What to Do About Windows XP

It's here, and it's not so scary after all

An array of Microsoft competitors, government bodies, and special-interest groups attempted to forestall Windows XP's release, so you might wonder whether you should fear rather than adopt XP. The OS includes several technologies that scare people for a variety of reasons. The biggest bugaboo, Windows Product Activation (WPA), enforces Microsoft's licensing policies. Thus, individuals will no longer be able to use one Windows product key to install one copy of Windows on multiple PCs. For corporate users, WPA is a nonevent because volume-licensed copies of XP won't even include this technology.

Understanding Microsoft's volume-licensing options and choosing one takes effort, but if your company isn't already using volume licensing, it should start now. In addition to the obvious benefit of not having to deal with WPA, volume licensing offers lower prices and an array of support options. Any company purchasing five or more XP licenses qualifies.

WPA is also a nonevent for individuals who purchase a new PC with XP installed. These XP copies will be tied only to the BIOS, so users can change any hardware component without activating.

Beware of Bundling
Another problem Microsoft encountered with XP was objection to the OS's inclusion of multimedia products such as Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP) and Windows Movie Maker, with no way for customers to remove them. Microsoft critics argued that this product bundling was similar to the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) bundling that the federal court ruled is an antitrust-law violation. Microsoft responded by letting users remove the IE UI from XP through the Add or Remove Programs applet. Critics argue that MPXP, Windows Movie Maker, and other such applets should also be optional.

The point is valid, but corporations that have standardized on Netscape Navigator, QUALCOMM's Eudora email, RealNetworks' RealPlayer, or other products can easily add them to XP as they could with earlier Windows versions. And designating such applications as the default is easier than ever.

Less Secure?
The scariest thing you might have heard about XP is that its full raw-socket support will enable a new generation of Internet-based Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. But the reality is that XP is the most secure Windows version yet. It includes a built-in firewall for basic protection against Internet attacks and an administrable and scriptable Software Restriction Policies feature for sandboxing applications, folders, and users—this latter feature is one that all Windows administrators should look into. And Microsoft is pushing ahead with protection technologies for its Internet-based applications such as Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express that address human errors such as a user executing an unexpected email attachment.

Go for It
So what should you do about XP? For desktops that are still running Windows 9x, XP is an important update. XP offers Win9x users the security and stability that Windows 2000 users have enjoyed for the past 2 years. And applications and hardware devices that work with Win9x will typically work with XP much better than they do with Win2K.

XP appears to solve Win2K's performance problems as well. According to Microsoft, XP performs similarly to Win9x and better than Win2K in 64MB of RAM. And it beats all comers in 128MB of RAM or more. If you're running Win9x and meet XP's recommended hardware requirements, XP is a no-brainer. If you're running Win2K, you can take a pass on XP until your next PC upgrade. But XP integrates nicely into any Windows environment, so there's no reason to forego this release with any new PC purchases.

Don't let the bad press and campaigns against XP fool you. This Windows version is the most compelling ever, for both consumers and the enterprise.

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