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Windows XP—for eXPerience—is the latest Microsoft operating system for personal computers and the biggest overhaul of Windows since Windows 95. Building on the solid core of Microsoft’s corporate operating system, Windows 2000, XP is meant for both business and personal users. Compared with earlier versions, it simplifies the Windows environment, makes routine tasks quicker and easier, and sports a host of new features.

What Windows XP Does

Windows XP—like every operating system, Microsoft or otherwise—is software that controls:

  • The user interface. Windows manages the appearance, behavior, and interaction of the icons, folders, menus, and other visual elements on your computer screen, either directly or indirectly through another program.

  • Storage. Windows allocates space for and gives access to files—programs and documents—stored on disk or in memory.

  • Other software. Windows is a launching platform for applications. When you run a “Windows program” such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, that program relies on the services and building blocks that Windows provides for basic operations such as drawing a user interface and saving files.

  • Peripheral devices. Windows controls peripheral hardware, such as your mouse, keyboard, monitor, printer, and digital camera.

  • Networks and security. Windows controls the interaction of a group of computers (and peripheral devices) connected by a communications link. Windows also protects your system and data from harm or loss.

  • System resources. Windows handles the allocation and use of your computer’s low-level hardware resources, such as memory and central processing unit (CPU) time.

  • Task scheduling. Windows acts like a traffic cop, setting priorities and allocating time slices to the processes running on your PC.

The Two Versions of Windows XP

There are two main versions of Windows XP: Home, meant for individual, home, and home-office use; and Professional, which costs more but has extra features that make life easier for power users and network administrators (Table i.1). This book covers both. In general, they look and work alike, so most discussions apply to both editions equally.


  • You’ll see this symbol wherever I discuss a feature offered in Windows XP Professional edition but not in Home edition.

  • To find out which edition of Windows XP you’re running, choose Start > Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance > System > General tab.

  • If you’re interested in system administration and troubleshooting, consult an advanced text such as Microsoft Windows XP Resource Kit Documentation (Microsoft Press).

  • Windows XP also has Server editions. These editions are intended to be used on high-end server platforms rather than on the desktops of end users, so they’re not covered in this book.

Table i.1. Features Unique to XP Pro
Domain membershipJoin a large group of networked computers that is administered as a unit.
Dynamic disksTreat multiple hard disks as a single large disk.
Encrypting file systemEncrypt files and folders to keep them safe from intruders.
Internet Information ServicesHost and manage simple Web sites.
Multilanguage supportDynamically change the language used for input, spell checking, help files, user-interface elements, and other text.
Multiprocessor supportAutomatically recognize and exploit systems with two processors.
Offline filesMake network files available offline by storing shared files on your laptop so that they’re accessible when you’re not connected to the network. Reconnecting to the network updates your changes to the network files.
Remote DesktopControl a remote computer when you’re at another computer—use your home computer to control your computer at work, for example.
Roaming user profilesHave your personal settings and desktop appear on any networked computer you log on to (not just your personal PC).
User managementDefine and enforce full disk-, folder-, and file-level security policies by user. (The Home edition has only two security levels and allows all users to use shared data.)

What’s New in Windows XP

Windows XP sports a revamped, streamlined user interface that includes a redesigned Start menu and Control Panel, as well as many visual enhancements. If you’re familiar with earlier versions of Windows, these are the aspects of Windows XP that you might find most notable.


Cleaner desktop. The default desktop (Figure i.1) is austere, with only one icon: Recycle Bin. You can add any other icons that you find useful or run the Desktop Cleanup Wizard to remove icons that you rarely use.

Figure i.1. The XP desktop and Start menu.

Redesigned Start menu. The new Start menu (Figure i.2) has two columns: programs on the left, and features such as Help and Support, My Documents, and Control Panel on the right. You can let it manage itself or customize it to your liking.

Figure i.2. The new Start menu centralizes command and control in two columns, not one.

Uncluttered taskbar. The Windows XP taskbar is dynamic. If buttons for open programs overflow the space, it redistributes them to hidden rows, which can be scrolled. If you have several documents open in the same program, button grouping lets you control all the documents with one button. Icons in the notification area (which used to be called the system tray and got awfully crowded) duck out of sight if you haven’t used them recently.

Simplified theme selection. You can customize Windows XP’s look by using themes—style-coordinated groups of controls and backgrounds. As before, you can change individual elements, such as colors, and save the edited theme under a new name.

Categorized Control Panel. Control Panel presents a new Category view (Figure i.3) that groups control applets by what they do. This view reduces clutter but makes you click through an extra layer to get where you’re going. Veterans can choose Classic view to display all the applets individually.

Figure i.3. Control Panel’s new Category view groups items by function.

Visual effects. Windows XP’s graphical user interface adds animation, shadows, fades, slides, translucence, and other effects. You can turn these effects off if they distract you or make an older computer too slow.

Relive the past. Windows XP has vivid, softened 3D icons, windows, buttons, and colors, but you can restore the flat-faced, square-cornered look of Windows 2000/98/Me (Figure i.4).

Figure i.4. Feeling nostalgic? Revert to the classic Windows interface.

Files and folders

Windows XP lets you work with your files and folders more efficiently and makes it easier to organize your stuff—with a little practice.

Task pane. The new task pane (Figure i.5) provides shortcuts to related folders and locations; lets you perform common tasks easily; and displays details about the selection.

Figure i.5. The new task pane provides links that are relevant to the selection or current folder’s contents.

Compressed folders. Windows XP has built-in support for compressing folders in Zip and other formats, conserving disk space. Windows Explorer displays the contents of zipped folders just as it does normal folders.

Offline files. You can store copies of your network files on your laptop’s local disk and continue to work with them when you’re disconnected from the network.

Digital media

Music, photos, and movies. A greatly improved Windows Media Player (Figure i.6) plays CDs and DVDs, copies files to portable music players, receives Internet radio, and helps you organize media files (see Chapter 10). The Scanner and Camera Wizard links your scanner or digital camera to your PC and its hard drive. Windows Movie Maker lets you transfer and edit recorded video from your analog camcorder or digital video camera.

Figure i.6. The new Windows Media Player plays and manages your digital music.

CD burning. Windows Explorer and Windows Media Player now include the seamless capability to compile and create (burn) recordable CDs.

Internet and communications

Web and mail. The newest versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express are beefed up, with more attention to privacy and security.

Internet management. Windows XP’s Internet Connection Firewall establishes a barrier between your machine or network and the outside world, with no need for third-party software. If you’ve set up a home or small-office network, you can use Internet Connection Sharing to let all the computers in that network share one connection.

Windows Messenger. Use Windows Messenger (Figure i.7) to see who’s online, chat with instant messages, play games, send and receive files, and eat time like popcorn. See Chapter 15.

Figure i.7. Windows Messenger lets you chat online.


Protected memory. Windows XP prevents poorly written programs from invading or overwriting memory. An errant program may crash, but it won’t bring down other programs or freeze your computer, as Windows 95/98/Me routinely would.

Windows File Protection. Windows File Protection keeps crucial system files safe from being overwritten by outdated or unstable versions. This feature is familiar to users of Windows 2000/NT but a vast improvement over the internal recklessness of 95/98/Me.

System Restore. System Restore (Figure i.8) records the state of your system both periodically and when you make changes such as installing programs or changing device drivers. If a change causes a severe system problem (such as inability to boot your computer), you can roll back to a previous state without losing your personal data. The Windows 2000 version of this feature, called Last Known Good, was hard to use correctly; System Restore is easier.

Figure i.8. System Restore restores your computer to a previous state without losing your personal files.

Networking and user accounts

Automated network configuration. Windows XP makes it easy—much easier than in previous versions—to set up your own network or join an existing one. The Network Setup Wizard walks you through a series of steps that automates the configuration of your Internet connection and local network settings. See Chapter 17.

Welcome screen. The Welcome screen lists the account of each authorized user. Each user can click his or her name, enter a password, and start a session with a personalized desktop and access to private files.

Fast User Switching. You can switch to another user account without actually logging off yourself—to, say, let someone check email—and then get back on quickly.

Security features. Windows XP is a secure multiuser OS. Password-protected user accounts and file and folder permissions let you share your computer while you protect your personal files and prevent unwelcome software installation or virus infection. (And you can’t bypass logging on by pressing Esc, the way you could in Windows 9x.).

Remote Desktop. Use your home computer to control your office computer (or vice versa) over a network or the Internet. You can control the remote computer as though you were sitting at it (Figure i.9). See Chapter 18.

Figure i.9. Remote Desktop lets you control your computer from another computer.

Forgotten-password recovery. Use the Forgotten Password Wizard to recover (or change) a forgotten password and create a password reset disk. See “Setting up User Accounts” in Chapter 16.

Installation and update

Several new features make Windows XP easier to install and keep up to date, but some of them bind your computer more closely to Microsoft.

Product activation. Windows XP includes an invasive copy-protection scheme that prevents you from installing one copy of the OS on more than one machine at a time (Figure i.10). Bulk-purchased corporate copies of Windows XP are exempt from activation, and many new PCs come with a preactivated copy. See “Activating Windows XP” in Appendix A.

Figure i.10. Windows product activation is a controversial new “feature” designed to enforce Microsoft’s licensing policies and forestall piracy.

Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. This wizard moves selected files and personal settings from your old PC to your new one, to streamline the process of configuring the new one. See “Transferring Existing Files and Settings” in Appendix A.

Device-driver library. The vast collection of drivers built into Windows XP increases the chance that a new Plug and Play device—say, a printer, scanner, or camera—will work out of the box.

Automatic updating. Windows Update uses your Internet connection periodically to deliver and install the latest Windows XP bug fixes, device drivers, and enhancements that are stored on Microsoft’s Web site. You have some control over this process. See “Updating Windows XP” in Chapter 19.

Uninstall Windows XP. If you decide to scrap Windows XP after installation, you can revert to your previous Windows 98/Me installation. You can’t roll back to a Windows NT/2000 installation, however. See “Uninstalling Windows XP” in Appendix A.

No more DOS. Windows XP, unlike Windows 95/98/Me, isn’t stacked on top of rickety DOS. You can’t boot into DOS directly, even by using a DOS boot floppy.

Help and support

Windows XP offers more help—and more types of help—than its predecessors. You can use the expanded help system to search the help files stored on your disk or use it as a gateway to find help online.

Help and Support Center. Use online tutorials, tours, and troubleshooting guides to learn about Windows XP (Figure i.11). Use your Internet connection to search Microsoft’s support Web site or participate in Windows newsgroups.

Figure i.11. Help and Support Center is a comprehensive source of local and online information about Windows XP.

Remote Assistance. Get live help from a friend or colleague who can view your screen or even take control of your computer (Figure i.12).

Figure i.12. Remote Assistance lets you invite someone you trust to view your screen or even work on your computer.

If You’re Upgrading to Windows XP

If you’re jumping to Windows XP from Windows 98/Me, the improvement you’ll probably appreciate most is increased stability; the dreaded blue screens will be few and far between. There’s more to like about Windows XP than simply crashing less often, however. To Windows 2000 users, Windows XP will appear to be only an incremental upgrade, but you’ll still find plenty of new stuff.

As usual with Windows, the version upgrade is significantly less expensive than the full version. Therefore, it pays to know which versions of Windows entitle you to the upgrade (Table i.2).

You may not upgrade to XP from Windows 95 (see sidebar), Windows 3.1, Windows NT 3.51, any evaluation version, or any server version. If you want to upgrade from a server version, Microsoft says, you should be looking into Windows 2003 Server.

Table i.2. Upgrading from Earlier Windows Versions
Windows 98/Windows 98 SE
Windows Me
Windows NT Workstation 4.0
Windows 2000 Professional
Windows XP Home Edition 
Windows XP Professional 

A Note on Windows 95

Much as you might like to upgrade from Windows 95 to Windows XP, it’s rarely realistic to do so. First of all, Microsoft says you’re not eligible for the upgrade.

More to the point, the recommended system requirements for Windows XP are a 300 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, and 1.5 GB of disk space. Does your Windows 95 box—which probably was built in the spring of 1998 at the latest—have that to spare? Doubtful.

If you must upgrade from Windows 95 to Windows XP, you can do it by applying the upgrade to 98 or Me first and then applying the XP upgrade to that. Are you sure that you wouldn’t just like to get a new computer?

If You’re Switching Over from a Macintosh

If you’re a Mac user moving to Windows, don’t worry—the disorientation won’t last long. Many of the differences between Windows and Mac OS are superficial. To get started, look at Table i.3 for a list of some analogous features between Mac OS 8/9 and Windows XP, based on the most common “Where is it?” questions from people who’ve made the switch. Some features aren’t completely equivalent but are XP’s closest approximations.

Table i.3. Switching from Mac OS 8/9?
Apple menuStart menu
Application menuTaskbar (or Alt+Tab)
Chooser (Network)Start > My Computer > My Network Places
Chooser (Printers)Start > Control Panel > Printers and Faxes
Command keyCtrl key (usually)
Control PanelStart > Control Panel
Drive (HD) iconsStart > My Computer
Eject DiskPushbutton on drive
FindStart > Search
FinderDesktop/Windows Explorer
FoldersFolders or directories
Force Quit (Command+Option+Esc)Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del)
Get InfoRight-click icon > Properties
Key CapsCharacter Map
One-button mouseTwo-button mouse (left button for normal clicks, right button for a shortcut menu)
Option keyAlt key (usually)
Quit (Command+Q)File > Exit (Alt+F4)
RestartStart > Turn Off Computer
SherlockStart > Search
Shut DownStart > Turn Off Computer
SimpleTextNotepad (or WordPad)
TrashRecycle Bin

About This Book

I hope you’ll find this book useful if you’re new to Windows, if you’re upgrading to XP from a previous version of Windows, or if you like having a quick reference at hand. It’s meant primarily for beginning and intermediate users of Windows XP and gives abundant introductory information for those who are purchasing XP along with their first computers. Veteran Windows users can look up specific tasks quickly and will find plenty of tricks, shortcuts, and secret lore. Wherever possible, I give step-by-step instructions for using Windows XP features and programs.

If you’re new to Windows, start with Chapters 1 and 2 to learn the basics of logging on, looking around, and making it work. (Upgraders will find useful information here too.) After that, I cover the material task by task, with plenty of screen shots.


  • Many of the tasks in this book require that you have an Administrator user account. If you’re the only user, or if you installed Windows or maintain it, you’re an administrator. Otherwise, see “Setting up User Accounts” in Chapter 16.

Conventions used in this book

Taking actions. I use a concise symbolic method to describe how to open a particular folder, program, or icon, rather than list the steps separately. Here’s an example sequence for opening a nested folder:

  • Choose Start > My Computer > Local Disk (C:) > Documents and Settings > All Users.

This step means: Click the Start menu (on the taskbar, in the bottom-left corner of the desktop); then click My Computer. Inside the window titled My Computer, double-click the icon labeled Local Disk (C:) to open it. Inside that window, double-click the icon Documents and Settings to open it. Inside that window, double-click the icon All Users to open it.

Each shorthand element (between the > symbols) refers to an icon, window, menu, button, dialog box, or some other user-interface component; just look for the component whose label matches the element name. Whenever a particular step is unclear or ambiguous, I spell it out rather than use shorthand.

Here’s an example sequence for launching a program:

  • Choose Start > Programs > Accessories > Notepad.

Using keys. Windows makes heavy use of the so-called modifier keys, which occupy the bottom corners of the keyboard’s main section. These keys, Shift, Ctrl (Control), and Alt (Alternate), can be pressed together with other keys to modify the signal that they send to the computer. The C key pressed by itself produces a lowercase c; pressed along with the Shift key, it produces an uppercase C; and pressed along with the Ctrl key, it produces the Windows Copy command.

When I join a modifier to a key with a plus sign, as in Ctrl+C, it means “push down the Ctrl key, hold it down while you push down the C key, and then release both keys.”

Windows has a few three-key combinations, such as Ctrl+Alt+Esc and Alt+Shift+Tab. In these cases, hold down the first two keys while you press the third one; then release all three. The modifiers are always listed before the key that performs the action.

The newer Windows logo key, between the Ctrl and Alt keys on some keyboards, pulls up the Start menu when used by itself; but it can also be used as a modifier, so that, for example, Windows logo key+D minimizes all running programs. When I give a Windows-logo-key shortcut, I usually add “(if your keyboard supports it),” because not all keyboards have such keys.

Corrections and comments

I welcome email to fehily@pacbell.net with questions, suggestions, corrections, and gripes related to this book.

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