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XP Update

MODEM WOES

As mentioned in the main article at right, we use LapLink software often to connect to remote computers.

To gain compatibility with Windows XP, we had to purchase the latest version, then download a rather large patch from LapLink.com, after which all seemed well.  For a while.

Attempting to connect with one of our client systems, though, resulted in the program freezing midway through establishing communications.  It would seem to connect, but not go any further.

This was bothersome, since the systems had been working fine together before the rebuild, and we could still connect to other systems with no problem.

After going through all the tweaks suggested by LapLink's online knowledge base, swapping the internal PCI modem with several others that we had on hand, and finally resorting to LapLink's tech support, we ultimately gave up and purchased an external modem.

After that, everything was fine again.

Programs like LapLink put a lot of demand on a modem, and LapLink recommends external modems in the first place, but we had never had a problem with the cheap internal "WinModem" products until upgrading to XP.

According to LapLink tech support, we were not the only ones to have this kind of problem.

As we said, the internal modem worked okay- even with LapLink- except in specific situations.

Fortunately for us, we found a good deal on an external modem from Best Data, and the problem was resolved.

And, on the plus side, it freed up a slot on the crowded PCI buss.

 

SCANNER

Upgrading a client system, we ran into a relatively new flatbed scanner (less than one year old, measured from its time of purchase) for which the manufacturer did not provide a working driver for XP. 

This was not an "off-brand" or bottom-of-the-line piece of merchandise, but the manufacturer's web site was very clear that they would not be supporting it for XP, cheerfully inviting us to view their latest line of products.

Needless to say, the client was not exactly thrilled, but we had warned her ahead of time about this possibility.

On the other hand, our bottom-of-the-line no-name scanner works with XP perfectly.

 

MODEMS, ETC

Upgrading other systems, we have run into several modems and network cards for which there are and will be no working drivers for XP.

As noted in the main article, XP has built-in drivers for a wide range of components, but it would be unrealistic to expect support for all of them- particularly the proprietary "combo" cards often used by many mass-market system manufacturers.

Fortunately, replacements for these kinds of things are relatively inexpensive, and XP support is widely available.  It is a good idea, though, to look for specific mention of XP compatibility. More than a year after XP's release, there still may be components on the shelves not  guaranteed to be  compatible.

If you plan to upgrade an existing system, it will be a good idea to first ensure that working drivers are available for each of its components, or allow for the costs of replacing them in figuring your budget.

As often is the case in today's computer market, it can be less expensive to purchase a whole new computer than to upgrade an existing one.

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We install
Windows XP Professional OEM
on a home-built computer...

Eagle Computer - saveateagle.com

Looking for Windows XP?  Get it here...

What ME should have been?

Resistance being, as they say, futile, we decided to go ahead and take the plunge into the unknown waters of what the Windows Millennium package would have been, had it been worthy of its name. Yep, we’re talking about Windows XP.

Microsoft’s current operating system has been out for a while, but we’re never all that eager to upgrade. The way we look at it, let somebody else figure out the bugs and workarounds. Wait until some fixes are in place. Wait until the manufacturers have their hardware drivers ready.

It’s a lot easier that way.

Having worked with it a bit though, and after verifying adequate compatibility with the things we need, we decided to install it.

Not only did we decide to install it, but to set it loose on the computer we work with every day. The one we actually use. Shudder, gasp. Are we insane?

It’s a home-built system, assembled over a period of several months using bits and pieces picked up from here and there. It’s not at all special, built around a bargain priced PIII 1 GHz CPU and a 256 MB RAM chip.

Video’s an old el cheapo that’s been knocking around in the parts bin, sound is on the mainboard- you get the picture. Not a high-end part in the box, and more than a few from the low end.

The good news is...

Leaping ahead, the good news is it all works fine with XP. Not a glitch yet discovered, and the transition has been the least painful since… well, since ever.

Say what you want about Microsoft, they’ve obviously put a lot of work into Windows XP. The price may be steep and the activation system may become a pain, but this is a polished product- very smooth. A bit too smooth in places, but all the same...


Make a fresh start...

Any time you do something drastic with a computer, the first thing you want to do is make a backup. After all, you might wind up wanting things back the way they were. There’s a lot that can go wrong.

We use PowerQuest’s Drive Image to make a clone of our boot partition on a separate, temporarily installed hard drive. This way, we can quickly reinstall if need be, and we’ll also have the option to pick and choose files as needed for the new setup.

More about Drive Image...


We’re installing XP Professional, and although we could upgrade from Windows 2000 we prefer a fresh install. This means a format of the C: drive. Computers collect a lot of garbage- files that no one knows the origin or function of, and this is the only way to really clear them out.

It means reinstalling everything, and that can be a lot of work, but it’s the nature of the binary beasts crouched on or beneath our desks. If you want them to come close to working right, this is what you do.

Smooth as silk...

XP’s installation is smooth as silk. The system boots from a CD, and the software pretty much does the rest. It recognized all our hardware (even the antique HP 820cse), configured the network card (we did have to manually adjust the speed), found our broadband Internet connection, and offered to activate itself immediately.

Since we may want to fiddle with the hardware, we decline.

XP gives you up to 30 days to activate, and we intend to use them to be sure our hardware's sorted out.

Everyone by now has surely seen the XP interface, so there are few surprises there. We’re a bit taken back by Messenger’s aggression in trying to get us signed up with Microsoft’s Passport, and quickly find a way to turn it off. Likewise the helpful little dialogue balloon urging us to take the Tour of all the marvels of XP.

Thanks, but not right now.

Windows Update...

The first order of business is to visit Windows Update to obtain the latest batch of patches and revisions. That’s what you do with modern software- install it, then download the patches. Multi-megabytes of them. What is anyone without a high-speed connection supposed to do (other than get one)?

That accomplished, we set about the task of reinstalling software. The plan is to only put the things on this system that we really use. Although XP has some built-in safeguards to address the overwritten DLL issues plaguing earlier versions of Windows, there are other reasons to keep a system lean. It just works better that way.


Preparation...

When you’re doing this kind of upgrade, preparation is the key to a hassle-free procedure. Long-time users of Powerquest’s Partition Magic, we keep our operating system and utility software on its own partition, with programs installed on a separate logical drive and the bulk of our data on another.

That way, we can backup, upgrade, reinstall, and tweak around without necessarily having to deal with everything at once. We reset “My Documents” to point to the data partition, so it becomes the default storage for most recent Windows programs.

Even so, some programs will insist on putting some things on the C: drive, and others use the Windows registry for vital information. That’s why we cloned our original setup- if worst comes to worst, we can swap hard drives and have our Windows 2000 installation back the way it was to retrieve any needed information. Otherwise, we’ll use a USB adaptor to gain access to the drive for retrieval if and as required.

A crimp in our usual procedure...

Reinstalling software is a hassle, though, any way you look at it. When given the option, we download software updates and patches, burn them on CD, and store them with the original disks. We also keep our upgrade packages bundled with the qualifying product to ensure a reinstall goes smoothly as it can, and write our product keys directly on the disk so there’s no panicked search for cards or manuals.

The XP activation requirement puts a crimp in our usual procedure, which is to create an image of the basic installation before we start adding goodies. We’ll still do it, but any image made before activation will be useless afterwards. This is a major PITA, but we’re hoping the stability of XP is more than allegation.


Emblematic of the current state of affairs, much of the process calls for blind leaps of faith. The manufacturer of a hardware product says their drivers work with the new Windows, and XP warns of dire consequences if such should prove not to be the case. If you go ahead, as we do, with uncertified drivers, XP automatically creates a restoration point, which will in theory serve to undo any damage. They tried this in ME, and we never saw it work right there. We don’t intend to rely on it if we can help it. As with most things, time will tell.

Shuffling components...

In violation of all known rules of upgrades, we’re installing new hardware too. A new video capture board requires a shuffling of components, and a swap of video cards from PCI to AGP to make room on the bus. Before making the swap, we download the latest drivers from Nvidia, and all goes extremely well.

On a hunch, we install the latest version of LapLink’s free FTP program. It wouldn’t work in Win 2000, but functions fine in XP. For a while. Then it stops working. No clue as to why and disinclined to pursue it, we switch back to Leech FTP, which isn’t quite as slick but the price is right.

Speaking of LapLink, we bought an off-the shelf version of LapLink Gold 11 for compatibility, and then had to go through hoops at LL’s technical support, ultimately having to download a major revision to get it to work, and that's not the end of the story.  Ultimately, we had to dump our ultra-cheap WinModem for an external one (details in the sidebar at left).

XP Professional has built-in remote control options, but they only work with other XP systems. We do a lot of file transfer, and LapLink’s QuickSync feature is a major plus.


It’s a time consuming process. We install and test each item before proceeding to the next. Several days into it, we’re happy (and relieved) to report no real problems.

That doesn't mean, of course, that problems don't exist.  Especially when attempting to upgrade a mass-market system, there can be many pitfalls on the path to success.  A few of these are mentioned in the sidebar at left.


Getting settled...

Having lived with Windows XP for a few days, we find our misgivings slowly giving way to something like enthusiasm (were we capable of such). XP’s numerous little “touches” almost make computing seem like fun again. Not since ’95 debuted have there been so many things to notice and discover. Jaded we may be, but we’re not immune to bells and whistles and this software’s loaded with them.

As with previous releases, Microsoft has integrated features that had been available as add-ons in the prior version. This time, though, rather than seeming somehow patched together, everything fits into a larger framework. As we said, it’s all very smooth.

This system has run pretty much the same applications on Windows 98, 2000, and now XP Professional. The latest incarnation seems much snappier, less prone to hesitation, and it hasn’t locked up yet.

We’ve built a couple of low-end systems with the same software, systems running on a Via C-3 550 MHz processor with 128 MB RAM, and although predictably slower, they’ve performed glitch-free. In several weeks of operation, the users have reported no forced reboots.

Stability, security...

Part of this may be the XP user categories. Like 2000, XP creates user accounts with selectable permissions. Running under limited accounts, users are prevented from performing certain types of operations. Changing most system settings requires an admin password. Unfortunately, a determined user can still manage to screw things up, but it’s much more difficult to do so accidentally.

An XP version of Tweak UI (for advanced adjustments not otherwise easily accessed) is now available from Microsoft, but it’s not all that useful. A free utility from Fresh Devices called Fresh UI provides much more control, but either one will only work for the important things under admin permissions for the current user so it takes a lot of work to lock a system down.

Available in Downloads...

You can, of course, opt for the NTFS disk format, which enables a much higher level of security. With NTFS, any folder can require a password. This would be the preferred environment for situations where not all users can be trusted, such as a small office network with transient employees where data theft or sabotage could become a problem.

For our purposes though, we stick with FAT 32. There have been reported problems with NTFS on large drives with lots of files, and we prefer to investigate thoroughly before getting tangled up in it.

More information...

Modern operating system software is a huge undertaking, and it requires a book (at least one) to go into it in detail. Although there’s a wealth of information on the web, there’s nothing quite like a book for in-depth coverage. For further information, take a look at these 
books from Amazon.com.


In conclusion...

Despite our misgivings about product activation and the hassles it may cause on an oft-upgraded system, we like Windows XP. Since we have little use for technical support, we saved ourselves some money by purchasing the full OEM version here…

Our advice is what it always is, and as always varies for the two kinds of users-

If all you want to do is get your work done, and your current system works well and does all you need it to, don’t mess with it.

If, on the other hand, you enjoy making changes and are eager to see what’s new, your hardware arrangement is stable, and you’re prepared to deal with whatever unpleasantries product activation may have in store as time goes on, Windows XP is Microsoft’s best effort yet.


 

Where to get it...

In our experience, Eagle Computer (link below) stands out as a good source, and not just for discount and OEM software. Carrying the BBBOnline seal, they’re also highly rated by the Yahoo Shopping feedback service. Even more encouraging, they’re active eBay sellers with a long and uniformly positive feedback history (not a trivial achievement).

We also like the complete, informative product descriptions, a rarity among vendors in the deep-discount market.

We found the web site well-organized and easy to use.  As always, the search box can be a major aid in finding what you're looking for.  Our merchandise arrived very quickly, and was exactly as expected.

In addition to OEM and clearance software, Eagle Computer offers very attractive prices on parts, accessories, and complete computer systems.  See for yourself- click the link below.

Eagle Computer: Big Savings On Software and Hardware Products!

 



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