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Windows XP Revisited – Teaching the Faithful Old Dog Some New Tricks
Lately, it seems to be the fashion among internet writers to compare and critique operating systems. While one user talks about the merits of Ubuntu Linux over Windows Vista on his blog, another is quick to criticize Ubuntu’s lack of user-friendly features and available software. In this article, I’m here to sing the praises of the old Windows XP dog. Once the darling of multimedia that sings and dances, XP is now the older sibling of Windows Vista, much younger and hipper. While Vista may be the life and soul of the party, it remains a problem child for many users who are frustrated with incompatibilities, poor driver support, and degraded performance in multimedia applications and games. . If, like me, your Vista experience wasn’t all you hoped for, read on as we take another look at Windows XP and find out that you really can teach an old dog some new tricks.
One of the biggest shocks that Windows users had to face in a long time when upgrading to Vista was the new security measures, especially User Account Controls. Microsoft’s response to the problem of endemic malware on Windows machines has been a barrage of security checks that can quickly become daunting. While emulating this feature might seem like a bad idea, UAC is a partial solution to a very tricky problem and the alternative, allowing malware to continue to spread unhindered, isn’t really an option. . Although you can’t have Vista-style User Account Control in XP, there are a number of alternatives. An aggressive firewall such as Outpost Firewall not only monitors Internet traffic, but also alerts you when programs misbehave or perform potentially dangerous operations. Outpost costs $39.95 per year and includes a regularly updated spyware scanner.
Sudown is similar to UAC and allows you to temporarily elevate the privileges of a limited account to that of an administrator account in order to run programs such as installers. Sudown is less intrusive than UAC but arguably less secure and less comprehensive (you may still need to log into the administrator account under certain conditions). Sudown is a free utility and is available from sourceforge.
Windows Explorer introduced several significant upgrades in Vista. The management of photographs and multimedia files has been improved and research has been fully integrated. “Breadcrumbs” was introduced, a somewhat bizarre name that Microsoft gave to its new Windows Explorer extension that allows convenient navigation between directories and subdirectories.
Although you can’t completely replicate Windows Vista Explorer, you can make it better. Directory Opus is the most powerful file manager/explorer on the planet and works extremely well with Windows XP. While a little intimidating at first, most users will quickly learn to appreciate the power and flexibility offered by this utility. Surpassing Vista’s new Windows Explorer in almost every department and with powerful photo/multimedia features, Directory Opus is definitely worth learning and there are many comprehensive tutorials available on the internet to help new users navigate it. . Directory Opus costs around $70 per license. If you want to learn more about this awesome utility, start here.
Windows Vista’s built-in desktop search is one of my favorite new features in the operating system. Here, XP lags a bit behind its younger sibling, but that’s not an entirely lost cause. Many users don’t realize this, but Microsoft Desktop Search is also available free for Windows XP. Although it lacks the nifty integration with Windows Explorer, it’s still a powerful tool. You can download Desktop Search for XP
Are you really looking to organize yourself? Desktop research is good, but many of us have piles of CD-R or DVD-R discs lying around our workplaces. Wouldn’t it be great if there was also something that could catalog all those files neatly? Well, there are. The aptly named “WhereIsIt?” is able to neatly organize and catalog not only files on your hard drive, but also files stored on removable drives. Where is he? Is shareware, the full version costs $39.95 per license. Enter “WhereIsIt” into Google to learn more.
Look and feel
For systems capable of running it, Windows Vista’s new Aero interface is both fast and aesthetically pleasing. By comparison, Windows XP’s blues and creams look distinctly like the last generation. Of course, beauty is only superficial and what really matters is functionality. That said, a little more eye candy obviously appeals to a lot of people, as many websites and utilities have sprung up for Windows XP with the sole purpose of making the operating system look better. The pinnacle of these utilities is Stardock’s Object Desktop suite. With just a few clicks, you can instantly transform the look of your XP desktops into one of hundreds of visual styles available for download from the Stardock website. Want Aero-like special effects on Windows XP? Object Desktop Window FX can do them, and you can even customize exactly what visual effects to use. Want two start menus? No problem, with Objectbar you can do that too. Want Windows Dreamscene live wallpapers? Well sorry, you’re unlucky this time. The price of all this office pimping? $49.95. To learn more or download a trial, enter object desktop into Google. All of this discussion of desktop enhancements leads us nicely to:-
Sidebar and widgets
Windows Vista comes with its own sidebar with detachable widgets, but sidebars and widgets are old news in Windows (and indeed most other modern operating systems as well). My favorite XP sidebar is the “Desktop Sidebar”, an unoriginal name. This sidebar is highly configurable, uncluttered, and includes the best RSS news reader/ticker of all the sidebars and widgets I’ve ever tried. In fact, I even run Desktop Sidebar in preference to Vista’s own sidebar on my Windows Vista installation. Search Google for “desktop sidebar” to learn more.
If you like widgets, there are currently several competing standards. The Open Widget Engine is slowly gaining momentum, with the goal of one day uniting the efforts of widget makers around the world. Till date, you can choose between Google Desktop, Desktop X and Yahoo Widgets. Desktop X is a powerful widget engine included in the Object Desktop suite that I mentioned in the Look and Feel section. The respective offers from Yahoo and Google are free and therefore much more popular. Yahoo Widgets probably includes the best selection of widgets out of all the widget engines available. Again, do a quick Google search on the program that interests you the most to learn more.
Windows XP’s Media Center edition has been around for a while, but upgrading to Vista Ultimate or Home Premium will get you all the Media Center features included in the price. If you’re using vanilla XP home or Professional and want media center functionality, it’s available for free in the form of Media Portal, an open source and highly configurable media center application. Yahoo Go For TV is also free and worth checking out (at least if you’re American). Based on Meedio, which was one of the best commercial media center products for Windows, Go For TV seems to have stagnated since Yahoo took over. Nevertheless, there is already a wide range of plug-ins and accessories available for this which were previously developed for Meedio. Oddly, Yahoo currently insists on locking out all users outside of the US, so if you live anywhere else in the world, skip this one. Set Google to “media portal” or “Yahoo Go for TV” to learn more.
Games and Direct X 10
As any PC gamer will tell you, XP is (at the time of writing) the best operating system for gaming. With Vista, Microsoft introduced DirectX10 and made it Vista-only. A number of jaw-dropping DirectX 10 games are regularly featured on the preview pages of major PC gaming websites and magazines. As of today though, apart from a few update fixes for older games, Microsoft’s top games for DirectX10/Vista consist mostly of Shadowrun (an above-average multiplayer FPS) and Halo 2 (a conversion of an old Xbox game). Re-hashing a previous generation console title to demonstrate your cutting-edge graphics technology must make sense to someone at Microsoft, but it makes little sense for gamers to assess whether an upgrade to Vista is worth. their money, especially in light of the performance handicap or crippled sound that some games exhibit under Vista. However, as with every new gaming platform, fast forward to Christmas and XP gamers can expect to gaze enviously at the new Vista-only games that are starting to appear. If you’re hoping for me to tell you now how to get DirectX 10 to work on XP, you’re going to be disappointed. A company called Falling Leaf Systems claims to be working on some kind of project that would accomplish this feat, but they still have a lot to prove, especially considering early versions struggled to run even the most basic DirectX 10 demo code. Unfortunately, it looks like DirectX 10 is a trick XP won’t be realizing anytime soon, if ever.
So there you have it, far from being on its last legs, Windows XP is still a very capable operating system with a few tricks up its sleeve. If you’re willing to invest in a little new software mentioned in this article (much of which also works on Vista), you can easily turn your XP into a top-notch operating system and still enjoy your old games and multimedia software.
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