Why Is Microsoft Killing Windows XP?

As operating systems go, Windows XP has had a fantastic run since debuting 13 years ago. It can be still found on nearly 28 per cent of the desktops in the world. It is the second-most installed desktop operating system, behind Windows 7, and it can be found in banks, government departments, in desktops across China and India, and in automated teller machines (ATMs). So why, as of tomorrow, is Microsoft ceasing support for its iconic operating system?

Unplugged picture from Shutterstock

Insecurity updates

When it was released in 2001, Windows XP introduced many features such as built-in support for Wi-Fi and burning CDs, Internet Explorer (IE) 6 web browser, improvements to the user interface and an integrated system management console, setting it apart from its predecessors Windows 2000 and Windows ME.

Windows XP's release also coincided with the boom in worldwide desktop shipments in the early 2000s, especially in emerging markets such as India, China and the Middle East. This ensured that it quickly became the most widely installed desktop operating system in the world.

Companies with Windows XP installations depend on internal services that themselves depend on features only found in this version of the operating system, such as IE 6. Upgrading their desktop installations would also require costly investment in upgrading these services. This has led to tremendous inertia in migrating from Windows XP to more recent operating systems.

Microsoft released three "Service Packs" to upgrade Windows XP and to fix the many security vulnerabilities that were discovered in the course of its usage. Since 2009, Microsoft has provided only security updates for Windows XP. This facility comes to an end on April 8, 2014. This deadline has caused some panic among the current users of the operating system.

Recently, the UK Government was forced to enter into a £5.5 million deal with Microsoft to extend security support for Windows XP installations in the Crown offices for another year. Chinese web giant Tencent has taken on the responsibility of ensuring security updates for XP users in that country.

The Windows family tree

The years have also not been kind to Windows XP. The numerous vulnerabilities in the OS have forced Microsoft to spend significant effort in issuing regular security patches, and wish for its users to move on to relatively secure Windows 7 or 8.

At launch in 2001, XP featured a striking default theme called "Luna", which has been sometimes unkindly compared to the look of a Fischer-Price toy. But today, XP's Luna looks dated compared to the sleek, modern interfaces found on all the newer, major computing platforms.

Internet Explorer 6 is widely considered as the single biggest obstacle in the progress of web-based applications conforming to World Wide Web (W3C) standards.

A 1998 agreement with the US Department of Justice forced Microsoft to decouple its web browser from the rest of the OS and allowed alternative browsers such as Opera, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox to become successful.

Three years ago, Microsoft itself advised that consumers upgrade to later versions of Internet Explorer such as IE 9 and above.

Microsoft itself has faced the curse of Star Trek movies (even-numbered instalments are better than the odd-numbered) in upgrading its users to newest version of Windows. Vista, the successor to XP, was widely panned for its heavy system requirements and pervasive prompts for user authorisation of activities.

On the other hand, Windows 7, released in 2009, is the most popular desktop operating system today. Its successor, Windows 8, was designed to address both touch interaction in tablets, and mouse and keyboard interaction in desktops in Windows 8. However, this resulted in a few omissions, notably the lack of a "Start" button, that confused and infuriated many users.

And while Windows is still dominant on the desktop, the world is moving faster towards other computing platforms. The Apple iPhone, introduced in 2007, provided users with a mobile, always-connected device to browse the web and communicate instantly.

The advent of low-cost, low powered laptops, called netbooks, forced Microsoft to continue offering XP as an alternative to open source software Linux. The introduction of Apple iPad and its competitors not only put paid to this category, but also provided users with an alternative to desktops for tasks such as document creation, messaging and web browsing.

What now for operating systems?

Desktop shipments have been stagnant for a few years and there is little chance of a revival in near future. Resource-heavy computing tasks are being migrated to data centre in a trend known as cloud computing.

Microsoft has acknowledged this by not only offering a cloud-hosted version of its Office suite, called Office 365, but a version for the Apple iPad as well.

Thus, the end of support for Windows XP also coincides with the end of the age of the desktop. There will be less fanfare around operating system updates, and less mourning when an OS rides off into the sunset.

Srikumar Venugopal PhD is a Lecturer in Computer Science and Engineering at University of New South Wales. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Comments

    Why about the sales of laptops though, especially touch screen laptops.

    For some tasks, even some websites, life is far easier on a desktop operating system with a screen larger than 10 inches.

    Why are they killing it? Is this really an article that needed to be written? "Why Holden is no longer supporting the 1992 Astra."

      Maybe it's not an article that NEEDED to be written but c'mon, XP has had a pretty interesting 13 year history (even if you only consider the fact that Microsoft has continued to support it for that long... I mean, what other iteration of an OS has warranted that level of continued support?).

      For many users, XP has been the only OS they've known... I think it warrants at least a cursory reflection.

      Last edited 07/04/14 10:06 pm

        Especially so considering the people on both this site, and gizmodo, going on-and-on about how XP is still all the need.

        Yes, all you need is a web browser. You also need to be secure, but eh. There's a massive psychological intertia here to the non-tech minded.

    I call crap on the end of the age of desktops. Working in a computer store dealing with laptops and custom built desktops, we sell 4-5 desktops for every 1 laptop, maybe once in a while we get someone asking about tablets but they're few and far between. In the last few weeks we've had more people come in to purchace a new computer to replace their aging XP system than we had when the government was offering $750 rebates on PCs for educational purposes. It's one of the busiest times we have ever had. People want the power and performance of a proper desktop computer and don't want t be hampered by the limitations of a tablet or lesser performance of a laptop.

    People need calling the death of the desktop is like people calling the return of Jesus. It makes them look stupid and it aint happening.

      I'm guessing they are coming in to your store specifically for desktops though, because the major retailers mostly sell laptops now days. At best, they MIGHT stock one really lousy desktop model.

    ....because Microsoft spending money updating old software isn't cost effective

    Last edited 07/04/14 11:07 pm

      Heh, tell that to people updating their XP software.

        I think he means Microsoft making new updates to XP, not people installing the updates.

          Microsoft is only in this position due to software companies either not upgrading their applications full stop, or only upgrading to work on XP. It's a chicken/egg thing, almost.

    Why do you need a desktop [or laptop] at all?
    Simple, really - try writing the code for your fancy app on an iPad. You can't do it.

    At my organisation we still use XP machines for our Building Management Systems, ie the software that drives the air-con ect. This is just an example of using a tool, it does the job so no-one bothered to upgrade, now Dell are telling us the only thing to do is stock up on the last batch of XP native machines. Seems that they could continue to sell these things in industrial situations like I've described. I'm no security expert but there is still a market for xp machines out of the box.

      I would argue that there are cheaper and more efficient devices/systems to do that these days.

    Why Is Microsoft Killing Windows XP?

    Microsoft isn't killing XP. They are just ending support for it, which honestly should have happened years ago.

    Machines still running XP aren't going to suddenly stop working. They will just no longer receive updates, and you'll no longer be able to get tech support for it.

      they are killing it ...2 xp comps down and HDD failures.....wont even boot from disc

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