The Revolution That Was Windows XP

Microsoft merged Windows 98 and Windows 2000 to create a platform that would outlast all others

The revolution that was Windows XP

It's hard to believe that Windows XP debuted nearly 13 years ago, six months after the very first version of Mac OS X. Both were reboots of established OSes, but unlike the long-dead OS X 10.0, Windows XP is still widely used today, powering easily a third of PCs.

Although it had a rough start due to compatibility woes, XP soon became the Windows that both individuals and enterprises could rely on. It took Windows 95's Mac-inspired graphical interface, married it to a professional-grade core (Windows NT 5.0, aka Windows 2000), and got rid of the DOS foundation.

Let's celebrate Windows XP's innovations as it is officially retired!

Revisit Windows XP's storied history in InfoWorld's special report.

Bye-bye, DOS

Windows 3 through Windows Me all ran the Windows environments on top of DOS, a rickety approach at best. Windows NT changed that, but it was aimed at server admins, not regular Joes. Windows 2000 took NT and made it more accessible to the average user, but its limited compatibility kept it a niche OS.

It was XP that once and for all ended DOS, delivering a unified Windows OS that provided access to DOS-like functions as a crutch for old-school users through its Command Prompt application.

Hello, multiple users

Today, all popular operating systems except iOS and the phone version of Android support multiple user accounts, but in 2001, that notion was a rarity.

But servers require separate admin privileges from user/process privileges to ensure security, and XP took this NT server notion and reinvented it for both family and office contexts, offering multiple user accounts, each of which could be configured with its own privilege level.

Your password, please

Also taken from Windows RT, Windows XP introduced -- hard to believe today, I know -- the notion of a password-protected PC to the masses. This was a key step in professionalizing the PC for use in business, as well as helping Mom or Dad keep personal files away from a prying Sally or Sam.

Make Windows XP mine

It may seem trivial today, but Windows XP introduced the concept of personalizing your desktop. Yes, you could change the desktop wallpaper in earlier versions of Mac OS and Windows, and Microsoft offered the Plus Pack for Windows 95 to select among UI-wide desktop and screen-saver themes, bBut XP let you change all sorts of attributes, such as fonts for menus and alert boxes, then save them as themes for easy reuse.

Such personalization can evoke a sneer from computing purists, but it's a critical reason why personal computers are personal, and XP furthered that personal relationship with its users.

Help remote users

When beta versions of Windows XP were circulated, InfoWorld's Chad Dickerson praised a feature that only an IT admin would appreciate out of the gate: Remote Desktop Connection.

When you deploy PCs in scale, you can't effectively support everyone in person, even in a single-office campus. You need a way to see what users see on their PCs without having to look over their shoulders, and that way was Remote Desktop Connection. It's also a favorite tool of people everywhere to troubleshoot their parents' and grandparents' home PCs.

Help open strange files

When XP debuted, the Internet was fairly new. So at the time, it was a brilliant idea to do what today seems like a duh: Look for a compatible application or service when a user tries to open an unknown file type.

Manage my computer

Windows has a long history of catering to newbies, techies, and everyone in between. You can get really deep into the bowels if you want, or you can just skim the surface. One way XP supported those who wanted to manage as much of the Windows OS as possible was through the Computer Management console, accessed by right-clicking the My Computer icon and choosing Manage.

Restore my computer

Virus infections, corrupted system files, a messed-up registry -- malicious and accidental changes to Windows applications and files can render your PC unstable or lacking key resources. The System Restore feature in Windows XP was a novel approach to addressing that problem in a personal computer: It makes snapshots of the system state that you can roll back to in hopes of returning to a fully operational state. Combined with XP's Backup utility, System Restore can really save the day.

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