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Technology | Q & A

Q & A; Cheap and Easy Routes To a Videoconference

By J. D. BIERSDORFERNOV. 1, 2001

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Q. What would I need to hold a videoconference with a friend on a home computer?

A. The videoconference, in which two or more parties in different places use cameras and a network to transmit live audio and video data, is becoming a useful communications tool as the technology gets better and better.

The Kodak Digital Learning Center offers a tutorial on setting up a simple videoconference between computers at www.kodak.com/US

/en/digital/dlc/book1/chapter6

/index.shtml.

Professional videoconferences usually involve highly sophisticated equipment and sometimes a special environment. But you can set up a simple videoconference system with the right software, an Internet connection and an inexpensive (less than $100) digital video camera attached to each PC. Some cameras, like the Intel Home PC Camera, also include all the software and instructions you need to set up videoconferencing. Because the signals travel over the Internet, a broadband connection like D.S.L. or cable can make the the video transmission much smoother.

Many shareware videoconferencing programs are available at www.downloads.com (search there for ''videoconference''), and a long list of videoconferencing products is available at www3.ncsu.edu/dox

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Several instant-message programs can now handle video, and Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system incorporates the function into its built-in Windows Messenger program. Logitech's QuickCam Express Webcam works well with Yahoo's Instant Messenger.

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Q. Is there a way I can erase the record of the documents I have recently opened from the Start menu of my Windows 98?

A. The Documents menu on the Start menu can come in handy for quickly calling up files on which you have recently been working, but anyone else who uses the computer can also see how you have been spending your time. If you would prefer more privacy, you can clear the list of files displayed there at any time.

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To clear the list, go to the Start menu, then to Settings, and select the Taskbar & Start Menu. In the Taskbar Properties box, click on the Start Menu Programs tab. In the box marked Documents menu, click on the Clear button in the lower portion and then on O.K. to erase your Documents trail.

Q. My desktop screen is a mess. What can I safely clean off? Can I put desktop icons in the gray bar at the bottom of the screen to save space?

A. Computer desktops can be like garages in the way they accumulate clutter, but you can probably clear off quite a bit of screen space.

The standard Windows system icons, like My Computer and the Recycle Bin, should stay, but if the programs you commonly use also have entries in the Start menu (and taking the extra step to start them from the Start menu does not bother you), you can comfortably delete the shortcut icons that many programs leave on the desktop. (To delete a shortcut, right-click on it and select Delete from the pop-up menu.)

In Windows 98 and higher, you can also drag and drop the desktop shortcut icons for a few programs that you use regularly onto the Quick Launch Toolbar portion of the gray Taskbar and then delete the desktop icons. (If you do not have the Quick Launch option activated on your computer, you can do so by right-clicking on the Taskbar and selecting it from the pop-up menu.)

Many computer systems arrive from the manufacturer with promotional icons on the desktop, particularly those of Internet service providers. If you already have an I.S.P. and its software is installed and working on the computer, you can get rid of the Online Services folder and the setup programs for MSN, America Online and the Internet Connection Wizard. J. D. BIERSDORFER

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