Early adopters share XPeriences

Windows XP has been out for two weeks and Computer Weekly readers have been e-mailing us to describe their particular Windows...

Windows XP has been out for two weeks and Computer Weekly readers have been e-mailing us to describe their particular Windows installation experiences, writes Eric Doyle.

Readers' feelings divide easily into the three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. Featuring prominently in the latter is Windows Product Activation (WPA), the anti-piracy security key that Microsoft has included in both XP and the Office suite.

Paul Hopwood, a reader who makes frequent changes to his workstation configuration, is less than enthralled. "Based on what I've read about WPA allowing up to six hardware changes before invalidating the key, I'll be going on bended knee to Microsoft about two or three times a year to get a new key," he said.

"Anti-piracy measures should only inconvenience the pirates. Since when was it down to me as a consumer to waste my time protecting its revenues?"

WPA was a hot potato even when the product was in development. As one beta tester observed, "We got [Microsoft] to increase the hardware change count and add the 120-day change reset, but we couldn't get it to change its mind over reactivation grace periods - a lot of us wanted the damned thing canned completely but we were told, in no uncertain terms, that wasn't going to happen."

He points out that the 30-day grace period, the maximum time allowed between installation and registration before the operating system ceases to operate, does not apply after six hardware changes have been detected.

"Once the initial 30 days after installation has elapsed, any change which takes the system 'out of tolerance' (in Microsoft jargon) will stop the system dead in its tracks. There is no grace period for reactivation and Microsoft refuses to add one. You must reactivate before you can use the system again. You can confirm this with Gerald Maffeo or Allan Nieman at Microsoft US," said Hopwood.

This could be a problem as Windows XP systems mature. IT departments will have to keep a close eye on their change logs so that they know when to expect a system to fail - and then pray that Microsoft is available to reactivate it.

Hopwood added, "This heinous tactical error should be corrected in a future service pack, but potential business users of XP should bear it in mind. XP can leave you dead in the water - and that is if you trust its change detection technology to work correctly."

On the good side, Microsoft's claims of improved stability and performance seem to be proving true. Hopwood described the system as "rock solid" but remarked that performance, though markedly better than Windows ME, is only marginally better than Windows 2000. He was also impressed with the range of drivers available but noted that many of these are basic versions and do not support enhanced features such as OpenGL, EAX and Dolby Surround.

On the bad side, he felt the Windows Media Player is "overkill" and makes the CD drive less responsive. He yearned for the return of a simpler interface.

David Oxley is less impressed with performance. Having installed XP over Windows 2000 he now finds that he has lost his system's virtual memory and this has affected performance, which he described as appalling. "I am about to test the uninstall procedure," he threatened.

However, help is at hand from Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, who e-mailed Computer Weekly to offer assistance, copying his missive to Microsoft's UK boss Neil Holloway. With two of the highest-paid Microsoft honchos on the case perhaps XP stands for XPensive when applied to the technical helpdesk.

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