A year after Windows XP's death, users keep it alive

Despite Microsoft's insinuations, numbers show that Vista's adoption has been poor. Is it time to look forward to Windows 7?

A year ago today, Microsoft pulled the plug on Windows XP, no longer selling new copies in most venues. The June 30 kill date for XP followed a six-month outcry from users about Windows Vista, with demands that Microsoft keep XP available alongside Vista for the many users who were frustrated by ease-of-use, compatibility, and retraining issues.

In response to the public outpouring of support for XP -- more than 200,000 people signed InfoWorld's "Save XP" petition, for example -- Microsoft did delay XP's formal death from the original Feb. 1, 2008, date to June 30, 2008.

[ See if your PC can handle Windows 7 with InfoWorld's Windows Sentinel tool. | Follow the progress of Windows 7 in Randall C. Kennedy's Enterprise Desktop blog and InfoWorld's Technology: Windows newsletter. ]

And Microsoft let XP remain available in a variety of specialty channels. For example, Microsoft let companies that build "white box PCs" for customers sell new XP licenses until February 2009. It allows PC makers "downgrade" new systems to XP, so Dell and Hewlett-Packard continue even today to offer XP on a selection of models. (But such OEM downgrades will end on July 31, 2009.) Enterprises with corporatewide licenses and any user with a full or upgrade license has "downgrade" rights on their PCs to install XP Pro over Vista Business. And it has kept XP available for netbooks, though largely because most cannot run Vista. Plus, stores such as Amazon.com continue to sell XP, using inventory acquired before Microsoft's June 30, 2008, general kill date for the OS. (Microsoft's technical support for XP will continue to April 2014 in some cases.)

Gartner analyst Michael Silver attributes XP's persistence, and Microsoft's compromises over killing it outright, to that public outcry.

But now that Windows 7 is less than four months away, is it time for XP users to move to a Windows 7 future and finally let XP go?

The resistance to Vista was historic, as the numbers show

Microsoft officials periodically tell the public that Vista is the most successful version of Windows ever sold, but the numbers belie those claims. Officially, Microsoft has no comment on the rate of Vista adoption, and a spokeswoman said Microsoft doesn't stand behind the claims of its employees.

Gartner's Silver notes that when Microsoft does talk Vista numbers, it talks about shipped licenses. But anyone who "downgrades" to XP was still shipped a Vista license, which distorts the numbers -- significantly.

An analysis of thousands of PCs worldwide, though concentrated in North America, shows that more than half of business PCs have downgraded to XP, as have about 12 percent of consumer PCs (which have very few options to "downgrade" as compared to business PCs).

The data is based on the XPnet community of PCs, which counts 17,000 systems that contribute data on their configurations and performance attributes. (You can add your PC to the mix -- and get free, Web-based performance monitoring tool for your PC -- by joining the InfoWorld Windows Sentinel program.) InfoWorld contributing editor and Enterprise Desktop blogger Randall C. Kennedy runs XPnet and compiled the data for InfoWorld. The table below and chart above show the percentage of manufacturers' systems that shipped with Vista but are actually running XP. The Dell and Lenovo systems are primarily used in business and enterprise settings, while the other manufacturers' systems are concentrated in home settings.

Note that the base of XPnet-reporting systems rose from 3,000 to 17,000 over the 10 months Kennedy tracked the data, but the patterns of XP usage held steady despite the growth in systems.

Percentage of Vista-equipped PCs running XP instead

Vendor Aug. '08 Sept. '08 Oct. '08 Nov. '08 Dec. '08 Jan. '09 Feb. '09 March '09 April '09 May '09

Acer 15% 14% 15% 17% 16% 15% 13% 13% 14% 15%

Dell 43% 48% 46% 44% 42% 40% 40% 39% 38% 38%

HP 13% 16% 14% 12% 10% 9% 8% 8% 11% 11%

Lenovo 50% 54% 52% 53% 54% 53% 51% 53% 52% 51%

Toshiba 6% 11% 11% 12% 12% 13% 15% 14% 14% 15%

Gartner's research backs up Kennedy's XPnet findings, showing a significantly lower adoption rate in enterprises of Vista compared to that of Windows 2000 and XP at the same points in their lifecycles. In the 18- to 24-month period after Windows 2000's release, 12 percent of enterprise PCs ran Windows 2000. For XP at that period, 14 percent of enterprise PCs ran Windows XP. But at the same point in Windows Vista's lifecycle, only 6 percent of enterprise PCs are running it. Gartner's Silver expects Windows 7 to follow the strong adoption pattern of Windows 2000 and XP. "Eighty percent of our clients are telling us they've decided to skip Vista," he notes.

Is it time to forgive Microsoft and embrace Windows 7?

By all reports, Windows 7 fixes many of Vista's sins and adds compelling new capabilities to the mix. InfoWorld's tests show that Windows 7 is fundamentally no faster than Vista; they also show that as applications get more multicore-aware, Windows 7 has more headroom for performance growth than XP does.

"Windows 7 has longer legs than Windows Vista or XP, especially on multicore," Kennedy notes. "This, combined with improvements in background task scheduling and some timely kernel tweaks, provides for an improved users experience -- even on lower-end PC hardware, like netbooks. However, whether or not it'll be enough to help Windows 7 overcome Vista's stigma remains to be seen."

Although Gartner's Silver says Windows 7 is a worthwhile upgrade, he recommends that enterprises wait 12 to 18 months before migrating to Windows 7, so IT can test the OS on their current and planned PCs, verify software compatibility, and understand the implications of software vendors' Windows 7 plans. For example, Silver has seen some software vendors consider using the Windows 7 launch to raise prices via Windows 7-certified upgrades. He also warns IT to inventory its Web applications designed for Internet Explorer 6, which are likely to not work properly under the Vista-oriented IE7 or Windows 7-oriented IE8.

IT must also work through Microsoft's array of software licenses, while also navigating moves the company seems to be making to steer customers to pricier licensing options.

For example, two weeks ago, Microsoft had planned to limit the ability to downgrade to XP new PCs bought before April 2010, which could force enterprises to upgrade to Windows 7 before they are ready. The day InfoWorld reported this plan, Microsoft changed it so that downgrades were allowed on new PCs bought through April 2011.

Last week, Microsoft announced new PCs bought since June 26, 2009, could get a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it shipped -- but it limited businesses to 25 free upgrades. Businesses that pay extra for Microsoft's Software Assurance plan are free to upgrade the OS at any time, as a benefit of what is essentially a subscription plan.

Galen Gruman is executive editor of InfoWorld for features and news.

Tags Windows Vistawindows xpMicrosoftWindows 7

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Galen Gruman

InfoWorld

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