Microsoft has released four Windows XP editions to date: Professional, Home, Tablet, and Media Center. This book focuses mostly on tasks and techniques available on the Home edition, although you should find most of the topics relevant no matter what edition you choose. A few chunks look at technologies only available on XP Professional.
XP Home, which comes in a green box, is designed for home use, as the name suggests. Its overriding characteristic is ease of use, whether your task is installing a new application, working with digital photos, or connecting to a wireless network. Everything has been designed so that the OS can be used in the most intuitive manner possible. And, just because it's called Home doesn't mean it can't be used in a corporate setting. In fact, many small business users don't require the additional features of XP Professional and will be able to perform all necessary work just fine with XP Home.
XP Professional, which comes in a blue box, can do everything Home can do, plus much more. It is a "nesting toy" design approach, which Microsoft has used before with Windows 2000 Professional and Server: 2000 Server added to the 2000 Professional code base and supported a host of technologies that 2000 Pro could not.
For example, XP Professional can utilize Offline Files, a feature that makes server resources available even when you're not connected to the server. By itself, this technology makes Professional a superior choice for laptop computers, as you will see in Chapter 6, "The Command Line and Other Advanced Techniques." XP Home does not support Offline Files.
XP Professional also has a leg up on Home in the arena of security. With Group Policies, Professional computers can be locked down in ways that are not available in XP Home. We'll look at a few of these Group Policy settings here, but a full discussion of Group Policies is beyond the scope of this book.
In a corporate setting, one of the most important distinctions is that an XP Professional computer can join a domainthat is, a computer account can be created for the system. XP Home computers do not have this capability. Because of these added features, XP Professional is more expensive than Home.
The Tablet PC edition is specifically tuned for tablet PC devices. A tablet PC uses a stylus and your handwriting, much like a PDA, instead of the keyboard and mouse input devices. (Microsoft calls this a "pen and ink" capability, although no physical ink is involved.) The Tablet PC edition provides all features of XP Home and adds features specific for a tablet computer.
The Media Center version (full title: XP Media Center Edition 2005) is designed for special types of computers called Media Center PCs. What's a Media Center PC? It's a computer designed specifically to store and manage your digital entertainment, including music, video, photos, and television. Think of a Media Center PC as an HDTV with a computer built in. It's a melding of the TV, DVD, stereo, cable, and Internet. They usually consist of a good monitor and some added computer components. They really aren't built to run Office 2003 and crunch through spreadsheets and CAD programs, although you could use them for this purpose.
As you can see in Figure 2-1, the user interface for Media Center Edition is radically different from the one used by all other XP versions. It's designed to allow access to a few programs or fileslike the DVD player or an album of musicwith just a click or two.
Figure 2-1. The Windows XP Media Center Edition.
We won't cover the XP Media Center Edition in this book.
For a full discussion of the differences between XP versions, please see: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/evaluation/compare.mspx.