Housecall scan can help in virus cure

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We have a two-year-old Dell laptop that runs a bit slow and has plenty of problems, but the most irritating, today at least, is the following: If I open up any program other than Microsoft Word prior to opening Word (for example, if I log on to the Internet and then try to open Word), then Word refuses to open. Either the hourglass spins ceaselessly, or if I try to open a Word document after having opened something else, there is a small message at the bottom notifying me that the antivirus software is running, and the document never opens. Often the program freezes up. If, however, the first thing I do when I turn on the computer is open Word, the program runs with no problem. I welcome your suggestions and solutions.

- Allison Ryan,

It's highly likely that your computer has some kind of virus or spyware gnawing away at its innards as the workday continues. An excellent way to find out if you've got either of these blights is to use a free Web service called Housecall offered by Trend Micro Inc., one of the major players in the antivirus business, although notably smaller in that department than the giants of Symantec (Norton antivirus) and McAfee.

If you have one of these other antivirus programs, it's also a good idea to run the scan tool built into them. This can be found by looking in the lower right of the monitor display for an icon for the virus fighter. Give that icon a right-click, and a pop-up menu will lead you through the steps to do a scan.

Trend Micro's free Housecall service uses a Web browser to scan your machine for all kinds of malware - spyware and viruses. The reason I suggest Housecall is that whatever is going on hasn't been stopped by your current protective programs, and so a second opinion is always a good idea.

After the Housecall scan you can decide whether to try to get your current antivirus software to fix it or take your business across the street.

Even though I worked for many years as a COBOL mainframe programmer, desktop personal computers are still somewhat of a mystery to me. I'm hopeful that you can help me with a minor annoyance regarding Web addresses or URLs. Whenever I try to click on a URL that someone may send me in an e-mail, I go nowhere. I have to copy and paste or forward the e-mail to my Yahoo address. It's annoying, but I can live with it. However, sometimes my children send me an e-mail with a place to click, which should take me to a photo album. That doesn't work either, and there's no URL to copy and paste. It's driving me crazy. Help!

- Ellen Koepf,

I know my way around a PC pretty well, but I must confess that when I studied COBOL back in the 1960s, I failed miserably because I couldn't handle the debugging, Ms. K. But enough confessing for both of us.

Fixing the problem with getting Web addresses (URLs) to be clickable in e-mail requires setting the e-mail software so that it works in the HTML format rather than in plain text. The second problem with reading the actual text behind a hot link is a matter of using a right-click.

You need to start by opening the Microsoft Outlook Express e-mail program used for your account. Look for the Tools item at the top of the Outlook Express display and then select Options. In the menu this summons, you need to change things under two tabs - Read and Send. Open the Read tab and you will find a check in a box for "Read all messages in plain text." Remove the check, and your e-mails will change to display the same kinds of stuff that one finds in Web pages, which are created by a programming language called hypertext markup language.

Next you need to change the Send tab to send future e-mails in HTML. There is a radio button for HTML or Text, on the tab. Make sure your children set their e-mail software the same way. Now, if you ever want to get the exact text for a highlighted hot link, just pass the mouse cursor over it and hold down the right mouse button. You will get a pop-up menu with several choices, including "Copy shortcut." Select that and the full address will be stored in your computer's memory, called the clipboard.

Now you can put the cursor arrow in the address bar and paste the address by right-clicking in the box where addresses are typed and selecting Paste. You also can open a text editor or a word-processing program and paste the address into a new document either by using the right-click/Paste step or just typing Control + V.

Jim Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune. Reach him by mail at the Chicago Tribune, Room 400, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611.

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