Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Mossberg’s Mailbox

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.

Recently, you reviewed some new Apple laptops whose batteries are sealed in and can’t be removed by the user. But I have had situations with some laptops where the only way to restart them when frozen is to remove the battery. How can this problem be handled if the battery is sealed in?

On Mac laptops, you can shut down the computer, even if the software appears frozen, by holding down the power button firmly and continuously for 5-10 seconds. You then wait a few seconds, press the power button again, and the machine should start up. This is different from the more common scenario where a brief press of the power button brings up a dialog box allowing you to choose to shut down or restart the Mac, or to put it into sleep mode.

Apple says there is another method you can use instead of removing a battery. Pressing the Control and Command keys simultaneously with the Power Button restarts the computer.

I live in the U.S. and when I visit Europe I have no cellphone, which makes it difficult to stay in touch during my trips. I am completely ignorant about cellphones and use a pay-as-you-go model that doesn’t work in Europe. What type of phone do you recommend I buy that I can use both in the States and abroad? I do not need a built-in camera, or any other fancy add-ons. I only want to be able to call people.

The two major U.S. phone carriers whose underlying technology is compatible with the system used in Europe are AT&T and T-Mobile. Given your needs and your usage pattern, I’d go into one of their stores and look for the least expensive and simplest model that can operate on all the frequencies used in the U.S. and Europe. These phones are typically referred to as “quad band” or sometimes as “world phones.” I would also try and find a plan that minimizes overseas roaming charges, which can be quite high.

Another option is to look for an “unlocked” phone that can accept different SIM cards, the small chips that connect phones to carriers. That way, you could have one SIM for use in the U.S. and another for whatever country you are visiting.

I have hundreds of folders in “My documents.” In each folder there may be hundreds more individual files. Is there a way to rapidly search for key words in all of those documents in order to locate any files that might contain a particular word?

If you are using Windows XP, you can download and install various desktop search add-on products that can solve your problem. The best known are Windows search, from Microsoft, at http://bit.ly/Dflai, and Google Desktop Search, at desktop.google.com. If you have Windows Vista, it comes with a built-in desktop search function that can accomplish that task, though you can also use the Google product.

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

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