Ignore the license, get Windows XP

Don't let bunk myths about Microsoft's licensing scheme stop you from upgrading to Windows XP, says Oliver Rist. Your system manager will thank you.

When Microsoft released Windows XP, most of the clients I consulted weren't ready to care--many had just finished working out the kinks in Windows 2000. Then Microsoft's new licensing program met with protest. But you'd be wrong to write off XP. One year later, it's time to give XP its due.

Redmond's new licensing scheme that pushes pre-arranged sales commitments may be shoddy, but the bottom line is that XP, although it's an incremental OS upgrade, has a number of new features that are very attractive to systems managers, especially now. But after the backlash over the new licensing, many folks were left with some misconceptions about XP, both financial and technical.

First, let's dispel some myths about the licensing scheme. At a recent conference, a client told me that buying XP forced customers to commit to a new OS upgrade every two years. Not true. All the licensing does is limit enterprise-level discounts to a two-year window. Even then, you don't have to upgrade all the initially purchased software to get the discount.

Frankly, most of my clients either know that they'll be purchasing at least that many new licenses in any case, or they're simply moving to a three-year or even four-year usage model prior to any kind of upgrade. After all, ROI and TCO are calculated over time; if Redmond insists on withdrawing discounts in an effort to coerce faster purchasing, companies will simply slow down purchasing schedules to offset the lack of discounts. But the notion that upgrade purchases are automatic in any version of the new licensing scheme simply isn't true--participation is entirely voluntary, no matter which license you buy

XP's technical edge
With that weight off their minds, IT managers can focus more on XP's technical aspects when deciding whether it's worth the upgrade. During a recent upgrade project for a large New York-based real estate property management firm, I initially looked at Windows 2000 Professional, but XP Pro had a few additional features that ultimately tipped the scales in its favor. Embedded terminal services, or Remote Desktop, was compelling all on its own. This is a system manager's dream--total access and control built into every client at no additional cost. And performance, frankly, rocks even in a remote dial-up situation, with third-party solutions paling in comparison.

While Windows 2000 has decent recovery tools, XP significantly improves on them with its System Restore rollback capability. Combined with software such as Symantec's Ghost, this feature lets you easily select between multiple iterations of the same desktop or to simply return to a base desktop should things really go awry. And because our property management project required internal as well as external security, I was attracted to XP's combination of Encrypted File System and granular user-level access controls. We combined those features with desktop and user policies from within Active Directory to make designing a solid internal security structure almost academic. We're even able to use AD to lock users out of XP desktop features we don't want to support today (such as the embedded wireless client support, for example) but may want to provide access to at another time.

Sure, it'll cost more than we're used to paying. But Windows XP Pro's increased stability, much better design from a system management perspective, and support for new media interfaces such as IEEE 1394 and 802.11 simply add up to a longer useful life than Windows 2000. Since Microsoft's licensing greed forces us to keep XP running longer than two years, upgrading now really makes sense.

When does your company plan to upgrade to Windows XP? TalkBack below or e-mail us with your thoughts.