Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Highlighting Text in E-Books and IE8 Accelerators on a Mac

I’m waiting for e-book devices that allow the reader to highlight text. This is essential for students reading textbooks, and for nonfiction readers. Any chance of that happening?

A: Your wait is over. Major e-book readers I’ve tested, such as Amazon.com’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader Daily Edition, already allow highlighting. In other words, you can select any section of text in a book and give it a gray background so it stands out from the rest of the text, persistently. It’s not yellow or any other color, because the screens are grayscale and don’t display colors, but it is highlighting. You can also add notes on e-readers.

I have a Mac laptop that I use at home with Safari and Firefox installed. My office environment uses Windows and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8. One of the features of IE8 that I really like and often use are “Accelerators.” I would like to know if there are accelerators available for download for the most up-to-date versions of either Safari or Firefox.

A: Accelerators are a particular feature of IE8 that allows users to perform an action on a highlighted portion of a Web page—like mapping an address or translating a word—even using services provided by companies that compete with Microsoft. Microsoft has put a system in place for companies to write accelerators and users to download them.

Firefox, on both Windows and Mac, has a massive collection of add-ons, some of which work in a manner similar to Accelerators, but it doesn’t have a directly competing feature. Safari on your Mac also can accommodate added features from third-party companies, some of which can work like accelerators, but it also lacks a feature that specifically goes head to head with IE8’s Accelerators.

I am going to law school in the fall, and I was wondering which laptop you would suggest I get for this three- to four-year time period of my life?

A: It really depends on your priorities, resources and environment. If you’re on a tight budget, value lots of choice, and enjoy playing games during breaks from work, you might pick a modestly-priced Windows 7 laptop. However, I’d stay away from netbooks, which can be cramped for writing long documents. If you have more to spend, and value freedom from malware, great built-in software and the convenience of dedicated stores, you might buy an Apple MacBook or MacBook Pro. But I would also recommend asking the school and current students, since it can be advantageous, or even necessary, to be using a laptop that the school prefers or that runs any special software the school requires.

You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online for free at the All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

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