Walt Mossberg

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Using Gmail Without an Invitation

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 signing up for Gmail, iPod-to-computer transfers and switching your computer’s power options.

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.

Your recent article mentioned that Google’s new Google Talk instant-messaging service was available only to users of Google’s Gmail email service. But Gmail isn’t open for new sign-ups. How can I get onto Gmail?

You are correct that people can’t just sign up for Gmail from their computers. There are two ways to get a Gmail account. You can receive an invitation from an existing member to sign up. Or, Google now allows anyone to join, provided you sign up using your cellphone and its SMS, or text-messaging, feature. Instructions for doing this are at: https://www.google.com/accounts/SmsMailSignup1

I have tested this cellphone method, and found that it works fine. Once you sign up via your cellphone, you can use Gmail with your PC or Macintosh. You don’t have to keep using your cellphone. Google says it requires the cellphone signup in order to thwart spammers who might want to use automated computer programs to obtain multiple Gmail accounts and use these accounts as a platform for sending millions of spam emails.

I have my entire music library on my iPod, placed there using Apple’s iTunes software on my main PC. Now, I want to move all the music to a second computer. But the iPod doesn’t have the capability to synchronize music to a second computer, even using the Apple iTunes software. When I try, iTunes warns that it will overwrite my iPod with its own library, which, on this second computer, is empty. Is there a way to do this?

Yes. Apple did cripple iPod-to-computer transfers, in order to please the record industry, which feared the iPod might be used to copy music to the computers of people who hadn’t purchased it, either from Apple’s iTunes store or in the form of CDs. But many utility programs have been created to allow iPod-to-computer transfers.

I have tested two such programs, and found they work well. One, for Windows, is CopyPod, which costs $19.90, at copypod.ouvaton.org. The other, for the Macintosh, is iPodRip, at $15, from www.thelittleappfactory.com.

To conserve power, my monitor shuts down automatically after five minutes or so of inactivity. This is OK most of the time, but if I want to leave a photo slide show running occasionally, I’d like to be able to override this feature. Can you tell me how? I’m running Windows XP.

The simplest way is to go into the computer’s control panel and change the setting that turns off the monitor. Click on the Start button, then click on Control Panel. Then, open the panel called Power Options. (Depending on how your computer is set up, you may have to first click on the category called “Performance and Maintenance.”)

Next, on the tab called Power Schemes, change the setting for “Turn off monitor” to “Never,” or to a time period long enough for your slide show to play. Then, click “OK.” To resume your typical five-minute turnoff, just go into this control panel again and change the setting back to “After 5 mins.” If you play slide shows often enough that doing this each time would be a pain, keep the setting at a period lengthy enough to accommodate the slide shows.

If the slide show is triggered as a screen saver, rather than as a manual process, you should be able to use the Display control panel to start it after five minutes, instead of turning off the monitor, and then set the monitor to shut off, using the Power Options panel, at a later time, after the slide show has had a chance to run for a while.

* * *

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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