Microsoft Plus for Windows XP review: Microsoft Plus for Windows XP

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CNET Editors' Rating

2 stars Mediocre
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Easy-to-use interface; includes cool fish tank screensaver; all components automatically integrate with Windows XP.

The Bad Too skimpy for its $40 price tag--the same features are free on the Web.

The Bottom Line Why pay for a collection of second-rate audio add-ons and desktop decorations when you can find better junk for free on the Web? Skip Plus, unless you're looking for a silly holiday gift for a tech newbie.

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Whenever it launches a new version of Windows, Microsoft offers Plus as an after-market collection of add-ons for home users. But this time, Microsoft has gone too far. Where it used to populate Plus with engrossing entertainment (think Pinball in Plus 95) or useful utilities (such as VirusScan in Plus 98), Microsoft Plus for XP gives you only lightweight add-ons: desktop themes, screensavers, borderline games, and audio enhancements that should have been part of the OS from the start. You can find a lot of the same or similar tools on the Web for free. Save yourself $35 to $40 and spend it on something XP really needs: an antivirus program. Whenever it launches a new version of Windows, Microsoft offers Plus as an after-market collection of add-ons for home users. But this time, Microsoft has gone too far. Where it used to populate Plus with engrossing entertainment (think Pinball in Plus 95) or useful utilities (such as VirusScan in Plus 98), Microsoft Plus for XP gives you only lightweight add-ons: desktop themes, screensavers, borderline games, and audio enhancements that should have been part of the OS from the start. You can find a lot of the same or similar tools on the Web for free. Save yourself $35 to $40 and spend it on something XP really needs: an antivirus program.

Easy street
You can slap Plus onto your hard drive with no hassle. Plus doesn't just dump a bunch of icons under the Start menu, it insinuates itself into the operating system. For instance, it adds a "Convert to Windows Media Audio" command to the menu that pops up when you right-click an audio file--say, an MP3 file within Windows Explorer--and inserts its desktop themes and eight screensavers in the Windows Display Properties Control Panel so that you don't have to hunt around in your download folders.

It's easy to tweak Plus additions, too. You can get to all of its accessories from a one-screen interface that you launch from the Start menu. This launchpad is easy to use, with links that take you to Plus games, themes, screensavers, and digital audio add-ons. You can even apply a theme or a screensaver, run a game, or launch one of the audio tools from here.

Lame desktop decor
Plus's accessories come in four flavors: themes, screensavers, games, and digital audio. The first and second feature desktop decorators, the third a way to kill time when XP's bundled games get old, and the fourth a seven-pack collection of Windows Media Player add-ons.

The desktop themes--collections of icons, wallpaper, sounds, mouse pointers, and other graphical elements--are snappy, but you're limited to back-to-nature, outer space, and Leonardo da Vinci-style decor. We were hoping to land themes that would completely recast XP's interface to look like Mac OS X or BeOS.

Plus's screensavers are slick, particularly Aquarium, a photo-realistic virtual fish tank that has, believe it or not, fooled a cat on more than one occasion, and MyPictures, a customizable screensaver that lets you use your own digital photos. Unlike the generic MyPictures Slideshow included with XP, the Plus edition ups the ante by letting you stick the pics onto animated backgrounds.

Although these themes and screensavers look spectacular, they're not unique. The Web hosts hundreds or thousands of screensavers and themes at download sites such as Screensaver.com and ThemeWorld.com. Actually, you can get Plus's Aquarium screensaver by downloading the free SereneScreen.com Aquarium, which also works on Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000, and NT. And if you want to completely change the way XP looks, check out the WindowBlinds XP beta, which lets you run any of hundreds of WindowBlinds' custom interfaces.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Microsoft Plus for Windows XP

Part Number: V0300021
MSRP: $19.95 Low Price: $69.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Category utilities
  • Compatibility PC