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What I mean is this: You need a good basic understanding of the Windows XP history and architecture to deal with some of the detailed questions that presume such an understanding. For example, you may encounter a question that asks about the relative merits of Windows XP versus Windows NT Workstation or Windows 98 when it comes to installing Plug and Play hardware. (XP and 98 support Plug and Play, but NT doesn't.) For another example, you may be expected to understand what the HAL is. (It's the Hardware Abstraction Layer, a key component of the Windows XP Professional operating system that determines, among other things, power management and Plug and Play capabilities.)
My suggestion is that you get comfortable with this information before you move on to the detailed chapters. I keep it brief and avoid arcane topics that probably won't surface on the exam.
When you're comfortable with the information that I present in this chapter, you're ready to move on to specific exam preparation in the remainder of the book.
Windows Operating Systems
This section explains where Windows XP falls within the Windows product family. In a nutshell, Windows XP combines many of the benefits of both the Windows 9x/Me product line and the Windows NT 4.0/2000 product line, but it is more closely associated to NT/2000 in its inner workings.
The Windows 3.x clan
Windows 3.x (that is, Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups 3.1, and Windows for Workgroups 3.11) is still in use worldwide. Microsoft describes all Windows 3.x products as operating environments rather than operating systems because Windows 3.x doesn't entirely replace MS-DOS. Windows 3.x is 16-bit software, and application programs written for Windows 3.x are (with rare exceptions) also 16-bit software.
Windows 3.1 brought the PC user the following key elements:
* A graphical user interface using drop-down menus, dialog boxes, program icons and groups, and (to some extent) a drag-and-drop metaphor
* A platform for applications that can use more memory than 640K
* A vehicle for running multiple applications simultaneously (cooperative multitasking) and for rapidly switching between applications loaded in memory (task switching)
* An environment where all programs use a single set of print and screen drivers
* A structure for exchanging data more easily between programs
Windows for Workgroups 3.1 introduced peer networking. Its successor, Version 3.11, was a much more stable and versatile network client than its predecessors.
Instant Answer Windows 3.x and DOS machines use the old 8.3 file-naming convention, and therefore can't see the full name of a shared folder on a Windows XP PC if that folder's share name exceeds the 8.3 limit.
The Windows 9x clan
Windows 95 and its successors, Windows 98 and Windows Me, bring 32-bit capabilities to the Intel-and-compatible PC, along with a heavily revised user interface. Windows 9x (as the exam may refer to versions Me, 98, and 95 collectively) focuses on compatibility, whereas Windows NT and Windows 2000 focus on security and reliability.
The nine key goals of the Windows 9x design team tell you nearly all you need to know about where Windows 9x fits. The goals are:
* Compatibility: If you have an old DOS device driver that loads in CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT, chances are excellent that you can use that device with Windows 9x. Need to run an old 16-bit Windows 3.1 application? It probably runs fine under Windows 9x, too.
* Performance: Windows 9x was designed to perform well under low memory conditions, so its designers had to forego the extra layers of memory protection that make NT, 2000, and XP more reliable.
* Robustness: Windows 9x is more reliable than Windows 3.x (fewer crashes and lockups), and less reliable than NT, 2000, or XP.
* Better setup and configuration: Windows 9x autodetects a wide variety of hardware during setup, in large part thanks to the Plug and Play standard. You can install Windows 9x from a network server as well as from a CD-ROM, and the Batch Setup tool helps you script LAN-based installations. As for configuring the software, Windows 9x control panels use the Registry database for most system settings, centralizing such settings but adding to system complexity.
* Better user interface: The Start button, taskbar, and property sheet made their debut in Windows 95, along with dozens of other user interface (UI) changes and a new emphasis on the right mouse button. Windows 98 makes few changes to the core UI of Windows 95 although the Web View of folders and Active Desktop add a new Internet look.
* Protected mode design: Nearly everything in Windows 9x runs in the Intel processor's 'protected mode,' which affords better reliability, as opposed to the 'real mode' that DOS software uses.
* Support for 32-bit applications: Windows 9x can run 32-bit applications, conferring upon them goodies such as a private memory space, preemptive multitasking, and multithreaded execution. However, Windows 9x does not use 32-bit software through and through; many modules are still 16-bit code.