Microsoft may have introduced most of us to home computing in some form or another and we owe them for that. However, that familiarity comes at a cost; and sometimes it’s just too hard to let go.
I’m not referring to Windows Phone or Windows 8, or Windows 7, or even Vista. No, I’m talking about ol’ faithful, Windows XP, the operating system that many of us have spent more PC hours using than any other.
Despite the fact that XP is now 12 years old (nigh upon an eternity in digital terms) it’s still alive and kicking. Web analytics firm Net Applications reported that XP was still the number one OS right up until August 2012, when it was finally knocked off its top perch by Windows 7. Even Windows Vista, which had come before W7, couldn’t break XP’s stranglehold on the PC world.
So why, when we were able to let Windows 95/98 go quietly into the long goodnight, are we so resistant to the thought of finally putting XP to bed once and for all?
Well, I think there are a few reasons.
1, Familiarity – it evidently doesn’t always breed contempt. We know how to use XP.
2, Saturation – A booming PC market and rapid technological advances in the early noughties meant PCs popped up (in large numbers) everywhere, penetrating all sectors. It became hard to avoid.
3, The Internet – whilst the Internet had been around before XP, for millions of people XP and Internet Explorer defined what ‘accessing the Internet’ meant.
4, Software – XP was home to many era-defining software launches like Skype, the Bittorrent boom and the years when watching video on your PC became mainstream. All on XP’s watch.
5, It works – Possibly the most important of all, its hardware compatibility along with regularly downloaded updates etc meant XP could evolve and take most of what was thrown at it. Finding printer drivers became (slightly) less of a headache, CD/DVD drives (both burning and reading) gave a new experience and, after the foundations of earlier Windows, XP was robust, easy to use and was arguably the first version of Windows to feel truly ‘polished’.
This is not to mention the myriad of problems Microsoft faced in high-user expectations when they tried to move people on to newer versions. Vista wasn’t different enough, UAC was annoying and justifying an upgrade was hard. It damaged Windows’ appeal. Windows 7 fared better, harking back to XP’s glory days but trying to evolve. Nevertheless it still took three years from launch to overtake an aging OS that had been around for over ten years at the time. Microsoft just couldn’t seem to shake the shadow of XP, so it made the strategic decision to do something radical and future-facing. And thus, Windows 8 was born.
Though it seems fortune doesn’t always favour the brave. Windows 8 has had a less than stellar first year in terms of uptake as the market moves away from traditional desktops. It’s radical new look and vision is aptly summed up by the one question everyone asked, “Where’s the start button gone?!?!?!”.
Such was the pressure, Microsoft revised its design and is reintroducing a start button of sorts a year after launch. Whether it’s an act of desperation or a concerted effort to listen to its customers it may not matter. It could turn out to be too little, too late to stop the slide against the slew of competing operating systems that now crowd the market across tablets, phones, TVs and desktops.
Nevertheless, don’t write them off just yet. Whilst the Windows 8 UX may have been ahead of its time, the touch pc/laptop market may now have finally had the chance to catch up. Not to mention their integration options with Windows Phone and their ‘revolutionary’ Xbox One console and who knows, maybe the next iteration of their Surface tablet might storm the market.
Regardless, one thing is for sure, XP’s time has come and all those clinging on to its comfortable past will have to finally say goodbye.
Mainstream support for XP ended in 2009 and Microsoft has announced the OS will get its final security and patch update in April 2014. Beyond that, it’s in retirement and will become more and more vulnerable as each day passes.
We can still think of it fondly in its twilight but all good things must come to an end.
We will have to learn to finally say goodbye and embrace something new.