Q: I have a Dell Deminsion 8300 PC with Windows XP Home Edition, Service Pack 2. Periodically I receive pop-ups from Microsoft asking me...

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Q: I have a Dell Deminsion 8300 PC with Windows XP Home Edition, Service Pack 2. Periodically I receive pop-ups from Microsoft asking me to download a software update. Last week I received a request from Microsoft to download the Service Pack 3. I started the download, which seemed to take a long time so I left the PC for about 45 minutes.

When I came back I had a blue screen on the monitor that said there had been a problem with the installation.

It said that if I had never seen this screen before I should turn off the PC and restart. It went on to list several other options if I had seen the screen before, but I didn’t take note of these additional options.

So I shut down the PC and restarted it. This time it took another 40 minutes or so to uninstall the part of Service Pack 3 that had been loaded and to reload my previous PC setup.

Now when I turn on the PC it is still asking me to install Service Pack 3, but I am afraid to try again. Should I give it another try or ignore this download request from Microsoft?

Don MacFarlane

A: Installing updates can be frustrating, but if you want to keep using Windows XP, I’d recommend that you install Service Pack 3. It contains dozens of major enhancements and fixes, including security patches.

Given the number of applications, drivers and devices that must get along with the operating system, it’s not surprising that problems emerge with some of them when the operating system is updated.

You can blame Microsoft for this, or you can blame the vendor of the application, driver or device. If you’re having trouble installing, you’ll want to check this Microsoft document before trying again: support.microsoft.com/kb/950717/en-us. The document lists the most likely culprits and suggests steps to take before installation.

If you still have problems trying to install the service pack, take note of any error messages you receive. Then go to this document support.microsoft.com/kb/949377/en-us. You’ll find the most common errors and their solutions listed here.

Q: In June my Hotmail account was apparently converted to Windows Live Mail. There was no advance notice.

If it was expected that people could log on to Windows Live with their Hotmail ID, then either this failed or the instructions were so unclear that repeated efforts using my proper ID and password ultimately resulted in a message to reset my password.

I’m interested in getting my (old) Hotmail messages and address book. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Ruth Hultengren

A: Your Hotmail messages should all be accessible via the new Windows Live Mail. I can’t guess why your Hotmail password didn’t get you into Live Mail and you’re being required to reset it. I helped a friend through the conversion and it was simply a matter of logging on using his old Hotmail user name and password.

That said, I generally advise people I know to avoid Web-based e-mail services since all of the control is on the server side.

The applications can be changed at any time, even if you don’t want them to be. I’ve also found that performance can be very slow at times.

And if you decide to leave a specific service you can’t take your e-mail address with you. But I guess those are the prices you pay for free e-mail.

The alternative? Registering your own domain name and leasing an e-mail box with your service provider. Then you can use any application — including a Web interface — to access the e-mail. You can also store your messages locally. And if you move to another provider you can keep your e-mail address. I’ve seen some providers that offer domain name registration for under $10 per year and an e-mail account for under $10 a year.

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.