Patrick Marshall answers your personal-technology questions each week.

Share story

Q: I read in today’s Seattle Times of a person who asked about his Dell XPS 8500 computer, and how Dell isn’t supporting this model anymore. That number rang a bell with me … my computer is a Dell XPS 8300; bought five years ago. While it seems to be working fine … when do you suggest updating one’s PC? It is running Windows 10 fine. One glitch once with the video card, but that was fixed with help from Microsoft.

— Karen Kilian

A: That’s a good question. I’ve had equipment — computers, cars, motorcycles, flash drives — that seem to run forever without a glitch and others that have problems from day one. Generally, my rule of thumb is that I’m not very surprised — though, yes, irritated — if a computer or accessory goes bad after four years. But I’ve got a lot of equipment older than 10 years that still hasn’t had a hiccup.

If your computer isn’t misbehaving, what you have to consider is whether its operating system is still being supported with security updates. If not, your computer is particularly vulnerable. Then you have to find out if the computer is compatible with an updated version of Windows. If so, you may want to just upgrade. If not, I recommend moving to a new computer.

You don’t say which version of Windows you’re running, but a 5-year-old computer should be compatible with Windows 7, which is still supported with security updates. It might even be compatible with Window 10.


Q: I have a PC running Windows 10. I have used the Mozilla Firefox browser for years because I read that it is more secure than Windows Explorer. Firefox is constantly being upgraded, and sometime in the last year it changed and will not display many webpages correctly, particularly those with images and videos. I can almost always go to the same webpage in Explorer or Microsoft Edge and these things display correctly. It seems like a fatal flaw for a web browser to fail to display a larger percentage of common webpages. What did Firefox change and why?

— Christopher Kirk


A: We can’t automatically blame the browser when websites don’t work properly, even if they do work properly on a different web browser. The culprit could be a third-party add-on that you have installed in the browser. Or it could be that you have configured the browser not to allow, say, JavaScript or Flash that the website you’re visiting requires.

That said, browsers are really pretty complex programs. Unlike a word processor or a chess-game program, browsers are designed to interact with code written by others using a wide array of web authoring tools. The long and the short of it is that I haven’t yet found a browser that doesn’t have glitches. So I have four browsers installed on my computer. When I run into a problem using one, I try another. Generally, for example, I use Google Chrome because it doesn’t nag me as much for password information as Firefox. But if I want to view Comcast’s TV lineup, I turn to Microsoft Edge. And Edge is the only browser I’ve found that lets me highlight text in The New York Times.


Q: We may be in the market for a new computer system in the near future. My husband is an avid photographer and does not want to lose his files or images. Any suggestions?

— Leslie Boguch

A: My suggestion is to copy all the files you care about to an external drive or to cloud storage before moving to the new computer.

In fact, having a backup for all files you care about is a good idea even if you’re not moving to a new computer. Just be aware that if you back up to an external drive and keep that drive at the same location as the computer, you could lose everything in a fire or a flood. One advantage of backing up to the cloud is that it is stored in a different location. Another advantage is that you can access the data from any computer anywhere.