Is XP Where Microsoft Needs to Go Today?

When it comes to computer interfaces, I'm not looking for the easiest way of getting something done

Take this with a grain of salt. Im by no means a usability expert. When it comes to computer interfaces, Im not looking for the easiest way of getting something done. Im looking for the fastest way. And yet, Im writing about the usability of Windows XP, with Microsoft saying XP refers to the "experience." Ive had lots of experiences with Windows, and not all of them have been pretty. One of Microsofts goals, however, is to make its operating system prettier and more usable. Stability is also a goal because Microsoft has realized that instability detracts from the operating systems usability.

In other words, Microsoft has caught on. According to Microsoft documents, XP has three main goals. The first is a new engine, based on Windows 2000, offering increased application compatibility and stability compared with Windows 2000. The second includes providing new, more visceral experiences, such as photo and video applications, and important things such as a built-in firewall. XPs third goal is a simplified visual design.

Microsoft officials call XP the most important Windows yet. Bill Gates says its a major release. This may indeed be true, but XP is far more important to Microsoft than it is to us.

This is not to say that its bad. In fact, XP will clearly be the best desktop operating system in the world in its range of application and peripheral support, especially considering the "out-of-box" experience that Microsoft is touting.

But unless Windows XP is immensely better than Windows 2000, Microsoft is going to lose. Microsoft operating system wiz Jim Allchin said that Microsoft can make a better operating system than Linux. Well, this is Microsofts big chance. From what Ive seen, though, there are no earth-shattering changes in XP—rather, there are thousands of tiny ones. Its Luna interface actually is cleaner and more usable. The Start button is neon green. Load time is faster, and more than one person can be logged in at the same time.

These features certainly will compel me and a million other people to upgrade, but Im not sure if XP is that clutch product that sets Microsoft years ahead in the operating system race. And thats exactly what Microsoft needs right now.