PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Is XP worth the effort?
January 2002 

It’s déjà vu all over again! There’s a new version of Windows being hyped to the rafters, and Steve Ballmer has been interviewed on TV telling us that this with help people live better and vastly more fulfilling existences, as well as fix the problems in the world economy, and ensure everlasting peace. OK, so I exaggerate – a little – but you get the drift..?

And where did they get the name? I suppose that dated-related names have become an embarrassing reminder of the zealous way in which the releases have been squeezed ever tighter together so that Bill can squeeze your wallet ever tighter and more frequently. A little semantic analysis reveals the answer: XP is shorthand for “ex pee”, which as we all know, is Latin for “taking the piss”.

So the pace at which Microsoft feels compelled to introduce new versions of windows is picking up, with Windows 2000 barely installed (in fact, most of the City is still using NT4 and wondering if they dare install service pack 6 yet) is regulated by one concern only – maximizing Microsoft’s meagre profits, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, do this is precisely how the publicly traded sector US economy is designed to operate – indeed, the shareholders in the companies will gang up and issue “class action” lawsuits against officers of any company that fails to meet their expectations.

So do we need another version of Windows..? Well, if the proposition is that Windows 2000 doesn’t quite work as expected, then I suppose the answer is “yes”. W2K was a bit of an interim solution to migrate some of the interface and multimedia features of W98 towards the NT environment, and it was a limited success; and W2k networking was supposed to be an improvement over NT4, but I beg to dissent.

The way all previous MS OS’s handled things like changing users was criminally clunky, so I don’t call XP’s improved technique a “feature”. The same goes for most of the improved features like memory management and DLL handling – they actually boil down to euphemisms for “bug fixes”, and in one review I read most of these “features” were juxtaposed with the causes of crashes in previous versions!

XP is unashamedly aiming at the home market with a collection of multimedia goodies that will connect with electronic cameras of all sorts, and attempt to square the ever- widening circle of downloadable music. But of course, the much-vaunted MS digital rights system has already been hacked and the results posted in all the usual places. There is also evidence that MS has clocked the stunning value of the games market, and is determined to stop Sony and its PlayStation wagon by heading it off at every conceivable pass.

XP is also ever more “net aware” and has a built-in product activation policeman that prevents one copy being loaded on multiple machines – a feature of all previous MS OSs that ensured ubiquity for the operating system. So even if Uncle Bill didn’t get $50 for every copy, no one else was going to get a look in either! But MS apparently now feels that it’s game over, and that they have us all by the soft dangly parts, since there is no one else with the opportunity to get a look in. Which is true in terms of commercial closed-system operating systems, but not where Unix is concerned.

There’s even an argument to ensure an evenly competitive battlefield for all software developers that says all software should be made piracy proof, with some form of online registration and watch scheme. But if everyone who was once a casual ”let’s install this and see if it works” type of user was forced to consider “is this really worth paying £150 to install..?” then Linux would become even more interesting. So the long-term viability of that idea is likely to be an interesting call; if the Linux community can only come up with an MS Office compatible application suite that really is MS Office compatible, then the battle can be properly joined.

The price is going up, and it’s not clear if this is because MS believes that this is its last big chance to make a killing before the freebie Unix tidal wave finally engulfs the market. Of course, the view from MS is that this could never happen, but the benefits of the open standards around TCP/IP all but wiped out Novell, so don’t count on it. Also worth bearing in mind is that the new Mac OS is essentially a variant of Free BSD (Apple being Apple, it couldn’t possibly have just gone with the flow and adopted a Linux core like the rest of the planet, could it..?).

This could conceivably be MS Windows’ Last Stand. Corporate enthusiasm to pay for  - and then have to support – the complexity of the machinery that runs this behemoth of an OS might just run out.

Bottom line? Is XP worth the price and effort..?

The usual advice applies: unless you are very brave, and very fully backed up, please don’t attempt to upgrade and existing Windows installation, but the next Wintel PC you buy should have XP fitted anyway. If the truth be told, I suspect that MS would prefer not to have to try and support an upgrade market, either. So if you have a PC that’s less than 2 years old, you are entitled to feel grumpy, but that’s the price of progress. Also take advantage of the daft price of RAM and get 1Gbyte fitted as standard; XP doesn’t get moving with much less than 256k anyway.

And this time, buy from a vendor that can provide you with a dual-boot XP and Linux installation, and make the effort to break free, eh..?

Computer Shopper’s advertisers should be happy that Bill has done just enough to make the XP upgrade a necessary for the keen home users who simply cannot avoid wanting the latest and greatest. There are more than enough reasons to want XP, but I just wish we were not always paying Microsoft for its bug fixes. .