I have subscribed to Norton Internet Security for years and I’ve been quite satisfied. Now my SBC Yahoo DSL service offers a free download of Internet security with anti-spyware, firewalls and antivirus protection. But they say I must uninstall any other antivirus programs before adopting theirs. Should I do this?

If you had auto insurance from State Farm, would you go out and buy a policy from Allstate so that you’d be covered by both? That says it all in this common and confusing situation in which computer users are blitzed by competing antivirus and spyware solutions.

Buy a new PC and you often can find both McAfee and Symantec’s Norton antivirus software already installed and running at the same time. Microsoft soon hits you with an offer to sign up for its new One Care system. Meanwhile, America Online and your own Internet provider, SBC Yahoo, offer the same services as part of their subscription deals.

You only need one. Adding others is overkill, even though the companies all claim that their service is fastest to find threats and guard against stuff that others cannot. The fact is that virus and spyware watching has become a huge growth industry, and so as soon as any new threat surfaces, everybody is all over it quickly, and they all add it to their downloads of new protection tools. So you can expect that even if the antivirus company you choose isn’t the first to find a new threat, it will jump in with its own fix as soon as competitors mention it.

We have a Dell Dimension 4600 with Windows Media Center. When we play any audio, whether from media center, over the Internet or just playing a CD/DVD, there is a lot of reverb, making it sound like we’re playing inside a cave. It didn’t do this when we first bought it, but it has been so long since it started that I don’t remember what we installed or changed that may have caused this.

Chances are strong that something you downloaded or something you did messed up a little-known sound program that gets added to Intel-based computers that come with built-in sound cards. It’s called the AC97 Audio Configuration routine, and you can find it in the Control Panel. So click on Start and then Control Panel and look for a little blue icon with yellow circles, then click it open. You will find a menu with several tabs, including one for equalizer. This is the software that raises and lowers sound and sound speed to create special effects, including a singing in the shower effect, as well as tweaking the speakers for classical, rock, vocals and so on.

When you open this Control Panel you will find a Reset button in the lower right-hand side of the display. This will return your sounds to their out-of-the-box state.

There is one more place where your problem could be created in this Control Panel: the Sound Effects tab. There you will find an Environment setting that can be set to emulate a cave, a bathroom, a concert hall, etc. Make sure that this is set to None.

Let me add that this same thing can happen if one uses software from parties other than Microsoft as their default sound player. For example, if you were running WinAmp or some other player instead of the Windows Media Player, that could be the source. If so, you can go to WinAmp and select the clearly marked equalizer option and do a fix.

Finally, sound problems can be caused by corruption in the driver-software modules that operate your sound card. To check this, give the My Computer icon a right-click and select Properties. Next, select the Hardware tab and click the Device Manager button that is offered in the next display.

This brings up a list of all of the devices connected to the computer, including sound cards, printers, video-out and so on. So you need to scroll down to the entry for Sound and other controllers. If there is a yellow triangle with an exclamation point, you have a driver problem and need to restore this item.

Q. My machine was running slow, so I had a computer “expert’ come in to clean it up. I have a Dell 2400 with XP Home. After he left, I found I couldn’t download pictures from my digital camera and couldn’t scan photos on my HP PSC 2350. Those issues have since been resolved.

My question is, when I go to get a paint-by-numbers tool at www.segmation.com/segplaychoose.asp, I get an error message, whereas before I was able to access. Why? I have Java J2SE runtime environment 5.0 update 6. The “expert’ is baffled, which makes me really baffled.

-Dan Ormsby, Las Vegas

A. One way to fix this would be to just say “no” to Microsoft and download a different browser, like Mozilla Firefox at www.getfirefox.com, Mr. O.

This browser was designed from the first day to use Sun Microsystem’s Java software for animation like that “paint by numbers” site instead of competing routines like Microsoft’s Active X.

The first step in fixing things should be to download the latest version of the Java Software for Browsers at www.sun.com. Select the downloads button there, select “See All” and then scroll down to “Java Software for your Browser” and give it a click.

Or you could try a few hands-on fixes. If you’re interested, open Microsoft Internet Explorer and click on Tools and then Internet Options. Now open the item called Programs that offers a button to view all of the so-called plug-ins, including Sun Java. Select Sun Java and then click on the radio button to select enable. If this is set wrong, your computer won’t handle the Web site in question.

Finally, you can find the Sun Java Console program that handles the routines you need. It is found in the drop-down menu when you click on Tools in the browser. This display offers a number of fixes, including “dump thread stack” and “clear classloader” cache and other clean-up actions.

You probably will find a fix by trying these options one by one and checking each time to see if the problem goes away. Commands are issued by tapping the keys listed in front of each tool.

(Contact Jim Coates via e-mail at jcoatestribune.com or via snail mail at the Chicago Tribune, Room 400, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611. Questions can be answered only through this column. Add your point of view at chicagotribune.com/askjim.)

(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-06-13-06 0611EDT

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