Windows XP dies at 12 1/2 after long illness

Windows XP dies at 12 1/2 after long illness

Summary: The most successful and yet most problematic version of Windows passed on as Microsoft provided its last full measure of support today.


Microsoft Windows XP's lifecycle came to an end today after a tumultuous 12-year reign as the most successful operating system ever.


Despite great market success, Windows XP had been suffering from severe security vulnerabilities almost since birth. XP barely survived major surgery in 2004, emerging as Windows XP SP2, more resilient to attack, but still weak. Having long-since decided to forgo further heroic measures, Microsoft withdrew support today.

I asked my ZDNet colleague, Ed Bott, who literally wrote the book on Windows XP, for a few words on the sad occasion. Choking back a tear, Ed said "Windows XP has been officially supported for more than 12 years. It was a senior citizen five years ago. It’s been on life support since then. It deserves to die with dignity".

Windows XP was born in the summer of 2001, being released to manufacturing on August 24, 2001. The formal rollout event for Windows XP in Times Square in October of that year was subdued, owing to the still-fresh ruins of the World Trade Center downtown, but it was still clearly a major event in PC history.

XP was the first version of Windows destined for the consumer market to be based on the Windows NT kernel. This made it far more resilient, even more secure, than Windows Me and Windows 9x versions it replaced. It brought many other advances to combat common Windows problems, such as measures to combat "DLL Hell," an improved user interface, and better performance than earlier consumer Windows versions which ran a much less sophisticated kernel architecture.

Product activation was also born with Windows XP. In an attempt to combat what they termed "casual piracy," Microsoft created a copy-protection system for Windows which was later extended to Office. Determined and even modestly competent pirates were able to get past Activation in Windows XP. Microsoft has made the technology much more difficult to bypass in later versions, but the ability to get cheap or free versions added to XP's popularity, particularly in the far east.

Alas, Windows XP was also born at time when hacker culture began to flourish, and XP was a popular and fairly easy target. On December 20, 2001, Microsoft released security bulletin MS01-059 (warning: shockingly, the page only seems to work correctly in Internet Explorer), which announced that an unchecked buffer in the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) subsystem could allow anyone on the network to take control of a Windows system just by sending some malicious traffic.

This is the worst kind of vulnerability and, while it wasn't the first and also affected earlier versions of Windows, it also wasn't the last. Very shortly afterwards, on Jan. 15, 2002, Bill Gates sent a memo to all Microsoft employees outlining the need for "Trustworthy Computing". Microsoft products had been written with little, if any effective concern for the reality of the security situation on the Internet. This had to change.

Gates's memo gave the company permission to delay the development of important products in order to get security right in them. It led to the creation of the SDL (Security Development Lifecycle), a set of practices to make security an important concern through the entire development process.

But all this came too late for Windows XP, which was already out and selling in spite of being a hacking magnet. New products would be built with security as a far higher priority, but what about Windows XP which was, after all, brand new? For a time there was little Microsoft could do but to patch vulnerabilities as they were found.

On August 25, 2004 Microsoft released Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. It contained some new user features and rolled up all updates since Service Pack 1, but was more significant for substantial security changes, mostly under the covers:

  • The Windows Firewall was beefed up and set to run by default before the networking code was started.
  • SP2 was recompiled to add support for (DEP) Data Execution Prevention, a technique that prevents many buffer overflow attacks. Support for the "NX" (no-execute) bit in many CPUs, also used for DEP, was added.
  • Many of the core Internet-facing utilities: Outlook Express, Windows Messenger, and Internet Explorer were updated to be able to recognize potentially malicious files and warn the user of them.
  • Additional warnings were added for ActiveX code and scripts.
  • A Windows Security Center was created to coordinate security information for the user.
  • Internet Explorer got a pop-up blocker.
  • The Manage Add-Ons dialog was added to IE to show what code was installed in the browser and to allow users to disable it.
  • Automatic Updates was improved.

Service Pack 3 was released several years later, rolling up more fixes and adding a few more security features.

The work that went into SP2 and the change of approach forced by the SDL meant that Windows XP's successor was not going to come out on schedule. To appease business customers, many of whom had bought Software Assurance subscriptions in order to get access to updates which were presumed to come regularly, Microsoft extended the support lifecycle of Windows XP an extra two years from the scheduled 2012 date to today.

But, in spite of all the complaints and problems, the last decade belonged to Windows XP. Helped immensely by poor customer reaction to XP's successor, Windows Vista, Windows XP's presence in the corporate world — in fact, in the entire world — grew to a huge proportion, only to drop with the release of Windows 7.

source NetMarketShare

Windows XP is survived by Windows 7, Windows 8 and, barely, by Windows Vista. We attempted to reach Windows Vista for comment but couldn't find it anywhere.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems

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  • "XP dies"!!!: Bit too dramatic, huh

    Are all these 'doomsday' articles on XP bordering on FUD? Have no fear Linux is here.

    Why waste that old Hardware, its bad for Planet Earth.
    Get the most worth out of your PC as long as it works well.

    How to Break free from the cycle of Planned Obsolesce?!!??
    Stay safe with Linux.
    There is a very good chance Linux OS will run well with older hardware with lower specs
    Switch to the free, safe, secure & awesome OS:
    Its the worlds most popular free OS. It has free upgrades & security updates. It has a free office suite, LibreOffice that comes standard along with other great apps/programs.
    For those who like the Windows look, I would recommend: & for older computer with lower specs or
    Or try Linux Mint:
    Because the Linux option is free & now so easy (user friendly) one must give it a try. You have so much to gain.
    Lots of people give their time, effort & money to make these great products that they just give the world for free. So they may not have the huge ad budgets & would need users like us to spread the word. Although its free, you are welcome to donate if you like the software.

    For those worried about Office 2003 support ending try LibreOffice or OpenOffice.
    Time to check out the free, safe, secure & feature-packed LibreOffice. Its truly multi-platform & takes just a few minutes & clicks to install.

    Try it now you have so much to gain:

    Thunderbird is excellent as well.

    I feel most people should find it great. All they need to do is try it out 1st in a LiveDVD or LiveUSB.
    • Planned Obsolesce?

      funny how that is casually thrown around on things just because something can't be supported forever, and people want otherwise.

      Good try at the sales pitch, though.

      I feel most people found it wanting, otherwise it would be more widely installed.
      • "otherwise it would be more widely installed"

        Exactly right; Linux may be great - but it has never managed to convince a mainstream audience.

        And none of the Linux fanclub have ever come up with a reason for that.

        1% of the PC markey after 15 years? There HAS to be something, guys.
        • because the time is now

          Heenan, as a user of both Linux and WIndows, I can answer your question. I can also tell you the time is now for Linux Mint. Linux has been slow for acceptance because, despite all its warts, XP and W7 have been decent OS's for the masses, and because Linux still needed development. However, Microsoft has really given the finger to the masses with W8. I tested it the other day, and it will not be accepted by the general public....they strayed too far (actually, completely) from W7. The change should have been more gradual, because W8 has some nice ideas. But Microsoft just doesn't seem to care anymore about making products the public wants. Even worse, they are shifting the Office products to a subscription basis, which also the public does not want. Besides, the Office products have become too complicated for the general public as well, adding features and interfaces no one wants....all in the name to try to make people buy new products they don't need.

          Meanwhile, Linux has caught up to the user friendly category. I'm using Linux Mint on a netbook right now that used to have XP right now. My wife used it last night for the first time and loved it. Web browsing and Office-like products are included.

          You sound like someone who hasn't tried the latest Linux flavors. You should. It will work fine for more people. And, it will send an important warning to Microsoft to not be so arrogant and listen to their users.
          • Not

            I can tell you right away that the time is not now for any flavour of Linux as a desktop operating system and it never will be. By sheer fact of its development model it can NEVER be what most people want because the people that develop it do not answer to the public. Microsoft and Apple have always provided customer support simply because they had customers. Linux has no customers and the only ones it answers to are developers while users are left to fend for themselves on moronic support forums where they are aided by people who know just a little bit more than they do. Google has no customers either (well, we call them advertisers) but it has to design for popularity and hence depends on a great user experience. Linux has virtually no incentive to develop a great user experience because the users barely enter the picture in its business model. Linux is built by developers who build it for themselves. And that's the very simple answer.
          • another person who has not used Linux Mint

            Another post from someone who has not tried Linux Mint. Your talking like someone who is thinking old Linux. I just explained its a new era. And you are talking like customer support is needed all the time. Most people just want to browse the web and use Office-like products. Many of the problems with MS are malware and virus issues, which Linux has much fewer of due to the way it is configured and maintained. Customer support is not needed much. And, if it makes you feel better, there are numerous computer shops (not Best Buy!) who can help if there is a problem.

            I'm cranking right now on Linux Mint, doing everything you can do on WIndows with a user-friendly interface. I'm not banging my head against the wall. There are no driver issues. I have no reason to go to a forum. Everything works. It's time to quit bashing what you dont understand.
          • Right

            How excellent of you. I am also "cranking" on Windows 7 and I'm also not banging my head against the wall. Thus far it seems like there is no difference between you and me. I thought Linux had benefits - at that's least what people make it out to be. In reality Linux is trying very hard to become what Windows has *always* been. It's a wannabe operating system. You make it sound as if "not banging your head against the wall" is a sign of excellence.

            It's not. It's how a user experience is supposed to be. I don't know how old you are, but I've been using Linux since 1995. I used it before I had internet as the so called "winmodems" were not supported and I didn't have money for an external modem. I've used SuSE, OpenSuSE, Debian and Ubuntu. I've used KDE and Gnome and various other window managers as they were used on university computers. I've experimented with Ubuntu Unity. I've seen a development of some 17+ years. Linux is still the same now that it was when I used Debian around the year 2000.

            So now there is a new flavour called "Mint". You think now suddenly the sun comes up at night and goes down in the morning? What reason do I have to assume that there is now a "new era" as if Mint is everything that Ubuntu is not? Nothing you say makes it sound as if something new has entered the arena. Everything you say about Mint is true about Ubuntu. And guess what: It's not enough.

            Have you ever tried installing a software package that was not in the repository? If you ever do, it will require libraries that are also not in the repository, because Linux developers like to use the newest versions of everything. So now you're manually having to collect every library and installing them in the proper order because software releases don't contain the required libs and there are also no real designated "standard" library foundations (except for glibc and the like) that software releases could offset from. Any Windows program will run on any Windows system (there might be requirements for certain "plateaus" such as .NET and DirectX or some service pack) but these requirements are well-defined. Of course, a lot of software is going to bug out anyway, but certainly not the vast majority. In Linux, if it's not in the repository (which repository? various important developers/users maintain their own repositories that give access to additional software) then you're practically screwed.

            Now you may say that this is irrelevant since most users don't want to do this, but any user who gains a bit of proficiency may run into situations and scenario's and use cases in which he/she has or wants to do just this little bit more than what the "safety zone" allows, and then he/she is going to open, what we call, a can of worms.

            I'm a power user. I do not fit this category of "only wants to browse the web and write letters". Ironically enough, this "power tool" operating system that we call Linux is a deep horror when you want to attain any sense of mastery over your system. Linux has 20 times the tools that Windows has (mostly in terms of command line scripting) and yet the graphical user interface is like a fragile attempt at worthlessness that can only appease the least demanding of users.

            Sure, "my wife started using it last night and she loves it". Wait till she wants to do stuff that can't be done and you're not around.
          • Don't wait for his wife, kauzen, I'm already there

            The instructions on how to install Mint or any other distro are uniformly bad and full of jargon. Turns out the installation process is easy, if you take certain precautions and never install to your internal hard drive. THAT problem is rarely if ever, broached. Trick is to 'install' using the regular installer program but NOT be online, NOT be on AC power, and instead install to a stick or external hard drive. With Mint, this is the only painless process. Can't say the same for the other 13 distros I've tried so far.

            Also, what you said about installations not in the repository, is spot on. I installed MS Office 2003 via WINE, and can't get it to run, can't find the exe files, and of course they don't show in the menu. Neither did WordPerfect 8 for Linux (native Linux program), which I had new in shrinkwrap (old program, but pristine original retail boxed software, never opened until I opened it). Can't find what constitutes its executable, though I can find all the files. Same for a package in the repository, caja (mate file manager, which I like) -- installed in Fedora. The latter tells me the installation is there, but I can't find the executable, nor is there any entry in the menu. So I've no idea how to create the equivalent of a 'shortcut'.

            On the other hand, took me seconds to get up and running with Firefox in Mint or anyone else, and a bit longer for email. But the best use of Linux is as XP's file manager to do stuff XP cannot do. That's almost intuitive, and it saved my machine before I even knew what Linux was.

            So it has some sterling uses as a 'buddy' to XP or Win7, does some things neither OS can do well at all. But flipside, as a standalone OS? Nope. Long way to go there, too much jargon, too easy for a package manager to break, etc.

            Will still use Mint/Linux, still believe in it, but my XP won't be quitting its day job, anytime soon.
          • That's more like it

            @brainout That's more like the user experience I know from Linux, indeed.
          • But, but, but...

            XP is now no longer secure. Unlike the Linux fanboys, I won't blame you for still wanting to run Windows, but you should at least upgrade to Windows 7. The interface is only a little different from XP, unlike Window 8, which is radically different from both. Some of us are convinced the differences are uniformly NOT in the favor of Windows 8;)
          • Good Point: and that reminds me:

            I was stuck with running an old, outdated and therefore vulnerable version of Mozilla Firefox on one of my Fedora systems because the package manager took over a YEAR to bring his gcc libraries up to date. Mozilla required the later version with some floating bug fix, but for some STRANGE reason this fix did not find its way into the repository for SUCH a long time.

            Users do NOT want to have to take extraordinary measures to restore basic security do to oddities like this.
          • Skepticism...

            You claim, "doing everything you can do on WIndows with a user-friendly interface. "

            But I doubt that very much. There are still quite a few software vendors who do not release a Linux version of their products because Linux users don't pay for software. And if you have to do development of a product for both platforms, guess what: you need to have Windows DLLs to test against.

            For that matter, every mobile phone I have ever owned, if it HAD sync/backup software at all, it had/has it only for Windows. There are a few other products that are like this.

            IOW if YOU are "doing everything you can do on WIndows with a user-friendly interface", you are doing only a subset of the things the average user wants to do. It is an even smaller subset of what serious developers need to do.
          • Yes, Linux Developers Build It For Themselves

            because many of them use computers to get REAL work done and not so much the profit motive. Some of my friends are migrating from Win XP and I am configuring their new Win7/Win8 dual license computers to boot to Linux and run Windows 7 in a virtual machine. By having them save all user files to a home server or a separate Linux partition through shared folders, any Windows virus attacks can be completely removed in seconds by going to a snapshot of the virtual machine.

            I can install and configure Linux, including latest security patches, in less time than it takes to install the latest security patches from Microsoft.
          • Euhm

            How exactly does getting "real" work done preclude a profit motive, and how does a profit motive preclude getting "real" work done?

            I will venture that Windows users and Linux users typically have different sorts of work they are getting done, particularly if one uses Linux for one's job/business/occupation, and certainly if one is a Linux programmer.

            Most Linux programmers will also work in IT (probably) and hence their Linux environment will be very well suited to them. And that is precisely the point I was making.

            I have also used a Linux desktop for work when I did programming for a company that created browser-based Java software running in a Linux application server, that's only natural.

            Other than that, there is not much difference between someone using Windows for work or Linux for work. So that's not what sets Linux's open source development model apart from Windows and many Windows applications. Furthermore, many in the scientific community as well as IT community have migrated to OS X simply because it features a Unix environment as well as a great (opinions may differ) graphical user environment. OS X is definitely not developed the way Linux GUIs are being developed.

            So all in all "REAL" work being done does not have much to say about either and I will stick to my point that Linux is developed by developers for developers and not for end users. That may or may not be a problem depending on your stake and your perspective, but it's simple fact.
          • The real problem with Linux

            The real problem with Linux is that the people who promote Linux do not understand how to sell it. To them, selling is a dirty word. Pity.

            All the really cute and meaningless program names could stand a makeover, too, but not in such a way as to violate trademarks.
          • And Windows 8 is the "Great UI"? LOL

            OMG, if the success of an operating system depends on a great user experience that explains why Windows 8 has horribly failed. It's down the slowest painful death an OS could possibly die. Microsoft is even trying to kill it off so that they can get on with Windows 9. But people like William "cowbell" Farrell won't let it die....why.....because....drum roll please...."IT BOOTS FASTER! Whoopie DO!!!!"
            A great user experience on Windows 8? LOL. Good luck with that. Hopefully now that Microsoft has a new top dog with half a brain, Windows 9 has a small chance at being a success.
          • Hate to burst your bubble but GENERATIONS have been making that claim ...

            ... since Linux first appeared in the early 1990's and it just doesn't hold water.

            Linux is a robust, and highly scalable, high-performance operating system for research but like most such high-performance operating systems, it requires a lot of special knowledge to care for. Could it be made consumer-friendly? Sure but Linux vendors are not willing to invest the time and money necessary to place Linux on dining room tables across the world.

            Those vendors can make lots more money putting Linux in the enterprise machine-room next to general purpose Windows servers. Why would Linux vendors want to battle Microsoft for the commodity desktop when they already have a corner on the high-performance market?
            M Wagner
          • Exactly

            You can tell not a lot of energy/money goes into making the Linux desktop user friendly, but that's true of many open source projects. Even if you install Apache on Windows, it's a b1tch. (Been some time since I did that, but I'm sure nothing has changed).

            The typical open source project focuses on developing new and exciting features that an advanced user can turn into actual functionality, rather than providing a great experience for the average Joe. So you will see new features being added before old problems are resolved. In fact, it seems like the user experience problems will never get fixed, and indeed they won't.

            That's just not the focus of development.
          • ...true

            ...Look at Blender. It has been around for a while gone through many many updates often having new features added left and right. It's UI and many controls meanwhile have lagged behind to the point it has become counter intuitive. Oh the Blender community which has been around since it's inception has no issue with it. However, for a new user the application has a learning curve as steep as El Captiain, due mostly in part to incredibly clunky and cumbersome UI.

            The original application started as primarily a 3D modelling application, but over ht years has since grown into a "Freeware" version of full featured software like 3DS Max and Lightwave (both which have a more intuitive UI than Blender). In fact during the previous Blender Conference, the head of the foundation stressed continued advanced feature development over making the UI more intuitive for new users.

            This is why I am still struggling with Daz 3D's unstable Hexagon application for at least I can spend more time actually learning the concepts of 3D modelling without having the UI get in the way all the time, and some new feature mucking up the works
            Kyoto Kid
          • Why Does No One See It?

            A Windows "power user"... what games does a Windows "power user" play? THAT is the real definition of a Windows "power user", not someone who uses Office 8 hours a day.

            What has driven software and hardware development, at least until recently, has been games. Apps like Office don't require multi-core gigahertz computers with gigabytes of ram. Games, ever increasingly, do.

            So why didn't Linux take off? Some of it is the lack of app compatibility, but most of it is the lack of mainstream games. There may now be a WoW client, for example (dunno; haven't played WoW in a long time), but many, many other very popular games are Windows-only.
            Virtualbox and Wine have both always been weak on running Windows games.

            The Android version of Linux is kicking the snot out of Windows, at the moment. I find myself doing more and playing more on my phone and tablet and less on my Win 7 desktop as time goes on.

            Personally, I love Windows 7, and I liked Windows XP. I've never had the luxury of setting up a current-generation dedicated Linux machine, but I plan to (running LinuxMint) as soon as I can. Not out of dissatisfaction with Windows, or because there are games I want that aren't available on Windows, but because I've enjoyed tinkering with Linux every time I've installed it on my last-generation PC (after getting a new PC running Windows).