Windows XP offers improved driver support and a number of other enhancements to increase reliability. A new interface should help new users understand Windows more easily, and a less cluttered desktop will benefit everyone.
Cleaner and simpler user interface, multiple user accounts, greater level of reliability, better support and management tools for businesses
Older applications may not run, steeper hardware requirements than previous Windows releases, Professional edition also has Home edition's consumer features
This review was first published on 30 April 2001 in IT Week, a magazine predecessor of V3
Microsoft considers Windows XP to be the most significant operating system release since the introduction of Windows 95. Much of the underlying technology is based on Windows 2000, but the claim can be justified when the new user interface is considered.
Although the product's front end shows the most noticeable changes, there are many differences aimed at improved reliability, helping IT administrators roll out the product, control user settings and offer technical support.
This is the first time that Microsoft has offered consumer and business operating systems sharing the same user interface and core functionality. However, the Home edition of Windows XP omits many high-end features found in the Professional edition.
Most of the omissions are management features, such as group policy settings. Some remote management capabilities and automated system recovery are also excluded from the Home version, along with multiple monitor support, and file level access control and encryption. The Professional edition has all of the Home edition's features, including multimedia enhancements.
Hardware requirements are noticeably steeper than for previous versions of Windows. However, the minimum specification of 233MHz processor with 64MB RAM (128MB recommended) and at least 650MB of free disk space, shouldn't cause problems unless your PC was built more than two or three years ago.
Improved ease of use was one of Microsoft's main objectives for Windows XP. The new interface thus takes a different approach to arranging content and tasks. In an attempt to reduce the amount of unnecessary clutter on the desktop, Windows XP's interface adapts to display the most frequently accessed items, moving icons that are rarely opened into a separate folder.
Use of colour to highlight the Start button and key commands within applications should also guide newer users around the system. For existing users, a 'classic' version of the interface can be selected, which looks like the Windows 2000 front end.
Many of the interface changes are intended to support less experienced users, and this is borne out in Microsoft's decision to restructure on-screen instructions and navigation links. These have been reorganised to provide a more task-based approach to working.
For example, entities such as My Computer now provide immediate access to common tasks like creating a new folder, rather than forcing users to search through menus. Tasks are also context-dependent, so the interface will show the most commonly executed tasks in each window.
One of the most significant additions to Windows XP is the ability for multiple users to log into the system. User sessions can be run simultaneously; if you log out while a task is running, it carries on in the background, even if another user logs in. Windows XP offers three levels of user access: Administrator, which offers complete control over the system, a Standard configuration and a Limited level, which is primarily aimed at children sharing a family PC.
Improved reliability, in terms of everyday operation and driver support, has been another of Microsoft's aims for Windows XP. Driver signing, intended to reduce the risk of system crashes, has been introduced. Each time a new driver is installed on the system, XP checks for a signature, and displays a warning for unsigned drivers.
IT managers can also configure workgroup policy settings so that unsigned drivers will not be accepted. To facilitate easier driver sign-off through Windows Hardware Quality Labs, Microsoft is introducing a 'quick sign' process, which enables hardware vendors to self-test XP drivers using an online checklist. This raises some questions over the level of trust Microsoft is putting in vendors to follow its procedures correctly.
A redesigned version of the System Restore tool, first seen in Windows Me, has also been included. System Restore enables users to save system settings at regular intervals, or before new hardware is installed. The tool can then be used to 'roll back' the operating system to its previous state if there are any problems.