Q. How can we make a PC maker put Windows XP on the computer and remove Vista from its machine? A. The short answer is that you won't have...

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Q. How can we make a PC maker put Windows XP on the computer and remove Vista from its machine?

A. The short answer is that you won’t have to twist any arms. Many computer manufacturers offer Windows XP. Also, you can buy computers without operating systems from many manufacturers. Dell, for example, offers a choice among Windows XP and Vista, Linux or no operating system at all.

Q. I am running Windows XP. Ever since Microsoft released its new security patches, I am reminded daily that I need to update my Microsoft security system. I cannot even turn my computer off at night without making sure I update.

I have my own anti-virus system, my own firewall and my own anti-spyware program. Do I need any of the Microsoft updates to protect my computer? It seems they are intrusive and slow down my computer-response time. Is there such a concept as too much protection, and does Microsoft’s overlay of my existing systems diminish my protection?

A. Anti-virus software and firewalls are important, but they are no substitute for operating-system patches. Every operating system has vulnerabilities that become apparent only over time. Rather than leave the vulnerability until the next version of the operating system is released, vendors issue patches to repair the vulnerability.

Whatever operating system you use, you should make sure to install any provided patches. And patches should not noticeably affect performance.

Q. I back up “everything” on my computer to an externally powered hard drive every month or so. This backup also requires me to create a 3.5-inch disk.

But I cannot visualize what actually happens when my system crashes and I try to use the disk and the larger external hard drive to recover. I assume the 3.5-inch disc will start my broken computer, then offer help on how to recover with the stored information on the external hard drive. But will the broken sectors be written around, will the viruses be written over and eliminated, or what?

Will I be able to recover from anything that is wrong with my broken computer? If not everything, will I be able to use the stored information on a brand new XP computer? What about a brand new Vista computer?

A. Sounds like you’re doing a full-system backup. And that floppy diskette you create is, as you suspect, to be used to boot the computer if damage to the hard drive’s boot sector prevents the operating system from loading.

In principle, once you boot from the diskette you should be able to replace everything from the backup. If the backup is a full-system backup, that would mean you’re copying everything — not just data but also your operating system and applications — back to the computer. The idea is that everything will be configured just as it was when you last did a backup so that you won’t have to reinstall or configure anything.

Most such backup programs, however, do not repair damage to the computer. If the hard disk has bad sectors, you’re going to have to mark them off. If the disk has been fried, you’d have to replace it. And, yes, you should be able to restore to a brand new computer.

The one snag in the system is that if you’re restoring to a brand new computer it may have different internal and peripheral equipment. That means you’d need different drivers and device-configuration settings.

In that case, you’d probably want to use a fresh version of the operating system and reinstall your applications. Then you’d just restore your data files from your backup.

Another issue is that if your crash was caused by a virus, it may be in your backup as well. If you suspect that’s the case, you may, again, want to install a fresh copy of your operating system.

Finally, before feeling too secure about your “everything” backup to an external hard drive, consider what the consequences would be of a fire, a flood or some other catastrophe. With that in mind, you may want to store a copy of your backup in a different location.

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