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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK
XP prepares to storm desktops
Windows XP homepage
Windows XP should be available later this year
BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward takes a first look at the next version of Windows, called XP, which is due to be launched in October.

The first thing you notice about Windows XP is how bright everything is. The dull tones familiar from previous incarnations of Windows have been replaced with a bright blue that makes a jarring contrast with the green start button.

The second thing you notice is how empty the desktop, or main screen, has become.

Both signal that Microsoft wants to make big changes with XP. It wants to change the way that people regard the Windows operating system, alter how they use it, stop them abusing it and turn it into a bridgehead for its new net-based services.

Start here

We installed the pre-release professional edition of Windows XP Release Candidate 1 on to a desktop computer that had a 550Mhz Pentium III chip inside, 128mb of RAM and a 2.5 gigabyte hard disk.

Installation went very smoothly perhaps because the machine had previously been running a version of Windows NT which XP closely resembles. The XP installation screens bear an uncanny resemblance to those seen when installing NT.

Windows XP menu screenshot
XP menus group common tasks together

Windows XP prefers to use NT's file system when preparing your hard disk for its presence, largely because it is built to work with the large disks and extensive file systems now common.

The preference signals the end of DOS-based derivatives and marks the demise of DOS which, despite being a 20-year-old technology, has lurked in many previous versions of Windows and led to many a programming compromise.

Once installed the differences in XP become even more apparent.

The opening screen lists all the users of a particular machine and tailors what follows to their preferences. A "wizard" or helper guides you through moving your preferences and settings from other machines onto XP, which might make upgrading easier and less of an exercise in remembering how things used to be.

Desktop debate

The main desktop in XP, in contrast to the desktop of Windows 98 and its forerunners is almost empty. In the pre-release versions the only icon visible is the recycle bin. This has been transformed as have all the icons in XP.

Now everything has been funked up and has a chunky, cartoonish look. The functional grey waste bin for instance has been swapped for a version that looks like it has been moulded out of plexiglass.

Windows XP opening screen
The operning screen on Windows XP
The desktop will get more cluttered in final versions because companies like AOL and Real Networks are currently negotiating with Microsoft to get their icons on the main screen.

Microsoft is demanding that in return they must sit alongside icons linking to the MSN Network or its media player and film creation software.

Changes have also been made to the way that menus group tasks. The list of the last few things you did, looked at or listened to, now sits on the menu that pops up when you click "start".

Opening a folder also creates a list of related tasks. A folder for your scanner could have links to image folders or image altering software.

Microsoft has big ambitions for XP and as a result it is tied in very tightly to all the software and services the Redmond-giant is working on. XP assumes that you have an MSN account, use Passport and Windows Messenger.

Windows XP is also the first operating system that has to be activated and registered with Microsoft and can only be installed on a couple of machines. Anyone making big changes to their version of XP could find themselves having to contact Microsoft so they can keep on using their machine.

On Tuesday we will be looking at how alternatives to Windows XP shape up

See also:

14 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
To upgrade or not to upgrade
20 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Piracy problems stain Windows XP
09 May 01 | Business
October launch for Windows XP
19 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Microsoft 'experiments' with XP
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