Q. What is Windows XP?
A. Out on Thursday 25 October, it is the most ambitious version of the popular Windows desktop and server software yet to come from Bill Gates' brainstorming bunker.
So, this isn't just another product update from Microsoft?
Oh no, far from it. Microsoft is pinning its entire future internet-based software strategy - aka .NET - on this OS. .NET offers a range on internet services, based on XML, which are accessed from a range of devices, most of which Microsoft wants running Windows XP. For example users could book holidays online and the information is automatically updated within their calendars. You could say XP - in conjunction with .NET - is the clearinghouse of the future.
What other new features can I expect?
Windows XP is packed with multimedia goodies. It offers the capabilities to burn CDs from MPEG3, WMA or Wav files, make movies, store audio and visual clips in a media library as well as plug in digital cameras to send pictures of the kids to the grandparents. Granted, Apple Mac has been doing this for quite a while but it's nice to see Windows finally catching up.
For business users, there is a built-in firewall, improved manageability, remote assistance and network set-up wizards - all aimed at making the product easier to use. You can also say sayonara to Netmeeting as it is integrated into a new and improved MSN Messenger - a gauntlet is being thrown at the feet of market leader AOL.
So where does the much written about product activation come in?
As part of Microsoft's fight against piracy it has introduced a product activation button which checks the ID of 10 hardware components of a PC and sends the spec straight to Microsoft. However, users must activate software within two weeks of installation otherwise they won't be able to use it at all. And they are only allowed to activate it on one PC by default. This means that if hardware dies or a user decides to do a major system reconfiguration they'll find themselves on the phone to the XP hotline asking for permission to continue to use the software. The more cynical say product activation is another way for Microsoft to extend its control over the desktops of the world.
What has all the fuss been about licensing?
Windows XP will be subject to a change in licensing policy due to come into play on 31 July 2002. The controversial policy has already been postponed twice following an uproar from user groups over the increase in costs incurred by the changes. From next summer users will no longer be able to buy the product outright. Instead it will have to be rented. UK user groups estimate this could cost UK Plc an extra £1bn in licensing fees per year.
Will it be a success?
This is the billion dollar question, at least if you believe the reports about the XP marketing spend. Despite all the legal wrangling and general controversy surrounding the product, early indications are it will be a winner with users, at least in the long term. Businesses might not like the increase in licensing fees but the new features and technically beefed up old favourites are welcome.
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