of your Desktop so that just part of it shows. Also, multiple Stickies can be overlapped and rearranged as needed.

Pick Your Color

Although we usually think of stickies as being yellow, you can choose any background color you want, and you can make it semi-transparent so that overlapped items will show through one another.

One of my favorite uses for a sticky is to convert HTML into plain text. If you find a Web page article you'd like to copy and save as a word processing document, it will often have blocks of advertising in and around it. Well, you can use Table > Convert > Table to Text as a remedy—or you can copy and paste the article into a Sticky, where HTML table formatting and graphics will be ignored. Try it—you'll like it.

More on Printing Web Pages

Regarding my recent explanation of how to print a wide Web page without having parts of it omitted, Gene Baird wrote to say you can also do this by mouse-selecting the parts you want printed, pressing Ctrl+P, and choosing "Selection." Then, when you click "Print" the selected data will be rearranged as necessary to fit on standard 8-1/2 inch wide paper.

Other Printer Options

Other options available when doing Ctrl+P (or using File>Print) include choosing how many copies you want printed, as well as choosing which pages in a multi-page document you want printed. Typing 4 in the "Pages:" box will print Page 4 only, while typing 4-7 will print Pages 4 through 7. Typing "3,5,7,10" will print only the pages indicated.

Still other options include printing only odd or even pages, as well as printing multiple pages in reverse order. It also pays to look for "Paper Type" and "Print Quality" options, which can affect the amount of ink used on a document. You can also choose "Black Ink Only" for multi-color pages. It pays to check your Ctrl+P options, rather than just clicking your toolbar's Printer icon.

Turning Off Hyperlinks

Bob Tavano wrote to ask if there is a way to keep email and Web page addresses from turning into underlined blue hyperlinks as they are entered into an MSWord document. Yes, this can be done by going to Tools>AutoCorrect>AutoFormat and UNchecking "Internet & Network Paths with Hyperlinks." This same option also needs to be UNchecked under "AutoFormat As You Type."

Jan 13

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Do-It-Yourself Business Cards

Rod Hyde wrote to ask if there is a way to create a sheet of business cards using MSWord. Well, Word has always come with a number of templates to help us create things like business letters, fax forms, and resumes—but a layout for business cards is not normally included. However, this can be found on Microsoft's Web site.

Go to and click on Resources - Office Update. Then click on Templates and type business card into the Search box on the page that comes up. Click the green arrow, and a number of choices will be listed.

If you see a category (such as "Business Executive" or "Dentist") that looks like it might work for you, click on the link. A miniature view of a 10-card page will be displayed, whereupon DOWNLOAD can be clicked if you like what you see.

These templates conform to the die-cut Avery #5371/8371 sheets that can be found in any office supply store. There are ten standard-size cards on each 8.5x11-inch sheet.

Yes, having a commercial printer do a batch of 1000 makes the per-card cost much less—but nowadays things such as phone numbers, zip codes, and email addresses change so often that printing just a few at a time can be advantageous.

Back at the Microsoft site, clicking DOWNLOAD will open your version of Word and create a full-size copy of the page you saw in miniature. Now you will edit the upper-left-corner card with your own personal data. Zooming to a view of 150% or 200% can make the editing easier.

As for the editing, you can keep the font styles and graphics you see, or be as creative as you want and change everything. As long as you give the document a name with a .DOC extension and do periodic saves, you are limited only by your own imagination.

Once you have a finished design you are pleased with, mouse-select it and do Ctrl+C to COPY it. Now select the data in another card and do Ctrl+V (PASTE) to replace it with your own. Repeat this on the other eight cards and you're ready to go to press.

Instead of printing your own or having 1000 done at a commercial print shop, you could take your finished layout to a place like Kinko's, where the store's staff can print, cut and trim the finished cards. Be sure to do a print-out on plain paper so the staff can see what the cards should look like, and then hand them a floppy or a CD bearing a copy of the Word file.

In fact, you can even email the file to your favorite copy center, and have the cards ready for pick-up later on. Of course it goes without saying that files for, say, advertising flyers and various office forms can also be emailed, thus saving you one trip to the printer. I do this all the time.

Other Available Templates

As for the various stock layouts that came with your version of Word, go C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office and open the Templates folder, where you'll also find designs for PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher, and other MS programs you might have. A Word template will always have a .DOT extension, and should be saved with a .DOC extension after it's been used to help create a new document.

Files with a .WIZ extension are "wizards" that lead us step-by-step through creating things such as form letters or mailing labels, where different data may be inserted from one item to the next.

One final thought on business cards: You can make your own template, using Word's "Table" options. Go to Table>Insert Table and choose 2 Columns with 5 Rows. The downside of this method, however, is that row heights will expand and shrink as data is added and deleted. Nonetheless, this issue can be overcome with some diligent experimenting—and the results can be very rewarding.

Similar Table options are also available in WordPerfect and MSWorks.

Jan 11

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Blank Box with Red X

Dr. Les Breitman wrote to say he's been receiving email with attached photos; but that some of the messages have blank boxes bearing a red X. When I asked if this usually happens with emails that have quite a few photos indicated, he replied yes.

Well, many email clients allow only so many megabytes of attached files with a single message, and will remove the attachments when the limit is exceeded. If this happens to you, ask the sender to re-send the photos, but to divide them up among multiple emails.

Outlook Express users should also be sure that Format > Send Pictures with Message is checked, before sending the letter.

Type Your Initials & Have Your Complete Name & Address Appear

Bing Forbing wrote to say he used to be able to type his "return address" as a block of text in three lines that could later be generated by typing his initials and pressing his F3 key—but that he can no longer find this feature.

Right—this feature was available in earlier versions of MSWord and MSWorks. However, it was omitted from recent versions of MSWorks, and replaced with "AutoCorrect" in recent versions of MSWord. Let's take a look.

"AutoCorrect" was originally created in MSWord as a "typo-repair" function that corrects many common misspellings as we type. For instance, "recieve" is automatically changed to "receive" while "paralell" instantly becomes "parallel." Well, Word also lets you add your own items to AutoCorrect.

Here's how to do what Bing referred to: Type your name and address in two or three lines and format the text in the font size and style you want. Now highlight the finished typing. While the text is selected go to Tools > AutoCorrect, and your text will appear in the "With:" box.

Now type your code (initials, or whatever) into the "Replace:" box. Finally, choose either Plain or Formatted Text and then click Apply, followed by clicking OK.

From then on, whenever you type your code, followed by pressing ENTER or your SPACEBAR, your name and address will appear as you originally prepared it. However, this obviously means your "code" should not be a regular word. If Betty Engle chooses BE as her code, for instance, she won't be able to type the word "be" without its changing into her return address.

Other "AutoCorrect" Features

While looking at AutoCorrect's various "Replace/With" items, you'll see that :) turns into J and that (c) turns into ©.

You can also use this feature to display commonly-used foreign words (such as El Niño) with their correct symbols. The special letters used in these words can be found in MSWord by going to Insert > Symbol and choosing the font that matches the one you're typing with (or by choosing "normal text").

In other programs, going to Start > Run and typing charmap (character map) will display these symbols.

Copying Addresses from One Email Program to Another

Folks changing from one email client to another have written to ask if there is an easy way to copy their Address Books to the new service. Well, some services have a File>Import/Export option, which simplifies the task, but most do not. Here's a trick that works with all Address Books:

Start a new email and place all the names/addresses from your Address Book into the "Copy To:" field of the blank email. (This procedure varies from one email client to another.)

Outlook Express users will click on "CC:" to display the Address Book. Next, click the top name/address and press the SHIFT key. While holding down SHIFT, click the bottom name/address and they will all be highlighted. Finally, click CC:, followed by clicking OK.

AOL and CompuServe users will start a new letter, and click on Address Book, whereupon all the names/addresses can selected with the "SHIFT-click" steps described above. Next, click on Send and choose Copy To:

With all the names/addresses displayed in the "CC:" or "Copy To:" field, they can be easily mouse-selected, followed by doing Ctrl+C to COPY them. Now they can be PASTED into any text-editor with Ctrl+V, from there they can be copied and pasted into a new Address Book, using the new email client's rules for doing so.

Jan 6

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Printing an Entire Web Page

Dick Zajic wrote to say that when he attempts to print an entire Web page, the right side is often omitted because the page is too wide for a standard sheet of 8.5-inch paper. Well, there is no "standard Web page size" - nonetheless, it is possible to get everything on a printout. Here's how:

If you're using Netscape 7.1, you can go to File > Page Setup > Format & Options, and click on "Shrink to Fit Page Width." This will reduce the text and graphics as needed to fit from left to right, although more than one sheet may print out to accommodate a page's height.

Sadly, Internet Explorer does not offer this option. Nonetheless, you can make IE fit by using the 11-inch dimension as the "width." Go to File > Page Setup > Landscape and the Web page will print "sideways" in however many sheets are needed.

To see how the finished pages will look (in either Netscape or IE) go to File>Print Preview.

If you've ever printed any Web pages, you have seen that colored backgrounds are usually omitted, thus saving lots of expensive ink. In fact, you may want to consider just printing the parts of a Web page you really need, such as an article or a particular picture. Do you really need all those ads and various links showing up on your finished print?

If you see a "Printer Friendly" option at the bottom of an article, it will supply a plain text version that can save time and ink. Also, you can mouse-select a portion of text (or an entire article) and COPY it (Ctrl+C) and then PASTE it (Ctrl+V) into your favorite word processor, where it can be edited to look just the way you want.

However, mouse-selecting an entire article often picks up extraneous stuff along with it (usually ads or various links) that can be removed as per information at the end of this column.

As for pictures, right-clicking one and choosing "COPY" will let you insert it into a word processing document by going to Edit > Paste Special, and choosing "Bitmap." Or you can right-click an image and choose "Save Picture As," followed by supplying a name and location for it.

Using Word Processing "TABLES"

Mary Golder called to ask how to divide a word processing page into four equal parts, into which a picture and some text would be inserted. The page would later be cut to produce four individual "counter-signs."

The easiest way to divide a page into quarters is with "Tables." Go to Table > Insert Table and choose 2 Rows and 2 Columns. This will produce a Table that is evenly divided left and right, but whose vertical dimensions will be just enough to accommodate a line of text. This is characteristic of word processing Tables, whose cells will expand vertically as words and/or graphics are added inside them.

In Mary's case, data can be inserted into the four cells until the bottom edge of the bottom row is where she wants it, near the bottom of the page. Each cell becomes a miniature word-processing page, where items can be centered or otherwise aligned, and where most other text-editing tools work. The significant exception is the TAB key, which jumps the cursor from one cell to another. Tabbed paragraphs in a Table are generated by using the spacebar.

As for pictures, they can be placed in a cell with the Insert > Picture command; however, their locations can be fine-tuned if one first uses Insert > Text Box to create a moveable frame for them.

Of the zillions of things that can be done with Tables, only a few can be mentioned here; but experimenting and using your Help files can be very rewarding.

Another helpful thing to know about Tables is that they are used extensively in Web page design, and are often used to place advertising blurbs around a text article. Therefore, if you have copied a Web article into your word processor, and see extraneous stuff along with it, you can click inside the offending area and go to Table > Convert > Table to Text, whereupon the unwanted stuff can be easily removed.

Jan 4

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Oversight Correction

Al Nuwer wrote to say that, regarding my recent instructions on how to play a sequence of songs with the Windows Media Player, he couldn't find the "Playlists" button.

Mea culpa. I neglected to mention that "Media Library" needs to be clicked first.

Speaking of songs, Wilson Bogan wrote to say he downloaded several WAV files from my Web site's free music page( but that he couldn't copy them onto a CD for playing in a regular (non-computer) CD player. Well, here's how it can be done using Roxio CD Creator 5 (which seems to be the most-used CD-burning program).

Making WAV Files Play on a Non-Computer CD Player

Place a blank CD in your CD-recorder, whereupon Roxio should display a box with various recording options, which will lead to "Create a Music CD." Next, a window will appear with the message: "Add Tracks & Audio Files Here" along with open space into which the music files can be dragged.

After you have all the desired songs placed in this area, click the "Record" button. Now a message will appear that explains the procedure for "finalizing" the recording process to make the songs playable on a regular CD unit. If these steps are followed exactly, the WAV or MP3 songs you've chosen will be converted to CDA (CD Audio) files, which will play on any type of CD player.

MIDI files, however, cannot be made to play on a non-computer CD player.

Making a Print-Out Larger

Jan Jones wrote to say her printed email comes out in a tiny, hard-to-read font, although it appears large on her screen. Well, there are several possibilities here, but what needs to be understood is that print-outs and screen views are not necessarily the same thing.

In several programs the size of text on the screen can be adjusted by going to View > Text Size. In Outlook Express the print-out size can be set by going to Tools > Options > Compose > Font Settings. Beyond this, any email message can be copied and pasted into a word-processing page, where the font size can be chosen from the toolbar's drop-down menu.

Retrieving BCC Names in Outlook Express

Outlook Express user Brian Allanson wrote to ask if there was a way to retrieve the list of email names he had put in a message's BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) box after having sent the message. Yes—if the message is still in the "Sent Items" folder, it can be right-clicked, after which clicking Properties > Details will display the list of names.

Don Babitz wrote to say that after reformatting a virus-infected Win98 hard drive and installing WinXP, he seemed to have less fonts than before, and wondered if WinXP normally comes with fewer fonts. The short answer is "I don't know." However, I can share what I have learned about fonts over the years.

Mini-History of Font Availability

Early versions of Windows came with a few basic type styles, such as Arial, Courier New, and Times New Roman. Other fonts, if they could be found, had to be purchased. Over time, more fonts were added to the Windows assortment, and others sometimes came with various programs. Eventually, many users ended up with dozens of fonts—some of which are pretty ugly and deserve to be summarily deleted.

In my case, however, I've had to keep all these fonts because they might be asked for by customers of the screen-printing business I had for 40 years. Beyond this, popular fonts eventually became available from various Web sites. However, I now see that these same sites display notices saying they can no longer offer Microsoft's fonts, nor does Microsoft make them freely available.

Exchanging Fonts via Email

Therefore, my suggestion is: if you need a particular font, ask your friends if they have it, since a font can be can be sent as an email attachment. I've sent many fonts to people over the years. However, doing so is a little tricky. Let me explain:

Fonts are stored in a folder named Fonts, which can be accessed by going to My Computer > C: Drive > Windows > Fonts. Find the desired font and drag it onto your Desktop. Finally, right-click it and choose Send To > Mail Recipient, whereupon your email program will create a new message with the font attached.

OK, but you are probably wondering why the "Send To" command was not executed while the font was still in the Fonts folder. Well, for reasons known only to Microsoft, a font inside the Fonts folder cannot be copied, nor will the "Send To" command work on it. However, you can drag a font onto your Desktop (or into any other folder) where it can be handled like most any other file.

Anyway, on the receiving end the other user will download the font and drag it into his or her C:\Windows\Fonts folder.

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