Miscellaneous Ramblings

XP Ballyhoo Builds to a Crescendo

Charles Moore - 2001.10.25 - Tip Jar

The hype machine has been at full throttle in the homestretch to the Windows XP™ official rollout.

The Financial Post's Robert Thompson notes that "a PC purchased two years ago is still relatively current in terms of technology and software. A new computer might be better, but a machine bought two years ago is good enough, hence the term ['good enough computing']. And that's the big problem facing the computer industry."

Thompson suggests that the release of Windows XP may catalyze laggard PC sales somewhat from the seven-year low they hit this spring and which are still in steep decline.

"Which is why many PC makers are counting on the allure of Microsoft's Windows XP to drive consumers back to electronics stores across the country," says Thompson.

However, Thompson also notes that there could be sales resistance to Microsoft's scheme to force users to sign up for Passport, the new Windows online authentication service.

For most enterprise users, Windows XP amounts to a relatively minor update to Windows 2000 that focuses mainly on "fit and finish." Mike Silver, an analyst for industry research firm Gartner Group, has commented that "Gartner views Windows XP as a minor service release for Windows 2000 (much as Windows 98 was to Windows 95)." Indeed, the most noticeable change in Windows XP for business users already equipped with Windows 2000 will be Microsoft's new copy-protection scheme that will make it necessary to buy a separate, full-price copy of Windows for each PC it is installed on.

Minor the changes may be, but XP is not cheap at about US$99 per pop for an upgrade of the home version and US$199 for the full install. The Professional Edition of Windows XP for commercial users, which includes multiple-processor support, corporate network connection and management, remote access, file encryption and more security features, will cost around US$199 as an upgrade or US$299 for the full version, which will run into real money if you have more than one or two machines to upgrade.

Windows Product Activation (WPA) will only allow you to install Windows XP on one computer at a time, creating and storing a profile of the configuration of every PC on which you install Windows XP. This will allows Microsoft to "lock" each copy of the operating system to one specific PC. Once installed, you will have 30 days in which to contact Microsoft, either via the Internet or by telephone, and activate the software.

If you don't do this, your copy of Windows XP will stop working, and even if you do comply, Windows XP might still stop working sometime in the future if you upgrade your PC's hardware so that it no longer matches the profile Microsoft has on file. If your PC malfunctions, making it necessary to reinstall Windows XP, you'll be obliged to explain the situation to Microsoft and hope they allow you to activate it again. Windows will also keep monitoring your computer to make sure that it's still running on the same machine. (Note: there are rumors afoot that Microsoft may be planning to back off a little bit on product activation, allowing up to six changes to your hardware configuration, and a 120 day reset. Also, OEM copies of XP that come preinstalled will have WPA linked solely to the machine's BIOS, so on these you will be able to change anything you like without reactivation.)

Microsoft also plans to move to a subscription licensing policy in the near future, so that paying the Windows license fee will not give you the right to use the software in perpetuity, but rather you will be obliged to pony up subscription fees on a regular basis.

Needless to say, a lot of Windows users are unenchanted by these changes. Of course, the fine print on Microsoft's license has always insisted that each copy of Windows only be installed on one machine, but in practice home users and many small businesses have sometimes been using one copy of Windows to upgrade several PCs - a habit Microsoft calls "casual piracy." Under the letter of the law, that's what it is.

There are going to be a lot of unhappy campers out there once the practical implications of this product activation protocol sink in, and more than a few of them will be inclined to give using Windows a second or third thought.

Changes in this first major upgrade to Windows since Windows 95 include:

  • A revamped taskbar intended to reduce desktop clutter by organizing your programs
  • More robust stability and reliability based on Windows 2000 technology; ergo: XP will not crash as often as previous consumer Windows versions
  • Enhanced remote access allowing Internet users hand off control of their PC to another individual over the Web. Useful for troubleshooting over the phone.

However, AnchorDesk's David Coursey has posted a sober, contrarian screed on The Dark Side of Windows XP. Coursey notes that negative issues with respect to XP are:

  1. Licensing and cost (copy protection and authentication)
  2. Activation
  3. Firewall woes.
  4. Wireless troubles.
  5. Drivers.
  6. Applications compatibility
  7. Home vs. pro: "I am a tad concerned about whether some "home" users will think they actually need the "pro" version, a $100 additional expense per machine."
  8. Memory: "If you are upgrading an older machine and have less than 256 MB of RAM, be sure to buy some memory."
  9. Passport
  10. MSN tie-ins
  11. No MP3 support
  12. Firewall

Windows XP System requirements are

  • Intel 300 MHz Pentium III processor or better
  • 1.5 GB free hard-drive space
  • 10 GB hard drive recommended.

Personally, I find all this hype and angst over Windows XP a bit surreal. There is no small resonance of the Emperor's new clothes here.

Windows XP probably is a significant improvement over Win95/98/ME, at least for users who have the hardware muscle to run it, but it's still Windows and still Microsoft, the latter being the main problem. From the perspective of Mac users, life on the Dark Side seems to be an exercise in masochism - a never-ending trip to the dentist. It's very sad, really, when there is such a simple and easy alternative.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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