- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

There are 108 days remaining before Windows XP, its new operating system, hits store shelves, according to Microsoft Corp., which translates to a "debut" date of Oct. 25. Pricing has not been announced yet.

Whatever that price is, however, it will probably be worth it. After about 24 hours resident on my PC, this operating system has captivated my attention and perhaps a small chunk of my heart.

Here's why: it works. Almost flawlessly. Continuously. Cleverly. While other versions of Microsoft Windows have promised and briefly achieved such attributes, they end up failing sooner or later.

Windows ME (short for "Millennium Edition") was perhaps the latest heartbreaker. Released last Sept. 14, my copies did well on several PCs, but started exhibiting the kind of freeze-ups and glitches I'd seen in Windows 98. Occasionally these would hang up, sometimes horribly so, despite my initial optimism here that it might be different.

So why am I optimistic about Windows XP? Principally because it hails from the Windows 2000 line of OSes, descending from Windows NT. Both 2000 and NT are "business-oriented" operating systems that lacked some of the bells and whistles of the home user-designed Windows 98 and ME. The "release candidate 1" version of Windows XP that I tried a "release candidate" is computer-speak for the nearly final Beta software code that's about to be "released to manufacturing" does have the home-user features of photo, video and music support, as well as home PC networking and other items. Its core is, apparently, made of sterner stuff than its forebears.

This was apparent to me in both the installation and my initial use. Though touted to take the better part of 80 minutes (76 to be precise), I was up and running in about an hour. Now, to be fair, this was on a fairly new PC with a 1 GHz Pentium III processor and 192 MB of RAM, each of which is above the recommended minimums (300 MHz CPU and 128 MB of RAM) for the product. And, in fact, I plan to up the RAM to 512 MB within a couple of days, thanks to a good mail order deal.

But even at 192 MB of RAM, I noticed some pleasant changes. Under Windows ME, I kept bumping up against the margins of "system resource" availability, showing as little as 30 percent or less of system resources as being available; such resources being taxed by bits and pieces of various programs, wallpaper, screen savers or other utilities. There were and are ways to manage this under Windows ME or Windows 98, but, frankly, one wonders why anyone should have to bother?

With Windows XP, I'm sitting at my desk, listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" using Real Audio software, with Microsoft Outlook 2002 and Word 2002 (both part of Office XP) running. My "desktop" image is a 122 KB JPEG image of a "Cliff in the Clouds," a rather tranquil scene.

I could open up Excel 2002, the Internet Explorer (or Mozilla) Web browser and a couple of other apps and not have any trouble, even with my relatively close amount of RAM. About the only program that balked right now is the Opera 5 Web browser, but I imagine a fix can be found.

Having a bunch of these programs open is akin to the way I like to work and perhaps the way you do, too. Having them open and running without hiccups, however, is very nice indeed.

Perhaps the nicest thing about Windows XP is the way the computer "desktop" screen can look. Naked. As bare as J.Lo's back on Oscar night. In other words, you can hide desktop icons (if desired) and have a clear view of that cliff or anything else you select. The pop-up Windows "start" menu can either take the traditional form or this stylized and nicer looking version. You can even personalize it as I have by adding your picture to the bar with your user name.

Which leads to another element of Windows XP: users can set up a single computer to accommodate the needs or permissions of various family users. Mom and Dad can sign on to do their things (with their own preferences and so forth) while the kids can be assigned their own identities and "permissions" to do various things. Of course, this requires sufficient hard disk space.

It's also worth noting that, so far, my established hardware options seem to work pretty well with the new device. I did have to reinstall the software for my printer after the upgrade, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

More experimentation awaits I want to check out Windows XP's networking support and some other features. But meanwhile, having a computer that works a little better, handles my old programs, and has an interface that looks really, really cool well, all that's a nice start.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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