Rated XP

Rated XP

The lowdown

  • When do I need XP-ready apps? If you want to take advantage of XP's collaborative features, the applications in this guide will deliver good performance. Also, if you are buying new applications, it's wise to be sure they work with XP, which could well be your next operating system. Upgrading to XP is a good move if you are running one of the less stable Windows iterations, such as Windows 98 or ME, or if you're ready to upgrade from NT.

  • When don't I need them? Windows 2000 users have no major reason to move to XP unless they want the enhanced collaborative features.

  • What are the security concerns? XP's collaborative features work by using .NET Passport technology and Windows Messenger. Some specialists consider this a very insecure environment.

  • Must know info? Most office enhancements in XP target collaborative use because the new features mostly correlate to Windows Messenger and .NET Passport. Multimedia enhancements in XP are mostly targeted at home users, although they apply to some office users.

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    Applications certified for Windows XP take advantage of collaborative features, but beware possible security holes

    Microsoft Corp.'s newest operating system is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, development. Although it lacks a lot of startling new tools or features, Windows XP does integrate existing Windows features more tightly and adds some enhancements in the multimedia area. XP also greatly enhances workgroup capabilities, especially over the Web.

    Many software developers have already tweaked existing Windows programs to take advantage of some of XP's collaborative and Web tools. Microsoft has certified the software in the accompanying chart as XP-ready.

    Most of these programs are similar to earlier releases but sometimes lack obvious XP enhancements. And XP supports old software to an even greater extent than Windows 2000 does. So there's no need to order all new applications when installing XP. But if you're adding new applications anyway, or if you want to take full advantage of the OS' collaborative features, you'll want to pick from the many XP-optimized programs.

    Think ahead

    Because XP replaces both the consumer-oriented Windows 98 and ME, as well as Windows 2000, this is the OS many offices will adopt over the next few years. So it makes sense to choose XP-optimized applications for new purchases even if you aren't upgrading to the XP operating system just yet.

    The biggest concern about using Windows XP is security. With the threat from cyberterrorists adding to the inherent need for confidentiality in government work, the ability of Microsoft to secure its products is vital.

    XP-enabled applications increase your ability to collaborate and share information over networks, particularly the Internet, but using the Web can create a major security headache. Agencies might find that, for security reasons alone, they can't make use of the greater Internet connectivity offered by XP or the collaborative tools integrated into some XP-ready applications.

    Passport, Microsoft's single sign-on service for Internet use, is the cornerstone of its push to tie every Windows XP user into future Microsoft product releases. Passport makes it easy to collaborate and access Web services. In return for providing information to the Passport database, users get seamless access to any services designed to authenticate users via Passport data.

    But the data you give Microsoft might, in many cases, be considered sensitive or confidential even if you don't use XP's e-Wallet feature, which stores credit card information for online purchases.

    Confidence in .NET Passport's centralized repository of personal and sensitive data took a big hit in November, when it was disclosed that e-Wallet could be compromised with an e-mail request that would return the confidential information to a hacker.

    Because Microsoft acknowledges about 100 major security flaws in its software every year through its Microsoft Security Bulletins, the fact that the company immediately patched the known flaw in November doesn't give security experts any great degree of confidence.

    The .NET Messenger instant messaging tool is the other component of Windows XP that makes collaboration transparent. But instant messengers are also a major security threat. Many worm and virus attacks have used instant messengers to spread rapidly around the world. This is an inherent weakness because IM works by bypassing firewalls and other security measures.

    High-end workgroup software in the accompanying chart gains its powerful collaborative enhancements using these very .NET features.

    A spokesman for Alibre Inc. said the company's Alibre Design integrates Windows Messenger and .NET Passport technology to make connections easily.

    Messenger enhances text chat, videoconferencing and voice over IP capabilities, and .NET Passport authenticates users with a single Windows sign-on, he said. 'XP users whose identity has been authenticated by Passport will not have to supply another ID and password to launch Alibre Design.'

    Security versus collaboration

    That's a good explanation of the enhancements you can expect to find in an XP application. But if you have security concerns about relying on Messenger or .NET Passport, the collaborative tools might not be useful.

    Many of the other programs listed in the chart add no special XP capabilities; they are simply the latest release.

    I tested several Symantec Inc. products, including Norton Ghost 2002 and Norton System Works 2002, which carry the 'Designed for Microsoft Windows XP' logo.

    They all worked well and had some enhancements over previous versions, but I could not find any difference between how they performed under Windows 2000 Pro and Windows XP Pro on an otherwise identical PC.

    Many of these applications appear to be just Microsoft XP certified programs, meaning they run under XP'which is both stable and backward-compatible with other versions of applications.

    Many older versions of the same programs also will run under Windows XP, so unless the new release has some particular feature you require, you might not need to upgrade.

    But if you're moving to XP and plan to create a collaborative environment, these applications will provide a higher level of performance.

    John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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