Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE: Year-End Review

It's been a big year for Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE (now known as Windows & .NET Magazine UPDATE), at least from my perspective. Nothing else I write garners the amount and quality of feedback I get from UPDATE readers, and I appreciate the comments. We covered a lot of ground this year, from the digital video learning curve article in January that helped spawn our new Connected Home Magazine and the Connected Home EXPRESS email newsletter to the 10 laptop-of-the-month reviews we published between January and October. (I never received November's laptop, and I've reserved this month for a follow-up to some of the best machines we've seen this year.) Because this is the last issue of this UPDATE we'll publish in 2001 (the next issue will mail January 8, 2002), I want to look back at the most popular topics I discussed this year and discuss some of the new laptop designs that are available. I'll try not to make it read like an Emmy acceptance speech.

Windows XP was a hot topic several times this year. I first covered XP's enterprise features in January and more concrete information about the shipping version of XP in October and November. The articles that spawned the most feedback concerned XP's most reviled feature, Windows Product Activation (WPA), a technology that, interestingly, has yet to cause any high-profile problems for users now that XP's out in the real world. As a follow-up, many readers discussed WPA in their XP feedback, which will be available this week on the Windows SuperSite in "Windows XP: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

The most popular topic this year, however, was only peripherally related to XP—wireless technology. I discussed wireless in April, May, and again in December, and this technology is the subject of much interest and excitement. Anywhere/anytime connectivity is developing rapidly, and as I noted last week, I expect wireless to go mainstream in 2002.

Windows .NET Server (formerly Whistler Server and then briefly called Windows 2002 Server) hit the UPDATE schedule three or four times, but this release hasn't generated much interest yet. Microsoft will turn up the volume on .NET Server in early 2002, however, so we'll see whether upgrade-weary (and perhaps Microsoft-weary) enterprises can muster any enthusiasm. I'm guessing .NET Server will see limited success with Win2K enterprises but wider adoption among companies that have yet to upgrade past Windows NT 4.0.

Several interesting controversies appeared in 2001, even if we ignore the Microsoft antitrust trial high jinks. In June, Microsoft planned to enhance Office XP sales by implementing an October 1, 2001, deadline for its Software Assurance (SA) plan, which would have compelled corporations to adopt the new product to save money. When customers complained, Microsoft pushed the date back, and we've yet to see any of the expected Office XP sales-milestone press releases. I suspect that the relatively lackluster Office XP has been one of the company's slowest-selling Office suites.

Microsoft eventually pulled Smart Tags from Office XP (which I wrongly didn't consider problematic when I wrote about them) and weathered several misinformation campaigns against Windows XP regarding such features as MP3 support, WPA and privacy, Windows Messenger, and Windows Passport. In the end, XP sold like gangbusters, although reports differ about whether it's the all-time Windows best-seller or just one of the top two. One controversy Microsoft has yet to live down is security, which the company addressed several times, in varying degrees, throughout the year. It's still unclear whether we can trust the security in any Microsoft product, and that uncertainty is a big problem as we move toward the distributed .NET future.

I covered a lot of laptops and other portable devices this year, and I'd like to update you on changes since the original reviews. In January, I looked at the Dell Inspiron 4000, a wonderful mid-sized machine that remains my all-around favorite. Since the review, Dell has split the 4000 machines into the Inspiron 4100 and 2500 lines, which range in price from $900 to about $2500 fully loaded, which is a significant price reduction over the original unit.

February's Gateway Solo 3350 and April's Dell Latitude L400 were very similar sub-notebook machines, but their successors aren't. Although I previously gave the nod to the Dell, the next-generation Solo 3450 now features a multimedia dock, similar to the IBM ThinkPad X series (a great compromise between expandability and weight for the frequent traveler). Dell upgraded the L400 with a nicer-looking C400 model, but the new model still uses external media drives, which is a less compelling approach. Similar laptop choices include Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) Omnibook 500, which I looked at in March and now includes integrated wireless networking, and Sony's R505J, which I looked at in October. Both systems use a bottom-mounted media slice, similar to the above-mentioned Gateway model.

For desktop-replacement models, I looked at the Dell Latitude C800 in May, the IBM ThinkPad A21 in July, and the Toshiba Satellite Pro 4600 in August. The Toshiba is the machine to beat in this category, with its integrated wireless technology and durable shell. On a related note, I had downplayed the Dell's super-high-resolution, but I now believe that this is an important feature on high-end desktop replacements.

A couple of interesting laptop replacements entered the market this year, including Apple's PowerBook G4, which the company recently upgraded with faster processors and a DVD/CD-RW combination drive. The G4s are expensive, however, and I purchased an iBook for personal use, which I recommend over the G4: The iBook is less expensive, smaller, and gets better wireless reception. In September, I looked at Pocket PCs as laptop replacements and came away semiconvinced. Although I'd love to travel that light, the devices still lack a few features I need. Sadly, the newly released Pocket PC 2002 doesn't alleviate these basic concerns.

Selecting a laptop is tough and is generally a matter of personal choice. For a general-purpose, mid-sized machine, I recommend the Dell Inspiron 4100. Most business travelers, however, will want something smaller and lighter, and I'd choose a media-slice device, such as one from the IBM ThinkPad X series or the Gateway Solo 3450. For desktop replacements, look at Toshiba first and then try Dell.

Looking forward, I'm curious whether these laptop reviews are worthwhile. Please drop me a note and let me know whether you'd like me to continue these monthly looks at the latest portable computers. And I'm also interested in any general UPDATE feedback: What did you like or dislike, and what topics would you like us to cover in 2002? Please, have a safe and happy holiday. See you next year!

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