Window Shopping


Q. I’m on the verge of buying a new PC, and I’m wondering whether to get one with Windows XP Home or XP Pro. The computer is for personal use, so XP Home seems the logical choice—plus, I like the idea of saving $100. But I’ve also heard XP Pro is vastly superior. Thoughts?

A. The lion’s share of tech columnists would steer you toward XP Home, but allow Mr. Roboto to don his contrarian’s cap for a moment. Yes, XP Pro has some bells and whistles you’ll likely never need, like dual processor support and advanced networking tools. And, yes, it’s always nice to have an extra C-note fattening your wallet. But if you can afford the indulgence, XP Pro should be your pick.

XP Pro’s rollback features alone are worth the scratch. One of the most irksome aspects of Windows is its sensitivity to driver upgrades—that is, downloading new versions of the software that powers your PDA, digital camera, or whatever gadgets you hook up to your PC. Only XP Pro has device driver rollback, should an upgrade wreak havoc on your machine’s stability. There’s also the “Last Known Good Configuration” option, a godsend should your system start bellyaching after you install new software.

If you’re planning on setting up different user profiles for different family members, XP Pro offers a lot more flexibility than its less complicated kin. In XP Home, there are only two user levels: Administrator and Limited. But XP Pro lets you custom design each user’s access privileges. That’s super-helpful if you’d like to grant another person the ability to install programs and hardware, but you’d rather they didn’t monkey with the system settings.

Mr. Roboto’s also a fan of XP Pro’s simple Encrypting File System (EFS) option—a few clicks and your documents are protected against all but the ultra-geekiest of thieves. Granted, this feature is handier in a laptop than a desktop, given the higher risk of theft. But remember the wisdom of William S. Burroughs: “Paranoia is just knowing all the facts.”

Lastly, XP Pro has Remote Desktop, which lets you tap into your home computer from any Internet-connected Windows machine. No more begging friends back home to log on to your machine and e-mail you a file.

Perhaps at this point you’re saying, “Yeah, yeah, those XP Pro goodies are all well and good. But can’t I just save the $100 now, and upgrade later if need be?” To which Mr. Roboto responds simply by smiling sweetly at your childlike naïveté. Upgrading a Windows box can be a hellish experience for amateurs and veterans alike, especially if you’ve got a bevy of peripherals attached. Better to pony up now and avoid the headaches later. Hey, maybe that should be XP Pro’s marketing slogan. Bill, are you listening?

IP phone home

Mr. Roboto’s previously sung the praises of Vonage, the most popular VoIP phone service. Now you neophytes can sign on by visiting Circuit City, which will soon be offering Vonage starter kits for $100. That buys you the hardware necessary to start making calls over your broadband connection, plus free activation and two months of free service. Monthly calling plans start at a paltry $15, with 500 anytime minutes to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. The gabbers’ choice, though, should be the $35 unlimited package. Calls to popular international destinations generally cost less than 4 cents per minute, though beware if you’re calling a Jamaican cell: That’s a cool $1.22 per minute.

Time for change

Tricked-out watches are all the rage these days, boasting everything from picture phones to wireless networking. A Mr. Roboto fave is Garmin’s Forerunner 201, featuring a GPS sensor that pins down your exact latitude, longitude, and altitude. As a longtime fan of movies involving lost hikers and hell-bent slashers (or bears), Mr. Roboto can definitely see how the Forerunner could come in handy in a wilderness environment —provided you had a map, that is. Alas, Garmin seems to be aiming squarely for the jogger market. How ordinary.