Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Erasing Computers for Donation, Office on Netbooks and Installing Windows 7 on an iMac

I have an old but serviceable Apple eMac that I would like to give to charity. I have deleted all my files (I think) but am leery of having some of my personal info still retrievable. Would deleting and reloading the OS be of value, or are there other steps to take?

A: For peace of mind, you should use a secure file-wiping utility and erase the entire drive using it. Then, presuming you have the original disks, you can reinstall the operating system.

A file-wiping utility erases files, and then overwrites the portions of the hard disk they occupied, as well as free space on the drive, multiple times, usually with zeroes, so the original contents can’t be recovered.

I don’t know which version of the Mac operating system you have, but the original disks that come with most Macs contain a program called Disk Utility that can do this, if you select the “Erase” option and then the “Erase Free Space” option. You will have to first boot the computer up from the operating system disk.

I just got a netbook and need a free or cheap package to read, edit and create Word, Excel, PowerPoint-compatible files. Would Open Office or Google Docs work? I am open to using an online package.

A:Yes. In my limited testing of both, they have done a good job with typical, basic Microsoft Office documents. I can’t say how they’d perform if your documents are especially complex, but, as the programs are free to use, it’s certainly worth a try.

Can Windows 7 be installed on an iMac? Since many of my old files are from a Windows XP computer, would it be better for me to just purchase and load a copy of Win XP on my new iMac instead of trying Windows 7?

A: Windows 7 can indeed be installed on an iMac. Both the Parallels and VMWare Fusion programs that create virtual Windows computers on Macs now support Windows 7.

As for the data files from your Windows XP computer, there is no reason they shouldn’t run in programs under Windows 7 unless they require some older Windows program that isn’t compatible with Windows 7.

However, if you install Parallels or Fusion, you can also opt to set up two virtual Windows machines, one with Windows 7 and one with Windows XP. The only downside is that you’d have to buy and install copies of both versions of Windows.

I should also note that most common file types, like MP3 music files, text files, Microsoft Word files, and JPG picture files, can be handled by Mac programs without installing Windows.

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

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