Walt Mossberg

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Looking for a Vista-Free PC

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 buying PCs without Windows Vista, TVs with digital tuners and running the Mac operating system on a Dell.

Even though the new Windows Vista is now being included on most new computers, is it still possible to buy a brand-name PC with Windows XP preinstalled instead?

Microsoft says it is still possible to buy machines preloaded with Windows XP. The company’s deal with computer makers allows them to offer the previous version of the operating system for one year after a new one succeeds it. And you aren’t likely to have the compatibility problems with some hardware and software that currently plague Vista.

However, it is hard to find a brand-name computer priced and configured for average consumers that comes pre-loaded with XP. A cursory check of the online sites for the two biggest PC makers, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, under their “home and home office” categories, shows that all of the computers offered came with various flavors of Vista.

Some models configured for business can still be ordered with XP, so if you really want a brand-name Windows computer that comes with XP, you can order a so-called business machine. But these models may lack some kinds of software and hardware features that mainstream, nontechie consumers might want, and could include some that consumers would find superfluous.

You could also forgo a brand-name model and buy a computer from a local shop that is willing to preinstall XP instead of Vista.

There are some downsides to buying an XP machine. XP lacks some new, tougher security features and the slick built-in search that are included in Vista. Also, if past experience holds, over the typical life of a new computer, more and more hardware and software products will emerge that either will only work with Vista, or will work better with Vista.

We are contemplating buying a new LCD TV. If it has a digital tuner built in do I still have to buy a converter for over-the-air antenna reception in 2009?

No. Any television that has a built-in digital tuner, for receiving digital broadcasts over the air, won’t require a converter in 2009, when all TV stations will be broadcasting only digital programming. The only TV sets that will need a converter will be older sets without built-in digital tuners.

I have read a lot about running Windows on a Mac. Would anything prevent someone from going the other way and running the Mac operating system on a Dell, for example, since Macs and Dells are both based upon Intel processors?

It is theoretically possible, and some hackers have claimed to have done it. But their methods couldn’t be easily replicated by mainstream users, and don’t enable all of the operating system’s features. So, essentially the answer is no. The reason: Apple owns the Mac operating system and doesn’t want it running on non-Apple hardware, so it has erected technical and legal obstacles to stop people from doing so.

* * *

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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