NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
My first look at Windows XP
It's great. Here's why

by David Coursey, Executive Editor, ZdNet AnchorDesk, April 2001

Microsoft's new Windows XP -- at least the beta builds I've been playing with -- combines the best of Windows 2000 with what I like about Windows Me, and then goes a step further. And this is good.

Even the beta is a big improvement over any Windows I have ever used. It doesn't crash and has some pleasant improvements to the user interface and visual design. So far I have run two builds of Windows XP and will receive the third, the formal Beta 2 release, later this week.

I have written columns using Windows XP, and the machine (a Compaq notebook loaned by Microsoft as a review platform) is on my home network. I've used it as I use everything else, though I haven't been brave enough to take it on a trip -- even for a visit to Microsoft. But I probably will soon.

THIS IS THE FIRST DAY I can write about the beta under terms of the non- disclosure agreement I had with Microsoft. With Beta 2 now on its way to testers, Microsoft figures the world is going to find out all the details anyway, so the NDA has been lifted.

During the month I have been running Windows XP, the OS has never crashed. It's slowed down a few times, but always recovered. Apps crash only very occasionally -- and they never take the operating system down with them. I am even running a beta of Office XP atop the Windows XP beta -- something I was specifically warned not to do -- without any real problems.

Why I am lauding an operating system simply for working like an operating system should be expected to work is something I really don't understand. It's like saying, "Look at this great new car I've got! It actually drives down the highway without exploding!"

BUT IF YOU'RE USED TO to rebooting Windows on a fairly regular basis, as I am, this is a big deal: Windows XP just works. And, actually, I think the people responsible for the product consider this their biggest achievement: Windows XP will put a "real" operating system on both home and business desktops.

Merely describing Windows XP as "pulls less of a vacuum than previous releases" would, however, be selling the operating system short. And since you can get the same level of reliability from Windows 2000 (though few people have), XP has to do more.

So here's why I find XP pleasant to use:
The user interface has been simplified, but made more helpful at the same time. There is a task orientation in this OS that helps users do things they want to do, rather than merely find features they are looking for.

The visual design -- which is different from, though intertwined with the user interface -- is quite nice. The colors, menus, graphics, task bar, and other items work well together. Some problems, such as overcrowded task bars, start menus, and system trays, have been addressed.

Support for digital media and entertainment, lacking in Windows 2000 and sometimes clunky in Windows Me, is much improved. This system anticipates users having digital cameras and MP3 devices and works well with them.

XP's network management, which Windows 2000 does better than Me, gets a friendly user interface, including some important but geeky technical features.

I'd like to tell you that you can get your own copy of the beta. But you can't. Microsoft isn't ready to deal with all the combinations of hardware and applications and users that exist in the real world. And they still have some bugs to fix and changes to make. Every new build includes a bunch of little things and, over time, these add up.

As we get closer to the release date, however, Microsoft will have a public Windows XP beta program. And there is already a preview program for Office XP that gets you a set of disks for $19.95.

There's more, but I am running out of space for today -- and I am sensitive to my habit of writing columns that run long. So this is a topic I'll be returning to often. Meanwhile, today I am in Anaheim, Calif., at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, called WinHEC, and will be reporting from here later in the week.

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