Copyright Michael Karbo, Denmark, Europe.


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    Chapter 1. Lots of Windows

    The foundation of computers is and will be (whether you like it or not) the operating system Microsoft Windows, which made its entry into all the world's computers during the 1990s. And there are several different versions of Windows, which can be used. Later on in the booklet I will show you how you can have several versions of Windows installed in the same computer.

    Let's start by looking at the current versions. Which advantages and disadvantages do they have?

    Figure 1. Windows isn't just Windows.

    The operating system

    The task of the operating system is to connect all of the computer's hardware devices together so that they constitute a stable whole. All the user programs lie on top of this hopefully well-functioning hardware platform. Programs like Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Photoshop have to be able to use the existing hardware, disks, scanners, printers, etc. Windows' task is to keep all this co-ordination working without problems.

    The only thing is, computer hardware is being developed and renewed at a rapid pace. One of the big challenges for the company Microsoft is, therefore, keeping up with all the new technologies. Windows has to be up-to-date all of the time so that every user can install new smart disks and different kinds of expansion cards and all sorts of other things in a computer in the firm conviction that it will work alright.

    Microsoft develops its operating system further in two ways:

  • With new drivers, service packs and other program stumps, which 'renew' a current version of Windows.

  • With completely new versions of Windows.

    A Windows version can, in fact, live for many years in this way but it will die eventually. The operating system will be outdated compared to all the new technologies, which have come onto the market since the version of Windows and Microsoft will decide to drop the version, which can no longer be sold or supported.

    This is what happened with Windows 98 in 2003. Microsoft announced that it was finished with it. At this moment of writing, both Windows 2000 from 1999 and Windows XP from 2001 are alive. Both operating systems are sold and supported by Microsoft with service packs and other updates. Windows 2000 will probably, however, soon be removed.

    The next version of Windows is known at the moment under the name Vista. It is expected on the market in 2006. This future version of Windows is built up of individual components, which can be either activated or deactivated one at a time. This should mean that that it will be safer, more effective and more stable than Windows XP, but there is, unfortunately, no guarantee that this will be the case.

    Figure 2. Clip from an early test version of Windows Longhorn.

    Windows 98

    Even though Windows 98 is no longer a part of Microsoft's range of products, the program still functions in thousands of computers. As you can see in Figure 4 on page 9, three variants of Windows 98 were issued. The original Windows 98 was in the first place updated with a Second Edition and after that with an unsuccessful Millenium edition. Windows has always been plagued with instability but with Windows Me this reached its culmination. There were tons of errors in the encoding and many of the functions didn't work properly.

    Even if Microsoft has shut down all support for Windows 98, the different hardware manufacturers still develop Windows 98 drivers for their new products. This means that if you, for example, buy a new sound card or a new scanner, then it will be accompanied with Windows drivers for Windows 98, 2000 and XP.

    Windows 98 is today outdated. But you can easily have Windows 98SE installed as an extra start-up option on your computer. It can then be activated (for example, with a start-up disk), when you need to. This could be if Windows 2000 or XP have crashed.

    Figure 3. The most important operating systems for computers during the last 20 years.

    Windows 2000

    Windows 2000 should really have been called NT 5.0; this is the internal Windows version number, as you can see in Figure 21 on page 18. Windows 2000 is a brilliant operating system according to many people the best, Microsoft has ever produced. Unlike Windows 98, Windows 2000 is founded on the original DOS system from the 1980s with the unstable 16-bit program code. Windows 2000 is fundamentally a server system (built for professional use), which has been equipped with the same easily operable interface known from Windows 98.

    With 2000 you can experience a well-functioning 32 bits operative system, with optimum control of RAM and, all things taken into consideration, effective use of the resources. You can have a computer switched on for months with Windows 2000 and it will still work. And if you don't do anything stupid, a program only has to be installed once and it will go on running year after year. You can install and uninstall one program after the other and work and work. Windows 2000 just keeps on going. The disadvantage is that when there are errors in Windows 2000, they are often serious. Installation is also slow and sometimes difficult. But on the other hand: Once it has been installed, it just goes on for ever and ever!

    Windows XP replaces 98 and 2000

    Windows XP is a further development of Windows 2000 and is meant to replace both Windows 98 and 2000. The idea was that XP should combine the best of the two previous versions of Windows. It was meant to:

  • give a well-functioning processing of multimedia programs such as games, etc. (like Windows 98).

  • give a fast start-up (like Windows 98 or even better).

  • present a modernised and easily operable interface.

  • be a professional 32-bits operating system (like Windows 2000).

     

    There is no doubt that the two first items have proved completely successful. All games as well as sound and video equipment perform well in Windows XP. The processing is helped here by DirectX programs, which give a better control of the sound cards, etc. Something, which didn't work very well in Windows 2000.

    The computer start-up is lightening-fast with Windows XP, which is a significant progress. The interface in XP is completely newly designed and very colourful compared with Windows 2000. Preference is a matter of taste. There is much too much theory of education (not to mention kindergarten) in the interface for most super users in Windows XP, but luckily it can be converted so that it looks exactly like the well-known Windows 98/2000 interface.

    A step backwards with Windows XP

    Purely technically Windows 2000 is a more effective program than XP. Program processing is clearly slower compared with Windows 2000. There is talk of a 20 % poorer performance. The question is how important this is because modern computers are already extremely fast.

    Another disadvantage with Windows XP is that it is not as stable as Windows 2000. If you wear the computer down by continuously installing and uninstalling new programs then Windows XP won't last very long. It might be necessary to reinstall the operating system, for example, every six months or maybe before if the program starts behaving peculiarly. It's a lot like Windows 98. If you reinstall new programs regularly as I do, there will constantly be problems with Windows XP.

    But as XP is the most widespread version of Windows, we are going to first and foremost look at this operating system in the rest of the booklet.

    Security problems

    Since the introduction of Windows XP the question of security has become a more important item on the agenda than before. Many users are constantly connected to the Internet via ADSL and other fast connections and this gives hackers and other criminal programmers unprecedented options for wreaking havoc.

    Virus, spam and other dirty things prevail on an unprecedented scale, and in the middle of these activities, we have Microsoft's products: Windows XP, Internet Explorer and Outlook. It is a fact that these products are basically designed with facilities, which allow hostile software to get past security systems. They can in this way be installed, run and spread in a computer without the user being aware of it.

    Microsoft tries as best as it can to stem the problems with a stream of program corrections (patches), which you can fetch free of charge on the Internet. Sometimes these changes are collected in large packs called Service Packs.

    Unfortunately, all these program alterations often contribute to other problems. The computer might be safer but it might also be slower and more unstable. A super user has to consider all these things and have a hard and fast policy.

    Figure 4. While Windows 98 came in several versions, Windows 2000 and XP are further developed with service packs, which can be fetched free of charge from the Internet.


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