Facts & Figures
Home & Pro Differences
Behind the New Wheel
Folders & Special Folders
Looking at 'My Pictures'
Windows Media Player 8
Internet Explorer 6.0
Backup & Restore
Hardware and Setup
Will Your Programs Run?
Behind the New Wheel
What's new in Windows XP starts with a significant update to the look and feel of the desktop, Start Menu, Taskbar, Control Panel, and folder windows. Commonly known as the user interface, these features of Windows show many changes. For starters, the entire interface has an improved look that uses more simultaneous colors and also more memory. Most people appreciate the difference. The default background is called Red Moon Desert, and it's part of the many new built-in themes in Windows XP (including "Windows Classic," which you already know). Other themes that caught our attention include Vortec Space, Moon Flower, Follow Me, Bliss, and Azul. Expect a flurry of such high-resolution backgrounds to begin appearing on the Microsoft site as well as others.
One disadvantage of the new themes in Windows XP
The most important decision, however, is the choice between the standard method of smoothing screen fonts, or the ClearType method. On a good monitor, ClearType enhances text significantly, not only smoothing but making the fonts look much closer to what you'd expect on a printed page. By all means try ClearType, especially if you do extensive work with text.
One of the primary principles of the new Windows XP desktop is "less clutter." In fact, by default, the only desktop icon you'll find is Recycle Bin, which is moved to the lower right corner. It's possible to turn the desktop icons you're used to back on, if you want, but a cleaner desktop is something many of us aspire to. Going along with that notion is the new Desktop Cleanup Wizard. Because programs automatically add icons to the desktop, and we do so ourselves in a variety of ways, Windows XP offers an automatic means of reducing the clutter. Periodically, the Desktop Cleanup wizard displays a window listing the desktop icons and the dates they were last used, and if you agree, it moves the icons to a folder called Unused Desktop Shortcuts that appears on your desktop, so that you can get at them or restore them at any time.
Start in on Start
The Start Menu displays two columns, and so far we've been describing the right column. The left column does only one thing. It shows program icons. But there are two different ways it shows them. You can place icons there, the way you would at the top of any other Windows Start Menu. But it also automatically shows programs you've recently run, so it makes it easy to re-run commonly run apps. The number of icons displayed is a customization option.
Microsoft smartened up Taskbar in good ways. In the System Tray area (next to the clock), the Taskbar now has the ability to hide icons that haven't changed their notification. It informs you periodically that icons are inactive, and you can modify this behavior with customization settings. You can even disable this smart hiding of Tray icons if you like, or make decisions about specific Tray icons. Taskbar has another trick too. If you open seven Internet Explorer windows, and there are enough other open program windows too, the seven tabs for the IE windows will automatically combine into one program tab on Taskbar, and when you click that tab a menu will pop-up letting you select an individual IE window or opt to close them all. That's a great idea.