As a sickly PC industry girds its loins in anticipation of the biggest software launch since 1995, PC Advisor readers have been holding forth on the contentious issue of Windows XP.

While the majority of respondents to a recent PC Advisor poll indicated they wouldn't upgrade until Microsoft removed Product Activation — a technology that cuts down on the casual sharing of software by preventing it from being installed on multiple computers — it isn't all bad news for the software giant.

"I cannot praise Windows XP highly enough," says network administrator and software engineer Barry Scott, who also goes by the nickname of Taran in the PC Advisor forums.

"It is without doubt the best Microsoft product I have ever had the pleasure of using. It still won't stop me with my upgrade plans. If it stops anyone else from upgrading, they are robbing themselves of an opportunity to enjoy something hitherto never experienced in one package."

However, Barry still has a problem with the activation procedure. The process works by 'locking' the software to the configuration of a computer and the 25-character product identification number included with each version of the software.

If a user alters their PC's configuration too drastically Windows identifies the action as installation on a new computer and requires the customer to reactivate the software by reporting the changes to Microsoft.

"I have already found during testing the pre-releases in their various stages how annoying it is to dial up and activate the OS after each and every trial stage," says Barry.

"Within the boundaries of my work, I am expected to know about and understand hardware and software products and be able to train others to use them. As such I regularly change the hardware configuration of my machine(s) as well as the software environment when experimenting with new products. It becomes inconvenient to have to re-register the same product for the same machine again and again."
But his overall conclusion is unequivocal. "If your needs are simple, the upgrade may or may not be viable. For anyone serious about using their PC, XP offers more features and equal or greater stability than anything else out there. Period."
Barry Scott's views are backed by a small, but significant band of PC Advisor readers (8.2 percent) who responded to our poll saying they would be buying XP on the day of its 25 October launch.

Add that to the 17.1 percent who indicated they would be upgrading to XP over the next year and things start to look more optimistic for the software giant.

"Windows XP is streets ahead of any other MS operating system, and there's a whole bunch of new and very useful features," eulogises Datasolve IT consultant and regular PC Advisor forum contributor, Peter Thomas.

"I beta tested Windows XP right from the start, and as we went along I knew Microsoft were on to a winner — so did they, and they have spent a huge amount of time and money trying to get it right, and in my opinion they have. I predict that within 18 months it will have become the most successful OS Microsoft have ever released."

Painless activity

Product activation may sound as unpleasant as dental extraction, but the reality is slightly less fearsome, thanks to a soothing blue interface and reasonable-sounding on-screen explanations.

You'll bump into Product Activation toward the end of the installation or upgrade process but before the Windows XP (or Office) interface appears. A screen asks, "Are you ready to activate Windows?" You must then select one of two options: 'Yes, activate Windows over the Internet now', or 'No, remind me every few days'.

If you choose no, Microsoft says, the reminders will continue for 30 days, after which you'll be unable to log on to Windows XP until the product is activated. (You can launch Office XP components a total of 50 times before activation is required.) If you're in the mood to activate but have already booted up, you can use the Activate Windows Wizard that lurks on Windows' Start menu to do the job.

If you click the Yes option, Windows next asks if you'd like to register, a separate and optional process. The program then forwards the activation and registration data to Microsoft via the internet. Microsoft's servers either accept the data or send a message saying you need to contact Microsoft.