Q: Over the past several months, I've had problems sending e-mail to people with AOL addresses. Whenever I send an e-mail [using Hotmail...

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Q: Over the past several months, I’ve had problems sending e-mail to people with AOL addresses. Whenever I send an e-mail [using Hotmail] to someone with an AOL address, off and on it will bounce and be returned to me with a “failure of delivery” notice, even though the address is perfectly valid and AOL is the only one I’ve had this problem with. I’ve addressed this concern to Hotmail several times and they keep reassuring me the problem is fixed, but it isn’t — it keeps happening. So what is the problem with MSN Hotmail and AOL? Any ideas?

— Kirk Nelson

A: The problem could be a server being down at AOL, especially if the problem is intermittent.

When the problem is constant with a particular Internet service provider, however, a more likely explanation is that somehow the mail server your mail is being sent from has been “blacklisted” by the recipient server. In an effort to block spam, ISPs block mail from servers they determine have been the source of spam attacks. And, especially since humans are involved, mistakes can be made in maintaining these blacklists.

Q: I have a question about Windows Explorer, the file directory program. Every time I open it, it opens to C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Start Menu, which drives me crazy. I want it to open with a simple directory view starting at the root, Desktop or My Computer. Do you know of a way to change this?

— Benjamin Barrett

A: To change the default startup folder for Windows Explorer, do the following: First, click on the Start button, go to All Programs/Accessories and then right-click on Windows Explorer. On the menu that pops up, select Properties. In the data field labeled Target, add /root, followed by the directory you want opened by default to the text you see in the box. If you want Windows Explorer to automatically open to your Windows directory, for example, the entire command line should read “% SystemRoot%\Explorer.exe C:\Windows.”

Q: In the next six months or so, I am planning on buying a new computer with Windows XP. I currently have Compaq with Windows ME. What do you recommend I look for in speed, RAM, memory and so forth?

— Mario Baxter

A: I’m afraid your question can only be answered with “It depends.” Selecting what computer to buy, how much memory, how big and fast a hard drive — all these involve figuring how much you’re willing to spend and what kinds of applications you’re going to be running.

If your needs are basic, I’d just go by the recommended configuration for the operating system. In this case, Microsoft recommends a 300MHz or faster processor, 128 megabytes of system memory and at least 1.5 gigabytes of free disk space.

Q: I recently had to reformat my hard drive and reinstall Windows XP Professional. I then reinstalled my programs using the Autorun feature of the software. Not all of the programs I installed show up on the list of programs in the Add/Remove programs utility in the control panel. Is there some way I can make these programs be recognized?

— Kevin Bail

A: Alas, whether a program appears in the Add/Remove utility depends on how it was written by the programmer. This isn’t something the user can control. Generally, if a program doesn’t add itself to the Add/Remove utility, it provides its own uninstall utility.

Q: Please advise me how to set Outlook Express so it won’t automatically open the latest message in the bottom half of the screen when I go to retrieve my mail. I am getting a lot of spam from this problem. I tried through the tool bar but couldn’t find the way.

— Pam Mason

A: If you don’t want the preview pane, go to the View menu and select Layout. You’ll see a check box labeled “Show Preview pane.” Uncheck the box and you’ll be in business.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.