Bad Advice

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-03-21 Print this article Print

So why does XP Pro have a reputation for being the more secure version? A cousin-in-law of mine in Pittsburgh took an evening computer course at Carnegie Mellon with a professor who happens to be renowned, and Im impressed that he taught such a course. But he told cousin Renees class that they should get XP Pro.

I hear this sort of thing all the time in similar venues and even from some vendors, who probably make more money off a sale of Pro than Home or Media Center.

Whenever I go to and try to configure a PC, even on the "Entertainment PCs" where Media Center Edition is the default configuration choice, the top line on the screen says "Dell recommends Windows® XP Professional." Why do they recommend it? Maybe they recommend it not necessarily for this PC, but just in general as a good thing, in the way they might recommend fuel-efficient cars. Personally, I would have to guess that the recommendation is a message to the customer.

There is one point that may explain some of the confusion, especially where colleges are concerned. Ive heard of colleges recommending to incoming students who bring PCs that they get Windows XP Pro. Is it because they run Windows domains and want to have the log-on to the campus LAN? Or is it the same misunderstanding? If they actually do run a domain for students (which seems unlikely to me), its true that a lot of students and parents will not think to spend $150 more for Pro unless theyre instructed to do so.

XP was the first Windows generation in a long time that was targeted at both businesses and consumers. NT Workstation and Windows 2000 Professional were never marketed as consumer products. Microsoft did try to define the distinctions between Pro and Home when XP came out, and youd think the name "Home" would send an unambiguous message. Theyve muddied the waters a bit with Media Center, which masks the inclusion of some extra features like EFS, and it is true that they profit from unnecessary purchases of Pro where Home would do. But the problem here seems to be uninformed urban legend that has emerged outside of Microsofts control.

The long list of Windows Vista editions might improve things a bit. If youre willing to base your decisions on the product name there seems to be more guidance there than in the past, and the vaguely named "Ultimate" version is targeted at home users.

Of course, with so much mythology out there about operating systems, theres nothing to stop people from jumping to the conclusion that the "Business" version is more secure than the "Home Premium" version. Id put money on it now.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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