Walt Mossberg

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Using DOS in Windows Vista

(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)

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 DOS in Windows Vista, antispyware programs for Vista and the compatibility of the new Microsoft Office with older versions.

I still use several old DOS programs. They work fine in Windows XP, which I believe includes DOS. But will they still work in the new Windows Vista?

Yes, they probably will. Actually, DOS, the old Microsoft operating system that preceded Windows, hasn’t been included in Windows for years. The early versions of Windows were built on top of DOS, so DOS programs could run as they always did.

But Windows XP didn’t really include DOS. Instead, it included some underlying code that allowed old DOS programs to run. Windows Vista uses this same approach. Microsoft says it has even run the DOS version of VisiCalc, the famous pioneering spreadsheet program, on Vista.

Certain DOS programs that require something called “real mode” — direct access to the computer’s hardware — wouldn’t run properly in XP and won’t run properly in Vista, either. But, if your DOS programs run fine in XP, they will likely run fine in Vista.

I recently purchased a new Windows computer with the Windows Vista Home Premium operating system. Do I need to install a third-party Internet security program or is the included Microsoft Security Center adequate?

Despite its name, the Security Center isn’t actually a security program. It is a monitoring feature of Windows that tells you the status of your security programs. Vista does include two important security programs: a firewall; and an antispyware program called Windows Defender. It doesn’t include an antivirus program. I strongly advise you to buy and install a Vista-compatible antivirus program. You may also want to consider buying an antispyware program that is rated higher than the included Windows Defender, such as Spy Sweeper (webroot.com) or Spyware Doctor (pctools.com).

I teach college courses online. My laptop is three years old and I was thinking of buying a new one this year. I am worried about the compatibility of the new Microsoft Office with older versions. Many students are using older computers to do their homework. I need to be able to open all documents they send me and vice versa.

It is true that the standard file format in the new Office 2007 can’t be read by older versions of Office, unless the users of those older versions install conversion software. However, there are two reasons why this shouldn’t be a problem with your new laptop.

First of all, buying a new laptop doesn’t mean you also have to buy or use the latest version of Microsoft Office. The 2003 version of Office for Windows can be installed and used on a new Windows Vista laptop, if you still have the original disks. Secondly, even if you do switch to the new Office 2007, you can set it to always save your files in the older formats.

* * *

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.

Corrections & Amplifications:

The anti-spyware program produced by PC Tools is named Spyware Doctor. In an earlier version of this column, the product was mistakenly referred to as Spy Doctor.

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

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