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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

DEFAULT MODE

By Jim Erickson


DEFAULT MODE IS ASIAWEEK'S monthly forum on personal technology. The column's title refers to a set of instructions computers follow as a last resort, when they haven't been programmed with alternatives -- likewise we'll try to provide answers to questions that have you stumped.

Send queries to: Default_Mode@asiaweek.com (e-mail); 852 2887 3662 (fax); Default Mode, Asiaweek, 34/F Citicorp Centre, 18 Whitfield Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; or visit Asiaweek's web site at www.asiaweek.com. Sorry, we can't respond individually to questions.

Getting a Buzz on the Net

Can you explain what Java is and what it does? I see it mentioned all the time when I am on the Internet.

Java is a programming language -- a set of rules used by software developers to write instructions that microprocessors can follow. There are lots of programming languages, all of them boring. But Java has received a lot of press because of two characteristics. First, Sun Microsystems developed Java specifically for sharing small, interactive applications called applets across computer networks. This means it is a good language for writing Internet software. You know those flashing, animated advertisements and graphics that wink at you on the Web? Many, probably most, were written in Java. All popular Web-browsing programs have Java-based components that allow you to view applets. Second, Java is designed to act as a go-between, a common denominator, for the many kinds of computers that are linked together via networks. Java applets in theory can run on any operating system, be it Windows, Mac or Unix. That attribute has generated a lot of buzz. Sun and other Microsoft competitors think Java's cross-platform (see geekspeak) capabilities could reduce the hegemony of Microsoft and its Windows operating system. If Java becomes universally accepted, so the thinking goes, programmers won't have to write all their software to work with Windows. Now they must, because Windows is by far the most popular computing platform. Microsoft acknowledges Java has promise, and adds Java components to its software. But company officials downplay its significance as an alternative platform to Windows. Instead they promote a competing technology called ActiveX.

The Geekspeak Monthly

Vocabulary Builder

CROSS-PLATFORM (adj): 1) refers to the ability of software and hardware to work with different types of computers, e.g. when a spreadsheet created on an IBM PC can be opened and run on a Macintosh machine. 2) compatible, as in they have a cross-platform relationship.

Remodeling Tips

I know someone who swears by intermittent "desktop rebuilding" as a way to solve the majority of the glitches you get with Apple Macintoshes. I'm not handy with tools, but should I do this?

The desktop rebuilding your friend refers to involves nothing more than a few well-timed keystrokes. The need arises because files embedded in the Mac operating system can become corrupted or outdated. These "desktop files" are strings of computer code which the operating system uses to associate icons with the documents they represent, and with related word processors, spreadsheets and other programs. When they are in good order, double-clicking on a document icon will not only produce the document but also launch the correct application for working on it. When the files are messed up, the wrong documents and applications can be called. Bad files are also suspected of causing system crashes. To rebuild: turn on your machine; as soon as the start-up icons disappear from the screen, hold down the command and option keys simultaneously; when the computer asks if you really want to rebuild the desktop, click "OK." Periodic rebuilding can eliminate some but not most of the glitches. There is no similar procedure for Windows.

Don't Let it Bug You

Can my computer be infected by a virus through e-mail? How alarmed should I be? How can I protect myself?

A survey of 300 companies earlier this year by the National Computer Security Association (NCSA), an independent U.S. research body, found that one out of every 30 PCs had encountered a virus -- an insidious bit of software created to pass from machine to machine while hidden in an innocuous file or program. Experts estimate there are more than 10,000 known PC viruses, and a dozen new ones are born every day. Numbers like that have fostered a lot of paranoia, and the Internet is rife with rumors about virus virulence. One satirist suggested that the infamous Good Times virus of 1994 would not only obliterate the data on your hard drive, it would also shave your eyebrows while putting sugar in your petrol tank. Stay calm. The Good Times bug was a hoax. Most of the virus alerts circulating on the Internet are pranks. Relatively few viruses -- 1,500 by one estimate -- are actively transmitted, and most of those are harmless, capable only of springing messages such as "have a nice apocalypse." You can't catch a virus by reading your e-mail. The simple text messages give vermin nowhere to hide. You can't catch a bug by browsing a Web site. But you can get infected by downloading e-mail attachments and opening them. Viruses also spread when users execute programs obtained through the Internet and, most commonly, share dirty diskettes. Caution, and the following preventive measures, are advised: 1) Anti-virus software can scan programs, files and your system to detect known viruses. Get one, use it, and update it frequently so newly discovered viruses can be smoked out. 2) Immediately after inserting a disk of uncertain origin, scan it. The same goes for store-bought software and CD-ROMs. 3) Experts suggest you set up a special folder on your hard drive -- a quarantine area -- into which you dump all programs and files downloaded from the Internet. Scan the files before you open them. 4) Don't take candy from strangers. Delete unsolicited e-mail files with attachments. For more information about viruses, visit http://www.symantec.com, and the NCSA page at http://www.ncsa.com.


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home

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