Cookies: What are they and what should be done? |

Cookies: What are they and what should be done?

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

Nancy asks: One page I browsed to told me I have to have cookies enabled. I don’t really know what cookies are, but I heard that cookies allow web sites to steal information from my computer. Do I really have to enable cookies?

First of all, it’s important to understand what cookies are (besides the delicious flour/butter/sugar/salt versions). From a browser’s perspective, a cookie is a small file stored on your computer’s hard drive that allows it to maintain information between browsing sessions. When you leave a page and return to it later, and the page recalls information that you entered last time you were there, it’s using a cookie.

If you want to visit the particular web page that tells you that cookies must be enabled, I guess you do need to enable cookies. But the fact is that cookies are used by almost every website to track what you’ve done on that web site, and you probably should, in general, enable cookies.

Cookies can keep track of where you were when you last visited, what you last did, what you last typed and so on. Cookies are generally benign. You’ll find options in your browser to enable them only for the local site, which is probably the best bet. The alternative would be for a site to maintain cookies that pertain to an advertiser on that site, which is generally unnecessary.

Look online for instructions about how to enable cookies for your particular browser. Generally you want cookies enabled for saving the local data, but you want to block third-party and advertiser cookies. There’s no reason you should be storing that information locally.

Here are links that describe how to manage cookies for the most popular browsers:

Internet Explorer:




Mac or PC?

Shelley asks: “I think I need a new computer. I have an old Windows system that’s about 6 years old. Some of my friends have Macs. Should I switch?”

I don’t think you should get a new computer unless there is a good reason.

You can certainly expect to use any current computer for at least three to four years without expecting any hardware failures and with expectations that it will be powerful enough for any software you might want to run in that time period. Business software usually has feature upgrades every one to three years. Most computers built in the last six years should be able to take advantage of any of the software upgrade features.

So what is the reason you’re considering upgrading? Do you want a faster, shinier computer, or do you just want the latest and greatest like Ken does?

Changing from a PC to a Mac or visa versa is a big step. I personally think you should buy a computer based upon the best software for your needs. Years ago the Mac was thought to be better for art, drawing and music applications, but there are generally Windows equivalents for most Mac programs.

The PC was generally thought to be better for business needs. Today for the most part, there are no significant advantages for applications running on a PC or Mac. There are, however, exceptions — if there’s a piece of software that you need to run that works only on a Mac or on a PC, you’re better off purchasing the corresponding type of computer. Although it’s quite easy to run Windows software on a Mac using a tool like Parallels, it’s difficult to install Mac software on a Windows computer. Again, find the best software for your needs and then get the best computer to run your software.

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