Yes, it’s a ThePirateBay link. If you feel bad about downloading it, don’t do it unless you already have a valid Windows XP install on the computer on which you’re downloading this for. Tortured sentence structure I know, but it’s 3 a.m.

What Microsoft should do is take this torrent, tweak the ISO just slightly to improve usability (very, very small things like bringing back the SendTo menu and having the option in the context menu to open a command prompt at whatever location), then package it up and sell it to end users via download for $30-$50.

If users want more applications or features, Microsoft should bring back the “Add Features” control panel option, a la Windows 98. This time, however, features will be downloadable online rather than from CD. It’s a 21st century thing. If they want drivers, Microsoft has Windows Update…just get more manufacturer support so all the drivers are in one place. Speaking of which, control panels should be separate from basic drivers; a computer should have full capability to work with no third-party icons in the system tray. None whatsoever.

With a few optimizations, such an OS could run full-fledged in under 1GB of disk space. Well under, even. On top of this platform OEMs can slipstream drivers (required) and crapware (optional, just like the extraneous Windows features) as needed. At any time, aside from required drivers, consumers should be able to distill Windows down to bare-metal elegance.

If you want to complain about user choice and such, the easy way out is to allow for feature installation during Windows setup, which will otherwise be a very short process in such a small installation (five minutes in a virtual machine…more on that later). A la the usual in regular software setups, have “Standard” (regular WinXP if you must), Minimal (Performance edition) or Custom as installation size options on regular install discs, with OEM products built into the standard and available in the Custom profiles. For the $30-$50 version, standard becomes a non-option and custom doesn’t have as many options. Something akin to “Windows Anytime Upgrade” can be used later on if Microsoft wants to charge users to upgrade to a fuller experience.

In case you’re wondering, WinXP Performance Edition runs wonderfully in a virtual machine with 768 MB of memory…it’s fast enough that all but the most graphics-intensive activities feel like you’re using them bare-metal on a system that’s two-thirds the price of whatever you’re actually using. That is to say, absolutely usable, even speedy. This is on VirtualBox, Sun’s free virtual machine product. I have VMWare Fusion on my Mac and stopped using it…VirtualBox plus XP Performance Edition is significantly faster than either Parallels or VMWare running even XP.

The bottom line is this: I don’t thik I’m alone in wanting an operating system that just works. I do’t need bells and whistles, and the OS can look like Windows 98 for all I care (preferably Windows XP in Classic mode with search in the Start menu, however…P PE, but for the search box, does nicely). I just want something that will run any Windows app I throw at it, and that will run that app quickly and efficiently. If I need extra features, I’d like to be able to get them, but they don’t need to come standard. I want a cheap operating system that I can get legally. I want something that will fit on, and run perfectly from, a $10 USB drive.

XP PE pretty much is what I’m looking for, with one problem: it’s on the torrents rather than on Microsoft’s onlinestore page. I do use it anyway, but I’d love to pay for something even slightly more refined.

In conslusion, Windows 7 promises to be to Windows Vista what XP PE is to XP. It delivers on this promise, however that’s like saying your new product is much more enjoyable than a swift kick to the balls…you’ve got a low standard to rise above. Windows 7 is not as light as Windows XP, though it does run better than standard XP in a virtual machine, at least that’s what it seems like from here. In short, Win7 is a big step in the right direction after Vista (which isn’t bad, it just isn’t good enough to go out and upgrade to if you have XP in 99.99% of situations), no doubt. However Microsoft would do well to slim down Windows 7 until it has the same system requirements as Windows XP, or release WIndows 7 alongside “Windows LE”, aka a legit, low-cost, supported version of Windows XP Performance Edition.

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