objects/treasurechest80.jpgWhether you are already using Windows XP or are considering a new computer with XP, you may be surprised to find that some of the best features of Windows XP are not necessarily the most obvious ones. Here are just a few of XP’s hidden treasures.

System Restore

After using Windows XP for almost a year, I can attest to its improved stability, but there is always the possibility of an errant program or virus causing a problem. In these circumstances, XP’s System Restore feature comes to the rescue. Even though System Restore was introduced in Windows Me and has been improved in Windows XP, when you start using an XP computer, you may be completely unaware of this great utility. The System Restore function is hidden away inside a nested menu (Start-All Programs-Accessories-System Tools-System Restore).

If you have a serious problem, System Restore can be used to return your computer to a previous time state without losing your personal data files such as word processing documents, e-mail, favorites, etc. An XP computer automatically creates restore points at regularly scheduled times. You can also create your own restore points. For instance, you are about to install some shareware program that you know nothing about. Just create a system restore point before you install the program. Then install and try the program, being confident that if anything screws up in your computer, you can simply uninstall the program and call upon the System Restore utility to quickly and easily revert your computer to the more stable time before you installed the troublesome program.

Cure Incompatibilities

Some folks shy away from XP because their older programs are not compatible. But XP has provided an excellent fix for this problem, a Program Compatibility feature. If you are experiencing problems with a program that worked fine in earlier versions of Windows, this feature will enable Windows XP to perform like a previous version of Windows. If your old program required a certain screen resolution, you can even choose the resolution to use with the program. A neat little wizard will walk you through the Program Compatibility process. It is hidden away under Start-All Programs-Accessories-Program Compatibility Wizard. This wizard works very well for older programs, especially games. (Don’t use it for virus protection programs, backup programs, or system utilities.)

Remote Assistance

Do you happen to have a son or daughter, sister or brother, who is a computer expert? Then this new Windows XP feature is for you. When you have a computer problem, you can send an e-mail to any knowledgeable friend, relative, or computer consultant inviting them to help you with your problem. With your permission, the expert can view your screen and give you the instructions and/or assistance that you need. The two of you can also chat online as you work through the problem.  Your expert can take control of your computer to make any necessary changes. This is done only with your approval. The sessions are encrypted for security and can be password-protected. Click on Start, choose Help and Support and the look at the Ask for Assistance area to use the Remote Assistance feature.

Clear Type

Windows XP includes an excellent font-rendering technique called Clear Type. This is a patented technology that smoothes the edges of screen fonts to make the words easier to read. Clear Type doesn’t do much for the printed word on the older chunky CRT monitors. If, however, you are using a laptop computer or are lucky enough to have a flat panel LCD monitor, turning on Clear Type can make a dramatic difference. I bet you didn’t know this feature existed. Of course not, it is hidden away in the Display settings. Choose Start-Control Panel-Display. Then choose Effects on the Appearance tab.

Firewall

Did you know that Windows XP includes a firewall to keep your computer safe from hackers while you surf the Internet? It does, but you have to turn it on, and, of course, it is also difficult to find. Choose Start-Control Panel-Network Connections. Then right-click on the icon that represents your dial-up, DSL, or cable Internet connection. Choose Properties. Click on the Advanced tab to see the area where you can turn on the firewall. This firewall will protect you from hackers trying to gain access to your computer but will not keep track of information that may be automatically sent to the Internet without your express permission. For a firewall that monitors information going out as well as coming into your computer, see my review of a free program called Zone Alarm.

Atomic Clock Updates

In previous version of Windows, I used a little add-on program called the Atomic Clock Sync Utility to connect to the atomic clock and synchronize my computer clock. Now Windows XP includes this feature. To find it, click on Start-Control Panel-Date & Time. Click on the Internet Time tab, and you will see the place to make sure that the time is synchronized automatically. If this feature is turned on, you will also see the last time your computer performed the synchronization. Windows updates the time automatically each week, but you must be connected to the Internet for this to occur. An Update Now button offers you the chance to synchronize the time at your convenience. Watch out! This may take away one of your last reasons for being late.

Just as any good treasure hunter knows, it takes time before that shovel hits the jackpot. If you are ready to put time in familiarizing yourself with some of Windows XP’s “hidden” treasures, you will be well rewarded. Windows XP has a wealth of nifty features. Just dig around a little to unearth the real treasure. You’ll be glad you did.