January 07


Right Click Freezes PC

Hi Rick, I have been running XP, fully updated, defragged, and in every sense - bar one - perfectly stable, for at least 3 years. At an undefined point some months ago, I became unable to right click on any desktop icon, except 'My computer' and 'Norton Bin'. A right click on any other icon caused an immediate freeze and an error message from Windows Explorer 'needed to close and send an error report to Microsoft'. Selecting anything on these two options results in a prolonged freeze -10-15 mins. The only function remaining is 'Ctrl-Alt-Del' which will bring up task manager, which is viewable but non-functional. I have attempted to find something on Microsoft, but nothing came up, any thoughts?
Peter Hay


A. The timing of this unfortunate behaviour caught my attention because it roughly coincides with two events, the release of XP Service Pack 2 and Security Update 908531, both of which have been implicated with this type of fault. I would tackle the 908531 solutions first, because it is the easiest, and this is to install the latest version, which was released last April and there is a link to it on Microsoft Knowledgebase Article 918165, which has more about the problem. If that doesn’t work then I would try uninstalling SP2, see if that makes a difference and if so download and install the latest version.



Date on Desktop

Rick, I am sure that some time ago you explained how to get the date, as well as the time, to be displayed in the corner of the screen. The date has recently disappeared from my bar and I would really like to replace it. Please can you advise how?

Dave Miller


A. I’m not sure which method you used but there several ways to make the date appear in your System Tray. In fact you don’t have to do anything, other than just ‘hover’ your mouse pointer over the time display. The other really simple method is to make the taskbar wider, by dragging the edge (you may need to right-click the taskbar and uncheck ‘Lock the taskbar’ before it will let you do this). 


There are several third-party utilities that do this as well, and the one I’ve suggested in the past, which you may have installed, is TClock. This excellent little utility is freeware and in addition to showing the date it lets you tinker around with other parts of the clock display.



Printing CD Labels

Hi Rick, do you know of any freebie software for printing out labels and case inserts for DVD and CD cases?  Any help over this would be appreciated.

Kate Osborne


A. If you are feeling brave you should be able to set up a custom label in Word; all you need are some blank CD/DVD labels. The Word label facility cannot handle circles but you if you set the dimensions as a square, corresponding to the diameter of the circular label with a little trial and error you should be able to get it to print correctly. Alternatively, there is a freeware program called DVD Printerthat’s worth investigating and in addition to disc labels it also does box covers and CD inserts.



Am I a Zombie?

Hi Rick, I have read many reports about Spam being sent out from domestic PCs that have been infected by software that takes control of them and makes them slaves. Is there a way to tell whether or not my PC is clean? Will my antivirus (AVG), firewall (ZoneAlarm) and antispyware (Adaware) programs detect any infection and protect my PC?

Eric Roth


A. Infected PCs that spew out Spam are known as ‘Zombies’ and recent figures suggest that as much as 80 percent of Spam could be coming from zombified home computers. The infections are most often caught from email attachments and files downloaded from peer-to-peer networks; owners of compromised PCs usually have no idea that their machines have been hijacked and the damage they are doing. It really shouldn't happen!.


The chances of catching something nasty are virtually zero if you observe the usual commonsense rules, like installing a proper personal firewall (not the XP jobbie, which only blocks incoming traffic) and anti-virus software and making sure it is regularly updated. Never open unexpected attachments and stay well away from iffy file-sharing websites. You appear to be well protected so I don’t think you need to worry but keep an eye on your firewall and when you get requests from programs to access your connection don’t just click OK, find out where it is coming from.



Will a Router Protect My PC?

Hi Rick, A question and a comment on AVG Anti Virus. You and millions of others use AVG successfully. I did so until a few years ago when a Trojan got past it and infected the system, replicating itself on each boot of the PC. Professionals could not deal with it and I had to reformat.


Since then, reluctantly, I have used Norton. But as I also now have a router, friends tell me that the full protection of Norton Internet Security and Norton Anti-virus is not needed. Certainly, since the router installation some two years ago, there has been nothing for Norton to deal with on the weekly scan.


Perhaps the general subject of routers and the need or not of extra protection would make a useful Tip for the future - it would certainly interest me.

Frederick Washbrook


A. To be fair I wouldn’t necessarily blame AVG for the Trojan getting through, especially as it was a few years ago, things have moved on since then. Most of the time they hide inside emails or are buried in web pages and by the time you’ve clicked on a link or downloaded an infected file it is too late. New Trojans are appearing all the time and nowadays AVG are very good at updating the program’s ‘signature’ files, normally within hours of the infection being released into the ‘wild’; you may just have been unlucky, or missed an update.


Routers do not contain any meaningful anti-virus protection, they can, however, be quite effective as ‘hardware’ firewalls and block incoming hack attacks but that’s about as far as it goes. You still need a decent software firewall to block unauthorised outgoing attempts by malware, Trojans and keyloggers etc., to use your Internet connection. Do not let your guard down, you still need anti-virus software, malware protection and a firewall, and make sure they are all kept up to date.



Milkshake on the Desktop

My granddaughter now uses my computer to go to Channel 5’s  'Milkshake' website. To help her go there herself and have control over what she gets up to, I want to put an icon on the desktop to load explore and got directly to this site.  I have done them to launch programs, but this is a double action.  Is there a way to do it, and then I can carry the Milkshake Picture over to the icon? I don't want to change my 'home site' incidentally, since I would find navigating back from 'Milkshake' an annoyance. 

Rod Carter


A. No problem, simply visit the Milkshake website and drag and drop the icon in the address box directly onto the desktop. Clicking on this will automatically open your browser and navigate directly to the site. It will have the browser’s default icon, so to customise it right click on the Milkshake logo and select ‘Save Picture As’, this should open the My Picture folder, if you like change the name to something easy to find, like ‘Milk’. Now open Windows Paint (Start Programs > Accessories), and open your newly saved Milk image. Now go to File > Save As and give the file an .ico extension and in the Save As Type box select 16 Color Bitmap and click OK. To finish off right-click on your Milkshake desktop shortcut, select Properties then Change Icon and navigate to and select the Milk.ico file in your My Pictures folder and click OK.  



Surfing Overseas

I have a desktop PC with internet access but I have acquired a Laptop that I wish to use whilst travelling throughout the UK, Europe, Canada and USA especially whilst in a campervan without land line access - possibly a mobile would be available.


What is the most appropriate and cost effective way of obtaining an ISP for web and email usage?  I have been given lost of conflicting advice as to the feasibility of my requirements.

Wendy Westoby


A. There is no ‘right’ answer, everyone’s requirements are different and there are many options these days but in your case I think there are two solutions worth pursuing. The first is to sign up with an ISP that has worldwide local access numbers and the two that spring to mind are AOL and CompuServe (the latter is now owned by AOL).


Armed with phone cable and a data connection cable (or IR or BlueTooth connection) for your mobile phone you should be able to set up a dial-up connection just about anywhere. This is for occasional use and emergencies only as data speeds tend to be slow and online call charges can be steep if you are using your mobile on a UK account, so always check locally for cheap pay-as-you go SIM card deals.


The other alternative is to fit your laptop with a Wi-Fi adaptor, unless it already has one, and log on to the Internet and download your emails at wireless ‘hotspots’. Many of them are free to use so before you go Google ‘free hotspots’ plus the name of the country or city where you will be staying, before you leave. Other suggestions are very welcome.



Can’t Find Server Bounced Messages

Dear Rick, I run XP and have AVG anti-virus (free version) plus Windows Firewall. My Sister-in-law has XP and she receives emails I send to her, but I do not receive anything she sends to me, including replies to my messages.  Her emails show up in her 'Sent' box but just bounce back with a 'can't find my server' message.  Her emails to all other people are successfully transmitted.  I have confirmed that she is using my correct address and I should be very grateful for your help.

Peter Reardon


A. There are several possibilities and you should be able to pin down what is happening by a process of elimination. The first thing to try is to send an email to yourself and see if it gets through. You should try it first with your PC in its normal condition, then with your Firewall switched off, followed by ones with your anti-virus scanner and Spam filter – if you have one – disabled. If your original message doesn’t get through, but it does with one of those utilities switched off, then you have found the culprit and you need to check the relevant program’s configuration settings.


If none of the above makes a difference then you can check to see if the incoming message is getting through to your mailbox by checking it at www.mail2web.com, if so this might indicate that there is still something at your end -- try an alternative email client like Thunderbird -- if not you should ask your sister-in-law to run a similar set of tests at her end, so make sure her outgoing messages to you are not being blocked.



Outlook Express Spell Checker Stuck on French 

I have checked that my Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 all use English dictionary for spell checking, yet I find Outlook Express is set to use French (France) dictionary, thus declaring all English words as misspelled! The Tools/Options/Spelling tab confirms this and offers no means to change this setting, French being the only choice in the Language drop down list. Can you suggest how to resolve this problem?

Alfred Sperber


A. It seems you are not alone and I think I may have found a couple of solutions to your problem. The first thing to do is try changing the Language setting in MS Outlook, which apparently can change the language setting in OE. You will find this option in Tools > Options > Spelling. The other possible cure is to install a third-party OE spellchecker, then uninstall it and this should reset the language in OE to its English default. The one suggested is Spellchecker for OE (which also happens to be one that I've recommended in the past for those who do not have Word installed on their PCs.



New AVG, is it any good?

Hi Rick, for the last few weeks AVG has been telling me they are to discontinue support for AVG7 and there is a new version to download. So far I've not seen any comments on this new version and wonder is it as good as previous AVG programs and if there are any known problems with it.

Peter Dale


A. I’ve had quite a few emails recently from worried AVG Free users, concerned that AVG7 is going to being phased out, and not replaced. Just to put everyone’s mind at rest AVG7 will be discontinued from February 18th, but it has been replaced by AVG 7.5. It is still free and it is available for download now. It’s early days yet but I have been using it for some several weeks without a hitch and it seems fine. I am not aware of any significant glitches and checking around the various forums the rollout has gone reasonably smoothly and the few error reports I have seen appear to be mostly isolated incidents. That is not to say there won’t be a few hiccups along the way, the possible software permutations and potential for interaction is almost infinite but so far so good!



Broadband, Should it be left on?

Dear Rick, I have recently gone onto broadband.  I am not sure whether I should log onto broadband each time I boot up or just when I want to use the Internet?  I am not a heavy user and wonder if my broadband provider is likely to object to leaving my broadband connected when not in use.
R H Keightley


A. The whole point about broadband is that it is ‘always on’ and ready for use, without having to go through the kafuffle of dialling up and logging on. You are paying for this service so you should make use of it. If you are using a USB type broadband modem -- i.e. it only comes on when the PC is running -- then you should have it set to connect when your PC boots up. If you are using a network modem, or one of those wireless ‘home hub’ jobbies with a modem built-in then by default it will maintain the connection for as long as it is switched on. This is particularly important if you are using your broadband connection for phone calls or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), otherwise you would only be able to receive incoming calls when it is plugged in.



Dial-Up Dilemma

Dear Rick, I am receiving a large number of unsolicited emails.  I am not too bothered by the unpleasant content of some as I do not read them but delete immediately.  However, this is not only tiresome but sometimes they take a long time to come through and I have to accept them to receive the odd one or two I want. 


As I am not on broadband but pay by the minute and cannot afford to change over can you tell me how to avoid receiving them please.  Is there a way that will cost me nothing?  I am a 78 year old on a very small income. Last Saturday I had to keep on line for about 35 mins in order to clear them.

Pam Stark


A. I have a couple of solutions for you. The first is to use a web-based email client like Mail2Web (www.mail2web.com). All you have to do is visit the website, enter you email address and email password and all of the messages waiting for you will be displayed. You can then delete the ones you do not want without any of them getting anywhere near your PC. When you have done just open Outlook Express to download your mail as normal. The alternative is a Spam Filter and I recommend a freeware program called MailWasher, which does a similar sort of job. It logs on to your mail server, displays the contents of your mailbox, delete the rubbish then download the messages you want through Outlook Express.



Recording Radio 4 Listen Again

Hi Rick, I like to listen to BBC Radio programmes after they have been aired. I appreciate that the BBC provide some podcasts of a few shows and that previously aired shows are only available online. Is it possible to record these ‘Listen Again’ type programmes in an MP3 format so that I can listen to them on my MP3 player remotely? I have tried a couple of free shareware type programs but they do not record the actual show that is being re played. Any ideas?

Robin Szymura


A. Speaking as a saddo Archer’s fan I can sympathise with your plight. It’s actually very easy to do, and something I’ve mentioned on in the past. All you need is a freeware program called Audacity. This is a sophisticated -- yet very easy to use -- audio recording and editing program.


It does a zillion other things but the features we are interested in are its ability to record anything passing through your PC’s audio system, and being able to export recordings as MP3 files. The latter requires a ‘plug-in’ but there are instructions about how to download this as the same time as the program on the Audacity web site.


One you have it on your PC all you have to do is visit the BBC website, start the ‘Listen Again’ item playing then open Audacity, set the input to ‘Wave Line In’ and press the Record button. When it has finished click Stop then go to the File menu and select Export as MP3 and download the file to your player in the normal way.



Windows Installation Limitations?

How many times can we uninstall and reinstall Windows before they say no?

Graham Bully


A. In theory you can re-install a copy of Windows as many times as you like, however, there are a few ifs and buts. Legally you are only licensing Windows from Microsoft, you don’t actually own it as such and you are only entitled to install it on one PC at a time. Before Windows XP came along you could install it as many times as you like, piracy was rife. Naturally enough this caused Microsoft great annoyance, so on Windows XP and most MS Office Applications there’s something called Product Activation. This enforces the single machine installation rule by compelling users to authenticate their copy of Windows or Office. If they fail to do so it will stop working after 30 days, or if that particular copy has already been activated (i.e. you try to install it on a second machine, or it’s a pirate copy) it also stops working.


So how does Microsoft know how many times a copy of XP has been installed? Easy, after you install XP it logs on to the MS website and verifies that particular copy of Windows is genuine. If you haven’t got an Internet connection, you can Activate XP by phone, by tapping numbers that appear on the PC screen into the phone keypad, you are then given a code, which you enter on your keyboard.


If you try installing XP on a second PC soon afterwards the activation will probably fail and you won’t be able to download updates on one or both PCs and eventually they will need to be reactivated. Product Activation also kicks in if you make any substantial changes to your PC’s hardware (CPU, hard drive, motherboard etc.). However, this rarely causes problems and re-activation is routine, certainly if it happens more than six months after XP was first installed. Otherwise you may have to speak to a MS rep, who will normally okay the reactivation after asking you a few questions.


Early reports that Windows Vista could only be re-installed once caused something of a furore and Microsoft has apparently backtracked but it’s clear it is determined to crack down on piracy so this probably isn’t the end of the story, but for the moment at least, as long as you play by the rules you can re-install Windows as often as you like.


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