Leo's Answers #228 – April 27, 2010

A Weekly Newsletter From
Ask Leo!
Leo Notenboom

Hello!

Do you have a question for me? Don't hit reply! Head instead for the Ask Leo! home page and search the site first - seriously, around half the questions people ask are already answered there. You can also browse the archives, past newsletters and more. (The "ask a question" form is temporarily disabled while I'm on vacation. More on that below.)

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*** New Articles

Can I backup multiple machines to the same drive?

I just read your latest newsletter about backing up. It spawned a question. What differences are there to backing up a small local network? Can you back all the workstations up to a single external hard drive? What software would you recommend? I have a retail store with five workstations all running Windows XP. Currently I backup the documents and settings folders to one hard drive and then back that up to a flash drive all using Winzip. After reading your newsletter I think maybe they should all be backed up the way you recommended but wouldn't that require sharing then entire hard disk and is that okay to do?

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Actually it's a fine thing to do, but it does have some limitations.

The good news, though, is that you don't need to share out the entire hard disk of every machine you're backing up, only the backup drive itself.

Continue reading: Can I backup multiple machines to the same drive?
http://ask-leo.com/C4280

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Can I upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7 by upgrading to Windows Vista first?

It's difficult to upgrade from XP to 7. However, it is a lot easier to upgrade from XP to Vista and from Vista to 7. If I am running XP and have not upgraded to Vista but have the Vista OS on CD which I never bothered to install as I never like to install MS products until they have been out a while since there are always a lot of bugs and then I heard that vista wasn't all that good anyway. Would it make sense to upgrade to Vista and then to 7 in two steps, one right after the other?

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While there's no direct Windows XP to Windows 7 upgrade path, it's quite possible to do what you describe: upgrade first to Windows Vista, and then upgrade that to Windows 7.

Whether it makes sense is a matter of opinion.

And in my opinion the answer is no.

Continue reading: Can I upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7 by upgrading to Windows Vista first?
http://ask-leo.com/C4279

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Should I buy my own DSL modem?

What opinion do you have about buying a modem instead of using one supplied by the ISP. Presently I use a dsl modem supplied by my phone co. which is also my ISP. Somewhere in my web rambling I read that modems seem to invite spies, malware and viruses. I don't know how but that's what i think the writer said. As I've been perusing today's newsletter I also see that you mention that it's feasible for people to see our internet addresses if two PC's are behind the same router,which mine are. Do you have any feelings or fears about such things? One thing I don't like about my modem is that the default address of the modem must always remain the same. I am thinking that perhaps with a different modem I could have some leeway in changing the address from time to time as I do with my router.

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There's a fair amount of confusion evident in the question, because the modem isn't really related to many of the things mentioned. That's fine, and I'll do my best to clear that up.

Purchasing a modem, rather than using the ISP provided one, isn't all that common but can occasionally be useful. In fact, I had at least one case where I actually had to buy my own. On eBay, no less.

Continue reading: Should I buy my own DSL modem?
http://ask-leo.com/C4278

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Can a virus infect my computer's BIOS?

Is there a virus that cannot be destroyed by re-formatting the hard drive it has infected? For example, it might have infected the BIOS on the system board.

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Possible? Sure. I know there have been "proof of concept" demonstrations, and I'm certain it's happened in the wild as well.

Is it likely?

I don't believe so. Further, I believe that when faced with a virus infection you're probably wasting your time worrying about the BIOS.

I'll explain why.

Continue reading: Can a virus infect my computer's BIOS?
http://ask-leo.com/C4276

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What's a BIOS?

I keep hearing people talk about something called a BIOS in my computer. What is it?

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Your computer's BIOS is perhaps one of the oldest legacies of PC computers. It's special software that's on your computer before you take it out of the box, and before you even turn it on.

Even before the computer has a hard disk installed, the BIOS is there.

It's software that has a critical role in getting your computer started.

It's a little like my morning coffee that way.

Continue reading: What's a BIOS?
http://ask-leo.com/C4275

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*** Comments

Are computers simply too unsafe to use?

Leonard writes:

Sadly, this goes to what I believe you have mentioned in the past (as well as Leo Laporte), the average American computer user is sadly ignorant of safe Internet procedures and basic computer operating skills. �I don't know if they aren't teaching it in schools or what (I came to the party late, at about 28 years old), but when I got into PC's about 15 years ago I educated myself about both Windows and the Internet via the Internet and awesome sites such as yours, Mr. Laporte's old tech show on what used to be a great computer channel, forums, etc. �I also cracked awesome books such as 'Windows 98 for Dummies'/'Find Gold in Vista' by the great Mr. Dan Gookin (who DOES answer an email if you need him!).

With 'self educating' myself from such pros as yourself and the above mentioned experts, I feel safe to pay bills, purchase, etc. Online as I now know the pitfalls to avoid. �I even enjoy playing around in the Windows registry, something most people have never heard of, which is sad, IMHO. �I have no qualms about opening the tower and replacing/upgrading what I need too. �I even enjoy blowing out the dust to ensure my PC continues to purr like a kitten. �I still have much to learn, but thanks to you, I'm considered a trustworthy computer geek to my friends and family. Thank you very much for the very valuable advice you have given so freely.

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How should I protect my computer from theft when I leave home?

Michael Horowitz writes:

Hard disk passwords get no respect. They offer better security than a power-on password and the same resistance to being moved to another computer that full disk encryption offers.

The BIOS has to support it though, some do, some don't. For more see:

Hard disk passwords offer great security for free
http://blogs.computerworld.com/hard_disk_passwords_offer_great_security_for_free

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How do I contact Windows Live Hotmail customer service?

Pamela Mitchell writes:

The above account I had since 2002. I have contacted all the abuse e-mail addresses and no one has answered why my account was closed. I have spent so much money since my account has been closed with iyogi, a tech guy that built my latest computer and opened an msn account. Shouldn't someone respond to me. All my files, contacts, pictures, medical information is blocked from me. I opened the account in 2002 on an army post in San Antonio. I just cannot understand that I have received nothing from windows live explaining what has happened and in the mean time I have an account that I cannot get to and if they would just respond to me this could get cleared up. Truly frustrated

"Shouldn't someone respond to me?" - No. They are under no obligation to do so. This is a free email account, and you're getting exactly what you paid for. This is why I so strongly recommend against using free email accounts as the only place to keep anything even vaguely important.

-Leo

*** Leo Recommends

Hamachi
Simple Remote Access VPN

One of the very frequent questions I get is about connecting two or more machines, or even networks, across the internet. The most common scenario is when traveling ... you're on the road, and you need to get at that one file that you left at home or at work, on a different computer.

Enter "VPN"s, or Virtual Private Networks.

Continue reading: Hamachi - Simple Remote Access VPN
http://ask-leo.com/C2547

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Each week I recommend a specific product or resource that I've found valuable and that I think you may as well. What does my recommendation mean?

*** Popular Articles

When you purchase a product quite often you're not saving the most important part...

Don't lose your keys!

When you purchase software you're not always buying what you think.

No, I'm not talking about your car keys, though you probably don't want to lose those either, I'm talking about your product keys.

When you purchase software it's easy to think that you're purchasing the CD or DVD and perhaps the manual that might come with it. In a sense that's true, but many people end up throwing away the most important thing they purchased. They might save the disc, or even the manual and throw away ... the product key.

Continue reading...
Don't lose your keys!
http://ask-leo.com/C3008

*** Thoughts and Comments

Wow.

That was my reaction when I saw the first draft of the new digital download product I'm putting together.

Seriously, I was blown away by the sheer size of it!

I'll share more about what I've got planned next week, but this is something that a number of people have asked for over the years. Finally, now that I actually have a store from which I can sell stuff, ideas have been percolating like crazy.

The first, like I said, is actually fairly simple, but something that folks have asked for. And there's definitely more to come.

I'll share more details next week.

But I'm pretty excited.

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In case you're wondering: no I don't have an iPad yet. Smile

I did get a chance to play with one a couple of weeks ago, and I will admit that they are amazing devices. There's a ton of potential there, and I can see lots of creative uses for them. I'm particularly pleased to see that there's an Amazon Kindle reader application for the iPad, as it's a perfect device for reading. If I didn't already have a first generation Kindle, I'd choose it over a Kindle DX (the larger Kindle), for example, in a heartbeat, and give it serious consideration as my primary Kindle device.

But, no, for now I've elected to remain iPad-less. I just haven't come up with the compelling use for me to really justify the expense.

But I absolutely understand the excitement.

(My next device? I'm this close to turning in my Blackberry for an Incredible. Stupid name, but I did get a chance to play with a couple of Android-based phones last week as well, and this ... well, this I can use.)

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This newsletter, like Ask Leo! itself, is free, but you can always support Ask Leo! by visiting that store I mentioned - there are various items ranging from my ebook on tech interviewing to Ask Leo! Sticky Notes and a few random things in between. (You can always buy me a latte or a beer too, if you just want to shower me with cash! Smile)

'till next week...

Leo
Leo A. Notenboom

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