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March 2002
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Tech 101

XP is One Hardy Freight Train

Microsoft's new operating system is the little engine that can.

By Craig Ball

XP is One Hardy Freight Train YESTERDAY, juggling my usual half dozen projects, I glanced down at my Windows task bar -- that handy freight train of active applications -- to find that I had 13 iterations of the Internet Explorer running, joined by my e-mail client, three Word documents, a gargantuan Excel spreadsheet, a graphics-laden PowerPoint presentation and several Windows PhotoDraw masterpieces-in-progress.

Add to this list the Wi-Fi wireless Internet connection to my home network and the Sir Mix-a-Lot MP3 blasting from Windows Media Player, and I was carrying a digital load that would have brought Windows 98 to its knees. Yet, everything was running smoothly, with nary a BSOD ("Blue Screen of Death") in sight. Instead, I was happily jumping back and forth between applications -- researching, cutting, pasting, drawing, jawing and jamming.

The reason for this happy state of affairs was Windows XP. I'd upgraded my laptop to the latest version of Windows right after its release and, although the upgrade was a bumpy ride, ultimately requiring me to backup my data, reformat my hard drive and reinstall all programs and data, the end result has been worth every ounce of the effort it took to get here. Windows XP is wonderful!

XP SPOTLIGHT

iOpus Software Gmbh, of Germany, has introduced iOpus Password Recovery XP, a password recovery utility that decrypts and displays the passwords behind asterisks on Windows systems.

This new version compensates for Microsoft XP's improved security features, and helps users recover frequently used, but forgotten passwords.

Reader Response no. 277.

GT Technologies has released AcqURL 6.0, a bookmark manager that lets users bookmark anything from files and folders on local systems, to Web and FTP sites across the Internet.

Reader Response no. 278.

Russia's AhaSoft has debuted IconXP 1.04, a utility for creating Windows XP icons. Users produce icons with 32-bit color, 8-bit alpha channels, and smooth edges over any background.

Reader Response no. 279.

Logiware gmbh, of Germany, has released TickerMyMail, an e-mail application that monitors e-mail inboxes and uses a moving ticker tape style display to notify users of new mail.

Reader Response no. 280.

If you want to pick a fight with a computer aficionado (O.K., "geek"), just say something positive about Microsoft Corp. For the full eye-rolling, "aren't you dumb-as-dirt" dismissal, praise anything about Windows. They may take away my pocket protector for this, but I really like Windows XP.

Rock Stable

First, XP is rock stable compared to its predecessors. I can crash it, but I really have to work at it and usually must enlist the aid of balky, off-brand hardware to bring it down. My typical usage involves leaving my laptop running for days between reboots, all the while running a variety of demanding applications. Prior versions of Windows would have "leaked" memory, leaving me with low resources and a locked up desktop right in the middle of working on something I really hated to lose. Those days seem to be over.

Second, XP is pretty. Yes, I know a dyed-in-the-wool Unix user would hoot at the idea that anyone wants a "pretty" operating system. But, when you spend 18 hours a day staring at the screen, clearer text and great visual appeal is more than just window dressing (well, okay, window dressing is exactly what it is, but I want it.)

Finally, and best of all, Windows XP is just plain smarter than its ancestors. The interface presents you with the set of choices you probably want at the instant you need them. When I pop in a CD or a Smart Media card (the support for which was the reason I bought my Toshiba Satellite in the first place), XP knows what I've loaded and asks me what I would like to do. It offers up sensible choices, which I can further customize to my preferences. It handles visual and sound media effortlessly and integrates with the Web flawlessly. Hardware installation is much easier, tending to require less handholding and guesswork. Plus, hardware seems more likely to work the first time, without a call to product support.

Shortcomings?

Does XP have its shortcomings? I'm sure it does, but once I got it properly installed, I haven't found them. Critics point to its more onerous registration scheme intended to guard against software piracy, but that's proven to be a tempest in a teapot.

Mac users argue that it is just a shadow of the latest, greatest Mac operating system; but let's face it: Mac users will never worship at the altar of Windows, ever.

You do need a fast processor and a big dollop of memory and storage, but all have fallen so far in price of late, it's hard to justify limping along with a Pentium 166 anymore.

Then there is just the reluctance of many to ship any more of their hard-earned dough to Redmond. Say what you will about Microsoft's lack of innovation and that Windows just gloms onto someone else's good idea and absorbs it like an outer space amoeba in a '50s B movie, Windows saves me money every time some company's standalone application becomes a Windows feature. There are at least a dozen programs I used to have to buy which now come built right into Windows.

Do I fondly recall my years with PCAnywhere, QEMM, Stacker, WinFax, Norton Utilities, Netscape navigator, ProComm Plus, Go Back and a bunch of other utilities that helped me in the past? Sure I do. Am I happy that those programs' principal features are built right into new releases of Windows? I'm thrilled. So, here's my pocket protector. I can't wear it anymore, because I think Microsoft may have gotten it right with Windows XP.

Craig Ball (craigball.com) is a Texas personal injury specialist and chair of the Technology Advisory Committee of the State Bar of Texas. He currently serves as a consultant in the Enron-related litigation pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

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