What you’ll find new in Windows XP depends entirely on your perspective, or more specifically, the version of Windows you used last. As described earlier in this chapter, Windows XP is a more substantial upgrade for Windows 9x/Me users, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing new for Windows 2000 users. Although the following list of changes is not comprehensive, it does highlight some of the more interesting changes for users coming from both platforms.
As explained earlier in this chapter, the biggest change Windows 9x/Me users will notice is the dramatically improved stability of Windows XP. Although applications still crash in XP, they’re much less likely to bring down the whole system.
While Windows 9x/Me would slow down after only a few hours of use (requiring a reboot to bring it back to life), Windows XP can be left on for weeks without so much as a hiccup. The difference is the way system resources, an area of memory devoted to managing running applications and their interface elements, are handled: in Windows 9x/Me, this is a fixed (and rather small) area of memory, which can fill up fast. In Windows XP, system resources are allocated dynamically, which means you’ll never run out.
While Windows 9x/Me supported multiple users, this functionality was never more than a way for different users to have different color schemes and desktop icons. In Windows XP, multiple user management is much more sophisticated. If you’re using Windows XP Professional (see the following section), a user will be able to securely encrypt files and folders so that other users can’t read or modify them.
Networking in Windows XP is much more powerful and secure than in Windows 9x/Me, but is substantially easier to set up and configure. The Network Properties window (see Chapter 7) actually makes sense now!
Although nearly identical to Windows 2000 under the hood, Windows XP has some higher system requirements due to the increased overhead of all the extra bells and whistles. While Windows 2000 requires at least a 133-Mhz Pentium-class system with 64 Mb of RAM, Windows XP needs at least a 300 Mhz Pentium-II processor and 128 Mb of RAM.
Given the same hardware, Windows XP should be substantially faster than Windows 2000. Among the areas particularly affected are startup time and hard drive data transfer. For example, a 30 Mb file on my system took several seconds to copy from one hard drive to another in Windows 2000, but the same copy is nearly instantaneous in XP.
Windows XP is now the de facto standard, which means gone are the days when new products won’t be supported for your system. However, this doesn’t mean that older product will necessarily be brought up to snuff; most likely, existing products not supported in Windows 2000 will be retired rather than updated to work with XP.
Windows XP has a new, more colorful and cheerful (some would say cartoonish) interface, although the classic interface can be easily selected to make XP look and feel nearly identical to Windows 2000 and Windows Me.
A new copy-protection scheme known as Product Activation, designed to prevent a single copy of Windows XP from being installed on more than one machine at a time, is built into most versions of the operating system. This is one of the most controversial features of the system, since it requires you to provide personal information to Microsoft and allow them to remotely access your system.
Windows XP has more bells and whistles, such as the Windows Movie Maker, built-in CD writer support, the Internet Connection Firewall (called the Windows Firewall in the SP2 version of XP), and Remote Desktop Connection.
See Appendix B for more issues that affect users upgrading to Windows XP from a previous version of Windows.