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Technology Today December 2006|
by Robert Sanborn

Itís December and that means lots of things for us technology junkies. One is that new computers are just on the horizon and if you want to be the hottest, baddest, fastest son on your block, that means the new Intel Quad processor system. It will set you back a ways but you wonít have anyone near your speed for quite a while. It is fun to think back not so long ago when the coolest thing you could get on your machine was the hyper-threading technology that would split a stream of instructions into two to make the system handle things a bit faster but this new duo core technology and now quad core technology actually doubles or quadruples the guts of the hardware processor into a single chip to really speed things up. I got one of the first dual core systems in a notebook a while ago and was really surprised at the speed of things. Of course, your internet surfing will never change much no matter how fast a computer you have but still, to see things like Microsoft Word pop up in a very few short seconds is really fun.

The other best part about December is that the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is just around the corner and will be in Las Vegas (where else) in the second week of January from the 8th through the 11th. Here you will find all the goodies that any techno junkie could want under about a half dozen roofs at the same time. I think they had over 1500 people from the press covering it last year (including yours truly) and this year expects to be even bigger. What goodies will I be looking for besides big screen LCD and Plasma Televisions? How about higher speed devices for your computer, higher speed networks, wider ranging wireless networks, a faster internet, more stable software, and maybe a less expensive way to get us all upgraded to Vista. It is official now that if you buy a new computer with Windows XP on it between now and when it comes out, you get a coupon that is either free or a small charge to get you upgraded to Windows Vista.

Should you upgrade? Well, that is really a question between you and your computer. If memory wasnít so expensive right now, I would say you should have 2 gigabytes of it but you might take a look at the configuration of your mainboard. Most systems have four slots for memory (except notebooks which usually have just two) and if so, you can put a pair of 512mb sticks into two slots, wait for prices to come down and then get another pair of 512mb sticks for the other two for a total of 2 gigabytes. I would strongly suggest you keep very good records of what you buy because your computer doesnít like having different kinds of memory installed.

Email Woes

Been running into a few email problems lately and I donít mean because of all the spam and junk which by the way, sees to have ballooned lately. How to deal with it, well, I hate to say, I am not really sure the best way. Seems like there are lots of options and advice out there but when you look at them closely, they donít seem to do much. Lots of anti-spam software coming out and most of it unfortunately is just junk. You will end up spending more time tweaking the settings rather than just deleting the emails that come in. I have tried several including the one from Symantec and find them more trouble than they are worth. What I have found that works best for me so far is to use the email program, Outlook that comes with Microsoft Office. Several things I like about itís mail handling is the junk mail folder that without any prompting from me catches nearly all the spam that comes in regarding stock tips, things to make life bigger, and so on.

A couple of other tips I have mentioned in the past will keep them at a minimum. One is to get a junk email account. I have one that I use for all those web sites that require your email before they will let you in. If you have a broadband service or even AOL, they will let you have multiple email accounts. So I literally created my junkmail@indy.rr.com just for that reason. Go to your ISP and set the spam settings on this account to the highest possible and I go in once a month and dump everything there. There is another way that I read about using an online service and you can also go to places like Yahoo or Hotmail and setup your throwaway accounts.

Keeping your System Protected

There are three major components you need to have to keep your system free from harmful software and they are anti-virus, firewall, and anti-spyware. I think Symantec has had the lead in anti-virus products for years and while there have been some great products; there have also been some pretty hard things to live with especially if you have an older and slower computer. The other two AV programs to look at would be Trend Microís PC Cillin and AVG.

For years, Zone Labs Zone Alarm firewall package has been the best to get but I was never fond of it because of the constant popups as it just couldnít understand what you have on your computer and what should or should not get to the internet. For the truly paranoid, it was a great product as it always asked you whether a software package should have access to the internet. The problem is that every time something got updated, it would ask you. Or if you install a package like Quicken which has about half a dozen components that want access to the internet, you have to answer for all of them and that is the problem for the average home user who wants their firewall to figure these out for itself. Zone Alarm canít. Other good options for firewalls would be Norton Internet Security and Sygates Personal Firewall.

Spyware killers are another fairly new category but it has become essential to protecting your computer. The top three here are Webrootís Spysweeper with a second choice being the Spyware Doctor 4.0 from PC Tools and Sunbelt Softwareís CounterSPy. Another one to consider would be Symantecís which just got an excellent review from PC Magazine.

If you want an all in one package, get the newest 2007 version of Norton Internet Security which covers all three. PC Magazine calls them "world class protection". A final option to consider would be Microsoftís offering of Windows Live One Care. This is a sampling of what will come once you get a computer with Vista on it. How well it compares to the software I mention above is still too early to tell but you know they will certainly be in the mix of things. You can get a 90 day trial of it to test out yourselves.

Places I go to check these out would be the review sections of PC Magazine, http://www.pcmag.com/category2/0,1874,21,00.asp PC World, http://www.pcworld.com/reviews/software/ and Cnet http://reviews.cnet.com/Software/2001-3513_7-0.html?tag=ont.sw . Google is also a great place to begin your search.

Short Takes

One of the things you will have to do soon when you upgrade your computer is to move all your files to the new machine and those of you who have been through that process know what a mess it can be. The Windows XP "Files and Settings Transfer Wizard" goes a long way to make your new computer look somewhat like your old one but you still have the software and the data files to worry about. Fortunately, with Microsoft, most of the files reside in My Computers but the older applications and even some of the newer ones make this a really difficult task. AOL for instance, keeps its personal file cabinet far away from the traditional AOL files in Program Files and you need to go into the System Tools (Click Start and go to the AOL Folder) to find out where they are. Other programs that stash them in different places include Quicken & Quickbooks, Netscape, and any DOS program you might still be running.

Where people get caught mostly is in the email and networking programs. Outlook and Outlook Express stash them where you wonít find them so you need to go into each application and transfer the files. And speaking of email files, first thing to do there is to go and get rid of all the junk. Empty the deleted items folders, empty the trash, and then go into your "Sent Mail" folders and get rid of the message there as well. I have seen multiple gigabytes of files because people just donít get rid of the old messages and if you are really chatty, you will have a ton in your Sent Mail folders. Makes life a whole lot easier.

Also, when contemplating moving stuff, you should look at the odd applications like the instant messengers or phone applications like Skype as they also keep their information in different places. Best bet is to click on the Start button, go to all programs, and then write down what of those applications you really need on the other computer and then go and figure out where it stashes the data from those programs.

And finally, you do have the copies of all the software running on your computer donít you? One of the reasons I really hate the Dells, Gateways, HPs, and Compaqís of the world is their habit of dumping the software on the computer and letting you figure out where to save it. Because, if your hard drive dies, good luck getting things restored. For critical stuff like your office software, financial packages, even anti-virus programs and the like, go buy them retail, you will have a box to keep.

Robert Sanborn

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com

Last Update:06/26/2007


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