There'll be no XP for me

Many readers have written me with the question, 'Faced with the choice of Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000 and now XP, which operating system is the best one to standardise on?'

Many readers have written to me with the question, "Faced with the choice of Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000 and now XP, which operating system is the best one to standardise on?"

After looking at the changes Microsoft has made in its forthcoming Windows XP, I'm recommending that most companies and individuals avoid it. I won't be adding to my line of books a Windows XP Secrets (although someone else will inevitably write a work with that title, and if it's good I'll recommend it). Instead, I'm planning to keep Windows 2000 running on my office network indefinitely.

The following are some of the reasons that XP feels to me like a downgrade rather than an upgrade.

  • You need a Passport. Despite the severe security weaknesses of Microsoft's Passport authentication system (see an AT&T Labs analysis), XP repeatedly requests the user's email address and password to create a Passport e-commerce account. And Microsoft made Passport a requirement to use Windows Messenger and other features.
  • Spam I am. The Passport agreement, which you accept when you click OK, permits Microsoft and its partners to send you an unlimited number of commercial email messages. Furthermore, you can't rescind Microsoft's permission to use your email address. You must unsubscribe from every partner's email list individually. One marketing study found that many well-known companies won't take you off their email lists even after several requests (see brianlivingston.com/011008).
  • We don't need no stinkin' contract. The same agreement says that Microsoft can change the contract's terms at any time, merely by editing a web page. Every time you use Passport, you're supposed to reread this page to see if you detect any changes. Right. I predict that one day the contract will read, "If you use Passport after the 1st of next month, a $4.95-per-month charge will be placed on the credit card number you registered."
  • Weak Java. Instead of including the latest version of Java support, as a recent Sun-Microsoft lawsuit settlement would suggest, XP will default to a four-year-old version. Users can get a new Java download, but its 5MB size will discourage many.
  • No plug-ins. Internet Explorer loses support for all Netscape-style plug-ins, including embedded QuickTime clips (unless you download a kludge from Apple). New users surfing the web under XP will undoubtedly run into sites that IE will no longer handle properly.
I haven't even gotten to XP's product activation scheme. I'll discuss this in a future column.

What all these new XP "features" have in common is that they make Windows more convenient for Microsoft but less convenient for users. I think I'll stick with Windows 2000 for a few more years. And after that? Stay tuned.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows Me Secrets. Send tips to tips@brianlivingston.com.

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