Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Searching Your Hard Disk

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 searching your hard disk, copying your Outlook Express address book and using the cookie-management features of a Web browser.

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.

I am moving from an old Dell with Windows XP to a new one. I want to move over a wonderful picture of a covered bridge that I use for my desktop. It has family significance, and it’s my only copy. But, I can’t find the bridge picture anywhere. I didn’t keep all my photos in the “My Pictures” folder and have no idea where they all are.

If you go to the Display control panel, select the Desktop tab and highlight the name of your bridge picture (which should be listed there), and then click on Browse, you may see the folder where the picture resides.

This doesn’t always work. If it doesn’t, because this picture has personal significance for you, I suspect it would be worth it for you to spend some time and effort to conduct a thorough search. And, since the built-in search in Windows is awful, I suggest you download and install one of two free search programs that can find pictures anywhere on your hard disk and show you a preview of them.

Both Yahoo Desktop Search (at desktop.yahoo.com) and MSN Desktop Search (at toolbar.msn.com) meet that description (the popular Google desktop search has no preview feature). They require time to index your hard disk, but, once they do so, they should be able to locate and find your bridge picture.

Is there any way I can copy the address book used by Outlook Express so I can move it to a second computer?

Yes. The address book is contained in a file whose name is usually your user name, followed by a period and the letters “WAB,” for Windows Address Book. It usually resides deep in a subfolder in the Documents and Settings folder.

To find it, use the built-in Windows search system (it’s weak, but can do this particular task) or a third-party search program to search for “WAB” or “.WAB”. It should come up. Once you find it, you can just copy it like any file to a removable medium, like a writable CD or a USB thumb drive, or even email it to yourself.

When you copy it to your new computer, remember where you placed it. Then, open Outlook Express on the second computer, and open the address book by going to the Tools menu and clicking on Address Book. Go to the address book’s File menu, select Import, and click Address Book (WAB). Navigate to the address-book file that you copied from the first PC, and then click Open.

Why do you recommend using antispyware software to get rid of tracking cookies? Isn’t it more effective to just use the cookie-management features of a Web browser to delete these cookies or block them in the first place?

No. The cookie-management features in popular browsers don’t distinguish between tracking cookies, a type of spyware that records your activities online, and the many helpful cookies you probably want to keep, like those that store your login information or preferences on a site. Some allow you to block or delete only “third-party” cookies, which might trap some tracking cookies placed by Internet advertising firms who aren’t the actual operators of the Web sites you visit. But this may not always work.

Instead, I recommend using a good antispyware program, which every Windows user should be running anyway. These programs aren’t focused on cookies in general, but on every kind of computer code, including tracking cookies, that qualify as spyware and adware. They detect tracking cookies by maintaining lists of the most common ones, and they update this information constantly. They leave nontracking cookies alone.

Of course, you could use both methods. You could set your browser to reject third-party cookies (assuming that this doesn’t impair your browsing experience) and still run regular spyware scans to catch any tracking cookies that still make it through.

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


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