In case you didn't hear the tortuous screams across the Internet last week, the end has finally come for Windows XP.
The operating system that arrived in October 2001 delivered its final patch update last week to a likely mix of perpetual haters of change and senior citizens whose computers are hand-me-down gifts from family who have since graduated to 21st century technology.
I'm trying to even remember the last time my hands touched a mouse connected to a Windows XP-powered computer. The best guess I can make is around 2007, where XP reigned in corporate office environments (and still does in many settings).
Around the time Windows XP came out, Apple also released its next-generation operating system, OS X. Fast forward to the present day, and OS X is still very much at the core of Apple's personal computing products, even though iOS has hogged a good deal of the spotlight in the last several years. And although OS X has seen several iterations since its initial launch, and even though each of those flavours has had its own unique name, whether it be an exotic animal or most recently, a surf-inspired name, it's still part of a singular brand – OS X.
Now let's look at Microsoft's littered history of operating system names: Windows 95, 98, Millenium (ME), 2000, NT, XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8. Would you consider that a good branding strategy? I wouldn't. That said, Microsoft's lack of branding acumen is probably one of the reasons so many people are conditioned to react with vitriol when they're reminded that it's time to finally stop using a 20th century operating system. While it's true that XP was arguably Microsoft's most popular and most stable OS, every operating system since, with the exception of Windows 7, has been largely viewed with disapproval.
However, let's imagine for a moment that in a meeting some years ago at Microsoft HQ, the decision was made that, like Apple's OS X, Microsoft's future operating systems would bear the name XP. So instead of Vista, we would have seen "Microsoft Windows XP: Walrus", or some weird animal moniker to distinguish it from previous and future versions. Would embracing XP as a brand and not just a one-off operating system have given Microsoft a more favourable view over the years, or would the company's mixed bag of following operating systems make speaking the letters "XP" tantamount to the highest form of heresy or treason?
My guess is that it's probably the latter. Windows XP had a great run, and I imagine some industrious hackers may give it another life as an open source labour of love, but XP's cult status has already been ensured by a combination of crusty enthusiasts and Microsoft's inability to churn out a consistently decent operating system over the years. Their "close, but no cigar" OS history is what makes XP all the more steeped in revisionist tech lore. In 10 years, people may be telling stories around a fire (post-robot apocalypse, of course) about the good ol' days of XP and how it could have saved humanity if Microsoft had just kept it going.
In hindsight, it's a good thing XP didn't evolve into a larger brand, because then, rather than it being one of Microsoft's few OS bright spots, consumers would have likely grown to hate the sound of those letters if they had been attached to something as disappointing as Windows 8.
So raise a glass one more time to XP, and by all means keep fuelling its legend, but please also move on and join us here in the 21st Century.