What is Windows XP?

Posted On 2009-01-28 by FortyPoundHead
Keywords: Windows XP
Tags: Tutorial Windows XP
Views: 1831

Note to upgraders: If you are upgrading to Windows XP from a previous version of Windows (e.g., Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, or 2000), you will be given the choice to "Upgrade" or to "Install a New Copy". UITS recommends selecting "Install a New Copy", since merely "Upgrading" can cause your system to become very unstable. As always, you should back up your important files to a CD, Zip disk, floppy, or CFS account before installing a new operating system.

Windows XP is the latest release of the Microsoft Windows operating system. It comes in two versions:

  • Home Edition, which is intended to succeed the Windows 95, 98, and Me family
  • Professional Edition, which is intended to succeed the Windows NT and 2000 family

Microsoft's minimum requirements for Windows XP are a 233MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, 1.5GB of available hard drive space, and an SVGA-capable video card. UITS has found that computers not exceeding those requirements run Windows XP poorly, if it runs at all. UITS very strongly recommends that any system running XP have a CPU faster than 400MHz and at least 256MB of RAM.

Why Microsoft created Windows XP
Microsoft created Windows XP in order to update the user interface, add new features, unify the code base between the separate families of Windows, and to provide a more stable platform.

Updated user interface
The new interface, Luna, changes the Windows look familiar from Windows 95 and succeeding versions. The new interface is designed to be more intuitive and to aid in keeping screen clutter to a minimum. For example, the standard desktop icons (e.g., MyComputer and My Documents) are now located in the Start menu instead of on the desktop. You can see screenshots of the new interface at: http://www.activewin.com/articles/whistler/article_2.shtml

The older interface, called Classic, is available for those who prefer the more familiar appearance.

Note: In Windows XP, the default desktop view and Start menu are quite different than they are in the Windows Classic View (e.g., in Windows 2000). Therefore, navigating to certain items may be different in XP; for example, the path from the Start menu to the Control Panel in the default XP view is simply Start, then Control Panel, whereas in the Classic View it is Start, then Settings, then Control Panel. In the interest of broad applicability, most instructions in the Knowledge Base assume that you are using the Classic View. There are several steps you can take to switch from the Windows XP default view to the Windows Classic View. For more information, see the Knowledge Base document In Windows XP, how do I switch to the Windows Classic View, Classic theme, or Classic Control Panel?

New features
Some new components never before bundled in Windows are now included with Windows XP. These include the Remote Desktop, which allows an XP user to remotely log into another computer running XP and control it from the first computer. If you have used VNC or PCAnywhere, you will be familiar with this concept.

Another new feature is Remote Assistance, which is a way to invite someone to connect to your computer and give help over the network, and even control your computer remotely if you choose to allow it. Other features include a built-in firewall, driver signing, and fast switching between different user profiles.

Code base unification
Since Windows NT 3.1, Windows has been split into two families: the Home/Small Office track, starting with Windows 3.1 and including 95, 98, and Me, and the Business/Professional track, starting with NT 3.1 and including NT 3.51, NT 4.0, and 2000. For years, Microsoft has intended to unify the kernels of the two families into one, and Windows XP is the first of the reunified operating systems. The differences between XP Home and Professional are not as profound as, for example, those between Me and 2000, although they do exist.

Differences between Home and Professional Editions
Windows XP Home EditionWindows XP Professional Edition
Intended for home or small office use Intended for use in a professional environment (examples include a business office, a graphic design company, a centrally administered corporation or educational organization)
User login designed for ease of use. No provision for network domain authentication; network resources must be authenticated to individually Default user login identical to XP Home Edition, but can be configured to do domain authentication like NT and 2000
All users by default are in the Owners group, which has unrestricted control of the computer; Owners are essentially the equivalent of Administrators in Professional. A Restricted User group does exist; users must be explicitly assigned to it. No other groups exist. All users must be assigned to one of the system's defined groups. Membership in a certain group assigns rights and permissions to that user. For example, an Administrator has unrestricted control of the computer; a Power User has many, but not all, administrative powers; a Guest has no power to change anything systemwide. The groups available are Administrator, Backup Operators, Guests, Power Users, Replicator, Users, and Debugger Users.
Administrative shares (hidden shares accessible to administrators over a network) do not exist, in spite of the fact that XP Home is strongly based on 2000 and XP Professional. They have been deliberately removed. Administrative shares exist and are accessible in the same manner that they were in 2000 and NT.
Supports only a single CPU computer Supports up to a dual processor system; multiprocessor support available only in server editions of XP Professional

The similarities between the Home and Professional Editions are what separates Windows XP from the previous families. They both share the same core, or kernel, a marked departure from before. This has many benefits, among them simplicity in drivers and common expectations for behavior. Separate drivers are needed for 95/98/Me, NT, and 2000, but with XP Home or Professional, only one is needed. And, even considering the differences listed above, the common core executes both the graphic user interface and any applications identically. Dissimilar kernels in 95/98/Me and NT/2000 behave differently, and the way they run Norton/Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition (NAV CE) is a good illustration of this. In 95/98/Me, NAV CE is simply a program running in the background, and it can be terminated in the Task Manager. But in NT/2000, it is a service, which is also a program running in the background but one protected by the operating system that cannot be terminated in the Task Manager. In both editions of XP, NAV CE also runs as a service.

Windows XP is heavily based on the Windows NT and 2000 core. In technical terms, Windows XP uses the NT conventions of protected memory, which is a way of preventing system crashes by running programs in their own separate RAM locations. This allows the operating system to keep an unstable program from crashing a perfectly functioning application running alongside it, or crashing Windows itself. Windows 95/98/Me and earlier had no equivalent memory scheme, which resulted in the whole computer being at the mercy of the least stable program running.

Also, Windows XP continues the 32-bit programming model that was partially implemented in Windows 95, 98, and Me, and fully implemented in NT and 2000; part of the protected memory scheme depends on programs being 32-bit. Other stability enhancements include driver signing (a Microsoft seal of approval for a device driver that's been tested and found to be stable) and enhancements to how Windows reacts to user actions. You can find more information at: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/evaluation/whyupgrade/reliability.asp

For more information about the Windows XP editions, see: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/default.asp

Some of the information in this document was adapted from information at: http://www.winsupersite.com/reviews/windowsxp.asp

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