This column was written on a brand-new, 200-megahertz Gateway Pentium MMX PC with 32 megabytes of RAM, a 2.5-gigabyte hard disk and an assortment of other bells and whistles a computer junkie dreams about: big monitor, 16-speed CD-ROM drive, foot-high speakers, fancy new Microsoft Mouse with a little roller between the buttons that you can use to scroll through text, or Web pages.

I ought to be excited about it, but I feel more like Charlie Brown at Christmas: a little melancholy and disappointed. Oh, it’s fast all right, but not as fast as I’d imagined. The CD-ROM drive makes a huge noise, like a vacuum cleaner every time it reads a disk. I guess that’s the price you pay for a fast CD-ROM drive.

And the system is ugly. It has what the manufacturer calls a “mini tower” upright case. If this is a mini tower, I’d hate to see what a full-sized tower looks like. And this mini tower has a curved, not a flat, top, so you can’t put anything on it. You’d probably need a ladder to reach anything you put there, but it’s a dumb design, anyway.

I got a high-capacity tape drive, an Iomega Ditto internal unit that’s supposed to hold 3.2 gigabytes of data. It comes with its own software, but like most such software, it runs only under Windows 95, which means if you have a disk crash, you’ll have to reinstall Windows 95 before you can retrieve your data from the tape drive.

Cheyenne Backup, which is supposed to support this drive, gets around that problem by allowing the creation of an emergency disk which can access the tape drive without reinstalling Windows. I’ve used it successfully on a number of other tape drives, but it kept crashing with this one.

And there are some real annoyances with the way Windows 95 runs on this computer. For example, it keeps asking me for a password every time I boot up. When I first started the machine, it told me that if I didn’t enter one, it would not keep asking for one. So I didn’t, but it keeps asking anyway. If I hit the escape key, or click cancel, it goes away without complaint, but it comes back every time I start up. And it does the same thing every time I log on to my Internet service provider, too.

In one of those Windows 95 how-to books, there was an elaborate explanation of how to get rid of the password dialogue box. First, it said, go to the Control Panel, click on the “Network” icon, and make sure you choose Windows and not Microsoft or Netware as the “Primary Network Logon.” Then you open the “Passwords” applet, and choose the “Change Windows Passwords” tab. Trouble was, there was no such tab.

So I decided to use my vaunted skills as a computer buff to edit the win.ini file to fix the problem myself. I brought that file up in a text editor and looked for a statement about passwords. I found one. I edited it out and restarted my machine. This brought me back to where I had started.

I got the password request, but this time, it had that message again telling me that if I did not enter a password, I would not see that request again. This time I was very careful not to enter a password. I tried hitting the OK button with no password. That didn’t work. So I hit the cancel button. That got rid of the dialogue box, but when I restarted the computer, the password request was back.

I tried something else. I entered a password. Then I went back and tried the method explained in the book. This time, when I clicked open the “Passwords” applet, there was a “Change Windows Passwords” tab. I clicked on it. That brought up a box with three fields, “old password,” “new password,” and “confirm new password.” The book said to leave all three fields empty, but the computer would not let me out of that box with all three fields empty.

I know. I know. These are problems with Windows 95, not with my new computer. Maybe, but Windows 95 gave me none of the above problems on my old computer, and my old computer didn’t take up nearly as much space. And it wasn’t nearly as ugly. Maybe I’ll get used to it, and maybe I’ll solve the password problem and come to love this new machine. If I do, I’ll let you know.

This week’s column was written by Brit Hume, managing editor of Fox News in Washington. T.R. Reid is Rocky Mountain bureau chief of the Washington Post. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at [email protected], or Brit Hume at [email protected].

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