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The next time you walk into a computer store, look around. See where the crowds are? Good. Now look for emptiest aisle in the store. That’s it: the one with the operating system software.
Normally you don’t think much about your personal computer’s operating system (OS). Most of the time it sits quietly in the background acting as a data-traffic cop and providing needed services, such as printer support for a word-processing program or audio support for a game. The more efficient your computer’s OS, the better your applications run.
This has been a busy year for OS upgrades. Microsoft Corp. (www .microsoft.com) unveiled Windows XP (at press time, only a Beta version was available) and Apple Computer Inc. (www.apple.com) made key changes to its Mac OS X. Linux, a family of operating systems founded in 1991 by software visionary Linus Torvalds, rarely makes it through a week without a new version.
Should you care about all of this OS activity? The answer is yes, since a new OS can vastly improve the way your computer works. Aside from the “X” in their names, the common thread running through the latest versions of operating systems is a new focus on audio and video features.
Microsoft’s Windows XP continues Microsoft’s drive to integrate more multimedia features inside the OS instead of relying on outside applications. Windows XP has a cleaner desktop, a more colorful interface, and more multimedia features than its predecessors.
For example, if you fill a folder with photos, Windows XP switches to a preview mode so you can view thumbnails without having to open each image. You can even order prints of digital images through Window XP’s Online Print Ordering Wizard.
Windows XP also has its own firewall to block hackers from damaging your PC as well as new versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Windows Media Player. In addition, the OS automatically recognizes digital cameras, scanners, printers, and other USB devices.
Windows XP will be available in two retail versions: Home Edition ($199 for the full version, $99 for the upgrade) and Professional ($299, full version, $199, upgrade), which includes the features of the Home Edition plus additional security and remote access features. Your PC will need 1.5 gigabytes of open hard disk space and 128 megabytes of RAM are recommended to load and run Windows XP.
APPLE’S OS X version 10.1
With its “Aqua” user interface, Apple’s Mac OS X version 10.1 features a cleaner, more colorful interface, and includes some glitzy multimedia features. For example, click on the thumbnail of a photo file in Mac OS X, and the photo seems to explode from the icon onto the screen. If you want to put a file aside for a moment, you can drag it to the Dock, a toolbar that provides quick access to often-used files and applications. The Dock has been improved in version 10.1, so that you can position it at the bottom, right, or left side of the screen.
The Macintosh platform has long been preferred over Windows