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XP IS EASIER TO USE AND NEARLY CRASHLESS

Windows XP has a host of new features -- some designed to make it harder for you to copy the new operating system.

Designed to work on one specific computer, XP requires a special code to activate after purchase. Because the code is linked to your hardware, XP may quit working after an equipment upgrade, requiring a new activation, Microsoft says.

Purists will balk at surrendering some control over their computer to Microsoft's software writers. And other features have caught the eye of antitrust cops, who are wary of Microsoft bundling more software for dealing with pictures, music and movies into its dominant operating system.

But to an average computer user, the bundled functions may well be a built-in convenience, test users of the software said.

Once-complicated operations such as copying files to a CD, downloading pictures from a digital camera or inserting video clips in an e-mail now have push-button convenience.

"Everything is literally a drag-and-drop environment -- it's pretty neat," said Rod Hensel, marketing director at Technology Distribution Networks in the Town of Tonawanda. As a Microsoft partner, the computer company has been testing XP since August in preparation for the product's launch Oct. 25.

According to test users, the biggest change is the subtraction of a notorious Windows feature -- crashes.

"Everyone who used Microsoft products knows that blue screen of death," Hensel said. With XP, "we haven't been able to crash the thing yet."

The reason for the increased stability is that the operating system has adopted the underlying code of Microsoft's business-class operating systems Windows NT and Windows 2000, replacing legacy DOS code that powered previous consumer versions of Windows.

Backward compatibility is built into XP to ensure it runs older software, according to Microsoft field marketing manager Michael L. Allen. However, Internet newsgroups have already echoed complaints that DOS-based programs face memory management conflicts. And test users say that software "drivers" that operate some peripheral equipment aren't yet available in XP-friendly versions.

Headaches have been taken out of home networking, Microsoft says, by a wizard function that helps detect network hardware and configure it correctly.

A credential manager stores your password and user-name codes -- such as for Web-based e-mail -- and supplies them when prompted, saving keystrokes.

Another feature allows remote users to actually take control of your computer via the Internet or other network connection for technical support. The user must issue a limited-time digital invitation to the remote user via e-mail.

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