Is Windows XP worth the eXPerience?

Is Windows XP worth the eXPerience?

BY JOHN BREEDEN II | GCN STAFF

Microsoft Corp. is putting lots of marketing effort into Windows XP, the desktop operating system nicknamed after expert users.

The GCN Lab got a beta preview of Office XP Professional and scoured it for features that might make upgrading worthwhile.

There are so many Windows client OSes available'Windows 9x, NT, 2000 and Millennium Edition'that choosing the right one is no longer simple.

XP does in fact break the Windows mold. It features total remote monitoring and FireWire serial connection support, which previously was available only for costly, specialized systems.


XP's single greatest feature is remote monitoring and system manipulation through easy-to-use Remote Desktop Sharing.
But the first thing you notice about XP is cosmetic. It retains the look and feel of Win 2000, and it can be set to look exactly like the older OS. But there are differences. The five most frequently used applications will appear on the Start menu along with the browser. These top five will shift around as you use other programs more often.

The OS is all 32-bit, so there are no 16-bit bottlenecks to cripple true multitasking. In tests, I kept 23 programs running on a Pentium III PC with 128M of RAM. Win 98 on the same system died with 13 programs open.

XP has good interface features such as native drag-and-drop support for CD-rewritable drives. The OS treats a burner just like another drive, so you don't have to deal with third-party file management applications'a long-overdue convenience.

Users with lots of graphics files will appreciate other management features. When you bring up a directory, folders with graphics files will display thumbnails on top of the folder icons. When you open a folder, you also see an automatic preview of graphics files within. Remember that pure 32-bit architecture? It generates the thumbnails in seconds, even for directories with many photos.

Probably XP's single greatest feature is remote monitoring and system manipulation with Remote Desktop Sharing. This already existed in the form of Windows Terminal Services, but now anyone can be a remote administrator. Simply set up sharing functions and then remotely log on.

Control from home

In my tests, I could administer a desktop system at my home from my office lab. It was fairly easy, and I could even turn on or off a series of performance-related options in the main interface. This is great, though it does open up potential security vulnerabilities.

GCN's reviewers have full remote access, but to make it possible with Win 2000 the lab had to set up a special server from Citrix Systems Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., plus a linked security server.

XP also can set up a primitive firewall, mostly useful for home users.

The FireWire high-speed serial connection could become a PC standard because of XP. Current ports have 400-Mbps rates, and the forthcoming FireWire 1394b ports are supposed to put 3.2 Gbps through a fiber connection or a 4.5-meter cable.

Just as Win 98 pushed the Universal Serial Bus to the forefront, expect XP to do the same for FireWire. Such a port performs impressively for, say, recording video in near-real time or streaming MPEG-2 video.

One downside to XP is that every user must register with Microsoft over the phone or via the Internet. If you don't, XP will stop working after a certain time or a set number of uses. Don't even think about monkeying with the system clock to get around this. The OS would detect it and immediately shut down.

Microsoft wants to combat piracy. If you upgrade, change motherboards or simply buy a new system without XP, you will have to re-register to use the OS again.

I suspect privacy groups will have a field day with this. And some government offices will not want Microsoft, or anyone else for that matter, to know where, how and in what number their systems are deployed.

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