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Windows XP: Scum Class

October 25th, 2020 at 2:10 AM by Kugee
Category: Tech/Software

Windows XP in its natural habitat: cheap Dell hardware, cable mess, paint can, ventilation issues, unfunny Microsoft Sam memes, MSN connectivity failure

Shit, we're getting back to this again? Yep, it's everyone's favorite Windows XP... a mindlessly glorified operating system that is really just an ugly repackaging of Windows 2000 and Windows ME, the latter which is hypocritically bashed for introducing many of the same features which are conveniently ignored in the endless praise of the almighty "new" Windows with a logo that aims to address the trypophobia of some users.

Objectively speaking, Windows XP was a step up in reliability over Windows 9x, being the first NT-based release to outright replace that lineup. I've rarely encountered crashes for all the time I've used it, and, as was the case for many others, its improved built-in video editor was my entry point into the field since I started making stuff with it in 2005. But that's where I draw the line. This operating system sucks, hands down. Anyone trying to convince me otherwise probably falls into at least one of the following criteria:

  • They started with Service Pack 2 or later.
  • They've never used anything prior to Windows XP.
  • They never figured out how to properly configure Windows 9x, hence they claim that it's so crash-happy.
First screen of Activate Windows XP

First and foremost, the thing that really kills it for me is the forced online activation. One would think DRM is a necessary evil to combat piracy, but it's really just a scummy tactic that makes it harder for all of us to extend the longevity of the software we paid for. That's the point, isn't it? We're about 12-13 years late, but online activation services for Windows XP no longer work, even on SP3! Dude, just get Windows 10, it new and cool. Yeah! Wow! Amazing! Activation hassles are the reason why I ultimately stopped bothering with Windows XP on everything except a virtual machine I keep handy.

Of course, when you install Windows XP for the first time, you're treated to an all new window decoration style that gives eerie vibes of a third-party program that desparately wants to look fancy and important. This design was ugly then, and it's ugly now. You can switch to the classic design, but it'll still clash with the new style icons everywhere. I guarantee you, I used the classic theme quite often in much of my usage of Windows XP. The grey 3D objects look much more elegant, and I knew this from prior experience with Windows 98.

I think it's worth pointing out how Windows XP was released in two editions: Professional, which I'm using here, and the Home Edition. Earlier Windows NT releases always had several editions, one being more gimped than another. I imagine you could be using Windows NT Server to play 3dfx Glide games if you really wanted to. While the Workstation counterpart has some technical gimpings like a cap of two CPUs in SMP, that's usually enough for most high end x86 workstations.

But the home version of Windows XP is quite pathetic in comparison to its professional counterpart. It arbitrarily removes yet more things like dual CPU support (multi-core CPUs are not affected in later service packs), the Group Policy editor, Remote Desktop, and a backup utility that works with tape drives. Were these really too much to ask for? Did Microsoft not trust any regular user to have such advanced administration tools available when the Registry Editor happens to be even more dangerous? Hell, Windows ME kept domain logons, so why can't XP Home have that? This is what set the precedent for yet more pointless limitations in future releases of Windows.

The other thing, too, Windows XP is bloated as shit, so much so that it saps away application performance on older systems as proven in Arowana. For this article, I've been using a dual Pentium II Xeon build with 896MB of RAM and an Ultra160 SCSI hard drive. I guess it runs okay; the dual CPU action and beefy cache certainly provide a substantial improvement over a normal 450MHz Pentium II. It's still not something I'd want, though. Take a look at what happened to GLQuake, something that ran just fine under Windows 95...

GLQuake with teal tint, stuck at console

It won't even get past the console, and I have to blindly quit out of the program. That's yet another problem with Windows XP; it broke compatibility with so many programs. I know there was this webcam software I used to use so frequently in 2002, and when we upgraded to Windows XP, the program always crashed on startup. Notepad also started launching in 16 color mode for some reason. Supposedly its compatibility with Windows 9x and DOS software was meant to be improved over Windows NT/2000, but it didn't do all that many favors in practice.

Service Pack 1 task manager showing 69.9 MB of RAM used, Service Pack 2 showing 148 MB used

I want you to take a look at the difference in memory consumption between Service Pack 1 and Service Pack 2... see anything wrong here? Turns out installing a service pack is no longer just about getting a convenient rollup of updates for your system. Now it ends up taking so many more system resources, and if Service Pack 2 means a more secure operating system compared to the obscenely vulnerable RTM and SP1 releases, it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of scenario. You also get regular nagging to keep your system protected even when you know you don't want all these constant balloons popping up. I suppose it's not much different from how MSN Messenger forcibly loaded itself in the RTM version of Windows XP.

Slowly but surely, toggling optional components to help manage disk space are becoming a thing of the past, to a point where they eventually become bastardized into things that can be enabled or disabled rather than installed or uninstalled. Windows 98 already had placebo components that literally did nothing but remove or add Start menu links, and it's only gotten worse here. Speaking of Windows 98, people tell me it's so much better than Windows 95, but that's not true, either. Windows 98 may have been the very first operating system I ever used, but Windows 95 is so much cleaner and doesn't have the unnecessary strain Windows 98's IE shell causes.

Even in homes where OS instability could be considered slightly more tolerable, the necessity for a true 32-bit operating system in such environments continued to grow as computers became much faster. But when that has to come with a bunch of nonsense like disgusting pastel designs, extreme bloatware, disastrous security flaws, digital rights management, and locked out features... it's probably not worth having a more robust kernel. Better to stick to Windows 95, or NT 4.0 if you insist on having something absolutely stable.