Microsoft has been a leading provider of many computer and Internet products and services. They may be best known for their operation system (OS), Windows, especially XP, released in 2001. In fact, more people use Windows operating systems (as opposed to Mac, Linux, or another lesser known OS) than all other operating systems combined. Windows XP is currently being used by more people than all the Windows OS’s combined, not to mention claims about 60 percent of the entire OS market shares.
One of the quickest ways to identify the Windows XP is by the green start button and blue taskbar on the bottom of your computer screen, but it is responsible for much more than that. Microsoft in a way started over with the way they presented operating systems for their users.
Before XP (short for “experience”), there were two strands of operating systems in use by computer users in the late 90’s—one was a business/networking friendly version known as Windows NT (which was upgraded to Windows 2000, in the year 2000). The other version was a consumer friendly version known as Windows 98 (succeeded by Windows ME, also in 2000).
Microsoft not only greatly improved the performance and, what they considered to be a vast improvement to usability, XP also replaced the two “strands” of Windows OS’s into one operating system. XP is alternatively named “Windows 5.1” because it follows the Windows NT code base and is the successor to the NT based Windows 2000 (or, Windows 5.0).
There are multiple versions of XP, but the two most popular are Windows XP Professional Edition (similar to the Windows 2000 format), and Windows XP Home Edition (to replace 98 and ME), but every version is highly similar in the look and feel of XP. The most obvious difference in XP and all its predecessors is the major changes in the GUI, or graphical user interface. The colors, design, even shadows are significant improvements to the “aesthetic” quality, although this is a “classic” option to revert to the Windows 2000 look.
The most important reason for all the changes in the GUI was to improve the usability of all its features, especially for those who are new to computers. Options from the start menu, to the placements of icons and options were “optimized” to make computing simple to do and easy to understand (of course, these improvements may not be appreciated by those who have become accustomed to using a previous version of Windows, so not everyone agrees on the value of them).
The Control Panel, for example, was changed from previous versions to having two views. The “Classic View” just like the older versions that listed all the options in thumbnails in alphabetical order, and the “Category View” groups similar icons together to help users know where to find the controls they want.
Several upgrades to XP, called a service pack (SP), have been released since the original 2001 release. These are basically security and stability fixes that were available for free from the Microsoft website or as an automatic update. The last upgrade, service pack 3 had over 1,100 fixes! XP SP3 is the only version of XP that is still supported by Microsoft. According to the company, Microsoft will continue supporting (and provides free updates for) XP SP3 until April 2014, even though two newer operating systems, Vista and Windows 7, have already been released.
For information and troubleshooting resources, go to www.microsoft.com/windowsxp.