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Q. Another version of Windows? Is there a reason to move up? Or is this just another ploy to get more money out of us?

— John Kenner

A. Yes, maybe and no.

I’ve been using a pre-release version of Windows 8 on a laptop for that past few weeks. I haven’t decided when or if I will upgrade my desktop machine.

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Windows 8 isn’t just a ploy. The operating system’s interface has been redesigned for better functionality on tablets and other mobile devices. The main difference is that it has been designed to be used with a touch screen.

The problem, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that Microsoft has junked the old Windows interface. Yes, you can still get to the familiar desktop by clicking on one of those large, colorful tiles in the Windows 8 Start screen. But even once the desktop comes up, you’ll find that there is no Start button offering you access to your applications. And even finding the Control Panel can be a challenge.

After some time spent pulling shortcuts into the desktop’s taskbar, I more or less regained the Windows 7 functionality, but why should I have to jump through those hoops?

What I don’t understand is why a designer — and a software company — would think that an interface that is effective for use on a touch screen tablet would be the interface you want to use on a desktop or laptop that relies on a keyboard and mouse. Why not offer users a choice of interfaces, depending upon the device they’re using and their personal preferences?

Another note of caution: If you’re shopping for a new mobile device, you’ll also see references to Windows RT. RT is a trimmed-down version that looks the same as Windows 8, but it is not exactly the same. You can’t run all Windows applications using RT.

Q. I am wondering about my security software (Norton) and whether it is slowing down my computer. Two associates of mine declare that having Norton has slowed their computers. They have removed it and say their computers are now faster.

My question is what is the best security product to use? If I ask three or four people this question I get three or four answers. I am told that Microsoft now has a free security system that can be downloaded. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

— Wally Bartlow

A. Generally, if there’s a significant hit on performance, it’s not a single piece of security software that is to blame. In most cases, it’s an interaction that’s causing the problem. That’s especially true if you’ve installed more than one security package.

I don’t have a specific package to recommend, especially since I haven’t done a formal review recently. But I do have some advice.

First, keep your computers as lean as possible. Don’t install software — and this includes browser toolbars — that you’re not really going to use. And uninstall programs that you find you’re no longer using.

Second, before abandoning a package you’ve paid for, try turning it off and seeing if your performance improves. Your problem may not be that package at all. If you’re convinced the security software is your problem, yes, another package might improve performance.

And, yes, Microsoft has offered Microsoft Security Essentials for several years. It’s free and it provides anti-virus and malware protection. It’s available for download at:

Q. In a recent column, a reader complained that he couldn’t seem to burn CDs using his external DVD drive. I found that when I use Windows Media Player, it is supposed to start burning from the Burn List once it detects a blank disc, but it doesn’t, or the pause is very long. However, there is a Start Burn button above the Burn List. Once the inserted disc stops spinning, you can click on that and, for me, it always starts.

A. I can’t say if that will solve the reader’s problem, but I’m grateful when readers offer solutions.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to or, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at


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