Questions and answers to fill your computer Christmas list

Lots of people are talking about the best of the holiday season already and with Christmas edging closer here we are talking about lots of computer goodies under the tree.

Lots of people are talking about the best of the holiday season already and with Christmas edging closer here we are talking about lots of computer goodies under the tree.

For many people that will mean a Windows 7 computer, which will mean a run to the bookstore for the next series of “Dummies” books on how to actually use the thing.

But this week’s reader mail will answer some new questions of a consumer-y nature.

Q. You have mentioned in the past that Microsoft Office may not be the best buy for an office suite.

However I use Office at work and I am not sure I want to really re-learn anything else.

However, I am not down for the huge retail price tag. Can I use the free downloaded version on the Microsoft website?

A. That is a beta of Office 2010, which you are welcome to use, of course, but do know it will expire at the end of the beta period.

(Also know that being beta software, you will run into unfinished things, some bugs and you are not entitled to any support.)

You probably know about, the free office suite that you can download and use for nothing.

The most cost-effective way of getting the real Microsoft Office is to (legally) obtain the academic version, which you are allowed to do if you have a student in your home. This version is readily available at college bookstores, some retail outlets and on eBay.

Q. You mentioned a free anti-virus product from Microsoft in a previous column but I am having a hard time finding it. Is it just as good as the commercial products? Why is it free?

A. If you go to the Microsoft website and look for Microsoft Security Essentials you will find the new free anti-virus and anti-spyware suite. It is free for non-commercial users and yes, I would say as an anti-virus product it is just as effective as most commercial products. (Testing labs will show variations in all products, of course.)

Microsoft is giving it away for a couple of reasons; one, to increase the security of Windows, which has been taking a beating lately in comparison to Apple’s OS X, and two, because few users signed up for its paid OneCare product and it had the thing sitting there anyway.

Q. If I live in a rural area (on a farm) and I don’t have neighbors anywhere near me do I need to turn on wireless security on my router?

I thought not but my son said I should anyway but I thought it would slow everything down.

A. You don’t have to if security is not a concern for you.

If you notice a bunch of farmers in combines parked on your land using laptops, you might.

Q. What anti-virus product works with Windows 7? Is there one built in?

A. There is not one built-in because of anti-trust concerns from the various governments of the developed countries of the world but I would download and use Microsoft Security Essentials (mentioned above.)

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

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