Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.
Q: I read an article online that said Microsoft was projecting to consolidate their free Hotmail and Live email services and transition those accounts to Outlook.com. I was looking at Outlook.com and it still appears to be in development — currently testing a beta version. Do you have any information as to how this is going? I am looking for another email service that is not connected to a cable provider in case I decide to change providers. Such a changeover usually requires me to make notifications on many accounts as well as to my contacts.
I also read some email service providers search your email for data they can sell to advertisers. That doesn’t appeal to me. Gmail apparently stopped doing this in 2017. However, their free email doesn’t seem to be very compatible with the Outlook software, which I have been using to manage my email traffic for about three decades.
— Bill Wittenberger, Woodinville
A: Actually, Outlook.com — the new web-based interface for Microsoft email accounts, including both Outlook and Hotmail — is not in beta. It’s fully functional.
I agree with you about the value of having an email account that isn’t connected to a cable service provider. It’s a real pain if making a move means you lose your longstanding email address.
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Fortunately, you can use either Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Outlook and connect multiple accounts. You can, for example, access your Gmail account through Outlook.com. You can also access multiple email accounts by using a standalone email client such as Outlook 2016, which doesn’t run through your web browser.
And for those who want to personalize their email, you can register your own domain name with a domain name registrar. One of my email accounts is firstname.lastname@example.org, which is hosted by Network Solutions. I can access it either through Network Solutions’ website or through Outlook 2016.
Q: I’ve noticed something odd on my desktop PC. I have a 5-year-old Dell and I run Windows 10 with no issues. Lately I’ve noticed when the computer is idle, but not asleep, that what seems to be a tiny window appears to open for a fraction of a second and then closes. Nothing has disturbed the mouse or the keyboard. I’ve noticed it several times lately. No video camera is installed, but it’s like something is taking a super-quick peek to see if someone is there. Am I going crazy? Are there programs that might be doing this? I use the built-in Windows Defender that comes with the OS.
— Judy Wiebe, Seattle
A: You know the old saying: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you. Yes, I’d be concerned about the behavior you describe.
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Here’s what I’d do. First, when you see that behavior, call up Task Manager and check on what programs are running. It could be that a program you have installed is running a service in the background that is causing that window to pop up. If so, there should be a message or label in the window that will indicate the source. You can call up Task Manager by right-clicking in the system tray at the bottom of the Windows display and selecting Task Manager.
Secondly, I’d install an anti-malware program and do a full system scan. I haven’t reviewed it recently, so I can’t swear that it’s the best option, but I use Malwarebyte’s Antimalware. Anti-malware programs sometimes snag malware that aren’t really viruses that may be missed by Windows Defender.