Walt Mossberg

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Waiting for Windows Vista

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 Windows Media Center, the Aero interface in Vista and right-clicking on Apple laptops.

I want to buy a Windows Media Center PC, but before I go out and buy one this fall, do you know if the new Windows Vista will impact the Media Center PCs or if Microsoft is going to release a Windows XP Media 2007 edition?

Microsoft is killing the Media Center Edition of Windows that allows current Media Center PCs to be controlled by remote from across a room for playback of music, photos, TV and videos. So, there won’t be a 2007 edition. However, the functionality of Media Center will continue, and will even be improved. It will simply be folded into some editions of Vista, which is the new version of Windows that is slated for release in January.

People who want the latest and greatest Media Center functions in Windows should wait until then and buy a new PC with Vista’s Home Premium edition preinstalled, or they should upgrade their current PC to Vista Home Premium edition, if their hardware is good enough.

I am beginning to research the new Windows Vista operating system and I keep running into the term “Aero” and “Aero-capable.” What does this mean? Is it important?

Yes, it’s very important. Aero is the name for the new and flashy graphical user interface in Vista, the software component that will enable its new, much richer look and feel, and its many visual features. But Aero will require robust computer hardware to run. Most computers currently in use in homes won’t have the horsepower for Aero. Even some bargain-basement new models won’t be up to the task. So, you are beginning to see computers described as “Aero-capable,” which means their manufacturers are claiming they can run the full Vista experience, including Aero.

Confusingly, some computers that can’t run Aero can still run Vista, and may be described as “Vista-capable” or Vista compatible. These machines will run Vista in a mode that looks much more like Windows XP. They will benefit from Vista features such as built-in fast searching and enhanced security, but won’t be able to use the new Aero interface and graphics capability.

The Home Premium edition of Vista will have Aero. A less expensive Home Basic version won’t.

I tried the right-clicking shortcut you suggested last week for Apple laptops, but I can’t get it to work. Is there more to this trick?

The technique I described last week for simulating a right mouse click on a new Macintosh laptop with a single touch pad button does work; you just place two fingers on the touch pad (which Apple calls the “trackpad”), and click the button. But I should have mentioned that it isn’t turned on by default. You have to manually enable this feature, just once.

To do this, go into System Preferences, click on the “Keyboard & Mouse” icon, then click on the “Trackpad” tab. Once there, select “Place two fingers on trackpad and click button for secondary click.” Then just close the window or quit System Preferences.

One more thing: if you have opted to use the “clicking” feature, which allows you to tap on the pad itself rather than clicking the button below it, then the simulated right-click feature works differently: you just tap the pad with two fingers. There’s no need to also click the button.

* * *

Because of the volume of email I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by email, 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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