- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

I know, we’re several days into the new year, but it’s still possible to set a new and better course for the days ahead. Like the diet I plan to start.

Tomorrow.

It might be easier for some of us to exercise more discipline regarding our computers. It’s on my list of to-dos. Now, some specific steps — and product recommendations.

Change browsers for the better: A few months ago, I wrote approvingly of Firefox, a new Web browser that is more secure (in many respects) than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. I like Firefox because it offers access to most commercial (i.e., secure) Web sites, including my bank’s, that are sometimes difficult with Safari, the leading Mac browser, or with some other PC-based alternatives.

Coupled with the greater security is a nicer interface, the ability to customize Firefox with assorted themes and plug-ins gives users a great deal at a fantastic price: free. Details are at www.mozilla.org/products/firefox, and it’s worth investigating.

However, I must report less satisfaction with Firefox’s e-mail system, Thunderbird. This program is very good in a lot of ways, but I find that I’ve maxed out some of its capabilities, and finding work-arounds is difficult. I’d suggest approaching Thunderbird with caution.

Better security for a PC: Installing anti-virus software should be automatic by now (in fact, the latest updates to Microsoft Windows, Service Pack 2, makes it so), and updating that virus protection is something you should watch for at least once a week.

But beyond this, you need to watch things such as password control for your PC — to keep children away from sensitive files, like checking account registers — and for your wireless router, to keep poachers away from your high-speed Internet connection. A firewall, software or hardware-based, would be a good idea to also keep people from tunneling into your computer.

Speaking of the youngsters, I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: Parents need to be parents, aware of what their children are doing online. America Online offers what may be the best parental controls for any Internet service provider anywhere. But whatever route you choose, it’s important to stay on top of what your children are doing.

The Norton line of anti-virus and security products from Symantec (www.symantec.com) remain favorites of mine, and are available for Macs and personal computers. They deserve your investigation.

Use available tools more: There are things such as instant messaging and various search tools (for the Web and for computers) that can make my job easier, and probably yours too. Many are bundled with the operating systems we use every day, both Windows and Mac. Others are either free or at low cost.

My resolution is to check out what my computer (or computer maker) has to offer before looking for a high-priced solution.

What this means for any user, including this one, is that it’s useful to get to know as much as possible about our computers — in knowledge is power. Get a book, take a class, scour the Internet, read a good magazine such as PC World, MacAddict or others. Investing a little time and effort will pay great dividends.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com, or visit www.kellner.us.

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