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 finding people or companies mentioned in blogs, disabling the Caps Lock key and playing Windows Media Video files from the Web on a Mac.
If you have a question, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I may select it to be answered here in Mossberg’s Mailbox.
How can I tell if a person or company is mentioned in an online blog?
You can’t tell with 100% certainty. But there are some search engines that can give you a pretty good idea. These sites search blogs, or the syndicated feeds of blog headlines and article summaries called RSS feeds.
Google is testing a blog search site, at blogsearch.google.com. You might also try Feedster, at feedster.com; and Bloglines, at bloglines.com. If you want to be automatically alerted when a person or company pops up in a blog, you can use a so-called news reader, which scours the feeds of blogs and other sites.
Some allow you to set up a custom feed, based on search terms of your choice. When you create such a feed, the news reader software will periodically list headlines of blog entries that match your search terms.
Is there a way to disable the Caps Lock key on a Windows PC?
There are a number of small programs and tweaking methods for disabling the Caps Lock key, so you don’t hit it accidentally while typing. I have tried only one, called CapsUnlock, that worked well in a brief test I conducted. It can be downloaded at www.brainsystems.com/capsunlock. CapsUnlock is a tiny program that runs in the background. When it is running, tapping the Caps Lock key has no effect. You can override this effect by holding down the Shift key while tapping Caps Lock. The program also disables the Insert key, another annoying accident waiting to happen.
Is there any program that will play Windows Media Video (.wmv) files from the Web on a Mac?
There are three major programs for playing video and audio files on the Internet — Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, RealNetworks’ RealPlayer, and Apple’s QuickTime Player. Because Apple makes the Macintosh, it bundles QuickTime on each Mac, but not the others. However, Mac owners can have all three, free of charge. And so can Windows users.
Microsoft has created a free, simple version of Windows Media Player for the Macintosh. It will play back Windows Media files, both video and audio. You can download it free at www.microsoft.com/mac/. Just click on “Other Products” in the list at the left, and scroll down until you see the listing for Windows Media Player. Once it’s installed, you can play Windows Media clips from Web sites, or from a disk, or from email attachments.
Similarly, RealNetworks makes a free version of RealPlayer for the Mac. Go to www.real.com/mac/, and click on the button at the top right that says “RealPlayer — Free.”
If you are a Windows user, you already have Windows Media Player. You can download QuickTime at www.apple.com/quicktime/. You can download RealPlayer at www.real.com — just be sure to find the small link for the free version of the player, unless you want a paid subscription to Real’s content services.
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 email@example.com