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Beware e-mail viruses — and hoaxes

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Hints, tidbits and comments:

Beware the shrinking software box. I have wondered for years why software makers feel it necessary to put CD-ROM software in an 8x10 box, seeing as most have dispensed with manuals anyway. By this summer you will see software boxes drastically smaller in many stores that have limited shelf-space, like Wal-Mart and Target. Why have the box at all? Mostly to help prevent shoplifting and provide some room for marketing the game (screen shots, etc.).

Several people have unwittingly sent me viruses this week in the course of normal e-mails, prompting me to again suggest that everyone invest in a good anti-virus package and — this is the important part — keep the product updated. I used to consistently recommend Norton Anti-Virus from Symantec, but a recent decision gives me some pause. The company used to offer updates to its virus "definitions" for free; a few years ago it switched to $3 a year. Now it has more than tripled the price to $10 after the first "free" year. Main competitor McAfee so far is holding its price to $4 per year, which may be a selling point. Either product will adequately protect your PC.

Have you upgraded to Windows XP? My column next week will discuss how to upgrade, the good and bad points and some hints for upgraders. I'd like to hear your experiences, too. Drop me a note at the e-mail address below.

Many people are getting flat-panel monitors, some with "digital" capabilities. But I have seen a couple recently installed using the wrong video cable. If your video card has both the normal analog output and the larger digital output (and your monitor has both as well) you should use the digital cable and the larger connectors on both the PC and the monitor for the best picture. Follow the instructions packed with your video card or monitor on how to change Windows to use the best digital driver (and change your refresh rate to the recommended 60 Hz, which is much too low for analog monitors, which should be set to 72 or 75 to prevent flicker).

Before you buy anything via an online shopping site, check the small print. Three readers have written complaining of 15 percent "restocking fees" for products they bought online. This is not just an online thing; several "real" merchants charge the same fee, especially for items such as laptops. One can see their point somewhat; idiots used to try to buy a laptop just before a trip, use it, then return it for a full refund two weeks later. I have no real issue with the fee if it is disclosed upfront as the retailer has some costs returning the item as well.

One more: Please don't pass on virus warnings via e-mail. Nearly all are fake and they take on a life of their own. Just keep your anti-virus program up-to-date and running and don't e-mail bogus news to everyone in your box. Pretty soon the bogus warning becomes the virus as it fills up mailboxes around the world.

WEEKLY WEB WONDER: Check out virus hoaxes at www.sarc.com.

James Derk is new media editor for The Evansville Courier & Press. His e-mail address is jderk@evansville.net.