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Mixing Macs and PCs On Wireless Networks

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

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 mixing Macs and Windows computers on the same wireless network, setting up video-conferencing and switching email addresses.

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.

We have two Windows PCs on a wireless network controlled by a Netgear router. We are thinking of buying an Apple Mac laptop. Can the Mac connect to this wireless PC network?

Yes, you can easily mix Macs and Windows computers on the same wireless network, even if the router isn’t made by Apple, and even if the router maker says it doesn’t “support” Macs — which merely means the maker won’t help you connect them. Apple uses the same Wi-Fi wireless standard the Windows guys do, so it can recognize and connect to any standard wireless router, right alongside your Windows machines. In fact, connections are generally easier to establish on the Mac, which had Wi-Fi before Windows computers did.

You can also do this in reverse. You can add a Windows PC to a mostly Mac wireless network being run off an Apple router. I have done it both ways. In my home, I have a mixture of Windows and Mac computers running on a Belkin wireless router. In my office, I have an Apple router that is mainly used with Windows machines that visitors bring in. No special knowledge, special equipment, or special software is required for such mixed networks.

I want to be able to see and hear my grandchildren on my computer. What equipment do I need to accomplish this?

Assuming both you and your grandchildren have Windows computers, you would need to buy and install Web cameras on each. I recommend Logitech cameras, which are decent and inexpensive. Then, you would have to join an instant-messaging service that has video, like AOL, Yahoo or MSN. Then, you just initiate a video session with the grandchildren, and you’re in business. (If you have trouble doing any of this, the grandchildren can probably set it up for you on their next visit.)

Another interesting video-conferencing service for Windows users is Paltalk, at paltalk.com. Skype, at skype.com, also now has a video-conferencing service, for Windows users. If you and your grandchildren have the latest Macintosh desktop computers, both the cameras and the video service are built in, and the video experience is vastly better than with AOL or Yahoo or MSN.

I want to quit AOL, where I’ve been for years, but I need an easy way to move over my address book, forward my email for awhile, and notify everyone of my new address. Does such a thing exist?

Yes. To notify everyone of your new address, move over your address book, and generally to help with the switch, try a service called TrueSwitch, at trueswitch.com. It costs $20, unless you’re switching to MSN, AT&T or SBC/Yahoo, in which case it is free. TrueSwitch will even copy your saved emails, Web bookmarks and calendar entries. I have tested it, and it works, though only with Windows computers.

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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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