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 performing iPod workarounds, viruses and spyware for Macs with Intel processors and using multiple firewalls.
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.
Last week, you recommended using add-on software to allow the copying of music from an iPod to a PC, and the creation of multiple music libraries in iTunes. Aren’t there ways to do these tasks without extra software?
Yes, and many readers wrote to remind me of them. I knew about them, but I didn’t mention them because they have drawbacks and may not be easy for nontechnical users.
It’s possible to use an iPod to copy all your music to a second computer if you enable the iPod for use as a disk, then go into Windows Explorer or the Macintosh Finder and copy all your music files to the portion of your iPod’s disk that shows up as an open drive. This “drive” is whatever part of your iPod’s hard disk that’s available after you load it with music using the iTunes software. Then, you can reverse the process on the second computer.
The trouble with this method is that it assumes a fair knowledge of your computer’s file system, and it only works if the iPod has enough free space to hold two complete copies of your music library (or you are willing to perform the procedure multiple times). Also, unlike many of the utility programs for copying music from an iPod, this method can’t synchronize the transferred music with iTunes.
You can create multiple iTunes music libraries on a shared computer, either Windows or Mac if you set up separate log-ins, or user accounts, for each iPod owner who uses the computer. However, this approach requires you to switch accounts every time you want to sync a different iPod, changing the whole layout of the machine. And, unless you are a sophisticated user, you may need to store duplicate copies of any songs multiple users want to include in their libraries.
So, I stand by my suggestion that until Apple adds these functions, the best way to carry them out is by using add-on software. It’s simple, and it works. In general, I prefer simple, direct utility programs to work-around methods that require more knowledge of the computer than many average users possess.
Now that Apple is building new Macs with the same Intel chips used in Windows PCs, will the Macs become vulnerable to the viruses and spyware that attack Windows computers?
Viruses and spyware are written to work in a specific operating system, not on a particular processor or chip. In the consumer market, all known successful viruses and spyware programs — tens of thousands of them — are written to work in Windows. So far, there have been zero reported viruses and spyware programs, outside of the lab, that run on the Apple operating system, called Mac OS X. Apple is continuing to use Mac OS X on the new Intel-powered models. Windows viruses and spyware can’t run in this Mac operating system — even if you download them — regardless of which chip Apple uses under the hood.
I assume somebody will eventually write a few viruses or spyware programs that can penetrate the Mac operating system, if only to say he or she has done so. But that has nothing to do with Intel chips. And, even then, security should remain a minor issue for Mac users.
There is one exception to this scenario. The use of Intel processors may make it easy, for the first time ever, to run Windows on a Mac. If that happens, then the machines would be vulnerable to Windows viruses and spyware — but only if and when you run Windows on them.
I use Norton Internet security 2005 and have its firewall turned on. Can I also, at the same time, use the firewall that comes with Windows XP?
I don’t recommend running multiple firewall software. Doing so is unlikely to give you extra protection, and the firewalls can clash with each other. For instance, each firewall may keep different lists of what kinds of outbound Internet connections to allow, and may treat incoming traffic differently.
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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 email@example.com