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Audio Input Jacks for MP3 Players in Autos

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about direct audio input jacks for portable MP3 players in automobiles, Internet browser compatibility with Windows, and editing a computer’s Registry.

If you have a question, send it to me at mossberg@wsj.com, and I may select it to be answered here in Mossberg’s Mailbox.

Because of the volume of e-mail I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by e-mail, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.

Do any car makers offer audio input jacks for portable MP3 players so you can play their output through automobile sound systems? I think this would be better than relying on headphones while driving, or using an FM transmitter.

You’re correct that a direct audio input jack makes for much better sound than an FM transmitter, and is safer than driving with headphones. But, for years, car makers have generally neglected to include these simple, inexpensive jacks. A few models, here and there, have had them, especially if you order optional sound systems. For the most part, however, if you wanted an audio jack, you had to pay someone to install one, or buy an after-market radio that included one.

Lately, however, as MP3 players have become more popular, the industry has begun to respond. For instance, General Motors has announced it plans a standard built-in audio input jack on a new 2006 Chevrolet model called the HHR, and on other models from Chevy, Saturn, Buick and Cadillac.

However, these and other audio input jacks aren’t as capable or elaborate as the special connections for Apple’s iPod music players being offered by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and other car makers. These systems, which require dealer installation, allow you to actually control the song selection and playback from the car’s normal audio controls. Audio input jacks like those GM is planning allow only volume to be adjusted from the car’s audio controls.

I installed Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1 for my Windows 98 computer. I am wondering if the two are compatible, because I keep getting booted offline. Any ideas on why this is happening? Is Firefox compatible with Windows 98?

The Service Pack 1, or SP1, version of the Internet Explorer 6.0 Web browser, is indeed compatible with Windows 98. So is the competing Firefox browser. Without examining your PC and Internet setup, I can’t say why you’re getting bumped offline. But it’s unlikely it has anything to do with your Web browser.

The cause is much likelier to lie somewhere in the combination of your network-connection configuration, your Internet hardware and your Internet provider. Even though you can access the Windows Internet connection control panel through the Tools menu in Internet Explorer, Web browsers don’t really control a computer’s connection to the Internet. They merely allow users to navigate the Web once a connection is established.

My computer is becoming sluggish, and a friend recommended I edit or clean up something called the “registry.” What is it, and how do I edit it?

If you have to ask, I strongly advise you against trying to edit it. The Registry is a central database in Windows that contains configuration information for the operating system, all your programs and your hardware. It can override other settings on your computer, and it wasn’t designed to be easily accessed or changed by users.

It is possible to edit the Registry, or to run utility programs that “clean” the Registry by supposedly deleting settings for programs you have uninstalled. But it takes technical skill to do so. If you inadvertently mess up the Registry, you could cripple your computer. So, I believe that only technically skilled users should even think about tinkering with the Registry. If you believe you should make changes to it, and you aren’t a techie, hire an expert to do so.

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Because of the volume of e-mail I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by e-mail, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com

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