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A look at XP for ’03

A new PC might make more sense than an OS upgrade.

Not only is it a good idea to upgrade to Windows XP for the New Year, it’s almost essential that you do. The new OS has been out about a year now, and, despite problems with Service Pack 1 (rumors have it that installation can cause problems in about 20 percent of PCs), Windows XP is still the most stable PC OS since NT. Compared to all previous branches of the 9x trunk, it’s almost rock-solid. And more and more software and peripherals will be created either exclusively for Windows XP, or, at the least, offer updated versions for the new OS. If you want to make the New Year’s resolution to stay current with technology, it’s time to leave Windows 98, Windows ME, and their assorted cousins behind.

If you can afford it, and if your current system is more than two years old, it might also be a good idea to shelve your old PC entirely and purchase a brand new Windows XP system. Starting fresh bypasses potential problems and issues (such as XP not liking your monitor, for example, or lacking sufficient memory or drive space to properly run the new OS). It also gives you the chance to add fresh utility installs and decide whether or not you really need all those extra programs that have accumulated on your hard drive over the years.

Saving time

One great reason to upgrade to XP is time. Before making the switch to XP, my Windows 98 would crash at least once a day. I cringe when I think of how much time I wasted waiting for Win 98 to reboot and run through scandisk, hoping all the while that I’d remembered to save the file I was working on before the OS went belly-up on me.

By comparison, my Windows XP system has been up and running for months without a crash. Add that to the fact that booting in general takes a lot less time, and you’ve got several extra minutes (sometimes hours) a month to spend on something other than watching your computer boot.

You’ll also save time with Windows XP in the form of increased support for CD burning, remote desktop connections, firewalls, and a plethora of other programs and utilities that you might want to run on your PC. XP comes ready to do all of those (and other) aforementioned tasks, so no more time wasted trying to configure third-party utilities to do those tasks for you. If you do choose to use an XP-compliant, third-party utility to burn CDs or create a firewall, a fresh, new Win XP PC will greatly reduce compatibility issues between the software and your system.

Security

Exactly how secure Windows XP is won’t be known for months or even years, but for now, the OS appears to be head and shoulders above any of its predecessors. As an administrator, you can control almost every aspect of your XP system. You can create both normal and administration-level users, assign who has access to what software, create logs, and more. Sure, some of this is a little complex, but if security is important to you, you’ll be glad so many different options exist.

Like Windows 2000, XP Professional includes the Encrypting File System (EFS). Unlike 2000, though, EFS is enabled by default in XP, so the moment you begin creating files and writing Word documents in XP, they’re encrypted. And, no, you don’t need to memorize an encryption key; XP has done this for you. But if someone hacks into your system, he or she will have a devil of a time getting use out of any files they manage to steal.

The best thing about XP in terms of security is that the level of security you use is entirely up to you. If you don’t need to create different user profiles or limit access to specific files, you don’t have to. All of the security options are very flexible and give the individual PC owner a lot of latitude to set up their XP system exactly the way that they want.

USB 2.0

If you upgrade to a brand new Windows XP PC, you’ll more than likely get USB 2.0. Sure, you can install the new standard on an older PC (see sidebar) without too many hassles, but if you’re going to make the leap, it’s nice to know that USB 2.0 will come already installed on your new PC. And, best of all, you won’t have to worry about violating that pesky PC warranty by opening the case.

So do you really need USB 2.0? A huge upgrade from USB 1.0, it allows speedier file transfers from peripherals such as scanners, real-time video cameras, portable hard drives, and other bandwidth-intensive devices. A new USB 2.0 scanner, for example, connected to a USB 2.0 port, will transfer information to your PC up to 20 times faster (up to 480Mbps) than would a USB 1.0 system. Even if your peripherals are all USB 1.0, you’ll probably notice a slight increase in productivity when they’re hooked up to a USB 2.0 port. And when you’re ready to replace that old printer and scanner with new USB 2.0 compliant hardware, you’ll have a speedy connection waiting for them.

2003, here we come!

The best reasons to make the move to a Windows XP system in 2003 is that it gives you more control over your system than with any other edition of Windows. Windows XP Professional, for example, supports up to two microprocessors, and both flavors of XP (Pro and Home) offer enhanced security encryption, multiple monitors support, and remote desktop connections. Sure, you could do some of these things with Windows 98 or 2000, but XP offers more flexibility, reliability, and speed. If you like to tinker with your system and make sure things work exactly the way that you need them to work, Windows XP is probably right for you.

Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, make sure to ask Santa for a brand-spanking-new Windows XP system with plenty of RAM and hard-drive space for Christmas. The new OS’s reliability, stability, and expandability will more than make up for the hassle of copying files from your old system to the new one and the cost of the new PC, and you’ll be ready for whatever new software and hardware 2003 may bring.

Belkin’s Hi-Speed USB 2.0 Upgrade Kit

If you have an older PC and don’t want to upgrade, or bought a new Windows XP PC system shortly before the introduction of USB 2.0, an upgrade kit is the next best thing to having the new standard already pre-installed on your computer. There are many companies that make USB 2.0 upgrade kits, but, for my money, Belkin is one of the best. Belkin’s Hi-Speed USB 2.0 Computer Upgrade Kit comes with a PCI card with two USB 2.0 ports, a four-port hub, a USB 2.0 cable to connect the two, and a CD-ROM and manual.

Installation is very easy: Just power down your PC, open the case, insert the PCI card, and boot everything back up. Windows XP will recognize the device and ask for the driver from the enclosed CD-ROM and–voila–instant USB 2.0. Just attach the hub and you’ve got room for five USB 2.0 devices. (USB 2.0 devices will also work with the card and hub.) If you run out of room, just buy and attach another hub. USB 2.0 will support up to 127 devices, so the possibilities are almost unlimited.

The upgrade kit retails for $90 and is available at a computer store near you or from Belkin’s Web site. The company also sells cards, hubs, and cables separately, in the event that you don’t need everything that comes with the kit. If you don’t feel like springing for a whole new PC, just make the leap to USB 2.0. When the new peripherals start showing up in droves (there are already several CD-ROM drives, portable hard drives, and scanners on the market) you’ll be glad you did.

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