The Security Center lets you check the status of your essential security settings.
The best thing about Windows XP is that, because it belongs to the Windows NT/2000 product family, it's designed from the ground up for reliability, security, and networking. XP Home users will soon see the benefits of this. The dreaded Windows crash-and-reboot cycle really is much less common with XP, and, provided the hardware is up to scratch, XP's performance is better, too. The downside is that using a different code base can make compatibility with old applications less assured. Business applications normally run fine, but older games, MIDI software, and system utilities may well cause problems.
Windows XP is more customizable than previous versions, including its visual themes that let you change the whole appearance of Windows in an instant. Fast User Switching is a neat feature for computers used by more than one person--it lets another user log on without killing the previous user's session, and when you switch back, running applications and open documents are as you left them. This is impressive, but what really counts is that XP understands how to deal with multiple users. Each user has their own special folders, such as My Documents, which cannot be seen by other users. And for those with more than one computer, the network setup wizard simplifies setting up a network.
|Windows XP Home has many strong multimedia features. New Media Player lets you copy music from CD to hard disk, create your own playlist, and write your own music CDs if you have a CD writer. You can also play back DVD-Video (but only if a hardware or software DVD decoder is already installed) and play MP3 audio files and MPEG videos (but sadly not the popular RealMedia formats). Admittedly, Media Player does nothing that you cannot also do with free alternatives, but it is slick and nicely integrated. There is also Windows Movie Maker, a basic tool for capturing and editing videos that's fun to use, although too limited for serious work.||
For Web browsing, XP Home comes with Internet Explorer 6.0 and MSN Explorer. The most significant new feature for Internet users is the built-in firewall. A firewall protects against one of the most disturbing security risks, in which other users unknown to you might connect to your computer while it is online, reading private files or causing other damage. XP's built-in firewall is a simple affair, but it does prevent most types of unauthorized connections.
Service Pack 2 allows users to instruct Internet Explorer how to handle downloads from a specific publisher
The XP user interface is not a radical departure from earlier versions of Windows, but there are a number of small changes that together add up to a significant improvement. For example, you can add and remove shortcuts from the Start menu by right-clicking on the icon and selecting Pin or Unpin from the pop-up menu. Windows online help is integrated into a Help and Support Center that works like an internal Web site, with searchable help, tutorials, and walkthroughs. Laptop or other flat-screen users can set Windows to use ClearType for screen fonts, for a more readable display.
There are, of course, some pitfalls. Windows XP Home is demanding on hardware, and it would be a mistake to install it on less than Microsoft's recommended minimum. Business users note: unlike Windows 98 or Me, XP Home Edition cannot join a Windows server domain, so the networking is peer-to-peer only--see Windows XP Professional Edition for this functionality. There is also no multiprocessor support, and a mildly annoying anti-piracy measure requires you to obtain a code from Microsoft for full installation and any future system changes. But don't let that put you off: this is Microsoft's best Windows yet.
Windows XP Service Pack 2 Features
|Internet Explorer Pop-up Blocker||Makes browsing the Internet more enjoyable by enabling you to reduce unwanted ads and content.|
|Internet Explorer download monitoring||Warns you about potentially harmful downloads and gives you the option to block files that could be malicious.|
|Internet Explorer Information Bar||Provides better information about events that are happening as you browse the Web, so it’s easier to know what’s going on and address potential security issues.|
|Windows Security Center||Allows you to easily view your security status and manage key security settings in one convenient place.|
|Windows Firewall update||Automatically turned on by default, this improved firewall helps protect Windows XP from viruses, worms, and other security threats that can spread over the Internet.|
|Improved wireless support||Dramatically improves and simplifies the process of discovering and connecting to wireless networks.|
|Bluetooth technologies||Enables you to easily connect to the latest Bluetooth-enabled hardware devices such as keyboards, cell phones, and PDAs.|
|Windows Media Player 9 Series||Makes it easy to enjoy music, video, and broadband content with enhanced security.|