Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.
It's been a "Tough Week for Dotcom Nostalgia," to quote the headline at BaseLineMag.com.
First, Sun Microsystems — which once claimed to have put the "dot" in "dot com" — was acquired by Oracle Corporation.
Then Yahoo quietly pulled the plug on GeoCities, the personal Web-page hosting service dating back to 1994.
I served as Website Operations Manager for GeoCities from October 1998 until it was acquired by Yahoo the following summer. For a short time, the system-administrator types who kept the Sun SPARC servers humming along also reported to me.
I've since held jobs that paid more, and jobs that lasted longer, but I don't think I'll ever again have a job that was as much pure fun.
One of my favorite memories is the day that co-founder David Bohnett, an avid environmentalist, showed up with his new car, and let some of us drive it around the parking lot at the Marina del Rey headquarters.
Bohnett had become quite wealthy as his GeoCities stock had converted to Yahoo! shares. He could have purchased any car he wanted.
He showed up in an electric Toyota RAV4 EV! It greatly impressed me that sudden wealth hadn't changed him.
I hope that somebody says the same about me someday.
Where Are You Going, My Little One, Little One?
Q: My daughter is going off to college in the fall. She needs a computer for her first day of class. Is it wiser to hold off on the computer purchase and let her use one of mine that runs XP, and wait for Windows 7 to come out, or just buy the Vista and have a totally incompatible computer?
A: It's up to you at this point.
I'm not entirely sure what you mean by Vista being totally incompatible. Certainly it will behave itself on most home networks. It will share files and printers, connect to wireless routers, do all of the things you would expect a PC to do.
It had some early compatibility woes, but that was — in my humble opinion — more the fault of the various software and hardware vendors than of Microsoft. Vista had been announced years previous to its release, and vendors had ample time to get their products ready. But many didn't.
Further, some of those who did manage to create Vista versions of software and drivers wrote products that weren't backwards-compatible.
So if you had to add a Vista machine to the network, you had to upgrade the software on all the XP machines in the network, or downgrade the Vista machine to XP.
Clever way to make more money, I suppose.
A compatibility problem could exist at the university your daughter is going to, but I rather doubt it. It would be best to check with your daughter's counselors and see if they have any guidelines for new PCs. Some schools encourage Macs, for example.
The advantage for XP is that it's more familiar to most users, and probably easier to find technical support for in the event of a problem. The downside is that it's less secure than Vista.
The advantage for Vista is that you'll be able to upgrade to Windows 7 after it is released. That means less hassle with the files and documents she creates between now and then. With XP, it's a new install, with all of the inherent file- and settings-transfer headaches.
What Was the Greatest Thing Before Sliced Bread?
Q: Will Internet2 ever be real for the general public, or is it just an extended experiment in the university environment?
A: Depends on what you mean by "Internet2."
In actual fact, Internet2 is a consortium, originally and formally organized in 1997, as the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID).
Its mission is to develop and maintain a state-of-the-art, high speed network which serves the bandwidth-intensive needs of the U.S. research and academic community.
Will we soon see a replacement for the current Internet? I believe it's pretty much inevitable. For one thing, fiber-optic links are quite a bit easier to maintain (read: cheaper) than copper ones. They're certainly faster.
More importantly, the "next Internet" will use the new IPv6 addressing scheme as a replacement for the old IPv4, which has been around since 1981.
More to your question, yes — we will have to go to the new Internet, whatever it's finally called. We're almost out of IPv4 addresses. When we finally exhaust the supply, we will be forced, kicking and screaming, to adopt the new standard.
Here's a Quarter. Go Buy Yourself an Operating System.
Q: I am using Ubuntu 9.04 as my primary OS. The reason I switched is because Windows Vista is so slow. But my question is: Is Linux really a good choice for an OS, or is it just a matter of personal opinion?
A: Old Dilbert cartoon: The Unix guy is portrayed as a bearded, coverall-wearing, independent thinker. He tells the title character to go buy a real operating system.
Here in the 21st century, Linux is an excellent choice for a primary operating system. It's inexpensive, fast and need not be ashamed by slick-looking graphical user interfaces. I've seen some Linux desktop schemes that knocked my socks off.
Most of the popular software titles — Word, Excel, Photoshop, etc. — have their Linux equivalents, so you're not giving up anything in terms of productivity.
If you're a gamer, the obvious choice is Windows — if you're going to play on a computer, that is, as opposed to a console. There are far more titles available.
The downside to Linux is that you are going to have to be the independent thinker when it comes to tech support. Most of the guys at your local geeks-in-little-cars-company are not that familiar with Linux.
One of my customers back in Los Angeles was a company that uses mostly text-based "character" terminals plugging into a mainframe computer.
They started using stand-alone PCs for the people who needed e-mail and word-processing capabilities, and their hardware guy told them that a Linux-based PC with a terminal emulator was almost as cost-effective as a character terminal.
Their foray into the Linux world started with an employee who needed an ergonomic keyboard. Very few character terminals have the option. But it was easy to outfit a Linux-based PC with one.
So they gave Linux a try. After a year or so, they decided to go back to a pure Windows/character-terminal solution.
As I explained it to them, you can stop any bus and find a guy who can take care of Windows problems. Linux guys, however, are a somewhat rarer — and more expensive — bird.
When they took maintenance into account, it made more sense to go back to the terminals.
State of the DTV Conversion
Q: I have a 32-inch Westinghouse LCD TV with my coax cable coming right out of the wall and into the TV, no converter box. But I have two issues. On an analog TV set up the same way, I get channels 2 through 72, but on the LCD, I get 2, 5, 5.1, 10, 10.1, 28, and only a few more.
I have done auto and manual scans on the LCD set, and it finds 65 analog channels and 365 digital ones — but all the major channels are green-screened and scrambled but the audio is good. What might cause this, and will it get better after the digital switch in June? And why doesn't it affect the old tube TV?
A: The answer largely depends on what is on the other end of the "coax coming right out of the wall." If it's connected to a regular antenna, the old analog TV will not work after June 12 — at least not without a converter box. If it's connected to some sort of satellite or cable system, it won't change.
My guess, however, is that it is connected to a regular antenna. The green screen you describe is probably a channel transmitting the old analog signal to the digital tuner in your TV. If I'm right, the new Westinghouse will work perfectly after the conversion date.
But check with the people you bought the TV from to make sure. Or Westinghouse. And get the converter box if you're planning on keeping the old analog set.
There was a lot of feedback from Mac users regarding the question about Conficker vs. Mac from the last installment. We've all seen the cute ads; we know that Mac users are younger, more progressive and more hip than PC users. But whinier? That surprised me a little.
The most useful was from a reader who did not identify himself (other than "jamcam1") and posted a link to MacWorld.com. The story indicated that Apple removed, last December, the referenced "antivirus support page" from its Web site. See http://www.macworld.com/article/137267/article.html.
Thanks and a hat tip for the information.
The remainder of the responses pretty much disagreed with me about Macs needing any sort of protection. This response from MacDailyNews.com was typical. Excerpts from the article are in italics; my responses are in normal text:
In a "Tech Q and A" published today, FOXNews' Guy R. Briggs blows it:
Q: You mentioned that Conficker does not attack Macs. [Are] there any viruses, malware or other security threats I need to worry about for my Mac PC ? Should I install security software?
A: Funny you should ask! FoxNews.com ran a story just last week ... According to the cited source, it is the "first Macintosh-specific worm to be found 'in the wild' on the Internet," although, technically, it's a trojan, not a worm.
MacDailyNews Take: That other FOXNews.com story (actually a rewrite of The Post Chronicle's "IBotnet Virus: Apple's First Worm"), was headlined "Mac-Specific Virus Threat Hits Cyberspace." Too bad it wasn't a virus. Or a worm.
Bottom-lining it, I correctly identified it as a trojan.
Now, back to this week's mess: The difference between a trojan and a worm is wider than the gulf between FOXNews' and MSNBC's ratings. It warrants a bit more explanation than the brief "although, technically, it's a trojan, not a worm" statement.
A worm can self-replicate without user interaction. This trojan for Mac is like every other trojan for Mac OS X — it requires the user to authorize its installation.
Misleading. No user in his/her right mind would knowingly install malware on his system. In the case of this particular trojan, the user authorizes installation what he believes is a free copy of Apple's office productivity suite. That's why it's called a trojan (or Trojan horse, if you prefer): The user believes it's a gift, but in reality, the enemy lurks inside.
Without the user's permission, it does nothing; quite unlike Windows' Conficker, which does whatever it wants, without the users even knowing, on unpatched Windows PCs.
"Unpatched" being the keyword. At the foundation of any security policy worth its salt is the downloading and installation of patches on a regular basis.
Briggs continues: It's called iBotnet, and you get infected by running a pirated copy of iWork, Apple's office productivity suite, that contains the malicious code.
Should you install security software? If you're the type who wears both belt and suspenders to make sure his pants stay up, you should.
MacDailyNews Take: No, you should not, regardless of how irrationally cautious you may be. Not if you use a Mac.
Beg to differ, for three reasons.
Reason 1: Contrary to popular opinion, Macs are not impervious to attack. The reason it appears so, in my humble opinion, has more to do with the size of the installed base than with the quality of code in the operating system.
From the point of view of the wily hacker, why blow up Wyoming when, with the same amount of effort, you can blow up all of North America except Wyoming?
Does that make Wyoming impervious to attack? It reminds me of the story about the two hikers who come upon an angry grizzly bear.
One of them turns and starts running. The other hiker tells the first that it's impossible to outrun a grizzly. The first replies, "I don't have to outrun the grizzly, I just have to outrun you!"
So it is with the Mac and the PC. "Less susceptible than a PC" does not mean "impervious to attack."
Reason 2: In a corporate environment, the official security policy is the official security policy. Period. You don't make exceptions based on a particular class of workstation.
Back in the last century, when I was earning my programming chops, it was standard wisdom that you could never be fired for choosing IBM.
In other words, even though there were fine systems produced by DEC, Wang, Burroughs, etc., if the installation failed or went over budget, the equivalent of today's chief information officer (CIO) could lose his job if he chose one of them.
His job was safe, however, if he chose IBM — even with the same results.
In today's world, suppose the CIO excluded Macs from the security policy and one of them forwarded an infected e-mail — which passed through the Mac harmlessly — but subsequently infected every Windows machine which received the e-mail? How effective is that security policy?
It's not. But if the CIO has decreed that all workstations, be they PC or Mac, have security software installed, his feet can't be held to the fire for ignoring generally accepted practices.
To use an admittedly imperfect analogy, should you still practice safe sex if you're suffering from terminal cancer? The STD probably won't be what kills you, but what about your partner?
Reason 3: Malware for the Mac is inevitable. There may not be anything in the real world that infects current Macs now, either with or without the user's permission to install, but as the Mac becomes more and more popular, it will also become a more and more enticing target.
I buy car insurance hoping I'll never need it. Same with anti-malware protection for the Mac. It may seem "irrationally cautious" now, especially to the current Mac community, but it may not always be so.
There are users who take comfort in knowing they've done all they can to secure their systems.
Briggs continues: Most of the major security vendors offer Macintosh-specific versions of their products and they will protect you against malware, however infrequently it may appear.
MacDailyNews Take: What kind of "malware," Bill? (He doesn't know; we just like to taunt the mainstream "tech" hacks.)
Bill? Bill?? The only bills here are the ones in my inbox, waiting to be paid. But my name is Guy.
Briggs continues: A note on the Apple support site posted Nov. 21, 2008 reads, "Apple encourages the widespread use of multiple antivirus utilities so that virus programmers have more than one application to circumvent, thus making the whole virus writing process more difficult."
The Apple site suggests Intego VirusBarrier X5, Symantec Norton Anti-Virus 11 for Macintosh — both available from the Apple Online Store — or McAfee VirusScan for Mac.
If you're a software pirate, you should definitely get one of the above, and get it installed as soon as possible.
MacDailyNews Take: Apple's support page, "Mac OS: Antivirus utilities," that the company originally published in June 2007 and inexplicably updated with new versions of mentioned antivirus apps on November 21 2008 was pulled on December 03, 2008. Neither of [sic] the original nor the updated KnowledgeBase articles mentioned "Mac OS X." They both stated simply "Mac OS." In other words, they were old articles that did not apply to Mac OS X.
This argument is the most risible. Please refer to the "True Scot Logical Fallacy."
Suppose I had written that Conficker was not a true Windows virus because it cannot attack Windows 7, Windows Vista after SP1 or Windows XP after application of MS08-067. The statement would not make any more sense than "they were old articles that did not apply to Mac OS X."
Besides, if you look closely, you'll see that the reader who posed the original question also failed to specify a version of the Mac OS. He simply wrote, "my Mac PC."
"We have removed the KnowledgeBase article because it was old and inaccurate," Apple spokesman Bill Evans, told Macworld. "The Mac is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious software and security threats right out of the box."
The retraction has been duly noted. It is, however, in Apple's best interest to keep selling anti-malware protection.
If, as I suspect, attacks on current Mac operating systems are inevitable, encouraging Mac users to run security software works to Apple's advantage by delaying the inevitable.
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