The earth moved but a mixed XPerience

I didn't realise an upgrade from Windows Me to XP would be so momentous that the earth would move. But it did, halfway through the exercise; at about 6.10pm on November 2, Wellington felt a strong tremor.

I didn’t realise an upgrade from Windows Me to XP would be so momentous that the earth would move. But it did, halfway through the exercise; at about 6.10pm on November 2, Wellington felt a strong tremor.

Maybe it was a couple of foreshocks that had caused the upgrade process to hang 15 minutes earlier with “error reading CD-ROM” — the disk had come straight out of Microsoft’s folder, so I don’t see dirt or moisture being the problem, and my CD drive is usually trouble-free.

The process wouldn’t go any further, so I rebooted, reinserted the CD and got “Setup unable to load E:\386\win9xupg\win95upg.dll” — which sounds like a pretty fundamental snag. On the third try, installation proceeded smoothly — and a lot more quickly than I remember the last re-installation of Win98 running.

Setup of four user accounts was easy and, much as I consider cosmetics a low priority, it’s a nice-looking opening screen. Microsoft has finally got the hang of organising tasks and documents on the taskbar. One button refers to all Word documents, one to all Netscape browser pages, one to all MSIE pages and so on. On clicking, a vertical stack of buttons opens out representing the separate documents, pages or application instances. OS/2 had a similar layout even in its early versions; it called them “drawers”.

As other correspondents have said here and elsewhere, Windows XP is unexpectedly slow, even with trivial tasks like opening, closing and reorganising files. On a 1GHz processor with 128MB of memory it should surely be able to put up a decent performance.

And I find XP’s vaunted stability less than perfect. Once it froze up altogether with no response to any clicks, and once the screen became a mess of tangled whole and part windows, some responding, others not. These failures were in the first two days. On the second occasion, a reboot got me the dreaded “Do you want to restart in Safe Mode?”.

One nice feature of installation: before you commit to an upgrade, XP warns you of possible incompatibilities in software already on the machine. I got an expected warning for the printer driver, checked on the Epson website, and found an XP driver was there.

Another flag was raised with DirectCD, a useful product which lets the user archive files to a CD with a simple click and drag. Again, checking at Roxio, the firm that took over the product from Adaptec, I verified there was an upward path for XP users — or so I thought.

There was a little trouble getting the XP system to recognise the printer driver: at one point, it said the driver was not “logo certified”, but then accepted it. The Epson printer was not detected in “plug and play” mode and I had to send the “install new hardware” wizard in search of it. I’d downloaded the driver to the hard disk, but had to transfer it to a diskette before I could point XP to it. It worked and the printer is functioning well.

The Roxio DirectCD was another matter. Roxio’s XP upgrade turned out to be only available for the latest version — “5.1 platinum”. The PC Company, which supplied my machine, had installed v3.01 — and this was only three months ago. No upgrade available on the website would take me anywhere near 5.1, never mind “platinum”. I got it up to 3.05 and faced a yawning chasm with XP upgrade a distant unattainable prospect on the far side.

“We don’t support that product with XP,” said the PC Company technician, when I showed up in the forlorn hope that it would have an upgrade that, with luck, would come under the warranty. “We use this one instead.” And, yes, it was going to cost me.

“But XP lets you write to CDs anyway, just with the software that’s in the OS.”

Well, sort of. Drag a file icon across to the root folder on the CD, or request it to be saved there, and it goes into a kind of staging post on the hard drive, labelled “Files ready for transfer to the CD”. If you want them actually transferred, you have to bring up a “wizard” and click on a specific button. Try to put files into a folder on the CD and the folder is popped back out to the staging area and marked for reinsertion. I’m getting the hang of it, but it runs counter to the simple click-and-drag metaphor I had with Me and DirectCD.

After XP transfers the files it ejects the CD. I guess that’s a similar design feature to bank ATMs, which always give you your card back after you get cash, assuming it’s the last thing you’ll want to do. I like to check that the files are actually on the CD, and I might want to put more there.

Oddly, when putting the files on the CD, XP displays a credit to Roxio for providing the software. Why did Roxio not license Microsoft a version of DirectCD, rather than this clunky alternative?

In the print version of this article, I erroneously said there was no XP upgrade yet for my vital firewall/intrusion detector, BlackIceDefender. There is. It's been on Network Ice's website since mid-October, and I obviously missed it For anyone still hunting it's here. BlackIce under XP still displays erratic behaviour, though; at boot-up it gives contradictory messages about whether it's on or off. The matter has been taken up with NetworkIce.

One further peculiarity. My teenage daughter is an avid user of MSN Messenger. I switch the PC on, go into what is supposed to be my account and before long I get popups telling me “God” or “David Hasselhof” has signed in and wants to chat to me.

After explaining to God and David, I right-click and exit on the little figures in the bottom corner and I know no one will ask me “Wassuuuup?” for the rest of the session.

But the minute I reboot they’ll be back.

Apart from a slight annoyance, this is surely a potential invasion of my daughter’s privacy.

I guess the bugs and awkwardnesses will all find solutions in time, or I’ll just learn to live with them. But one thing I don’t think I’ll ever get accustomed to: the file search utility. Microsoft, I thought you’d learned your lesson with Clippy. But he’s got a successor — a puppy that makes pawmarks on the screen. That’s “professional”?

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