XP: Not Too Xciting

Microsoft is a software maker to the bone. It doesn’t have a service
mentality. So it sometimes overlooks practical considerations, such as the fact
that most people still take photos with old-fashioned cameras, not digital ones.
And that helps explain why the Internet features that will come packaged next
month with Microsoft’s Windows XP will be a good addition to Web surfing, but
not a transformative one.

Part of the buzz about XP has been that it improves the integration of an
operating system with on-line services, such as personal Web-page publishing and
photo services, and makes it easier to build home networks that tap everybody in
your house into the Net. A few of these services, especially Microsoft’s
integration of XP with the personal home-page publishing section of the MSN
portal, are easy to use and versatile. But most are only modest improvements, at
best, over what’s already out there.

A Mixed Bag
from Microsoft
Windows XP sure looks
nice. And it crashes less often than the Windows Me it replaces. But its
Web features are just average
  • Photos: XP offers access to selected
    photo finishers. But those services offer only reprints of digital
    shots, not conventional film processing
  • Personal Publishing: Integration
    among XP and Microsoft’s MSN Communities lets you build home pages
    easily. XP could help MSN compete with Yahoo!’s GeoCities community
  • Home Networking: XP lets you make one
    PC in your home the hub of a network. That lets you share Net access,
    which saves bucks. But you may need a pro to set up XP’s home

First, let’s talk about the good stuff. My favorite thing about XP is how
easy it makes building a Web page on its MSN portal that combines text,
pictures, and music. Microsoft has simplified it to a five-step process easily
accessible from the start page, similar to the click-here programs we all know
from installing new software.

Microsoft’s Passport personal-information manager existed before XP, but,
like the company’s browser and media-player applications, which can both be
downloaded separately, it has now been built into the heart of the operating
system. Passport is a minor timesaver. You type in your personal data. Then, on
the Net, you sign in once and don’t have to remember a password for each
website. And, if you chose to add credit-card and mailing information, you can
buy items on participating websites without retyping all of that.

But this level of convenience is an exception. Take XP’s online photo
service. The new system contains direct links to two different on-line
photo-service providers–Eastman Kodak and Fuji Photo Film. Both links only let
you upload your digital photos to the Web, edit them, and order prints. Neither
handles traditional film processing. Since most consumers still use film cameras
rather than digital, that’s a major omission. Microsoft should offer services
that provide traditional film developing before XP ships in October–something
the company says it’s considering.

Microsoft also comes up short when it tries to simplify home networking. It
has built a perfectly decent wizard–again, good software–to guide folks
through the process of connecting PCs in their homes so they can share a single
Internet connection. The problem? You’re faced with a 12-step set of
instructions that calls for mapping out a network and identifying what hubs,
modems, and adapters you need to connect the PCs. My advice: Hire a pro.
Microsoft could help by creating an on-line directory of local outfits that can
install the networks.

When it comes to downloading music off the Web, Windows XP doesn’t do much.
Its My Music feature takes you to the extremely limited music-download offerings
of WindowsMedia.com.

There’s a lot to like about XP. It doesn’t crash very often, for
instance. But until Microsoft learns how to deliver rich Web services to
consumers, its operating system will continue to be less than it could be.

By Timothy J
in BusinessWeek. Copyright 2001 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc

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