Really need a rugged PC?

John Breeden II and Greg Crowe

GCN Lab guys figure it out

The GCN Lab devotes a great deal of time and energy to independent product reviews. Everything from enterprise-level servers and network appliances to new desktop and notebooks PCs are rated for suitability in government.

Lab director John Breeden II and associate technology analyst Greg Crowe also field plenty of questions from our readers. Crowe, who recently joined the GCN staff, has written freelance tech reviews for GCN and taught computer science in Africa with the Peace Corps for more than two years.

Here are some of the questions the lab has received in recent weeks.

Letters to AskTheLab@gcn.com

LISA at the Commerce Department: My boss told me to price new notebooks and I did, but now he wants me to price rugged notebooks too. I did that, and egad! They are $3,000 dollars more than nonrugged ones. Just how rugged are rugged notebooks, and are they worth the cost?

BREEDEN: Most of the rugged computers we test at GCN are designed to be able to survive testing based on the military's 810f rugged-testing specifications.

Those specs are pretty rough on equipment. Notebooks have to survive extreme heat and humidity, plus some pretty cold temperatures. And they have to survive being dropped several feet onto plywood on top of concrete. So a lot depends on how you use them and what environments they will face.

CROWE: We had computers in Kenya when I was doing my stint in the Peace Corps and none of them were rugged. Kenya is not the best place in the world in terms of infrastructure, and the climate is harsh as well. However, we never lost a system due to environmental conditions. We were just very careful with what we had because there probably would be no replacements if anything were damaged. So most computers can have long lives if enough care is taken, whether they are rugged or not.

BREEDEN: And some environments that you don't normally think about may require rugged devices. For example, a notebook PC in the trunk of a car in the summer is subject to temperatures of around 120 degrees. And a notebook dropped onto the floor of an airport waiting area is going to have a much better chance of survival if it is rugged.

But Greg is right: You can keep almost any piece of equipment working if enough care is taken. Ask your boss what kind of environment the notebooks will be used in, and then let him decide whether the extra money is justified.

HEATHER at NASA: I have to fly all over the place and make engineering presentations, sometimes within the U.S. and sometimes to our allies in Europe. Do you know of any projectors that are light enough for me to carry on airplanes? I am not a big person. Also, it would need to be able to project enough light to work in any environment. Finally, I'm a little greedy: Can I get one that will let me attach a DVD player and curl up to watch movies from home?
BREEDEN: When you sent this question, we were working on the review of portable projectors that ran in the Aug. 22 issue of GCN (Page 30). There were several in the roundup that might suit you. The Hewlett-Packard Co. MP2210 packed plenty of light processing power. Even at 10 feet, it was showing images at over 1,000 lumens, which is a big feat for a small projector. And an extra 2.2 pounds won't bog you down.

The LP600 from InFocus Corp. of Wilsonville, Ore., is also very good choice. It's heavier than the HP at 5.2 pounds but has a nice little display screen that tells you exactly what the projector is doing. So you will never accidentally pull the plug before it has properly cooled. Don't forget your adapters for European current.

CROWE: In the same review, I noticed the prices of the various projectors have dropped quite a lot. Even the Digital Light Processing units, which are on the high end of the scale, were fairly inexpensive.

I was especially struck by the PJ400 from ViewSonic Corp. of Walnut, Calif., which, while not the best performer, would be fine for watching movies at home.

MATT in the Navy: I am trying to process some photographs that my executive officer took with his digital camera. I need to make them smaller so they can be e-mailed. They are 15 inches across right now. Using Microsoft Paint, I find that when I try to select a photo, it triggers another program that won't work because we no longer own the license for it. How can I just load the photos into the right program?

BREEDEN: I am assuming that the operating system you have on your ship is not XP, which does not seem to have those types of problems. Assuming you have a folder of unprocessed photos on your desktop or somewhere on your hard drive, select them.

CROWE: Not to interrupt, but you need to make sure these photos are not still on your camera. Drag and drop them to your desktop first.

BREEDEN: It might still work if they were on the camera, but trying to process photos from a digital chip inside the camera will take a long time and eat up battery life.

Once you have the photos on your hard drive, select that folder. Open it up until you see all the pictures. Looking at them as thumbnails or at least icons is probably easiest. Right click on one of the pictures and a menu will come up. Even if the program you want to use is listed, select 'Choose program from list' instead.

From this new window, choose the program you want to use, which you said was Microsoft Paint. At the bottom of the window there is a check box that says, 'Always use the selected program to open this kind of file.' Check that box. Your photos will now always be opened by the paint program.

CROWE: And I just wanted to add that Microsoft Paint is not the best program for cropping and sizing photos. You can use Paint's Stretch and Skew tool to make them smaller, but there are much better programs out there to get it Web-ready or simply reduce the size. The best is probably Adobe Photoshop. You should look into getting that or one of the light versions of it if you are going to be working with photos a lot.

WILL from Washington state: I have a training video in Windows Media format. I can play it using Windows Media Player 9 or 10 and it looks good. I'm supposed to make a PowerPoint presentation, but when I try to capture a screen shot of the video, I end up with a blank screen. I tried to download a capture program, but it tagged the image with the company's logo and then prompted me to buy it for a lot of money. Is there anything I can do to make this work?

BREEDEN: Downloading the third-party program was a good idea, but many of those programs are expensive, and who wants to buy software that you are only going to use one time?

CROWE: Yes, but you can't really blame them for adding that watermark to their images. Otherwise, the vendor would never make any money.

BREEDEN: True, but I think we can solve Will's problem without him having to pay a cent to anyone. At first glance, it would almost sound like some type of copy protection, but that is in fact not what is happening.

CROWE: No. It's because Windows Media Player uses layers, kind of like PhotoShop, when it is displaying videos. I think by default it puts a black background with a presentation.

BREEDEN:You can disable this feature, and 99.9 percent of all videos will still look just fine. To do this, first open Windows Media Player. You can do this by just running the training video again assuming it is the default player. Then you go into the Options tab and then the Performance tab. Look at the bottom of the screen and you will see a button called Advanced. Click on that.

Then you will see a box that I assume is checked called 'Use Overlays.' If you uncheck that box, it will simply display the video without overlays. You won't notice a thing in most cases.

But now you can do an Alt-PrintScreen to capture the window it is in or a PrintScreen if you have it running in full screen. Then use any number of photo editors, even Microsoft Paint, to save the image in whatever format you need.

CROWE: And if you ever find a video you are trying to use that won't display correctly, especially if it looks to have background problems, just go back in and reclick on the overlays button.

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