Windows new OS brighter, more intelligent than others

First published in Business in Vancouver, October 16, 2001 Issue # 625, The high-tech office column

by ALAN ZISMAN (c) 2001

Spending about US$1 billion to publicize the October 25 launch of Windows XP, Microsoft considers this new operating system its most significant new product release since Windows 95.

In many ways, the company is right.

With this release, the company has finally merged its Windows 95/98/ME line of operating systems, aimed primarily at home users, with its Windows NT/2000 product line, aimed at business desktops and servers.

Two different product lines mean added costs for Microsoft, for hardware and software developers, and for businesses supporting users running different products.

Not to be confused with Office XP, two different versions of Windows XP remain -- one aimed at consumers and the other aimed at business users. Home users pay less (US$199 versus US$299) and get a somewhat different look and feel. Business users get a few extra features: more networking options, remote access and added security features. But under the hood, both versions are built on top of the same code base, evolved from last year's robust Windows 2000 release.

Microsoft claims built-in drivers for the 1,000 most popular hardware add-ons along with drivers for tens of thousands of other devices. All in all, more hardware and software support than Windows 2000, though less than Windows 98.

Windows XP is brighter and more colourful than previous versions, even though it is based on Windows 2000.

A taskbar still runs along the bottom of the screen with a Start button in the left-hand corner, but it's bigger, and the 3D look takes better advantage of larger monitors, making it easier to click on little buttons and icons.

It's a cleaner look, too. By default, the desktop sports just a single icon: a Recycle Bin moved to a Mac-like lower left-hand corner. Icons left on users' desktops by program installations will magically disappear if they aren't used over time. The taskbar is tidier, too. The tiny icons in the formerly cluttered lower-right Notification Area disappear if they're not active. And when the taskbar gets too crowded, buttons are grouped together rather than simply becoming smaller and unreadable. Click and a list of the various open windows pops up.

Control Panel items are also grouped into categories. This may make things easier to find and certainly is a cleaner look. Don't like it? One click changes back to "classic view." The Control Panel, along with Explorer/My Computer windows all sport a new two-paned look, with the left side offering a list of what Microsoft considers the things that users are most likely to want to do. The list changes according to what's displayed on the right. Much of the time Microsoft's choice is correct, making it easier to, for example, create a new folder or search for files.

The Start Menu also receives a makeover, again, with the new two-paned look. At first, the left side lists Microsoft's favourite Windows XP add-ins, but that changes to include your last five programs run. At the bottom, there's an arrow for "All Programs," the contents of the old-style Start Menu. The right side offers quick links to My Documents, My Pictures and My Music folders, along with My Computer, the Control Panel and the list of recently opened documents. If you store your files Microsoft's way, access is much easier. Again, you can reset it to the "Classic Start Menu" look, if you prefer, which also dumps the old set of icons back along the left side of the screen.

The support for multiple users is nice. A new user can log on, without losing the previous user's work. Come back to your PC, click your name on the log-on screen and you're quickly back to where you left off.

Windows XP: colourful, easier to use and more stable. What's not to like? Check in next week.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan