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Issue #198: May 8, 2011

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My special thanks to the Okaloosa County Master Gardeners, who invited me to speak at their general membership meeting this past week.  I had a great time meeting you all, and answering your questions.  All of the excellent questions in today’s column come from that presentation.

Q:  I use Firefox instead of Windows Explorer.  It seems that Firefox doesn’t play well with Adobe, especially the downloads.   Is there a way to fix this? 

– Margaret S.

A:  Margaret receives a fairly common error that says “Cannot use Adobe Reader to view .PDF in your web browser”.  To eliminate this problem, there is a special plug-in required, particularly for older versions of Firefox.  First, make sure you have the latest version and all the patches.  If you’re still having problems, visit https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/plugins/.  There is also a setting right in the browser that tells it whether to display .PDF files in the browser.  Go to Edit->Preferences, select the “Internet” category, and make sure “Display PDF in browser” is checked.

Q: Every single time I turn off the computer it tells me there is one update.  How can I find out what this update is and how can I get rid of it?  I’m using Windows 7.

– Anonymous 

A:  This problem can occur when an update is interrupted or if an error occurred the first time Windows attempts to install an update.  It can also occur if the update successfully installed, but one or more files were locked, and didn’t get updated.  Check out this link on the Microsoft Support forum where they discuss this exact issue: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/910339/

Q:  What is a “win.dat file” and why did Outlook turn my .doc file e-mail attachment into one? 

– Shirley H.

A:  Outlook uses a special method to package information for sending across the Internet called Transport Neutral Encapsulation Format (TNEF).  You will see the file WinMail.dat or Win.dat when this happens.  It is happening because you are sending mail using a Microsoft-specific format called Rich Text Format or RTF.  It can display your text in different colors, styles and fonts.  The information for this formatting, as well as file attachments are encapsulated within the Win.dat file.  Anyone using a compatible e-mail reader (i.e. – Outlook) will automatically translate this, and never even see the Win.dat file.  Everybody else is stuck with something they can’t read.  You can prevent this from happening by changing the format that Outlook uses to encode your e-mails RTF to plain text or HTML.  These are universal formats, and Outlook will not TNEF-encode your messages when you use these formats.  You can find a detailed explanation of this issue, and how to turn it off here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/241538

 Q:  Could you explain the difference between:  cookies–adware–malware–spyware–trojans–viruses?

– Ruth H.

Malware: Short for Malicious software.  General term used by Geeks for any software that is hostile, intrusive, or annoying. 

Adware: Software designed to display (usually undesired) advertisements, including pop-up and pop-under ads.  Some adware is not malicious, since certain software packages are ad-supported, meaning they are paid for by the advertising revenue they generate.

Spyware: Malware that collects information about users without their knowledge.  Includes software that steals passwords, bank or credit card account numbers, etc.   Also can include keystroke loggers or remote screen capture software installed by owners of shared, corporate, or public computers in order to secretly monitor other users.

Trojan: Malware that masquerades as a benign or beneficial application, appearing to perform a useful function, but in reality stealing information or otherwise harming the system.

Virus: Malware that can self-replicate, and spread among computers.  A computer that has a virus is said to be “infected”.  Viruses include, but are not limited to adware and spyware.

Worm: You didn’t ask about this one, but it fits right in with this explanation.  A worm is malware that self-replicates like a virus, but also propagates through computer networks.  Once unleashed, and operating at the speed of computers, worms can spread very quickly, and bring entire networks down as they consume all available resources.

Cookie: This is the odd-man out in your list.  Cookies are not malware – they are small text files stored on your computer by a web browser.  Generally, they are used for authentication, storing site preferences, contents of shopping carts, etc.  Although cookies are not malware, they can be exploited as spyware due to the browser mechanism to set and read cookies.  Anti-Spyware products may warn about some cookies because they can be used to track web activity – a privacy concern.

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