The vast majority of programs tested work on XP even if they were written for much earlier versions of Windows or even MS-DOS. There are, however, programs that won't run properly or at all. Games are especially vulnerable, as are utility and anti-virus programs and CD-burning software, including Roxio's popular Easy CD Creator. If you have a program you just can't live without, you should check with the software vendor first to see whether the software will work or whether an update is available. Roxio is expected to have a free upgrade for CD Creator 5 on its Web site.
Windows XP handles digital cameras well. Nikon's tech support department warned me the photo transfer software that came with my new digital camera wouldn't work with XP. But I plugged the camera into the Universal Serial Bus port anyway, and instead of asking for drivers, XP automatically identified the camera and launched the Scanner and Camera Wizard, which guided me through the process of copying the pictures from the camera to the hard disk. No software and no hassles.
XP's file system also knows how to handle photos and music files. The My Pictures folder lets you preview and rotate images from within the operating system without having to load any software. The "My Music" folder doesn't just store the files but also lets you play them in Windows Media Player or, if you have a CD burner, copy them to an audio CD that can be played on any CD player.
Microsoft has made a big deal of its new user interface, which features a larger and more useful Start menu, less reliance on the desktop and a cleaner look that hides some of the operating system's complexities.
The Control Panel, for example, is now organized by category so it makes more sense to the uninitiated. Click on the C: drive in My Computers and instead of seeing your folders and files, you get the message "These files are hidden. This folder contains files that keep your system working properly. You should not modify its contents."
That may be good advice for some, but old PC hands will miss the ability to see and modify all their files and folders. Fortunately, there is a button that lets you "Show all the contents of this drive," which causes Windows to display files just like it did in the good old days.
The Control Panel also offers the option to "Switch to classic view." I really like the new Start menu, but if you're nostalgic for the old Windows look and feel, you can opt to use a "classic" start menu.
Windows XP allows multiple users per machine, each with his or her own Start menu, desktop and My Documents, My Pictures and My Music folders, which eliminates users accidentally writing over or accessing each other's files. Each person has his or her own Internet Explorer home page and favorites.
Parents can remove icons to programs they don't want their kids using. Unlike other versions of Windows, a new person can log on to the PC without the previous user logging off or even closing his or her programs.
I strongly recommend, however, that you save any files before leaving the PC.
Networking can be a nightmare with Windows 95, 98 and especially Windows Me, but it's a breeze with XP.