Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Clarifying Techno-Babble

Here are a few questions I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability.


You recently wrote that people should make sure new laptops have the new, faster “n” version of Wi-Fi built in. But how do you do that? All I see are impenetrable feature descriptions such as: “Built-in high-speed wireless LAN (802.11b/g).” I cannot understand this language.

Computer retailers too often insist on using techno-babble or engineering lingo, even when referring to frequently used terms like “Wi-Fi.” In my view, this practice is either lazy, or arrogant, or deliberately designed to confuse.

In this case, the product description you quote in your question is indeed referring to Wi-Fi when it uses the phrases “wireless LAN” and “802.11b/g.” The phrase “LAN” means “local area network,” a means for connecting computers to each other, and to the Internet. Engineers refer to Wi-Fi as “802.11″ followed by a letter like “b” or “g” or “a” or “n.” These letters refer to various flavors of Wi-Fi that have different speeds and ranges. The laptop whose description you quote doesn’t offer the “n” type of Wi-Fi, only the older “b” and “g” types.

In your column about the new Gogo service for using Wi-Fi on airplanes, you mentioned that iPhones will work with the system. But how can one do this legally, when passengers must turn off the cellular radio on phones aboard planes, and the method for doing that on iPhones also turns off the Wi-Fi function?

The solution is to use the new iPhone (AAPL) operating system version due out July 11. This version allows you to turn off the cellphone radio, while leaving the Wi-Fi radio on. It will come on all of the new 3G iPhones, and will be a free upgrade for the original iPhone models. Of course, on flights without officially approved Wi-Fi, both types of radios must be turned off on all devices.

Your June 26 Mossberg’s Mailbox explained how to export Internet Explorer (MSFT) Favorites. Please explain how to export Firefox 3.0 Bookmarks.

You go to the Bookmarks menu and select “Organize Bookmarks.” In the window that opens, select the star icon at the top and choose either “Backup” or “Export HTML.” The first choice saves your bookmarks in a new format introduced in Firefox 3.0 that preserves tags you may have added to your bookmarks. The second choice has been in prior versions of Firefox and will save your bookmarks in the same sort of format Firefox has previously used.

The file created by the “Backup” method can be imported into another copy of Firefox 3.0 by following the same steps, but choosing “Restore” and then “Choose File.” The file created by the “Export HTML” method can be imported into any version of Firefox using the Import or “Import HTML” function.

  • You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online for free at the new All Things Digital web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

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