According to current statistics from NetMarketShare, Windows 7 is the most popular desktop operating system, with well over half (58%) of the market share. There’s little surprise there; Windows 8/8.1 – with its modern apps and missing Start menu – has proved to be too radical of a change for many users and its learning curve was too steep for businesses, so most Windows 7 users have avoided upgrading.
What is a bit of a surprise is that the number two spot is held by Windows XP, a 13-year-old OS – which translates to ancient in the fast moving world of technology. Windows XP is no longer even supported by its maker.
Now Microsoft is getting ready to unleash its latest effort, Windows 10, after apparently listening to customer complaints and requests and backtracking on some of the most controversial “improvements” that led to the avoidance of Windows 8. The risk in that is that by making Win10 more like Windows 7, they may find that there’s little incentive for Windows 7 users to upgrade. But what about all those stalwart XP fans? Will Win10 be good enough to lure them away from their old, comfortable desktop environment? In this article, we’ll look at some of the reasons it really is time for a change.
First, we need to examine the reasons behind XP’s seeming immortality. The OS That Refuses To Die wasn’t always viewed as fondly as it is by its fans today, and I remember very well when it was released. Windows 9x had been a wildly popular OS, replacing the old Windows 3.x interface with a more modern one built around (you guessed it) the Start button.
In fact, with Windows 95’s release, Microsoft had hailed the Start button as the best thing since sliced bread, the most logical and efficient way to navigate the desktop, and even used the Rolling Stones’ popular song “Start Me Up” to promote it. Windows 9x went through a number of permutations – OSR 1 and 2, Windows 98 and 98 SE (second edition), culminating in the not-so-beloved ME (Millennium Edition). Although it was hidden under the new shell, all of these were still based on MS-DOS underneath.
Meanwhile, Windows had “forked” into two separate branches. Windows 9x and ME were designated as consumer operating systems and Windows 2000, based on the NT kernel, was marketed to businesses as the “professional” client for Windows server networks. However, many businesses still continued to use Windows 9x on their desktops.
As we moved into the twenty-first century, it was time for another radical change. And that’s when Microsoft gave us with Windows XP. The new OS brought the business and consumer forks back together again – well, sort of. There were two different editions: Home and Professional. The Pro edition had additional capabilities, such as the ability to join a Windows domain and run a web server.
The biggest difference between 9x and XP was under the hood: the new OS didn’t run on top of MS-DOS. The Start button and menu remained, in updated form, but there was an immediate backlash over the default interface style, which many called “bubblegum.” That was fixable; you could easily change the settings to make XP look like Windows 2000, which the vast majority of IT pros and power users promptly did. The thing that caused the most ire was the so-called “reg worm,” Microsoft’s product activation mechanism that made it much more difficult to pirate copies of the OS. XP also had its share of software bugs and like any new OS, had compatibility issues with older hardware and peripherals.
Many voiced their disagreement and vowed that they would hang onto Windows 9x until someone pried it from their cold, dead hands – ironically, the same thing that stalwart XP fans have been proclaiming since the introduction of Windows Vista.
Slowly but surely, computer users came around. After three service packs (which were not, themselves, without problems including widespread “blue screen of death” and “endless loop” syndromes after installation), XP morphed into a very stable and user-friendly computing environment. I think one reason XP became so firmly entrenched in the minds of so many computer users was the extraordinary length of time between its release and that of its successor, Windows Vista. XP was released in 2001, and Vista wasn’t released until 2007. Prior to that, a new OS had been released about every three years.
We had grown very comfortable with XP – and then along came Vista. It had some great new features, but unfortunately it was also a resource hog. To run well, it needed more memory and a more powerful processor than many of the computers on which it was sold had. That caused it to run as slowly as molasses, and the pitiful performance turned users off and sent them running back to the arms of XP. By the time Windows 7 came along, despite its good reception by many, there was now a contingent of hardened XP holdouts who were adamantly opposed to change.
Windows 8 certainly didn’t do anything to win them over, with its not-very-functional modern apps design and a desktop that was missing the most important element (to many), the Start button. The half-hearted attempt in Windows 8.1 to placate complainers by adding a Start button that just takes you back to the hated Start screen was almost worse than no solution at all. Savvy users installed a third party add-on such as Start8 or Classic Shell, configured their settings to keep them out of the modern UI, and went happily on their ways. Meanwhile, almost 17%of computer users are still chugging along with XP.
Will Windows 10 convince them to finally upgrade? It brings back the beloved Start menu with its former functionality, albeit with a new “growth” – a panel of live tiles – attached to the familiar list of menu items perched atop the search box. We haven’t seen it in final form yet, but Win10 really does have the potential to be another XP, an operating system that will take us into, not a new century but a new era in computing – one that leverages the mobility made possible by the cloud. It’s one that can free us (at least when we’re on the go) from the bonds of our keyboards and mice and give us the flexibility of controlling our devices with our fingers and voices.
If Microsoft handles it correctly, this will be an OS that combines the good aspects of the old and the new, with a revitalized desktop where modern apps can live alongside more complex “legacy” applications instead of being relegated to a separate screen. It can give you new ways of doing things without forcing you into a completely different world where you feel like a stranger in a strange land as you struggle just to open a file. Most important, though, it’s an operating system that was designed to handle the security threats that run rampant on the Internet today – very different and much more sophisticated threats than XP was ever meant to handle.
That last one, if nothing else, should be enough to persuade those XP users who are left that it’s time to let go of their old friend and try something new.