Thursday, December 10, 2009

Charge Aught!!!: Windows XP

Windows XP Windows XP is the operating system that ran the 2000s.

Let me back up.

Windows XP was released in 2001, three years after Windows 98, two years after Windows 98 Second Edition, one year after Windows ME. For those counting, that’s four major for-pay consumer versions of Windows released in a four-year window, five if you count the mostly-business-oriented-but-popular-among-power-users Windows 2000.

Windows Vista was released in 2006. I’m not going to do the algebra here, but that’s no Windows releases in six years after four releases in three. Windows XP had more time to dig its heels in than any previous Windows release – developers became very comfortable with it, businesses became very comfortable with it, and for years Windows XP was Windows – 76% of the world’s computers ran it when it peaked in January 2007, and 62% still run it today.

Windows XP is the operating system that ran the 2000s.

At the time, there were no indications that this would be Microsoft’s longest-lived OS ever – it was actually a relatively minor update to Windows 2000, and Microsoft was already looking forward to a 2003 or 2004 release for what would turn out to be Vista.

XP’s longevity was actually brought about by a perfect storm of circumstances – several high-profile computer viruses had their way with the new OS, and Microsoft pulled resources from Vista to work on beefing up XP’s security with what would become 2004’s Service Pack 2.

Behind the scenes, Microsoft developers were finding it difficult to implement all of the features that they had planned (and, stupidly, announced) for Vista. The new operating system’s code was such a mess that in 2004 all existing code was completely thrown out in favor of starting anew, giving XP another two-and-a-half years to be Microsoft’s flagship consumer and business OS.

When Vista finally shipped in late 2006, XP was helped along by the fact that the new software was basically awful– giant, bloated, buggy and incompatible with everything, Vista irritated users and vexed businesses with its need for more powerful hardware and its desire to break your spirit. A successor to the firmly-entrenched Windows XP this was not.

In fact, Microsoft found itself having to sell its upper-tier Windows Vista editions with so-called “downgrade rights” to Windows XP to appease businesses who had no desire to run the new operating system. These downgrade rights continue to be available even now that Windows 7 has shipped, meaning that you can still buy new, top-end business desktops and laptops with an eight-year-old operating system installed, two years after it stopped being sold at retail.

Do you know how different a computer from 2001 and a computer from late 2009 are? Computers in 2001 were predominately desktops, shipping with 128 megabytes of memory and 10-20 gigabyte hard drives. CRT monitors were still in vogue. Laptops were pricey novelties that share more with cinder blocks than they do with modern designs. About the only thing that’s true then that’s still true is that if you pay $500 for something that says eMachines on it, the thing will still fall apart after a year of light-to-normal use. Oh, yeah, and also the operating system.

Another win for XP came with the netbook revolution of 2007 and 2008, which also came at the expense of Windows Vista. Netbooks, conceived as tiny, cheap, light, low-powered laptops for secondary (or tertiary) use, simply didn’t have the horsepower to handle Vista’s bulk. To avoid conceding ground to Linux (yeah, like that’s ever going to happen. I’m not being sarcastic. Linux is going nowhere), Microsoft brought Windows XP out of mothballs and started selling it to manufacturers at closeout prices.

All of this means that Microsoft is committed to supporting Windows XP with security patches until – gasp! – 2014, meaning that we’ll have to restart our computers to apply updates until two years after the fucking apocalypse. All of this, even though suits at the company have already released product roadmaps that show Windows 8 sitting pretty with a 2012 release date (I’ll believe it when I see it, but still). Looks like we’ll be throwing Windows XP a Bar Mitzvah right before we throw its retirement party.

And now we come to the present day – Windows 7 is rapidly gaining market share at the expense of XP, whose users who are finally buying new computers, and Vista, at least those users who have managed to avoid killing themselves. Though most programs will still run just fine on the old OS, most predict that support from third-parties will dry up in the next two or three years – it has been a good, long run, but it’s finally time for XP to join 3.1 and 95 and be installed on the giant hard drive partition in the sky.

Rest well, old friend.