Windows XP: The Rock of Reliability

By Jerry Honeycutt

Windows XP is easily the most reliable Windows yet

I know that Windows XP is more reliable than earlier Windows. I feel it. During the early betas, my Windows XP-based computers crashed from time to time. And, at each crash, the operating system uploaded a report to Microsoft.

Along came the next betas, and the operating system still crashed occasionally, but less frequently, and those upgrade reports still went to Microsoft. During the last few betas and with the final build of Windows XP, I don't recall sending a single error report. Error reporting has had the same affect on Windows XP that it did on Office XP; it's made both products rock solid.

Reliability isn't a hunch, though. Reliability is part prevention and part diagnosis. Windows XP takes both from its predecessor, Windows 2000, and extends them. How Windows XP's reliability technologies go above and beyond Windows 2000 is the subject of this story.

On This Page

No DLL Hell
First Line of Defense
Roll Back Device Drivers
Jump Back in Time
Too Many to Count

No DLL Hell

One source of frustration for me is applications that share code. No doubt you've run in to the scenario where two applications share the same DLL but require two different versions of it. The result is usually fatal. Windows XP fixes this problem via side-by-side component sharing. The gist of this technology is to allow multiple versions of a component to run in memory at the same time. Each program gets to use its own version of the DLL.

To ensure application reliability, which many users don't distinguish from operating system reliability, Windows XP lets programs use the exact version of a Microsoft component with which the developers tested the application. Windows XP makes key system components, the ones that are most likely to impact reliability, side-by-side components. That means that users don't run in to any surprises when other applications or Windows XP upgrades components.

First Line of Defense

Windows XP proactively defends itself against known reliability problems. Recently, I tried installing a device driver and was caught off guard when I saw an error message that said I can't install the driver because it'll break my computer.


This new feature is called Windows Driver Protection. It's a small database of device drivers that are known to hang or crash your computer. You can't install device drivers that are in this database. In addition, if you find a nefarious way to install the device driver - perhaps by editing the registry - Windows XP detects the blocked driver and prevents it from loading.

Note that Windows XP doesn't complain about these device drivers without offering alternative solutions. The error message contains a link to help for getting a newer device driver.

Roll Back Device Drivers

The biggest, and most touted, feature that keeps your computer up and running is Device Driver Rollback. Do you remember the Last Known Good Configuration option on the old boot menus? It's like that—only better.

Each time you update a driver, Windows XP saves a copy of the previous one. If the new driver breaks your computer, you can easily restore the previous driver using Device Manager. Here's how I did it after installing a version of a driver that I knew wouldn't work:

  1. In Device Manager, I right-clicked the broken device, and clicked Properties.

  2. On the Driver tab, I clicked Roll Back Driver.

After confirming that I wanted to restore the previous device driver, Windows XP restored the previous device driver and then asked me to restart the computer. The device worked perfectly.

Jump Back in Time

The ultimate reliability feature is System Restore. First introduced with Windows Me, it records key changes to your computer's configuration. Then, if things go awry, you can undo the last change or restore your computer's configuration to some other point in time (a restore point).

By default, Windows XP makes one restore point each day. It creates extra restore points each time you make a significant change to your configuration, such as installing a device driver or application. I found that rolling back to one of those restore points is easy:

  1. On the Start menu, I clicked Help and Support.

  2. Under Pick a Task, I selected Undo Changes to Your Computer with System Restore.

  3. I followed the System Restore wizard's instructions to first pick a date and then pick a point to restore.

This is one of those features that I'm only too happy to take for granted. When I need it, though, I'm delighted that I can be back to work in a few minutes rather than wasting time troubleshooting or reinstalling software.

Too Many to Count

Windows XP includes a plethora of other enhancements that make it the most reliable Windows yet. Many of these are inherited from Windows 2000:

  • Application compatibility technologies

  • Shutdown Event Tracker

  • Control of unresponsive applications

  • Windows Installer

  • Auto Update, Dynamic Update, and Windows Update

  • Shadow Copy Integration

  • Last Known Good Configuration

  • Automated System Recovery

If you want to learn more about Windows XP's reliability improvements, see " Reliability Improvements in Windows XP."

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