Get up to Speed on Windows XP

Windows XP

Story Contents


Facts & Figures

Home & Pro Differences

Behind the New Wheel

Folders & Special Folders

Looking at 'My Pictures'

Windows Media Player 8

Internet Explorer 6.0

Functional Improvements

Personal Firewall

Remote Assistance

Backup & Restore

Product Activation

Hardware and Setup

Will Your Programs Run?


Beta Conclusions

Functional Improvements

Windows XP has a long list of under-the-hood and barely visible improvements that should put a smile on the face of any Windows 2000 user. For example, the product has native support for CD-R/W drives. It offers integrated WiFi (802.11b) wireless networking support, a new Personal Firewall feature, native 1394/Firewire support, and all of the digital media and PC Health features from Windows Me. There's even a new Remote Assistance tool that lets you remotely access and control the PC of the next family member who has a tech support crisis (so long as both of you are running XP). There are literally hundreds of functional improvements over Windows 2000 and Windows Me, far too many to even mention in this story. Microsoft has been working hard on this ever since Windows 2000 shipped.

Multiple-User Logon Features
The single best functional improvement for home users is the extensive new support for multiple users sharing one PC. Any family PC being used by kids and parents can be like a battleground, where each user struggles to make the interface work the way he or she wants, not to mention issues with privacy, security, and reliability. For such a setting, Windows XP introduces a broad set of improvements that permits each family member to fully customize everything from installed applications to the screen saver. Each user gets his own My Documents, My Pictures, and My Music folders. Virtually every Windows setting can be configured by user, instead of globally for all users. Even better, the tools that allow you to manage users are vastly improved. And you can switch users without having to reboot. Any applications and windows a users leaves open will be up and running the next time they logon. Some of us are going to find this feature so powerfully convenient that we'll be compelled to grab this new version of Windows, no matter what the drawbacks. It appears that Microsoft got the multiple-user-logon features right.

If you share your PC with others, we can almost guarantee you're going to make the move to Windows XP. The multiple-user-logon features are that good.
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If you share your PC with others, we can almost guarantee you're going to make the move to Windows XP. The multiple-user-logon features are that good.

In both the Home and Professional versions of XP, the logon screen has changed dramatically. Instead of the small and standard username/password dialog from Windows 9x, and the slightly more complex username/password/domain dialog found in Windows NT/2000, XP provides a colorful full screen showing all the names of all the people using the PC. There are even user-customizable icons that appear beside the names. To logon, you click the username you want, and XP will load the desktop specified in that user's profile (password protected, if you want). XP also demands the same procedure when coming out of Standby or Hibernation mode. With XP, home users have for the very first time (except for a handful of third-party products) a logon and file permissions system that actually keeps users out of each other's files. (Since there's no DOS underneath Windows XP, it's not like someone can circumvent the whole thing by booting to DOS.)

As the system administrator, the User Accounts applet in Control Panel lets you set each user's configuration. You can set up new accounts there (any you didn't setup during installation) as well as edit existing accounts. The Change section of the User Accounts window lets administrators modify the name and password for each user, and also set the user's account type. The three types are Administrator, Standard, and Limited, with a progressively limited set of capabilities for each. If you create an account named Guest, during installation, XP will automatically assign it the Limit set of capabilities.

XP supplies a variety of graphics for use as a user picture, and these can be changed readily through the User Accounts applet in Control Panel. Or you can simply take your own digital photographs of each user and place them there instead.

While multiple-user-logon can be used in corporate settings, the feature is sure to be a hit in family settings and small businesses where it's a lot more common for more than one person to use a PC.

Built-in Wireless Networking Support
Wireless networking -- the ability to connect two or more PCs to share files and an Internet connection without network cables -- is one of the hottest trends for power users. Windows XP will be the first version of Windows with built-in support for the best wireless networking protocol, WiFi (also known as 802.11b). With WiFi, you can be outside on the patio on a spring day using your notebook PC while wirelessly connecting to the Internet via a DSL or cable-modem that might be located in your second-story home office. If you're careful about how you spend for wireless products, you can do this for less than $500, and it'll profoundly change for the better the way you use computers.

Windows XP adds two things that improve the WiFi experience. First it has a built-in plug-and-play driver for wireless adapters that even self configures the basic settings needed to make your connection work. (For those who have experience with WiFi: XP can pluck the "SSID" number your wireless access point is using right out of the air.) Because WiFi's biggest drawback is security, Windows XP introduces a rapid, automatic key-changing feature designed for corporate environments that effectively raises security levels to block out casual intrusion. New versions of WiFi in the works will eventually raise the security bar for everyone.

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