Should You Upgrade?

By Ben Gottesman  |  Posted 2001-10-30

Should You Upgrade?

When your car is no longer the latest model, do you immediately replace it? If so, then go out and get yourself Windows XP. Now! (Better yet, go get a brand-new computer with Windows XP preinstalled.)

For the rest of us, the decision to upgrade to Windows XP is not so straightforward. Theres little question that this is Microsofts best operating system to date, but that doesnt mean you have to buy it. As our editor-in-chief, Michael J. Miller, notes above, Windows XP is a significant improvement over Windows 98 and Me, Microsofts consumer versions of Windows.

The OS even has some useful enhancements to Windows 2000, the operating system on which Windows XP is based. But for most people, the earlier operating systems generally work fine, and putting a new operating system on a PC always involves a degree of pain. So if it aint broke....



Still, there are compelling reasons to upgrade your machine to Windows XP. Stability, for example. Windows XP runs with far fewer system failures than Windows 98 or Me; applications may still crash, but theyre much less likely to bring the whole computer down with them. If youre upgrading because your system is unstable, your best bet is to back up your data files, reformat your drive, install Windows XP from scratch, and reinstall your applications.

Windows XP also includes dozens of temptations, including a new look, easier home networking, better remote assistance, and fast user switching for shared PCs. A charming new multimedia player for your music and videos doesnt hurt, either. Although this will take some time to bear out completely, as Windows XP self-tunes, it should become faster for many common tasks, such as booting up and shutting down.


Dont Upgrade

You should, however, hold off on the upgrade if your computer doesnt have the horsepower. Microsoft is mainly encouraging upgrades among people who have machines that were built no earlier than the beginning of 2000. But our testing showed that performance is satisfactory on most 550-MHz or faster machines, assuming those machines have at least 128MB of RAM. Our own hands-on experience showed that performance is satisfactory even on most 300-MHz machines.

Are you still running some old DOS programs? You should determine whether your old programs, such as WordPerfect 5.1, would work with Windows XP before you upgrade. (By the way, it doesnt.)

The same rule applies with your hardware. The System Compatibility Check on the Windows XP CD identifies potential problems.

Another consideration is the cost of the new operating system. At $99 for Windows XP Home and $199 for Professional, the pricing matches earlier Windows upgrades, but you also have to consider the cost of programs that must be replaced, such as many of your utilities. To avoid leaving your system vulnerable, dont install Windows XP until you have purchased new antivirus software.

Many users in multicomputer households will cringe and probably balk at the thought of paying the full upgrade price for each system they want to move up to Windows XP—and rightfully so. Microsoft, as well as the entire software industry, needs to devise a more realistic licensing scheme for these increasingly commonplace households. (Microsoft does offer a small discount for additional copies of Windows XP.) Creating a product activation system that enforces the license without an appropriate pricing model is not the right solution.



Home or Pro?

If you decide to upgrade, which Windows XP version should you choose, Home or Professional? For the majority of consumers, the less expensive Home Edition is fine, but if you connect your notebook PC to a home network, you may want Windows XP Professionals Offline Files and Folders, so you can access centrally stored data even when youre disconnected.

Windows XP Pro is the obvious choice for most businesses, but smaller organizations probably wont need its more granular access controls, multiprocessor support, or any other feature exclusive to this more expensive version. Telecommuters, however, will love the Remote Desktop remote-control capabilities. Of course, if you install Windows XP Home and then find you do need the features found only in Windows XP Professional, theres always the $125 Home-to-Professional Oops! upgrade.

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