Computer Solutions


The Internet, once a place for the global exchange of information, has become a dark domain rife with danger. From malicious Web sites to phishing attempts at your accounts and passwords, you need to be on the lookout for new vulnerabilities in the applications you use to go online. The vast majority of e-mail has become spam, or junk, and many of these messages contain hidden means of attacking your computer. Fighting the ever-increasing deluge of spam e-mail requires a mail tool built to take on today?s harsh Internet. That?s where Thunderbird, part of the Mozilla project, fits in.

Thunderbird forms the e-mail portion of the split-up of the large Mozilla suite. The better-known Firefox provides the Web browser portion. Like Firefox, Thunderbird provides a simpler user interface similar to the older Mozilla suite e-mail client, but easier to use. Also like Firefox, Thunderbird is smaller and faster than its Mozilla suite counterpart. And, best of all Thunderbird provides an excellent junk mail filter. I tested Thunderbird using an e-mail account that gets about one percent real messages and 99 percent spam. Thunderbird?s junk mail filter suggests which messages are spam and quickly learns as you train it to find more spam.

As Thunderbird downloads messages, it marks which messages it considers spam. A simple click and Thunderbird deletes all the marked messages. The accuracy with which it detects spam looks just great. The only weakness I?ve seen is that Thunderbird has trouble identifying messages with an empty subject line as spam. Furthermore, Thunderbird won?t run scripts in messages by default. These scripts are the source of many hidden attacks. And, Thunderbird blocks images from remote sites unless you tell Thunderbird to show the images. This removes some of the major issues with malicious junk mail.

Available from the Mozilla project, Thunderbird costs nothing. As with all the Mozilla applications, Thunderbird?s source code is also available under an open-source license. The program works well with more than one e-mail account, and you can configure it to leave the e-mail messages on the remote server. Thunderbird isn?t unique in supporting these features, of course. What?s best, though, is that Thunderbird is a truly cross-platform application. Thunderbird runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and a host of other operating systems.

In addition, Thunderbird appears nearly the same on all platforms. Thus, you can transfer your skills learned on one platform, say Windows, to Thunderbird on Linux. The ability to run on Windows, for example, proves very useful to those of us trying to migrate away from Microsoft applications like Outlook, if only to improve the security situation. Other useful Thunderbird features include the ability to install plug-ins to extend the functionality of the e-mail program. This mirrors the ability of Firefox. Also like Firefox, you can download and install themes, which change the colors, icons, and fonts used by the application. Thunderbird works well with the Firefox browser, using the browser to view Web links you click on.

Tech Toys

This week?s tech toy takes a bit of a turn on the gaming front. Not only is it a great game, but also a great sport. Let?s hear it for Darts, yes darts, not the regular (ouch) kind but the Talking Electronic Dartboard.

Gather the family around and get ready for an evening of fun. Throw a bull?s eye and hear the announcer. This game features high tech digital sound, a computer control center, player indicators, and an integrated two-zone bull?s eye, an extra wide ring to protect the back wall from stray darts, and much, much more.

This tournament size board offers 25 different games, individual dart score displays, double in/double out, bounce-out and delete scores. The Talking Electronic Dartboard comes with six brass soft-tip darts and a replacement soft-tip pack, an A/C adapter and the rules to the game. What more could you ask for in a dartboard. Gather the family and friends and have a great evening in playing darts.

Question: My computer seems to run slowly, how much RAM do I need for my Windows 98 system?

Answer: The best way to keep the performance up on any system is to have enough RAM (random access memory). If you?re under-rammed your system will suffer and things will become agonizingly slow.

The recommended amount of RAM for Windows 95, 98, 98se and Millennium Edition is 128 megabytes. For Windows 2000 and XP 256 megabytes is needed.

I find that for Windows XP 256MB (megabytes) is a bit under-gunned. I prefer to run with 512mb and at times I wonder if this is enough. With over 40 processes running at once it gobbles up memory fairly fast.

The good news is it doesn?t cost much to add the much needed RAM to keep your system running lightning fast and smooth.

Please send your computer questions to and we?ll publish your answer in a future column. Call Computer Solutions at 242-3404 for all your computer needs.