It’s late 2001 and I’ve finally managed to find a group of like minded people who enjoy computers, games and all things that I felt ashamed of liking for the better part of my teenage life. We’re gathered at a friend’s house to have a LAN as this was long before the time when broadband was a common thing in Australian households. As much as these gatherings were a hive for sharing ill-gotten files they were also the beginnings of my career in IT as often we’d be experimenting with the latest software just for laughs. It’s at this very gathering where I had my first encounter with the latest operating system from Microsoft, Windows XP, and little did I know that I’d still be encountering it for the next 13 years.
Today marks a day that we have known was coming for a long time but many have refused to accept: the day when Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft. You can still get support for Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows XP until July 14, 2015 but Microsoft will no longer be providing any updates, free or paid, to the aging operating system. For administrators like me it’s the ammunition we’ve been using for the better part of 2 years to get people to move away from the old operating system as nothing scares corporate customers more than the possibility of no support. Still though out of the total Windows market share XP still claims a staggering 27%, meaning almost 1 in every 3 Windows users is now on a system that won’t have any kind of official support. Many have criticised Microsoft for doing this but in all honesty it had to happen sometime or they’d never see the end of it.
The reason behind XP’s longevity, something which is usually unheard of in the high technology industry, can be almost wholly attributed to the utter dismal failure that Windows Vista was. Prior to that Microsoft customers were more than happy to go through the routine upgrade process every 3~5 years however the fact that Vista didn’t deliver on what it promised, coupled with it’s astoundingly bad reliability, meant that the vast majority of organisations got comfortable with Windows XP as their operating system. The time between XP and Windows 7 was long enough that the pain of moving forward became too great and many opted to wait until there was just no option left for them. My most recent project was a great example of this, migrating a large government department to Windows 7 from XP which only barely missed the deadline that was hit today.
This is the prime reason behind Microsoft’s recent change from a longer product cycle to one that’s based around rapid innovation. Whilst it’s true that Windows 8 is shaping up to be the Vista of this current product cycle, with Windows 7 adoption rates still outpacing it, the vast majority of the hard work will be done if users finally move to Windows 7. The upgrade paths from there are a whole lot more forgiving than coming from XP and moving from 8 to 8.1 takes about as much effort as installing a patch. I’m quietly hopeful that Windows 7 won’t become the next XP but at the same time I know how readily history can repeat itself.
So it’s without a heavy heart I say goodbye to Windows XP. It will not be missed by anyone in the industry as it was supposed to be dead and buried a long time ago and it was only through the stubbornness of the majority that it managed to stick around for as long as it did. I’m hoping for a much brighter future, one where Microsoft’s quickened pace of development is embraced and legacy systems are allowed to die the swift death that they so rightly deserve.
I’ve been in the world of IT for quite some time professionally but I’ve been an enthusiast for much, much longer. I can remember the days of doing everything through the command line in DOS, eagerly hunting down the games that my father had installed. My first taste of a GUI wasn’t in the form of windows it was a rather esoteric program called XTreeGold which provided many of the base functions found in Windows 3.1. In my time with these wonderful beasts we call PCs I’ve used every iteration of Windows that’s been available and I’ve never seen such fervent devotion to any version of Windows than that seen with Windows XP.
From a technical standpoint XP wasn’t really anything new. It was the first version of a Microsoft consumer OS that shared the vast majority of its core functions with its server counterpart and the vast majority of the tech (Called the New Technology Kernel). It was a good move and all following versions of Windows have continued to share a common base with their server cousins. Still at the time many users were tightly wedded to their Windows 98/SE installations and the early adopters who tried Windows ME weren’t in any mood to trust Microsoft again. Still XP managed to overcome this hurdle and for the past 8 years or so it’s been the defacto OS on the vast majority of computers around the world.
However it’s an aging beast in the fast paced world of IT. A computer considered top of the line 10 years ago is less powerful than your run of the mill smartphone today. Windows 7 is truly an OS worth upgrading to with the vast number of improvements it makes in performance, usability and functionality. Microsoft has tried hard to get people to move across to the new system with them finally disowning Windows 2000 and XP SP2 (more on that in a second) by killing support for them:
Today is the last day that Windows 2000 and Windows XP Service Pack 2 will receive support and patches from Microsoft. Starting tomorrow, Service Pack 3 will be required to receive support and hotfixes for Windows XP.
In the past, the end of support for a service pack would mean that Microsoft would refuse to offer any kind of telephone support or troubleshooting assistance. This policy was relaxed a little in April; limited support will remain available for those organizations sticking with Service Pack 2. However, any hotfixes or security updates will be restricted to Service Pack 3.
Customers on Windows 2000 will not even have this option. The operating system is now out of its extended support phase. This brings an end to any and all hotfixes, security updates, or even paid support options. Fewer than half a percent of Internet-connected machines appear to use Windows 2000, and with the end of support, it is now open season on that minority: Microsoft will take no action to provide fixes for any security issues, regardless of their severity.
The fervent dedication to XP is wholly due to the failed product refresh cyclethat was Windows Vista but with the release of Windows 7 no one really has any excuse not to upgrade anymore. Still the corporate world is a slow moving beast and skipping the last product cycle has meant that many of them have relied on Windows XP’s backwards compatibility to keep older applications functioning. Thus the cost in transition is far higher than if they had made the switch to Vista back when it was first released as the differences between Vista and 7, at least in terms of application breaking changes, are minimal. Thankfully most organisations recognised the need to move away from Windows 2000 a long time ago and Windows 2008 enjoys quite wide adoption. I credit that mostly to Windows server editions being reserved for us caretakers of IT infrastructure since we’re usually more inclined to try out the latest tech.
The day will soon come when Windows XP will no longer be a viable option for anyone to use and whilst a small part of me will be sad to see it go I hope that it will break the kind of mindless dedication that kept organisations stuck in the same world technologically for a decade. I made my career in a world that didn’t want to hear about the latest offerings from Microsoft as they knewit wasn’t worth their time. Windows 7 is making headway in that regard and is also breaking through the stigma of switching to 64bit, something which used to be compared to running Windows ME (think of the crashes, driver incompatibility and general “WTF are you doing?” looks you’d get from us IT folks for doing it). It might not mean a heck of a lot to non-IT folks, but it’s definitely something to guys like me