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A tale of two screenshots, or how Microsoft gave me a new lease on life!

One of the biggest differences between XP and its predecessors? Game space. XP got more game than you got time to play them!

Figures 1 and 2:
Figures 1 and 2 show the "game number" dialog box for the Windows XP and Windows 2000 versions of Freecell -- a Microsoft solitaire card game and my favorite computer game of all. Careful examination of the two screen shots shows that the earlier version of Freecell topped out at 32,000 games and that the XP version tops out at a whopping 1,000,000.
I've been working with Windows XP since June 2001, starting with early versions of the beta 2 release. During the run-up to commercial release, I was busy working on a couple of books on Windows XP, so I really didn't have much time to relax and play with it -- XP was all work and no play if you know what I mean.

Since the commercial release on October 25th, I've had a little more time to fool around and explore some of XP's less businesslike aspects. During that time, I discovered the solution to something that had been vexing me for a long, long time, as illustrated in the two screen shots to your left.

This may be hard to understand in terms of anything significant, but suffice it to say that since the introduction of Windows 98 and Freecell three years ago, I've been playing Freecell games in numerical order. In late October, just before the release of Windows XP, I found myself playing game 31,000, and therefore looking the 32,000th game square in the face. "Game over, indeed," thought I to myself. What could I do with my life after having played all 32,000 games of Freecell?

Then, after I installed Windows XP Professional on my primary desktop over Halloween, I accidentally miskeyed a game number as 312212 rather than 31212. When the game came up for play under that number I immediately said to myself, "Hello! Freecell is different in Windows XP." That's when I started paying attention to the Game Number dialog box and noticed the change.

This may not mean much to you, but for me to get 968,000 more Freecell games to play to cover the entire game space means that I probably won't live long enough to play them all. Figure it this way: I started playing Freecell systematically in October 1998. In the past 37 months I've played 31,480-plus games or an average of 851 games per month. At that rate, it should take me about 1,137 years to play out the whole game space. No way am I going to live that long.

For some reason, I find this oddly comforting. I'd like to think that somewhere in Redmond, somebody realized that systematic weirdos like me might have been running out of Freecell games and decided to raise the bar way beyond its previous level with the release of Windows XP. One thing's for sure, I no longer need to worry about running out of Freecell games anytime soon. And who knows? Maybe I've found two perfect goals for my post-retirement years: To keep a Windows system running as long as possible and to get as close to the 1,000,000 mark in games played as I can before I give up the ghost.

Stranger things have happened, I'm sure.

Ed Tittel is a principal at a small content development company based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of the Exam Cram series, and has worked on more than 30 certification-related books on Microsoft, Novell, and Sun related topics.

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