Monday, April 7, 2014

Week of 04/07/2014

The Demise Of XP
– by David Matthews 2

This week marks the end of an era…

It is the end of a mainstay for computer users both young and old.

This is the week when Microsoft pulls the plug on its Windows XP operating system.  And, sadly, I don’t think there will be a reprieve this time around.

XP was released in 2001, just a month after 9/11.  Of course some people complained about it.  Because, you know, it’s a Microsoft product, and haters will hate.  But it persevered.  It served as the connection between the old Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems that was previously promised but just didn’t happen.  It was the one operating system that could be used for both business and personal users. 

It wasn’t perfect, but back then Microsoft didn’t give up on it like they did with Windows Millennium Edition.  They churned out bug fixes and service packs.  They came out with a special Media Center Edition to take advantage of the growing online media services.

And then the “new shiny” came out; the next operating system… and the first thing that Microsoft wanted to do once that happened was to kill XP.  And they almost did it, until XP users got a reprieve.

Microsoft claimed that they kept XP around because of the “threat” of Linux-based netbooks.  However, this commentator dares to suspect that the reason had more to do with the problems with that “new shiny” called Windows Vista and the backlash surrounding that demand that users upgrade ASAP in the middle of the Global recession than with any perceived “threat” of competition.

Here’s a little word of advice to Microsoft execs: when you have businesses cutting budgets and staff to the bone and people are struggling just to keep their homes, they’re not going to be in the mood to suddenly upgrade to the “new shiny” just because you have it on your schedule.

But now the folks in Redmond are going to go through with it for real.  No more reprieves.  No more stays of execution.

XP will die this coming Tuesday, April 8th.

And I am here not to bury XP, but to praise it.

Let’s get brutally honest here… whether you like Microsoft or not, you cannot deny that XP has served as a pretty reliable operating system for PC users for twelve years.  Not perfect.  Not great.  But certainly reliable.  Right now over ninety-five percent of the world’s ATM machines are running on Windows XP.  2 Big 2 Fail may be greedy, manipulative, and corrupt, but they wouldn’t risk the money they fleece on an operating system they couldn’t count on.  That should tell you something about its reliability.

Sure, there was always room for improvement.  There are some things that Microsoft did that they shouldn’t have, like integrating their own browser into the operating system.  The start-up and shut-down times were a hassle, but once things were up and running, they were pretty good.

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret when it comes to operating systems, and this goes back to the days of Windows 95.  I had installed many an operating system in my time, and I know that, for the most part, the operating system does exactly what it is supposed to do.  When it’s just the operating system running, there are no problems.  The problem comes when you have all of those extra programs added to it.  When you have your favorite third-party game and your favorite third-party application, and let’s not forget all of those other “added features” that get installed by whatever company assembled that machine.  Everybody wants to give you something, don’t they?  They just don’t tell you how much it will cost for that “value-added convenience”.

And really, if you think about it, the operating system is sort of like a transmission of a car.  It’s important in that it gets you to where you need to be going, but you don’t really pay too much attention to it unless there’s a problem with it.  If you can get on your computer and have it do what you want it to do, be it play a game or check your email, then it is doing its job.

This is XP’s legacy.  It gave us the means to do what we want the computer to do.  And it did so for over twelve years with very few complaints.

Which is why there is a part of me that still wants to ask CEO Steve Ballmer “What did Windows XP ever do to you, other than to put billions into Microsoft coffers and millions into yours?”

No, I don’t want to give up my XP Media Center Edition computer.  I don’t want to spend the time and energy into transferring programs and files over and getting a new computer configured.  There’s too much going on for me to add that to my already-full “to do” list.

And it’s not just a new computer or a new operating system.  There’s also the matter of getting all of the other programs as well.  I need to get a new batch of Office programs, because I can’t just re-install the old Office program, thanks for nothing DRM.  I need to get new financial software.  I need to upgrade my USB hubs.  I need to get a new gigabit router.  Some of my “extra toys” will need new 64-bit drivers.  I need to go through my favorite sites again and find some way to get passwords transferred.  All of which will take time, and that’s on top of me putting in new security software – which I had to do at this time anyway – and get taxes done.  Oh, and still work my butt off eight hours a day every day.

But I suppose I don’t have a choice, do I?  No.  And neither do millions of other computer users that have gone on quite well with the systems they’ve had. 

I know someone who is still using the computer they got in 2002, and I know he didn’t really want to upgrade.  He’s firmly in the camp of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  But, needless to say, he ended up having to spend some coin over the weekend and getting a new PC just like the rest of us.

Thankfully the “end of XP” is not the physical end of the operating system itself.  Computers around the world still using XP will not spontaneously explode or suddenly not work after April 8th.  But patches won’t be automatically sent to your computer.  Microsoft is still under contract to support some computers, and they will do just that.  And if they have some patches, they’ll make them available, but you’ll have to find them yourself if you’re not one of those still under contract.

What this means is that you need to upgrade.  You need to pay some coin to your local electronics store so you can get the newer computer with the newer toys so you can stay up-to-date instead of having to do the extra work that those of us “geeks” used to do on a regular basis.

There is a silver lining to the demise of XP in that the appeal of the system has helped Microsoft execs change their mind on the “smartphone” look of their current Windows 8 system.  There’s an update ahead that will give us the old “look” and feel of the old desktop under XP, Vista, or Windows 7.  I think that will help with the transition, but it’s a pity it won’t be happening until after XP itself is “deceased”.

This article that you’re reading right now was cobbled together and uploaded to the Internet on a system still running on Windows XP. It may likely be one of the last articles written and published under XP.  With the new system and the “new toys”, I should be able to post future articles online directly.  I’m sure it will be more convenient for me, but that doesn’t always make it a good thing.  Sometimes it’s better to be reliable than just convenient.

No comments: