Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Switching From Dial-Up to DSL

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 switching to DSL from dial-up, browser hijacking and whether to wait for Windows Vista.

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.

We are satisfied users of dial-up Internet access. Our only complaint is the very slow transfer rate of four kilobits per second when we download updates for our security software. Would a 768 kbps DSL line really download these files almost 200 times faster than dial-up? It costs only slightly more than we pay for dial-up.

Most Internet services don’t actually function at the advertised speed, due to network congestion and other factors. So, DSL isn’t going to operate at 768 kbps. But it will probably run at 600 kbps or more, which is still vastly faster than dial-up. And, since file transfers tend to be the speediest online activity on DSL or cable modem services, you should see a dramatic reduction in the time it takes to update your security software. With DSL now starting at around $15 a month, the same or less than dial-up typically costs, I can’t see any reason why anyone who uses the Internet regularly should stick with dial-up access.

When I click on my browser in Windows XP, I get a page saying spyware is detected, and my computer is under the control of a remote computer. This screen tells me that I can solve this issue by downloading various security programs I’ve never heard of. I’ve tried to get rid of this page by deleting temporary files, cookies, files, programs — anything else I can think of — but it keeps appearing. Neither Norton anti-virus nor Spybot gets rid of it.

Sounds like you have a nasty case of browser hijacking, a type of spyware that seizes control of a browser to try and peddle dubious products that may themselves install more spyware, even though they are posing as security software. The people who invade computers and browsers in this manner deserve to be locked up.

You can’t get rid of pernicious spyware like this by madly deleting files or changing browser settings. Only a strong anti-spyware program can kill it and prevent it from reappearing. But sometimes you have to try multiple anti-spyware programs to get the job done. You’ve already tried one good one, Spybot, which failed. I suggest you go to Webroot.com and download my favorite anti-spyware program, Spy Sweeper. If that doesn’t work, try Ad-Aware or Counterspy.

I am considering buying a PC with the Windows Media Center operating system. But I am wondering if Media Center will be updated when the new Windows Vista comes out. Should I buy now or wait?

The Media Center flavor of Windows is scheduled to be retired in the fall of 2006, when the new Windows Vista is set to be released. Instead, the key functions of Media Center — including the across-the-room remote control of music, TV, photos and videos — will be folded into some versions of Vista.

If you buy now, and your new machine is hefty enough to run Vista, you should be able to upgrade to the appropriate version of Vista and retain all your Media Center functionality, with some improvements. But you’ll have to pay for the new software.

If you wait 10 months or so, you can buy a new PC pre-loaded with a version of Vista that includes these functions. But you’ll have lost nearly a year of use of the very good Media Center functionality available today. My advice is: If you really need a new PC now, and really want the Media Center functionality now, buy now, and plan to upgrade to Vista later. But, just be sure you get hardware capable of running Vista. For my column on Vista-capable hardware, see: ptech.wsj.com/guide-pc.html.

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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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