Walt Mossberg

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File Systems and GreenBorder Pro

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 using GreenBorder Pro, adopting a two-computer strategy to deal with security issues and un-installing Windows on a Mac.

I tried to install GreenBorder Pro, the security program you recommended last week, but received an error message saying the program requires the “NTFS” file system, not the “FAT32” system that is on my PC. What does this mean? Is there a way around this?

This is a techie issue, and it’s unfortunate that you and many other consumers have run into it with GreenBorder Pro. Windows has two different systems for writing files to disk. One is called FAT32. It’s older and less capable, but more than adequate for most home users. The newer, more capable, system is called NTFS. In the corporate world, where the GreenBorder company got its start, NTFS is very common. But, many consumers, even those with Windows XP and Windows 2000, still have FAT32, which works just fine for them. Most mainstream users have no idea which system they have, nor should they. It rarely matters in normal computing.

Regrettably, GreenBorder Pro runs only on NTFS hard disks. It is possible to convert a FAT32 disk to the NTFS system, and GreenBorder recommends this to some users who have run into the incompatibility. However, as much as I like GreenBorder Pro, I wouldn’t recommend taking such a radical step as the conversion of your hard disk file system just to use the program. In most cases, the conversion will probably be painless, but if it fails, the costs would be very high, including lost data.

I am thinking of adopting a two-computer strategy for dealing with security issues. One computer, which would contain all my important and sensitive files, would never be used on the Internet. The second, which would have no important files, would be used for Web surfing and email and other Internet stuff. Both computers would run Windows XP, but only the Internet machine would need security software. What do you think?

It’s not a bad idea, and I’ve had numerous readers ask about it. But it has some flaws. For one thing, it’s hard to avoid using sensitive data on the Internet-connected machine, if you expect to ever enter passwords or to do things like online banking. And some valuable files, like photos or work documents, might have to be duplicated on the Internet machine, or available via a home network, if you ever expect to share them or email them to others.

And it’s hard to avoid Internet connectivity altogether on the nonconnected machine, since many programs besides Web browsers and email software now use the Internet for various features, if only to update themselves. And you could never use USB drives or home-burned CDs you got from others on the non-Internet machine, unless you were absolutely certain they were clean. Viruses and spyware can be spread through such disks. Also, if the non-Internet machine is networked to the Internet machine, its files could be vulnerable.

I would suggest a modified approach where you keep one PC mostly off the Net, but put security software on it, just in case; and you use one PC mostly for the Net, but keep important files on it, as needed. It’s not perfect, but perfect security is hard to achieve, especially with Windows.

I just bought a new iMac, and am thinking of using Apple’s Boot Camp program so I can install Windows on the computer. But I am wondering if it is possible to un-install Windows once it’s on my Mac.

Yes, it’s easy. Boot Camp not only sets up your Mac so you can install Windows in a special section of your hard disk, called a partition, but it also works the other way. To get rid of Windows, just start up in the Mac operating system, and run Boot Camp again. Select the option entitled: “Restore the startup disk to a single volume,” and click Continue. This will erase the partition in which Windows operates, and, with it, Windows itself. Your Mac will be turned back into a computer that runs only the Mac operating system, and the space occupied on your hard disk by Windows will be freed up.

* * *

Because of the volume of email I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by email, 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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