Windows XP: The best OS ever?

Finally – the end is near for Windows XP. I’m glad to see this coming and even more happy to write about it. There are a few thoughts however that I’d like to shine a light on.

First, what I find most interesting is that we all are so concerned that IT is running at such a fast pace, how can it be that an operating system is still used widely after more than decade? So it seems that also IT sometimes enjoys a stability usually only known from the world of household appliances. I was a young boy at the time, but I still remember MS-DOS 3.30 and I’d consider DOS 3.3 the most standardized MS-DOS for so many years. I remember DOS 4 had issues, DOS 5 was better, and DOS 6 was finally something stable. MS-DOS 3.3 was released in August 1987 (I had to look that up), DOS 6 in March 1993, so DOS 3.3 was living almost six years. I agree that most people would have switched from DOS 3.3 to DOS 5, not DOS 6, so DOS 3.3 had half of the lifespan of Windows XP. I can’t think of any other OS that was living so long in such a widespread fashion as Windows XP.

Windows XP SP3 screenshot
Windows XP SP3 screenshot. Used with permission from Microsoft.
Actual comparisons are difficult if not impossible though. Windows XP was seriously updated by its service packs. Could you compare XP Service Pack 2 to the change from Windows 95 to 98? I’d say so, although I’m for sure not educated on the Windows 95-98-ME series that I tried to avoid – then at university – at all cost. Do you remember anyone seriously using Windows NT 4.0 by the time XP was out? How would you compare different OS X versions with different Windows versions? I believe Microsoft would have considered Snow Leopard just to be a “Service Pack” (sorry Apple folks) as there were little visible changes.

Now why is Windows XP so amazingly long-living? The answer is probably something IT people don’t want to hear: Because it has solved the problems people had, the problems why they bought a PC. Innovation has slowed down, period. Who cares if a start menu is square, rectangle or round? Yes, PCs before the Windows 2000 age were horribly unstable, difficult to use, hardware support was a nightmare (remember the time when printer drivers where considered part of the word processing application?), bad design choices stifled innovation (think 640 KB). But after the year 2000, not only did all those people who were 50+ in the early PC age retire, with a more PC-savvy generation come up, but using a PC had improved dramatically from a usability perspective and PCs were stable. I’d say most of the crashes that happened in the XP were due to faulty hardware, most notably RAM, when people sought to buy the cheapest RAM possible. A newer MS Office version doesn’t allow you to do things that you couldn’t before. I’d say, Office XP was fine. If you can save your file directly to SkyDrive from an office app, oh well, that’s not a game changer. The WYSIWYG word processing, that was a game changer!

Cutting a long story short, what I’m saying is that the basic problems the “personal computer” (not capitalized, including Macs) aimed to solve, are now solved. It is like cars. The very early days of cars were terrible. You had to be a mechanic to operate it. But already in the 1950s cars did just work, much as personal computers now. Did car sales stop? No. Are new cars all about design? No, I agree if one says design is the major driver in the auto market, but its also about technology; not just power and efficiency, also safety, comfort, and electronics. See the difference: I would refuse to work on a Windows 95 machine today as much as I would refuse to drive in a 1920s car. But putting all the known issues like device drivers etc. aside, you could as much use Windows XP today as you can drive in a 1950s Ford Mustang today. I say “could”, because you won’t as the 1950s Mustang can’t connect with your iPhone and has no SiriusXM, and no airbags. And at least here in San Francisco your friends might suspend friendship until you get a Prius instead.

Thus, my conclusion is, Windows XP probably was the best OS that Microsoft ever made. It solved problems, it created a standard, and all subsequent versions that changed more than just cosmetics were greeted with incredibly negativity, happened to both Vista and Windows 8.

Without too much looking back, Windows XP has to go. It is >10 year old operating system technology, its looks are antique, and maintaining the old OS is a pain for Microsoft, ISVs and users. Home users, please – get a new personal computer. If you bought a machine so many years ago, it will be slow, web browsing is not fun, if you have a laptop it is probably heavily overweight by today’s standards and I bet the battery will be broken already.

Different picture in the enterprise world: CIOs with big pockets have already bought thousands of new devices, with Windows 7 pre-installed. Still there are just so many corporate and small business PCs running XP left. Those CIOs that are using VDI/Desktop Virtualization – in a nutshell: install your user’s OS in the server and just stream the pixels out to their devices – will most probably know my company Stratodesk or myself, that we repurpose PCs with NoTouch. Yes it is paradox, but I’m a bit sentimental about Windows XP while actively developing and marketing a product that wipes Windows XP and replaces it with something better. But there is no space for doubt: Running XP after the official support-end date of April 8, 2014 is a substantial security risk, both for home and business users. Let’s keep Windows XP in “our” memory, not in RAM and not on hard drive memory.