Q. What is Microsoft fixing every month when I get Windows Update notices on my PC?
A. Those Windows Update notices usually contain Microsoft’s latest security patches and improvements to its Windows operating system. The company tends to release all its non-emergency updates on the second Tuesday of every month, a day that has come to be known as Patch Tuesday, although additional updates during the month are not uncommon.
Although it can be a bit technical, Microsoft posts information about its security updates at technet.microsoft.com/security/bulletin if you want to find out what each patch is supposed to repair; the Microsoft Security Response Center blog at blogs.technet.com/b/msrc also has details. While the updates are intended to plug security holes and take care of other issues, the new code can sometimes break other programs.
If an application does not work properly after you have installed Windows updates, a quick web search (or a visit to the support forums for the affected program) may offer workarounds until yet another patch is issued.
Scanning a Mac
Q. My Mac has been acting weird, and I’m worried it might be because of spyware, although I’m not sure how I got it. How can I find out and remove it?
A. Apple has a number of security features built into its OS X system, but it is still possible for malicious software to plague your Mac. Unexpected pop-up ads, fake security alerts and web pages that behave oddly are common symptoms of a malware infection.
Apple has warned about the Flashback and Mac Defender malware that have targeted its systems and recommends that you download and install all the security patches available thought the Mac’s Software Update tool, which is available under the Apple Menu.
Although Macs have been targeted far less than Windows systems, malware can still invade through things like security flaws in Java or “free” programs from the web that also include spyware.
If you suspect your Mac is infected, scan your system with security software from a reputable company. The independent institute AV Test has reviewedmore than a dozen security programs for OS X, including paid programs likeBitdefender, as well as free utilities like those from Avast and Sophos.
TIP OF THE WEEK Online productivity tools like Google Docs, Microsoft Office Online and Apple’s iWork for iCloud beta are among the services that let you create and edit documents without having to pay for a dedicated word-processing program for your PC or Mac. However, if you do not always have an Internet connection, or would prefer to keep the files locally on your computers, both Windows and Mac OS X come with a built-in word processor that does much more than simple text editing.
Microsoft’s WordPad program (found in the Start menu’s Accessories folder in Windows 7 or in the Windows Accessories area of the All Apps screen in Windows 8.1) uses a simpler version of the Ribbon toolbar similar to that in Microsoft Word. Documents created in WordPad can include embedded photos and graphics, bold and italic text styles and other formatting features like bulleted lists.
Apple’s TextEdit program for OS X lives in the Mac’s Applications folder and offers similar formatting tools. In OS X 10.8 and later, the Mac’s Dictationtool can be used to convert spoken words into type in TextEdit. While the standard Dictation software requires an Internet connection, the Enhanced Dictation program for OS X 10.9 and later works right on the Mac — just turn on the Enhanced Dictation checkbox in the Dictation & Speech area of the System Preferences to download the necessary software.
J. D. BIERSDORFER