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<A Look at Windows XP Service Pack 3 - Part 1: Good Enough? ⁄ >

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Rather than write a traditional review of Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), I thought this might be an opportune time to reevaluate XP's standing in the Windows world. After all, virtually every technology pundit on earth has described Windows Vista as operating system non grata, an upgrade to be avoided at all costs. Over at the tabloid-o-rific InfoWorld, a "Save XP" petition has garnered 100,000 signatures: Sure, that pales next to the 120+ million people that are using Windows Vista at this time, but what the heck. There must be something to this. Is XP really good enough to warrant saving?

To find out, I did a clean install of Windows XP with a near-final version of Service Pack 3, the final XP service pack. I then installed a number of applications and technologies from Microsoft that bring XP roughly up to speed with Windows Vista, including Internet Explorer 7, the various Windows Live suite tools, Windows Defender, Windows Media Player 11, and Office 2007. And then I installed my stock group of preferred applications on the system, including AVG Free Antivirus, Apple iTunes, Firefox 3 Beta, Adobe PhotoShop Elements, WinRAR, and several others.

And you know what? I get it. I get why all those people are freaking out over the impending end of the mainstream availability of Windows XP, why so many are clamoring for Microsoft to give its previous generation OS another chance. And it has nothing to do with any faults in Vista, real or imagined. (Mostly imagined, actually.) No, it has everything to do with human nature. We're creatures of habit, you and I. And even the most forward-looking of us, those who enjoy living on the edge, technology-wise, have a very natural need to be in the comfort zone sometimes. And XP is just that, comfortable, like that ratty old sweatshirt that we should have thrown out years ago but just can't bear to replace.

Don't get me wrong, though: It's not like anything's broken here. Windows XP has plenty of life left in it. This system will run on far less demanding hardware, comfortably, than any version of Windows Vista, and that alone means this system will be around for years to come. (Not surprisingly, XP also provides better performance in virtual machines as well.) After all, PCs last a lot longer than they used to, and while Microsoft and Intel wrestle with the fact that Moore's Law is succumbing to the current generation of under-utilized multi-processor CPUs, everyday users are noticing that they can get a lot more out of yesterday's software than was possible a decade ago during the Megahertz wars. This is big news for the industry, and for the billions of people who use PCs every day.

No, clinging to Windows XP is entirely understandable. I typically advise against upgrading to Vista on current, XP-based hardware. After all, not only will XP likely run more quickly on your existing hardware, but you'll probably also experience better compatibility, both with software and hardware devices. The old maxim is as true as ever: Unless you're an expert, you should simply adopt the latest Windows version when you purchase a new PC. This discussion begs a new type of question, however: Should you opt for XP over Vista on a new PC? (Though to be fair that question will become academic this summer when XP is no longer available in this fashion.)

My answer to this question is no, you shouldn't. Instead, you should choose Windows Vista, for the many reasons I've outlined in my Windows Vista review (check out the final part of that review for a quick list of reasons why I think Vista is a big deal and a huge improvement over XP.)

But that's not what this article is about. No, this is about those of you who have elected, bravely, foolishly, or otherwise, to stick with XP. So let's take a look, a last look at Windows XP, at least on this site, which is, after all, dedicated to the future of Windows, and not the past. But I think it's OK to take a step back and see whether what's old can be new again. After all, that's what Windows XP Service Pack 3 is all about.

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