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Reader poll: Windows XP not for everyone

Many early buyers say they've been pleasantly surprised. But for others, the new OS isn't worth the product "lock" and incompatibilities.

Despite some misgivings about Windows XP, many early buyers say they have been pleasantly surprised by what they see in the new operating system.

Several respondents to an informal poll by CNET said Microsoft has not delivered such a compelling upgrade since Windows 95. But the chorus of enthusiasm included some off-notes as well, with some of the early adopters warning consumers to upgrade later or skip it altogether.

For those giving XP the thumbs-down, Microsoft's new Product Activation mechanism and hardware and software compatibility problems dominated their complaints. Those endorsing XP--which Microsoft says stands for "experience"--cited improved stability, user interface refinements and a plethora of new features, including instant messaging, videoconferencing and improved security.

Kevin McGregor, a telecommunications specialist with the Coast Guard in Seattle, is one of those praising XP. He installed the new operating system, which was released almost three weeks ago, on a Compaq Computer 1700 Series notebook with an 800MHz Pentium III processor, 14.1-inch display, 256MB of RAM and 20GB hard drive.

"I did not have to install new drivers or change any of those provided during installation--amazing for an OS to get everything right on install," he said. "The overall XP experience is very welcoming, and the new interface improves being able to find what I am looking for without searching."

McGregor is particularly pleased with ClearType, XP's new font-rendering technology that sharpens black-on-white text viewed on notebook and some desktop LCD (liquid-crystal display) panels.

"The ClearType font (technology) is a godsend for the laptop users," he said.

Web designer Paula MacNeil, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, praised XP's features but warned other customers to be careful.

"If someone wanted to know if XP was worth it, I would say wait for three months," she said. MacNeil's complaints centered on hardware drivers, such as those for her ATI video card or PC camera. "I'm still getting used to XP, and despite the fact I'm having problems at the moment, I don't regret getting it. But I really should have waited a bit."

MacNeil upgraded from Windows Me on a Compaq Presario 5000 series PC with an 850MHz AMD Athlon processor, 384MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive.

Opening Windows sales
It's certainly hard to miss Windows XP, which officially launched Oct. 25. Computer makers started selling XP PCs about a month earlier.

The Gatekeeper: Windows XP Microsoft has blanketed nearly all forms of media with advertisements, including subways, buses, radio, television and Web sites. The Redmond, Wash.-based company has gone so far to produce videos for XPTV, a promotional site highlighting the operating system's new multimedia features. As part of the broad promotion, retailers have sweetened their XP offers with a heap of freebies.

Although initial sales trailed those of Windows 98 and Me, the new operating system is no sales sluggard.

Research firm NPD Intelect estimates that retailers sold about 232,000 copies of Windows XP its first week on the market. That works out to about $26.5 million in sales. The market researcher cautioned that the figures are preliminary and incomplete, accounting for only about 60 percent of retailers.

By way of rough comparison, Windows 95 and Windows 98 each sold 600,000 copies in the first month, according to PC Data, which was acquired by NPD Intelect. In its first four days on the market, Windows Me sold 250,000 copies, according to NPD Intelect. Typically, operating system sales peak in the first week and then fall off dramatically.

The XP sales figures also don't take into account copies of the operating system included on new PCs, which makes comparisons with previous products even more tenuous. Today more consumers upgrade their operating system by buying a new computer than they did in the past.

Microsoft declined to comment on XP sales.

The hype surrounding XP is more subdued than the Windows 95 ballyhoo, in part because of a marketing campaign that has been overshadowed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the slumping economy.

William Smith, a government electronics inspector from El Paso, Texas, bought into the XP hype and he's glad he did. He particularly likes the multiple-login feature, which Microsoft has said was popular during XP market-research studies. Unlike earlier Windows versions, XP can create multiple user accounts and toggle between them in a matter of seconds without the consumer having to log out first.

"The new login screen allows my children to log in without typing or remembering what to type each time they visit," Smith said. "This then allows them to enjoy their own customized environment, which benefits me in the same way."

Smith runs a home-built PC with a 1.4GHz AMD Athlon processor over-clocked to 1.5GHz, 512MB of RAM, and a 40GB hard drive. "It runs XP very crisply with all the bells and whistles turned on," he said.

Ron Miller, a certified public accountant from Alexandria, Va., said he's been pretty pleased with XP so far. "It has been 10 days since I installed XP, and my overall experience so far has been positive. My major reason for upgrading from Windows 98 was for the promise of increased stability. As of now, my system has yet to crash even once," he said.

But Miller, who runs XP on a Dell Computer Dimension PC with a 667MHz Pentium III and 320MB of RAM, did not see the big performance boost he had expected from the advertising.

"I've not seen a dramatic increase in the speed of launching a program, a feature which was promoted as noticeable," he said. "This is no big deal for me as I never saw it as a problem anyway. I also expected a faster load of Windows, but it seems about the same as Windows 98."

Ong Hooi Keat, a systems administrator based in Penang, Malaysia, also noted that performance was "a bit slow" for an 18-month-old Dell Inspiron 3700 notebook with a 500MHz Pentium III processor, 128MB of RAM and a 12GB hard drive. It "is definitely the easiest to install," he added.

Overall, early adopters found that the biggest factors making Windows XP run smoothly are the amount of memory and the performance of the hard drive. Processing power above a 500MHz Pentium III processor satisfied most early buyers.

The downside
Those people critical of Windows XP generally cited either hardware or software compatibility problems as their chief reason for recommending against the upgrade.

Currie Clement, who describes himself as an "Arizona lawman" from Tucson, dumped Windows XP because of problems running AOL 7 software. Clement could not connect to AOL on his Dell Dimension 8100 with a 1.3GHz Pentium 4, 128MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Phone calls to either AOL or Microsoft had technical support representatives from one company blaming the problem on the other, he said.

Clement's recommendation: "Get Windows 98 SE and stick with it. Give them--AOL and Microsoft--time to get their acts together and work out all the problems."

Michael Worobec, a Windows user living in Louisville, Colo., abandoned XP after finding out he could no longer connect his 700MHz Athlon PC to the corporate network.

see CNET Software: Windows XP Guide "I returned the software to CompUSA in Boulder," Worobec said. "The woman working the return counter said that usually they don't take returns of opened software, but too many people were having problems with Windows XP, and she gave me a cash refund on the spot."

For Smith, the El Paso electronics inspector, Windows XP's Compatibility Mode has solved most software glitches. The feature tricks software into perceiving it is running under an older version of Windows.

"When I have had any conflicts, I have been able to use Compatibility Mode to get (the applications) to run," Smith said.

Miller noted little glitches running some programs, such as Corel WordPerfect 7 and freeware software for adjusting the PC's volume. "I expect the little problems with programs to be resolved eventually with upgrades or replacements," the Virginia accountant said. "Overall the XP experience has been positive, and I would do it again."

But other Windows users don't plan to do XP at all, citing Microsoft's Product Activation mechanism as the reason. After installation, Windows XP must connect to Microsoft to "lock" the software to the hardware configuration. Too many hardware changes could force people to call Microsoft to reactivate the software.

"WinXP, under the guise of copyright protection, places an intrusive, inconvenient and extortionistic lock on what you may do with your system hardware," said Robert Gault, a chemist from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. "For those of us who frequently change video and sound cards, motherboards, CPUs, and memory, either for experimentation or review/testing purposes, WinXP will lock us out of our computers."

Staff writer Margaret Kane contributed to this report.