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Dear George: "George, I enjoy your column. My problem is after reading your latest articles on firewalls I had already purchased Virus Scan by McAfee. Is that an acceptable program? I am now accessing the Internet via cable modem. My computer is on 24/7. Please advise." -- PA Realtor

Dear Pennsylvania: McAfee makes a fine product for protection against computer viruses. I too used McAfee Virus Scan. I only opted to use Norton because I found Norton's Live Update service easier to configure to my personal preferences. If you are satisfied with McAfee anti-virus protection, I suggest you stick with it.

However, Virus Scan only protects you from viruses. It will not protect you from hackers or other folks who may send you malicious code.

You will need a "firewall" application to protect your computer from unauthorized intrusions. Just as an anti-virus application scans content looking for viruses, a firewall sets up a procedure for checking incoming and outgoing communication protocols. The user determines which are allowed, allowed with notification or blocked. That is an over-simplification, but conceptually it is what happens. A "firewall" is considered the first line of defense in protecting your private information from unauthorized access.

The last time I checked a one-year subscription to McAfee's Personal Firewall was selling for $29.95.

Dear George: "I am having some difficulty deciding which national real estate portals are right for my brokerage.

Are there any comprehensive statistics on national web portals? I'm looking for number of hits. I am also interested in usage rankings." -- Looking

Dear Looking: I'm sure you have tried several search engines, entering terms like "real estate portal" or "residential real estate portal." If you did, I'm certain you received thousands of Web pages and/or sites in response to your search parameters.

I'm not so sure you really want national "portals." True, some national search sites like Yahoo act more like portals than search engines. The difference between the two is less clearly defined than it used to be.

I do have a suggestion, however. Look at your competitors. Where do they have a presence?

The "type" of site is not, in this writer's opinion, as important as making sure yours is also on it.

Dear George: "I've heard that one should never buy computer products in November or December. That is because manufacturers wait until January or February to introduce their latest technology. Is this true? I was thinking of asking for a PDA for Christmas. My husband has been pestering me to ask for something, anything. But I'm afraid both he and I would be disappointed to learn in a month or two that the PDA was obsolete." -- In a Quandary

Dear In a Quandary: I too have heard that February is usually the month that computer products are introduced. By August, the designers have enough market feedback to determine which models are most likely to appeal to the largest market segment. Another "release," often containing some enhancements, is then made. By the traditional gift-giving season, the sell-out hopefuls (a double-edged sword for retailers) receive the major portion of promotions.

Having said all that, I do not think you should wait until next year to buy a computer product. If you wait in order to get the "latest and the greatest" product or software version, you are -- at the same time, deferring all the benefits you could be deriving from its use today. If a PDA will help you deliver a better, more timely service to your clients how can you possibly justify putting off its acquisition? If it won't help in that manner, you might consider asking your husband for a booklet of foot-rub coupons.

Dear George: "We use ZipForm contracts in our Texas real estate office. The software is on our NT Server. I use a laptop computer at both home and office. When I'm at the office I connect to our network. When I'm at home, I use a stand-alone installation of ZipForm.

I found that it was too confusing. So I removed the stand-alone ZipForm application from my laptop. That's when the problems started. When I'm at home and open Outlook I receive a message that the program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down. The 'Details' button states that Outlook caused an invalid page fault in module KERNEL32.DLL at 017f:bff9dfff. When I click the 'OK' button, the following message is displayed:

The add-in "ZFEXT.DLL" could not be installed or loaded. This problem may be resolved by using Detect and Repair on the Help menu. Unable to load "ZFEXT.DLL." You may be out of memory, out of system resources, or missing a .dll file.

When I click the 'OK' button, the error messages go away. Outlook continues to load. From that point on everything appears to operating normally. Should I be concerned? Why would the ZipForm program cause a problem in Outlook?" -- Totally At Sea

Dear Totally At Sea: Open Outlook. Go to "Tools," then Options, then click on the "Other" tab. Click on the "Advanced Options" button under "General." Next, click on the "Add-In Manager" button in the group of buttons above the "OK" button.

Zfext.dll is a dll (shared utility) file for ZipForm in Outlook. When you uninstalled the stand-alone ZipForm application, Outlook was looking for Zfext.dll in the wrong place. Uncheck the box beside "ZipForm 5 Outlook Extension" in the Add-In Manager window. You should be able to open Outlook normally when you are at home. Additionally, your laptop should continue to provide normal access to ZipForm through your office network when connected to it.

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