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Tech 101 | PC Focus

Upcoming XP Likely to Be Less of a Pain

March 01, 2001|LAWRENCE J. MAGID |

There is hope.

Microsoft is working on a new operating system, Windows XP, which it plans to make available to businesses and consumers by the end of this year. Though it's not bug-free or optimized for performance, a working version showed off by Microsoft gave me a sense of what the new operating system will look like and how it will work.

And it's impressive.

Minimum system requirements are expected to be a Pentium II running at 233 megahertz with 64 megabytes of memory and at least a gigabyte of free disk space. Based on my experience, I wouldn't even think about upgrading unless you have at least 128 MB of memory.

There will be two versions of the new operating system. Windows XP Professional Edition will be aimed at businesses, and Windows XP Home Edition is for consumers. Pricing hasn't been announced, but Microsoft typically charges about $100 for a consumer upgrade and about $200 to upgrade a business operating system.

Both the business and consumer versions of Windows XP are based on the Windows 2000 code, which is a good move. While I can't yet testify to the worthiness of Windows XP, I do know that Windows 2000 is far less likely to crash than Windows 95, 98 or ME. Microsoft says Windows XP will be even more robust than Windows 2000, but I've been writing about Microsoft products long enough to withhold judgment until I've had a chance to put it through its paces.

One of the major design goals is to make Windows XP compatible with the vast majority of consumer applications. That's a tall order because it's no longer based on the Windows 95 code. Most business and productivity programs should have no trouble running under XP because they already run under Windows 2000. Games, however, present a bigger challenge. Nevertheless, Microsoft says it will support the vast majority of those programs by running them in an emulation mode. It's like a walled-off area for old programs. Even if they crash, the rest of the machine continues to run.

Another big challenge is support for drivers for printers, scanners, digital cameras and other so-called legacy devices designed for the old operating system. Microsoft says that if the drivers aren't on the Windows XP CD, the software will look for them on the Internet. The Windows XP setup program is designed to sniff out old drivers and replace them immediately so users don't have to worry about them. Again, that's based on what I'm told. I haven't seen it firsthand. The bad news is that if there isn't an updated driver, the device won't work.

In addition to the improvements under the hood, Microsoft has made several changes to the user interface. The first thing you notice is that the desktop isn't as cluttered as it is with current versions of Windows. Instead of all sorts of icons for devices, drives or services you might never use, all you see is the recycle bin and a landscape with green rolling hills and a blue sky. If that's not to your liking, you can delete or replace the image.

The Start menu is a lot bigger and more meaningful. When you click on Start, you get a menu with all of your frequently used applications and folders. If you don't use an application, it drops off the menu so it's not cluttered.

The folders have changed and have become smarter. If you have a folder that contains photos, the outside of the folder--which will be a lot larger than it is now--displays the first few pictures. If your folder contains MP3 music files, it displays the name of the artist and any graphics associated with the music. You can even sort and group by artist to help you organize your music collection.

Windows XP will also have a remote assistance feature. If you have a problem with your PC and you're connected to the Internet, you can turn control over to a technician from a software or hardware company or even to a friend or co-worker who can try to fix it for you from a remote location. Assuming, of course, that your problem doesn't preclude you from turning it on or connecting to the Net.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.

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