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Doing Business With 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 Vista for business, the Mac operating system and running an old version of Microsoft Office.

What are the versions of Windows Vista for business?

There are three versions of Vista with features aimed at businesses. One, called Vista Business, is for small businesses. It includes some business features, like comprehensive backup and more sophisticated networking, but omits some consumer features, such as Media Center and DVD Maker.

Another, called Vista Enterprise, is for deployment by information-technology departments at large, complex organizations. It also lacks key consumer features, but includes features useful to network administrators, such as a capability called BitLocker for encrypting disk drives. The third version, Windows Ultimate, has the small-business features as well as the consumer features omitted from Vista Business. It also includes BitLocker.

Since both Apple and Dell computers now use the same Intel processors, and since Apple machines can now run Windows, why can’t I run the Macintosh operating system on a Dell, or on any other computer normally sold with Windows?

Because Apple uses a variety of means to impede that scenario. Apple is primarily in the hardware business, or the business of selling hardware combined with software. It doesn’t want to merely sell or license its operating system, either to users or to other computer makers (even though they have expressed an interest in licensing it). Thus, the company has legal policies against running its operating system, which is called Mac OS X, on non-Apple hardware, and it builds in technical barriers as well.

By contrast, Microsoft is primarily in the software business, and is happy to license Windows to be used on any compatible computer, including Apple machines, as long as it gets paid, either by users or manufacturers.

Hackers have demonstrated MacOSX running on a non-Apple computer. But their methods can’t be easily replicated by an average user and they don’t enable all of OSX’s features. So, until and unless Apple makes it legally and technically easy to do so, the Mac operating system will, for all practical purposes, be usable only on Apple computers.

I have a registered copy of Office 2003 that was activated for use on my Windows XP computer. If I buy a new computer with Vista, and I simply reinstall Office from my original disks, will I be able to activate it on the new PC?

I asked Microsoft, and a spokeswoman said you should be able to activate it again, automatically, over the Internet. And, if you can’t do so, she told me that you can simply select “activate by phone” from the activation wizard and have a brief phone conversation with a company representative, who most likely will give you a new activation code.

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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.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com

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