Walt Mossberg

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Deleting Emails on Your Treo

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 deleting groups of emails on a Treo, eliminating unnecessary background programs and sending files from a Mac to a Windows PC.

How do I delete groups of email messages quickly on the Treo smartphone?

It depends on which Treo model you are using and which email program you are using. If it’s a Windows-based Treo, like the Treo 700w or 700wx, you can’t delete large groups of messages very quickly in the built-in email program. You have to manually select large groups of messages and then use the delete function. If it’s a Treo model that uses the Palm operating system, like the Treo 700p or the 650, it is usually possible to do this automatically with a few keystrokes, though the method varies depending on which email program you are using.

If you are using my favorite Treo email program, SnapperMail, on a Palm-based Treo, and you want to delete all or many of the messages in a mailbox, such as your inbox, you can do so with one hand and as few as three keystrokes. This “Purge” command allows you to delete all the messages, or only messages older than various periods of time you can set. You don’t have to use the stylus, or manually select any messages, or use two hands. You just press the menu button, the “T” key, and the center button on the navigation pad.

When I open the Windows Task Manager, I note that there are anywhere from 52 to 57 “processes” operating on my PC. I am sure this is slowing things down. However, the names of the programs are virtually impossible for a nontechie to understand so I don’t want to eliminate any of them for fear of causing major damage to the operating system. Short of calling a service technician, is there a way for me to find out which processes can be safely shutdown and/or eliminated?

This is one of the major banes of using Windows — every program and even some Web sites think it’s OK to install and run in the background all sorts of little, and not-so-little programs, which create the “processes” you are seeing. Some of them may even be spyware and adware. And, yes, they do slow down your computer.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any quick, easy way a mainstream, nontechie user can tell which ones can be safely shut down. There are programs like Startup Cop that help you decide which unseen programs you should allow to launch when your computer starts, but they don’t necessarily cover stuff that launches after start-up. And there are Web sites, like processlibrary.com and answersthatwork.com, which let you look up a process to see what it does, but that is a laborious process. The latter Web site offers a $29 program called the Ultimate Troubleshooter for managing all these processes, but it’s pretty intimidating for a nontechie.

Antivirus and antispyware programs can shut down some malicious background processes, or stop them from loading in the first place. But many of the resource-draining “processes” you are finding may be from “legitimate” programs on your PC that simply want to hog the computer.

If I switch from Windows to a Macintosh, will my colleagues be able to read any Mac files I send them?

There is no such thing as a “Mac file.” The Macintosh today can create and read all the major standard types of files that Windows PCs use. For instance, photos in the common JPG format; music files in the common MP3 format; Adobe PDF files; text files; and many other types of files can simply be moved between Windows and Mac computers with no conversion necessary. Microsoft Office files, like Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, can also be shared between the two platforms, without conversion, if you have the Office program suite on both ends. The Mac’s built-in email program, Apple Mail, even has a setting for sending “Windows Friendly” attachments.

There are some specific programs on both platforms that can create proprietary file types not easily opened, or opened at all, on the other platform. Most annoyingly, the Windows and Mac versions of Quicken don’t share a common file format. But now that the new Macs can also run Windows, you can always launch Windows on your Mac in a pinch to run a program that can handle some Windows-only file type.

* * *

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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