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Running Old Programs on 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 old programs and Windows Vista, Vista Ultimate and Vista for Macs.

Can we run our old programs in the new Windows Vista? Can we use our old peripherals?

Vista should be compatible with most software that runs on Windows XP. I tested a handful of these programs, including the Firefox Web browser, Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 and Apple’s iTunes, and all worked fine. However, in any transition between operating-system versions, some programs get broken, especially older ones. You will likely need to buy new security programs, for instance.

Peripheral hardware is another matter. It depends on having the right software drivers — special small programs that control hardware — for Vista. Many hardware companies still are completing these drivers, so some functionality may be missing. For instance, while Vista was able to use my Hewlett-Packard printer, it didn’t have the driver for my exact model, so I couldn’t get the printer to print on both sides of the page. This driver update situation will likely persist for months.

In your review of the new Microsoft Vista, you said that “some regular users may need Vista Ultimate if their companies have particular network configurations that make it impossible to connect to the company network from home with Home Basic or Home Premium.” Can you elaborate?

Some companies require that employees logging in from home be able to do something called “joining a domain.” This practice makes it easier for network administrators to control access to various items on the corporate network. Microsoft doesn’t consider this capability to be consumer functionality, so it isn’t included in the new Vista Home Basic or Home Premium editions, just as it wasn’t included in Windows XP’s Home edition.

To get this domain-joining capability, you could use Windows Vista’s Business edition, but it may be hard to find a consumer personal computer with that edition installed, and this edition lacks some consumer features that are in Home Premium. So, for many consumers in this position, the best choice probably is the Ultimate edition, if you have the extra money it requires.

Not all corporate networks require domain-joining, and even some that do include ways around it. If you must often log into a company network from home, a good rule of thumb is this: if you are getting in with Windows XP Home, then Vista Basic or Premium should work fine. If your company required you to use XP Professional, then you probably need Vista Business or Ultimate. To be certain, ask your network administrator at work.

Will Windows Vista run on a Macintosh?

Parallels Inc., the company that makes the Parallels software for running Windows on a Mac, says its product already can run Vista. Apple, which makes the free Boot Camp software for running Windows on a Mac, hasn’t said if Boot Camp can run Vista, or whether it plans to add Vista capability, either now or when it folds Boot Camp into its forthcoming Leopard operating system this coming spring. But I would be very surprised if Boot Camp wasn’t updated at some point to run Vista.

* * *

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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