Walt Mossberg

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Potential Vista Compatibility Issues

Here are a few questions I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability.

I want to buy a new ultralight laptop for travel. Few are available with Windows XP, which I would prefer. If I get a Vista machine, will I have compatibility issues with transferring files back and forth between it and my older laptops, both of which have XP operating systems and MS Office 2003?

Your Microsoft (MSFT) Office files, and other standard files, such as photos, songs and PDF documents, should all be compatible with both Vista and XP. While Vista has compatibility problems with some programs and some hardware, in my tests I have never found that Vista caused compatibility problems with standard, common types of files.

I plan to install Windows XP on my Apple (AAPL) iMac using Boot Camp. Whenever I am using the Windows side of the machine, I plan to shut off access to the Internet — no Web browsing or email. I even intend to unplug my wireless base station. Will this protect me from getting the Windows viruses?

Well, that’s a drastic plan, but it will probably work, since most viruses and other malicious software are acquired via email or Web sites. However, by cutting yourself off from the Internet, you may make your computer less useful while running Windows. Many programs have Internet components, and those that run locally often download new versions and features over the Internet. Plus, Microsoft distributes updates for Windows and Office using the Internet, including security fixes. For those reasons, it might be more effective to install security software on the Windows portion of your Mac and leave the Internet connection on.

I have a relatively new PC with Windows Vista. Typically, I may have five or six programs running at the same time, sometimes with multiple documents open in each one, and I like to leave my PC this way. However, I’ve noticed that every few weeks or so, Vista has an annoying tendency to restart my PC when I’m away from it, and I see a message that “Your computer was restarted to finish installing updates.” Is there any way to prevent or minimize this?

Yes. In the settings for Microsoft’s automatic update service, called Windows Update, the recommended option is to automatically download updates and install them. The second step, installing the updates, can lead to a restart. But you can change the settings to minimize or eliminate the annoyance this causes.

You can choose a specific schedule for installing the updates at a time when you won’t be interrupted. Or, you can choose an option called “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them.” A third option is called “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them.” You could opt out of the update program, but that could leave your PC vulnerable to malicious software.

These options can be found by opening the Windows Security Center, then clicking on “Windows Update” at the upper left. Then, in the next window, click on “Change settings” in the left column. Similar settings are also available in Windows XP, by opening the Security Center and clicking on “Manage Security Settings for: Automatic Updates.”

  • You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online for free at the new All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

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