Recently, I’ve gotten a bunch of reader email messages asking about my choice of hardware and software for the desktop. The questions basically boil down to three categories.

#1: Why are you running Windows Vista?

I write about Vista, therefore I have to run it on a daily basis to be comfortable enough in it to answer questions and get a solid feel for the user experience. I run two Vista computers daily, a desktop and a notebook. The notebook has been 100 percent rock solid (it shipped to me with Windows XP Media Center and I immediately upgraded it). The desktop has had a bunch of problems, all of which I have addressed, but it gives me a really good feel for what Vista users complain about. I also run a Windows XP Pro desktop that has applications I’d rather not move to the newer platform at this time.

With adequate hardware there are few, if any, issues in running Vista on a stable system. Almost all of my problems can be traced back to installing beta software and some weird hardware upgrades--things that the vast majority of users don’t regularly do.

People talk about Vista taking up all of the memory in a user’s system. Vista will take as much memory as it needs, but it will scale back the memory that the OS uses as application demands increase. Don’t get hung up on what the Task Manager reports back to you.

#2: If you aren’t playing games, why are you running a quad-core processor and a high-end video card?

Who says I don’t play games? (Actually, if I spend an hour a month playing games on the computer, that’s a lot.) Much of what I do, such as running Virtual PC sessions, image and video editing, and running the occasional compile, can really suck up system resources. It’s very nice to be able to evaluate software, do installations, and run software in virtual machines, while also working on image-editing tasks at the same time. Sure, I could set up multiple computers to do the same thing; in fact I used to do just that, but it’s simpler to deal with two or three physical computers rather than twice that many. Now I’m able to keep my office a bit more manageable in terms of hardware, especially since the servers reside remotely in the basement (and run headless, with no console).

#3: How do you keep all that stuff backed up?

I’ve written about this before (see the Learning Path at this article’s Web site), but the short answer is that 500GB USB external hard drives are ridiculously cheap; additionally, I use the backup capabilities in Vista Complete PC Backup to keep the OS partitions backed up and some folder mirroring software, currently FolderMatch to keep my data files backed up. I appreciate all of the folks who were interested enough in these topics to ask me about them. If you’d like to see more detailed information, just drop me an email.

Tip – Every now and then someone asks me where they can find a particular image or piece of clip art to use in a presentation. The requestors always seem to be amazed when I tell them that there’s a Microsoft site that has a ton of free images for exactly that sort of use. The site is part of Microsoft Office Online and requires a Microsoft Passport account for access. Go to Microsoft Office Online for a large collection of images to use to dress up your presentations and documents.