The Windows XP reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Windows XP

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A typical Windows XP desktopEnlarge

A typical Windows XP desktop

Windows XP (originally code-named Whistler) is the latest desktop version of the Windows operating system from the Microsoft Corporation. It was made publicly available on October 25, 2001. Microsoft initially released two editions: Home and Professional. Home is targeted at home users and doesn't allow users to join a domain, while Professional has additional features designed for businesses such as the ability to join a domain and dual-processor support. The letters "XP" originate from the word Experience [1].

Table of contents
1 Development
2 New and Improved Features
3 User Interface
4 Criticisms and Rebuttals
5 Service Packs
6 Special versions
7 See also
8 External links

Development

Before Windows XP, Microsoft produced two separate lines of operating systems. One line, represented by Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me, was designed for home desktop computers, while the other line, represented by Windows NT and Windows 2000, was aimed at the corporate and professional market, and also included special server versions. Windows XP is Microsoft's shift to using a single code base for all its operating system products.

Windows XP is an evolution of the Windows 2000 operating system, which in turn is based on the Windows NT operating system.

Windows XP home includes a simplified set of the user security features of Windows 2000 and an integrated firewall which was part of a major new effort to secure Microsoft products following a very long history of security issues and vulnerabilities.

New and Improved Features

Windows XP introduced a number of new features to the Windows operating system line:

User Interface

Windows XP features an new user interface, which introduces new features and a task-based interface for many tasks. The start menu and search program were redesigned and many visual effects were added, including:

Windows XP includes, and by default uses routines which analyze the performance impact of visual effects, and chooses if to enable them based on their measured performance impact, to prevent the new functionality from consuming substantial additional processing overhead. These settings can be further customized by users who wish it. [1] Some effects, such as alpha-blending (transparency and fading), are handled entirely by almost all newer video cards, however if a video card capable of hardware alpha-blending is not installed substantial performance degradation can occur under certain circumstances and Microsoft recommends the feature should be turned off manually [1].

As not everyone likes the new user interface style, the old Windows 2000 interface can be switched back by changing the theme or visual style and changing the "Start" menu back to "Classic" mode.

Windows XP adds the ability for Windows to use "Visual Styles" to change the user interface. However, visual styles must be cryptographically signed by Microsoft to run. Luna is the name of the new visual style that ships with Windows XP, and is enabled by default for machines with more than 64MB of memory. Luna is often mistakenly used to refer to all of the new user interface features of Windows XP.

Criticisms and Rebuttals

Security

Security concerns have long been an issue with Microsoft products, including Windows XP. Windows XP has been criticized primarily for two security issues: Buffer overflows in remote services, and e-mail viruses. The Blaster worm, one of the most well-known Windows worms, exploits a vulnerability that is present in every unpatched installation of Windows XP and requires no user action. Even security-conscious users have trouble with Blaster, since it can infect a computer with a newly installed copy of Windows XP, before the user has time to download security fixes [1]. After the Code Red buffer overflow [1] [1], critics accused Microsoft of not doing enough to publicize the security vulnerability that allowed it to infect computers [1]. Microsoft was also widely criticised about the manner in which it attempted to resolve the security flaw. System administrators complained that they had to download the entire service pack even though admins may have only wanted to patch this security vulnerability and were also unhappy with the large size of the service pack they needed to download [1].

Perhaps the worst security hole in XP is email. Most viruses spread via email, especially email attachments. Most now come in seemingly benign forms to disguise their true intent, such as messages with photos or a false server message returning an email with a virus that the user didn't send, and a link to a free virus scan, which is actually a link to a website that will give the user a virus. Notable viruses include the Sasser worm, Bagleworm, and others.

Other than viruses, spyware and adware, collectively known as malware, is a problem on Windows XP. Spyware is a program placed on a user's computer to collect information without their consent or knowledge. Adware is usually used to target ads, especially popups to unsuspecting internet surfers. Often, this is included with seemingly harmless downloads, screensavers being a prime example. Spyware is such a problem that Microsoft blames 40% of all software crashes and failures on spyware (PCWORLD). Often users "agree" to download and allow spyware activity just by being on a website, via cleverly worded and hidden privacy agreements. Several spyware blockers exist, the two most notable are Spybot Search & Destroy and Adaware, Spybot being free and Adaware having a freeware version. However, even these two most effective blockers only catch about 57% of spyware. Although most spyware is technically illegal, it is almost impossible to enforce.

However, in spite of this, Windows XP does have some security highlights. Most users are happy with the ease of use of Windows Update which installs security patches automatically, if so set. Windows XP also comes with a built-in firewall, albeit not activated by default, but this is to be fixed in the upcoming SP2. Defenders of Microsoft point out that security is bound to be an issue with an operating system which controls 90% of the market because it is such a tempting target to virus writers and their like. Also, security holes usually aren't visible until they are exploited, making preemptive action difficult. Perhaps the most major thing working against Microsoft are the actions of their users. In spite of efforts to make Windows XP more "idiot-proof" by hiding system files and hidden folders by default, nothing can prevent someone from opening a virus in an email attachment. SP2 should help alleviate some concerns about security, especially increased memory protection that allows the OS to take advantage of new technology built into 64-bit CPUS such as the AMD 64.

Product Activation

Windows XP has been criticized for its product activation system. The system was introduced by Microsoft to curb "casual copying" of Windows XP [1]. While product activation and licensing servers are common for business and industrial software, especially software sold on a per-user basis for large sums of money, Windows XP gave many casual computer users their first introduction to "phone home" protection that requires the computer or the user to physically register with Microsoft.

As the exact details of the data transmitted to Microsoft were once proprietary, privacy fears were raised. Microsoft then made the information about the information transmitted publicly available. [1]

The information transmitted includes a cryptographic hash of the following ten values:

However, no actual information about the hardware is transmitted. The hardware is simply used to seed the generation of a number. This number, along with the CD Key and country of installation is transmitted to Microsoft.

User Interface and Performance

Critics, including large numbers of amateur technology enthusiasts posting in online message boards [1], have claimed that the default user interface adds visual clutter and wastes screen space, claim that it offers no new functionality and they perceive it consumes substantial additional processing overhead. Supporters of the user interface changes include David Coursey, the Executive Editor of ZDNet's AnchorDesk [1] and Paul Thurrott of SuperSite for Windows [1].

Some aspects of the XP user interface changes have been well-received, such as the automatic grouping of related windows on the taskbar which reduces taskbar clutter, and the task-based interaction has been praised for making the system more accessible to novice users.

Integration of Operating System Features

Windows XP has come under criticism and scrutiny from people like John Buckley, AOL Vice President [1], Attorneys General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Tom Miller of Iowa [1], for integrating many user applications such as firewalls, media players (Windows Media Player), instant messengers (MSN Messenger), as well as its close tying to the Microsoft Passport network service. There has traditionally been a thriving third-party Windows software market while other operating systems have been including these products for some time. In 2001 Procomp released a whitepaper that claimed that the bundling and distribution of Windows Media Player only in Windows XP was a continuance of Microsoft's allegedly traditional anticompetitive behavior [1]. Procomp also released a whitepaper that asserted that the integration of Passport into Windows XP was a further example of Microsoft attempting to gain a monopoly in web services [1]. Both of these whitepapers were rebutted by the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) and the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) [1] [1], however they have since withdrawn their rebuttal whitepaper. Microsoft also responded on their "Freedom to Innovate" website [1]. In earlier versions of Windows, Microsoft had integrated tools like disk defragmenters, graphical file managers and TCP/IP stacks that were usually written by third-party software business with little protest that Microsoft was being anticompetitive. Microsoft believed that these tools had moved from special to general usage and merited inclusion as features in the general operating system for a PC.

Legal action was considered against Microsoft for one of the features in its task-based GUI: its "Buy Music Online" feature. In the anti-trust lawsuits against Microsoft, a committee was created to watch Microsoft to make sure they don't use any uncompetitive actions against other corporations. In Windows XP, the "Buy Music Online" feature always used Microsoft's Internet Explorer, rather than the default browser. Whether this flaw was intentional or simply an oversight is still unknown, but Microsoft did release a patch in early 2004 which corrected the problem [1].

Microsoft has complied with rulings in relation to its Internet Explorer browser software and other bundled software by releasing a service pack that allows icons and other links to the bundled software to be removed. However the actual software is not actually removed, merely the appearance of the icons or the links. Microsoft maintains that key Windows functionality is tied to these bundled software (for example, the HTML Help system and Windows desktop). These products can be removed from Windows, though this may result in unwanted consequences. One critic, Shane Brooks, argued that the front end browser program (Internet Explorer) could be removed without adversely affecting the core components and then demonstrated this with his product XPlite [1].

Service Packs

Microsoft releases service packs for Windows XP to fix problems and add new features. Service Pack 1 for Windows XP was released on September 9, 2002. SP2 is due to be released in 2004, and will focus on security. Unlike previous service packs from Microsoft, SP2 will add new functionality to Windows XP, including a new firewall, WiFi utility, and pop-up blocker. SP2 will also include a new API to allow third party virus scanners and firewalls to interface with a new security center application which provides a general overview of security on the system.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 should be released in following months, with parts of the system recoded with more security features. This edition should suppress spyware and deal with viruses. Specifically planned features include enhancements to the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) (which will be also turned on by default), advanced memory protection that takes advantage of the NX instruction that is incorporated into newer processors and that stops buffer overflow attacks, and also improvements to email and web browsing [1]. Due to compatibility issues, Windows XP's SP2 release has so far been put back several times.

Special versions

In November 2002, Microsoft released three new versions of XP for specific hardware:

Windows XP Media Center edition received an update in 2003, "Windows XP Media Center Edition 2003", which added additional features such as FM radio tuning.

On March 28, 2003, Microsoft released another version:

Currently, a version of Windows XP 64 Bit Edition designed for AMD Athlon 64 and Opteron systems is in beta testing.

See also


History of Microsoft Windows
Windows: 1.0 | 2.0 | 3.x | NT | 95 | 98 | Me | 2000 | XP | CE | PPC | WM | Longhorn

External links