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.

Windows XP Deathwatch, Mk. V

Q: My company just bought me a Dell Vostro PC, with the Windows XP "downgrade" installed at my request instead of Windows Vista. If in a year's time I do my annual PC-cleansing routine of FORMAT C:, OS re-install, patch/update and Acronis image, what am I going to have to do to get a machine that works?

Dell gave me both Vista and XP installer CDs. Will I have to install Vista first?

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A: The short answer is "no," meaning there is no need to install Vista first. The XP installation CD that Dell gave you works like any other XP installation CD. You install XP, enter the product key and activate it. Microsoft will continue to do activations until extended support expires in 2014, perhaps longer.

Two things to be careful of: (1) you need the product key, so make sure you keep it in a safe place, and (2) make sure you're installing XP on the same machine.

Microsoft's policy is that the OS dies with the machine, so even if the old machine has been melted down to its component base metals and will never run any OS again, you can't "move" the license to a new machine.

Your annual wipe 'n' reload might go a bit easier, especially as support for XP decreases, if you save all your current device drivers beforehand.

Use the "My Drivers" program from Brothersoft. It's shareware, $39. Go to http://www.brothersoft.com/my-drivers-13690.html for details.

No Sound From Windows Media Player

Q: I recently upgraded from Windows Media 9 to 10. I had sound for a while. Then it stopped, and shortly thereafter it was back. Now it is gone again, seemingly for good.

I have XP w/Service Pack 2. I have checked the properties in WMV and the volume is set as it should be. I have sound in all other programs that require it, for example the Nero ShowTime DVD player and the VLC media player. I can play my WMV files though VLC, so it's not the file.

I have a Realtek sound card. I'm not short on RAM and I have a gaming motherboard which runs "World of Warcraft" with no problems.

I tried reinstalling Windows Media Player 9, but Windows said "NO." I tried reinstalling Windows Media Player ver 10. I then tried uninstalling it using the option add/remove Windows components. It did not uninstall, although it reported it as having been uninstalled.

I can still use Windows Media Player to rip music and burn CDs. Just no sound. Any suggestions?

A: I remember that here was an issue with Nero and Windows Media Player. I don't know if Nero ShowTime contains the incompatibility, but the cure for Nero was to go into Windows Media Player, choose Tools —> Plugins —> Options, and then disable (uncheck) Nero Fast CD-Burning Plug-in. You might try that first.

If the problem is with a codec (software which codes and decodes the sound), there are a couple of free tools to tell you exactly which codec you need to play the file properly: Gspot (no protests, please, I didn't make up the name) and Sherlock.

Both work great, and the latter will highlight broken codecs for easy replacement.

If you have no luck with those solutions, Windows Media Player itself has a built-in diagnostic tool. Tools —> Options, click on "Speakers" on the "Devices" tab, then click on "Advanced." You will see a "Test Hardware" button.

Finally, the problem may be an incompatible version of Microsoft DirectX. Go over to the DirectX Web page and install the latest and greatest version.

Never Lock a Gift Mouse ...

Q: Is there an easy way to use two different PCs with one monitor and one keyboard? Maybe wireless, maybe not? I had a switchbox at one time, but was hoping for something simpler now with all the wireless technology.

A: You are describing a KVM switch — "K" for "keyboard", "V" for "video" (i.e. monitor), "M" for "mouse." The idea is to be able to control multiple machines with a single keyboard, monitor and mouse.

The "switchbox" or mechanical KVM switch is the simplest and most economical solution, but there are drawbacks.

The first you have already identified: the cables are bulky, three-in-one jobbers with three connectors on each end that plug into the keyboard, mouse and monitor connections of the PC (on one end) and the corresponding ports on the KVM switch on the other.

This gets more complicated if you have the PS/2 "mini-DIN" plugs for keyboards and mice on one computer and only USB ports on the other. It's more complicated still if one or more of the computers are Linux servers or Macs.

Datacenter Nerds are familiar with "KVM over IP" solution, which puts a small converter on the back of each computer with the three connectors but regular network cable from there.

There's a slightly different converter box for each style of computer, so the connection mismatch and disparate computer problems go away.

It also eliminates some (not all!) of the bulky cable problem, and eliminates any distance problems. You can control a computer remotely from anywhere there is network access.

But KVP over IP is pricey. You could dump a grand or more into a 2-computer solution.

A wireless solution? Yes, there is a wireless solution! Avocent's LongView Wireless Extender is exactly what you were looking for. It's got a suggested retail price of $795.

Bad joke time: A fellow received a mouse for his birthday, and he loved it so much that he never parted with it. He took this mouse everywhere — to work, to parties, to the opera.

One day, a good friend of his died and so he went to pay his respects. Naturally, he took the mouse, which was perched on his shoulder.

On his way home, he suddenly realized that the mouse was gone! He retraced all his moves for the day and realized that the last place he had seen the mouse was at the funeral. He raced back across town, but it was too late.

The mouse must have jumped off his shoulder while he was sitting in the hearse. He spoke to the funeral directors, but they couldn't find it; it had completely vanished.

The man was filled with grief as he remembered an old adage his mother had told him time and time again as a kid: Never lock a gift mouse in the hearse. (Courtesy of BadPuns.com).


From the last installment, one of my esteemed readers, Joshua (sorry, don't know what city he lives in), points out that there is no official version of Abobe Flash Player that runs on any browser designed exclusively for a 64-bit operating system, such as the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer 7.

Most new computers have 64-bit chips and motherboards, which is a radical step forward from the 32-bit software environment that's dominated computing for the past two decades. But software manufacturers have been very slow in catching up, so even 64-bit machines still tend to use 32-bit operating systems and applications.

Those brave users of 64-bit OSs (which include versions of Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS X and Linux/UNIX) must use 32-bit browsers to view Abobe Flash files.

Adobe has just released a 64-bit preliminary "alpha" version of Flash Player, but it only runs on Linux and Sun Microsystems' Solaris brand of UNIX.

For further information, read this from Adobe: http://kb.adobe.com/selfservice/viewContent.do?externalId=6b3af6c9&sliceId=1.

Guy R. 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 TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll answer selected ones in our next installment.

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