Walt Mossberg

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Calming Security Fears

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 Internet security fears, red-eye elimination in photos and software availability for Macs.

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.

Are there any possible security dangers when a DSL modem is left on while the computer is turned off?

No, as long as it’s the only computer connected to the modem. The modem only fetches data from the Internet when a computer program, like a Web browser or email software, requests it to do so. If the computer is off, no such requests can be made, so no data, safe or unsafe, is being received. Similarly, if the computer is on but the modem is off, the computer isn’t connected to the Internet, and can’t receive any data, normal or malicious.

However, I feel compelled to note that, if you allow your Internet usage to be totally ruled by security fears, you may miss out on a lot. One of the great benefits of always-on broadband services like DSL is that your email flows in continuously; upgrades (including security upgrades) can be downloaded automatically, day or night; and you can take advantage of remote backup and file-synchronization services that work in the middle of the night.

I have a new Sony camera and need help editing my photos to eliminate red eye. I have small grandchildren who always have red eyes in my pictures. What software can I use to get rid of it?

Almost every photo software program I have tested has a red-eye elimination feature, and most are adequate. You just have to get the hang of it. If you have a Windows PC, try Google’s free Picasa program, or Adobe Photoshop Elements. On a Mac, you can use the built-in iPhoto software, or the Mac version of Photoshop Elements. You could also use a professional program like Photoshop, though that might be overkill.

I am thinking seriously that my next computer purchase will be an Apple. My question is: How prolific is the software that is written for Macs? I’m thinking of financial software like Quicken, but also the basic Office suite of products.

There are Mac versions of both Quicken and Microsoft Office. The latter can directly read and write to the same file formats as its Windows counterpart; the former cannot. Apple claims there are now thousands of software programs that run on the current Macs. So is there is a decent selection of software for general consumers.

However, there is vastly more software available for Windows, especially in certain categories like games, business software, databases and niche products for specific professions and hobbies. If you are likely to be satisfied with the main types of software — like office programs, Web browsers, email programs and multimedia players — you’ll be fine with the Mac. But if you are interested in any of these other categories, or in generally having the greatest selection, stick with Windows.

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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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