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Originally published Friday, March 12, 2010 at 12:00 PM

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Q&A

No substitute for safe computer habits

Q: I own an HP Pavilion laptop running Windows Vista and MS Live OneCare Internet security. I have been extremely happy with Windows Live...

Special to The Seattle Times

Q: I own an HP Pavilion laptop running Windows Vista and MS Live OneCare Internet security. I have been extremely happy with Windows Live OneCare but as you know, Microsoft is discontinuing this subscription service. Will I get the same protection and service from the free MS Security Essentials, or should I switch to the Norton Suite offered by Comcast?

— Tom Entler, Kenmore

A: Products are always changing, so while I can't say you'll get the "same" protection and service with Microsoft Security Essentials as with Live OneCare you can expect the products and service to be similar. As for whether you should switch to another product, consider several factors. The first, of course, is price. In your case, however, you're looking at two no-charge solutions (assuming you're a Comcast subscriber). I haven't done a thorough review of anti-virus products in a couple of years, but after scanning the literature I'd lean toward the Norton Suite.

Whatever anti-malware solution you opt for, be aware that the best protection is smart computing habits. No anti-virus or anti-spyware program provides full security, and yet some users get a false sense of security. If that sense of security leads you to open suspicious e-mails and to visit potentially hazardous Web sites you'll be at greater risk.

Q: I have Caller ID on my phone, and I understand why calls come through as "Unidentified." But yesterday a strange thing happened: The phone rang; I looked at the Caller ID window to see who was calling, but all it said was "Incoming call." After a few rings, I decided to answer it. It turned out to be a solicitor anyway. After I hung up, the Caller ID window, which usually lists date and time of last call (even if the number is unidentifiable), did not register that call. How can this be?

— Anita Legsdin, Seattle

A: First things first. Have you registered on the National Do-Not-Call Registry? If not, you'll want to go to the this federal Web site to do so: www.fcc.gov/cgb/donotcall/.

As for incoming calls not showing up in your call log or being identified by Caller ID, I'd suggest contacting your telephone service provider. Some providers do apparently have difficulty identifying and logging calls from other providers, though the problems seem to be relatively infrequent and limited.

Q: In the past, when I upgraded operating systems, I would use more RAM to run the new system — leaving less RAM to run software. If I were to upgrade Vista to Windows 7, will I lose or gain RAM (to run software). I have an HP computer with Vista Home Premium, Q6600 Intel Core 2 Quad and 4 gigabytes of RAM.

— Chris Lodahl

A: The system requirements for most versions of Windows 7 are comparable to those for most versions of Windows Vista. But as a practical matter I've found Windows 7 to work better with the minimum system requirements.

In any case, the minimum memory requirement for both your version of Vista and the comparable version of Windows 7 is 1 gigabyte of RAM, and your computer exceeds that by a good measure. My expectation is that you'll see somewhat improved performance after upgrading to Windows 7. By the way, I recommend at least 2 gigabytes of RAM for home versions of Vista and Windows 7.

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Q: I have tried multiple times to install this plug-in from multiple Web sites that say their site cannot be viewed without it. I have also tried to do so directly from the Adobe site. Each time, I get a "failed to install" message. Troubleshooting at the Adobe site has been limited to telling me to uninstall and reinstall, which I have done several times without resolving the problem, or complex instructions about changing the Windows registry that come with a warning that it may damage my computer to do so. Do you have any advice?

— D.C. Dugdale, Seattle

A: There are a lot of things that can trip the installation of Flash. But the main one is if your browser is set to block ActiveX components from downloading or running. Other potential causes of your problem are listed here, along with workarounds for correcting: kb2.adobe.com/cps/191/tn_19166.html.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

columnists.

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