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Fred's Views

XP Software

As part of my pre-retirement plan to "buy it while you can because you'll probably never be able to afford it again" I recently purchased some, dare I say it, Microsoft software. Fortunately, I was able to buy the academic versions, because I don't know how anyone could afford to pay the full price. I bought Office XP with Access, Visual Studio.Net and, because you need it to run some of Visual Studio.Net's features, Windows XP Professional. Altogether, they cost me well over $500 Cdn. Windows was the "Upgrade" version while the others were the full version.

I had previously purchased Office 97, but I have somehow misplaced the original disk, and I had no backup. So, it would have been difficult to get an upgrade going. (Actually, it is unusual to be able to buy "upgrades" in "Academic" editions.) I had also used Visual Basic 5, but I had not had time to play with it for over two years.

One of my problems is, of course, that I usually just "play" with this software rather than do anything very important. I could probably count on one finger the number of times I have used Word in the last two months. But, when I do use it, I usually need features not found in WordPad, for example. Unfortunately, if I am going to update, I need an updated version of Office. If I want to learn about, I need Visual Studio.Net and that means I need Windows XP Professional. With all the demands the last two make on processors and storage, I essentially have only one machine they will run on, so I can't use a second licence right now, even if it were possible to buy a second, third, fourth licence at a reasonable price - which it most certainly is not. I've barely played with Office, which, by the way, will run on my other machines if I had a licence for them, but I haven't spent much time, partly because they are installed on the most powerful computer which also serves as our server and Internet connection for all the other machines and is the one used by three other members of my family. I'd love to install it on one of my other machines which are essentially mine alone, if I could buy a licence at a reasonable fee.

However, I have yet to find anything significant that Office XP does that Office 97 did not do. I'm told that XP has more Internet capabilities, but I haven't yet had a chance to use them.

In contrast, Visual Basic.Net which is part of Visual Studio.Net and the only part that I have used (or am likely to use except for ASP.Net) has undergone some fundamental and significant changes. It is now truly OOP functional. If you don't know what OOP is, count yourself lucky. Not that it isn't useful and powerful, but it is a hard concept to grasp and utilize. All of the programming languages in Visual Studio.Net compile and use the same "runtime" files. Theoretically, I guess that means only one copy of these files should be on your computer no matter how many programs you may have that were written with these various languages. It would also seem to mean that a program should run at essentially the same speed whether it was written with a version of "C" or in Visual Basic. That would be a boon for us "BASIC" programmers. What should I say about Windows XP Professional? Once you get passed the absolutely dreadful user interface, it's not so bad. But, I keep finding that handy features that were available on 98 SE or ME are missing. My Computer, for example, even when it has been reset to look like "classic" Windows, still takes up too much real estate, organizes the drives by type instead of alphabetically, which, of course, makes them much harder to locate, and lacks file details.

I installed "Professional" overtop the "Home" version because I didn't want to lose all the "user" settings that had already been set up. The install went fine, except I expected to have an "Administrator" account and, so far, I can't find one. But both versions act queerly. If left unused for a time, they don't simply display a screen saver or "hibernate", they essentially log off the last user forcing someone to log on. That would be a bonus in some situations, but a needless delay in ours. There should be a way to turn this action on or off, and there may be, but, as usual, Microsoft either neglects to provide useful features for more advanced users or hides them where you'll probably never find them. More frustrating, however, is that XP doesn't always react to requests from other computers to access the Internet (if the connection has been dropped). Since dial-up is our only option, it is frustrating to have to wake up XP just so we can get onto the Internet from another machine. This would be even more of a problem in an office network, so there must be a solution, but I can't find it so far.

And perhaps the most frustrating of all, I can't print from my networked computers. I have an HP Deskjet 812C and it is physically attached to the XP machine. When I was still running the "Home" version, I managed to get one computer working, although I can't remember how. Now none of the networked computers will print. There is no updated driver from HP, the driver provided is supposed to be installed from the disk, but the installer program won't recognize the printer when it is not physically connected. The networked computers are running "ME" and "98 SE". Microsoft, of course, isn't much help and trying to find information on their help systems has always been a lesson in futility.

Probably, if I were able to put up with time-wasting customer-service by phone, and if it didn't cost me anything, I could get a solution. When I get frustrated enough, I may do it. Until then, I'll seek a more high-tech and less personal solution. I am continually frustrated by the inability of large corporations to effectively use the power and, I believe, convenience and efficiency of the Internet to provide customer service. Is it really more difficult to cut and paste some "boiler-plate" text than to spew the same material verbally to someone who, reasonably, can not take it all in with only aural stimulation. In plain English, it would be much easier to read a solution than to try and absorb it on the telephone.

Although I am not, unfortunately, in the market, I have been checking out new computers: desktop and notebook. It is virtually impossible to find one with XP Professional and, of course, none of them come with an actual Windows CD, just the "restore" CD which will wipe out everything you've added to your hard drive. It shouldn't be that hard.

Every once in a while we hear rumours of a new operating system that will run Windows applications as well as Windows - which is to say, not that well. I do wish Microsoft had some competition. Maybe they would stop pursuing the almighty dollar (How much money does Bill Gates need, anyway?) and provide the serfs with good software at a reasonable price. That's all I ask. Make it financially possible for us to be honest users of your software (and there is no doubt Microsoft could afford to do so) and a large percentage of us will buy additional licences and updates. In the long run, Microsoft would probably make more money, and the rest of us would not have to put up with the hassles of anti-piracy schemes that only make life more difficult for honest users. I currently have both Windows XP Home

(since uninstalled) and Windows XP Professional

registered for the same machine. I don't know what hoops Microsoft will put me through if I decide to install Windows XP Home

on one of my other machines. I dread finding out.

Originally written in 2002.

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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