Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Go Ahead and Hit Delete

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 whether Apple’s switch to Intel processors will make Macs vulnerable to viruses, deleting temporary Internet files and overriding photo software.

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.

Now that Apple plans to use Intel processors in future Macintosh models, will the Mac be exposed to all the viruses and spyware that affect Windows computers running on the same Intel processors?

That’s highly unlikely, at least for most users. The thousands of viruses and spyware and adware programs that attack Windows computers every day are primarily exploiting flaws in Microsoft’s Windows operating system, not in Intel’s processors and in other chips. And Apple has no plans to use Windows on the new Intel-based Macs. It will still be using its own OS X operating system, which has some important security features Windows lacks.

Windows viruses and spyware are just programs. Like legitimate software, they are written to run on a particular operating system — Windows. Even if you were to copy them to a Mac powered by Intel chips, they couldn’t function, because these viruses and spyware programs can’t operate on the Mac’s operating system.

There are already Intel-powered computers that use operating systems other than Windows, such as Unix or Linux, and they aren’t affected by Windows viruses and spyware. Plus, the Mac has such a small market share that it has never been an attractive target for digital criminals.

Having said that, I would offer a few caveats.

Through the legitimate efforts of third-party companies, it will be much easier to run Windows on the new Intel-based Macs, alongside the Mac operating system. People who do this will indeed be exposing themselves to all the Windows viruses and spyware.

Also, hackers are ingenious, and they are far more familiar with Intel processors than with the current IBM processors Apple uses. So it is possible that digital criminals will find a way to infect Macs by exploiting the processor.

Finally, one of the reasons there are so few viruses for the Mac is that most virus writers aren’t familiar with the Mac operating system. This is because it doesn’t run on cheap, Intel-based PCs. Apple plans to lock the Intel version of OS X so it won’t work on other makers’ PCs. But it is possible a bootleg, unlocked version of OS X for Intel will start circulating on the Internet, allowing them to run the Mac system on their current Intel hardware, and thus to figure out how to attack it.

Can I safely delete the many “Temporary Internet Files” folders I have on my Windows XP computer? There are thousands of files in these folders.

Yes, you can. These files are cached copies of Web pages, or parts of Web pages, which the Internet Explorer browser uses to speed up the loading of Web sites you have previously visited. By deleting the files, you might risk slowing your Web surfing a bit. If you have broadband, it probably doesn’t matter.

The best way to delete the temporary Internet files is to quit Internet Explorer, open the Internet Options control panel, find the General tab, and click “Delete Files” under the heading “Temporary Internet Files.” Check the box reading “Delete all offline content,” then click OK as many times as needed.

Ever since I got a new digital camera and installed its photo software, I can no longer use the built-in Windows Scanner & Camera Wizard for importing my pictures from the camera. How do I get it back?

I suspect that your camera’s companion software is intercepting the notification that the camera is connected to the PC and is taking over the picture importing itself, blocking the Windows wizard. If the camera software has an option to reverse this behavior, select that option. Otherwise, you can just uninstall the camera software, which usually isn’t needed to use the camera successfully with your PC. There are lots of third-party programs, like Picasa from Google or various Adobe software offerings, that can organize and edit your photos.

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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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