Walt Mossberg

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Transferring Files to a Mac

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about whether Windows files work on a Mac, cameras that function for both still photos and video and reading news on the go.

If you have a question, send it to me at mossberg@wsj.com, and I may select it to be answered here in Mossberg’s Mailbox.

I am thinking of switching from my Windows notebook to an Apple PowerBook. My question is whether my years of Word, PowerPoint and PDF files really will work seamlessly on the Mac. Apple says they will, but I wonder if you have any experience in this matter.

In my experience, your Word and PowerPoint files (as well as Excel files) will work fine on a Mac, if you buy the Macintosh version of Microsoft Office. The Mac version uses the exact same file formats as the Windows version, and it can read files created in the Windows version without requiring any conversion or translation. Files you create in the Mac version can be read by the Windows version just as well.

Some complex Word and PowerPoint files don’t carry over perfectly. Depending on how the file was created, graphics may not be aligned correctly and some fonts may not be the same. But, in my experience, these issues are rare for typical documents created most of the time by most users.

As for Adobe’s PDF files, they are truly cross-platform. There are Mac versions of Adobe’s free Reader program and its full Acrobat program, for creating and handling PDF files, and they are essentially identical to the Windows versions. But you don’t even need Adobe software to handle PDF files on a Mac. Out of the box, every Mac can read — and even create — PDF files, using built-in software provided by Apple.

I switch between Windows PCs and Macs all day, every day, and find these file-compatibility problems to be nonexistent. Sometimes, I start a column on a Windows PC using Word for Windows, then email the partial draft to myself, and open it on a Mac and finish it in Word for the Mac. It’s just no problem. I get Word, PowerPoint, PDF and Excel files as email attachments all the time, and they open equally well on PCs and Macs.

By the way, in addition to Microsoft Office files, and Adobe PDF files, many other common file types carry over perfectly from the Windows platform to the Mac, and vice versa. These include JPG picture files, MP3 music files, and HTML files created for the Web. None need conversion or translation.

I have a digital camera and a camcorder, but hate to carry both on business trips, vacations or family visits, since they require different chargers, extra batteries, different types of memory cards, etc. I wondered if there was a combo digital camera that could take both decent still pictures and long videos.

Actually, in the digital era, the consumer still camera and video camera are slowly merging. Most digital still cameras can take short movies, and some can take movies that last as long as the capacity of their memory cards will allow. Also, a new class of “tapeless” video cameras has emerged. These small models save their videos to memory cards instead of tapes, and also function as digital still cameras.

The best-known camera in this new combo category is the Panasonic D-Snap. Sony makes one called the DSC-M1. But the category isn’t mature yet, and doesn’t offer a complete balance between the two modes. For instance, the Sony is really a still camera with video capability, and lacks the complete set of features you might want in a video camera. (Sony sells it as a still camera.) The Panasonic is more of a video camera with still capability. Its still pictures are only two megapixels in resolution.

So, you may still be stuck carrying two cameras, unless you can content yourself with the simple videos available on still cameras, or the limited still pictures available on video cameras.

Is there a small device that I can use to download Web pages from my home computer to read on my commute? I am thinking of an e-book type device that I can use to read the Web version of the paper.

I know of nothing that works in that way. However, you could buy a Palm or Pocket PC-based PDA, with Wi-Fi or another wireless capability, and download the Web pages directly to the device, using its built-in Web browser.

Or, even with a PDA that lacks wireless capability, you could subscribe to a service called AvantGo, which allows you to download news and other content from a PC to the PDA for later reading. AvantGo doesn’t place actual Web sites on the PDA. Instead, it loads the device with “channels” containing news, weather, sports, stock quotes, maps, movie listings, and more. These channels come from name-brand sources such as MarketWatch, Rolling Stone, Reuters, Wired and USA Today. MarketWatch is owned by Dow Jones & Co., publisher of this newspaper.

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Because of the volume of e-mail I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by e-mail, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com


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