Windows XP

The way I see it at present, there are a few schools of Windows users: those who have XP, a mixture of geeks and those with more recently purchased machines, and those who use the mash of previous Windows incarnations, the dubious Win95/98/2000/ME/NT4 users or whatever they are all called. As you have probably gathered, I'm not a geek, and fall firmly into the second group - until this week, when I stole out and procured the Windows XP Home Edition Upgrade. I'm not really interested in sprouting off technical jargon or sprouting numbers here - this small review appeals to those in the second group who are battling in on their current guise main due to inertia, not wanting to buy a new computer, and getting in with what they have at the moment. If you are looking for a technical readout on XP performance and detailed features, then look elsewhere.

Firstly, if you are a Win95 user, then I'm sorry, I can't really help you - but the chance is that your computer is so old, that you have little interest in upgrading - head out and get a new one. I was a Win98 user, so I'll refer to that. Let me give you a run down on the background here: I bought a Gateway PC in 1999 (ish), with an AMD K7 650MHz processor, 256Mb RAM, 19Gb harddrive, 56k modem etc etc. It was good at the time. My plan was to upgrade the entire thing, but finances are tight, what with planning a wedding and such tomfoolery, so I needed a halfway point. The XP Upgrade is aimed towards users who already have a license for a previous Microsoft operating system, hence its average price of £90, compared to the full version of £170. What this is essence means, is that you can throw it into your machine and off you go. Or can you?

Win98 seemed to be running well, there wasn't a specific problem, and upgrading to XP was really just a diversion to assuage my lust for techie stuff in lieu of the total upgrade. I skipped down the road with XP in my pocket (and a CD writer for good measure). On arrival at home, I found that my modem wasn't working properly, and I couldn't access the internet. The plan was to download the XP drivers for my PC before proceeding. Just trying to be prepared. The battle with the modem lasted some time and was getting no where, so I decided to drop it and crack on with the installation of XP. This is where the story really begins. The first thing that the XP installer did was have a look at my current set up and suggest what might not work under XP. It reported back a detailed list of what could be done, and what was being sent to its grave. To my surprise, this included Norton Antivirus 2000 (lovingly upgraded for years). I was willing to sacrifice it, and proceeded. I was also informed that my Logitech joystick was not supported in its current guise and there may be problems with almost everything else. What the hell, just do it.

With that, XP zoomed off to install itself. The process took about an hour, and a times appeared to freeze completely. I left it well alone and there were no problems. There were a few automatic restarts, but generally it was a slick process. Then the fun really began. It started to ask for help setting up some features - who were the users, I entered myself and the girlfriend. We can now operate in separate areas, so hers is pink and mine survives as normal. As setup neared completion, it started to tell me about possible problems, and asked me to register online. Of course, the modem was still broken, so no luck there. I approached the help section to fix the modem, and low and behold, having followed the screens through in modems, I found the problem. It was at this point that I decided that XP was a worthy lover, and the affair began.

Once online, I did the standard Update Windows, which was very slick. New drivers were delivered for the modem, display and graphics card (an aging Voodoo 3 3000). There were critical updates a-plenty, but following the recent spate of security problems, I could understand this. These also installed with no problems. I'm still in the process of finding things to upgrade, which is fascinating, and appreciated by my PC. I realise I have been venting my passion now with little talk of the advantages that XP has given me to justify a £90 spend. So here goes:

* Speed - everything is faster. Start up, shut down, even browsing the
internet seems to be faster. Switching between applications is faster. Boiling the kettle is faster, and my commute to work seems faster. It is all much more refined.
* Reliability - XP is much more stable. If I manage to confuse it, it
normally survives, and doesn't crash like Win98. I spend less time restarting and more time doing useful things.
* Help - if you have a question or a problem, Help really does help.
The set up of questions and answers with instructions is very user friendly.
* Looks - I'm sure the graphics have improved - XP looks better.
Better design - it is new and clean and easily configurable.
* Customisation - now I don't have to bother with the girlfriend
putting pictures of Robbie Williams on the desktop, and replacing the usual car/weapon/snowboarder/naked celebrity. We each choose our own settings, maximising efficiency for both of us.
* Retained all my original files, folders and settings - there was no
need to backup or transfer any of the files.

Verdict

Besides these things, XP provides the tools to do many jobs that were previously carried out by additional software - it wants to help you create CDs and such, and organise your photos. The multimedia side of things are very incorporated, rather than an after thought. Whether you want to do these things or not is a different matter.

Of course, there will be problems to come, I'm sure. My next few tasks are to install the CD writer and a new sound card and see how it copes. Hopefully it will correct all my errors for me. I wonder if it will pick up my credit card bill? Overall, it was a well spent £90, and I feel it has increased my productivity, which is the key point for home office users. If you are stuck in limbo, don't want to upgrade, you can always take the route I did. After all, if you decide to upgrade the hardware in the future, you can always migrate the software to the new system.

UPDATED JULY 13 2004: We now await the second service pack for XP, which will now arrive next month. In this update the rather rudimentary firewall should be toughened and treat outgoing traffic if it has any hope of competing with the likes of free ZoneAlarm and Sygate, but it will be enabled by default so users of paid-for solutions will have to now turn it off. In addition, Pop-up ads will be blocked, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and Windows Messenger will carry warnings about attachments, the origins of downloaded files logged, Web graphics in e-mail no longer loaded by default, some spyware will blocked, users regularly reminded about Windows Updates but most importantly for the impatient, Windows Messenger Service turned off by default. It's quite a strong list, so another month for the company to get it right is fine by us.



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