Redo security settings to cure old PC's woes

Ask Jim

Plugged in

March 15, 2007|By Jim Coates | Jim Coates,Chicago Tribune

I am a 68-year-old man still using my old PC. Most of the time when I search something or write an e-mail, I get a long message saying, "The page cannot be displayed," followed by a lot of paragraphs about different things. Is it because my PC is old? It has Windows ME. I bought it in 2001. I only use this for e-mail and searching the Internet. My son told me to buy a new one. I am a retiree on a limited budget. Can you suggest which kind of computer is good for me -- a laptop or desktop?

-- Max Reye, Hampshire, Ill.

First, let's take a shot at fixing your six-year-old dinosaur PC. Then we'll move on to replacing old PCs.

The most common cause of your glitch is that the security settings for the browser are set too low for the security built into the Web page being called up. If you haven't updated your browser for some time, it may be that the original security settings no longer meet current demands.

Click on Help on the browser's toolbar and select the line in the drop-down menu for About Internet Explorer. Look closely at the data this displays, and you will see a listing for cipher strength. It needs to be 128 bits or more.

Then you need to ratchet up your setting by using one of the Secure Socket Layer encryption tools built into the software. So open the browser and click on Tools and then Internet Options. In the tabbed menu this summons, select Advanced. This brings up a long list of possible settings with check boxes next to each. Go down near the bottom and you will find boxes for SSL 2.0 and SSL 3.0. Put a check alongside each and your browser no longer will be rejected by whatever pages now are shooting blanks at your computer.

Now, let's talk shopping. I recommend giving a long, hard look at changing to a laptop unless you are a computer columnist, a programmer, a diehard gamer or somebody worried about somebody else coming along and carrying the computer away.

The only drawback to laptops for a great many people is that they tend to have smaller screens than desktop monitors, which for sexagenarians like you and me can be an issue. But it also is easy and inexpensive to buy a 19-inch LCD color monitor and plug it into the monitor connections on nearly all laptops. The big new issue with buying Windows computers is the recent arrival of the Vista operating system that replaces Windows XP. Vista comes in three versions that are pegged to the computing power of individual machines. Vista Basic runs most low-cost desktops and laptops, while more powerful computers get to run Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate. Vista Basic meets your stated requirements nicely, so that's probably your ticket. So you can pretty much let price be your guide as long as the computer is running Vista when you buy it. Laptops are under $600 from many makers and retailers. Desktops can be had a bit cheaper, around $500.

If I were looking for any single feature to recommend, it would be to go for a machine with 1 gigabyte of RAM rather than the 512 megabytes on many low-cost machines. And even here, you'll get by fine as long as you stick to your stated plans for simple Web browsing and e-mail.

When I click on Internet Explorer on my desktop, I get a window with a title bar showing "cannot find server -- Microsoft Internet Explorer provided by AOL." Why? What must I do to fix it? Furthermore, whether I am on AOL or my other server, Juno, I am constantly getting a window from Adobe Flash Player asking if I want to install. I keep clicking "no," but it keeps coming back over and over. The rest of that window says "signed on 11/9/2006 4:48 pm." How do I stop this window from coming back?

-- Lenore Borash, northwestern.edu

Your problem stems from AOL's big campaign to steer customers away from the company's own proprietary software and toward accessing AOL services using ordinary Web software.

You can get around this glitch by changing the settings for that icon you are clicking on your desktop so that it points to the regular Microsoft Internet Explorer browser instead of AOL's offering. You still can get to AOL by clicking on Start and then All Programs and then selecting the America Online icon.

So patch things up by replacing that defective icon you've been clicking with one that goes directly to the Microsoft-provided browser instead of the AOL-provided one.

Go back to that Start and All Programs area, and this time find the blue "e" icon for Internet Explorer and give it a right-click. Select Create Shortcut in the pop-up menu that appears, and you will see a copy of the icon appear at the bottom of the program's list. Select that shortcut and drag it to the desktop. Now drag the old icon into the recycle bin.

In the future, the desktop icon will open up into your Juno account, and the AOL listing under All Programs will open the AOL software.

As to those irksome Flash nags, you pretty much have the choice of either agreeing to the download or not being able to see an ever-growing number of Web features. It is safe as anything can be in the computer sandbox, so I'd suggest clicking "yes" instead of "no" next time.

askjimcoates@gmail.com

Jim Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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