Software // Enterprise Applications
Commentary
11/12/2001
01:58 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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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.

Fred's Picks: Worst Things About XP
"Black box" elements: Many elements of XP's inner plumbing are not well explained, and their operation is somewhat mysterious.

For example, in these days of Trojans, viruses, and worms, it's alarming to encounter unexpected and unexplained network accesses. But many elements of XP seek to open ports or establish Internet access--or even seek to set themselves up as servers--for what would seem to be entirely local operations. While it's possible to track down and figure out what, say, "Process 960" is, and why it wants Internet access, it's a pain to do so, and Microsoft could have done a far better job of explaining what's going on and placing these accesses under user control. (There's some information in the Microsoft Knowledgebase. But several Usenet groups are far more helpful than is Microsoft for understanding what's going on at the port and access level, such as why XP's "SCVHOST" subsystem wants to keep your port 5000 open.)

Indexing: XP's Indexing Service just might be a candidate for the most inefficient piece of software ever written. I've never seen any indexing tool run as slowly or as resource-hungrily as does XP's.

For example, when I first turned on XP's Indexing Service, I immediately saw almost constant disk activity, but figured this was because of the initial building of the index, which is always time-consuming. But a full day later, when the disk was still thrashing more than half the time, I took a closer look. Even turning down the Indexing settings to minimum levels and confining the index to a modest 8-Gbyte C: partition didn't help much. The level of activity remained ridiculously high: a frequent, sometimes constant, chattering annoyance. I deactivated XP's Indexing Service; installed a free open-source indexing tool; and had a full, finished index of all files on my C drive less than an hour later. Sheesh.

Hibernation: Although I placed power management on the list of XP's best elements, I have to leave one portion--hibernation--on the "worst" list.

Hibernation is conceptually cool, and when it works, it can really speed up a system resume after power-down. What happens is that, upon suspend, a small tool "freezes" the system software and writes the complete system state, including RAM contents, to your hard drive. Upon resume, instead of going through a normal boot, the saved data is read back, bringing your system to exactly the state it was in when hibernation commenced. While useful on any system, hibernation is wonderful on notebooks because no matter how much later you return to the system, or what the power state was in the meantime (you can completely turn off the power or even remove the batteries), your system will return to exactly the way it was at the moment of hibernation.

Well, that's the theory, anyway: On my primary system here, even with XP-certified video hardware and drivers, I get an unreadable, scrambled screen on resume from hibernation. Working from memory and navigating blindly, if I log off and back on, the screen clears and everything's fine. But this is dangerous and annoying. Clearly, hibernation still has some rough edges. See the next item for a guess as to why this is.

Drivers: Many components and peripherals (even of fairly recent vintage) won't work at all, or won't work properly, with XP. Worse, even if your system receives the blessing of Microsoft's own XP Upgrade Analyzer, and even if you use only XP-certified and signed drivers, you may still have driver trouble.

For example, I naturally suspected my hibernation troubles above were video-related, but I was using drivers supplied by Microsoft itself, with all proper certifications and signings. I then visited my video-card vendor's site (Nvidia) and downloaded its "designed for Windows XP" drivers, but things only got worse: Not only would hibernation fail, but even ordinary suspend/resume generated a system error. So, even with all the proper checks, branding, and certification, XP's drivers may still be problematic. This is a situation that probably will improve rapidly with time, but it's a major pain now.

Passport and WPA: I've covered these extensively in recent columns, so I won't go into depth here, but Passport, bundled aggressively in XP software, is a needless privacy risk, and Windows Product Activation is a ridiculous annoyance. (See The End Of Anonymous Surfing? and 1,000 Posts Later: WPA Update)

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