Q: A former flame used my computer to register for one of Microsoft’s .NET Passports. The boy’s gone, but the Passport sign-in screen isn’t—it pops up whenever I use my PC. I’ve deleted cookies, emptied the RAM cache, even uninstalled MSN, all to no avail. How do I get rid of this insidious reminder of love gone wrong?

For an operating system that bills itself as user-friendly, Windows sure does make it hard to ditch some unwanted extras. The handy “Add/Remove Programs” feature in the Control Panel doesn’t always work as advertised, especially when you’re looking to eighty-six Microsoft products. Mr. Roboto tried his darndest to wrest a succinct how-to out of Redmond, which can be akin to drawing blood from a stone—especially since Passport’s already caused the company a million-and-one public relations headaches.

Passport, for the uninitiated or Windows-phobic, is supposed to store all your personal data in a secure file, to make filling out e-commerce forms easier. Figuring that your problem was a common one, Mr. Roboto began his quest by Googling through Microsoft’s Web sites. Alas, the primary advice seemed to be the most obvious—use Add/Remove Programs to banish the scourge. Been there, done that, right?

I next thought, assuming you’re running Windows XP, that it might be a user accounts issue. Try checking under the “User Accounts” tab in the Control Panel, and see if you can find your ex-boyfriend’s icon. If it’s there, go to “Manage My Network Passwords” under “Related Tasks,” and remove Passport that way.

Next up on Mr. Roboto’s list was a series of pleading phone calls and e-mails to a Microsoft flack. Her first suggestion was to visit and click on “Close my .NET Passport account.” This is a relatively new option for the service, and one that Microsoft resisted for a while. You see, Passport has raised a stink in privacy-conscious Europe, which fears that Microsoft might get in the habit of revealing personal data to third parties. (Read up on the controversy at

The flack’s advice seemed sound, until I started wondering whether you knew your ex’s password. Would it be a problem if you didn’t? I asked. A day of silence ensued, then something of a 180—Microsoft now suggested that you remove MSN Messenger, through Add/Remove Programs, because it might be requesting your sign-in as it runs in the background. The e-mailed response ended with a suggestion that, if all else fails, you can call Microsoft customer support at 800-936-3500.

Gonzo journalistic automaton that he is, Mr. Roboto tried pretending he was you, and phoned in the complaint. The operator had a sweet lilt to her voice, but her words were pitiless: Before Microsoft would even think of helping, they’d need a $35 deposit. Not keen to waste a week’s beer money on having a tech supporter recommend using the—you guessed it—Add/Remove Programs feature, Mr. Roboto politely declined.

If none of the above tips work, the one surefire fallback is using the system restore utility. This can roll back your system configuration to a date before your lover cursed your PC; the obvious bummer is that it’ll also mean reinstalling all the useful bits you’ve added since.

There are lessons to be learned here, for sure, starting with a note of caution about downloading software before you know the removal process. Mr. Roboto learned this the hard way when he upgraded to Media Player 9, which was harder to remove than an impacted wisdom tooth.

The other vital lesson can best be summed up in the adage “Don’t let skeevy, soon-to-be-dumped boyfriends mess with your PC.” Or something like that.

Another reader recently asked about hooking up his fancy stereo speakers to his Mac. That got Mr. Roboto turned on to Griffin Technology’s ProSpeaker Breakout Cable (, which is simpatico with standard speaker wire. The hardware prerequisite is a late-model iMac or PowerMac with a ProSpeaker jack; if that’s your setup, plunk down the $25 and prepare for a sonic shower. Beats the heck out of those tinny little computer speakers you’re likely rocking at present.

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