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Introduction

Introduction

For years, the evolution of Microsoft Windows ran along two different tracks. First, there were the home versions: Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me. These were the Windows for everyday individuals. They were compatible with just about everything on earth, including games of every description—but where stability was concerned, they weren't what you'd call Rocks of Gibraltar.

Second, there were the corporate versions of Windows: Windows NT and Windows 2000. These versions of Windows rarely froze or crashed, and they featured industrial-strength security. However, they weren't anywhere near as compatible as the home versions of Windows. If you tried to run the Barney the Dinosaur CD-ROM at work, for example, you were out of luck (if not out of a job).

This schizophrenic approach to the evolution of Windows entailed its share of draw-backs. It meant twice as much engineering effort for Microsoft, twice as much tech-support knowledge by computer companies, and twice as much work for software companies, which had to ensure compatibility with both systems. It wasn't even so great for you, the PC fan, because you had to worry about compatibility with each piece of software you bought. And it was entirely possible to be confused when sitting down in front of a PC running a different version of Windows.

The goal of Windows XP was simple: Combine the two versions of Windows into a single new operating system that offers the best features of both.

For the most part, Microsoft succeeded. Ending the era of dual operating systems offers both you and Microsoft huge simplicity benefits—now there's only one operating system to learn, discuss, and troubleshoot. It also offers a big payoff to hardware and software manufacturers, who now have to ensure compatibility with only one operating system.

If you're used to one of the home versions, you may be surprised by some of the resulting changes; under the colorful, three-dimensional new skin of Windows XP Home lurks Windows 2000, which includes some of its beefy security features. This book will help you get through them.

If you're used to the corporate versions of Windows, however, the only things to get used to is XP's greater compatibility with a wide range of hardware and software—and the new look of Windows (which you can turn off if you like).

Either way, you've entered a new age: the unified Windows era. Now you, Microsoft, and software companies can get used to the notion that everybody is using the same Windows. (There are still two different editions—a Home and a Professional edition of Windows XP—but they're not really two different operating systems, as noted in Home Edition vs. Professional Edition.)

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