Walt Mossberg

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Video Players Compatible With iTunes

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 speech-recognition software for Macs, whether Windows Media Player will play video files from iTunes, and if Vista is worth the wait.

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 have an iPod which uses iTunes software on my Windows computer. With the iTunes software comes QuickTime. I do not want QuickTime to play video files. I wish to use Windows Media Player as the default player. Must I use QuickTime as a video player in order to use iTunes for music?

No. QuickTime is an Apple program that is required by iTunes, even on Windows computers. It can also be used on its own to play some video and audio files. But, if you set its preferences so it isn’t the default player for various types of video files, and you set Windows Media Player as the default, you should be able to use the latter, as in the past. There is one exception: If you purchase videos from Apple’s iTunes Music Store, you can only play them in either iTunes or QuickTime, not Windows Media Player.

Before we buy our daughter a laptop for school, should we wait until the new Microsoft operating system is released next year? If not, should we buy a laptop with a more powerful chip with the intention of upgrading once it is available?

It depends on when she needs the computer. If she can wait until January, when the new Windows Vista will be available preloaded on laptops, then wait. Vista should have significant advantages over Windows XP in the areas of security and user interface.

However, if she needs it now, you may be able to get a laptop that can be upgraded later to Vista. The trick is that Microsoft hasn’t yet published the specs for a laptop that can be upgraded to Vista. My best advice would be to buy the most powerful processor you can afford, a full gigabyte of memory, and a video system that is called “discrete,” rather than “integrated,” with as much dedicated video memory as possible.

I’ve been using the Dragon Naturally Speaking speech-recognition software on my Windows PC at work. Is there a comparable product for the Mac I use at home?

Yes. There are at least two speech-recognition programs for the Mac. One is IBM’s Via Voice (www.nuance.com/viavoice/osx/) and the other is called Mac Speech (www.macspeech.com/). I haven’t tested them, so I can’t say how they compare with Dragon on Windows, or which is best.

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