October 25, 2001 4:35 PM PDT
XP accessory: 20MB of updates
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Depending on the version of XP--Home for consumers or Professional for businesses--people will be assailed with 20MB or more in downloads. Some fix security holes, others resolve glitches and a few add new features.
Regular updates are something consumers may have to get used to with XP, which offers more of a "push" method of delivery than the "pull" function found in earlier Windows versions. With the new OS, Microsoft for the first time has the capability of sending updates proactively to customers.
In discussing a new Microsoft security program earlier this month, Brian Valentine, senior vice president of the Windows division, said the automatic feature would be essential to delivering "important security updates" to XP users.
For consumers with broadband connections, the new feature could be a great way of keeping XP up to date. But for those dialing up with a modem and for some businesses, the feature could be an unwanted nuisance.
In fact, market researcher Gartner recommends that businesses exercise caution utilizing the feature.
"Most businesses are better centralizing updates and testing them to make sure they don't clobber any of their applications," Gartner analyst Michael Silver said.
Overall, analysts said, XP users should expect to see more updates than with any other version of Windows, in part because of all the new bundled features. Microsoft's XP kitchen-and-sink approach throws in everything from CD burning to a firewall to videoconferencing.
Jorge Lozano, a computer sciences student from the University of Idaho, doesn't see that as a problem.
"I personally believe that all of the bundled features are good for the customer as long as they have a choice for other programs. But, in any case, the bundled programs that come with Windows XP are good enough for daily use," he said.
Stephen Gower, a software developer in Seattle, offered a different opinion.
"Regarding Microsoft's automatic update, I think it's not a terrible idea but (it) does have the potential to become rather annoying," he said. "It seems like the version of Windows Media Player I have already bugs me about downloading a new version sometimes."
Gower's experience with Windows Media Player makes him question the value of the automatic update feature.
"I'm really becoming skeptical about whether an update from Microsoft will actually provide a better product than the older version," he said.
Soon after installing Windows XP, a consumer will see a pop-up box on the task bar instructing him or her to stay current with automatic updates. Clicking on that box brings three options: download the updates automatically and notify when they are ready to install; notify before downloading; or disable automatic updating.
While the first option will fetch the downloads automatically, the user still decides which updates to install and when.
Like with older versions of Windows, users can also manually get updates.
A number of the updates are critical, meaning they affect Windows XP security. One 5.2MB update addresses a security vulnerability with the Microsoft virtual machine used for displaying some Web content. Another 1.9MB update addresses a security hole in Internet Explorer 6; the problem also occurs in Internet Explorer 5.5.
Microsoft also addresses a number of glitches discovered after releasing XP's final, or gold, code to manufacturing. One fixes a problem when connecting to un-interruptible power supplies, while another updates the CD burning function. A 2.2MB download addresses third-party software compatibility. A 794KB file fixes a glitch with the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. And an 826KB update resolves popping sounds from the PC speakers during the use of Windows Messenger, an instant messaging program.
Two programs get hefty updates. Windows Movie Maker 1.2 is available as a 3.2MB download, as well as Windows Messenger, which must be upgraded through Microsoft's MSN Web site and not the update feature.
Depending on a person's computer, there may be additional driver and other downloads specific to the hardware.
Clean is better
Although Microsoft says that Windows XP can be installed safely over an older version of the operating system, Silver strongly opposed this.
"Everybody should do a clean install, back up their data and restore all their applications," he said. "If they do that they will have a much better experience. I lived through that."
Silver ran into slow system performance problems and other issues after installing Windows XP over Windows 2000. He later started from scratch with just XP.
For the majority of retail buyers purchasing the upgrade version of Windows XP, they will need their original Windows install discs during the installation process.
XP users should also prepare for a new process called Product Activation. This feature literally "locks" the software to the hardware. Upon installation, the user is given the option of connecting to Microsoft to "activate" Windows XP. No personal information is disclosed to Microsoft unless the XP user chooses to register the product at the same time.
Product Activation raised some controversy because too many hardware changes could force the customer to have to reactivate XP by calling Microsoft. The software giant later loosened up the feature, which is now triggered only if six pieces of hardware are changed over 120 days.
No other feature has drawn fire from users more than product activation. Gower said he is "one of the folks who plan to boycott XP because of its product activation feature."