Posted 17 December 2007 - 11:29 AM
Review: Windows XP
I have finally decided to take the plunge. Last night I upgraded my Vista desktop machine to Windows XP, and this afternoon I will be doing the same to my laptop.
Look & Feel
Windows XP has quite a cartoony look and feel compared to the slick look of Aero Glass; this is mostly offset by the lack of strange screen artifacts caused by malfunctioning graphics code. You know, almost like static on the screen. This was a once or twice monthly occurrence on my laptop, and happened on my desktop whenever I logged in, and also whenever I played a 3D game after leaving Vista running for a couple of hours. I also miss the "orphaned windows" I got on Vista, dialog boxes that would not go away, in a sense they became part of the desktop, since you could drag a selection from within them, despite the fact that the Glass would render the selection below them. Such crazy graphics bugs appear to be a thing of the past.
Well, here there appears to be no contest. Windows XP is both faster and far more responsive. I no longer have the obligatory 1-minute system lock that happens whenever I log onto Vista, instead I can run applications as soon as I can click their icons. Not only that, but the applications start snappily too, rather than all waiting in some "I'm still starting up the OS" queue for 30 seconds or so before all starting at once. In addition, I have noticed that when performing complex tasks such as viewing large images, or updating large spreadsheets, instead of the whole operating system locking down for several seconds, it now just locks down the application I am working on, allowing me to <gasp> Alt-Tab to another application and work on that. I am thrilled that Microsoft decided to add preemptive multitasking to their operating system, and for this reason alone I would strongly urge you to upgrade to XP. With the amount of multi-core processors around today using a multitasking operating system like XP makes a world of difference.
A doomed attempt to cancel a file copy, I had to hard reset the computer after this.
In addition, numerous tasks that take a long time on Vista have been greatly speeded up. File copies are snappy and responsive, and pressing the Cancel button halfway through actually cancels the copy almost immediately, as opposed to having it lock up, and sometimes lock up the PC. In addition, a lot of work has gone into making deletes far more efficient, it appears that no more does the operating system scan every file to be deleted prior to wiping it, and instead just wipes out the NTFS trees involved, a far quicker operation. On my Vista machine I would often see a dialog box from some of my video codec's pop up when deleting, moving or copying videos. No more, now all that is involved is a byte transfer or NTFS operation.
Automatic Updates has also gone through a performance facelift in that it no longer hogs your bandwidth when you're surfing, a nice touch.
XP comes with some impressive device support. In fact, every peripheral I've collected over the years works perfectly with it. Many have the device drivers preinstalled on XP, making their installation a snap, but for the rest it was easy to find device drivers on the Web. In addition I found the drivers quick and reliable, a far cry from the buggy, slow and sparse driver support in Vista. I'm glad to see that with their new flagship OS, Windows XP, Microsoft have finally learnt from the mistakes they made with the Vista launch. In addition, support for mobile devices seems to be significantly improved.
I've also found that XP seems much lighter on the hardware than Vista, when it's inactive the hard drive very rarely spins up, a major advantage for me, since I often sleep near my laptop. No longer do I have to try and ignore the continual hard drive drone, but can now sleep soundly just like my computer. I never did figure out exactly what Vista was doing with my hard drive the whole time, but I'm sure it degraded its lifespan with all that spinning.
All I can say is "wow!" You can see that a lot of work has gone into making XP more reliable than its predecessor. The random program crashes, and hangs appear to be a thing of the past.
The Lack-of-Solutions tool
Internet Explorer 7 is much more reliable on XP as well, and has so far not crashed once whilst viewing GMail, when it used to do this several times a day. In addition, I can now actually close the thing down normally every time, instead of sometimes having to kill the process. Error collection seems to be far better as well. Instead of a dialog taking a minute or two to collect the information it needs, the dialog comes up and is ready to send error data almost immediately. I am sad to see the back of the Solutions tool though, it may have hardly ever delivered any valid solutions, especially for the standard random crashes, but at least you knew that something under your control was tracking that information. Please, Microsoft bring it back.
The much-missed reliability report
Speaking of which, I notice that the Reliability Report is also gone, again a sore loss, I really enjoyed charting the downward spiral of my Vista reliability, there were those occasional humps that got you all excited, and then the graph would continue its steady sojourn downwards. Of course, the fact that it only appeared to pay attention to a tiny fraction of the actual problems was a bit of an issue, but I'm sure they could have resolved that for the XP release. Ah well.
I also am pleased to note that Ctrl-Alt-Del does actually have an effect nowadays. Many times in Vista, I wished that they would make this more reliable so I could kill off the inevitable hanging Windows Explorer process (as a matter of fact, this is the situation I find myself in right now), in XP it actually does something as opposed to being part of the usual Vista eternal hang. Speaking of which, please excuse me for a few minutes, Windows Explorer has now been 100% hung for 5 minutes, despite my asking Vista to restart it, and despite me pushing Ctrl-Alt-Del several times over those 5 minutes. So I'm going to have to hard-reset my laptop. This process, by the way, is also something that amazingly seems to almost never be required in the clean and sparkling new XP.
Right, I'm back, thanks for being patient. I mentioned how much quicker you could start using programs from a boot in XP; I must admit that, appealing though that feature is, you won't actually find it that useful. XP almost never appears to require a reboot, so you hardly ever take advantage of a wonderful improvement like that, which otherwise would save you at least 15-20 minutes a day.
This is another area where Microsoft has really excelled in Windows XP. Games are significantly more responsive, get much higher frame rates, and are far more reliable than in Vista. If you're a gamer, the upgrade to XP is mandatory. Whilst there are a few games that won't work as well in XP than in Vista, you'll find that on the whole XP supports almost all the games you'd want to play. In addition, it's vastly increased reliability means you'll spend much more time killing things than restarting, a welcome change I can assure you. You'll also find that non-X-Fi soundcards with EAX are much improved by their support in XP, which can really add a bit of excitement to your gaming experience.
Multimedia support on XP is vastly better than on Vista. Whilst content-creators had insisted on all sorts of intrusive features in Vista that made the multimedia experience a living hell for Microsoft users, thankfully with XP Microsoft were able to insist that their customers' needs came ahead of the content creators outdated business model. It's nice to see a corporation like Microsoft stand up to the cyber bullies at the MPAA and refuse to assume that its loyal customers are criminals. In any case, the DRM built into Vista was broken shortly after its release anyway.
To be honest there is only one conclusion to be made; Microsoft has really outdone themselves in delivering a brand new operating system that really excels in all the areas where Vista was sub-optimal. From my testing, discussions with friends and colleagues, and a review of the material out there on the web there seems to be no doubt whatsoever that that upgrade to XP is well worth the money. Microsoft can really pat themselves on the back for a job well done, delivering an operating system which is much faster and far more reliable than its predecessor. Anyone who thinks there are problems in the Microsoft Windows team need only point to this fantastic release and scoff loudly.
Well done Microsoft!
Family and loved ones will always be a priority in my daily life. You never know when one will leave you.