XP is Microsoftís newest operating system; the XP stands for eXPerience.
It comes in two flavors: a Home Edition, which is designed for the typical
consumer computer; and a Professional Edition, designed for the office.
Both come in Upgrade versions, which upgrade recent versions of previous
operating systems; and Full versions, which install on a blank disk drive.
Upgrade versions are priced $100 less than their corresponding Full versions.
Microsoft touts Windows XP as the most significant Windows update since
Windows 95, and theyíre right. However, upgrading to Windows XP is not
a no-brain decision. If you have a computer which is satisfactorily running
Windows Me or Windows 2000, think twice about making the upgrade to Windows
XP. But do think about it.
That said, Windows XP offers some serious attractions.
is much more stable, i.e., doesnít crash as often as Windows 98 or Windows
Me. In fact, my home system has only crashed once since I installed Windows
XP on October 25th, the day it went on sale. Windows Me, on my system,
crashed at least every other day.
Letís explore each of the above factors in greater detail.
is somewhat easier to use because itís better organized, has better help,
and many features are simpler and more logical. And its Wizards are better.
is arguably prettier than any other version of Windows.
has several new features not available in any earlier version, and several
older features have been improved.
starts faster than Windows 98 and Windows Me. I would not expect it to
be faster than Windows 2000, but I lack first-hand experience with that
operating system. On my computer, Windows XP takes considerably longer
to shut down, however.
is the easiest Microsoft operating system to install, ever.
has excellent hardware support, unlike Windows NT and 2000.
Windows XP uses the Windows 2000 kernel, or basic program, which is
very crash-proof. I would not expect it to be more stable than one of the
NT-based systems, but my experience shows much greater crash-resistance
than Windows Me or Windows 98. That doesnít mean that programs canít crash,
however, just the operating system itself. Like Windows NT and Windows
2000, Windows XP lets you shut down a program that has crashed without
having to restart the computer.
Easier to use
Is it just my impression, or is this is the area where PCs are still
woefully inadequate? Windows XP doesnít change that. Although itís significantly
easier than other versions of Windows, itís still not really easy. Why
is it easier? Itís more task-oriented than icon-oriented. That means its
design focuses on helping you perform a given task, rather than just organizing
the icons into functional groups. That makes it easier to learn, though
not necessarily easier to use.
Windows XP has a different structure from previous Windows. It depends
more on the Start menu to start things up, and shows a dynamic list
of the six programs you use the most (you can customize it to show other
numbers of programs, including none). By dynamic, I mean the list
changes as you use the computer. There is also a static, unchanging section
of the menu above the dynamic section, where you can place shortcuts to
programs of your choice, and have them stay put.
Other parts of the Start menu have also changed. There are two columns;
in the center of the left column is the aforementioned list of six favorite
programs, and above those is a section where your browser and e-mail programs
are listed (even if they arenít Microsoft programs). The bottom of the
left column is an icon titled All Programs. If you click on that, you will
see a Windows Me-style Programs menu. In the right column, you see several
file categories: My Documents, My Pictures, My Music, My Network Places,
and, of course, My Computer. Beneath those items is the Control Panel,
which Iíll describe later.
Help is no longer just an indexed database with limited smart queries
that never seemed to produce answers to the simplest questions. Now Help
also accesses the Web, where you can read the Microsoft Knowledge Base,
the information source used by Microsoftís tech supporters (usually for
a fee). That doesnít guarantee answers, just more information to sift through.
The overall Help feature still needs lots of, um, help. Microsoftís
Help is no worse than most, but still, it did replace the printed manual,
so really should be more useful.
Weíre not talking about Harry Potter here; Wizards are small
programs that help you through a complex operation. They are useful when
you first undertake such an operation, but may get in the way after youíre
experienced with it. Windows XP wizards include an improved network installation
wizard, a wizard to let you send picture files to companies which will
print them for you professionally, and a better camera and scanner wizard.
These are only a few of many new wizards that pop up as you use Windows
In designing Windows XP, Microsoft made an important discovery: it
doesnít have to be ugly! I realize concern about Windowsí appearance is
unmanly, but letís face it ó earlier versions of Windows ranged from drab
to nauseous. Windows XP screens are colorful and have attractive backgrounds
that are more inviting to the novice, as well as the aesthete. And itís
somewhat easier to change the appearance of Windows XP. The manly sort
can still revert to ugly screens if all that beauty repulses them. I must
acknowledge, however, that some will find the vibrant, juicy colors of
the Windows XP Luna interface a bit overdone.
Lee Besing and I have both written articles describing installation
of Windows XP, so we donít need to re-plough this ground. For those who
may have temporarily forgotten our lucid descriptions, let me just recap
that in my system, there was really very little for me to do during the
installation processóI actually went to lunch while the upgrade process
ran. Beginning with a system scan to identify incompatible software and
unsupported hardware, Windows XPís installation may recommend you remove
or upgrade some software before installation. If you have peripheral equipment
items connected during installation, Windows XP will recognize and install
the necessary drivers. Itís also good to be connected to the Internet,
so Windows XP can determine the proper Internet setting and make sure your
Internet connection is ready to go when installation is complete. During
installation, there are a couple of dialog boxes youíll need to respond
to, when Windows XP tells itís activating Windows XP, and then when it
offers to register your copy with Microsoft.
There is an urban legend that says the best way to upgrade to a new
operating system is to format your hard drive and install the new operating
system on the freshly emptied drive. That approach rids your drive of extraneous
old files that have accumulated over time; but formatting your drive will
wipe out all your data, Internet settings, and addresses, so youíll have
to do a thorough backup first, and then reinstall your software and settings.
I always forget something, no matter how well I plan; so for me, a clean
installation represents at least a weekís work. On the other hand, you
can just tell Windows XP to upgrade the current operating system without
formatting the hard drive, and it will transfer all your Internet settings
and addresses, and leave all your software and data files installed just
like you wanted. It even keeps a copy of the previous version of Windows
available in case you want to switch back to the previous version. My personal
experience was that Windows XP installed over Windows Me flawlessly, with
no problems during or after the installation. I would recommend you first
try an upgrade installation over your existing operating system, and see
how well it works. If there are problems, you can always format the drive
and install Windows XP on the blank drive later. Why make more work for
yourself than is absolutely necessary, and risk losing some important data
you may need? My Windows teaching partner Don Rist tells me the uninstall
process for Windows XP works flawlessly, returning you to your previous
operating system without a hitch.
Windows XP employs a new concept called signed hardware drivers. That
means Microsoft evaluates a driver in its laboratory, and when it finds
the driver wonít cause any damage to Windows XP, signs it (electronically,
of course). Some conspiracy theorists suspect that procedure gives Microsoft
too much control over competitorsí hardware, but from my perspective as
a user, I welcome the freedom from trouble this testing should produce.
I still get cold chills when I recall installing a new driver for a video
card, and then restarting my computer only to find that it produced only
a blank screen. That makes it pretty hard to fix the problem if all you
can see is a blank screen.
The Windows XP CD has tons of signed drivers that should support a very
wide range of hardware. But itís still a good idea to check the Windows
Update site, or the manufacturerís web site to be sure you have the latest
Emulation of previous Windows versions
Although this is the first consumer version of the NT-based Windows,
it does not assume that you will have only full 32-bit programs. So that
you can continue to use favorite older programs, Windows XP provides a
compatibility mode, which tries to fool older programs into thinking theyíre
running on an older version of Windows. It even works with DOS sometimes,
even though there is no residual DOS code anywhere. This may be the most
backward-compatible version of Windows ever.
Multiple user accounts
When you first start Windows XP, youíll see a user account screen,
which lists all the user accounts that have been established. All you have
to do at that point is click on your user name, and enter a password if
the accounts are passworded (they donít have to be). Windows XP asks you
to list those people who will be using a computer during the installation
process, and creates user accounts for each person you name. You can also
establish a guest account, so someone who doesnít normally use a computer
can logon and use that account. Windows has always let you set up different
user interfaces, with different icons, desktop themes and programs. But
up to now, it has been a posterior pain to switch between users; you had
to log off and let another user logon, which meant both users had to remember
and type in a password. Windows XP lets you switch users simply by pressing
the Fast User Switching key combination (-L), then clicking on a user account
listed on the screen. You donít even have to shut down the programs you
are running before you switch to another user; and when you switch back,
youíll find your programs still running!
CD-ROM burning software
Licensed from Roxio, this bare-bones featureís main attraction is its
integration into file management menus. Serious CD creators will want a
more advanced program, like the latest Roxioís Easy CD Creator, or Nero
Burning ROM from ahead software gmbh, a German company. Still, the integration
of CD writing features into the operating system is a distinct convenience
for simple file management tasks, particularly those associated with pictures
and music files.
To protect the computer from the terrorists (itís time we called them
what they really are) who would inflict harm over the Internet, Windows
XP now includes a firewall program. However, itís only a one-way firewall,
and does nothing to restrict programs on your computer from accessing the
Internet. I elected to continue using the latest version of Zone Alarm,
a two-way firewall, which is free and
Windows XP-compatible. Presumably, other firewalls are, or soon will be,
If you install a home network, Microsoftís firewall is installed automatically;
otherwise, youíll have to install it manually (easily done). Anyone
with a high-speed Internet service which is always on needs to use some
form of firewall. Youíll be surprised at how many probes you will
get from the Internet, some with malicious intent. A firewall is second
only to an antivirus program in importance to your computerís security.
ClearType makes screen fonts more readable on LCD monitors, like the
one on the laptop Iím using to write this article. Its improvements should
be equally noticeable on a desktop LCD screen. On a normal CRT monitor,
ClearType may not make an improvement. Youíll need to enable ClearType
through the Display Properties screen.
Messenger is really a type of online chat service provided by Microsoft.
It does not use a conventional chat room for its service; rather, it displays
a list of your contacts who are online and available for chats. You can
see whoís online with Messenger, send instant messages via the keyboard,
or voice, or TV camera if you have one of those set-top cameras. You can
also invite another user to provide remote assistance, as described below.
You can also block Messenger access from someone you donít want to hear
from. Messenger also provides a collection of full graphic emoticons you
can include in a message.
If you have a special friend who helps you with computer operations,
and you need help with a particular problem, you can invite the friend
to view your computer screen and chat with you to help solve the problem.
This type of service is only available by invitation, so there is no danger
of anyone using the service to take unauthorized control of your computer.
Internet Explorer 6.0
Yeah, I know you can download this for free and use it with previous
versions of Windows, but it ships with Windows XP, and has a few new useful
Windows Media Player 8.0
Windows XP has a new media player called WMP-XP (Windows
for XP). It adds
several new features, like the ability to play DVDs and improved handling
of audio files. You can use WMP-XP to create audio CDs, although it makes
it hard to create MP3-format files. You see, Microsoft has a competitive
format called WMA (Windows
that competes with the vastly more popular MP3 format. WMA audio files
tend to be much more compact than MP3 files, so from that standpoint, they
are an improvement, but the general lack of WMA players puts that format
at a distinct disadvantage. Depending on your point of view, the fact that
WMA files can be copy protected may also be a disadvantage. MP3 files canít.
You can add an MP3 recorder to WMP-XP, but it will cost extra. I suggest
you try some of the free MP3 creation software before investing in an MP3
add-on for Windows XP. Although WMP-XP wonít record MP3 files, it will
play them back. Even Microsoft couldnít get away with ignoring MP3 playback.
While playing an audio CD, WMP-XP searches for a listing of that CD
in some web site, and if it finds it, displays the tracks and the cover
art. I tried several CDs to see how well this feature worked, and found
it to be only fair. It recognized the tracks of the soundtrack from the
movie Titanic, but failed to recognize a recording of Berliozí Symphonie
Fantastique on the Deutsche Gramaphon label, a popular classical label.
If WMP-XP doesnít recognize your CD, you have to type in the title and
Windows Me has a similar feature, but Windows XPís version is more
stable. If you install a new program or hardware driver, and it doesnít
work or causes problems, you can restore your computer back to the way
it was before the new installation. It operates only on Windows system
files and program files, not data files. That means it will never erase
or change files that you have created, a worthwhile safety feature. However,
it also means that System Restore canít be used to revert to an earlier
version of a data or document file, which may be handy if you mess up a
document or if the document file becomes corrupted. System Restore can
restore the effects of some viruses, but is not a substitute for a real
The My Pictures folder has been enhanced considerably. It now enables
you to view thumbnails (small pictures) of each picture, and even shows
thumbnails of the contents of each folder. It also provides a filmstrip
view, which shows you a line of thumbnail views, with an enlarged view
of any picture you select. Additionally, a separate Picture and Fax Viewer
program lets you take an even closer look at a picture or fax without having
to launch a separate program. If you use JPG files and your operating system
launches Internet Explorer as your JPG viewer, youíll appreciate how the
Picture and Fax Viewer lets you view the whole image without having to
scroll around to see the entire picture.
Computer have become popular tools for recording and playing back music.
Most professional music recorders now use hard drives to record music,
so they are really just special-purpose computer with hardware rather than
software controls. Two things contributed to the popularity of computers
for musical storage and playback: the ready availability of music files
(songs) on the Internet and the development of offline storage and playback
devices which let you download songs from your computer and then play them
back whenever you want to hear them, like when you exercise.
To help you manage the music files you have downloaded or created, Windows
XP provides a special My Music folder, where you can store the files and
which makes special music-oriented tasks available. When you copy the contents
of a CD onto your hard drive, Windows XP stores it in the My Music folder
in a subfolder for the particular artist. Double-clicking on a song file
will play that song, or using a folder-specific task, you can play all
the songs in a folder.
In our recent Utilities issue, I raved about the Diskeeper defragmenter,
noting that it was much faster than Windows Meís native defragmenter. Microsoft
must have read my article, since they licensed Diskeeper from Executive
Software and included it as Windows XPís standard defragmenter. The old
version of Diskeeper wonít work, but a new version has been released that
is compatible with Windows XP. It is normal to have to upgrade utility
software when a new operating system comes out.
ScanDisk is gone as a separate program; however, Windows XP calls an
equivalent function by a more accurate name: error checking. To get to
the error checking function, click on My Computer, then right-click on
the drive letter you want to scan. Select the Tools tab. One of the tools
available is called Error Checking. Click on its Check Now button to get
the Check Disk dialog box. Be sure both boxes are checked, then click Start.
Windows XP will restart and run the error checking program as Windows restarts,
before other programs seize control of essential files.
This feature began with Windows 98, and is a great idea. Basically,
it provides updates to Windows files and programs to fix security problems,
provide improved functionality, and fix bugs found in the software. Windows
XP automates the update process, with options for Windows to download and
install new files with your approval or even without your knowledge. I
am leery of a process that doesnít ask my approval first, so I chose the
option that has Windows XP notify me of critical updates and get my approval
to download and install them.
The above process works for critical updates only; but there are other
files that get updated also. These optional updates require you to visit
the Windows Update site, view optional updates and driver updates, and
if you want them, download and install them. Unlike Windows 98, Windows
XP driver updates really has some drivers updates. After downloading several
driver updates, I tried to download a new driver for my ATI video card.
The driver update procedure failed to install the driver after several
attempts. I communicated with the Windows Update web site managers, who
told me that it would cost me money for them to fix their defective download
file, or at least would be credited against the two ďfreeĒ consultations
you are authorized when you install Windows XP. I advised the Microsoft
folks I thought this was kinda chinchy, and they said they would take it
under advisement. This is not, in my view, a mark of a healthy customer
support system. The
||the driver update file was removed from their web
Windows Imaging Architecture
This feature appeared with Windows Me, and has undergone a few changes.
The Camera and Scanning Wizard is still there, but now you can actually
view pictures in a camera as if it were a separate drive; you no longer
have to download them to the hard drive first. A camera listed under My
Computer as if it were a drive shows the pictures in the camera, which
can be used like any graphics file on your drive.
NT File System (NTFS)
This file system has been around a long time in the Windows NT family,
but is new to consumer systems. It offers improved file management, and
enable some advanced features like file encryption. If you upgrade to Windows
XP from Windows Me or Windows 98, your file system wonít be automatically
changed to NTFS. Such a change is one-way, and canít be reversed; therefore,
it eliminates your ability to uninstall Windows XP. You can change the
file system manually once you decide to keep Windows XP, although that
requires running a conversion program from the command line.
Windows XP Issues
As mentioned earlier, itís normal to have to upgrade utility software
for compatibility with new operating systems. That includes virus protection
software, firewalls, and other utilities like Norton Utilities and PowerQuest
programs. However, the utilities that come with Windows XP are good enough
that you may find it unnecessary to use external utility programs, except
for virus checkers, which Microsoft does not provide.
Microsoft uses a scheme called product activation to prevent someone
from buying a single copy of Windows XP and installing it on several computersóin
other words, to prevent software piracy. Activation takes a snapshot of
your computerís hardware during installation, and generates an activation
code. If you donít activate a copy of Windows XP within 30 days of installation,
Windows XP will cease to work. Activate the software over the Internet
or via phone. Internet is better, since it saves you from having to type
in the 50-digit code. After activation, if you make major changes to your
computer hardware (such as installing a new motherboard), you may have
to activate again. Other changes are permissible, up to four items of equipment.
Then the computer looks like a different machine, and youíll have to reactivate
by calling Microsoft and explaining the changes. Some folks see a draconian
evil lurking in the activation process, but Microsoft claims otherwise.
Product activation is not the same as registration. Activation is almost
transparent and doesnít require you to send Microsoft any personal data.
Registration of the software does require you to provide some personal
data, so Microsoft can contact you if necessary, and at your option, send
you product announcements (advertisements). It also entitles you to two
free contacts with technical support. Windows XP will work without registration.
I had problems with Windows Explorer crashing when I tried to view Thumbnail
images of a folder with several different types of files. When I viewed
a folder with only graphics files, the Thumbnail View worked fine.
Should you upgrade?
The real decision about Windows XP is for users of previous versions.
If you buy a new computer, chances are very strong that it will come with
Windows XP preinstalled. If your system hardware is capable of running
Windows XP, and if the features described above appeal to you, think about
it seriously. If you are running Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT, or
Windows 2000 and itís working fine, there is no earth-shattering reason
to upgrade, especially if you buy a new computer in the next year. Itís
probably obvious that I have become a big fan of Windows XP. For me, its
advantages far outweigh its disadvantages. Your situation may be different.
|Test system. Windows XP was installed and evaluated
on a Dell computer with a 1 GHz Pentium III, 512 MB of RAM, 30 and 40 GB
hard drives, a CD-RW drive, and a DVD drive. Peripheral devices included
a Hewlett-Packard inkjet printer, a UMAX scanner, and a Kodak digital camera.
By current standards, this system is fairly average.