Windows XP Service Pack 2
One of the largest changes, from the user point of view, is the firewall. Microsoft has now included a firewall in the operating system. What does this mean for you? If you do work from home and use certain programs that need bi direction communication (most do), you will have to configure the firewall correctly, if you even want to use it. Most of the time these firewalls create more problems then it may be worth, remember this one is free. As always the best firewall is a hardware device dedicated to being a firewall.
Another feature that I believe many people will probably praise Microsoft for is a Pop-Up blocker built into Internet Explorer. Unfortunately they did not make a button on the menu bar for it, so you will have to go into the actually Tools menu to configure it and allow pop ups if you are on a site that you need them to work.
They have also changed how downloads work. Now you will not be able to just click on the file to save a file. You will either have to allow it through the configuration or constantly click on the warning bar that pops up when you click on the link. Either way this is a pretty nice improvement.
Antivirus checking is apart of the operating system now. Not the antivirus program it self, but the ability for the operating system to know if you are up to date with the virus definitions. So you will now have even more reminders that you virus definitions are out of date. There can not be too many reminders for this.
Outlook Express has also changed with new Security features that will not open items that exploit certain HTML tags (basically code that executes when the e-mail is opened). Also there is greater attachment security. This feature is already in Outlook Express; Microsoft has just improved on it.
Microsoft has also added a lot of wireless functionality to there operating system also. The operating system will now handle Bluetooth from within the core of the operating system. Along with the already supported Wi-Fi, which they have also improved on.
So should I wait for the next operating system to come out to get a new computer?
No, I would not unless you want to wait 3 years to get a new computer. The next version of Windows (Codename: Longhorn) will not come out until maybe after 2007, and Microsoft's next server platform will not come out until about a year after. So if you are in the market for a new computer now is a pretty good time to buy. You will probably get 4 years out of it before you need to replace it with another operating system.
It seems as though these things are getting smaller and smaller every day. If they get any smaller I will lose one as often as I lose my keys. For the most part laptops are staying pretty even with the power of laptops and the processors. But one warning that I will say is that if you need the smallest do not expect the power of a larger laptop. There are many configuration changes that need to happen that make these small pieces of silicone work well. And these changes will not always benefit a hardcore user that will max out the system. They can actually make a computer slower for very demanding operations. They are great for travel computing, as long as you are very close to an outlet.
Some of these laptops are also very hard to upgrade, it is possible but can be very difficult. When you buy one expect to buy more then you need preinstalled on it, such as a modem and network card, and a lot of RAM.
When looking at any new computer, always judge the purchase from a point of view of: Does it make sense at this price, or could I survive with what I have?