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A number of friends have recently had problems with their PC’s – more specifically related to Windows. And I know why. They’re all running dodgy copies of XP, and suffering as a consequence. One even tried to resolve the problems with their dodgy SP1 copy of XP by wiping their hard drive and installing an even dodgier SP2 version of XP. It also came with a number of other applications that they didn’t want. Or were able to uninstall.
My advice is always simple. Buy it. eBuyer currently sell oem copies for less than £55. It’s above board, it won’t come with any unexpected surprises and you shouldn’t get any messages from Microsoft telling you that your copy is hooky.
An oem copy of Vista can be bought for the same money but buying a Windows OS before the first service pack is not recommended. In fact I’d recommend waiting until the second service pack – OS’s generally have a 10 year shelf-life, so waiting a year or so isn’t a great problem.
Other than XP, I have little commercial software installed on my PC – most of it is open source and freeware. Exceptions I can think of are Paint Shop Pro and PowerDVD (both cheap oem copies) and DBPowerAmp (it’s the fastest CD ripper I’ve come across). Oh, and Office 2007. It’s expensive, and most people will find the free OpenOffice just as good. In my case, though, the less than 100% compatibility was causing me issues so I had to open my wallet.