Walt Mossberg

Recent Columns by Walt Mossberg

Mossberg’s Mailbox

Installing Microsoft’s ‘SP3′ Upgrade to Windows 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.


Should I install Microsoft’s “SP3″ upgrade to Windows XP? I hear opinions on both sides.

In general, I recommend this upgrade, officially called Service Pack 3, because it beefs up security, and that helps not only you, but all Windows users, to avoid the spread of malicious software. If your PC is more secure, it is less likely to be used as a source from which other PCs can be infected.

I have upgraded a couple of XP PCs to SP3 without any downside. However, like you, I have also heard from some users that the upgrade caused them problems.

As with any major operating-system upgrade, either outcome can occur, depending upon your computer’s particular configuration and condition. So, if you’re on the fence, consider your level of concern about security.

How do cellular data cards compare with fast cable modems in terms of Internet speed? Are these cards more secure than Wi-Fi?

In my experience, using and testing cellular data cards on various laptops, they typically deliver, in real day-to-day use, somewhere between 300 kilobits per second and 1.5 megabits per second. By contrast, a fast cable Internet service can actually deliver up to 16 mbps. So cable is much faster.

Your security question is much more complicated. Wi-Fi security can range from very poor to quite good. It depends on where and how you use Wi-Fi, how you or others have set up the wireless network, and how you have configured your own computer.

Accessing the Internet over a cellular network is a more controlled process, because the cellphone-network operator manages the transmission, and in most cases supplies and configures the software on your computer. So, it is likely to be safer than the worst Wi-Fi setups. But I would never suggest that cellular data card transmissions are invulnerable to hackers or criminals.

What’s the difference between file-based backup and image-based backup software? Why would I choose one over the other?

Image-based backup software copies an image of your entire hard-disk, including all the programs, settings and obscure files that you never see. While it can be used to recover individual files, in some cases, it is mainly designed to allow you to restore your entire hard disk in the event that you lose it all.

File-based backup software, which is more common among consumers, is typically designed to preserve a copy of only your personal data, the material you can’t re-purchase or re-install if your hard disk dies.

That includes word-processing files, spreadsheets, presentations, emails, contacts, calendar items, photos and other items you created. It also is often used to back up music and video files that would be time-consuming, or very expensive, to re-acquire. And in some cases, it can preserve settings and preferences, such as Web bookmarks.

Both types of backup generally begin with a time-consuming initial session, followed by shorter sessions to update the backup with incremental changes.

Many people choose file-based backup because it occupies less space, and is generally quicker and also less expensive. Image-based backup is for folks who are willing to spend the added money and time to be sure they can restore their whole computer, or clone its contents completely to another machine.

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

Top Products in Two Decades of Tech Reviews

December 17, 2013 at 6:04 pm PT

Diabetes Data Beamed to Your Phone

December 10, 2013 at 6:16 pm PT

Two Houses, One Cable TV Bill

December 10, 2013 at 6:14 pm PT

Calling Overseas on Wi-Fi

December 03, 2013 at 6:18 pm PT

Dell Tablets at Bargain Prices

December 03, 2013 at 6:12 pm PT

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

Walt Mossberg’s Product Guides

Desktop PC’s and Laptops

The Laptops to Buy


Digital Cameras

Digital Cameras Improve Zooms, HD Function