Walt Mossberg

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What Can That New iPod Do?

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 the iPod nano’s new software features, Windows XP Professional, and ways to stop spam.

If you have a question, send it to me at my review. The nano actually does have several new software features unseen on previous iPods, even costlier ones. There’s a stopwatch and lap timer; a world clock module that can display multiple time zones; and a software lock, which looks like a combination lock on the screen, and is meant to keep your iPod private. Perhaps my favorite new software function is a lyrics screen, which works in conjunction with a new version of Apple’s free iTunes software, issued at the same time the nano was introduced. The iTunes 5.0 software now allows users to embed lyrics into a song file. When the nano plays any song that has these embedded lyrics, it can display them on a lyrics screen you call up by pushing the player’s center button a few times. The iTunes 5.0 software has some other new features that don’t require a nano player. It can automatically synchronize contacts and calendar items from Microsoft Outlook on Windows PCs. It has parental controls, an improved search function, and a new option that allows users to decide just how randomly its “shuffle” feature works, so you can avoid hearing multiple songs by the same artist in a row. Apple also now claims that its iTunes Music Store has a catalog of two million songs, about twice as many as its competitors offer. On the accessories question: The new nano has the same proprietary iPod connector port that its larger siblings use, so it should be compatible with most accessories that use that port. I tested it on a Logitech speaker system and on the flexDock mini car adapter made by TEN Technology. It worked perfectly on both, even though both were designed with no knowledge of the nano. However, there are add-ons that won’t work with the nano. Any accessory that relies on a headphone jack being on top of an iPod won’t work, because the nano’s jack is on the bottom. Any gadget that relies on a separate remote-control jack won’t work, because the nano lacks this. The nano also doesn’t support voice-recorder accessories, or cables that allow some older iPods to display photos on a TV screen.

I am buying a new PC for my home and am wondering if it’s worth it to spend an extra $100 to get Windows XP Professional instead of Windows XP Home.

The only home users who need XP Pro are those who connect remotely to their companies’ networks, and whose network administrators have told them that the Pro version is needed to do so. Otherwise, you can save the $100. The Home version of XP can connect remotely to some company networks just fine, but others use a specific configuration that is only supported by Microsoft in XP Pro. The Pro version has a few other features that the Home version lacks, but they aren’t relevant to most home users. By the way, when Microsoft issues its new Vista version of Windows in the fall of 2006, the confusion over different editions of Windows is likely to get much worse. The company is planning to offer many more editions of Windows then, aimed at narrower market segments, and only an expensive, “ultimate” version will have all the features in one package.

Recently, I have started to receive spam advertising pornography. My computer is a new Dell, with Windows XP and all the usual antispyware and antivirus protections. Is there anything I can do to stop receiving these emails?

Antispyware and antivirus software will do nothing to stop these noxious emails. What you need is an antispam program or service. You didn’t say what email program you use, but you should immediately turn on whatever antispam features it contains. Or, if you are using Web-based email, turn on all the antispam options available. If you aren’t using Web-based email, but use a program like Outlook or Outlook Express, you can also buy add-on antispam programs that are built to block pornographic ads and other forms of spam. The best of these is MailFrontier, in my opinion (www.mailfrontier.com). However, spammers are persistent and clever, and no software or service is guaranteed to stop all the offensive mail they spew out.

* * *

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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