NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Microsoft WindowsXP
A Review by Ed Maxey, April 2002
(click to email author)

NWAPCUG's Executive Board, at its January 2002 meeting, asked me to evaluate the WindowsXP OS package which Microsoft provided. What follows is a narrative of ensuing events. It was written using WindowsXP's Wordpad (which has no spell checker).

The computer is a Gateway Solo 9300 CX. Its twenty gigabyte hard drive has three primary partitions. Each is bootable using the MasterBooter program. The number three partition was booted bringing WindowsSE online and Partition Magic was used to format the 2,800.4 megabyte number one partition. The computer was again booted to the number one drive in order to have that partition set active and hide partitions two and three. The next step involved pressing the F2 key during reboot to enter the BIOS. Boot sequence of CD-ROM and then Hard Drive was set up to effect booting from the WindowsXP CD-platter.

The system was rebooted and three options appeared:
1. Show me hardware issues and a limited set of software issues (recommended).
2. Show me a full report.
3. Do not show me a report.
Option #2 was selected. Next came the options:
Yes, download the updated setup files (recommended)
No, skip this step and continue installing Windows

"No" was selected since there was no way for the computer to get on the Internet at this point. Installation took 63 minutes and was accompanied by self laudatory superlatives ad nauseam.

Upon rebooting it quickly became apparent that WindowsXP had rewritten the MBR (master boot record) since MasterBooter was no longer functioning. All partitions save the one occupied by WindowsXP were unavailable. On a stark raving terror level of 0-10 there was now a fright reaction estimated at grade 4. It would have surely been a full 10 had there not been a recent identical twin of this entire drive on a second (back up) hard drive sitting securely on a shelf across the room.

F2 was again pressed during bootup and the boot sequence changed back to floppy, hard drive and CD-ROM. Reboot with a system floppy containing the MasterBooter program was followed by the command, "efdisk /mbr" to rewrite the master boot record. Then MasterBooter was reinstalled. After this it was possible to boot partitions two and three but partition one initially did not seem to be responding. WindowsXP apparently performed a little magic and now when MasterBooter selects the first partition one saw:

" Please select the operating system to start:
Microsoft Windows XP Professional (highlighted)
Unidentified operating system on drive C

Use the up and down arrows to move the highlight to your choice.
Press ENTER to choose.

Seconds until the highlighted choice will be started automatically: 30
For troubleshooting and advanced startup options for Windows, press F8."

and the seconds were ticking away. One could press the Enter key or wait the 30 seconds to boot WindowsXP.

Upon selecting "Unidentified operating system..." the computer got hung. Pressing the power button turned off the computer and allowed recovery. The F8 key option provides the traditional Microsoft Windows bootup options.

Immediately upon bootup one saw a number of white spots in a nice pastoral scene. They caused me to wonder if the spots were due to a fault in the display module.

Disk Defragmenter was run. Its display is remarkably different from that of Windows98. An analysis segment displays red vertical lines for fragmented files, blue vertical lines for contiguous files and green vertical lines for unmovable files. Free space is white. Defragmenting required 42 minutes.

WindowsXP booted in 35 seconds as compared to 74 seconds for Windows98SE.

This notebook has all its communications files located in the E: drive. It is a logical drive bearing the label "DAT12-17-01'' (the numerals indicate the last backup was on Dec 17, 2001). This DAT drive no longer had the E: drive assignment. Neither did the second logical drive and the CD-ROM drive have their proper alphabetical letters. The main problem seemed to be that the CD-ROM drive occupied the D: assignment and resisted efforts to locate it elsewhere. Joe Schork helped on this problem, suggesting that the CD-ROM drive be removed from the computer (easily done in the SOLO). After this was done the remaining two logical drives still had improper alphabetical assignments. Partition Magic 7.0 was loaded and used to set the proper alphabetical assignments for the two logical drives. Thereafter the CD-ROM drive was re-inserted and upon rebooting all alphabetical assignments were correct. It was now possible to run AOL and JUNO simply by creating shortcuts to the respective programs on the E: drive. Whew!

Juno ran properly. AOL 4.0 brought up a WindowsXP warning that some aspects might not function properly. It was run anyway by clicking:

1. Mail Center
2. Run Automatic AOL
3. Stay Online When Finished
4. Begin

Four mouse clicks gets me online without having to type in a password. AOL responded properly and the session went well until logoff was attempted.

One could not exit AOL. Eventually the computer was turned off. Upon rebooting and again logging onto AOL 4.0, this time typing in the password, things again went well and logoff went properly. AOL's tech support suggested updating to AOL 7.0 and this was done. Since the download was to take more than four hours and it was already after 10 P.M. the only sensible thing to do was to go to bed. AOL 7.0 was found installed on the E: drive when WindowsXP was booted the next morning. AOL7.0 logon via the automatic process gave the same problem with logging off as had AOL 4.0. AOL's tech support indicated that this was the first report of such a problem and he felt that there must be a problem with the WindowsXP browser. However, AOL is sending AOL 7.0 on a CD-platter with the thought that the downloaded product might have errors in it. A Feb 23, 2002 e-mail from Joe Schork suggested changing the FILES=40 in C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG.NT to FILES=100. The logoff refusal problem persisted. One could get logged off by unplugging the telephone line from the computer.

Upon exploring My Computer one quickly finds that the "exe" of executable files is not displayed. No setting was found which would cause this file extension to appear. Therefore, to find "exe" files, a set of previously written batch files was copied from the E: drive into the C:\windows folder. These files are exercised by clicking Command Prompt (equivalent of DOS PROMPT in Windows98 but run inside a WindowsXP window ). One batch file, L.BAT, is supposed to search all drives for any file and leave one in the same folder. Not so in WindowsXP, where L.BAT now left one in the C: root directory. The problem proved to be that WindowsXP will not recognize "CD C:\" as a valid Change Directory command. WindowsXP will get the desired result with "CD C:" Accordingly a short executable file was written which deletes the trailing "\" hoping that this would allow L.BAT to work properly. Now, however, WindowsXP responded to this executable with the error message:

"Input runtime module path:"

Conclusion, WindowsXP wants nobody messing around with DOS programs.

Several days later, after considerable pondering, L.BAT was re-written using commands which WindowsXP would accept. During the course of this effort the DOS command "CALL /?" was entered hoping to learn whether or not CALL might be useful in L.BAT. A significant CALL command enhancement (45 lines) was displayed as compared to 4 lines for Windows98SE response you get there.

Norton System Works 2002 was installed and found 34 errors in the registry and shortcuts. It fixed them all. Norton's Speed Disk was also run. It arranges files and folders according to sixteen different categories whereas the WindowsXP's Disk Defragmenter has only four categories.

The WindowsXP Media Player has a nice feature. If one inserts a CD- platter containing music in an MP3 format the player automatically comes up and begins playing the tunes; a nice improvement over the Windows98 Media Player.

WindowsXP does not have a Scandisk utility. It does have a Chkdsk which can be operated from the Command Prompt. Incidentally, one need not type "exit" and press the enter key to get back to the desktop. A click on the X in the upper right corner of the window gets the same result.

Desktop icons are not randomly placed. Instead they hop to designated spots. On can no longer place an unwanted icon almost completely off the screen. Icons are automatically arranged in predetermined spots. If one prefers chaos he/she need only right click the desktop and uncheck the appropriate box.

One may right click on the desktop, left click properties and left click settings to adjust the screen resolution. Here one observes that there are four different settings ranging from 640 by 480 to 1600 by 1200. This is not an improvement over Windows98SE which permits nine different settings over the same range.

TESTEM35.EXE, a powerline program, would not display animation data. This caused me to investigate DOS settings. Under "Help and Support a search of "dos AND highmem" brought up the following statement:

    "Installing Himem.sys for dos=umb or dos=high
    You must install the Himem.sys device driver before you
    specify either dos=umb or dos=high."
    Config.nt was printed out. It contains:
    "dos=high, umb

Clearly Microsoft's installation via its CD platter had not followed its sequence rule. Config.nt was brought into Wordpad, the positions of the two command lines were swapped and the repaired file was saved. The system was then rebooted and TESTEM35.EXE run via a double click on its icon from within My Computer. This time a full screen was displayed but with no animation. The program did appear to be doing its calculations. This was confirmed by noting the data storage folders which TESTEM35.EXE had placed on the D: drive.

A call was placed (425) 635 7222 and, after giving the registration number to the tech, he provided an incident number and transferred the call to Dave Martin of Microsoft's support group in Canada. Dave is a pleasant gentleman to speak with. He explained that there was no Microsoft support charge for this incident since two free incidents come with the package. Dave walked me through right clicking the TESTEM35.EXE icon, left clicking properties and setting the tab for Windows98 compatibility. The file still did not run properly. Neither did it run under a Windows95 compatibility assignment. Dave consulted with several others and none could explain why the file runs properly in Windows95, Windows98 and WindowsME but will not run under WindowsXP. One of Dave's consultants felt the TESTEM35.EXE would run if it could be complied as a FAT32 program. This computer lacks such a capability. Windows98SE and WindowsME, both FAT32 systems, run TESTEM35.EXE properly on this computer.

Dave did explain that one could go to Control Panel, Folders, click the view tab and remove the check from "Hide extensions for known file types" if one wishes to see the "EXE" file extensions. This worked. This was a fun telephone chat even though the main problem was not resolved.

During this call the initial Microsoft tech was questioned about registration of the WindowsXP package which had only 13 trial days left. How could the registration be to our NWA-PCUG and also to me? After consulting with some others the tech asked that the registration be to me and that NWA-PCUG be inserted in the "Employer" line. Upon activating and registering WindowsXP via the Internet there was no query as to "Employer." Presumably registration automatically picked up "retired" which had been inserted in the "Employer" line when WindowsXP was installed in the notebook.

Older computer users might wish to create a startup disk. WindowsXP users may click on Help and Support and fill in the white blank with "startup disk." A click on the right arrow brings up Search Results options, one of which is "Create an MS-DOS startup disk." Clicking this option brings up a page of instructions including:

    "Open My Computer, and then click the floppy disk drive to select it. On the File menu, point to the name of the floppy drive, and then click Format."

One does not see a Format option following these instructions. Make that a "right click the floppy disk drive" and the format option now appears. The startup disk resulting is not the equivalent of what was formerly called a startup disk but will boot to DOS. It does not create a floppy which will provide CD-ROM capabilities. The "ver" command yields "Windows Mellennium [Version 4.90.3000]. Under WindowsXP if one explores the FORMAT A: /FS:FAT32 command via the Command Prompt one finds "Floppy disk is too small to hold the FAT32 file system." The "ver" command yields, "Microsoft Windows XP [Version 5.1.2600]." If one boots with the startup disk, changes to the C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32 folder and enters "FORMAT /?" one sees "This program cannot be run in DOS mode." Apparently one might boot with a WindowsXP startup floppy disk if WindowsXP failed to boot but it is difficult to imagine any value in doing so since no working tools are provided.

What about backups? WindowsXP has the capability of backing up files and folders to tape or optical disk drives. No capability was found for backing up the entire installation to a removable hard drive. The floppy drive module in the SOLO was replaced with a removable hard drive and WindowsXP was copied to the first partition of that drive using Norton Ghost5.1c.EXE. MasterBooter then was able to boot WindowsXP from either the Master or Slave hard drive. Should disaster cripple the Master drive the Slave drive has the complete WindowsXP and its ancillary installations ready to go.

Summing up: This reviewer found a number of instances in which WindowsXP does not do as well as its predecessors, Windows95, Windows98 and WindowsME. An apparently incorrect sequence of commands was observed in the config.nt file from the WindowsXP installation CD platter. WindowsXP boots faster than does Windows98SE.

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