is a line of operating systems developed by Microsoft
Corporation for use on general-purpose computer systems, including home and
business desktops, notebook computers, and media centres. The letters "XP" stand
after Whistler, British Columbia as many Microsoft
employees ski at the resort, during its development, Windows XP is the successor
to both Windows 2000 and Windows Me, and is the first consumer-oriented
operating system produced by Microsoft to be built on the Windows NT kernel and
architecture. With the release of Windows XP, the development of operating
systems based on the Windows 9x architecture was discontinued. Windows XP was
first released on October 25, 2001, and as of 2006 is the most recent consumer
version of Microsoft Windows available, with over 400 million copies in use,
according to an estimate by an IDC analyst.
The most common editions of the operating system are Windows XP Home Edition,
which is targeted at home users, and Windows XP Professional, which has
additional features such as support for Windows Server domains and dual
processors, and is targeted at power users and business clients. Windows XP
Media Center Edition consists of Windows XP Professional with new features
enhancing the ability to record and watch TV shows, watch DVDs, listen to music
and more. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is designed to run the ink-aware Tablet
PC platform. Two separate 64-bit versions of Windows XP were also released,
Windows XP 64-bit Edition for IA-64 (Itanium) processors and Windows XP
Professional x64 Edition for x86-64 processors.
Windows XP is known for its improved stability and efficiency over previous
versions of Windows. It presents a significantly redesigned graphical user
interface, a change Microsoft promoted as more user-friendly than previous
versions of Windows. New software management capabilities were introduced to
avoid the "DLL hell" that plagued older consumer versions of Windows. It is also
the first version of Windows to use product activation to combat software
piracy, a restriction that did not sit well with some users and privacy
advocates. Windows XP has also been criticized by some users for security
vulnerabilities, tight integration of applications such as Internet Explorer and
Windows Media Player, and for aspects of its user interface.
Windows Vista is scheduled to be the next major revision of Microsoft
Windows, with a planned release date of November 30, 2006 for volume license
customers, with a worldwide general release following on January 30, 2007.
The two major editions are Windows XP Home Edition, designed for home users,
and Windows XP Professional, designed for business and power-users. Other builds
of Windows XP include those built for specialized hardware and crippled versions
sold in Europe and select developing economies.
Windows XP Professional offers a number of features unavailable in the Home
- Able to become part of a Windows Server domain — a group of computers that
are remotely managed by one or more central servers (many businesses that use
Windows have a Windows Server and a domain)
- Sophisticated access control scheme that allows specific permissions on
files to be granted to specific users under normal circumstances. However, users
can use tools other than Windows Explorer (like cacls or File Manager), or
restart to Safe Mode to modify access control lists.
- Remote Desktop server, which allows a PC be operated by another Windows XP
user over a local area network or the Internet
- Offline Files and Folders, which allow the PC to automatically store a copy
of files from another networked computer and work with them while disconnected
from the network
- Encrypting File System, which encrypts files stored on the computers hard
drive so they cannot be read by another user, even with physical access to the
- Centralized administration features, including Group Policies, Automatic
Software Installation and Maintenance, Roaming User Profiles, and Remote
Installation Service (RIS)
- Support for two physical central processing units (CPU). The number of CPU
cores and Hyper-threading capabilities on modern CPUs are considered to be part
of a single physical processor.
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Windows XP for specialized hardware
Microsoft has also customized Windows XP to suit different markets and there
are now several different versions available. Five different versions of XP for
specific hardware were designed, two of them specifically for 64-bit processors.
- Windows XP 64-bit Edition
- This edition was designed specifically for Itanium-based workstations. This
edition was discontinued in early 2005, after HP, the last distributor of
Itanium-based workstations, stopped selling Itanium systems marketed as
'workstations'. However, Itanium support continues in the server editions of
- Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
- Not to be confused with the previous 64-bit Itanium edition of Windows XP,
this edition is based on Windows Server 2003 and supports AMD's AMD64 64-bit
extension of the Intel IA-32 architecture. This is found in AMD's Opteron and
Athlon 64 chips, as well as Intel's chips implementing their broadly compatible
- Microsoft had previously supported other microprocessors with earlier
versions of the Windows NT operating system line (including two 64-bit lines,
the DEC Alpha and the MIPS R4000, although Windows NT used them as 32-bit
processors). The files necessary for all of the architectures were included on
the same installation CD and did not require the purchase of separate versions.
- Windows XP Media Center Edition
- This edition is designed for Media centre PCs. Originally, it was only
available bundled with one of these computers, and could not be purchased
separately. In 2003 the Media Center Edition was updated as "Windows XP Media
Center Edition 2003", which added additional features such as FM radio tuning.
Another update was released in 2004, and again in 2005, which was the first
edition available for System Builders.
- Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
- Intended for specially-designed notebook/laptop computers called tablet PCs,
the Tablet PC Edition is compatible with a pen-sensitive screen, supporting
handwritten notes and portrait-oriented screens. It cannot be purchased
separately from a Tablet PC.
- Windows XP Embedded
- An edition for specific consumer electronics, set-top boxes, kiosks/ATMs,
medical devices, arcade video games, point-of-sale terminals, and Voice Over
Internet Protocol (VoIP) components.
- Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs
- In July 2006, Microsoft introduced a "thin-client" version of Windows XP
called Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs, which targets older machines
(as early as the original Pentium). It will only be available to Software
Assurance customers, who would like to upgrade to Windows XP to take advantage
of its security and management capabilities, but can't afford to purchase new
hardware. Applications will typically be run on a remote server using Remote
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Windows XP Starter Edition
Windows XP Starter Edition is a lower-cost version of Windows XP available in
Thailand, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, India, Colombia, Brazil,
Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. It is similar to
Windows XP Home, but is limited to low-end hardware, can only run 3 programs at
a time, and has some other features either removed or disabled by default.
According to a Microsoft press release, Windows XP Starter Edition is "a
low-cost introduction to the Microsoft Windows XP operating system designed for
first-time desktop PC users in developing countries." It is seen as an effort to
fight unauthorized copying of Windows XP and possibly the spread of
GNU/Linux-based systems in Asia and South America.
The Starter Edition includes some special features for non-US markets where
consumers may not be computer literate. Not found in the Home Edition, these
include localized help features for those who may not speak English, a
country-specific computer wallpaper
and screensavers, and other default settings designed for easier use than
typical Windows XP installations.
In addition, the Starter Edition also has some unique limitations to prevent
it from displacing more expensive versions of Windows XP.
Only three applications can be run at once on the Starter Edition, and each
application may only open three windows. The maximum screen resolution is
limited to 1024×768, and there is no support for workgroup networking or
domains. In addition, the Starter Edition is licensed only for low-end
processors like Intel's Celeron or AMD's Duron. There is also a 256MB limit on
main memory, and an 80GB disk size limit (Microsoft has not made it clear,
however, if this is for total disk space, per partition, or per disk). There are
also fewer options for customizing the themes, desktop, and taskbar.
On October 9, 2006, Microsoft announced
that they reached a milestone of 1,000,000 units of Windows XP Starter Edition
sold. In the mass market, however, the Starter Edition has not had much success.
Many markets where it is available have seen the uptake of illegally cracked or
pirated versions of the software instead.
Windows XP Edition N
In March 2004, the European Commission fined Microsoft €497 million ($603
million USD) and ordered the company to provide a version of Windows without
Windows Media Player. The Commission alleged that Microsoft "broke European
Union competition law by leveraging its near monopoly in the market for PC
operating systems onto the markets for work group server operating systems and
for media players". Microsoft is currently appealing the ruling. In the
meantime, a court-compliant version has been released. This version does not
include the company's Windows Media Player but instead encourages users to pick
and download their own media player. Microsoft wanted to call this version
Reduced Media Edition, but EU regulators objected and suggested the
Edition N name, with the N signifying "not with Media Player" for
both Home and Professional editions of Windows XP. Due to the fact that it is
sold at the same price as the version with Windows Media Player included, Dell,
Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Fujitsu Siemens have chosen not to stock the
product. However, Dell did offer the operating system for a short time. Consumer
interest has been low, with roughly 1,500 units shipped to OEMs, and no reported
sales to consumers.
New and updated features
Windows XP introduced several new features to the Windows line, including:
- Faster start-up and hibernation sequences;
- The ability to discard a newer device driver in favor of the previous one
(known as driver rollback), should a driver upgrade not produce desirable
- A new, arguably more user-friendly interface, including the framework for
developing themes for the desktop environment;
- Fast user switching, which allows a user to save the current state
and open applications of their desktop and allow another user to log on without
losing that information;
- The ClearType font rendering mechanism, which is designed to improve
text readability on Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) and similar monitors;
- The Remote Desktop functionality, which allows users to connect to a
computer running Windows XP from across a network or the Internet and access
their applications, files, printers, and devices; and
- Support for most DSL modems and wireless network connections, as well as
networking over FireWire.
Windows XP features a new task-based graphical user interface. The Start menu
and search capability were redesigned and many visual effects were added,
- A translucent blue selection rectangle in Explorer
- A watermark-like graphic on folder icons, indicating the type of information
stored in the folder.
- Drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop
- Task-based sidebars in Explorer windows ("common tasks")
- The ability to group the taskbar buttons of the windows of one application
into one button
- The ability to lock the taskbar and other toolbars to prevent accidental
- The highlighting of recently added programs on the Start menu
- Shadows under menus (Windows 2000 had shadows under mouse pointers, but not
Windows XP analyzes the performance impact of visual effects and uses this to
determine whether to enable them, so as to prevent the new functionality from
consuming excessive additional processing overhead. Users can further customize
these settings. Some
effects, such as alpha blending (transparency and fading), are handled entirely
by many newer video cards. However, if the video card is not capable of hardware
alpha blending, performance can be substantially hurt and Microsoft recommends
the feature should be turned off manually.
Windows XP adds the ability for Windows to use "Visual Styles" to change the
user interface. However, visual styles must be cryptographically signed by
Microsoft to run. Luna is the name of the new visual style that ships
with Windows XP, and is enabled by default for machines with more than 64 MB of
RAM. Luna refers only to one particular visual style, not to all of the
new user interface features of Windows XP as a whole. In order to use unsigned
visual styles, many users turn to software such as TGTSoft's StyleXP or
Stardock's WindowBlinds. Some users "patch" the uxtheme.dll file that restrict
the ability to use visual styles, created by the general public or the user, on
The default wallpaper, Bliss, is a BMP photograph of a landscape in the Napa
Valley outside Napa, California, with rolling green hills and a blue sky with
stratocumulus and cirrus clouds.
The Windows 2000 "classic" interface can be used instead if preferred.
Several third party utilities exist that provide hundreds of different visual
styles. In addition, another Microsoft-created theme, called "Royale", was
included with Windows XP Media Center Edition, and was also released for other
versions of Windows XP, but has since been removed from the original Microsoft
New Zealand package. The Luna theme uses 4 more megabytes of RAM than the
"Classic" Windows theme, so Classic can possibly improve performance on
Over 100 of the new icons were created by The Iconfactory, best known for
their freeware Mac icons.
Windows XP also has a command line interface (CLI), cmd.exe, for executing
single commands or for running scripts called Batch files. The syntax for
the language of the Windows XP CLI is not as well-documented by Microsoft in the
built-in Help as many GUI features. A simple list of the basic commands
is available at the command prompt by typing "help"; and somewhat more
complete command syntax may be found by typing "command_name /?" for any
Microsoft occasionally releases service packs for its Windows operating
systems to fix problems and add features.
Service Pack 1
Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Windows XP was released on September 9, 2002. Its
most notable new features were USB 2.0 support and a Set Program Access and
Defaults utility. For the first time, users could control the default
application for activities such as web browsing and instant messaging, as well
as hide access to some of Microsoft's bundled programs. This utility was later
brought into the older Windows 2000 operating system with its Service Pack 3.
Service Pack 1a was later released to remove Microsoft's Java virtual machine as
a result of a lawsuit with Sun Microsystems.
LBA-48, which allowed the OS to view and use HDD space above 137 GB, was
enabled by default. Native support for Serial ATA was added.
Support for Windows XP Service Pack 1 ended on October 10, 2006.
Service Pack 2
Service Pack 2 (SP2) (codenamed Springboard) was released on August 6,
2004 after several delays, with a special emphasis on security. Unlike previous
service packs, SP2 adds new functionality to Windows XP, including an enhanced
firewall, improved Wi-Fi support with a wizard utility, a pop-up ad blocker for
Internet Explorer, and Bluetooth support. Security enhancements include a major
revision to the included firewall which was renamed to Windows Firewall and is
enabled by default, advanced memory protection that takes advantage of the NX
bit that is incorporated into newer processors to stop buffer overflow attacks,
and removal of raw socket support (which supposedly limits the damage done by
"zombie" machines: infected computers that can be used remotely to launch denial
of service attacks). Additionally, security-related improvements were made to
e-mail and web browsing. Windows XP Service Pack 2 includes the Windows Security
Center, which provides a general overview of security on the system, including
the state of anti-virus software, Windows Update, and the new Windows Firewall.
Third-party anti-virus and firewall applications can interface with the new
Windows Movie Maker 2 has a new interface and more transitions, video effects
and options. A full list of service fixes and modifications in SP2 is available
on Microsoft's website.
When the service pack was released some programs did stop working, and Microsoft
officially listed several of them on its website.
The company AssetMetrix reports that one out of ten computers that upgraded to
SP2 had severe compatibility problems with their applications.
SP2 also includes major updates to Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and Windows
XP Media Center Edition, and supports 24 new languages.
There were also some visual changes made with Service Pack 2. On the opening
screen (where it says Microsoft Windows XP with the three scrolling squares),
the "(C)1985-2001" designation at the bottom was removed, and the edition name
was removed (e.g. "Home Edition" or "Professional"). In the Home Edition version
the scrolling squares were originally green but have now been replaced with blue
ones. In addition, the Wireless Network Connection Icon, which used to show two
computer symbols (like the LAN Connection Icon) now shows just one, with a radio
wave symbol on the right side.
While well received in general, Service Pack 2 was not without its critics.
Thomas Greene from The Register claimed that SP2 was merely a placebo of
sorts in terms of features, fixes, and security updates:
- "While we found that there are indeed a few minor improvements worthy of
acknowledgment, in particular, some rather low-level improvements that don't
show to the admin or user, overall, SP2 did little to improve our system's
practical security, leaving too many services and networking components enabled,
bungling permissions, leaving IE and OE vulnerable to malicious scripts, and
installing a packet filter that lacks a capacity for egress filtering."
Service Pack 3
Windows XP Service Pack 3 is currently in development. It will be released
after Windows Vista has been finished. As of October 2006, Microsoft's web site
indicates a "preliminary" release date of "1H 2008".
Service Pack 3 is speculated to include Windows Media Player 11, Internet
Explorer 7  and back-ported
technologies initially created for Windows Vista, but Microsoft has not made any
official statement on feature sets. A document
on Microsoft's web site suggests that Service Pack 3 will include additional
support for doing true "per-user" application installing. Another page
suggests improvements to managing the list of "hidden" wireless networks.
A site titled The Hotfix has been reported as keeping an up-to-date list of
downloadable hotfixes that will be included in Service Pack 3. Many of the
hotfixes on the site have not yet been officially released by Microsoft and
users have been warned to not install them all, but many of the fixes have been
known to solve specific problems that SP3 will eventually address.
Windows XP has been criticized for its susceptibility to malware, viruses,
trojan horses and worms. Security issues are compounded by the fact that users
of the Home edition, by default, receive an administrator account that provides
unrestricted access to the underpinnings of the system. If the administrator's
account is broken into, there is no limit to the control that can be asserted
over the compromised PC.
Windows, with its large market share, has historically been a tempting target
for virus creators. Security holes are often invisible until they are exploited,
making preemptive action difficult. Microsoft has stated that the release of
patches to fix security holes is often what causes the spread of exploits
against those very same holes, as crackers figured out what problems the patches
fixed, and then launch attacks against unpatched systems.
In an effort to slow down the rate at which malicious programs can spread to
uninfected computers, Service Pack 2 lowered the limit on outgoing TCP/IP
connection attempts from 65,535 to 10.
There can be no more than this many incomplete outgoing connections being
attempted at any one time; additional connection attempts will be queued. This
limit can adversely affect legitimate software such as peer-to-peer
applications. The "tcpip.sys" system file can be patched to raise the limit to
its former value.
User interface and performance
Critics have claimed that the default Windows XP user interface (Luna) adds
visual clutter and wastes screen space while offering no new functionality and
running more slowly - with some even calling it 'the Fisher-Price interface'.
Users who do not like the new interface can easily switch back to the Windows
Classic theme. 
Integration of operating system features
In light of the United States v. Microsoft case which resulted in Microsoft
being convicted for abusing its operating system monopoly to overwhelm
competition in other markets, Windows XP has drawn fire for integrating user
applications such as Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger into the
operating system, as well as for its close ties to the Windows Live ID service.
While product activation and licensing servers are common for business and
industrial software (especially software sold on a per-user basis for large sums
of money), Windows XP gave many casual computer users their first introduction
to it. The system was introduced by Microsoft to curb unauthorized distribution
of Windows XP.
Activation requires the computer or the user to activate with Microsoft within a
certain amount of time in order to continue using the operating system. If the
user's computer system ever changes — for example, if two or more relevant
components of the computer itself are upgraded — Windows may refuse to run until
the user reactivates with Microsoft.
Microsoft Windows XP service packs are designed so that they will not install
on computers running installations of Windows XP that use product keys known to
be widely used in unauthorized installations. These product keys are unique to
each boxed (or bundled) copy of Windows XP and are included with the product
documentation, but a small number of product keys have been posted on the
Internet and are used for a large number of unauthorized installations. The
service packs contain a list of these keys and will not update copies of Windows
XP that use them.
Microsoft developed a new key verification engine for Windows XP Service Pack
2 that could detect illicit keys, even those that had never been used before.
After an outcry from security consultants who feared that denying security
updates to illegal installations of Windows XP would have wide-ranging
consequences even for legal owners, Microsoft elected to disable the new key
verification engine. Service Pack 2 only checks for the same small list of
commonly used keys as Service Pack 1. This means that while Service Pack 2 will
not install on copies of Windows XP which use the older set of copied keys,
those who use keys which have been posted more recently may be able to update
Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications
Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications is a utility that checks the
legitimacy of a Windows XP license. If the license key is judged not genuine, it
displays a nag screen at regular intervals asking the user to buy a license from
Microsoft. In addition,
the user's access to Microsoft Update is restricted to critical security
updates, and as such, new versions of DirectX, Windows Defender, Internet
Explorer and other Microsoft products will refuse to install.
The download is itself marked as a "Critical Security Update", causing
Automatic Updates to download it without user intervention. However, unlike most
critical updates, the Notifications component does not install automatically;
you must accept the supplemental EULA provided before it can install.
Once installed, WGA Notifications "phones home" to Microsoft every time the
computer is connected to the Internet. This behavior has been criticized by
users claiming the program to be spyware for these reasons, and by others
claiming that they have a licensed copy of Windows that WGA Notifications
mistakenly identified as a pirate copy and damaged.
While in the testing phase, Microsoft did not include an uninstallation
utility, but rather gave the user manual removal instructions that do not work
with the final build.
Strictly speaking, neither the download nor the install of the Notifications
is mandatory; the user can change their Automatic Update settings to allow them
to choose what updates may be downloaded for installation. If the update is
already downloaded, the user can choose not to accept the supplemental EULA
provided for the Notifications. In both cases, the user can also request that
the update is not presented again.
As of 2006, Microsoft is currently involved in a class action lawsuit brought
forth in California, on grounds that it violated the spyware laws in the state
with its Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications program
Its better than Vista at any rate