Review: Windows XP - Part 1
With some reservations, Dave Cook thinks Microsoft's newest operating system is the best yet.
|Price||Home £180 (upgrade £90), Professional £260 (Upgrade £170)|
|We like||Stable, lots of new features.|
|We don't like||Product Activation.|
Windows XP is Microsoft's latest ploy at getting us to spend large amounts of beer tokens on a new operating system. Officially, Windows XP is released on the 25th October. In reality, major vendors have been supplying Windows XP with new PCs for the past month or so.
For the moment, Windows XP comes in two flavours: Windows XP Professional and Windows XP Home Edition. The former is aimed mainly - but by no means exclusively - at business and/or roaming users. Windows XP Home Edition, as its name suggests, is mainly consumer-oriented.
To run either version successfully you need a 233MHz Pentium compatible processor (or higher), with 128MB of RAM (256MB is better), and a CD-ROM drive or equivalent device. Basically, if your PC is running Windows 98 without too much strain, then it should also run Windows XP.
One important thing to be aware of is that the upgrade path is not all-encompassing. For instance, Windows XP Home Edition will support upgrades from Windows 98, 98 SE, and Me, but not from Windows 95, NT 4.0 Workstation, or Windows 2000 Professional. You can, however, upgrade from Windows 98, 98 SE, Me, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, Windows 2000 Professional, or indeed Windows XP Home Edition to Windows XP Professional.
So what exactly is the difference between the two editions? Well, pricing for one thing. Windows XP Home Edition costs £180 (upgrade £90) while Windows XP Professional will set you back £260 (upgrade £170). Here's an example of what Windows XP Home Edition has to offer:
- A new user interface that's much quicker to load.
- Context sensitive help.
- Loads of new wizards, including a new network wizard, which combines home and Internet networking.
- Improved software and hardware compatibility.
- Better support for gamers.
- Enhanced System Restore features.
- Improved stability - XP is the most reliable Microsoft OS to date.
- Simplified security - each user is assumed to be a member of the Owners local group (similar to an Administrator's account).
- Fast switching between multiple users - no need to log off first.
- Enhanced support for digital media involving music, photos, and movies.
There are, however, one or two surprising omissions. For example, Windows XP Home Edition contains no Backup utility. In fairness, though, most omissions will be no big-deal to the majority of home users. Roaming profiles, for instance, which allow you to logon to any computer in Active Directory and automatically receive your customised settings, are not catered for.
Network support is also limited, and Home Edition cannot be used to logon to an Active Directory domain. Moreover, any feature linked to Microsoft's IntelliMirror technology, such as user data management, user settings management, and Remote Installation Services (RIS) are not supported.
Meanwhile, Windows XP Professional has all the above features plus a lot more besides, including:
- Automated System Recovery (ASR) - integrated (and enabled manually) into the enhanced Backup utility, ASR can recover a system from a major error, even one that renders a system unbootable.
- Better mobile support in the shape of a new Remote Desktop feature.
- Dual processor support.
- Dynamic Disk support (compatible with Windows 2000 Professional).
- Internet Information Services Web Server software.
- Encrypting File System (EFS).
- Full file-level access control.
- Domain support
- Roaming profiles and client-side caching.
- RIS and SysPrep support.
Controversially, Windows XP is Microsoft's first operating system to compel a substantial number of its customers to activate the product via phone or Internet within 30 days. We'll investigate Product Activation, along with a closer look at some of XP's new and improved features in part two of our Windows XP review. Meanwhile, check out our Product Activation comment.