Walt Mossberg

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Microsoft Access and Macintosh

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 Microsoft Access and Macs, the toolbar in the new Internet Explorer and the latest version of Windows XP.

I have an old H-P notebook and am thinking of replacing it with a Mac. However, I use Microsoft Access to keep all the information of my clients and I was told by a friend that the Microsoft Office suite on a Mac doesn’t have MS Access. Is this true? If so, what do you suggest I should do? I mainly use Access and email.

Your friend is correct. Microsoft doesn’t make a Mac version of Access, and while there are some database programs for the Mac, there’s nothing I know of that’s exactly like Access or is fully and easily compatible with it. You could install Windows on your new Mac and boot into Windows when you need to run Access. In my tests of Apple’s Boot Camp software for running Windows on a Mac, Access ran quickly and well.

However, I suggest that you avoid the Mac and buy a Windows machine. If your main use of your computer is to run a single program that only works in Windows, that means that, even with a Mac, you’ll be spending most of your time in the Windows environment, and won’t gain many of the advantages of the Mac operating system and its tight integration with the Mac hardware. So, you might as well just buy another H-P or a Dell or Lenovo.

I was encouraged by your column of Oct. 19 to download Internet Explorer 7. It seems fine but I no longer have the Outlook Express icon on the toolbar. I found this quite convenient and wonder how to get it onto IE 7.

In the new Version 7 of Internet Explorer, Microsoft took pains to strip down and simplify the menus and toolbars, so as to streamline the look and feel. One of the things that was dropped as a default option was the icon for your email program, such as Outlook Express. But IE 7 allows you to restore it. Here’s how:

First, right-click on the toolbar, which is the short strip of icons that includes the Home button, and choose “Customize Command Bar.” Then, choose “Add or Remove Commands…”. From the list on the left, choose “Read Mail” and click the “Add” button. Then, with the “Read Mail” entry highlighted, use the buttons marked “Move Up” and “Move Down” to place the email icon where you want on the toolbar. Finally, click the “Close” button.

Several products you’ve reviewed recently, like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 and Apple’s Boot Camp, require the “latest version” of Windows XP. What is the latest version?

The latest, and likely the last, version of Windows XP is called “SP2,” for “Service Pack 2.” The box will have that phrase on it. However, this version of Windows XP will be superseded in early 2007 by the all-new Windows Vista, which is a complete overhaul of Windows.

* * *

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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