If Microsoft were a major league pitcher, its favorite pitch would be the curve.
The computer press has been full of this glitch and that bug since Microsoft released Windows XP late last October. So finally buying a review copy of XP upgrade would qualify as a nice, easy home run for the weekly duty in the columist's batter box. Just chronicle the inevitable installation and operating difficulties and throw a few insults toward Redmond, Wash.
Which is what we would be doing now, except for a tiny problem. Windows XP Home installed and works flawlessly. The upgrade from Windows ME installed itself in a little less than an hour, including time to download the latest setup fixes from the Microsoft mother ship.
Setup produced an ominous four-page list of hardware and software that might not function under XP, but examination showed all of them to be stuff no longer present that hadn't been properly uninstalled.
And my desktop looked pretty much as it did under Windows ME, except the task bar was now in various shades of bright blue and the "start" button was bright green. It's not until you start moving around that you see what you're getting for your $99.99 upgrade.
The first thing you'll notice is speed. Applications start faster and run faster. While this wasn't timed with a stopwatch, Lotus Notes seemed to start up in about a third of the time it took under ME.
The second thing is a sense of design and color. Under XP, the X in the upper right corner of an open window is about twice as large as before and colored red, making it easy to find.
All the various controls that you are familiar with from Windows 98 or ME are there, but they have new and nice graphic design and they function faster. And there's a sense of style and whimsey. In the search function, for example, the prompts and progress reports come in a cartoon balloon from a tail-wagging puppy.
One of the most-common-problem reports in the early going on Windows XP was downward compatibility with older software. Those undoubtedly exist, but a couple of home-brew Quick Basic .exe programs from the days of MS-DOS 5.0 ran just fine, thanks.
So far, the claim of greater stability seems to be holding up. No blue screen of death, or whines that a piece of software caused a fault and is being shut down.
Yes, the software insists on being authenticated within 30 days of installation, meaning Microsoft will catch you if you try to install it on more than one machine. That's an irritation for those of us with machines at both home and office, but the improvement so far is so great, that's it's tempting to shell out another $100 just to upgrade the home machine.
Much is made of the multimedia capabilities of XP, and they are appropriately nifty, but most of us, especially the grown-ups, don't spend much time fooling about with video or MP3 collections.
System requirements: For the upgrade, you must be running any flavor of Windows 98 or ME. A PC with at least a 300-megahertz processor and 128 megabytes of RAM are recommended, and figure on at least 1.6 gigabytes of hard disk space.
Bottom line: Windows XP might have been a hellion to others, but so far, the honeymoon's been great.
On the Web: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp.
Questions and comments are welcome. Send them to Larry Blasko, AP, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-1666. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.