Windows XP Home Edition vs. Windows 98 and Me

Are Windows XP's new features worth the cost of upgrading? Find out how Windows XP measures up against Windows 98 and Me.

Are Windows XP's new features worth the cost of upgrading? Find out how Windows XP measures up against Windows 98 and Me.

As you've probably heard, Microsoft has developed two versions of the new operating system: Windows XP Professional and Windows XP Home Edition. The Professional version is supposed to be an upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional, while the Home Edition version is an upgrade to Windows 98/Me.

If you're a home computer user, you're probably very curious about Windows XP Home Edition, considering that it follows closely on the heels of Windows Me. After all, Windows Me was widely touted as the ultimate home user operating system and recently made its debut on September 14, 2000. Should you plan on making the upgrade?

In this article, I'll take a look at some of the key features of the new Windows XP Home Edition operating system. As I do, I'll advise you as to whether the features warrant the cost of the upgrade.

Wizard Note: In taking a look at Windows XP Home Edition, I'm going to compare it to both Windows 98 and Windows Me. The reason is twofold: First, there are a lot of you out there still running Windows 98. Second, Windows XP Home Edition contains a lot of features first introduced in Windows Me.

Greg Shultz is a freelance writer specializing in the Windows operating system. Greg can be reached at When you first take a look at Windows XP Home Edition, you'll be stunned by the shiny new user interface. It's sleeker and more colorful than the Windows 9x user interface, thanks to enhanced features designed to make navigating and performing frequent tasks easier.

For instance, the Start menu has been redesigned in a two-column format, as shown in Figure A. On the left-hand side, you should see your e-mail and Web browser, along with a list of the last five programs opened. The right-hand side provides you with task-oriented access to the most commonly performed operations, such as working with documents, pictures, configuring your system, or accessing the Help system.

Figure A: Windows XP's user interface introduces a task-oriented look and feel that complements the new operating system.

The task-oriented design on the Start menu carries over to other areas of the operating system as well. If you open the Control Panel, you'll find that it's been broken down into categories, such as Appearance and Themes. These categories provide access to pertinent items: changing desktop themes, desktop background, and screen savers, for instance.

Wizard Bottom Line: Nice, but not really worth the cost of the upgrade. If you've been using Windows 98 or Me for awhile, you may find that these enhancements are more of a pain than a benefit. On the other hand, they do spruce up a tired looking user interface; once you get past the shine, you'll be able to get an easy handle on navigating the new operating system. Windows XP-Home Edition is a much stabler operating system than Windows 98 or Me could ever hope to be. The main thing that sets Windows XP Home Edition apart from Windows 98/Me is the core of the new operating system, called the Kernel. The Kernel is based on advanced technology developed for Windows NT (and enhanced for Windows 2000) rather than on good old DOS, or the so-called Windows 9x Kernel. This fact alone gives the new home user oriented operating system much greater stability.

For example, as I mentioned in my article "Using the Windows Resource Meter," the depletion of a small chunk of memory known as the system resource pool can seriously crash Windows 98 or Me. Since the size of the system resource pool is hard coded into the operating system Kernel, it can never change, no matter how much RAM you have in your Windows 98 or Me system.

In contrast, the NT Kernel--and subsequently, the Windows XP Home Edition operating system--doesn't have any sort of limitation on the system resource pool. This equates to better performance and increased stability.

Wizard Bottom Line: Definitely worth the cost of the upgrade! Keep in mind that I'm not saying the new Windows XP Home Edition will be crash-proof. However, you can be sure that the same issues that bring Windows 98 or Me to its knees ten times a day will merely be a thorn to Windows XP Home Edition. These conflicts can probably be resolved without crashing the entire Windows XP operating system. Poorly designed device drivers also pose a big threat of crashing Windows 98 and Me. Almost every third party component that you stick into or connect to your computer, such as videos cards, sound cards, network cards, printers, or scanners, require driver software. The function of driver software is to act as a liaison between the device and the operating system.

Essentially, you can think of a driver as a language translator helping two people who speak different languages communicate with one another. If the translator isn't well versed in the exact rules of both languages, the communication will be flawed, leaving both the parties confused and possibly angry or upset with each other. So if communication is flawed because of a poorly designed driver, the net result is the same: Your device and the operating system will have problems working together.

To nip this problem in the bud, Microsoft is taking a more solid stance with its driver support. In the past, Microsoft has urged developers to adhere to its driver guidelines by instituting the Designed for Windows 98/Me program, whereby products that play by the rules earn the right to display the "Designed for Windows 98/Me" logo on the package. Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to Microsoft's driver guidelines.

In addition, Windows XP will try to prevent you from installing drivers that are flawed. If you attempt to install hardware or software that doesn't adhere to Windows XP's standards, the operating system will display a very strong warning message informing you that continuing with the installation may "impair or destabilize" the operating system.

Wizard Bottom Line: Definitely worth the cost of the upgrade! Again, keep in mind that not all companies will comply with Microsoft's logo program. However, at least now you'll know when you're entering dangerous territory and who to blame. Windows XP Home Edition comes with a host of Internet-related features, most of which will be available to Windows 98 and Windows Me users. Some of these features are built into the previous operating systems while others will be available as add-ons.

As with Windows 98 and Windows Me, Windows XP features Internet Explorer 6 as the default browser and Outlook Express 6 as the default e-mail program. You'll also find updated versions of MSN Messenger and NetMeeting in Windows XP Home Edition.

If you have a home or small network, you'll find that Windows XP Home Edition, like Windows 98 and Windows Me, comes with the easy-to-use Internet Connection Sharing feature. However, Windows XP Home Edition adds firewall software to the Internet Connection Sharing feature in order to protect broadband Internet connection users.

Wizard Bottom Line: Nice, but not really worth the cost of the upgrade. If you're running Windows 98 or Windows Me, you can download and add Internet Explorer 6 and Outlook Express 6 to your system when the package becomes available. While having a firewall integrated into Internet Connection Sharing is good, this built-in version doesn't provide ironclad protection from malicious users. To protect yourself fully, you'll still need a more advanced third-party firewall package. Windows XP comes with a host of multimedia-related features, at the center of which is Windows Media Player 8. This new version adds DVD playback to its already impressive array of features, which include playing streaming video from the Internet, tuning into Internet radio stations, listening to MP3 files and audio CDs, and even burning CDs on a CD-RW drive.

Windows XP Home Edition comes with an enhanced version of the My Music folder, which first appeared in Windows Me and allows you to manage your music files. This version provides better organizational features and takes advantage of the new task-oriented folders feature.

To help you work with and manage digital photos, Windows XP Home Edition comes with the same Scanner and Camera Wizard found in Windows Me. After the Scanner and Camera Wizard guides you through getting your images into your computer, you can use the photo management features in the My Pictures folder, including ordering printed copies of your photos over the Internet.

Windows XP Home Edition also includes the Windows Movie Maker software, which allows you to capture material from audio and video sources, then edit and arrange it to create movies. This application was also first packaged with Windows Me.

Wizard Bottom Line: Nice, but not really worth the cost of the upgrade. If you're running Windows 98 or Windows Me, you can download and add Windows Media Player 8 to your system when it becomes available. As for the My Music and My Pictures folders, they're already available in both to Windows 98 and Windows Me. Windows XP Home Edition comes with the standard Windows Update, which helps you keep the operating system in tip-top shape with any and all upgrades or patches. Along these same lines, Device Manager will also search Windows Update for new drivers when you install a new device.

Windows Update is now integrated into the Help system, which boasts all sorts of new handy features along with the traditional Help contents, such as a link to the Hardware and Software Compatibility page on Microsoft's Web site. With this integration, you can quickly investigate hardware and software that have been approved for Windows XP Home Edition.

In addition, you'll find a new support tool called Remote Assistance. With this unique tool, a friend, family member, or support professional can access and control your computer securely in order to help you resolve problems. Forget trying to describe PC issues over the phone!

Wizard Bottom Line: Definitely worth the cost of the upgrade! While some of these features are available in Windows 98 or Windows Me, Windows XP Home Edition's nicely packaged Help and Support System is a literal Windows first aid kit.

While some of the features in this new operating system aren't all that exciting, the overall consensus is that those features in the areas of stability and support definitely make Windows XP Home Edition worth the cost of upgrading.