What is it?
XP is the latest version of Microsoft's Windows operating system. Microsoft has converged its consumer and business operating systems around the Windows NT/2000 kernel. After 20 years, we are finally saying goodbye to Microsoft Dos (disc operating system), which lingered on under the covers of the Windows 9x family.
Where did it originate?
Windows, like the Macintosh, used concepts first developed for the Xerox Star interface, which introduced windows, icons and the mouse (Apple sued Microsoft and Xerox sued Apple over the similarities).
Windows first appeared in 1983, but did not take off until Windows 3.0 - the first version able to use more than 640Kbytes of memory - came out in 1990. We have since had Windows NT and Windows 2000.
What's it for?
XP is being most heavily promoted for its multimedia capabilities - DVD film, digital photos and music CDs - which means it is being seen as a consumer operating system. In fact, there are three versions: Home, Professional and
64-bit for Itanium workstations.
Gartner describes XP as "a minor service release for Windows 2000 (much as Windows 98 was to Windows 95)". It advises people who have already begun moving to Windows 2000 to continue to do so, although if you have not started a roll out you should go for XP.
What makes it special?
Apart from its multimedia capabilities, XP is far less crash-prone than Windows 9x and Windows Me. It is said to be between 20% and 30% faster than Windows 2000 for many operations, including start-up.
How difficult is it?
XP introduces a number of new wizards that carry out configuration tasks automatically. It is also easier to transfer a user profile to a new machine, and administrators will not have to maintain so many system images.
XP Professional includes "remote assistance", which lets support staff control a user's computer remotely.
Where is it used?
XP will take the place of Microsoft's other operating systems as these are phased out over the next three to four years. Manufacturers began shipping it on new PCs several weeks prior to the launch.
Not to be confused with
XP (Extreme Programming); XP (the Java XML parser); OSX (the latest Apple operating system).
What does it run on?
Microsoft says XP should run on any PC built after January 2000 with a minimum of 1.5Gbytes of free disc space, a 266MHz processor and 64Mbytes of Ram. Only one in three of the UK's 25 million PCs meets these requirements.
Few people know that
Microsoft's XP campaign slogan was to have been "Prepare to fly". This was changed to "Yes you can" after the terrorist attacks on 11 September. Madonna's 1998 album Ray of Light - the title track is the XP campaign theme - also features a track called Frozen.
What's coming up?
Microsoft's new licensing terms, which Gartner says could add 50% to software costs next year, and 30% thereafter.