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Technology Q&A: activate Microsoft's firewall to protect against hackers ... Transmit oversize files via the Internet ... Customize Excel's gridline color ... Add an easily accessible check mark ... To buy a new computer or not? That's the question.

ACTIVATE MICROSOFT'S FIREWALL TO PROTECT AGAINST HACKERS

Q. I've been reading about the risk I face when I connect my computer to the Internet. I'm not talking about viruses and worms. My antivirus software appears to successfully handle them. I'm worried about hackers breaking into my computer and stealing my clients' confidential data such as bank account information and Social Security numbers-so-called identify theft. What do you suggest?

A. You're right; that's a legitimate concern, and you need protection. I suggest installing a firewall, which is a software program that lets you block the uninvited from slipping through your modem and gaining access to your computer. Every computer should be equipped with one. It doesn't matter whether you're a major or occasional user of the Internet; any connection carries some risk.

Unbeknownst to most users--because it's well-hidden and not advertised--Microsoft quietly added a firewall to its XP operating system. But unless you activate it, it just takes up room on your hard drive, doing nothing. For it to be useful, you have to activate it, which takes only a minute or so.

Here's hour: Click on Start and go to the Control Panel. Then click on Network Connections to open a screen that displays, among other things, your computer's Internet connection. Click on that connection (mine is a dial-up Mindspring connection), producing this screen:

Then click on the Properties button, evoking this screen:

Now click on the Advanced tab, creating this screen:

Finally, check the box for Protect my computer and network by limiting or preventing access to this computer from the Internet and click on OK (at the bottom of the screen, not shown here).

TRANSMIT OVERSIZE FILES VIA THE INTERNET

Q. From time to time l have to send vary large files via the Internet. Unfortunately, my Interact service provider won't let me send files larger than 2 megabytes, so I have to load the files in high-capacity Zip disks and send them by "snail mail," which can be slow and cumbersome. Also, those disks are expensive. Is there some other way to handle this?

A. There are several solutions to the problem, and most of them involve intricate transmission techniques, which require some technical sophistication. The best way I've found is to use file-splitter software, which takes a large file--it could be anything from an application to a big database--and breaks it into conveniently sized chunks so they can be sent over the Internet.

However, many file-splitters require that both the sender and the recipient have the application so the received files can recombine the various chunks when they arrive at their destination. I use a freeware program cared Dariolius (www. kanastacorp.com/dariolius.html), which sidesteps that problem by nesting a little unobtrusive program within the chunks that performs the recombining even if the recipient doesn't have Dariolius. As you can see from the screenshot below, the Dariolius work screen is intuitive and very easy to set up.

There are many other file-splitter programs available. To find one you like, search the Internet for file splitter and a dozen or so will be listed. Most cost less than $20.

If the file you want to send is just a bit over the size limit and you don't send large files very often, there are other, easier ways to handle the transmission. The simplest is to compress the file either with a built-in Windows application or download WinZip (www.winzip.com), a commercial compression program. To access the Windows compression utility, go to Explorer and right-click on the file you want to zip and click on Properties and then Advanced. Finally, place a check in the box next to Compress contents to save disk space and click on OK.

If the file you want to send is a graphics file and contains large BMP images, convert them to the leaner JPG format first. There are freeware programs, such as Irfanview (www. irfanview.com/main_download_engl.htm), which can make that conversion.

Be courteous: Don't send large files to people without first asking their permission. Unless they have a fast broadband connection, a huge attachment could tie up the recipient's modem for extended periods. They may ask you to send the files at a time when their computers are not otherwise in use.

CUSTOMIZE EXCEL's GRIDLINE COLOR

Q. I heard the gridlines era spreadsheet don't have to be black--they can be any color. I'd like to color some of my gridlines so I can make the results of each month, say, a different color for easy identification. However, I've tried to do that, but I've been unsuccessful.

A. Yes, you can change gridline colors. You can make the lines of each worksheet a different color, but you can't have different colors within a worksheet. However, if you want easier identification inside a worksheet, you can easily change the color of the data in cells (Format, Font and Color).

To change gridline color, click on Tools, Options and the View tab. Under Window options place a check in the Gridlines box and click on the down arrow next to Gridlines color for the selection of colors. After you make a selection, click on OK.

Do the same for each workbook and you can have a different color for each.

ADD AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE CHECK MARK

Q. This may sound trivial, but it really bugs me: How come Word doesn't have a real check mark graphic--that is, a check inside a little box? When I prepare a checklist, I want to use a real check mark--not the skinny, emaciated one Microsoft provides.

A. You'll be pleased to know Word has a way to add a robust check mark in a box; it looks like this:

[check]

Or you can select many other kinds of bulletlike graphics you can easily access by customizing the default Bullets and Numbering option.

Begin by clicking on the Format menu and then Bullets and Numbering.

Be sure to select the Bulleted tab in the opening screen and then click on your least used graphic in that collection--one you won't miss if you replace it with a new choice. Then click on Customize to display the Customize Bulleted List dialog box (see screen at right).

Then click on Character, which brings up the Symbols screen shown below.

You'll find the check mark in a box under Wingdings.

For even more choices, return to the Customized Bulleted List and go through the available graphics category choices (Font, Character and Picture) until you find one that you like; then highlight it and click on OK.

TO BUY A NEW COMPUTER OR NOT? THAT'S THE QUESTION

Q. I've been using Windows 98 for several years, and while I'm happy with it, I'd like to update my operating system to XP so I can take advantage of more powerful applications. I've been regularly upgrading my computer memory and it runs just fine. I'd like to keep my current computer and just upgrade the operating system. It seems silly to buy a new computer when my current one works so well. However, several colleagues tell me it's a mistake to try to install XP on the old machine. They say I should buy a new computer with the latest operating system already installed. What are your thoughts?

A. I agree with your colleagues. In the long run, you'll save money and time and spare yourself lots of frustration. Let me explain.

Even though you've upgraded your hardware, I'd bet you haven't installed a new, bigger hard disk, which means your current one probably is crammed to overflowing. It's even less likely that you've replaced your central processing unit (CPU)--that's the electronic chip which is the computer's brain, so your computer probably is running far slower than new machines. At a minimum you'll have to upgrade the CPU for XP to run most effectively.

But there is a more commanding reason to get a new computer: Upgrading operating systems--especially from a version as old as Windows 98--is chancy at best. If you try to install the new system on top of the old one, there's a good chance you'll end up with software conflicts that even a tech expert would be hard pressed to solve. After all, one of the reasons you're upgrading to XP is because it's far more crash-proof than earlier versions of Windows.

You'll probably have somewhat better luck if you reformatted (completely erased everything on the old hard disk) and then loaded XP; but even that is risky. To do that you will have to download all your data files, store them and then copy them back onto the old machine. If you bought a new machine, you would be able to offload files from the old machine directly onto the new one.

The bottom line: Operating systems (and even applications) loaded by the computer manufacturer almost always run flawlessly because the software has been adjusted ever so slightly to work best on that new hardware. When someone upgrades an old machine, all the tinkering in the world, even by an expert, is not likely to match those adjustments.

Key to Instructions

To help readers follow the instructions in this article, we used two different typefaces:

* Boldface type for the names of program functions, screen tags, icons and URLs.

* Sans serif type for the names of files or commands and instructions that need to be typed into the computer.

Do you have technology questions for this column? Or, after reading an answer, do you have a better solution? Send them to contributing editor Stanley Zarowin via e-mail at zarowin@mindspring.com or regular mail at Journal of Accountancy, 201 Plaza Three, Harborside Financial Center, Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881.

Because of the volume of mail, we regret we cannot individually answer submitted questions. However, if a reader's question has broad interest, we will answer it in a forthcoming Technology Q&A column.

On occasion you may find you cannot implement a function I describe in this column. More often than not it's because not all functions work in every operating system or application. I try to test everything in the 2000 and XP editions of Windows and Office. It's virtually impossible to test them in all editions, and it's equally difficult to find out which editions are incompatible with a function. I apologize for the inconvenience.

STANLEY ZAROWIN, a former JofA senior editor, is now a contributing editor to the magazine. His e-mail address is zarowin@mindspring.com.
COPYRIGHT 2004 American Institute of CPA's
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Author:Zarowin, Stanley
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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