Make your move to Windows XP

Too many IT pros are still on the fence about upgrading desktop clients from Windows 2000 Professional to Windows XP Professional. Here are some insights into why you should go ahead and make the change, and how you ease the pain of doing so.

Over the past year and a half, I've been pushing Windows XP whenever clients asked me about it. Some of them bit, some of them did not. While I won't dispute the fact that Windows 2000 Professional is an extremely solid operating system, especially now with Service Pack 3 out and Service Pack 4 in beta testing, Windows XP Professional still gets my nod as the desktop client operating system to have for the next five years. Why? Here are a few of the reasons why a move to Windows XP Professional might be worth your time.

What's so good about Windows XP Professional?
Windows XP was, for all intents and purposes, a merger of the best parts of Windows 2000 Professional and the best parts of Windows Millennium Edition. Windows Me was generally a failure in the market and was as buggy and unstable as they come, but it introduced Microsoft as a serious player in the multimedia arena. Looking at Microsoft's latest offerings, Windows XP Media Center and Windows XP Tablet Edition, it would seem that Microsoft wants Windows XP to be a real force in the market for years to come. All the niceties aside, let's look at some of the features of Windows XP Professional that you may not want to be without any longer.

Remote Assistance to the rescue!
OK, I'll admit it: I'm interested in anything that allows me to troubleshoot from my own desk instead of from a user's desk. This is why I'm so happy with Remote Assistance. No longer do you need to travel down three flights of stairs and across the building because Joe User can't get a network printer installed on his workstation. You can sit, quite comfortably, at your desk and make a Remote Assistance connection to his computer and do it for him—while he watches (so you don't have to do this over and over and over).

Users can access Remote Assistance from the Windows XP Help And Support Center by clicking Start, Help And Support, Invite A Friend To Connect To Your Computer With Remote Assistance, and Invite Someone To Help You. This will open the window shown in Figure A, where users can then select someone to help them from their Windows Messenger list, or they can opt to send an e-mail or file invitation request asking for help. Once the connection has been made, the Expert (the person giving the help) can be given control of the computer and can perform tasks for the user. It's a pretty handy feature and, best of all, it works natively with Windows XP.

Figure A
Remote Assistance can be a big help to IT support and users.

System Restore, take me away!
All too often users install applications that seem useful or fun, only to find out that the applications have crippled their systems for one reason or another. Unfortunately, even with all the protective and healing mechanisms that Windows 2000 and Windows XP have, something still goes wrong from time to time during an application install. Enter System Restore.

System Restore works in the background, monitoring changes made to your Windows XP computer and automatically creating restore points that allow you to revert your system back to a known “good” time. System Restore only concerns itself with operating system files and never touches user data (this is both good and bad—don't forget the value of regular backups). System Restore creates a daily checkpoint file and also creates a restoration point upon the installation of any new application.

System Restore is configured from the System applet in the control, as shown in Figure B. You can opt to turn off System Restore for one or all volumes on your Windows XP computer. You can also change the amount of space allowed for use on each monitored volume from the default setting of 12 percent of the total volume size—something that you will want to change in most cases. To access the business end of System Restore, simply click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore. As you can see in Figure C, there are two restore points created for December 25, and it looks like someone installed a new video game on this system. System Restore is almost foolproof and can be disabled via Group Policy if you decide you don’t need it on your network.

Figure B
You can configure System Restore settings for each volume independently.

Figure C
System Restore creates a checkpoint each day, as well as restore points upon software installation.

All about Side-by-Side DLLs
One of the most popular things to complain about in the past with Windows was the phenomena known as DLL Hell, or simply put, the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). One of the main causes of a BSOD (and they are many of them, to be sure) was DLL version conflicts. Windows XP aims to put an end to conflicting DLL versions once and for all with support for Side-by-Side (SxS) DLLs. What exactly does this mean? Figure D provides a graphical representation that may help you with the concept.

Figure D
Windows XP keeps multiple versions of the same DLL.

While the actual concepts and operation behind SxS are more complex than I can discuss here, the fact that it exists and works in Windows XP makes it a boon. In my experience, I have seen BSODs drop to about 25 percent of their pre-Windows XP numbers after rolling out Windows XP to clients. Of course, there is no perfect solution, but SxS DLL support provides a big first step to ending the dreaded BSOD once and for all.

Now that you've seen some of the best features in Windows XP Professional, you may be ready to make the move from Windows 2000 Professional, so I’ll examine that next.

Making the move
When it comes time to make the move up to Windows XP Professional you might be concerned about user data and settings. When performing the upgrade, you have a couple of different paths that you can follow:
  • You can perform an upgrade installation of Windows XP Professional—this will leave data and most user settings intact, but will require the reinstallation of software applications.
  • You can perform a clean installation of Windows XP Professional and not move user data and settings over—in this case you should have a plan to back up and later restore user data. I recommend moving it to a networked file server or some other large capacity storage medium.
  • You can perform a clean installation of Windows XP Professional and opt to move user data and settings over. In this case, you'll want to make use of either the User State Migration Tool (USMT) or the Files And Settings Transfer Wizard (FSTW) to move user data and settings from the old installation to the new installation.

Which method you use depends on your situation, but rest assured that no matter what you do, you'll be expected to give users access back to their data (at the very minimum) and perhaps even their personal settings. In cases such as this, I always recommend a clean installation of Windows XP Professional on the computer, followed by the restoration of user data. I'm not a big fan of moving over user settings—but in some cases, it can be done. I generally prefer to start with a clean and uniform desktop across the network. At any rate, you'll probably want to look into using the Files And Settings Transfer Wizard that comes with Windows XP and was designed for just this purpose.

Upgrade and relax
I hope I've given you a bit of insight into why Windows XP Professional really ought to be the desktop operating system of choice in your network. Although I examined some very good things about Windows XP Professional, there are a host of other items that were not examined. One of these that will be of prime importance later this year is the Group Policy enhancements in Windows XP Professional, which allow it to tightly integrate with the forthcoming Windows Server 2003. These enhancements cannot be used by Windows 2000.

Despite the learning curve that comes with Windows XP Professional—and the ugly Luna theme—it's my desktop client solution of choice. Perhaps it will soon be yours as well.

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