Walt Mossberg

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Getting a New Windows Computer With XP

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 am in the market for a new Windows computer, but I prefer the Windows XP operating system, not Vista. I understand Microsoft has now barred the major PC vendors from selling XP systems. Is there a way I can get around this?

If you want a new, brand-name PC that comes pre-loaded with the seven-year-old Windows XP operating system, you can still get one through an odd and circuitous process. Most major PC makers will sell you selected Vista models with an option, which sometimes costs extra, officially called a “downgrade,” but sometimes marketed as an “upgrade” or “bonus.” You may have to hunt through the selections offered by the computer makers to find one that has this XP option.

When you order a PC in this fashion, you are technically buying a Vista machine, and Microsoft counts it as a Vista sale. But the computer company actually loads XP on the new hardware, in place of Vista, before it leaves the factory. In many cases, you also get discs containing Vista, in the event you wish to switch to the newer Vista operating system later.

I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions of a small, light portable radio-type gadget with earbuds that would be good for me while I do athletic activities like riding my bike. I want something that will give me different pre-programmed selections of music, not something that I have to load with music (I don’t remember names of songs). I love my Sirius satellite radio in my car.

My first reaction is to suggest you simply get the portable, small, personal Sirius radio that is meant for carrying on your person. It’s called the Stiletto 2 and costs around $300. Like the one in your car, it does require a subscription, but it is much smaller. I haven’t tested it, but you can get more information at sirius.com.

However, this unit isn’t in the smallest class of portable music players, so another alternative might be to get a very small portable player, which, while it allows you to download music, also has a built-in FM radio. Among these is the smallest Microsoft Zune, called the Zune 4 GB, at about $100, and the Sansa Clip, starting at about $35. Neither requires a subscription fee. Information is at zune.com and sansa.com.

The popular Rhapsody subscription music service is also available on portable players, and offers pre-programmed channels of music. Some of these players also include FM radios. Information on these is at learn.rhapsody.com/devices.

Last week, you said you didn’t know of a dedicated gadget that simply allows people to both send and receive emails. What about the MailBug?

Thanks for reminding me. The MailBug, which I haven’t tested, is a small, text-only terminal for sending and receiving email over a dial-up connection. It costs about $125 and requires a companion email service that is about $100 a year. It’s made by a company called Landel and can be ordered at mailbug.com.

While the device itself can’t send or receive photos or other nontext attachments, account holders with access to a computer can view such attachments via a Web-based version of their email accounts.

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

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