Microsoft Windows XP was the first version of the operating system that prioritised the needs of casual computer users. It was also the first Windows version to implement product activation in order to curb piracy.
In addition, for higher end computing environments a 64-bit edition was created to take advantage of the additional capabilities and computing power of processors that support 64 bit processing.
A graphical emphasis in Windows XP — codenamed Whistler after the British Columbia ski resort where Microsoft employees took vacations — is apparent from the start with the full-screen log on and revised Start menu. Application windows have a more sculpted look and the task bar is updated with new features, including the ability to “skin” it, allowing for radically different interface changes with distributable theme files. XP also includes a feature called fast user switching that lets users maintain multiple sessions on the same machine without any applications running in parallel.
Unlike previous versions of Windows, XP uses a product activation system that requires the computer or its user to be activated with Microsoft within a certain time period. This allows Microsoft to identify which version of Windows XP is installed and helps curb unauthorized distribution.
To detect which version of Windows XP is running, your program can use either GetVersionInfo or the improved GetVersionEx function, shown in Figure 1. The structure of these functions includes fields that distinguish between the Personal, Professional, and Server editions as well as the service pack level.
The vast majority of existing Windows 2000 devices should work with XP, and the operating system can run older programs in compatibility mode. New features such as the Program Compatibility Wizard and application blocking prevent problem applications from ruining a computer’s performance. Microsoft also instituted a “driver block” to prevent a defective driver from wrecking the system, and a feature that lets users offer feedback to the company about problematic drivers.
In addition to the standard XP Home and Professional editions, there is a Media Center Edition that is designed to control home entertainment systems. It requires a powerful system with a fast processor, plenty of hard drive space and the right set of peripherals. Several different versions of XP are available for other uses, including 64-bit XP Embedded and a Tablet PC Edition. For most business users, the minimum requirements for a system to run XP include a 233 megahertz processor, 64 megabytes of RAM and 1.5 gigabytes of free disk space.
Microsoft no longer releases security updates for windows xp and businesses still using it are at risk of cyber-attacks. ESET recommends upgrading your systems to a higher operating system as soon as possible.
The most serious vulnerabilities in XP revolve around a buggy protocol called CTF that hackers and malware use to exploit computers. It lets them send malicious packets that can take over high-privilege apps, the operating system itself and even a computer’s kernel, explains Gibson. Other OSes like Linux and Unix allow access to raw sockets, but they make it impossible for networks to determine whether the packets are legitimate.
Moore adds that XP’s built-in firewall lacks outbound filtering, so if it is infected with a worm that turns a machine into a DOS zombie, the attacker can’t stop the computer from sending its data to other machines. By contrast, later versions of Windows have better protections in place.
End of support
As of April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP. This means that the operating system will no longer receive security patches, making it a target for hackers. If you are using a computer running this version of the operating system, it is important to upgrade your software and hardware.
Although XP has been around for 17 years, its official lifespan was only about 7.5 years. As such, it has been in the wild for a long time and will likely have many unpatched vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.
It is important to keep in mind that even if you have an updated version of Windows, it will not necessarily protect you from these attacks. This is because most modern software requires Internet connectivity to function properly. In addition, the newer versions of Windows may not work with certain older hardware. Lastly, you may have trouble getting updates for some of your applications and drivers.