XP: Not for my network

Though XP is stable, Steven Vaughan-Nichols says you should think twice before upgrading in a business environment.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Brace yourself: I kind of like XP. I've always been rather leery of most Microsoft products. But XP is remarkably clean for a .0 operating system. You've probably read plenty of articles about XP's upside, but I'd like to take a more critical approach in deciding whether or not you should upgrade in your company.

XP really is much more stable than the 98 family, and it's got all that neat new stuff bundled in. But there's not a whole lot here that I see as being all that useful in a business environment. There are some goodies, like the User State Migration Tool (USMT) that lets you easily move users' old settings to a new XP setup. Other business features, like Remote Desktop, which lets users run a PC remotely ala Symantec's PCAnywhere, have lost their charm for me over the years thanks to security concerns. If I want users to run applications remotely, I'll use the much more secure Citrix MetaFrame or Windows 2000 Terminal Services.

For an office, the best thing about XP is its stability--unless you're running Windows 2000 Professional on the desktops. In that case, you really don't gain anything. OK, so XP isn't mean to be an upgrade for Windows 2000, it's meant to move 95/98 machines to the 21st century. However, there's only one little problem. How many of those PCs can handle XP's requirements?

I know, I know, XP doesn't need that much by new PC standards--400MHz and 128MB under the hood will do. But don't waste your time on anything that falls short of that. Sure, just about any new PC these days has a faster processor and more RAM, but I'm talking business computers. You know, the ones that tend to hang around for four years? Are most of your legacy PCs that aren't already running Windows 2000K ready for XP? I suspect not.

Let's say that your machines can handle the load. In my experience, upgrading 98 PCs, ranging from 500MHz to 1GHz systems, took about four hours per machine. Installation time was only two hours, but then I had to upgrade some of the application software. I still use some MS-DOS programs, notably Norton Commander, still the best file manager that ever ran on a Microsoft operating system, and the MS-DOS programs flat out won't run on XP. I'm probably an exception to the rule here, but I also found that XP wouldn't work and play well with modern utility and anti-viral programs from Symantec and McAfee.

Of course, I had to upgrade my software to XP-capable versions. Have I mentioned that Windows XP Professional is a US$200 list price upgrade? Now add that to the costs of upgrading at least some of your software--possibly upgrading your systems--and four hours of technician time per seat. It comes up to quite a lot, doesn't it? For many office networks, XP simply isn't worth the cost.

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