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By Richard Fisco, Les Freed, Ben Z. Gottesman, Matthew P. Graven, Bill Howard, Sarah Pike, Jonathan Roubini, Neil J. Rubenking, M. David Stone and Serdar Yegulalp
There's a lot you can do to make Windows faster, easier, more reliable, even more fun. We've got 104 tips for Windows users to help you get the most out of your computer.
Our contributors: Bill Howard, Les Freed, and M. David Stone are contributing editors of PC Magazine. Neil J. Rubenking is a contributing technical editor. Ben Z. Gottesman is an executive editor, and Rich Fisco is a technical director of PC Magazine Labs. Sarah Pike is a staff editor. Joel Durham, Jr., and Serdar Yegulalp are freelance writers and frequent contributors to ExtremeTech. Associate editor Matthew P. Graven and PC Magazine Labs project leader Jonathan Roubini were in charge of this story.Setting Up
Home or Professional? When you decide to upgrade to Microsoft Windows XP or buy a new system, you'll need to decide which version is right for you, Home Edition or Professional. For the majority of consumers, the less expensive Home Edition is fine. Windows XP Pro, a superset of Windows XP Home, is the obvious choice for most businesses, but smaller organizations probably won't need its more granular access controls, security, and networking capabilities.
Some of Windows XP Professional's added features include:• dual-processor support;
Additionally, there is the new Windows XP 64-Bit Edition. The 64-Bit Edition is only for computers using the Intel Itanium or Itanium II, and it is functionally similar to Windows XP Pro.
Make Sure You Have The Latest Code. A year has passed since Windows XP shipped, and Microsoft has posted a lot of bug fixes and security updates to its site. Service Pack 1 contains all of the updates released before SP1 shipped and is available for download from Microsoft's update site.
You can also buy an SP1 CD for $9.95. If you recently purchased a computer with Windows XP or bought a copy of the OS in a retail store, you may already have SP1.
Service Pack 1 doesn't add much in the way of features—a key reason for the update was to let PC manufacturers disable Microsoft applications such as Internet Explorer and Windows Messenger—but we do recommend installing it to make sure you have all the fixes.
The Future of Windows. If you're planning to upgrade, you needn't worry about a new OS coming out in the next few months. According to Microsoft, the company won't release its next operating system (code-named Longhorn) for at least another two years.
This year, however, Microsoft is releasing a few versions of Windows XP with slight alterations. These will be available only to computer makers on machines specially designed for these new versions.
Windows XP Media Center Edition, which shipped in early September, is Windows XP Professional with some special applications built-in; extras such as personal video-recording technology and a remote control function for managing audio and video content.
Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is due to ship on a number of tablet PCs this fall. Soon we will also see the release of Windows Powered Smart Display devices, wireless monitors that can be used to control a computer on your network via Remote Desktop.
Choose a File System. When you're setting up your hard drive, Windows XP offers you a choice between two file systems: FAT32 and NTFS. On installation, Windows XP defaults to using NTFS. But in many cases either file system will work.
FAT32 is an enhanced version of the file allocation table (FAT) system that has been around since the early days of DOS. NTFS is the NT file system used in Windows NT, 2000, and XP.
NTFS has some major benefits, like I/O throttling and better driver management. (I/O throttling works when the system can't allocate memory. As its name implies, it throttles down I/O to process one page at a time, if necessary. This allows the system to continue at a slower pace until more resources are available.) These features provide enhanced reliability and stability. NTFS also supports large hard drives with up to 2 terabytes.
As a guide: Use FAT32 if your hard drive is smaller than 32GB, or if you want to install more than one operating system on your computer. Use NTFS if you have a hard drive that is larger than 32GB and you are going to run only one operating system.
Find the Extras on the Windows XP Discs. Both Home Edition and Professional include extra goodies in the Valueadd folder of the retail installation CD. (Note that in many cases, the discs bundled with computer systems do not include the Valueadd folder.) For example, both editions contain the Citrix ICA client for connecting to Citrix's line of terminal servers; the Distributed Management Task Force's Common Information Model, Version 2.5, for computer management; and TTPC for checking packet data on an IP network.
Home Edition adds the networking protocol NetBEUI, which is used for compatibility with older operating systems (see the Networking tips in this story), and a backup and restore feature, which is included in the Windows XP Professional default installation.
The Windows XP Professional disc contains the Windows NT 4.0 Internet Authentication Service - a snap-in for authenticating users in a domain - and a phone book administrator.
Meanwhile, some programs are installed but remain turned off by default. To set up these and other pieces of Windows XP, go to the Control Panel, click on Add or Remove Programs (note that for this and all tips following, we used the Classic Control Panel view), click on Add/ Remove Windows Components, and look at the boxes that are unchecked or have a gray background.
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