Q: My wife communicates regularly with friends in China using QQ (the most popular instant-messaging service in China) on her computer. It has video chat, similar to Skype. But there is something very strange about it. I keep hearing someone coughing when she has the computer on. Is it possible that QQ is being monitored?
- Jimmy Lovato, Paso Robles, Calif.
A: It may be just a PC sound effect; coughing, sneezing and laughing sound bites for PC are available for free online.
But some type of surveillance wouldn't be surprising. QQ (the English international version of the PC app is at imqq.com) operates under the watchful eye of the Chinese government, which has little tolerance for dissent and is sensitive about Internet chat.
Why would the Chinese government care about QQ? It's a hugely popular social networking and online gaming service with 784 million registered users; about 100 million are said to be online at any one time. And it deals in controversial issues. In 2011, when the Chinese government was loudly criticizing online "rumor-mongering," QQ was filled with discussions of political infighting within the Chinese Communist Party.
So, while there's no evidence your wife's conversations are being monitored, her QQ conversations are probably going to be less private than the online communications to which most Americans are accustomed.
Q: My Windows 7 computer is unable to run two graphics programs I installed. I had a repair shop clean my PC of malicious software, but the graphics programs still wouldn't run, apparently because some parts of Windows are missing. Is there any way to fix that, short of reinstalling Windows 7?
- Oliver Larsen, Tucson.
A: Instead of doing a fresh installation of Windows 7, which will wipe out everything on your hard drive, you can use a Windows 7 disk to do a "repair install."
The repair install will preserve your PC's data, programs and any information about "user accounts" (if, for instance, you've set up your computer to be used by more than one person).
You will have to redo a few things, such as reinstall Windows updates and restore any customized sound settings. See www.tinyurl.com/rbn4sr/ and skip to step 6, called "Repair Installed Windows 7 without SP1."
Unfortunately, you can't use a Windows 7 disk that came with your PC, or one which was created by your PC as a backup. Those disks are good only for fresh installations of Windows. So you'll need to buy a new Windows 7 disk. The cost is $60 to $100 online; search for "Windows 7 price."
Steve Alexander covers technology. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org Please include a full name, city and phone number.