We take a closer look at more
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
Fortunately for us, we
found a good deal on an external modem from Best Data, and the problem
And, on the plus side,
it freed up a slot on the crowded PCI buss.
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
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.
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.
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.
on a home-built computer...
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
When you’re doing this kind of upgrade, preparation
is the key to a hassle-free procedure. Long-time users of
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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!