Windows XP was first released to the public in late 2001 and remained the most popular OS in the world until 2012. There are still an estimated half-billion users.
Why Microsoft could not evolve XP to this day has always made me wonder what is wrong with the company. It constantly feels obliged to make gratuitous radical changes that never stick.
Windows Vista was a gratuitous change (2007) and then Windows 7 (2009) was a back off from Vista. We are seeing the same thing with Windows 8 – itself perhaps the most extreme radical change – but now with each update the company is backing away from the most radical and questionable ideas, such as forcing you to run full-screen apps on large monitors.
The huge success of XP was only rivalled by Windows 95 from six years prior. That was going to be a tough act to follow, especially if the company was going to produce another hit. But it worked – Windows XP was such a perfect version of the Windows OS it became the culmination of the Windows line. It still handles more disparate hardware than anything else, had the best easy-to-use intuitive interface with all functionality being very logical, and was relatively trouble-free.
Longhorn was the codename for what was to become Vista. All sorts of features were promoted. The most interesting feature in Vista was to be a new file structure, WinFS, that would in and of itself be a relational database. It would allow for much easier file discovery and access.
All the promises were suddenly pulled from the OS and what the users got instead was a prettier Mac-like OS that clearly did not work as well as XP. Derided and ridiculed by the media, its reputation was ruined for good. When I first used Windows Vista, I noticed I could not figure out where all the controls were for many of the normal functions such as Wi-Fi channels.
Microsoft had to rush out Windows 7 in 2009 ahead of schedule to make amends for Vista. Windows 7 backed off on many of the fanciful characteristics of Vista, which calmed down the complainers. Windows 7 was no better than Vista; in fact, I think it is worse. But no matter because three years later we ended up with Windows 8, a real fiasco for desktop users.
Meanwhile, there are those aforementioned half a billion users still running Windows XP, and Microsoft is clueless as to why this is.
So yesterday, Microsoft pulled the plug on XP. No more fixes, upgrades, or anything else. No patch Tuesday. No re-installs (from what I can tell). Activation may turn into an issue, although it seems unlikely that XP is going to be pinging Microsoft for confirmation of activation and get a null response resulting in 500,000,000 calls to Microsoft support.
The activation issue and zero support may result in a serious unintended consequence for Microsoft and the sphere of users.
Windows XP could become a de facto public domain OS. Kind of like Windows 2000 almost became. Win2K never required activation and anyone can still build a cheapie system and install Windows 2000 without much hassle. XP could take over that slot as crowd-sourced support emerges.
Because most third-party software and hardware is easily recognised by XP to this day, and most obscure products have drivers for XP, it is possible that XP usage will increase from bootlegging the OS. XP will become a zombie OS – the living dead.
The irony of this possibility will not be lost on Microsoft, especially when the company could continue to support it on a paid basis (which is something I have previously discussed elsewhere).
The main use of the Windows operating system has always been desktop productivity. It wasn't so much for watching TV or slideshows with grandma. Windows 8, for sure, has made productivity more difficult by all accounts. While it is nice to know the time without squinting, I do not need my personal photos flashed on the screen for no good reason. Windows 8 is laughable.
Windows XP was the best of all worlds and did its job without distractions. It made sense and was probably the last product from Microsoft that ever made sense.
We will miss you XP. Good luck as a zombie.
For more on this topic, see: Windows XP has finally been laid to rest – but it will haunt us well into the future.