Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 176 22/10/11


Works in Progress

We have Vista Home Basic running Word 8. No one is able to open our Windows Mail email attachments sent in Word. Why should this be? We also have difficulty opening many of our in-coming e-mail attachments, particularly those suffixed .doc. We do not have Microsoft Office and don't plan to install it.  Do you have any ideas?

Graham Rumney, by email


I suspect that you are using Works rather than Word. Works is a basic word processor and although it comes from Microsoft and looks superficially similar to Word it uses a completely different file format with the extension .wps, moreover it cannot open Word .doc or .docx files. Word can open .wps files but only when selected on the Files of Type drop-down menu in the File Open dialogue box. The simplest solution to your problem is to install a Word-compatible word processor, like AbiWord, or OpenOffice.org, which is a full office suite, compatible with Microsoft Office. They are both Open Source and free and you will find links to the downloads at: http://goo.gl/yjheu.



Staying In Touch

I have a conventional desktop PC. If I want to have a touch screen set-up can I just buy a new touch screen monitor or do I have to buy a new PC?

Derek Francis, by email


Touch screen support was introduced for the first time in Windows 7, so if you are using Windows XP or Vista you will probably have to replace your computer. Older PCs can sometimes be persuaded to run W7 but it’s rarely a happy combination. There have been a few touch-screen monitors with XP drivers but as far as I am aware they have either been discontinued or didn’t work very well.


Windows 7 touch screen features are okay but it’s very much a first generation product and the smallish icons and menus can be quite fiddly to use, especially on smaller monitor screens. If you are planning to get a new PC then it’s worth waiting for the new Windows 8 operating system, due out next year. This has been designed from the ground up to take advantage of advances in touch screen technology with larger, finger-friendly icons and menus.  



Virtually Safe?

I have noticed that a number of banks use drop-down menus to enter memorable information rather than using the keyboard. I understand that this to get round key-logging malware. Would using a virtual on-screen keyboard make entering sensitive information more secure?

David White, by email


Banks and building societies use a variety of techniques for logging on to their websites. Usually it’s a two-stage process, starting with the user entering their username and account number or password. At this point it doesn’t matter if you use a conventional hardware or on-screen keyboard as they share the same system resources, which key logging malware monitors. The second stage of the logon generally asks the users to type in a memorable name or place, or enter randomly selected characters from a password. As this changes at each logon it makes it harder for fraudsters but it still relies on the potentially vulnerable keyboard and after a number of logins a determined bad guy could figure out the details. Some websites avoid this by using the mouse to select numbers or characters from a drop-down menu. Mouse movements cannot be easily logged so it is inherently more secure, but nothing is infallible. Eventually I suspect more websites will move to electronically encrypted logon systems now being used by a number of banks. This requires the user to pop their Chip and PIN card into a pocket reader, tap in their PIN number and a code from the website and use the code that appears on the reader display to log on to the site or authorise a transaction.



Exasperating Extensions

I cannot seem to open some file extensions on my PC, .pro files being an example. I am directed onto the web, where I am offered cure-all downloadable packages, usually costing some $30 each. Can you recommend an all-embracing solution or am I doing something wrong? I would be happy to pay as required for a proper proprietary system.

Mike Kane, by email


It’s a con and there is no need to pay for anything. This question comes up a lot, usually with regard to email attachments that a computer cannot open, so let’s go back to basics. A file extension tells Windows (and Mac and Linux PCs) the name or nature of the program that created it and what to do with it when you click on it. Windows knows how to handle most common types of data and media files (.jpeg, .wmv, .mp3, .txt, .zip and so on). For example, if you click on a file ending with .wmv or .mp3 it opens Windows Media Player and playback begins. Windows also knows about the file extensions used by the other software installed on your computer and launches the appropriate program when you click on the file.


Problems arise when Windows encounters a file type it doesn’t recognise or hasn’t ‘associated’ with the program it belongs to, usually because the program concerned isn’t on your computer. Since there are tens of thousands of programs and file types this also means there’s no such thing as a downloadable cure-all, so beware of scams. The simplest solution is to ask whoever gave you the file what software they used, and install a copy of it on your PC (or a compatible program or suitable viewer software). Otherwise it may be possible for them to provide you with a version of the file in a format that your computer does understand.


If you can’t find out the origins of a file you may be able to track down the parent program using an online resource like File Extensions.org (http://goo.gl/3Nboz). Unfortunately it’s not much help in this case as the .pro file extension is a common one. It usually refers to a project file, which many applications use, so you will have to go back to the source.



© R. Maybury 2011 0310


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