XP Gets More of the Bugs Out

RC 1 shows Microsoft client is gelling into promising upgrade for Windows 9x and 2000 users.

Windows XP Release Candidate 1, the next-to-last preshipping version of Microsoft Corp.s next-generation Windows client, boasts various bug fixes, speed enhancements and updates to the Windows Messenger client and Windows Media Player.

Although XP represents a much more significant upgrade for home users and sites still running Windows 9x, eWeek Labs found that the latest release of the operating system (which Microsoft released this month) offers compelling power management and wireless networking benefits to mobile Windows 2000 users as well.

Microsoft has announced plans to ship XP in Home and Professional flavors Oct. 25. Sites interested in taking the Windows XP Release Candidate for a spin can obtain the software by signing up for Microsofts $9.95 Windows XP Preview Program.

Improved mobility

Mobile users will benefit from native support for 802.11b wireless networking in XP. In tests, we were able to get up and running on a WLAN (wireless LAN) in less than a minute without having to install drivers or utility software for our WLAN card. We could also choose to disable built-in WLAN management and configure our connection using the software that shipped with the card.

XP ships with a stateful local firewall, which provides a measure of protection for Internet connections by enabling administrators to block various types of incoming Internet traffic. Wed like to see support for blocking outgoing traffic as well.

When activated, the firewall denies all incoming traffic by default—a more secure default setting than the "allow all" default weve come to expect from Microsoft.

Although the XP firewall is no substitute for a corporate firewall, it can provide an important added measure of security for systems such as notebooks that move frequently between network connections within the enterprise and home and hotel broadband connections outside of it.

We were impressed with the improvements to the Remote Desktop feature, which now supports sound and remote drive access. However, Remote Desktop access can be a security threat, so companies must take particular care in choosing passwords—or perhaps choose not to enable Remote Desktop access at all.

Microsoft officials promised that XP will boot more quickly than Windows 2000 and that XP will recover from Standby and Hibernate modes more quickly as well. In tests, we found XP did improve on Windows 2000s boot time by about 20 seconds, but the differences we experienced in Standby recovery were minimal.

To really improve in these areas, machines running XP will require improved drivers from hardware vendors.

Although we experienced improved overall performance with this release over the Beta 2 version that we evaluated in March, comparisons with Windows 2000 using Ziff Davis Media Inc.s Business and Content Creation Winstone benchmarks uncovered no such speed gains.