Read an Excerpt
Introducing Windows XP
- What's New in Windows XP
- Increased Reliability and Security
- Fresh Visual Design
- Improved Usability for Everyday Tasks
- Internet Enhancements
- Integrated Tools for Working with Digital Media
- Digital Music
- Digital Pictures
- Digital Video
- Network Smarts
- Professional or Home Edition: What's the Difference?
Chapter 1 Introducing Windows XP
Think you know Microsoft Windows inside out? Think again.
For more than a decade, power users have obsessed over ways to make Windows run faster, work smarter, and crash less often. Through books, magazine articles, and the Web, Windows users have amassed huge collections of keyboard shortcuts, registry hacks, elegant workarounds, and undocumented secrets to help master each succeeding Windows version. And now that Microsoft Windows XP has arrived, much of that hard-earned knowledge is irrelevant or obsolete.
Sorry to have to deliver the bad news, but it's true: From top to bottom, Windows XP is dramatically different from previous Windows versions. The more you think you know about Windows, the more likely you'll feel at least a little disoriented when you begin working with Windows XP. That's especially true if you've spent the past few years mastering Windows 95 and its successors, Windows 98 and Windows Me (Millennium Edition).
Now for the good news: The changes in Windows XP are well worth the time and effort you'll spend unlearning old habits and mastering a new operating system. After you learn your way around Windows XP, we predict you'll appreciate its reliability, security, and smoother way of handling everyday tasks. Our mission in this book is to help you take full advantage of the rich new features in Windows XP while working around this complex operating system's quirks, rough edges, and annoyances. And although the book is published by Microsoft Press, we've taken advantage of our editorial freedom to tell you when we've found a better way than the Windows way.
This book brings you the detailed, inside information you need to quickly get your bearings in Windows XP and make the right setup and configuration choices the first time. Don't like the default settings? Don't worry. We've uncovered the fastest, easiest ways to get things done, and we also show you how to tweak the radically redesigned Windows XP interface so it works the way you want it to work. We've found plenty of registry hacks and undocumented secrets, too.
For the sake of this book, we assume that you have plenty of experience with Windows 95/98/Me and at least a nodding familiarity with Windows 2000. If that description fits you, read this chapter carefully to learn about the major changes in Windows XP that will most affect you. If you're an experienced Windows 2000 user, some of the information in this chapter may seem familiar, but we recommend that you skim through it anyway, because some changes that aren't immediately obvious can have a big impact on your PC and network. (Pay particular attention to the tricky new security and file-sharing system, which is dramatically different from its Windows 2000 predecessor on home and small business PCs.)
What's New in Windows XP
Windows XP brings together two product families that were previously separate and decidedly unequal. From Windows 2000, it inherits a reliable, generally crash-proof foundation. It adds a host of user-friendly features and system utilities that were previously available only in Windows 98 or Windows Me. For good measure, it tosses in some interface enhancements and new capabilities that were previously available only as third-party add-ins.
Most importantly, Windows XP comes in two distinctly different versions:
- Windows XP Home Edition. This budget-priced version is typically bundled with consumer PCs sold for use in homes and very small businesses. It's intended for nontechnical users who don't need to connect to corporate networks and don't want to fuss with complicated system and security options. It's compatible with any desktop or notebook PC that has a single CPU and a single video display.
- Windows XP Professional. This version includes everything in the Home Edition, plus all the networking and security components required to join a Windows NT/2000/XP domain. If your system configuration includes certain types of high-performance hardware, such as a dual-processor motherboard, you'll need Windows XP Professional to fully utilize it.
Before you read any further, check to see which version of Windows XP is installed on your PC. Open Control Panel's System option and look on the General tab. Figure 1-1 shows what you should expect to see if you're running the initial release of Windows XP Professional. If you've installed a service pack, you'll see its details here, too. (You can read more details about the differences between Windows XP Home Edition and Professional later in this chapter.)
Figure 1-1. The System Properties dialog box supplies detailed information about your Windows version and your hardware configuration. (Image unavailable)
TIP: Get fast access to system settings
You don't have to pass through Control Panel to get to the System Properties dialog box. Hold down the Windows logo key and press Break to open this handy dialog box immediately. No Windows logo key? Create a shortcut to Sysdm.cpl (you'll find it in the %SystemRoot%\System32 folder) and place it anywhere in the Programs menu. Then open the shortcut's properties dialog box and assign it an easy-to-remember keyboard shortcut such as Ctrl+Alt+Shift+S.
Windows XP Professional is a massive collection of code that tries to be all things to all people, from performance-obsessed gamers to buttoned-down corporate executives and spreadsheet jockeys. For the most part, it succeeds. In this book, we cover a broad range of tasks that a well-rounded Windows XP user might tackle at home or at work.
Increased Reliability and Security
If you're upgrading from Windows 2000, the architectural changes in Windows XP are subtle and in some instances practically invisible. But if you're moving up from Windows 95/98 or Windows Me, you'll have to deal with new system utilities (using the Disk Management snap-in instead of FDISK to create and format hard disk partitions, for instance). You'll also face unfamiliar setup options, such as whether to choose NTFS or stick with FAT32 as the file system for hard disk partitions. And you'll need to understand the new file-sharing system, which is considerably more secure than the minimal password protection used in Windows 95/98 and Windows Me.
For a full explanation of your file-sharing options, see Chapter 13, "Securing Files and Folders."
The payoff for this added complexity is a dramatic decrease in system crashes, hangs, lockups, and mysterious error messagesthanks to the following improvements:
- New Windows engine. The designers of Windows XP tossed out every last vestige of the MS-DOS-compatible core code used in Windows 95/98 (and, despite some attempts to hide it, in Windows Me as well). At the heart of both versions of Windows XP is the robust and reliable kernel introduced in Windows 2000. With its fully protected memory model, tightly integrated security, and a hardware abstraction layer (HAL) that protects key system components from poorly written programs, Windows XP is far less likely to crash in everyday use. And when crashes do occur, you can choose from a more powerful set of troubleshooting utilities than those available for earlier Windows versions.
- Robust system protection tools. A common source of problems in previous Windows versions is "DLL hell"the irritating instability that results when poorly written applications replace crucial system files with outdated or incorrect versions. Windows XP monitors these crucial system files, preserving the correct version of the system file while allowing the program you just installed to use its own DLL file. For additional protection, you can use the System Restore utility (shown in Figure 1-2) to create a snapshot of system files and settings so that you can "roll back" to a previous configuration when a new application or device driver causes problems.
System Restore is an integral part of a comprehensive data-protection program that should also include a regular backup schedule. Although this utility can help you recover from common configuration errors, it will not protect data files from corruption or accidental deletion, and it can't do anything to recover data that's damaged by a hard drive failure or electrical spike.
For detailed instructions on how to keep crashes from occurring, see Chapter 24, "Performing Routine Maintenance." To minimize damage caused by crashes that happen in spite of your best efforts, see Chapter 25, "Recovering After a Computer Crash."
- Device driver rollback. Windows veterans know that buggy device drivers can make a mess of even the most meticulously maintained system. Windows XP protects you from driver-related woes by warning you when you try to install an unsigned driver that has not been certified as compatible with Windows XP. It also offers the capability to uninstall a driver and restore the previous versionfrom Safe Mode, if necessary.
For more information about hardware and Windows XP, see Chapter 6, "Setting Up and Troubleshooting Hardware."
Figure 1-2. Use the System Restore utility to undo system configuration changes that cause headaches. Windows XP automatically saves files and settings (called restore points) at regular intervals; you can create checkpoints manually as well. (Image unavailable)
- Security features. Password-protected logins and the ability to set permissions on files and folders make it possible for you to share a PC with others without allowing them to install unwelcome software (including viruses) or delete important files. A friendly Welcome screen and easy-to-use administrative tools make it especially easy to set up a shared PC at home or in a small office, with each user having a customized desktop and Start menu, plus secure access to protected files.
For a detailed explanation of how Windows XP lets you control what each user can and can't do, see Chapter 3, "Controlling Access to Your Computer." To learn how to restrict access to personal and sensitive files and folders, see Chapter 13, "Securing Files and Folders." Need instructions on how to share files and printers over a network? You'll find those details in Chapter 31, "Managing Shared Folders and Printers."
Fresh Visual Design
Windows XP offers the most sweeping overhaul of the Windows interface since the introduction of Windows 95. If you choose the new Windows XP interface, you'll notice the following changes right away:
- Brighter colors. The default Windows XP color scheme is bolder and edgier than the relatively sedate color combinations used in previous Windows versions. Windows XP takes full advantage of video hardware that is capable of 24-bit and 32-bit true color settings.
- 3-D windows and buttons. When you choose the Windows XP style, windows and buttons take on a 3-D appearance with rounded edges and sleek shadows. In addition, you'll see subtle shifts in color as you pass the mouse pointer over buttons, tabs, and other interface elements, much the same as those that characterize hot spots on a Web page.
- Sharper icons. Every system icon has been reworked for Windows XP. The new icons are brighter and richer looking, because they support color resolutions up to 24-bit (true color). In addition, each icon is available in three sizes, including a super-size 48´48 pixel version that's more than twice as large as the standard 32´32 icons used in previous Windows versions. The extra detail is most useful in the new Tiles view, where two or three lines of annotation can appear alongside the icon to provide additional information.
- Integrated themes. Microsoft first introduced desktop themes in the Plus Pack add-in to Windows 95 as a way to save sets of color schemes, fonts, font sizes, sounds, and other interface elements. In Windows XP, theme support is tightly integrated into Control Panel's Display utility and supports changes to common controls, window borders, and menus as well.
Improved Usability for Everyday Tasks
Most of the basic building blocks of the Windows XP user interface are familiar from previous Windows versionsyou'll find the desktop, Start button, and taskbar, for example, right where you expect them to be. But dig deeper into menus and dialog boxes and you'll discover hundreds of changes that grew out of testing in Microsoft's usability laboratory. Many of these changes are intended to make Windows computing easier for novice users, but in some cases the hand-holding and extra explanation can unnecessarily slow down power users.
For instance, the default Control Panel view organizes icons into a task-based Category view that requires drilling down an extra level to get to advanced options. As an experienced Windows user, you'll probably prefer the Classic view of Control Panel, where every icon appears in a single folder window. Throughout this book, we'll point out similar places where you can adjust default settings to give yourself faster access to the features you use most.
You can configure Windows XP to use the Classic Start menu style, which is practically indistinguishable from the Windows 2000 interface. But if you're a power user, we recommend that you try out the new Windows XP interface for at least a week. You may discover that some of the interface changes cure long-standing Windows annoyances. Among the productivity-boosting improvements in Windows XP are the following:
- Friendly Welcome screen. As the administrator of a Windows XP machine, you define a user account for each person allowed to use that computer. The Welcome screen lists each authorized user; each user clicks his or her name and enters a password (if required) to jump to a personalized desktop and unlock access to private files. On a shared PC, you can switch between users without having to close down running programs or stop a download. You can drop in and check your e-mail or send a quick instant message, for instance, while another user takes a brief break.
- Fast User Switching. On a shared home computer, the capability to switch quickly between accounts without having to log off is an absolute killer feature and the single best reason to prefer either edition of Windows XP over previous Windows versions. When you step away from the computer, you can leave documents open and keep your e-mail program running in the background, checking for new messages at regular intervals. The default Windows XP screen saver switches to the Welcome screen after 10 minutes with no keyboard or mouse activity.
- Start menu improvements. The redesigned Windows XP Start menu, shown in Figure 1-3 on the next page, uses more on-screen real estate than the Start menu you know so well. By using two columns instead of one, it organizes shortcuts to the programs you use most often, to locations where your personal files are stored, and to system folders and tools.
- A cleaner desktop. In a clean installation, the Windows XP desktop is downright Spartan, with only the Recycle Bin installed there by default. A wizard periodically sweeps across the desktop, offering to move icons that haven't been used recently into an Unused Desktop Shortcuts folder. In a similar vein, Windows XP groups taskbar buttons to avoid the common problem of buttons being so small as to be unusable. If you have five browser windows open, for instance, all those windows will be grouped under a single Internet Explorer button, with a number on the button to tell you how many separate windows are grouped there; click that button to choose from a menu that lists the titles of each individual window.
Figure 1-3. The new two-column Start menu offers quicker access to common locations and maintains a dynamic list of shortcuts to the programs you use most often. (Image unavailable)
- Easier file management. Windows Explorer gets a thorough overhaul in Windows XP. When a folder window is open, clicking the Folders button toggles the left pane between the familiar Folders tree and the new task pane, containing a set of links that offer quick access to common tasks, shortcuts to related locations, and details about the current selection. The new Tiles view offers an alternate organization of common locations; this view is particularly effective in the My Computer window, as Figure 1-4 shows. Windows Explorer in Windows XP is also much smarter about file associations than earlier versions.
TIP: Toggle the Folders tree
Regardless of which view you use for a given folder, you can click the Folders button to toggle between Windows Explorer's Folders bar and the task pane. Use the double arrows at the right of each menu to collapse or expand the choices shown in that box; in the Details box, the double arrow toggles the display of information about the currently selected file or folder (including previews of image files).
Figure 1-4. Collapsible menus (left) let you see details about the current selection and choose common actions without having to right-click. (Image unavailable)
- Extensive Help and support resources. As you would expect, the online Help files are filled with tutorials, troubleshooters, and step-by-step instructions, but those static resources are just a start. The HTML-based Help And Support Center shown in Figure 1-5 on the next page takes advantage of your Internet connection to update Help files with headlines from Microsoft's support site. From the Help And Support Center window, you can also search the Microsoft Knowledge Base, access Windows XP newsgroups, connect to Microsoft support, and even run your own help desk using the Remote Assistance feature.
TIP: Provide personal support
It never fails: When friends, coworkers, or family members discover that you're a Windows expert, you get pressed into service as an unpaid support technician. If the party asking for help is running any edition of Windows XP and has an active Internet connection, your job is much easier. Have the other person send you a Remote Assistance request; when you accept the request, you connect directly to their computer and can edit registry settings, fix file associations, set System options, and perform just about any other troubleshooting or repair task, just as if you were sitting at the other person's desk.
For more details on how to configure the Help And Support Center and use Remote Assistance, see Chapter 4, "Help and Support Options."
Figure 1-5. The Help And Support Center provides direct access to system utilities and information, including articles from Microsoft's Knowledge Base. (Image unavailable)
As befits a twenty-first-century operating system, Windows XP includes an extensive array of Internet features that go far beyond basic browsing. Three improvements are worthy of special note:
Internet Explorer 6 Windows XP incorporates the most recent version of Microsoft's browser. It gets the same visual overhaul as the rest of Windows, with bright toolbar button images, and it integrates streaming media playback tools into the task pane on the left. But its most worthwhile new capability is "under the hood," where Internet Explorer 6 incorporates controls you can use to protect your privacy. By default, the browser uses privacy policies to determine what personally identifiable information can be stored by a Web site; if you want greater control over your personal data, you can build a custom policy that determines on a site-by-site basis which cookies are allowed and which are blocked.
To learn how privacy policies and cookie controls work, see "Managing Cookies," page 620.
Internet Connection Firewall The explosion in popularity of "always on" Internet connections, such as cable modems and DSL hook-ups, has a dark side. Even a technically unsophisticated hacker can break into a poorly secured computer and access private files or plant a Trojan horse program. Unlike any previous Windows version, Windows XP includes a bare-bones firewall that stops the most common attacks.
If you already use a third-party firewall program such as ZoneAlarm, see "Limitations of Internet Connection Firewall," page 646.
Internet Connection Sharing Every version of Windows since Windows 98 Second Edition has included software that allows you to share a single Internet connection over a home or small business network. Windows XP streamlines the setup process and adds the capability for remote users to stop and start a dial-up connection on the gateway PC.
Integrated Tools for Working with Digital Media
If you've used previous Windows versions to work with digital images or music files, you've no doubt struggled with cumbersome third-party utilities and complex file-transfer procedures. With an assortment of wizards and new features, Windows XP streamlines the experience of working with all types of digital media.
Windows Media Player 8 is included in both editions of Windows XP. As Figure 1-6 on the next page shows, it's especially adept at managing your music collection.
Use Windows Media Player to accomplish any of these everyday tasks:
- Play music CDs and download information about the artist, album, and tracks from the Internet.
- Copy ("rip") tracks from a CD and store them as digital music files on your hard disk. Windows Media Player 8 supports the popular MP3 format and Windows Media Audio (WMA) files.
- Organize digital media files in the My Music folder. Windows XP stores downloaded information about each track in the properties for the digital music file and uses downloaded CD cover images to identify each folder.
- Copy music files from your hard drive to a portable music player, or use a CD-R/CD-RW drive to create custom CDs.
Figure 1-6. Use Windows Media Player 8 to copy tracks from music CDs to files on your hard disk. Then create custom playlists and copy the music to portable players and even custom CDs. (Image unavailable)
For detailed information about digital music features in Windows XP, see Chapter 17, "Using Windows Media Player."
Thanks to digital cameras, you no longer have to pay for expensive film developing. Figure 1-7 shows the Scanner And Camera Wizard, which does a superb job of connecting to newer digital cameras and flash memory cards so that you can quickly preview captured images and transfer them to your hard drive. By adjusting a few options, you can automate this process so that transferring digital images requires almost no extra effort from you.
Managing a large collection of digital photos is easier, too, thanks to file viewing tools built into Windows Explorer. Figure 1-8 shows the new Filmstrip view of the My Pictures folder. Each image in the folder appears as a thumbnail along the bottom of the window, with the currently selected image visible in a much larger preview area that occupies the top of the folder window. You can also view the contents of a folder as a slide show.
The My Pictures folder includes links to commercial services where you can order professionally printed copies of digital images. If you have a color printer, use the Photo Printing Wizard (shown in Figure 1-9 on page 16) to crop and resize images; then use the layout tools to combine multiple images on a single sheet of paper.
Figure 1-7. The Scanner And Camera Wizard walks you through the process of transferring images from an external device to your hard disk. (Image unavailable)
Figure 1-8. The new Filmstrip view combines thumbnails and a large Preview area to make it easy to quickly inspect the contents of a folder full of digital photos. (Image unavailable)
Figure 1-9. The Photo Printing Wizard allows you to lay out multiple images on a single sheet, to avoid wasting expensive paper and other supplies. (Image unavailable)
To learn how to set up a digital camera or scanner and manage image files in Windows XP, see Chapter 18, "Organizing and Editing Images."
If you have the correct hardware, Windows XP gives you access to a passable set of video playback and editing tools.
- On any system equipped with a DVD drive and a compatible decoder (software or hardware), you can play back prerecorded DVD discs in Windows Media Player. This feature is especially useful for frequent travelers with Windows XP-equipped notebooks; skip the in-flight movie and watch a DVD from your own collection instead.
- Use the Windows Movie Maker program to capture video from a cam-corder or VCR; then edit it and add titles, narration, and other effects. No one will confuse Movie Maker with a professional strength video editing package, but its capabilities are good enough for casual use. It's particularly effective at compressing video clips down to sizes that can be sent easily via e-mail or posted on a Web page.
Windows XP was designed from the ground up to work well on networks of all sizes. In most cases, setting up a simple home network is automatic.
- Network Setup Wizard. Although you can choose to configure networking components manually, Windows XP automates most network configuration tasks with a simple straightforward wizard. Use the wizard to set up a simple home network, configure Internet Connection Sharing, create connections to dial-up Internet accounts, or connect to a corporate network over a virtual private network (VPN).
TIP: Quickly fix connectivity problems
Are you having trouble connecting to other computers on your local area network? If your network uses a hardware firewall that assigns IP addresses to each machine and you're certain you've configured all other components correctly, check to see whether the Internet Connection Firewall is enabled. That component can effectively block communication between PCs on the network.
For step-by-step network setup instructions, see Chapter 29, "Setting Up a Small Network."
- Wireless access. Out of the box, both editions of Windows XP support wireless networks that follow the IEEE 802.11b standard, including Agere's (formerly Lucent) Orinoco and Cisco's Aironet systems. These solutions are appropriate in homes and small businesses where stringing Category 5 cable is impractical; they also allow notebook users to access public wireless systems such as those found in an increasing number of airports and coffee shops.
- Remote Desktop connections. One of the coolest features in Windows XP Professional is its support for remote connections to another PC. When you allow remote connections (this feature is disabled by default), anyone with an authorized user account can log in to the machine over a local area network or across the Internet, using the dialog box shown in Figure 1-10 on page 20. Use this feature to access your work PC from home (eliminating the need to keep files in sync between two PCs). On a home network, you might use this feature to connect to a Windows XP Professional computer from another PC so that you can run an application without having to install it on the remote computer.
Figure 1-10. Using the Remote Desktop feature, you can connect to a Windows XP Professional machine from another PC, even if the remote computer is using an earlier Windows version. (Image unavailable)
For full instructions on how to set up and use the Remote Desktop feature, see "Setting Up a Remote Desktop Connection to Another Computer," page 990.
Professional or Home Edition: What's the Difference?
To understand the differences between the two editions of Windows XP, remember this simple fact: Windows XP Professional contains everything included in Windows XP Home Edition and much more.
The operating system kernel is identical in both editions. The Web browser works the same, as do all the file and folder management tools and techniques in Windows Explorer. Some default settings are different, depending on the edition in use; for instance, the taskbar is locked by default in Windows XP Home Edition but not in Professional. Regardless of which edition you use, you'll find most of the same system management utilities and troubleshooting tools, and there's no difference in the bundled applications used to manage digital media.
To discover the true differences between the two editions, you need to dig a little deeper. As Table 1-1 shows, most of the differences are obvious only when you use specialized hardware or try to access advanced security and networking features and capabilities.
If you consider yourself a power user, we predict you'll prefer Windows XP Professional. But that doesn't mean you need to upgrade every machine on your network. Windows XP Home Edition and Professional coexist happily on a network; in fact, both editions get along well with earlier Windows versions and even with computers running other operating systems. If you choose to use Home Edition, much of the information in this book is still relevant; in sections where we discuss advanced features available only in Windows XP Professional, we've highlighted that fact.
Table 1-1. Key Features Available Only in Windows XP Professional
|Support for multiple processors||Windows XP Professional supports symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) designs that employ up to two CPUs. If you install Windows XP Home Edition on an SMP system, it will not use the second processor. |
|Support for 64-bit CPUs||Systems built around a 64-bit Intel Itanium processor must use a 64-bit version of Windows XP Professional; the Home Edition is unable to work with this CPU. |
|Advanced security features||Several sophisticated security capabilities are found only in Windows XP Professional, including support for Encrypting File System and Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) as well as the ability to assign complex access controls to files. |
|Internet Information Services||Using Windows XP Professional Edition, you can set up a personal Web server using Internet Information Services (IIS) 5; this capability is not available in Home Edition. |
|Remote Desktop Connection||Using this feature, you can configure a Windows XP Professional machine to allow remote access, either across a local area network or over the Internet. The client machine can be running any 32-bit version of Windows, including Windows 95/98/Me, Windows 2000, or any version of Windows XP. You cannot make a remote connection to a system running Windows XP Home Edition (although it does include the similar Remote Assistance feature, which allows a remote user to share the desktop for support and training purposes). |
|Domain membership||On a corporate network, Windows XP Professional Edition can join a domain and take advantage of domain-based management features such as group policies and roaming profiles. A system runningWindows XP Home Edition can access domain resources such as printers and servers, but it does not exist as an object in the domain. |
|Dynamic disks||Windows XP Professional allows you to create disk volumes that span multiple hard drives; this capability allows you to increase the storage capacity and performance of drives. Windows XP Home Edition supports only basic volumes, which follow the same basic partitioning rules as disk structures created in Windows 95/98 and Windows Me. |