Is XP worth the upgrade?

Is XP worth the upgrade?

Tom Yager: The decision to upgrade to Windows XP Professional throughout the enterprise is easily made. In my opinion, XP is the first desktop OS that Microsoft has built expressly for the corporate market. Windows XP is a fast, stable, secure OS that has all the features a corporate desktop PC user requires. Perhaps more to the point, it has qualities geared for business that previous Windows editions have lacked.

PJ Connolly: Tom, I always had NT 4.0 Workstation pegged as Microsoft's first usable (and that is a very important word) corporate-from-the-ground-up OS. Windows 2000 Professional was a major improvement. But to me, it's more like a Windows 2000 Second Edition, only slower. I don't see any reason for corporates to start over with a new Windows just 20 months after the last one appeared. Frankly, most hardware bought before last year is a questionable fit for XP. When I buy a 2GHz computer, then I'll think about XP. Until then, my advice for most companies is to load or stick with Windows 2000 and be thankful for licence-downgrade options.

Yager: Windows XP's system requirements aren't out of line with its capabilities, and if it's slower than Windows 2000, I haven't noticed. I use a comparatively underpowered notebook (400MHz, 96MB RAM) and far prefer Windows XP's performance to the Windows 2000 Professional I was running. But there's more to the issue than performance. I've been working with Windows XP since the initial beta. I went looking for the resolution of Windows' past weaknesses - primarily usability, security and manageability - and was frankly surprised by the thoroughness with which Microsoft attacked each problem area. I don't claim the solutions are all ideal or original: I'm not fond of the new Start menu layout or the idiot-friendly network configuration wizards. But the sum of the parts is a vast improvement.

Connolly: Oh, no doubt about that. From an architecture standpoint, Windows XP is a vast improvement over the 9x family, which is still way too close to DOS for my liking. I'll also concede that it's more elegant than anything I've seen in the NT/2000 families. But when push comes to shove, I like to stick with what works instead of upgrading for the sake of being "with it". A lot of what's new is marketing fluff, with apologies to the folks who've tried really hard to convince me otherwise. Overhauling Windows Media Player is nice, for example, but it's not exactly what I'd call a corporate issue. Nor do I think there are that many IT managers who are jazzed about yet another instant-messaging client.

Yager: Perhaps part of the problem is a disagreement over what qualifies as "new". Many of the features touted as new to Windows XP already exist, in some form, in Windows 2000. But features such as the journalled NTFS (NT File System), file encryption, IPsec and IntelliMirror roaming will be new to the majority of business desktop and notebook users. Also, Windows XP incorporates all of the service packs, hot fixes and device-driver updates available for Windows 2000. Users will probably be more interested in XP's truly new features such as the polished, customisable look and feel, faster and fewer reboots and reliable hibernation (suspend to disk). Part of what makes XP work is that the benefits of Windows 2000 are delivered in a package that's loaded with user appeal.

Connolly: Wow, and I get accused of living in an ivory tower? How many corporate users get to make decisions about what OS runs on their desktop? Except for a few prima donnas like you and me, most end users take what IT gives them, and it has little to do with user appeal. They get systems that are usually underpowered but adequate for 90 per cent of what most users do, which is read e-mail, type memos and surf the Web.

Yager: I'm not surprised by your lack of empathy for the corporate PC user. Most PCs purchased within the past couple of years are capable of running Windows XP well - and with RAM as cheap as it is, any necessary upgrades are virtually painless.

Surely you can identify with system administrators, help-desk staff and other support personnel? Windows XP is built for easy remote management. An administrator can open remote console sessions, impose group policies (functional restrictions to secure or protect a PC) and install or remove applications without visiting the user's PC.

ASR (Automatic System Recovery) reverses configuration changes made to a system; so if a user shoots himself or herself in the foot, the help desk can invoke ASR to restore the system to a healthy state.

Connolly: OK, you score a point there. Windows XP has a lot of nifty tools for remote management, but I've been hearing about Windows' policy-based management features for five years now, since NT 4.0 came out.

I would be careful about enabling ASR globally; our testing indicates that it does affect performance, especially on a heavily tasked PC. It's probably fine in the executive suite, because the less they see of the service techs, the happier everyone's life is. But your true power users had better have a dual CPU configuration, if you don't want them chasing after you with torches.

I absolutely agree with you that Windows 9x needs to go away, and soon. But most PCs configured with Windows 98 - and an awful lot running Windows 2000 with ease - should not be upgraded to Windows XP. Go out and buy some new PCs instead; it's the capitalist thing to do.

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