I (grudgingly) actually like WinXP. It's stable and, once you've turned off the desktop bells and whistles, it's fast. Memory management is better than in Win2K, so while WinXP needs more RAM, it makes better use of it and your experience will be much slicker. Don't even think of running it with less than 128MB of RAM. 256 is better, 512 ideal. On the downside, it's not 100% backwards compatible with older Windows software. I've had several applications designed for Win95 and Win98 fail to start with "Not a valid Win32 executable" errors. And WinXP has to be viewed in the context of its competitors. There are much better products out there for a lot less money. Try SuSE Linux 7.3 (available on Amazon); for £35 you get a flawless install procedure (I had a few problems with WinXP, none at all with SuSE on four different machines), many more features (3CD's worth, giving you the equivelant of WinXP + OfficeXP + Plus!) and a desktop (KDE) that WinXP actually "borrowed" its best features from. Plus, SuSE doesn't mind (legally or technically) if you install it on multiple machines, there's none of the product activation spyware or the danger that it will simply stop working one day because you have (or it thinks you have) upgraded too many bits of hardware, or some software pirate has been registering pirate editions using your serial number. If you want to upgrade from Win98 or WinME, WinXP is a great choice - but only if you're absolutely dedicated to Microsoft. There are better operating systems out there. And consider that Linux systems will happily install side by side with an existing Microsoft OS and give you the choice to use either.
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