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External drive needs a driver

Question:I recently tried to back up an old Windows 95 machine to my external USB drive. When I plugged it in, I got an hourglass, but it never found the drive or recognized it. How can I get it to work?

Answer: You have a couple of things working against you. One, it depends on the format of the hard drive of your external drive. In many cases, you will have formatted your external drive as NTFS (the NT file system), and Windows 95 needs to use the old favorite called "FAT32." So you can reformat the drive, and lose everything, or get another drive. Secondly, many Windows 95 machines require a driver for external drives. Many don't come with drivers anymore in the box because most Win95 machines are in the Smithsonian, but you may find drivers on the Web site of the drive manufacturer — look under "you're kidding, right?"

Question:I installed Open Office according to your suggestion, but it is not saving files in the "DOC" format that my professor in my college needs. He is going to make me buy Microsoft Office unless I can figure it out.

Answer: He's sort of a dope. You can either save the file as a Microsoft Word file type with each save or go to the preferences for each application (like TEXT) and select the default file type and set it as Word, and it will pick the ".doc" file type for you each time you save. Either way, you don't need to buy Microsoft Office just to get that file type. You may want to buy it for other reasons, and if you do, make sure you get the academic version if you are a student.

Question:I have a Dell Inspiron computer and my son says we need to upgrade the BIOS of the computer because it is several versions behind. I remember reading in your column a couple years ago not to upgrade the BIOS if you're not having any issues. Which should I do?

Answer: Well, you can read the notes about the upgrades and see what functionality or bugs are fixed with the upgrades and decide. There used to be some risk with BIOS updates, mostly because you had to install the patches on floppy disks and there was some risk of turning your computer into a brick if something went wrong. Dell, however, has this down cold. As long as your laptop is plugged into power, the odds of something going wrong are slim. Also, you don't need to install all of the upgrades, just the latest one.

Question:I dropped my laptop, and now when I turn it on it starts to boot but flashes bright blue for a second and then starts over. How can I tell what is wrong with it?

Answer: When it first starts, hit the F8 key and select "disable automatic restart on failure." That will allow the blue screen to remain. My hunch is you have damaged your hard drive.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer-repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com.