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to Windows XP

Windows XP, which Microsoft touts as the most significant Windows upgrade since Windows 95, went on sale to the public on October 25, 2001. However, upgrading an operating system can be a daunting task, so I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences with the upgrade. Note that I upgraded to an off-the-shelf commercial release, not a trial copy or a beta version. Weíll have detailed coverage of Windows XP in our February issue, but since you may be itching to switch now, we thought an early article would be useful.

There are two versions of Windows XP: the Home version, and the Professional version. Both come in Upgrade versions, which means you have to have a qualifying version of Windows already installed, and a Full version, which installs on any drive. Pricing is $100 for the Home Upgrade version, $200 for the Home Full version, $200 for the Professional Upgrade version, and $300 for the Professional Full version. The Home Upgrade version (which I used) will install on machines which are running Windows 98 or later versions of Windows; Windows 95 users will need the Home Full version. Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 users can upgrade to the Professional versions. So can Windows XP Home version users, if you decide you need some of Professionalís additional features.

Minimum hardware requirements
Microsoft says the minimum hardware youíll need to use Windows XP is a 233MHz CPU, 64MB of memory, and a 1.5GB hard drive; however, it admits a 300MHz CPU speed and 128MB memory will be more satisfactory. The first recommendation will be totally unsatisfactory, while the second will work, although slowly. I would consider a 500 MHz processor with 256 MB memory more suitable, along with a big (30 GB or larger), fast (7200 RPM) hard drive.

Getting ready
Upgrading an operating system can be a scary proposition. I donít want to be alarmist, but if something goes wrong, it could render your computer inoperable, and your data useless. And even if nothing major goes wrong, you can still have problems with obsolete drivers for your hardware, software that needs to be upgraded, and a learning curve to conquer. So itís critical to prepare your computer and software for the upgrade.

To begin with, back up all your data and personal files that contain information that you value. Unless you use software that establishes other locations for its files, your data should be in the My Documents folder and its subfolders. I recommend backing up to CD-R discs, not rewritable CD-RW discs. You may have to update your CD burning software, and CD-RWs may not be readable by the new software. CD-Rs will, however,

When you start the upgrade, have all your peripheral devices (scanners, printers, cameras, etc.) attached and turned on, so Windows XP can find and install them. Also, connect to the Internet, so Windows XP can download new files that may have been developed since the upgrade CD was created. It should also detect your Internet settings and transfer them to Windows XP. 

The Windows XP upgrade disc analyzes your programs and hardware and tells you which programs wonít work so you can remove or update them, and which hardware needs newer drivers. Update programs and drivers as completely as you can before proceeding further down the installation path. The Windows XP disc has lots of drivers, although not necessarily the latest ones. Update your software from manufacturersí Web sites; many have patches to make their programs compatible with Windows XP. Utilities like antivirus scanners will probably need to be replaced; thatís expected for programs that are closely tied to an operating system.

Once you have backed up your data and updated your software and drivers, you can proceed with the upgrade. Itís quite simple; you just follow the prompts. There are two types of installation: an upgrade and a new install. The former just upgrades Windows and transfers your files and folders so everything works like it always has. The latter formats your hard drive and installs Windows on a blank drive. I would recommend trying the upgrade installation first, since it saves you the trouble of reinstalling all your software and losing some valuable files. If that doesnít work, perhaps a new install is called for. My upgrade install has worked without any significant problems, but thatís only one personís experience.

A new feature in Windows XP is individual user accounts, which allow each user of a computer to set up desktop appearance and file access to suit themselves. You donít have to log off and then back on to switch users; all you do is press the Windows-L (?-L) key combination. During installation, youíll be asked to identify each user for whom to set up accounts. Each user will have not only their name associated with the account, but an individual icon. You donít even have to close down the programs you have running when you switch to another user account; your programs continue to run in the background. If you want personal security and privacy, you can set a password for each user, but you donít have to. Of course, having several user configurations active at once places additional demands on your computerís memory.

During the final setup, Windows XP installs peripheral hardware. Even though my camera was  connected and turned on, Windows XP did not identify it during installation, nor for some time after. Then, a day later, it miraculously found and installed the camera. Weird, but at least it works now. It also did not recognize the USB 2.0 ports in my Orange Micro card; I understand Windows XP drivers for USB 2.0 are still under development. Overall installation took a little over an hour, and was mostly automatic. I had lunch while Windows XP was upgrading my computer.

Windows new activation process
Since it has garnered lot of hooey by the press and computer pundits, let me mention the activation process. Microsoft got tired of being ripped off and instituted a sophisticated copy-protection system for Windows XP (actually, it already used the process for Office XP) called activation. Activation is simply creation of a unique 20-character product identifier by Microsoft. If you donít complete the activation process, Windows XP stops working after 30 days. You can complete the activation process over the Internet, by modem, or even by voice over the phone, so thereís not much excuse for not doing it. Those who have in the past installed a single copy of Windows on several machines will find that practice thwarted by Windows XP. Those who are highly offended by this practice should switch to Linux. The actual activation process was almost invisible, just a dialog box saying Windows XP was about to submit the activation data. Next, it asked me to register my copy of Windows XP, which is optional, but a good idea, since it allows you to tell Microsoft not to send you any advertisements. 

Initial Impressions of Windows XP

  • It starts faster than Windows Me, but stops slower.
  • It doesnít litter the Tray section with extraneous icons you canít identify.
  • Itís very bright, with juicy, vivid colors. 
  • Features may not be in the same place they were in Windows 98 and Me. Most functions are still there, but some are in new locations. I think itís more logically laid out, which makes it easier to use (hooray!).
  • Multiple user capability is useful without being intrusive.
  • Itís faster (hooray!).
  • It doesnít crash (hooray!).
Bottom line
Should you upgrade to Windows XP? If you have a fairly new computer, and Windows Me is working reliably for you, the upgrade may not be worth it. If your computer is like mine was ó slow with daily crashes ó the upgrade could be worthwhile. Since converting, my computer has worked faster, and has yet to crash! Of course, thatís only one personís experience.

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