Let me take you back to a time before Windows Vista, before a DOS-free Windows OS even. Let me take you back to 2001 with Windows XP just ready for release. Back in 2001 I wrote a review of Windows XP for a Danish online site which I found the other day while digging through my documents folder.
With Windows Vista released and basically a very different landscape from what was the case in 2001 I thought it would be fun for you to see what I had to say about Windows XP back then. The original article was done in Danish so I've translated it for you here. If Danish is not an issue for you, you can check out the original article as well.
It was fun for me to read my reactions from back then. Some of the stuff just wasn't researched all that well on my part but I got other stuff right. My comments about Messenger are particularly funny to me because I'm an avid user of the program today; I do blame the integrated version of Windows Messenger for this though as I quite liked my ICQ experience back then. Also if you look closely on one of the screenshots you'll see evidence of my foray into Java. Like my Linux experience it's not something I speak too loudly about today :)
Finally a lot of the doom and gloom I wrote about never came to pass. Microsoft really transformed themselves between then and now. Product activation never turned out to be a problem and of course neither did Error Reporting. I do believe that Windows XP is one of the best releases of Windows ever, I like my Vista but we're looking at some of the same little things today that we saw back then too. Little bugs, unexplained Explorer crashes, stuff that's ironed out of Windows XP by now.
Windows XP: From DOS to Windows
A long time has passed since the world was given the first version of Windows as we know it today. Many people describe the step from Windows 9x to XP as comparable to the step we took forward with the release of Windows 95 which replaced DOS. I have to admit that I don't see the release of Windows XP as quite that big a deal. Having used Windows XP for a while I just don't buy that the step from a command prompt to a graphical user interface should be comparable to the step from one graphical user interface to a slightly updated, easier to use version of the same interface :)
Windows XP ships in two versions: Home and Professional where Home is the cheap trimmed down version. The pro version pretty much matches the functionality which we know and love from Windows 2000 Professional; the pro version is the version to get if you're serious about your computing experience.
I won't comment too much on the installation process besides mentioning that it's very easy to deal with. Windows XP even recognizes a lot of RAID controllers which are becoming increasingly mainstream as they come integrated on many motherboards these days. A general observation about the new OS is that a lot of drivers come integration into the OS. I was able to get Windows XP up and running with all my hardware configured without adding a single driver to system. A very impressive feat.
The installation is reminiscent of the one found in Windows 2000 and Windows Me; it's basically a hybrid of the two.
Having completed the installation you notice how quickly the system boots. As a Windows 2000 user I'm used to turning on the computer and waiting at least a couple of minutes before the system is up and running; even with 2000 running you have to wait additional time for the various startup programs to launch. Windows XP boots at half the time and seems more zippy than Windows 2000.
The New Stuff
What constitutes this seemingly "great" leap forward for Windows XP? This is what I'm going to find out in this section by visiting some of the new features found in Windows XP.
Look and Feel
The most obvious new thing about Windows XP is the user interface which has had a huge overhaul. From being gray, boring, and all business it's gone to exciting, colorful, and playground-y. It really is an interface you just want to explore and click your way through. As we all know a picture says more than a thousand words so take a peek at the screen shot of the new desktop I've included. Notice the gorgeous, modern feel of the desktop.
What lies at the heart of this user interface are skins. You can go out to the Internet and download new skins for Windows XP which change the look and feel of the OS. You only get a single skin out of the box but you do have the opportunity to go back to the classic look of Windows 2000 if you want to.
Besides the very prominent new user interface there are a couple of nice little features which gives the OS a feeling of completeness to it - when it works, more about that later.
The control panel has gotten an overhaul as well and as a result we've gotten a different approach to managing the computer. Microsoft decided to go with a more task-based approach which to my mind works well for newbies but starts to break down for people who know what they're looking for. Luckily it's possible to revert back to the original view of the control panel just as was the case with the desktop. Very nice!
Windows Explorer is another area of Windows which has gotten a face lift which means that the tips you get at the right side of the screen are actually useful. The area is now used to display relevant operations for the selected object, help, and much more. New users especially will find the new interface appealing because of the readily available help. For experienced users this can be turned off as well. Notice the highlighted blue area on the screenshot of Windows Explorer: It shows a selection of drive. It's little things like that which makes Windows XP feel so complete.
All these skins and flashy features come with a price of course. The price is a performance hit. The animated menus, the shadows on icons, etc. costs. It becomes even more apparent should you move to a old machine which doesn't complete live up the recommended Windows XP specs. Luckily Microsoft did foresee this scenario and included options to turn off the flashy stuff conserving system resources for the important stuff like getting your work done. You get a nice granular option list from which you can turn off individual visual features.
Most people are familiar with Windows Update at this point. The service is integrated right into Windows XP making it very easy to get those updates installed. Windows XP will now automatically notify you if there are available updates which by itself is nothing new as you've been able to do this with an add-in for Windows 2000 from Microsoft. What's new is the fact that Windows itself will download and install the updates for you without any intervention from you at all. Again something new users of Windows will find particularly useful with more and more viruses and other nasty stuff floating around the Internet.
Speaking of the Internet Windows XP now comes with a built-in firewall which is turned on with a single mouse click. It's important to remember that the built-in firewall is no where near as powerful as a standalone solution like ZoneAlarm from ZoneLabs. You're still free to install a third party firewall if you want to. On a positive note the built-in firewall is better than no firewall at all but some people feel that it can provide a false sense of security. For me personally it's a nice addition because it helps protect the less savvy people thus giving the users a better online experience. I did try to install ZoneAlarm to see if it would run at all. The only problem I encountered was the fact that ZoneAlarm wouldn't start with Windows on every boot even though I configured it to do so. A small error - whether it was a problem with Windows blocking other firewall applications or just an incompatibility between the products I can't speak to. For Microsoft's sake I hope it's the latter as the former would cause quite the outcry.
In the security department I need to mention driver signing, a process which been around for a while. User were worried for a while that Windows XP would be unable to use drivers not signed by Microsoft. Luckily I can attest that this is not the case, Windows XP has no problems with installing unsigned drivers at all; XP simply made me aware of the fact that I was installing an unsigned driver and proceeded from there. Although the unsigned drivers are accepted by Windows XP a number of warnings appear which might confuse the user; only time will tell whether this will become an actual problem.
Worth mentioning is the fact that many drivers from Windows 2000 are directly compatible with Windows XP which will ease the transition somewhat though not completely. As with any new OS release drivers will be an issue so watch out for hardware compatibility with Windows XP before you buy.
A lot was done to ease the transition and I've not experience any major issues other than the ZoneAlarm not starting with every boot. Windows XP itself has a trick up its sleeve which should make the most stubborn programs run: Compatibility. Basically the compatibility feature will make a program believe that it's running under a different version of Windows than XP thus allowing it to run.
When errors do occur Windows XP will provide Microsoft with information about the error which they can use to create a better OS in the future or release fixes more quickly. A general tendency for Windows XP is to do opt-out of things which provide Microsoft information. Privacy concerns aside I believe that you should at least be given the option of opting out automatically instead of requiring you to go digging in preferences to turn it off if it bothers you.
Error Reporting is very telling as to how Microsoft decided to implement features in Windows XP. Personally I'm not very keen on the "I know what's best for you" mentality which permeates Microsoft these days. A number of programs are installed out of the box and integrated right into Windows. The first example of this was Internet Explorer which came with Windows 98. Officially the explanation was that it created the platform for a lot of the new features in Windows 98 - many didn't buy this explanation and saw it as a way to compete unfairly with then top company in browsers: Netscape. We all know how that particular piece of history turned out.
Now it seems the time has come for Microsoft to attack the instant messaging market head on. Microsoft has had a presence in the IM market for a while but hasn't made any particular inroads into it. This is about to change with Windows XP as Windows Messenger comes bundled into the OS, Messenger of course is Microsoft's idea of what an IM client should be. I've never used Messenger myself but thought I'd give it a shot with it already installed and good to go. after a couple of the days the verdict was in: It has to go!
Luckily for me every program and feature installed in Windows is still controlled in the add/remove programs portion of the control panel so I go there and start looking for Windows Messenger. Interestingly enough Windows Messenger is nowhere to be found in add/remove programs, not even under the OS features where it belongs. Further digging reveals that you can't even prevent Messenger from starting with the OS. Fine I try to close Messenger but Microsoft apparently finds Messenger to be such a useful tool that it automatically starts with Outlook Express as well, an application I use all the time.
Maybe it's just me but I'm starting to see an uncanny parallel with the Netscape-saga emerge here. I need to set the story straight and mention that I did find a way to remove Messenger some days later but the "fix" involved editing a text file hidden in the Windows folder itself. A lot of people don't want to or are not capable of doing this which effectively means that Windows Messenger is here to stay. I'm no expert on good marketing behavior but I'm pretty sure that this is isn't it.
As previously mentioned a couple of bugs crept into the RTM version. One such bug is the System Tray. The Systray doesn't seem to remember the settings you set for it and the program which couldn't launch it every boot. I tried associating an external program with a file type but inside the program itself but that didn't work and Windows XP still had control of the file types in question. To remedy this I needed to right-click the file and select always open with. Not the most intuitive way to it if you ask me.
The last area of critique is probably the most notable one: Product activation. We all know the key principle from games like Quake and Half-Life where the game simple refuses to launch if you don't supply it the correct key. Now imagine a world where you're only able to do a thousand changes to your game config after that you'd need to call up idsoftware or Valve to a new key for your game. This is the reality we're facing with Windows XP. Microsoft added product activation in an attempt to stop piracy of Windows. Unfortunately it's the consumer who pays the price in the form of a less flexible OS.
Microsoft slacked their security a little bit by allowing you to do a thousand minor changes to your config before requiring a reactivation. What constitutes a minor change then? Well, Microsoft is very tightlipped about that fact leaving the customers hanging. That Microsoft released another version of Windows XP which doesn't require product activation is a different story. How Microsoft can believe that hackers, crackers, and pirate won't go ahead and use this version instead of the one protected by product activation is beyond me, but they must know something that I don't.
All in all you end up with a strange feeling having shelled out the big bucks for a Windows license. You don't really own the product and you can't really do with it what you want. All the while the pirates are having their way with the enterprise version of the products.
When everything is said and done, all argument weighed, I still end up with a pretty good feeling. Of course some things could be done better or differently. That's the reality of created a standard product used by millions, you simply can't hit the mark for everyone.
Technically Windows XP is the long awaited combination of Windows gaming OS Windows 98 and the more business-minded Windows 2000 and Microsoft has pulled a product which will appeal to the masses.
You will pay a premium for a license if you want the latest and greatest from Microsoft but in return you'll get a nice environment for you work and gaming needs. There's no doubt in my mind that a couple of hundred bucks are better spent on Windows XP than a piece of hardware which will be obsolete in six months anyway. An OS simply stays around for much longer.
Windows XP is expected to hit the streets October 25th 2001.