Windows 8 is the new XP

This new version of Windows is a disaster. Power users can't wait to replace the UI, and businesses are avoiding it like the plague. I'm talking, of course, about Windows XP. Ah, how quickly we forget.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

This new version of Windows is going to be a disaster, pundits say. It will be completely rejected by businesses, who will stick with old versions even after Microsoft drops support for them.

And its new interface is so hideous and unusable that customers who are forced to use it will trip over themselves finding ways to restore the old Start menu.

I am, of course, talking about Windows XP, which was released 11 years ago this week. It lived down to all those insults and dire predictions for years before it finally and implausibly became a success.

If you’re a lazy pundit and haven’t written your Windows 8 wrap-ups yet, feel free to use these decade-old stories, just substituting 8 for XP.

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I keep reading that businesses are going to snub Windows 8. News flash: Businesses snub every new Windows version. It was true three years ago, and eight years ago, and 11 years ago.

Consider the dismal results as Windows XP celebrated its one-year anniversary:

Windows XP Slow to Take Hold – Paula Rooney, CRN, Oct 11, 2002

On the first anniversary of Windows XP's release, Microsoft has little to celebrate.

Less than 10 percent of Microsoft's installed base has upgraded to Windows XP since its release last October. That matches a 2001 Gartner prediction that nearly 75 percent of all corporate PCs would still be running Windows 95, 98 or NT Workstation by the end of 2002.

The adoption rate for the installed base of 250 million Windows users is "pretty small," said Rogers Weed, vice president of Windows client product management at Microsoft. "We're trying to kick-start some momentum."

On XP’s second birthday, businesses were still yawning:

Users cling to old Microsoft operating systems – Ina Fried, CNET, Dec 12, 2003

[A] new study shows that a substantial number of businesses, both large and small, are still using [Windows 98].

The study looked at 372,129 PCs from 670 companies ranging in size from 10 to 49,000 employees. …

In total, Windows 95 made up 14.7 percent of operating systems, and Windows 98 made up 12.5 percent. Windows 2000 was the most common OS, running on slightly more than half of machines, while its predecessor, Windows NT4, was still used on 13.3 percent of desktops.

Windows XP, the most current version of Windows, was found on just 6.6 percent of the machines.

One month later, in January 2004, ZDNet Australia reported that Microsoft was extending support for Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, and Windows ME:

The software giant has prolonged support for the operating systems until June 30, 2006. During that time, paid over-the-phone support will be available, "critical" security issues will be reviewed, and "appropriate steps" taken.

The company's support for the Windows 98 family of operating systems was scheduled to end this Friday, with support for Windows ME due to expire in December of this year.

"Microsoft made this decision to assist our customers worldwide who are still dependent upon these operating systems and to provide Microsoft more time to communicate its product lifecycle support guidelines in a handful of markets?-particularly smaller and emerging markets," said Danny Beck, Microsoft Australia's senior Windows desktop product marketing manager.

Stop and let that sink in. Businesses were voluntarily choosing Windows 98 and even the despised Windows Me over XP.

In August 2004, nearly three years after XP was released, rumors of a new version code-named Longhorn were flying. Professional curmudgeon Stephen Manes surveyed his readers for their reactions to Windows XP. In the print edition of PC World, respondents could barely suppress their loathing for the XP Start menu:

I also urged you to weigh in on … the idea that Longhorn might kill the "Classic" interface that's been around since Windows 95.


[M]ore than 700 of you demanded its survival--as opposed to 3 who liked the new Windows XP look. Many complained about XP's "Fisher-Price interface" and noted that the first thing they do on any XP machine is switch back to Classic View. I wholeheartedly agree.

A few years later, in one of the great ironies that makes this business so much fun, PC World sister publication InfoWorld was collecting hundreds of thousands of names for its “Save XP” petition.

The amusing thing about all this is that XP didn’t need saving. It’s still alive and well today, and will be supported by Microsoft until April 2014. Despite the early scorn and dismissal, XP turned out to be the long-term support version, the one that businesses adopted and stuck with. And corporate buyers are moving, finally, to Windows 7, where they will be able to park entire Fortune 500 enterprises until 2020.

So what happened to Windows XP? How did its reputation improve after those early scornful reactions?

Mostly, it was time that did all the healing. As consumers picked up new PCs running Windows XP, they got used to the interface. Microsoft released a series of service packs that fixed bugs and (notably with SP2) improved the generally woeful security of the initial release. People got used to the bright colors of the "Fisher-Price interface," and eventually it didn't seem so garish.

The hardware caught up too. In the next two years, even the worst-case estimates suggest that the PC industry will sell 500 million new PCs, many of them equipped with touchscreens on which the Windows 8 interface will make perfect sense.

The Microsoft that released Windows 8 is much more disciplined than the one that shipped Windows XP. I expect that Windows 8 will get frequent updates, including one or two that will make the interface more flexible for developers and end users.

I’m also willing to bet that Windows 9 arrives in two years, with Windows 10 probably coming two years after that. Businesses will studiously ignore those new releases, of course. Just as they always do.

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