Microsoft Windows XP and Office XP

does not usually review development releases of software but, due to popular demand, we have decided to make an exception for our snapshot test of the second beta of Microsoft’s much hyped next-generation operating system, Windows XP. Widely dubbed the biggest launch to come out of Redmond since Windows 95, XP aims to be all things to all people – from home users to the largest enterprises.

The personal and professional editions of XP are, for the first time, based on the same code base, which is derived from Windows 2000. There is also a server version in the pipe line, based on the same code, but this release won’t be branded as Windows XP – just to add to the confusion.

Looking at our test network our XP installation was reported as Windows NT 5.1 as opposed to NT 5.0 for Windows 2000. So what do you get for your 0.1?

Not that much in terms of additional enterprise functionality, was our initial observation. Although the code is a progression from Windows 2000, many of the features in XP will be familiar to those who have experience of Windows 98 SE and Windows ME.

However, rather than adding additional features, the main thrust of this upgrade is making existing functionality easier to find and use by taking a more task-oriented approach. For example, all of the tools related to processes such as digital photography, digital audio and digital video editing are now grouped together.

These extra features take up a lot more memory than previous versions of Windows, making it necessary to install it on pretty powerful computers – Microsoft recommends at least 128Mb of Ram, 64Mb video memory, and around 650Mb of spare hard drive space. We put XP on our test PC, a state-of-the-art Dell Pentium 4-based PC running at 1.4Ghz and containing 512Mb of Ram.

Just having the operating system running with nothing else took up around 80Mb of memory even before using applications such as Internet Explorer and Outlook Express.

Most of the noticeable changes occur on the desktop itself. The interface has been completely overhauled, and Microsoft claims that the new look, codenamed Luna, gives a “dual sense of rugged functionality and welcomed simplicity”.

For home users, live video editing is now possible without continuously crashing the operating system, which is a very welcome improvement. There is also substantially improved handling of internet audio files.

The themes option in earlier releases has been taken and developed into a skins concept, not unlike that old shareware favourite WindowBlinds. The look of Windows can now be totally changed so that it doesn’t look like Windows anymore, but the downside is that many users will have to re-learn basic file-structure skills as they cope with the new look.

XP prominently features one of Windows ME’s selling points, System Restore, which is a backup and restoration program that aims to save you from that dreadful moment when you realise you’ve installed something that trashes your computer. This tool rolls back system settings such as the Registry without overwriting any changes you’ve made to your data since your doomed upgrade.

There are two versions of Internet Explorer installed in XP, the new and improved Internet Explorer 6 (beta) and MSN Explorer. Internet Explorer 6 is actually an improvement on its previous incarnation. It is faster and a lot less prone to errors than before.

It makes better use of the improved TCP/IP stack first developed in Windows 2000. XP’s networking is substantially easier to configure than in previous versions, and it’s more secure. The new operating system throws in a built-in proprietary firewall to protect you automatically when you’re surfing the internet.

Underneath, Microsoft claims that there is more and better hardware and software support than for Windows 2000. This is an improvement, but why didn’t they just give 2000 broader support in the first place?

To sum up, there is little here that could encourage an enterprise to upgrade from its current operating systems, and this isn’t a ‘must have’ for most users. The hardware requirements needed to make the machine run in a smooth fashion will make most budget-conscious IT managers and home users think carefully about the cost of the hardware upgrade they will need.

Office XP

In addition to Windows XP, Microsoft has provided with the latest beta release of its office suite: Office XP (formerly Office 10 or Office 2000).

A swift installation revealed this application eats up around 210Mb of space on your hard drive. It also requires product activation to work properly above 50 uses, which will no doubt annoy support staff who need to legitimately install the same disk on hundreds of PCs. To do more than a pair of installations, such as when you need to reinstall it on a machine that wipes out, you must call a freephone number to receive a code that lets you perform another installation. It?s important to note that if you still have Windows 95, then forget upgrading, because it won’t work on that platform.

But what are the most important enhancements? For one, speech and handwriting recognition come as standard across the range, as does a collaboration function dubbed SharePoint Team Services.

This latest release is certainly easier to use than its predecessors. Its collaborative features, such as online document sharing, are a blessing for enterprises and workgroups. But the product is definitely an evolution rather than a revolution. Contact:
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