Why the Windows XP Launch Matters, and Laptop of the Month

This Thursday, Microsoft will launch Windows XP in New York City at the Marriott Marquis Theatre. Several related events in the city will precede the launch, and an hour-long concert featuring recording-artist Sting will follow the event. A year and a half ago, I decided not to attend the Windows 2000 launch, but I will be going to the XP launch. I'd like to explain why this launch is more compelling to me than the last one by discussing what's changed—and what hasn't changed—about Microsoft's approach to new products.

By the time Microsoft finalized Win2K in late 1999, I was soured by the fact that Microsoft's marketing mavens had gotten their tendrils into Windows NT and removed the NT name. Such a decision had repercussions, of course, including many Windows 98 users assuming that Win2K was an upgrade for their OS and later becoming upset after discovering it wasn't an upgrade. With XP, the marketing droids have won again with another ridiculous name, but at least this time, the new OS is an acceptable (even desirable) upgrade for all Windows users, and the name actually does mean something, although one gets the feeling that "eXPerience" was retrofitted to XP and not vice-versa. The company even removed the tagline "built on NT technology" this time around—no surprise there.

Microsoft's spastic naming schemes have also affected the magazine I write for. After years as "Windows NT Magazine," we adopted the name "Windows 2000 Magazine" when Microsoft refused to let us use our first choice, "Windows NT/2000 Magazine." And now, of course, we'll have to change names yet again. This time, we've chosen a title that will last longer than one product revision, but I'll have to leave you guessing for a little longer: We'll reveal the new name soon.

XP doesn't really have any negative connotations for me, Windows Product Activation (WPA) notwithstanding. XP is a great upgrade for all Windows users, but especially for those users still stuck in Windows 9x hell. And if you're into digital media, you need to upgrade as soon as possible: Most everything you'll need for digital music, photos, and videos is in the box. For corporations, XP isn't a slam dunk unless, again, you're still using Win9x on the desktop. The only users who might consider not upgrading to XP are businesses already running Win2K; XP is really just a point release for business-oriented desktops. So, for all these reasons, I'll be in New York on October 25.

Laptop of the Month: Sony VAIO R505J SuperSlim Pro
I recently experienced my first XP-preloaded PC, a Sony VAIO laptop, which is this month's Laptop of the Month. Aside from being a killer machine in its own right, the VAIO presents a telling look at the first wave of XP machines we can expect to see from OEMs in the coming months. Unfortunately, little has changed in this area, because most OEMs—Sony included—have opted to pollute users' desktops and Start Menus with a variety of add-ons, applications, and icons. Sony's bundled applications are quite good, but users should be able to get a clean desktop out of the box if they so choose.

In any event, the Sony R505J SuperSlim Pro is an amazing machine featuring a removable slice, called the SlimDock, which houses a 3.5" disk drive, optical drive, and numerous ports. With the slice removed, the R505J weighs only 3.75 pounds—optimal for traveling—but is full featured with a 750MHz or 850MHz mobile Pentium III processor, a 12.1" XGA (1024 x 768) screen, and a 15GB or 30GB hard disk. But even with the slice installed, the system weighs less than 7 pounds. The sheer usefulness of this arrangement, which IBM's ThinkPad X series and Gateway's Solo 3450 also employ, makes this my preferred style of portable system today. If you need a full-featured desktop replacement, add the slice. But if you want to travel light, just stow the slice and bring the main machine unit—it's the best of both worlds.

Sans slice, the Sony offers two USB ports—one on each side of the unit, which I appreciate—FireWire, headphone and microphone ports, a PC card slot, 100Mbps Ethernet and modem, and a MemoryStick slot, which is a pretty impressive selection. But the slice adds the aforementioned 3.5" and optical drives (CD-RW, DVD, or combo DVD/CD-RW), as well as a flip-down back panel revealing another networking port, two more USB ports, a second FireWire port, video-out port, and parallel and serial ports. The only thing that's missing, frankly, is a second battery in the slice, which most users would have appreciated but that would have made the unit heavier and bulkier.

The Sony is aesthetically gorgeous—the closest thing in the PC world to Apple's beautiful TiBook and iBook machines. The Sony ships with XP and a slew of useful applications, including Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Premier 6 LE, Sony MovieShaker—an excellent movie-maker application—and many others. But most of the Sony pre-bundles are multimedia, rather than business related. For example, the test unit didn't come with Microsoft Office, let alone Microsoft Works. The Sony features an impressive number of applications, but this abundance was also a hindrance because the desktop and Start Menu were full of icons.

The Sony also ships with a weird jog dial between the trackpad buttons. This dial works with a small onscreen application that gives you options for configuring the system and launching applications, but the dial seems pointless given the functionality of the new XP Start Menu. I found the application annoying because it popped up whenever I mistakenly touched the jog dial.

Overall, the Sony is an excellent choice for mobile professionals who need to both travel light and have the functionality of a desktop model when they're tied to a desk, assuming the lack of business applications isn't a concern. This is a great machine, and I strongly recommend it.

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