Visit the Microsoft Web site and you’ll find dozens of reasons you should chuck your old desktop operating systems in favor of Windows XP. After reading all of the Microsoft propaganda, you may wonder how many of these reasons are real and how many are unmerited. I’ve spent quite a bit of time working with the new operating system and I’ll share with you what I feel are the 10 best reasons to upgrade to Windows XP.
By now, we’ve all heard the hype about how blazingly fast Windows XP runs applications. When I acquired my first copy of Windows XP, I didn’t buy in to this at all. After all, Microsoft has a long history of making operating systems more and more bloated and consequently slower with every version. For example, try running Windows 95 on a low-end Pentium machine or on a high-end 486. Windows 95 runs fairly well on such machines, but if you try upgrading the same machine to Windows 98, you’ll see that 98 runs painfully slow. This is what I was expecting out of my XP upgrade.
I’m happy to report this latest version of Windows is different. My applications actually run faster under XP than they did under Windows 98 Second Edition. When capturing digital video with older operating systems, I would usually lose about 10 to 12 frames per minute because my 1.6-GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM couldn’t keep up with the video capture software’s demands. After my upgrade to XP, lost frames are a thing of the past.
Support for newer hardware
Windows XP supports newer hardware that might not always be supported by older versions of Windows. For example, Windows XP detects FireWire ports automatically on installation. Previous versions of Windows required you to load third-party drivers for FireWire ports.
Windows XP also does a great job of detecting wireless NICs without any special configuration. In a recent test, it took me less than a minute to attach a Windows XP notebook PC to a wireless network that the notebook had never been connected to before. And I was using a wireless NIC that had never been used with the notebook PC before.
Windows XP is based on a modified Windows 2000 kernel. Windows 2000 was already a relatively stable operating system and Microsoft has worked hard to make XP the most stable version of Windows ever.
I’m running Windows XP on four of my PCs. I consider myself to be a power user and tend to really abuse operating systems. I can honestly say that none of my XP machines has ever crashed. Sure, I’ve had poorly written applications crash, but these crashes have never brought down the entire operating system. To put it bluntly, not only have I never seen the infamous Blue Screen of Death in XP, I’m beginning to wonder if it really exists.
Sure, Windows XP has plenty of security holes, just like any other version of Windows. But I consider all of the security improvements to be a step in the right direction. One security feature that I think deserves special mention is the Internet Connection Firewall, a very simple firewall that’s built right in to the operating system. You can enable the firewall simply by selecting a check box in the Network Connections Properties dialog box. By enabling the firewall, you block all inbound Internet requests. You can configure exceptions to this by selecting various options from a list. For example, you could allow FTP traffic but block all other traffic. The built-in firewall is great for small offices that may not have the funds or the knowledge necessary for setting up a real firewall.
Remote Assistance allows users to send an invitation for help to the help desk via e-mail, instant message, or snail mail. The help desk can use the invitation to remotely control the troubled PC and make the necessary repair. Remote assistance can save a lot of time, especially if the PCs that your help desk is supporting are scattered all over the place.
Less vulnerability to curious users
Several years ago, I worked in a help desk environment. One of my biggest frustrations was users toying with operating system settings and files that they knew nothing about. For example, one user needed more hard disk space, so he deleted files that he didn’t recognize (for example, the Microsoft Office system files). I wasted a lot of time undoing damage caused by curious users or users who didn’t understand the consequences of their actions.
Windows XP goes to great lengths to protect itself from such users. First, the various system-related folders display a warning when accessed, indicating that the folder shouldn’t be tampered with. Windows XP also allows you to create Windows 2000-style policies that lock down the desktop in a way that prevents users from tampering with system files or loading software onto the system.
Finally, the System Restore feature and the Device Driver Rollback feature can quickly restore the system to working order if a user installs a buggy driver or makes some other configuration change that adversely affects the operating system.
Better mobile computing support
Windows XP offers a slew of enhancements for the mobile user. Some of these enhancements are simple, such as better power management and easy support for wireless networking. Other mobile networking features are a little more elaborate, such as the Remote Assistance feature.
Mobile users will also like the media connection feature, which automatically detects any wireless networks or infrared devices that are in the proximity. Another cool mobile enhancement in XP is hot docking. You can dock or undock your laptop without having to reboot or change hardware configurations.
Perhaps the nicest feature for mobile users is Network Location Awareness. If you sometimes attach your computer to the network at the office and sometimes to a home network, XP can tell the difference and configure itself accordingly, even if one network uses a dynamic IP address and another uses a static IP address.
Fast boot and shutdown times
When Windows 98 was released, all sorts of claims were made about 98’s fast boot times. What a crock that one turned out to be. Windows XP really does boot up quickly. On a 1-GHz Pentium III test system, I clocked the boot process at a mere 23 seconds from powerup until I reached the login prompt. The shutdown process was only slightly slower at 27 seconds.
Support for dynamic disks
One of my favorite XP features is its full support for dynamic disks. Dynamic disks are an answer to prayers for anyone who’s ever struggled with not having enough hard disk space. Dynamic disks allow multiple hard disks to be combined into a single partition. By doing so, you can create extremely large partitions.
Another cool feature of dynamic disks is that you can implement disk striping. Unfortunately, striping with parity and other fault-tolerant configurations aren’t supported. Although you can’t create a fault-tolerant stripe set, stripe sets can greatly enhance performance and are an absolute must for the serious power user.
Better multimedia support
Windows XP has much richer multimedia support than its predecessors. XP comes with Windows Media Player version 8.0, which offers some needed improvements over the previous version. One of the most notable of these improvements is that Windows Media Player version 8 supports DVD playback, assuming that you have the necessary DVD decoder installed. The new Media Player also contains built-in support for copying to and from CDs, and even includes radio tuner support. When you play or copy a CD, Media Player will even download the album title and track information from an online database. Finally, Media Player makes organizing MP3 files and other types of media files easy, thanks to a great media library feature.
Not the solution for everyone
I honestly believe that XP is by far the best desktop operating system that Microsoft has ever created. Depending on your circumstances, though, an upgrade doesn’t always make sense. In the interest of fairness, I’ve recently written another TechProGuild article on compelling reasons not to upgrade to XP. If you’re considering making the switch, I strongly recommend reading both articles and then deciding if the time is right for an upgrade to Windows XP.