I have a lot of problems with the relentless attacks on Microsoft in the media these days, but the one that’s most on my mind is the campaign to discredit Windows XP. Microsoft is rolling out a rock-solid version of Windows that runs all your programs. That seems like a good thing to me. But the press can easily find juicy quotes about a handful of alleged “issues,” and it’s apparently in the mood now to repeat them over and over and over, ad nauseam. These days anything that’s repeated often enough can turn into the accepted truth, and I’d hate to have you miss Windows XP for no good reason.

Article after article has said, yes, well, okay, so Windows XP is completely stable, runs everything, and is easy to use – BUT nobody should buy it because of the darned “Product Activation” feature. The Press Democrat printed yet another column by Dan Gillmor to that effect a couple of days ago, CNET is running a series that will reach that conclusion in a few days, and there’s lots more if you look around.

What’s this goshdarned Product Activation anyway? Windows XP has technology to enforce two requirements:

– You have to buy each copy of Windows XP you want to install.

– Once you install it, that copy of Windows XP is tied to that computer. If you change the hardware in the computer a whole lot (I mean, a whole lot), or if you want to move it to another computer (the first computer dies, for example), you have to call Microsoft and tell them. No personal information is exchanged (you give them a code number, they give you a code number back), and they won’t challenge you about it.

And that, my friends, is it. That’s all of it. Period.

Are you outraged at Microsoft’s arrogance? Frightened by this obvious evidence of Microsoft’s evil misuse of monopoly power? I’m not.

The media is getting its information from three very vocal groups in the tech community: (1) Competitors that hate Microsoft. (2) Whiz kids that swap disks freely and haven’t paid for a piece of software for years. (3) Technophiles that rebuild systems frequently, for fun or profit or testing, and are irritated by the prospect of phone calls to Microsoft that promise to be inconvenient.

I have some sympathy for the third group. I’ll occasionally be inconvenienced by the requirement myself, and I can think of ways I wish Microsoft would change it. But it’s simply nonsense to assert that it’s the defining characteristic of Windows XP and sufficient reason to avoid it. It just ain’t so.

If you’re running Windows 98 or Windows ME, you should be evaluating Windows XP, your current computer and your budget based on reality, not on scare tactics. It’s not for everybody, but make your decision based on things that are actually important to the way you use your computer for work and play, not on somebody else’s notion of a hot-button issue.

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