Should You Upgrade to Windows XP?
THE SHORT ANSWER
Yes, you probably ought to upgrade to Windows XP Professional if You're still running Windows 95 or Windows 98 (Windows 9X) technology, regardless of your office size. Microsoft will not support Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0 forever (see the October issue of California CPA for more details).
If you're using Windows 2000 already, the reasons to upgrade are not quite as compelling. In the simplest terms, Windows XP is based on the Windows 2000 core, but offers a better-looking interface.
If you've got Windows 2000 and it's stable, there's probably not a whole lot of reason to move to XP. The new features in Windows XP aren't going to be enough to rock your world. You're already on what amounts to the NT core, and NT is the underlying technology for Windows 2000, which is a 32-bit, stable operating system.
MYTHS FROM MARVELS
After using Windows XP for a few weeks now, I've discovered some very good reasons to upgrade. With 40 to 50 programs installed, I've encountered only a few minor incompatibilities. There are also new music and multimedia features, the task bar is better organized and zip compression and fax services are built-in so you no longer need to purchase and install separate zip compression or fax utilities.
Not all of the new features of Windows XP are all they're cracked up to be, however. Microsoft offers several reasons to upgrade to Windows XP Professional on its Web site, www.Microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/evaluation/whyupgrade/top10.asp. Let's take a look at a few of them and separate the myths from the marvels of Windows XP.
* It's 46 Percent Faster than Windows 98 Second Edition. Yes, Windows XP is much faster than the Windows 98 second edition, perhaps even the entire 46 percent faster touted by Microsoft. It is notably faster to boot up as well as shut down.
* Fast Resume from Hibernation or Standby. It's truly mind-blowing how fast a laptop can come back to life from hibernate mode with Windows XP. I often don't reboot for days at a time and it just comes right back up.
* Remote Desktop. One of the selling features of Windows XP is the Remote Desktop. In theory, you can create a virtual desktop and have a friend or IT professional who is also running XP remotely control your computer to demonstrate a process or help solve a problem.
In reality, though, this feature does not work for users who are behind a firewall. And since many business PC users have installed firewalls to protect themselves from hackers, the remote access is just not feasible for most people.
* System Restore. Now here's a feature to e-mail home about. If you don't like the changes you made to your system today, you can just set the clock back to yesterday and all your settings will be restored. Programs you installed will vanish. Programs you uninstalled will be back. Icons on your desktop will be as they were. Literally if you've had a bad day, you can just wipe it out. Recently, I had a program that didn't install very well. So I just set the clock back by a day. It is a sweet feature.
And, if you've had a particularly good day fiddling with your configuration settings, you can mark the day on the system calendar, and restore your computer to those settings at any time.
TAKING IT ALL IN
Overall, Windows XP is a very solid release from Microsoft. It looks great, and so does Internet Explorer 6 (which comes with Windows XP).
Rumors that Windows XP will not run your legacy MS-DOS applications are simply not true. When running any application under Windows XP, you can click on the compatibility tab that allows it to run as if it were Windows 95, 98, NT or a 2000 workstation. If you have an ill-behaved program, you can tell Windows XP to pretend to be any previous version of Windows.
The networking wizard does make it easier to set up a network. And Windows XP is actually easier to navigate around, although things aren't quite where you remember them being. But once you get used to it, you will realize it's a better design.
David M. Cieslak, CPA, CITP, MCP is a principal in Information Technology Group, Inc., a computer consulting firm with offices in Encino, Camarillo and Valencia. He specializes in microcomputer accounting systems, the Windows operating environment, e-commerce, Palm computing, systems development and project management.