Langa Letter: The 10 Best And Worst Things About Windows XP - InformationWeek
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Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: The 10 Best And Worst Things About Windows XP

Fred Langa provides his personal likes and dislikes about Microsoft's newest operating system. Check them out, then add your picks to the list.

Windows is undoubtedly the 800-pound gorilla of the operating-system world. What happens with Windows--for good or ill--affects us all (even non-Windows users!). That's why, no matter what operating system you're using now, and no matter whether or not you ever plan to use XP, it behooves us all to know what's going on with it.

I've used XP Professional (the version that's meant for mainstream deployment in business settings) on various high-end and midrange systems, and I've lived with it as my full-time personal-use operating system ever since I got my hands on XP's "gold" code some time ago. For the record, the systems I've tested it on are all less than 2 years old--one's just a few months old--and by far, all exceed the minimum standards Microsoft publishes for XP. All the hardware passes the XP compatibility tests; likewise, all the software is XP-compatible.

In the time I've been using it, I've come to really like some things about XP. Other aspects make me grit my teeth in frustration. I've gathered them into a list of 10 items: the five best and five worst things I've found about XP.

Of course, any such like/dislike list is inherently subjective. So please use my list only as a starting point and add your own likes and dislikes. When we're done, we should have a treasure trove of pros and cons about XP, based on real-life XP user experiences. It should be highly informative!

Herewith is my list of XP highs--and lows:

Fred's Picks: The Best Things About XP
Taskbar and Tray: Amazingly, one of the seemingly smallest changes in XP's interface has the largest payoff for me in daily use.

You see, I run a lot of programs at the same time and need many other tools and applications just a click away. In other versions of Windows, this results in a hugely cluttered "Taskbar" and "Tray" area. (The Taskbar contains Start and other buttons representing running programs; the Tray is the "notification area" near the clock that contains the icons of background tasks and services.) In XP, the Taskbar intelligently groups like buttons: If, for example, you have five instances of Explorer open to different folder views, XP can place one button on the Taskbar labeled "(5) Windows Explorer." Click on the one button, and a popup menu lets you select which of the five instances you want. This saves space and keeps you from having to dig down through a multilevel Taskbar to find the particular instance of a program. In similar fashion, XP also saves space in the Tray area by hiding icons that either aren't actively displaying information or that you haven't clicked in a while. But if you need access to a hidden icon, no problem: You can still get to it with a click. Yes, these interface changes only matter if you're the kind of person who uses many applications and utilities simultaneously, but for that group of users, it's a wonderful improvement.

Built-in CD-R software: It's about time; XP finally does away with the need for third-party tools for basic CD-R burning. You simply drag files to your CD burner's drive letter, and XP caches the files and then burns them to a blank CD-R with good reliability. If you do encounter underrun problems, XP ratchets down the write speed of the next CD-R burn and keeps doing so until you get 100% verified writes. It couldn't be simpler to use.

Power management: For years, Windows' power-management tools just didn't work very well, with hang-on-shutdown and resume failures exceedingly common. Windows lagged behind the theoretical capabilities of modern hardware to power down, suspend, hibernate, and resume operation, as needed. XP still doesn't have it 100% right, but it appears to be the best Windows yet for finally getting hardware to suspend and resume as it should.

Backup: For years, I've generally avoided using Windows' built-in backup tools because I found them just too slow and clunky compared with third-party tools. But so far, I really like the speed and flexibility of XP's backup (based on the familiar "NTbackup" from NT and Win2k). Time will tell whether it's a true keeper, but it's looking that way--the only bundled Windows backup I've found worthwhile.

ClearType: Geared mainly for flat-screen and notebook users, but helpful on some standard monitors as well, ClearType lets you adjust the boldness or opacity of your on-screen fonts, resulting in smoother, far more readable type that belies the pixilated nature of LCDs. ClearType is built into XP, but you'll need a separate download to activate it and to play with its settings. You'll find background information on ClearType on another page.

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