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Windows XP down and dirty

You’ve upgraded to XP. Now what? Business Advisor hed: Windows XP down and dirty dek: you’ve upgraded to XP. now what? by Matt Lake

I was never tempted to install Windows 2000 on all my computers. Its early compatibility problems pushed me toward the warm and cuddly Windows versions 98 and Me. But frankly, I coveted the stable NT architecture that my Windows of choice lacked. So I leaped upon Windows XP when it arrived, because it promised the friendliness and compatibility of the Windows 95 family with the stability of the NT/2000s.

Although I’m basically happy with the upgrade, it fits the pattern of all the purchases I make-I buy one item, then spend hours and more dollars to make it work better.

Warning! warning!

The nice thing about Windows XP’s setup routine is that it tells you exactly what to expect. (The other nice thing is that you don’t have to buy XP to find out the same thing. If you have bandwidth enough to download a 50MB file, go to Microsoft’s XP site > windowsxp< and download the Upgrade Advisor.)

In my case, I was told to expect that three of my cherished programs wouldn’t work anymore. Under the dire heading of Warnings and the somewhat friendlier subheading of Useful Information, XP’s Upgrade Advisor report told me the bad news. I had to uninstall the version of Norton AntiVirus that came bundled with my PC because of “compatibility issues on this version of Windows.” Also, my CD-RW drive’s two programs, DirectCD 3 and Easy CD Creator, would have to go. Neither program would be compatible with the new Windows. And as the kicker, a network protocol I didn’t even know I was using, NetBEUI, would no longer be supported, and the protocol I did know I had, TCP/IP, would take over. No big deal there, but the other issues were a bit of a blow.

I’d come to rely on Norton AntiVirus (even though I’d not subscribed to update virus signatures after the trial subscription expired), so it was the first thing I fixed. Norton AntiVirus 2002 ripped $49.95 from my software budget-the price is the same for downloading or buying a version on plastic at Norton’s Web site-but for the peace of mind it offered, it was money well spent.

Naturally, Norton AntiVirus 2002 covers the usual bases: It performs full system scans for viruses and provides always-on automatic protection from incoming viruses, Trojan horses and other malware. It blocks suspicious ActiveX and other scripts on Web pages, and checks both incoming and outgoing e-mail. The fact that Norton AntiVirus 2002 scans outgoing e-mail is the big draw. I can just about tolerate the inconvenience of restoring my system from backups if it falls victim to malware; if Outlook were to send a cousin of Nimda or Anna Kournikova to 100 addresses in my Address Book, rebuilding my reputation would be much harder.

Oh, and Norton includes a 12-month subscription for virus signature updates in the purchase price of the program, which the program checks for periodically in the background.

Burning needs

My CD-burning woes weren’t as easy to solve. I had to uninstall Roxio’s Easy CD Creator to remove incompatibilities (DirectCD is part of the package and it had to go, too). Windows XP includes its own CD burning features (licensed from Roxio, actually), which enabled me to create audio CDs from WMA, WAV, and MP3 files, and write data files direct to CDs using an Explorer-like wizard.

To a certain degree, this covered my immediate CD-RW needs. But it did not do it well enough. For better or worse, I’m used to DirectCD and its funky file format (UDF), even though the program is a bit sluggish and not every CD-ROM drive can read its discs. Windows XP can read UDF-format CD-R and CD-RW discs created by DirectCD, but it can’t write data to them. So to add data to an existing DirectCD RW disc, you must drag all the files off it, reformat it, and drag them all back again. Sure, this should happen only once per disc, but it’s a nuisance.

What CD-R features does Windows XP lack that the latest Easy CD Creator doesn’t? Try these on for size: XP can’t create video CDs for playing AVI or WMV discs in DVD players; it can’t create mixed-mode or Enhanced CDs; it doesn’t feature audio-editing features such as vinyl scratch and pop reduction or tape hiss reduction; and it doesn’t have a one-button CD copier. Easy CD Creator has all these things, so it was off to Roxio to upgrade to Easy CD Creator Platinum 5.1. The program also burns CDs faster than XP because Roxio licensed somewhat older CD burning code to Microsoft. Sneaky.

Does this thing go any faster?

One thing that disturbed me a little about XP was the fact that my hard disk was spinning like a 1920s Victrola as it started up (and although my system did boot faster than under Windows 98, it wasn’t that much faster). Laboring hard disks and slower-than-expected performance usually mean one thing-disk fragmentation. When you get up to 20GB of hard disk, you’re loath to defrag it too often (especially when your first computer had a 20MB hard disk), but XP’s defrag software told me I needed it, in no uncertain terms. I launched the program by right-clicking on my C: drive, selecting Properties, clicking the Tools tab, and then choosing the Defragment Now button.

The new program has an Analyze button that reports on the state of your disk, and the report is pretty thorough. Of my total number of files (42,602), I found that 2,700 were fragmented, with 10,098 fragments scattered across my disk. The average number of fragments per file? That would be 1.23, enough for XP to recommend a full defrag, which I immediately started. A couple of hours later, I returned to find that the job was done-practically. The final report showed me that 63 files were still somewhat fragmented, with 146 remaining fragments. For my further edification, the report listed the unfixed files, which were mainly system files such as DLLs, system EXEs, and e-mail mailbox files.

Reach out and watch someone

In my capacity as a remote office worker, I realize the benefits of face time–but I really don’t want to spend a lot of time traveling (work is time-consuming enough without it). So XP’s Windows Messenger chat software is a welcome addition to my sheaf of tools. I use chat software to stay in touch with my across-the-globe network of contacts and coworkers, but it’s always been for a particular type of contact and a particular type of communication–quick, low-priority information exchange with a fast typist. Priority contact seems to require a voice, which means a phone.

Windows Messenger supports voice, which is nice, but it still doesn’t break out of the low-priority messaging mold. It also supports whiteboarding and application sharing, which turns out to be a great advantage for consulting jobs. And my contacts who want to share a lot of information in formal meeting environments can do so remotely with XP’s Messenger software.

But for real face time, I needed to get a video cam that would plug into my USB port, which would be better to transform Windows Messenger into a real videoconferencing platform. And with the addition of a QuickCam Pro 3000 golf ball camera from Logitech, that’s what I did. Sure, little head shots of me in my home office gear aren’t that useful, but with a slide projector screen in the back (to increase contrast and conceal the mass of junk in my office), I do get a fairly impressive image. And in tandem with a shared whiteboard space, a videocam gives you access to a wider range of visual cues than you’d otherwise be able to send to a remote contact. And the QuickCam’s built-in camera lets you do the talking, too.

While any USB cam will do, the QuickCam Pro 3000 adds a few features that bring it to the forefront. One is trivial–the camera comes with its own first-person game software in which you can participate in volleyball, basketball, or more kid-like bubble-bursting games. Justify this as an executive stress-buster if you must–I just like to goof around for five minutes sometimes, and this is a fun way to do it. A more beneficial feature is a motion-detection module that can take photographs when any motion occurs in front of the cam. This is a great security tool, though you have to turn off the default sound effects to keep your surveillance secret from the surveyed.

And so, having installed XP and three other upgrades on my main production system, I’m really happy with the upgrade. But I’m still trying to figure out which upgrade I’m happiest with.

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