OS Update

OS Update

The lowdown

  • What is Windows XP? Windows XP is Microsoft's latest OS. It combines the security and reliability features of Windows NT and 2000 with the user-friendliness and Plug-and-Play capabilities of Windows 98 and Me.

  • What's new in XP? It has an improved user interface, better multimedia management, good digital media support, new system utilities, better network support, improved Internet tools, multiuser support, advanced security features, enhanced device support.

  • How do the Professional Edition and Home Edition differ? XP Professional includes multiprocessor support, advanced networking and remote control features, offline file and folder support, support for mobile computing and wireless devices, encrypted files, centralized administration, remote software installation and roaming user files. XP Home offers a streamlined interface, Fast User Switching, easy home networking and most of the benefits of XP Professional without the administrative overhead.

  • Should you upgrade to XP? Probably. If you recently bought a new PC, it probably came with XP. Most enterprise Windows users will experience XP as it is moved onto their systems by year's end. XP is stable, reliable and full of nifty new features.

  • Must know info? XP won't make you happy if you are using an older PC or workstation. It requires at least 128M of RAM'256M is better'and a processor speed of at least 300MHz. If you depend on lots of older applications, make sure they will run with XP before making the switch. And remember, Microsoft's stringent new licensing policies make the use of XP expensive; many users will have to pay the full upgrade price to use it on more than one computer.

  • XP features a simplified interface, with menus that emphasize functions rather than individual applications; the control planel also gives you the option to switch to the classic view of familar Windows OSes.

    Latest versions of Windows, Mac and Linux all take a step forward

    No matter what your operating system of choice, your choice just got better.

    Windows XP is Microsoft's most stable and reliable OS, and comes with enough applications and features to keep you busy for months just testing them out. Despite grumbles from critics about alleged Microsoft antitrust violations, XP's security vulnerabilities, skimpy treatment of Java and Microsoft's stringent antipiracy policies, the new OS has already made a splash.

    Apple's Mac OS X Version 10.1 gives Mac mavens plenty to be happy about. This most recent version of Mac OS X brings vastly improved performance, solid Internet support and excellent multimedia support to users, and as an extra bonus, is compatible with Windows-based networks.

    Meanwhile, Linux continues to make inroads in the OS marketplace, holding about 27 percent of the worldwide server market.

    Linux programs perform their tasks differently than Windows programs do. For example, XP is a comprehensive package that includes most of the software you'll need to interact directly with your computer. Linux distributions include a small kernel that manages the low-level functions.

    XP and Mac OS X load most of their features up front, which slows down your computer. The Linux kernel loads its applications on the fly after boot-up, which makes Linux OSes fast and stable.

    Lots of Linux

    Linux is essentially freeware, but increasing numbers of vendors are bundling inexpensive commercial versions for desktop and servers. These generally come with a wide variety of Web and File Transfer Protocol servers and a bunch of other useful tools and utilities.

    Linux historically has lacked many commercial applications but free open-source software, often supplied on extra CDs, brings many useful office, database, file management, calendar and e-mail applications to Linux users. The trend among Linux vendors such as Caldera Systems Inc., MandrakeSoft Inc. and Red Hat Inc. is to provide a mix of programs for both desktop and server versions.

    Linux' hardware requirements'processor speed, amount of RAM, hard drive space'are generally less than those of Mac OS X or XP, and you gain a lot of free applications that could otherwise cost thousands of dollars. But the rub with Linux server editions is that they require a fairly high level of technical expertise from IT staff.

    If the OS trend in government computing holds'and there's no reason to think it won't'what most users will see is Windows. Although XP is expensive'$299 list or $199 for an upgrade of Professional Edition; $199 list or $125 for an upgrade version of the Home Edition'even Microsoft critics agree that it's a great improvement over previous Windows versions.

    XP Professional Edition is targeted at high-end and corporate audiences. The Home Edition drops some of the high-end networking, mobile computing and management features, but its ease of use and comprehensive default settings make it attractive.

    Before rolling out XP, Microsoft removed all the old DOS, 16-bit Windows and Windows 95 code and replaced it with code based on the core of Windows NT. The company retained the standards-based security, manageability and reliability of NT and Windows 2000 while keeping the best features of Windows 98 and Me.

    XP looks different from previous Windows. Its Luna desktop is clean, more like a Linux or Macintosh OS X interface than past Windows, with only the Recycle Bin showing by default. Pressing the Start button reveals two columns that emphasize functions rather than individual programs and applications. For example, the taskbar groups multiple instances of the same application under one heading, rather than as multiple listings.

    Multiple users of a single PC can select their name with an optional password via friendly log-in buttons. In addition, Fast User Switching lets multiple users share the same computer without having to shut down one user's session before beginning another's.

    Classic Windows

    If this Web-page look makes your users uncomfortable, they can switch to the classic Windows look by clicking on the Display Properties applet in the Control panel.

    But XP isn't just another pretty face. Enhanced digital imaging features are available in both the Home and Professional versions of XP. Windows Media Player 8 provides CD and DVD playback, jukebox management and recording, audio CD creation, Internet radio playback and media transfer to portable devices.

    The most immediately useful feature of WMP 8 is that writing data to a CD-RW drive now takes place directly within the OS. Creating audio CDs is almost as easy, once you get the hang of WMP 8.

    Both the XP Home and Professional offer good application and device compatibility. XP's AutoPlay feature lets you connect new devices and use them immediately. When the OS detects a new device, it determines its content'say, picture, music or video'and automatically starts the appropriate application.

    XP Professional also supports a wide range of new hardware technologies, including expanded PS/2 and Universal Serial Bus interface keyboards, new audio/visual devices using the IEEE 1394 interface, wireless networking devices, high-resolution monitors and the Intel Itanium 64-bit processor.

    Most of the top 1,000 or so programs'with the exception of many antivirus programs, system utilities and backup applications'that ran under Win 9x and 2000 will also run under XP. If they don't, XP's built-in Application Compatibility Mode lets them run under earlier versions as far back as Win 95.

    XP also can automatically invoke application fixes and, when new fixes become available, download them from the Windows Update Web site.

    Window XP is built around Internet technology. It uses the Internet to tap a number of Microsoft help and support services, including access to Remote Assistance, automatic updates and online help. For example, users can request Remote Assistance via the MSN Messenger Service or standard e-mail, and a helper can remotely connect to a problem PC and view its screen directly to fix the problem.

    The XP installation routine directs you to check online for system updates. XP's AutoUpdate feature automatically updates applications and program files directly onto your hard drive anytime you are online. The Windows Update feature provides a central location for driver or system security updates.

    XP Professional has an array of advanced network management features. A Network Diagnostics page contains details about the properties of network cards and modems. XP checks the system's hardware, including LAN adapters and Virtual Private Network connections, to ensure it is working correctly.

    OS on the road

    XP Professional is a better choice than XP Home Edition for mobile users. It has more Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) features, including support for CardBus Wake-on-LAN, which allows notebook computers in standby mode to be roused for system updates and other functions, and then returned to standby.

    The Remote Desktop application, which is not available in the home edition, lets remote users run applications on any remote computer that is running XP Professional. This lets them access and use their home or office computers from their notebook computers over any type of connection.

    Problems with applications or hardware drivers often caused system crashes in earlier Windows versions. But under XP, whenever a driver is updated, a copy of the previous driver is automatically saved. If the new driver malfunctions, XP Roll Back Driver can restore the old driver. If your computer malfunctions, the System Restore feature allows it to return to its pre-problem state without losing data.

    Microsoft has caught some flak for security holes discovered in XP, but the company has moved to fix them. And XP does include some new security features, such as a built-in Internet firewall and user-definable software restriction policies that offer various levels of protection against viruses, Trojan horses or worms by allowing users to decide how, when and where code from e-mail or the Internet gets executed. A credential management feature provides a secure store of user passwords and X.509 certificates, allowing for a single, unique user sign-on. XP's Encrypting File System can use either the expanded Data Encryption Standard or Triple-DES as the encryption algorithm.

    J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@gte.net.

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