Member Rara Avis
I try to keep a running copy of all the major operating systems, but unfortunately I've just about run out of machines where I can load a new one. I've been reading a lot about XP, but haven't yet had the chance to test drive a machine.
XP is based on NT, making it more reliable and measurably faster than mixed code versions (Win 3.x was 16 bit code; Win95, Win98, and ME are mixed 16/32 bit; only NT, Win2000, and the new XP are pure 32 bit). The old NT (largely unchanged in the last decade) and Win2000 are very close cousins, and both require some training to properly configure. XP was designed to be an NT/Win2000 OS, but with the plug-and-play ease-of-use we expect from Win9X and ME.
Networking, in particular, was streamlined, Acire, and I suspect "Client for Microsoft Networks" no longer even exists. Unless XP was configured otherwise (with a non-existent IP block, for example), you should be able to plug into any network and immediately have access to all shared resources.
Unfortunately, Sharon, early indications are that XP has also inherited a few of the NT weaknesses. I've read that XP includes a "personal firewall," and I strongly encourage you to find out how to install it (or if it's already installed). A firewall simply acts as a barrier between your machine and the rest of the network, letting through only what you want. The "rest of the network" includes the Internet when you're connected. For many of us (like me), that's not a big deal. People don't necessarily know when I'm connected and they rarely know which dynamic IP I've been assigned the last time I dialed my ISP, so accessing my machine is pretty hit and miss. For cable, though? If you are connected 24/7 and always have the same IP, as is typical of cable, there is at least some danger that others can access your computer. I wouldn't consider it a major, stay-up-and-worry-all-night type of thing, but it's certainly something to consider. The firewall should protect you from most attempts.