For the past eight years, Microsoft has been suffering from corporate multiple personality disorder. In July 1993, it introduced Windows NT, splitting the Windows world into professional and consumer variants. Ever since, the company has said that it will reconcile the two camps, but deadlines have come and deadlines have gone.
With Windows 95/98/ME, consumers got flashier interfaces, better multimedia support and a wider range of applications. With Windows NT/2000, companies got reliability, performance, scalability and core business services. Now, Windows XP promises both, adding consumer features to NT-style reliability. There are still Professional and Home editions of XP, but they're the same product at heart.
From Microsoft's point of view, unifying the code is justification enough -- maintaining two development efforts in parallel is a costly and complicated operation. Users couldn't care less about this, however, so Microsoft has promised higher reliability for all, better performance for some and heaps of new features. Compatibility with old software is high but not guaranteed. Java has gone.
With XP, you get Internet Explorer 6, Microsoft's instant messaging, a better Windows Media Player, a new user interface, CD creation, a firewall, improved networking and a raft of new support facilities. It looks cleaner and easier to use, and when it comes to digital media it delivers on those promises. However, with XP you also get Product Activation, a system whereby Microsoft chooses whether to allow you to use the operating system on new computers, or if you change aspects of your old one.
In this review, we'll be looking at all aspects of XP -- how many variants there are, how they work, whether you should upgrade and things to look out for when you do. This is Microsoft's most significant operating system upgrade since Windows 95, and much rides on how well it works.