Microsoft: Why the Windows XP show is finally over

Microsoft: Why the Windows XP show is finally over

Summary: With Windows XP entering the final few weeks of official support, Microsoft executive Jay Paulus offers his take on the OS and explains why it's high time to move.

Microsoft's Jay Paulus: There is certainly risk for people who are staying on XP. Image: Microsoft.

It's easy to get sentimental about Windows XP and forget the hostile reception the OS received at launch — but the fact is, it's simply not cut out for the modern world, according to a senior Microsoft executive.

Despite the undeniable eventual success of XP — and the important lessons it taught the company — it drew criticism when it first appeared in 2001, says Jay Paulus, director at Windows Commercial.

"When you look back at some of the reviews when Windows XP shipped, it was reviled because it had some UI changes, it had some changes to the start menu, it changed the windowing, it put some rounded corners on things," Paulus said.

"People just hated it. They thought, 'It's such a big change. People are never going to learn' — and now look where we are."

Where we are now is XP still running between a quarter and a third of the world's desktops — more than 12 years after it first went on sale. Yet on 8 April, Microsoft ends support for the OS, leaving existing users with no further software updates or security patches.

Windows XP refuses to die, despite concerted attempts by Microsoft to replace it. Windows Vista, and Windows 7 and 8 have all failed to dislodge the 2001-vintage OS.  

The company is reluctant to provide any sales figures to flesh out the scale of Windows XP's enduring success relative to its other operating systems.

Paulus will go no further than saying that it "ultimately became one of our most popular, highest market share products ever".

Extended support: enough is enough

Over the years Microsoft has tried to address the issue of people sticking with XP, despite new Windows launches, according to Paulus.

"We've extended the Extended Support timeframe so many times with XP for that very reason — to keep giving folks more time," he said.

"But I think we've just reached the point where everyone realises that that platform was created in an era when the threats were just fundamentally different."

When XP shipped, wi-fi networks were a big deal and Sony Discman-type devices were still in wide use, Paulus says.

"At some point there is only so much you can do to patch the system until it becomes the time when you need to move onto a new foundation. Just purely from a security standpoint," he said.  

"It's just from a different era. It's very popular. It established a huge user base and there's a lot of it still out there, but it is time to move that thing along."

Apart from commercial success, Windows XP has also taught Microsoft a lot about the importance of reliability, predictability and stability, Paulus says — along with the way people adapt to user interface changes given time.

"Windows XP was the first consumer OS that shipped on the Windows NT kernel, which may be forgotten at this point of time," he said.

"That's what made it so successful. Because it was on the new kernel and that kernel had been tested and proven in a corporate world, it brought a tremendous amount of stability and reliability to Windows" he said.

The Vista effect

Windows XP's enduring popularity also owes much to the shortcomings of its immediate successor, Windows Vista, which Paulus describes as "just a bad memory".

Even when buying new machines, in many cases organisations and individuals opted for the older Windows XP rather than Vista.

"Windows Vista had a number of compatibility problems. It introduced fairly large security changes, changes in the driver model," he said.

"If you were involved in computing at the time, you'll remember that trying to put Windows Vista on a Windows XP-era machine was brutally difficult because of the driver compatibility issues. Because we changed so much of the core of the platform, it broke a lot of drivers."

Windows XP's enduring popularity also owes much to the shortcomings of its immediate successor, Windows Vista, which Paulus describes as "just a bad memory".

The lessons learned from Vista about compatibility and reliability were applied when Windows 7 shipped, and help account for its present position as desktop OS market leader.

But despite the qualities of Windows 7, many have stuck with XP rather than move to more modern alternatives.

"When we talk to customers we get a few different reasons why they don't migrate — a lot of it has to do with money. People don't want to move if they don't have to," he said.

"There's a certain amount of uncertainty that drives it: 'I'm not sure what's going to happen. I'm worried about application compatibility. I'm worried about the effort and the time'.

"People get comfortable with the thing they have and it's understandable — change is hard and nobody wants to spend money if they don't have to. But we've reached that point where people need to move.

"We're pretty confident that people who move on to the modern Microsoft platforms — Windows 8 and Office 365 — soon realise that the upsides are huge and unlike Windows Vista."

Support and migration options

As to the options open to XP-using organisations and individuals, Paulus points to the free tools, guides and resources that are designed to make migration easier, as well as hardware offers from partner companies such as Dell, HP and Lenovo.

Paid-for support from Microsoft after 8 April is an option but only for larger organisations with existing Premier Support contracts.

"By and large it is only going to be the largest companies — and even for those large companies it proves to be an expensive proposition," Paulus said.

"Because in the end they're paying to have an engineering team building patches for their organisation and then delivering those patches. It's definitely designed to be a last resort."

Microsoft does not publish the prices for Custom Support, saying it depends on company size and specific requirements and is available at a few different levels — including a lower-cost form called Essentials, which requires a smaller upfront fee.

"But we're talking about thousands of dollars. It's really not designed to be a mainstream solution. We're really looking for folks to move off the Windows XP platform," Paulus said.

Standard Custom Support is for firms with 1,000 or more devices and is costed out on an annual basis depending on precise machine numbers. 

"[The lower cost option] is still in the tens of the thousands of dollars to enrol, and then you pay per fix as well as a per-device fee. It allows you to scale it back somewhat, but we're talking tens of thousands of dollars on an annual basis," Paulus said.

It will be incumbent on IT departments to deploy any patches Microsoft produces for XP because there will no longer be any General Distribution Releases, or GDRs, to roll out and automatically update machines.

MSE updates: Not really an extension

Recent coverage reported Microsoft as continuing to provide virus signatures and anti-malware engine updates for XP until 14 July 2015, but it's not really an extension, according to Paulus.

"Microsoft Security Essentials is something that never really had a formal published policy on how long that would continue to happen on an unsupported OS. This was just a matter of making it clear," he said.

"The honest truth here is that they would have had to do work to stop those updates from going out."

Paulus says Microsoft thought that clarification was the right thing to do for customers.

"It gives us another good way to notify them that they are on an unsupported OS. We just want to make sure people don't get the wrong idea and think that's a reason why I can stay behind," he said.

"It's a good thing. It helps and it's the right thing for customers but they shouldn't get a false sense of security and use that as a reason to delay for another year."

He also believes that recent reports about Windows 9 shouldn't be used as grounds for delaying a move from XP.

"There's always a new release. We're always working on the next version. As soon as we ship one, of course we are working on the next version. I don't think people are confused by that — I hope that they're not because that shouldn't be a reason to wait," he said.

"People need to make this move. Right now is the time. We want as many people to move as possible before the end of support date. It's really the best option for them."

Topics: Windows XP and the Future of the Desktop, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • But the machine is working just fine

    The Windows XP is getting the job done, migrating to Windows 7 or 8 would be upgrading from upgrade sake. What persons want to do is use that Windows XP machine until it dies and its same case for those who have a machine that just cannot be upgraded to a newer version because of System Requirements. I think one of the worst decisions is requiring a custom install from Windows XP to Windows 7. Microsoft should have provided a false sense of hope by supporting in place upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7. architecturally, Windows 7 is no different from Windows Vista, so I don't know what was the big deal.
    • In-place upgrades are notoriously unreliable - always have been.

      Most Windows XP code (written prior to 2007) was notoriously ill-behaved. The transition to Vista changed all that. If users kept their applications up to date (post 2007), the transition to Windows 7 will be relatively painless.
      M Wagner
      • In place upgrades work great on the Mac

        and I don't remember them being particularly painful in the Windows NT days either.

        Reinstalling challenging application configurations from scratch can be a real pain in the butt. People would, I believe, deeply appreciate lower barriers to upgrading.
      • Crocus Maximus

        Repeat that enough times and you may believe it. No one else will. 2007 was the magical year for "good code" ? If it wasn't so annoying to read, I would be laughing.
      • In place upgrades

        have never worked on Microsoft Windows, I've watched competent users hose their Windows 7 machines by trying to install Windows 8.0.

        It is never a good idea to try this with any Microsoft code - there are even horror stories about the 8.0 to 8.1 update, and that is really only a service pack.

        I have seen in place upgrades work out alright, but much more of the time they end up wiping out something which was needed, and many times not backed up. I make a lot of money on customers who've tried to do them.
  • Hmmm. If I recall correctly

    Windows XP was hated because it was a security nightmare and had all kinds of vulnerabilities that could cause your machine to be compromised just by turning it on. There were some complaints about the Fisher Price color scheme and the simplified start menu, but since you could, you know, actually TURN THOSE FEATURES OFF, the complaints were trivial. There were also a fair number of complaints about how XP broke a lot of Win 95/98 software. After the first service pack fixed pretty much everything MS screwed up, the complaints pretty much went away.

    But, it shouldn't be a surprise that MS is re-writing its history to make it sound like the major complaint with XP was the interface, since they seemed absolutely determined to keep the Metro interface come hell or high water.
    • Totally agree

      They are trying to draw parallels to Windows 8 when in fact there are no parallels at all. If you didn't like the Fisher Price look or the new Start Menu, it was very easy to revert to the old one. Windows 8 complaints would be trivial as well if Microsoft actually gave desktop users a way to turn Metro completely off and revert to the start menu.
      • Revert to the old interface?

        Not sure what you mean ...

        When I installed XP on any machine the first thing I did was set the menu style to Classic (i.e., 98).

        I didn't start using Win 7 until Classic Shell came out.

        My three Win 8.1 Pro machines at home (one of which dual-boots to Win 7 Home) STILL are set to the Classic menu.

        There's a NEW menu style AFTER '98? Really?
        • You need 3rd party apps to do it though

          With Windows 8, you have to pay extra for a third party utility that brings back the Start Menu and disables Metro. Why should anybody have to pay for a feature that should come as part of the OS? As long as Microsoft doesn't provide away to hide Metro completely and revert to the classic interface in Windows 8, it simply doesn't cut it.
          • Classic Shell is free

            Classic Shell is a free app. It runs on my three Win 8.1 machines. You can select which start menu you want. You could pay $5 for Start 8. Some people think it is easier to set up. I have tried it and think not.
          • Try the support people

            I was so unhappy with my brand new Dell (expensive as they come) product - until they told me it was a windows issue. You are right. Microsoft should Provide a Free feature the brings back the start menu and disables metro. Would someone please inform me when they do that. Thank you.
        • LOL, Rick_R

          First thing I did when buying my four Win7 machines over the past year -- and before that, I didn't even know Win7 existed -- first thing I did, was learn how to restore my 'classic' menu. For I have and maintain many machines, from 286 through Windows 95, 98, XP. Never got Vista until buying the Win7s, just to see the difference. Vista's UAC is annoying, and its file management (which in Win7 is worse), is a pain. Else it's okay.

          But all these allow you to right click from the Start Menu and either select 'classic', or (with Win7) there are extra steps to get it back. And, I got it back, now on all (16) Windows machines.

          Win8 won't let me do that, so I won't let Win8 on any of my machines, but it stays in its retail DVD shrinkwrap. For the cost of a thing is the time you have to futz with it, not the purchase price.
          • CORRECTION

            FIVE Win7s, the first was purchased over a year ago. And I didn't know about anything post-XP except by vague name, until May '12 when my main XP machine died. Shutting up now...
          • Don't feel bad

            Hey your young. I got a computer degree in 1980 and never did a thing with it.
          • WOW

            I have windows 8 please pray for me.
          • hahaha

            So many of you are complaining about Windows 7 8 and I am guessing windows 8.1 (which I have). So many people moaned about how slow XP was, with good or poor WiFi. With windows 8 or 8.1, streaming (even with poor Wifi) is very quick. Install times have been improved massively, and you are all forgetting Microsoft is a business that has competition I.E. APPLE so they have to make money some how and come out with new software. So all this moaning about the metro interface is pointless, I personally find it a lot easier and a lot safer. Since upgrading to windows 8 I have had no spyware/ infections pop ups. The metro interface makes the navigating around your Pc or laptop very easy, and the third party add on are part of the package. You still have a desktop option, just adapted from windows 7. MS has to adapt to the market and what the mass wants not petty digs of opinions at them.

            The metro interface makes it so much easier to navigate around your PC, with the desktop option still their (to match the complaints about difficulty to work your way around XP)
          • Migration and customization time is a pain.

            Microsoft fails to create a good transition point, they do not have a good program transfer upgrade option nor keep your customizations or settings, and with each new OS they move half your buttons around and hide or remove the little things you use all the time and are used to, they do not listen to their customers very well at all (unless you have a big pocket book.) They forget or ignore that Thousands of users spend month getting their computers to look and function just the way they want them to, they Microsoft rips that all away by forcing updates and new OS on people that erases tons of peoples hard work, time and money customizing.
    • I recall reading the EULA and cringing

      It took me a while to leave the buggy Win 98 for XP because I did not like the thought of being treated like a thief by Microsoft after paying them for the software license. That is when I started looking into Linux alternatives. I was already managing several Linux servers and the leap to desktop was not that much of a stretch from their.
      • Forgot about that. Absolutely right

        there was a major outcry over Microsoft introducing product activation with XP.
        • Agree

          Product activation was a huge downside to XP when it first came out. Today, its accepted as a normal part of any software but back then it was a huge deal and caused many techies to stick with Windows 2000.