Tech Enthusiast A brand-new look for Microsoft Windows
(MONEY Magazine) – Windows shopping
A tech tsunami is heading your way. The epicenter: Redmond, Wash. The flood: ad pitches for Windows XP, Microsoft's new operating system (OS). The October launch of Windows XP--Microsoft's most revolutionary OS since Windows 95--is a near seismic shift for the industry. After all, licensing fees from Windows are the linchpin of Microsoft's dominance and profitability. And with this incarnation of Windows, Microsoft hopes to launch another lucrative business: Net-based software upgrades, instant messaging and tech support, all, eventually, for a fee. Struggling computer makers, looking at PC sales that are expected to end the year down 17%, hope that demand for the new OS will revitalize their sagging business. Privacy advocates and some politicians, on the other hand, are casting a less favorable eye on an OS that could further solidify Microsoft's lock on the desktop market.
Amid this hoopla, where do consumers fit in? Is the upgrade, estimated to cost $100, worth it? I grudgingly say yes. My frustration with Windows' tendency to crash--a problem XP should eliminate--outweighs some serious misgivings.
First, here's what's to like. From the moment you boot up, it's apparent that XP is cleaner, with less clutter, than any version of Windows you've seen. The task bar at the bottom organizes buttons into groups and hides rarely used icons. If more than one person uses the PC, each of you can customize a desktop. Windows Me and Windows 98 were dolled-up versions of their predecessors; Windows XP is based on Microsoft's business OS--and is not DOS-based. What that means is fewer crashes and computer headaches. I also like the improved support for such peripherals as digital cameras, PDAs and MP3 players, and the simpler process for creating a home network.
What's not to like? Let's start with the antipiracy feature. To activate XP, you must register your computer with Microsoft, which means you have to buy a separate $100 program for every machine you want to upgrade. Microsoft also continues its annoying tradition of including more junk than you need. XP comes with rudimentary photo- and video-editing tools as well as Windows Media Player. I already have applications I prefer for those jobs, so I'm wasting hard-drive space on programs I'll probably never use. And I can do without the "benefit" of getting Microsoft products as the default selection for e-mail, Net access and instant messaging. Frankly, I don't want Microsoft to be in complete control of my PC.
I'm not the only one who has a beef with XP. Privacy groups are concerned that XP's passport and wallet features, which store your address and credit-card numbers for Web shopping, will let Microsoft collect detailed personal profiles. This fall, the Senate Judiciary Committee is looking into competition on the desktop and Internet, including the impact of XP. (The hearings, however, are unlikely to delay XP's launch.)
Finally, not just any machine can handle Windows XP. The OS takes up a hefty 1.5GB of hard-drive space. Microsoft suggests at least a 300MHz processor and 128MB of RAM to run XP. I'd say a processor speed of 650MHz or more and 256MB of RAM are better bets to ensure that your PC performs well. Fortunately, RAM is especially cheap now ($25 for an additional 128MB).
My advice: If your PC is more than two years old--and therefore has a slower processor and inadequate RAM--it'll be more cost-effective to buy a new PC than to upgrade. Machines loaded with XP may be available in early October in advance of the Oct. 25 official launch date. With PC makers locked in a price war that shows no signs of letting up, you're bound to get a good deal.