Walt Mossberg

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Should You Wait to Buy a Mac?

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 deciding when to buy a Mac after the delay of the Leopard operating system, removing old versions of iPod software and alphabetizing your favorites in Explorer.

I had been waiting to buy my first Macintosh until this spring, when Apple’s new Leopard operating system was supposed to be released. Now that Leopard has been delayed until October, I am wondering if a Mac I buy now will be compatible with the new system?

Leopard isn’t an entirely new operating system, but a major new version, or edition, of Apple’s Mac OS X operating system, which made its debut in 2001. It will replace the current version, which is called Tiger. As you noted, it was supposed to become available this spring, but now has been delayed until October. Apple will say only that “We’re designing Leopard to deliver full functionality and performance on the widest number of Macs possible, and upgrading a system to run on Leopard should be simple and smooth.” I believe that it is highly likely that Leopard will run with all its functions and with decent speed on any Mac purchased today, and in fact on any Mac purchased in the past 18 months or so, at the least. Compatibility could go back much further than that, though some old Mac models will certainly be incompatible, or will slow down unacceptably. Upgrading to new Apple operating system versions has generally been a very good experience in recent years, much better than similar Windows upgrades. If you intend to upgrade to Leopard, then the biggest downside to buying a Mac now may be financial, not technical. If Apple’s past practice prevails, Leopard is likely to cost $129 for any Mac purchased today. If you wait until you can buy a Mac with Leopard preloaded, you will save that extra cost. Also, memory could be another cost issue. Some Macs sold today have only 512 megabytes of memory. Even today, with the current Tiger version of the operating system, I recommend doubling that to 1 gigabyte. I suspect that advice will hold for Leopard, but nobody knows for sure. So, if you buy a Mac now there is a risk you’ll have to shell out later for more memory.

I’m trying to free up some space on my hard drive by removing programs that I don’t need. Going through the “Add/Remove Programs” list on Windows XP I’ve run across three separate iPod updates that date from well over a year ago. Is it safe to remove these earlier versions? Is it typical that the newest version incorporates the features of the older ones?

Yes, the latest version of iPod software contains all the features and bug fixes from the older updates, so it is safe to remove the older ones.

In Internet Explorer, is there a method to alphabetize my Favorites list?

I get this question at least twice a month, and have answered it many times over the years, but am happy to answer it again. Obviously, Microsoft hasn’t made the process of alphabetizing Favorites obvious enough. Here’s what to do. Display your list of Favorites, then select one, and right click on it. Somewhere in the menu that appears you should see a choice called “Sort by Name.” Click on that choice, and your Favorites should be rearranged in alphabetical order. This works in both IE 6 and IE 7.

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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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