XP Upgrade Needs Linux

Since ugrading my gaming system to Windows XP from Windows 98, the grim truth is the XP operating system is clearly not up to the task at hand.

My first hurdle was the HP PSC 500 scanner. While the XP documentation claims extensive scanner support, my scanner is only occasionally supported. At various intervals it sporadically stops working and the only reliable method to re-establish communication with the scanner is a reboot. The scanning software is difficult to locate, although once found it is surprisingly simple to use despite the occasional seisures.

Hoping that my QuickCam Pro would work a little more reliably, I finally followed the XP dialogs that kept prompting me to install the camera as new hardware. Unfortuantely, there appears to be absolutely no official support for the QuickCam Pro (with the grey focus lens) under Windows XP. No support from Microsoft and no support from Logitech. While it was possible to install the Logitech driver, it appears incompatible with XP as it continues to prompt me to install the camera on reboot.

Having given up hope on the camera, I decided to watch a DVD movie since I was already in MediaPlayer trying to figure out how I might go about testing my camera. The new Windows MediaPlayer has excellent support for managing my MP3 library but the lack of a standard menu makes it virtually impossible to use anything more than “Play” and “Stop”. The advertising had promised DVD capabilities, but it appears a third-party CODEC is needed in order for DVD playback. Not surprisingly, my old DVD software no longer works so for now I guess I won’t be watching movies on my XP box.

At this point, a Linux partition is used to watch a DVD, scan an image or use the QuickCam. So the hardware support with XP is rather limited, I wasn’t too concerned given that I really wanted the system for gaming anyway.

Unhappily, XP isn’t even up to that task either. My favorite game is “Empire Earth”, a real-time strategy simulation where you build civilizations using the technologies of all eras. Although the game does install and it will run for a few hours, it seems to crash consistantly and force the entire system to reboot. After running for a few days on a Win98 box without so much as a sniffle, it is quite clear there are compatibility issues with the Best Game of 2001 and WinXP.

It appears there are also minor glitches with the XP environment For example, I am unable to modify wallpaper settings anymore. Any attempt to change wallpaper results in the wallpaper dialog spontaniously disappearing as soon as the mouse enters.

As a user interface certain aspects of Windows XP have a lot of promise, but it’s clearly not as rock-solid as pundits would have you believe. More importantly, as with previous versions of Windows there is a certain amount of time needed before vendor support reaches critical mass. If you are considering an XP upgrade, it is worth waiting until either a significant system upgrade or you are certain that all of your hardware is supported.

Keep in mind that the XP Product Activation feature makes significant hardware alterations a problem. Although you can add and remove peripherals without any issue, if you are forced to change an IDE drive controller you begin to infringe upon the XP product activiation code and you may be required to re-activate.

With all of that said, there are those of us who upgrade to new versions of everything and here are some tips to make that process a little easier:

  • Install to a clean partition. Don’t attempt an upgrade, this will confuse matters as they relate to hardware and software support.
  • Save settings with the Transfer Wizard. If you are installing XP Home and are therefore without the benefits of Active Directory, then you can use the Transfer Wizard to migrate all of your settings from one computer to another.
  • Test the install. You can install XP for a month before your must activate it. If you test the install on a computer, you can later run the real install on another machine as long as you have not performed product activation.
  • Check your hardware. Your hardware may not be supported with XP, you should check the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) before upgrading.
  • Run your software. If there are a few programs that you use with Windows all the time, try running them for 30 days on your test XP install.

If your hardware or software is poorly supported under XP, you should not consider the EULA as a license to upgrade all of your hardware and software. If possible, write to your vendors to indicate you would like to see XP supported and check the Internet for open-source projects that may be maintaing drivers for legacy hardware. You may find your favorite sound board can run natively under XP rather than with SoundBlaster emulation.

Upgrading to XP is currently the frontier of computer operating systems. Although Microsoft has substantially improved hardware and software support, the challenges of a major system upgrade still prevail. Linux users had similar difficulties going from the 2.2 kernel to the 2.4 kernel, many legacy binaries were incompatible with 2.4.x and needed to be recompiled. Unfortuantely, recompiling XP drivers is generally not an option and you will need to work with your hardware manufacturers to ensure a seemless upgrade.