Tech Q and A: April 1, 2008

Today debuts a new column that answers your most vexing technology-related questions. Send your questions to and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.

Q: I keep running into an annoying problem in Windows XP. Often, when I install or upgrade a Web browser application — for example, Mozilla Firefox, Apple's Safari or even Microsoft's own Internet Explorer — XP prompts me to log out of my regular limited account and to log back in as the administrator.

After I finish the upgrade or installation and log back in as myself, the browser won't work. Why does this happen, and how can I get around it?

A: Using a limited account for day-to-day computing is an excellent strategy for fighting malware on your system. Much of the bad stuff simply can't install itself without higher privileges. One of the drawbacks, however, is that it occasionally causes problems — in the same way and for the same reasons — for the applications you want to install.

The simple solution first: If you are installing as Administrator and the install script asks if you want to install for "this user only" or for "all users" of the computer, remember that you must select "all users."

I rather expect, however, that the problem you're having is caused by the installation procedure not fully completing.

Try this: After the installation finishes, restart your system (whether it asks you to or not) and log back in as Administrator.

Then start the newly-installed application as Administrator. This will ensure that all of the installation tasks complete with proper privileges. Log back into your regular account, and everything should be fine.

• Click here for's Personal Technology Center.

Television From Across the Pond

Q: On a recent trip to London, I bought some DVDs of British television shows I'd enjoyed watching on BBC America. However, my living-room DVD player won't read them. I have heard that some PC programs enable you to watch DVDs from other countries on a computer. Any idea what some of them might be, and how much they would cost? And are there any that work on a Mac?

A: To paraphrase Monty Python, "It's only a scratch!"

The problem is something called a DVD region code, which allows Hollywood film studios to control when DVDs are released around the world by limiting playback to one of six regions. In other words, your DVD player looks for a region code of "1" (Canada and the USA) but finds a "2" (most of Europe, the Middle East, Japan and South Africa) and refuses to play it.

There might be a simple solution. Now that your browser is working again, go to and look for your living-room DVD player in the database there. IF you're lucky, you'll find a combination of keys to enter from your remote that will bring up a hidden menu and allow you to change the region code from 1 to 2.

Your player wasn't on the list? Then I'd recommend VideoLAN's VLC Media Player. You can download a copy from

On the Windows platform, it is said to "work like a dream" playing DVDs from any region — and also has a nifty little network streaming system built into it.

Unfortunately, that won't work on most recent Macintoshes, except for the aluminum iMac manufactured after mid-2007. The solution? Pop the DVD into a PC running Windows and stream it to your Mac using the procedure outlined here.

Gutsy Gibbon Frequently Freezes

Q: I've recently installed the Gutsy Gibbon release of Ubuntu Linux on my laptop, and find it to be a nice complement to the regular Windows XP system.

However, it keeps mysteriously freezing. I'll be typing or just surfing the Web, and everything locks up. The cursor won't respond, nothing happens on the screen and the keyboard does no good. After a minute or so, everything goes back to normal.

I can't detect any pattern to this — it seems to happen randomly. Is there something I can do to avoid this?

A: If this were a Windows system, the first thing you would want to look for is some program making a request on the network — an anti-spyware program looking for updates, a graphics application looking for software upgrades, or malware downloading yet another copy of itself.

Or perhaps your system is experiencing another episode of Applications Behaving Badly — for example, a program opening a dialog box (hidden by other windows) and refusing to let other programs run until you click "OK".

But this is Linux, and that's not supposed to happen.

Many Linux users have reported similar symptoms, ranging from freezing for a minute or two to completely locking up. The culprit seems to be some mysterious interaction between the power-management system and the video card.

ACPI stands for Advanced Configuration and Power Interface, and is a 600-page-plus specification which, among other things, gives the operating system control of various and sundry power related functions, such as your laptop's ability to enter standby and hibernate states, for example.

The problem is in the drivers: Many Linux drivers are written with the assumption that the hardware is in some semi-sane state, and that it got there by reading your system's BIOS. That tends to be untrue, especially for video cards, when ACPI is merrily suspending the disk or screen or NIC to save the battery.

Try turning off ACPI entirely, or fiddling with the power management settings (System > Preferences > Power Management) and see if that cures the problem.

Or, if you're really ambitious, you can install Linux as a virtual machine under Windows XP and switch back and forth between them on the fly.

In the meantime, we can wait for run-time power management to improve in each successive release of Linux to the point where it is as good as Windows — perhaps even better.

Guy Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.

Got questions about computers and technology? Send them to and we'll answer selected ones in our next installment.

We regret that we can't answer questions individually. Neither nor its writers and editors assume any liability for the effectiveness of the solutions presented here.