Product Reviews

Microsoft Windows XP "Windows XP Professional, First Looks"

Reviewed By:
Joan Latchford
The Personal Computer Club of Toronto.

I started using Microsoft Windows in 1985 when the only interesting thing running under it was a black and white aquarium of rather stilted fish.

As each new addition of Windows has been launched, I have been among the first to upgrade, loading the newer version over the old and eschewing the fabled "Clean Install" which is supposedly superior. In fact, I've probably only performed the latter when I have upgraded to a new system or on a recent occasion following the crash of a six-week-old hard drive. After this event, I decided that I would install programs on a separate system drive, (not partition) so I had very little to lose, except time, if an XP installation proved catastrophic. I did back up all data onto a partition of my son Jay's computer over our recently set up home/business network of four computers.

I chose XP's "upgrade" option and ran an initial compatibility scan which told me my current versions of Seagate Backup Exec, Norton System Works and Norton Anti-Virus would not work under Windows XP and should be removed prior to its installation. After uninstalling through Windows 98 SE "Add/Remove programs" I chose to run XP's "detailed" scan of my system (Celeron 400 chip, 512 MBs of memory, 20 GB boot drive in a single partition) to generate a full report on any remaining hardware and software incompatibilities. These were surprisingly few:

Hardware that might need additional files;

HP PhotoSmart CS101A S20 (a slide and negative scanner)
Nikon Coolpix 990 (my 3.3 megapixel digital camera)
Epson Stylus Photo EX (colour inkjet printer)
Microtek ScanWizard (E6 model) flatbed scanner
NEC Silent Writer 870, (a former best of breed black and white laser printer)

Since these are all major companies, I was pretty sure updated drivers would be available sooner or later, though I had some qualms about the Microtek, which has been a discontinued model for a couple of years.) XP reported the following:

Software that does not support Windows XP

Microsoft Intellitype 2.X
Microsoft Intellitype 1.x

Software that must be reinstalled:

Direct CD 3 (software for Plextor Burner)
Adobe Acrobat 4
Easy CD Creator 4 (Plextor Burner)
WinFax Pro 8

The software that must be re-installed was not a problem - I had already been on the Plextor site which directed me to Roxio, the makers of Easy CD Creator, who promised new drivers by the 29th of October. I was already using Adobe Acrobat 5, so version 4 was expendable. WinFax Pro 8 had been identified some weeks ago as the source of an Outlook problem in office XP, so needed to be replaced anyway.

So, nothing I couldn't live with and work around even in the worst case scenario.

Before installation, I downloaded and copied the new software and drivers for the HP slide and negative scanner which was already available on their site, the Intellitype mouse and keyboard upgrades from Microsoft and a 30 day interim Roxio Platinum 5 driver for my Plextor CD burner.

After these preliminaries, the installation was straightforward and took about an hour. My office is next door to our kitchen and I could really have tackled the stack of dishes by the sink while XP chugged through "Preparing Installation," "Installing Devices" "Finalizing Installation" and "Congratulations, you're ready to go". Here's what you just accomplished:

You activated your copy of Windows
You registered your copy of Windows with Microsoft
Your computer is configured for Internet access

Surprise, surprise. All my icons appeared on my desktop and apart from some cosmetic rearrangement, all brought up their respective programs. I began a systematic check of those peripherals I had been warned "might not work."

The HP PhotoSmart performed flawlessly once I installed the updated driver.

The NEC Scriptwriter 870, printed immediately but though XP has a driver for the 860 Scriptwriter, there is presently nothing listed for the 870. I'm unable to access one feature I have found valuable, the setting that prints images in a format optimized for Xerox reproduction I use for a short run newsletter in magazine format that I produce bi-monthly. The installation of the Windows 2000 driver has not corrected this problem.

The Epson asked me if I wanted to print a test page and rendered the XP Logo in exquisite colour. But again, some features were missing and the default installation only allowed me to print at a maximum of 720 dpi instead of 1440 dpi. In this case the installation of the Windows 2000 rectified the situation fully as far as print quality goes but did not restore the ink consumption monitor. However, as a blinking light indicator appears for both black and white and colour cartridges when the ink gets low and the printer stops working when either are empty, this is no great problem. I have always made a habit of keeping cartridges in stock because of their proclivity for running out when all the stores are closed.

Most surprising of all, the Microtek ScanWizard worked perfectly with all its features, just as installed.

It seemed to me that though XP recognized my Sony Multiscan 200 FS monitor during installation it introduced a slight flicker most noticeable when opening a fresh document page in Word. Nor could I find a driver update for my 3D Rage IIC AGP display adaptor on the ATI site. By typing "driver compatible with IIC RAGE display adaptor etc." into the search engine "Google," (my home page) I arrived at the Hong Kong CNET download site, where I found the XP and 3D Rage compatible Nvidia Detonator Driver which gives me a flicker free display.

The biggest disappointment was the absence of support for my Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera, though several other models are recognized out of the box. Nikon says on their website that:

"Nikon plans full support for the following products: Coolpix 775, 880, 885, 990, 995, 5000. Nikon is currently developing an upgrade for Nikon View 4 that will be released between late November and mid December."

The good news is that when the new software is ready, a USB camera connection will pop-up the XP Auto-Play for image transfers.

All this tweaking has been greatly helped by XP itself. When, for instance, you choose to add a new printer, if you are having difficulties, there is an option to connect directly to the appropriate website to search for drivers or technical help. It has the advantage of taking you directly where you want to go rather than searching through what are often less than intuitive corporate websites.

I consider the software problems to have been minimal. The fact that WinFax Light is now part of Windows XP was a bonus. It provided the easiest connection I ever remember. My use of fax has declined since the popularity of the Internet and I mainly receive broadcast ads that range from discounts on Viagra to bargain insurance offers. But I keep the option for authors who still prefer to fax manuscripts rather using e-mail attachments. Most Shareware programs work as expected, including my favourite Canadian Graphics program, ACDSee.

XP support of multi-media is outstanding. I am in the habit of listening to Jazz radio from around the world over Rogers Cable when I am working and usually check BBC, CBC and ABC news online before going to bed. Though most often I just read headlines, it is a pleasure to watch the videos of topics that grab me.

XP loads more quickly than 98 SE. As I keep all my addresses and telephone numbers in Outlook, it no longer takes such an embarrassing delay when I turn on my system to provide requested information for someone who is waiting for it on the phone. Nor has XP locked up or crashed once, since its installation one week ago.

To sum up. My system is certainly less than state of the art in some respects, the slower speed of a Celeron 400 Chip is compensated by 512K memory, 20 and 40 GB hard drives. I have a Sony Multi-Scan 200 FS monitor and an ATI Rage II display adaptor with 8MBs of RAM. I have some 40 major business and graphic programs, plug-ins and applets that are all performing to my satisfaction with the exception of my Nikon software, for which Microsoft can not be held responsible. The new graphic interface is pleasant and easy on the eyes though I have not yet decided between the new or classic Start Menu. I have created the set of six Windows XP floppy setup boot disks.

You may want to wait a little bit longer for the third party drivers you need before you take the plunge to Windows XP but when you do I do not think you will be disappointed.