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Windows XP Home Edition Complete
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7821-2984-6
Introducing Windows XP Home Edition
This chapter discusses what Windows XP Home Edition is, what it does, and who it's for. It covers in some detail the features and improvements in Windows XP Home, so that you'll know what the operating system offers, and mentions which chapter of the book covers which feature.
The chapter then discusses whether you should upgrade from your current version of Windows. As you might imagine, the answer depends on which version of Windows you're currently running, what you're trying to do with it, and what degrees of success and satisfaction you're experiencing. But for most people who have adequate hardware, Windows XP offers significant improvements over all previous versions of Windows.
At the end of the chapter, you'll find a discussion of the main ways in which Windows XP Professional differs from Windows XP Home, because you may want to consider Professional rather than Home if you need any of the additional features that Professional offers.
What Is Windows XP Home Edition?
In a nutshell, Windows XP Home Edition is the latest version of Windows aimed at the consumer market. Windows XP Home comprises a feature set designed for home users, while its more powerful (and more expensive) sibling Windows XP Professional offers features designed for professional and corporate users.
If you've used Windows before, or if you're currently using Windows, you may wonder what the big deal is. The good news is that Windows XP is a big deal, especially if you've had less-than-satisfactory experiences with Windows in the past. Windows XP isn't the be-all and end-all of operating systems, but it's a great improvement on its predecessors.
As you probably know, through the second half of the 1990s and up until 2001, Microsoft offered two main categories of Windows versions for personal computers: the Windows 95 family and the Windows NT family. In the Windows 95 family were Windows 95 itself, naturally enough; Windows 98; Windows 98 Second Edition, which (despite its unassuming name) was a major upgrade to Windows 98; and Windows Millennium Edition, also known as Windows Me. In the Windows NT family were Windows NT versions 3.1, 3.5, 3.51, and 4, each of which came in a Workstation version and a Server version, and then Windows 2000, which came in a Professional version and several Server versions.
The Windows 95 family, widely referred to as Windows 9x in a brave attempt to simplify Microsoft's inconsistent naming, offered impressive compatibility with older hardware (legacy hardware, as it's sometimes politely termed) and software (legacy software), including full (or full-ish) DOS capabilities for running games and character-based programs. These versions of Windows kept their hardware demands to a reasonable minimum. They were aimed at the consumer market. When things went wrong (which happened regrettably often), they became unstable. And they crashed. Frequently.
Many of those people-both professionals and home users, who couldn't stand or afford to lose their work because of Windows 9x's frequent crashes-migrated to Windows NT instead. (Others tried OS/2 while it lasted, then returned disconsolately to Windows. Others went to Linux, and mostly stayed with it.) NT, which stands for New Technology, had a completely different underpinning of code than Windows 9x. NT was designed for stability, and as a result, it crashed much less frequently than Windows 9x. Unfortunately, though, NT wasn't nearly as compatible as Windows 9x with legacy hardware and software. Most games and much audio and video software wouldn't run on NT, and it was picky about the hardware on which it would run. (Actually, this wasn't unfortunate at all-it was deliberate on Microsoft's part, and probably wise. But the result was far from great for many users.)
So for the last half-dozen years, users have essentially had to decide between stability and compatibility. This led to a lot of unhappy users, some of whom couldn't run the software they wanted, and others who kept losing work or at least having to reboot their computers more than they should have had to.
The Windows 9x line culminated in Windows Me, which tacked some stability and restoration features onto the Windows 9x code base. NT culminated in Windows 2000 Professional, which featured increased compatibility with programs over NT (which wasn't saying all that much), a smooth user interface, and usability enhancements.
Windows 2000 Professional was arguably the most stable operating system that Microsoft had produced until Windows XP came along. (Some old-timers reckoned Windows NT 3.51 was more stable.) But Windows 2000 Professional's stability came at a price: It had no interest in running any games or other demanding software that wouldn't conform to its stringent requirements. And while it was compatible with quite an impressive range of legacy hardware, many items still wouldn't work. Even up-to-date hardware could be problematic, especially if it connected via USB.
Since the late 1990s, Microsoft had been promising to deliver a consumer version of Windows that melded the stability of NT and the compatibility of Windows 9x. In Windows XP Home Edition, that version of Windows is finally here.
What's New in Windows XP Home Edition?
This section outlines the most striking and appealing new features in Windows XP, starting with installation and upgrading, moving through the user interface and visible features, and ending up with the features hidden under the hood.
Some of these new features fall into convenient categories, and this section presents them in categories. Others don't; this section presents these features individually.
Easier Installation and Updating
Windows XP includes several features designed to make it easier to install and keep up to date. These include Dynamic Update and Windows Update; the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard; more Wizards for a variety of tasks; a wider selection of device drivers; simplified installation for multifunction devices; and effective uninstall back to Windows 98 and Windows Me.
Dynamic Update and Windows Update
If you're installing Windows XP, one of the first new features that you'll notice is Dynamic Update, which runs during setup and offers to download the latest patches, packages, and fixes so that they can be installed during the setup process.
Dynamic Update may prove to be a great feature. It goes hand in hand with its terrible twin, Windows Update, which runs periodically after setup and offers to download the latest patches, packages, and fixes and install them so that your copy of Windows is as up to date, secure, and compatible as possible. (You can also run Windows Update manually whenever you want to.)
Files and Settings Transfer Wizard
Making its debut in Windows XP is the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, a feature that Windows users have been demanding for a good 10 years. The Files and Settings Transfer Wizard provides a way of transferring designated files and settings from one computer to another, or from one installation of Windows to another on the same computer. You'll still need to reinstall all your programs on the new computer or new installation of Windows, but you can transfer your data and a good amount of information about your work environment easily.
If you're migrating from an old computer to a new computer, or if you're installing Windows XP as a dual-boot with an existing version of Windows, you can use the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard to clone your existing Desktop and files and transfer them to the new computer or new version of Windows.
More Wizards to Make Tasks Easier
Windows XP includes a slew of Wizards designed to walk you through complicated processes (and some that aren't so complicated). Perhaps most welcome are the improvements to the Network Setup Wizard (discussed in Chapter 20), which provides effective configuration of simple networks and Internet connection sharing, and the two Hardware Wizards, the Add Hardware Wizard and the Found New Hardware Wizard.
On the less useful front, Windows XP also includes Wizards such as the Desktop Cleanup Wizard, which pops out periodically like the neighborhood dog and tries to persuade you to let it herd the stray icons on your Desktop into a folder where they'll be available but less obtrusive. If you refuse, it wags its tail and goes away for a while.
More Device Drivers
Windows XP comes complete with drivers for a large number of devices, including scanners, digital still cameras, digital video cameras, printers, and so on. So there's a better chance than with another version of Windows (say Windows Me or Windows 2000) that when you plug in a new device, Windows XP will be able to load a driver for it and get it working without any fuss.
You'll probably want to take this improvement with a grain of salt. It's great when Windows XP installs a new device without any effort on your part. But to enjoy the latest features and the best performance from a new device, you may well need to install the driver that comes with the device or (better) download the latest version from the manufacturer's Web site rather than wait for updated drivers to filter through Windows Update.
Simplified Installation for Multifunction Devices
Apart from having more drivers (as described in the previous section), Windows XP makes it easier to install multifunction devices-for example, a multifunction printer/scanner/fax device (the kind that people sometimes call hydra machines), a PC Card that combines a network interface card with a modem, or a sound board with extra features.
Previous versions of Windows tended to recognize the component pieces of multifunction devices separately in sequence. If you installed a hydra, Windows would recognize the printer and demand the installation software for it. Once that was done, Windows would recognize the fax and demand the software for that. After that, it would recognize the scanner and suggest you might want to install yet more software. Windows XP improves on this social ineptitude by recognizing multifunction devices as such the first time you introduce it to them, and so it demands the installation software only once.
Effective Uninstall Back to Windows 98 and Windows Me
Windows XP Home provides an effective uninstall feature for rolling back the Windows XP installation to your previous installation of Windows 98 or Windows Me. You can't uninstall Windows XP Home and revert to an operating system other than these two. (Windows XP Professional supports upgrading from and uninstalling back to a different set of previous versions of Windows, as you'll see later in this chapter.)
Effective Multiuser Capabilities
Windows XP provides far better multiuser capabilities than Windows 9x. You'll notice this at once when you start Windows XP, because by default the Welcome screen that's displayed when Windows starts lists each user who has an account on the computer.
While Windows 9x let anybody log on to the computer by creating a new account, Windows XP requires an existing account in order to log on. By default, no account has a password in Windows XP Home, though, so in effect anybody can log on using one of the existing accounts until you require passwords-and you ought to require passwords immediately to protect your data.
Windows 9x let you create a profile for each separate user, so that each user could have their own Desktop, Start menu, and set of programs; but it didn't offer any features for preventing one user from seeing another user's files. By contrast, Windows XP takes the approach of NT and Windows 2000, which keep each user's files separate, so that no user can see another user's files unless they have been shared deliberately.
Windows XP goes further than NT and Windows 2000, though, in that it lets multiple users be logged on at the same time, each with programs running. Only one user can be actually using the computer, or active in Windows XP parlance, at any one time, but the other user sessions continue running in the background (disconnected, in Windows XP parlance). When you've finished with the computer for the time being, you can log off Windows, just as you did in previous versions of Windows. Logging off closes all the programs you were using and frees up the memory they took up. But if you stop using the computer only temporarily, you may prefer to switch user, which leaves your programs running but lets someone else use the computer in the interim. Further encouraging you to switch user, Windows' default screen saver setting is to display the Welcome screen after 10 minutes of inactivity, performing the equivalent of a Switch User command as it disconnects the user but leaves their session running hidden in the background.
Enhanced User Interface
Windows XP has a completely revamped user interface with a large number of visual enhancements and improved functionality. Some of the visual enhancements improve usability, while others are mere eye candy. But the overall effect is mostly easy to use and mostly looks good-and if you don't like the look, you can restore the "classic" Windows look with minimal effort.
The following sections discuss the main changes to the user interface.
Redesigned Start Menu
Windows XP sports a redesigned Start menu that's supposedly easier and quicker to use. Whether you find it so depends on your experience with the Start menu found in Windows 9x and Windows 2000. But don't worry if you like the "classic" Start menu-you can restore it easily enough with a few clicks of the mouse, as discussed in Chapter 10.
The Start menu appears as a panel containing two columns (shown in Figure 1.1). The right-hand column remains the same unless you customize it. The left-hand column starts off with items Microsoft thinks you ought to know about immediately after installation. It then automatically reconfigures itself to show your most used programs. You can pin an item to the Start menu to prevent it from moving and keep it available.
As you can see in the figure, the current user's name appears in a bar across the top of the Start menu, and the Log Off button and Turn Off Computer button appear at the bottom of the menu.
Explorer windows use a pair of technologies called WebView and ListView to present context-sensitive lists of tasks you may want to perform or other locations you may want to access. If that sounds a bit vague, that's because WebView and ListView mean that what you see in an Explorer window changes depending on the item that's displayed.
For example, when you select a file (as in Figure 1.2), you see a list of File and Folder Tasks (including links for Rename This File, Move This File, and Delete This File), a list of Other Places (other folders you may want to access from this folder), and a list of Details (which contains information about the file selected and is off the screen in the figure). When you select a folder, Explorer displays a list of File and Folder Tasks (including links for Rename This Folder, Copy This Folder, and Publish This Folder to the Web). When you select your My Network Places folder, you get a Network Tasks list (including links for View Network Connections and Set Up a Home Network). When you select the Recycle Bin... Okay, you get the idea.
Context menus (right-click menus) in Explorer are also improved, with more context-sensitive commands added where appropriate. But most of the action takes place in the Tasks list for the selected item. That's because some 80 percent of users apparently weren't using the context menus successfully-an impressive and frightening statistic thrown up by Microsoft's research on Windows users.
Redesigned Control Panel
Windows XP also has a redesigned Control Panel (shown in Figure 1.3) that uses WebView and ListView technology to present Control Panel as categories of items and actions you can take with them. (If you regard Control Panel as an oddly behaved Explorer window, it should come as no surprise after reading the previous section that Control Panel uses WebView and ListView.)
New users will likely find the Category view of Control Panel easy to use. Users comfortable with the regular manifestation of Control Panel in Windows 9x, Windows NT 4, and Windows 2000 will probably prefer to use the Classic view.
Excerpted from Windows XP Home Edition Complete Excerpted by permission.
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