Operating systems head to head: How does Windows XP stack up against the competition?

Microsoft's overhauled desktop OS, Windows XP, is about to be unleashed on the world. It's big and requires plenty of system resources - it does run in 128MB, but only really becomes enjoyable with 256MB, a fast PIII/P4/Athlon CPU and a snappy graphics accelerator. On the other hand, there's no denying Windows XP is a very good general-purpose operating system. It's stable, fast, supports just about every kind of new hardware there is, and is backed up by mountains of Win32 software.

Microsoft has an estimated 90 per cent of the desktop market and all of Microsoft's competitors so far have fallen by the wayside. Is there anyone, willing and able, to pick up the gauntlet today?

Windows XP against "Mac OS X and KDE 2

First, let's define the basic requirements for a modern desktop operating system:

- Extensive hardware support.

- Easy installation.

- Internet integration.

- 3D support and multimedia capabilities.

- Comprehensive online help.

- Robustness.

- Applications, applications, applications.

With the above criteria in mind, the choice for a mass-market desktop OS narrows to the following contenders: Windows, Mac OS X and Linux 2.4 with KDE 2. FreeBSD almost made it into this crowd, but it tails Linux in hardware and application support, and currently is better suited as a server OS.

Armed with two test systems - an Intel 1.3GHz P4 with 384MB of RAM and a 30GB UDMA-100 hard disk, plus an iMac with a 600MHz G3, 128MB of RAM and a 38GB IDE disk - we set out to test Windows XP Professional Release Candidate 1, Mac OS X 10.0.4 and KDE 2.2beta1/Linux 2.4.5.

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Juha Saarinen

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