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When Microsoft built it’s first operating system over 15 years ago, I sometimes wonder if, even in their wildest dreams, they thought it would become such a market force and the main o/s to be used on the majority of the world’s computers. Yet, today they are producing the next generation of operating system. One for the future that can interact with all modern media types and formats as well as combining the retro engineering needed to make programs of yesteryear work correctly. However, being a user of both of their current up to date systems, im not totally convinced that even they are on top of the diverse and sometimes incompatible world of mixed technologies.
Im going to talk here about Windows XP. You have probably got this installed at home or at least heard about it if you have bought your computer within the last year. Up until now, we have been limited to Windows 95 and 98 at home. These have now become outdated and problematic with modern games and devices. In fact, Microsoft are stopping support of 98 this year.
So you have a choice. Windows XP for your home or office or Windows 2000 for the more serious business user. I have 2000 at work and XP Professional at home. However, you may also have another version of windows.
Windows ME was developed as a home system while being a year 2000 compliant stop that has proved unstable if very simple. Drivers tend to be a problem and not all devices work.
Windows XP was supposed to be a remedy to all of your needs and problems and take the “next step” towards multimedia perfection. Well, im far from happy so far on the whole if slightly impressed with its new functionality.
Lets talk about installing it.
I have had to perform both types of install now on 2 computers. You can either upgrade your previous installation of windows if you have 98 or similar or do a fresh install. After trying both and getting the conflicts that I had, I would highly recommend the fresh install. What is the difference? Well, an upgrade will take the basic settings associated with your current PC such as your documents, your internet bookmarks, Microsoft Products such as Word,Excel Visual
Studio, etc as well as your programs, and leave them intact. It will not destroy these files. Instead, it literally installs the new operating system and registry. However, due to its usage of MY Documents, My Pictures, etc, you will lose documents from here. It is always worth backing such information up on CD first if you have the option.
However, if you don’t mind losing your current stuff, go for the fresh install. Reason being that XP seems to struggle with incompatibility of drivers,devices,etc that are already installed in Windows 98. Such things as Graphics cards, Sound Cards and printers may not function correctly afterwards due to an upgrade. Yes, you do have an option to analyse your PC with XP before installing but even this proved unreliable for me.
Installation takes about 60 minutes for either install and was fairly easy. Little user input is needed so you can basically let it install itself unattended. This is also good for remote installation. During installation, you will have an administrator access created which you will need to set a password for. This will be used at a later date to make changes to the system. DON’T forget your password.
What does it do?
XP has basically adopted the “NT” approach to making your computer work properly. Gone is the old style windows system. It looks like windows but does not act like it. It all starts from log on. Yes, log on. You have to log onto the machine when it starts. You need to create these log on accounts using the Administrator log on. Having individual accounts for different users means that different members of staff or different members of your family can have different “profiles”. This means that they may have their desktop set a different way or a different set of programs available. This gives good security to your PC as well as some control over what your children can use or do without you being present. Although other windows operating systems have had a similar idea, this implements it correctly and ensures proper usage.
So you have logged on. What can you do?
Well, you will probably love or hate the new look. Modern taskbars with flashy colours and themes. Don’t worry if you don’t like them. Using your control panel, you can set your desktop to adopt the “classic” windows theme. This will then look just like windows 98.
Now it operates exactly the same as windows 9x but with some new features.
Firstly, hardware installation is much easier. It automatically detect the new devices and configures them accordingly. I have also found less conflicts with devices sharing IRQ addresses than on windows 98. This was my main reason for installation.
Secondly, there is a “safety net” if something goes wrong with the SYSTEM RESTORE function.
Your computer now makes restore points in its memory. If you have a problem with an install of software or hardware or something corrupts your system registry, you can “roll back” your computer to a previous time. Ideal if you have a problem and want your computer haw it was yesterday. They say hindsight is a wonderful thing. Now you can control your hindsight! This has saved me on more than one occasion. The only problem with this is it takes a while to instigate and can take up to 5 Gb worth of vauable hard disk space. Also you may lose some of the files you have downloaded or successful changes since your last restore point was created.
The Windows Update function is a great addition. The computer will automatically update your system with the latest drivers and patches direct from microsoft using this feature. This keeps you up to date and prevents the need to go off searching for the latest patches.
Inclusion of a lot of modern technology in XP has helped play a bigger role in a standalone Multimedia environment. An integrated brand new media player along with other browser based functionality means you are less likely to need external movie players due to the addition of extra codecs. Codecs are the little plug ins that you download to allow your computer to play certain file types. The more of these codecs that microsoft produce, the more media type you will be able to play.
Although they boast it is the most compatible yet, Microsoft is struggling to convince manufacturers to produce the drivers and patches to fix existing software and devices to work on XP. I have got wuite a few games that do not want to work on XP. Due to their age, manufacturers have decided they will not support XP so have not made patches to allow them to work. That is a lot of technology that will not work. I have also heard about a colleague of mine who said that his printer and scanner that is only 3 years old will not work with XP. The company has not produced drivers for them and does not intend to. I myself have had problems installing my gamepad and graphics card. Due to not doing a fresh install at home, my old graphics card (voodoo 3) remained and the drivers worked ok. They were not quite right so I downloaded a patch. The patch is made by a 3rd party and not by 3Dfx who made my card. They no longer exist. The patch screwed my machine so I had to restore it to a previous time. I bought a new card which is XP compliant but this still gave problems. It would not work with one of the latest games, Return to Castle wolfenstein. I got the latest patch for my new card and still nothing. This was because XP has trouble uninstalling certain drivers and thought the old card was stil being used. I had to spend a day researching the best way to fix it. Only thanks to my knowledge was I able to get it working. Not something I would recommend to the less competent or non-techies!!! So compatibility is a problem. The manufacturers really need to put more of an effort in.
To run it successfully, you really need a recent machine of around 500Mhz speed Processor and Pentium 3. A memory of 128Mb is also recommended. However, the bare minimum is here but I would not bother if you only just scrape into this class.
Processor: 300Mhz Processor
Memory: 64 Mb RAM
Hard Disk Space: 1.5Gb
Monitor: Capable of at least 800 x 600 resolution and a suitable graphics card.
Extras: CD Rom Drive, Mouse, Keyboard.
I do think that in time, XP will become the standard again. More manufacturers will have to support it and less patches will be required. If you have a modem at home, you will be forever downloading patches to begin with so if you have cable, all the better. Compatibility is something of a headache with it but it can be forgiven due to its much better look and multimedia functionality.
Id install it again but I would make sure I had plenty of time to do it!
Changing to XP was a lot less painfull than I thought, though I did have the usual problem of tracking down new drivers.
If your using an older version of windows and it does all you want, don't bother upgrading.
sue.51 01.05.2002 18:47
Fortunately I have not had to install it on any machines - although I did buy my laptop with it on, and despite my previous misgivings I am very impressed - although U have heard numerous horror stories from friends who have gone for a straight upgrade - and also have some hardware which I have tried to install, but have been warned about pending system instability if I continue.
newhamgirl 29.04.2002 23:24
Thank goodness for recently purchased computers with xp ready installed.
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