Windows XP comes in two versions: Home and Professional. Both versions use the same system code, and Professional adds features such as better power management for mobile users and file encryption, for protecting confidential data.
After installation, you have to use the controversial Product Activation system. This requires you to register online or by phone to unlock Windows. Activation is a breeze but rather annoying.
XP boots more quickly than previous versions of Windows, but takes longer to shut down. It’s much easier on the eye than previous versions of Windows. XP can be skinned. ClearType technology uses anti-aliasing to smooth the appearance of fonts if you’re using a LCD monitor, and you can customize almost anything. It’s a big improvement over previous versions. The overall look is much friendlier than before.
Many of the enhancements are designed to make Windows easier to use. When you click on a file in My Computer, a panel in the left of the window gives you options such as printing the file, copying it to CD and so on. The CD copying uses technology from Roxio and enables you to use CD-R and CD-RW discs as if they were giant floppy disks. The system also supports DVD-RAM drives.
Windows XP also includes a new version of Media Player, which will play DVD movies if you buy the additional Decoder Pack, and the useless Windows Movie Maker returns with a slightly better interface.
Performance and Stability
Every time Microsoft updates Windows it promises better performance, but with Windows XP they are actually telling the truth. The system is based on the rock-solid code of Windows 2000 rather than the unreliable Windows 9x, crashes are rare – and if one program does pack up, it won’t take your entire system down with it.
If you switch off all the annoying special effects – XP chugs along at a reasonable speed. For everyday tasks it isn’t faster than either 2000 or Millennium, but demanding tasks such as audio or video rendering are quicker.
To address any problems, Microsoft has included three new features, two of which will be familiar to Windows Millennium users: System Restore, System File Protection and Device Driver Rollback. System Restore enables you to take a snapshot of your hard disk – if things go wrong, you can simply restore your system from the snapshot.
File Protection prevents the accidental deletion of important system files, and Device Driver Rollback is designed to help you deal with device driver problems by giving you the option to return to an older driver if an updated one causes problems. However, XP also includes a feature called Driver Blocking that may prevent you from using older software such as firewalls or anti-virus software that isn’t designed for XP.
Because both XP Home and Professional use the same system code, the same hardware drivers will work on both systems. The included Internet Explorer 6.0 is prettier than on non-XP systems and can be upgraded to Version 7 when installing updates. An integrated Media Bar enables you to use Windows Media Player without leaving the browser windows.
XP includes a firewall that can protect your computer from online threats and two new features – Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop – make it easier for tech support to access your machine over a network. Multiple computers can share an Internet connection.
Other changes are more subtle, and beyond the scope of this article. Windows XP is the best Windows yet and out performs its successor, Windows Vista.