I recounted in my "long
strange trip" article I was suddenly faced with having to
install XP. I usually hang back from new releases of Windows at
least until the second service release. Oh, I might do a quick
install on a test machine and I had done that with XP early on and
wasn't all that impressed, in fact I was a little depressed by the
look and feel which struck me as cartoonish but what the heck, I
figured I'd toss it on my production machine and see if it solved my
weird printer problem.
I'm currently using a server as a my workstation.
A long story, but it's a low end Dell server (the 1400SC) with dual
processors and 512Mb of memory. A reasonably good machine it doesn't
have anything all that fancy on it; a Creative Lab sound card, a
SCSI tape drive, a Matrox dual head video card and all the rest is
standard come with stuff; network cards, modem, CD-ROM, etc. Nothing
that I would consider exotic. I was previously running Windows 2000
I run the Pro version because I use the machine
for development stuff and run Microsoft's Internet Information
Server (IIS) on an Intranet. I assume that the "home" version pretty
much runs the same, just without those parts, but I've not yet used
The install went easier than any Windows install I
can remember. Either because I don't have a lot of weird stuff
kludged to this machine or because the XP install database of
hardware is so complete. I didn't have to feed the install program
any supplemental vendor driver disks or anything, it recognized
everything and never even asked me about it.
I don't run anything too weird in the way of
software. I was a little concerned about ActivePerl, the Perl
software that allows me to run Perl programs in IIS. I don't know
why, perhaps because I equate Perl to Unix, but it and all my Perl
CGI programs continued to perform flawlessly (well, with the
exception of programmer errors, which no operating system seems to
The only program that burped was my Trend PC-Cillin
real time virus scanner which refused to run. I'm not surprised,
virus scanners seem to be very Windows version dependent and Trend
had worked for me through 98, 98SE, ME and 2k so I guess I should
Otherwise all my old programs and tools continued
to work just fine.
Look and Feel
I was immediately put off by the look of XP.
Here's a quick glimpse of the standard start menu/program bar:
Obviously this is personal taste but I didn't like
it. I quickly found an option to use Windows classic mode. In
addition I used video properties to switch back to San Serif font
from Tahoma and I immediately felt more at home.
The start menu has changed a great deal:
The programs you see in the top left block can be
changed and those in the lower left block are based on the most
frequently used. These can be changed as well if you want to
override the frequently used method.
Clicking on the "All programs" entry expands to
show you all programs installed just as it did in previous versions
of Windows automatically. I like the new way of presenting things.
It's a small feature but one that I really like
and that's "stacking" items on the program bar. In the past if you
had a bunch of browser windows open they'd each shrink down in the
program bar so you couldn't tell what was what. XP combines these
guys and allows you to expand them to see what's there:
This is a feature I've found incredibly helpful,
no more hunting around when I have a zillion browser or explorer
windows open, just expand the entry in the program bar and select it
from there. Optionally you can right click on the program bar entry
and close the entire group with one click.
It may seem like a small thing but I've found it
has saved me a bunch of time and frustration.
The biggest change I found in look and feel was
the ability to use clear text. Wow, what a difference. My eyes may
actually start to recover. The quality of text in both applications
and browser is much clearer and easier to read and I seem to spend
half my time say "wow, I can't believe this" staring at the screen
Probably too early for me to say and I had good
luck with Windows 98 and 2000 but so far the few programs I've had
crash XP handled with good grace and simply told me that the program
wasn't responding and did I want to end it. Doing so didn't cause
any problems with any other running processes. XP seems to manage
memory just fine and system resources far better than previous
versions; I've never dropped below 90% free system resources.
I found a lot in XP that was a holdover from NT
and 2k, I don't know know if that's attributable to the Professional
version or not and there are things missing; msconfig and sfc for
two that I found invaluable in 98. Perhaps they're not here because
they're not needed and/or there's some other, easier way to do those
things. If there are I haven't found them yet, but that's often the
part of a new OS that I enjoy, poking around the nooks and crannies
to see what sort of stuff is lurking behind the curtains for someone
willing to look.
I like it and I recommend it. It's far more solid
than the first release of an OS that I've ever used, going back to
DOS 1.0 and given that I can configure it to look like something I'm
used to I feel like I'm getting the benefit of the new Windows code
without any pain. Not only that but tricks and tips are already
starting to appear and many more are sure to come. For a quick look
at a couple of early fixes click here.