Q: I am reading up on and shopping for home network hard drives. I use Windows XP Pro with a wireless router plugged into my DSL modem. There appear to be many...

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Q: I am reading up on and shopping for home network hard drives. I use Windows XP Pro with a wireless router plugged into my DSL modem. There appear to be many makes and models of network hard drives. Do I understand correctly that once you attach a network hard drive to your router and configure it, you can then move data files, such as the folder containing My Documents, to the network drive, and work with them, changing and saving them? Will I still be able to use long filenames on documents? I have noticed the file system on these NAS drives is not NTFS, but somehow they are able to store files from an NTFS format. One of my prime reasons for setting up this hard drive is to access the same files from my desktop or wireless laptop.

— John Bozinny

A: Network-attached storage (NAS) devices are essentially stripped-down servers in several senses. They are designed solely to serve files, so they don’t include a lot of server software designed for other purposes. They are usually sold and used without keyboards or monitors. And, unlike with a full-fledged server, a NAS device allows you to connect as many clients as you like without having to pay for client licenses.

Don’t worry about the file system employed by your NAS. When your computer is communicating with the NAS, any differences in file system are mediated by software. All you need to do in selecting a NAS is to make certain the device is Windows compatible. If the NAS uses Windows Storage Server 2003 as its operating system, you’ll have no trouble using it with Windows computers. And, yes, you’ll still be able to use long filenames.

There are alternatives to NAS devices that may interest home users.

First and least expensive, you can simply share folders on one of your networked computers. Bear in mind that if you go this route then it does matter what file system your computers use. A computer set up to use NTFS could directly access files on a computer using the FAT32 file system, while the reverse is not true. FAT32 does not “understand” NTFS, while NTFS does understand FAT32.

Another emerging alternative is Microsoft’s Live Mesh. This service allows you to share files and directories over the Internet. Designated files and folders on your local computer are also stored and synchronized with copies on Microsoft storage servers. The service is currently in beta, and when it is available Microsoft plans to offer 5 gigabytes of storage at no cost.

Q: How can all these great minds at Microsoft be unable to make a simple way to save e-mail addresses or copy them to Notepad? I have only found one way to back up my contacts in Outlook Express — with a pen and paper. How archaic.

— Ra Shields

A: It’s probably more of a market decision than a lack of ability. You’re correct that Microsoft doesn’t offer an easy and direct way to back up address-book data in Outlook Express. For that feature, you have to move up to a more powerful e-mail client, such as Outlook, which is a part of Microsoft Office.

If you want to stick with Outlook Express, the best way to back up your address book is to export it to a comma-separated value (CSV) file. To do so, go to the File Menu and select Export, then Address Book.

Next, click Text File (comma separated values), and then click Export. Next, click the Browse button, and then select the folder where you want to save the file.

The next step is to check the boxes in the dialog boxes next to the data fields you want to export. Finally, click Finish.

You can then load that file into a word processor.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.