On XP, Evolution, and Why DOS Must Not Die

Peter Coffee: Readers make good points about XP's plug-and-play capability. I explain how technological "evolution" threatens the availability and lifespan of DOS and other valuable legacy technologies.

I got e-mails by the dozen on the subject of my newsletter of two weeks ago, and I apologize for the delay in my replies: I spent the week of July 1 on the island of Catalina, off the coast of Los Angeles, with a troop of Boy Scouts in what I can only call a real adventure. No business trip has ever included a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call, after sleeping on an ocean beach, followed by launching an eight-man canoe into chest-deep surf at 6:30.

The most common question concerning my July 1 comments on IEEE 1394 ("FireWire") plug-and-play performance was, "How could you not look at Windows XP?" I admit, that was an omission, and one that I acknowledged myself at the time: My decision to defer day-to-day experience with Windows XP is driven, though, by the nearly unanimous comments Ive gotten from eWEEK readers who are likewise holding off on letting XP into their environments. Their most-often cited reasons include substantial investments in code that still requires Win9x, and concerns about intrusive auto-update and other mechanisms that complicate configuration management.

I am assured by many of you, though, that XP is fully the equal of Mac OS X in its immediate recognition of FireWire devices—as I expected it to be, given the emphasis that Microsoft placed on this interface in its hardware guidelines for XP-targeted PCs. My point should not have been that Apple got it right, while Microsoft got it wrong, but rather that "FireWire-compatible" merely makes a statement about connectors and bits—not a promise of usability. Unfortunately, I cast my comments in terms that fueled the continuing Mac-versus-Windows feud, an unproductive pursuit that I wish I had resisted.

Many of you asked what I meant by calling Apples Titanium PowerBook "the least evolutionary" of the machines that I compared. My meaning would have been clearer if I had called it "the least legacy-encumbered." The phrase that I used was meant as a not-quite-compliment on the ease with which Apple leaves behind such conventions as SCSI, serial and parallel ports, which we continue to see—and, in most cases, demand—on our Wintel machines.