Today's installment includes a few reader questions about digital photos and the growing use of home PCs as the darkrooms of today.

Question:I have a new digital camera and I love it. I am storing my photos on my home PC, and I am worried about losing them all if my computer dies. I read in your column about backing them up onto CD or an external drive. Can I also store them online?

Answer: Sure. Online sites like Smugmug, AOL Photos, Shutterfly or any number of other sites will store your photos for you. Some will do so for free; some for a modest fee. Some will store them for you for nothing if you periodically order prints from them. If you have a high-speed Internet connection that's one way to back up your photos and always have an extra copy off-site. However, I still would make a copy to CD or to an external drive. That would protect you further if the external site were to go out of business or whatever.

Question:I have about 5,000 photos on my hard drive, and keeping them all organized in folders is becoming a real pain, as you can imagine. What image organizer do you recommend buying for Windows XP?

Answer: I use and recommend a free utility called Picasa from the folks at Google (I did mention they were going to take over the world, didn't I?). Picasa searches your hard drive (if you want it to) for all image files and indexes them for you. It makes small thumbnail photos of everything so you can see tiny images of what the photos look like. Then when you launch Picasa you can search by those image thumbnails, by date and even by content keywords you can add.

You also can do basic photo editing, make CDs, drag and drop into albums and much more. This is the tool that everyone should start with. Best of all, it's free. You can get it at

Question:You mentioned that it is better not to reformat flash cards but just clear them. Why is that?

Answer: In some cameras, the camera keeps a running numeric of the pictures taken like "img001, img002" etc. If you reformat the memory card, sometimes you can start that numbering system over again, which is a hassle when you copy them to your computer and it wants to overwrite the files already there. Read the manual to make sure, but often there is a "clear" option instead.

Question:When I connect my camera to my computer I get a pop-up box that says I can get faster performance if I connect my camera to a USB 2.0 port, which I don't have on my computer. How can I get rid of this?

Answer: Isn't Windows so helpful sometimes? Yes, you would get faster performance, but you're right, you probably don't have the ports. If you clicked on the helpful box it likely would tell you as much. To turn off the unhelpful warning, in Device Manager, click on all the USB host controllers, click the Advanced tab and then check the box on the bottom of the window that says, "Don't tell me about USB errors."

You can buy a PCI-based USB 2.0 card for about $25 that would speed up your USB performance, but you have to pop open the case to install it.

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James Derk is co-owner of CyberDads, a computer repair company, and a computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is