Lately it seems to be fashionable among writers on the Internet to compare and criticize operating systems. While one user talks about the merits of Ubuntu Linux versus Windows Vista on his blog, another is quick to criticize Ubuntu’s lack of easy-to-use features and available software. In this article I’m here to sing praises to the old dog Windows XP. Once everyone sang and danced, XP is now the older brother of Windows Vista, much younger and more modern. While Vista may be the life and life of the party, it remains a troublesome child for many users who are frustrated by incompatibilities, poor driver support, and degraded performance in multimedia applications and games. If, like me, your Vista experience wasn’t all that you’d hoped for, read on as we take another look at Windows XP and discover that you can really teach an old dog some new tricks.
One of the biggest impacts long-time Windows users had to face when upgrading to Vista was the new security measures, specifically user account controls. Microsoft’s response to the problem of rampant malware on Windows machines was a barrage of security controls that can quickly become overwhelming. While emulating this feature may seem like a bad idea, UAC is a partial solution to a very complicated problem, and the alternative, allowing malware to continue to spread unimpeded, is not really an option. Although you can’t have Vista-style user account control in XP, there are several alternatives. An aggressive firewall product like Outpost’s firewall not only monitors Internet traffic, it also alerts you when programs misbehave or perform potentially dangerous operations. Outpost costs $ 39.95 per year and includes a spyware scanner that is regularly updated.
Sudown is similar to UAC and allows you to temporarily elevate the privileges of a limited account to that of an administrator account to run programs such as installers. Sudown is less intrusive than UAC, but arguably less secure and less comprehensive (you may still have to log into the admin account under some conditions). Sudown is a free utility and is available from sourceforge.
Windows Explorer introduced several important updates in Vista. Handling of photos and multimedia files was improved and search was fully integrated. “Breadcrumbs” were introduced, this is a somewhat strange name that Microsoft gave to their new Windows explorer extension that allows convenient navigation between directories and subdirectories.
While you can’t fully reproduce Windows Vista Explorer, you can actually do better. Directory Opus is the most powerful file manager / explorer on the planet and works great with Windows XP. While a bit intimidating at first, most users will quickly learn to appreciate the power and flexibility that this utility offers. Outperforming Vista’s new Windows Explorer in almost every department and with powerful photography / multimedia features, Directory Opus is really worth the learning curve and there are plenty of comprehensive tutorials available on the Internet to help new users get started. Directory Opus costs around $ 70 per license. If you want to learn more about this excellent utility, start here.
Windows Vista’s built-in desktop search is one of my favorite new features in the operating system. Here, XP is a bit behind its little brother, but it’s not a completely lost cause. Many users don’t realize it, but Microsoft Desktop Search is also available for free for Windows XP. While it lacks the slick integration with Windows Explorer, it is still a powerful tool. You can download Desktop Search for XP
Do you really want to get organized? Desktop searching is good, but many of us have stacks of CD-R or DVD-R discs in our workplaces. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something that could perfectly catalog all those files as well? Well, there is. The aptly named “Where is it?” is able to organize and catalog in an orderly way not only the files on your hard drive, but also the files stored on removable disks. Where is? It is shareware and the full version costs $ 39.95 per license. Enter “WhereIsIt” into Google for more information.
Look and feel
For those systems capable of running it, the new Aero interface in Windows Vista is fast and beautiful. In comparison, the blue and cream tones of Windows XP look clearly state-of-the-art. Of course, beauty is superficial and what really matters is functionality. That said, a little more attractive to the eye obviously draws a lot of people, as numerous websites and utilities have come up for Windows XP with the sole aim 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 appearance of your XP desktops into any of the hundreds of visual styles available for download from the Stardock website. Do you want special effects similar to Aero in Windows XP? Object Desktop Window FX can do them and you can even customize exactly what visual effects to use. Do you want two start menus? No problem, with Objectbar you can do it too. Do you want Windows Dreamscene live wallpapers? Well I’m sorry, this time you’re out of luck. The price of all this desktop pimping? $ 49.95. For more information or to download a trial version, enter the object’s desktop in Google. All this talk about desktop enhancements leads us very well to: –
Sidebar and widgets
Windows Vista comes with its own sidebar with removable 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”, whose name is not original. This sidebar is highly configurable, uncluttered, and includes the best RSS news reader / ticker of all the sidebars and widgets I’ve tried. In fact, I even run the Desktop Sidebar in preference to the Views sidebar itself on my Windows Vista installation. Search Google for “desktop sidebar” for more information.
If widgets are your thing, there are currently several competing standards. The open widget engine is slowly gaining momentum, aiming to one day unite the efforts of widget makers around the world. Until that day comes, you can choose between Google Desktop, Desktop X, and Yahoo Widgets. Desktop X is a powerful widget engine that is included as part of the Object Desktop suite that I mentioned in the Look and Feel section. The respective Yahoo and Google offerings are free and therefore much more popular. Yahoo widgets probably include the best selection of widgets of all the widget engines available. Again, do a quick Google search on the program that interests you the most to find out more.
The Windows XP media center edition has been around for a while, but an upgrade to Vista Ultimate or Home Premium will give you full media center capabilities included in the price. If you are using Vanilla XP Home or Professional and want media center capabilities, they are available for free in the form of the Media Portal, a highly configurable, open source media center application. Also free and worth checking out (at least if you’re American) is Yahoo Go For TV. Based on Media, which was one of the best commercial media center products for Windows, Go For TV seems to have stalled since Yahoo took over. However, there is already a wide range of plugins and accessories available that were previously developed for Meedio. Interestingly, Yahoo currently insists on blocking all users outside of the United States, so if you live elsewhere in the world, don’t do it. Set Google search to “Media Portal” or “Yahoo Go for TV” for more information.
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. Several impressive DirectX 10 games are regularly published on the preview pages of major PC gaming websites and magazines. However, to date, in addition to some update patches for older games, cutting-edge games from Microsoft for DirectX10 / Vista basically consist of Shadowrun (an above average multiplayer FPS) and Halo 2 (a conversion of an old Xbox game). Re-hashing a previous-gen console title to demonstrate its cutting-edge graphics technology must have made 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. from performance disadvantage or paralyzed. sound that some games display under Vista. However, like every new gaming platform, XP and Christmas gamers can expect to be looking enviously at the new Vista games starting to appear. If you expect me to tell you now some way to make DirectX 10 work in XP, you will 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 that early versions had a hard time running the most basic DirectX 10 demo code. Unfortunately, it seems like DirectX 10 is a trick that XP isn’t going to pull off anytime soon, if it ever does.
So there you have it, far from being in its last stages, Windows XP is still a very capable operating system with a few tricks up its sleeve. If you’re willing to invest in the little new software mentioned in this article (many of which also work with Vista), you can easily transform your XP into a premium operating system and still enjoy your old games and multimedia software.