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Microsoft Programs and the iPhone

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 using Microsoft programs on the Apple iPhone, dividing software between a Mac and a PC and finding a video-conferencing service compatible with both operating systems.

Will the new Apple iPhone be able to open and edit Microsoft Word documents? Will it be able to synchronize calendar and contact entries with Microsoft Outlook?

These and many other questions I received about the iPhone are good ones. But they can’t be answered yet. The iPhone won’t be on the market until June, and its software isn’t complete. Apple did say the phone would be able to synchronize calendar and contact entries with Windows computers, but didn’t specify which Windows programs would be supported. As for Word documents, Apple said nothing about this, but I wouldn’t rule it out. And remember, as with the iPod, the iPhone will be upgradeable with new features through Apple’s iTunes program.

I am a Windows user who would like to buy a Macintosh but still keep my PC and work in both systems. Is there any way to avoid bankrupting myself by buying the same software on both systems?

Sure. Just use the machines for different purposes, and keep each stocked only with the software for those purposes. For instance, because it suffers from essentially no viruses and spyware, you might use the Mac for Web surfing and emailing — through its excellent built-in software — and dedicate the older Windows machine to software that’s available only on Windows, or where the Windows version beats the Mac version, such as Quicken.

The Mac comes with a much richer collection of bundled software than a typical Windows PC does. For instance, its included iLife suite includes photo, video, music, Web-site creation and DVD-burning software that are hard to match on Windows, even if you spend extra. The new Windows Vista closes this gap some, but not completely. And the Mac has lots of nice little touches. For instance, without any additional software, a Mac can save any document or Web page as an Adobe PDF file, readable by any computer.

On the other hand, Windows offers many more niche or specialty programs, such as small-business software, and programs such as WordPerfect and Microsoft Access that some businesses and professional firms rely upon. And Windows kills the Mac on games.

The only software you might need to replicate on both platforms is Microsoft Office, which comes in versions for both. You can buy the Mac version for about $150.

I have just become a grandmother, but my granddaughter is a continent away. I would love to use Web cams to watch my granddaughter grow up, but my computer uses Windows and my daughter uses an Apple. Any suggestions for a video service that is compatible with the two systems?

Yes. Try SightSpeed, a very nice video-conferencing service that works on both Windows PCs and Macs. It can be downloaded at www.sightspeed.com.

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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.

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