Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Comparing the Treo and BlackBerry

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 PDAs, Microsoft Office 2003’s compatibility with Vista, and memory upgrades for a MacBook Pro.

My wife has requested that we get her first “PDA” and asked me for my advice on which product to buy. I am unfamiliar with the comparative features and function of BlackBerry and Treo. What would you suggest?

Well, first of all, both of these products are primarily communication devices — they make phone calls and fetch email, in addition to performing the functions of a Personal Digital Assistant. So, if she really just needs a PDA, I’d avoid both of them and get a cheaper Palm PDA that isn’t a phone or email device. The $99 Z22 would do the trick, and, unlike a phone, it requires no monthly fee. However, if she wants a phone-and-email device that is also a very good PDA, the Treo beats the BlackBerry hands down. The latter is first and foremost an email device and now has a decent phone. But its calendar, address book and other PDA functions are weak. The Treo, which evolved from the Palm PDAs, is much better at these tasks, in my opinion, especially for personal, as opposed to corporate, use.

Your columns helped me select a new laptop today that should be able to run Vista Ultimate. However, although two of your columns report that Microsoft Office 2003 should run on Vista, two salesmen at Dell said it wouldn’t. Who’s correct?

A: I am, and it’s sad and troubling that Dell personnel would give out such patently wrong information. One might even suspect they were trying to sell you the newer version of Office when you don’t need it. I have personally tested Office 2003 on a Vista computer, and it runs fine. But, just to make sure, I forwarded your question to a senior person at Microsoft and he replied that the Dell people you spoke to are: “misinformed at the least.” He confirmed that Vista supports both Office XP and Office 2003 (as long as they have been kept up to date with the latest service packs) as well as the new Office 2007. One possible explanation is that the Dell folks you spoke to misunderstood your question. Dell and other companies have ceased selling Office 2003, or will soon stop doing so. Therefore, it’s possible that they were under the impression that you were seeking to buy it, rather than merely to install and run a copy you already owned. But Office 2003 is compatible with Vista.

I own an Apple MacBook Pro laptop that came with 512 megabytes of memory. I am going to upgrade to either one gigabyte or two gigabytes. I am not a gamer. Do I really need two gigabytes for running applications or will one gigabyte suffice? The biggest application I use is Final Cut Studio.

In general, one gigabyte is all a MacBook Pro needs for doing common tasks such as email and Web browsing, word processing, music playback and simple photo and video editing with built-in programs like iPhoto and iMovie. However, Final Cut Studio is a massive video-production program meant for professionals, and it demands lots of memory. In fact, Apple’s Web site for the latest version of the product suggests between two gigabytes and four gigabytes, depending on the content you expect to edit and produce. So I would go with two gigabytes, or even more if your model of the MacBook Pro can handle it. In fact, if you are more of an amateur, I’d consider the lighter-duty Final Cut Express, which Apple says does fine with one gigabyte and can handle high-definition content with two gigabytes.

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

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