Microsoft's Windows XP, the company's latest operating system whose Home and Professional editions will be released today in the US, includes these new features:
New user interface: a default user interface sports bigger icons and a renovated layout. The taskbar located across the bottom of the screen includes a new start menu that houses all of the applications, documents and services available on a user's system. Users can also modify the interface to display the desktop in "classic" Windows mode, for those who would rather stick with a look more reminiscent of Windows 98, 2000 and ME.
The taskbar also groups open documents based on the application they were created in so, for instance, when multiple Word files are open they are grouped into a single link. The feature allows users to close every document created in a single application at once to avoid the typical taskbar clutter.
Increased up-time: thanks to Windows XP's new roots, Microsoft claims that the operating system is less crash prone. Windows XP is based on the Windows NT kernel, aimed at making it better able to manage multiple applications running at once without crashing.
Piracy policing: no more can users install a single copy Windows operating system on more than one computer. While Microsoft has always had that policy it is now enforcing it with its Product Activation feature, which assigns an activation number specific to the machine it is installed on. If a user tries to install that same copy on a different machine, it issues a duplicate activation number.
Remote assistance: users can authorize a remote Windows XP user to access the desktop through an Internet connection and remotely control the actions on the desktop. At the same time, the remote user and the local user can chat with Microsoft's built-in instant messenger application.
Remote desktop: similar to the remote assistance feature, Professional version users can access their systems from a remote computer running the same operating system via the Internet. Microsoft's remote desktop protocol is the technology behind the feature.
New security: a firewall guards computers from being hacked when connected to the Internet. Both the Professional and Home Versions of the operating system feature the new security, though Windows XP Professional adds additional security features such as file encryption.
Driver and technology support: hundreds of peripheral devices, from printers, to digital cameras, to digital audio players work immediately when plugged into a Windows XP machine as the operating system comes equipped with driver support. The operating system also has built-in support for the wireless Internet standard 802.11.
Policy Manager: while not new to Windows, Microsoft's policy manager is beefed up. When used in a networked environment, administrators can implement standard settings, such as appearance and security, and manage every computer in a central location. The policy manager can let administrators make policies so that users can and can't access certain applications based on the users' credentials.
Easy on the eyes: Microsoft's new ClearType technology displays text on a users screen with better clearity and a higher resolution.
Internet Explorer: few noticeable changes made it into the new Internet Explorer 6 other than increased security features, which include new support for P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences), an industry standard, and the elimination of built-in support for Netscape-style plug-ins and Java applications.
Media Player: Microsoft's most advanced Windows Media Player features DVD (digital versatile disk) playback, CD burning, and the ability to export video to portable devices.
Windows Messenger: Microsoft's powerful client for communicating by text, voice, or video instant messaging is improved. The software now enables users to easily make PC-to-phone calls through third-party IP (Internet Protocol) telephony providers and to share and collaborate files in real-time, as well as use Microsoft's .Net Alerts, a Web service for sending and receiving reminders.
Multiple users: multiple users can easily be managed on a single computer. Users can create individual accounts on the system, each with customized settings. For instance, one user can set the computer to display non-English text, while another user displays content in English. For developers, Microsoft points out this feature can also aid in the testing process. A programmer can set up different profiles to test applications easily in different environments.