Should you give up XP for Windows 7?

Windows XP retained many loyal users during the dark ages of Vista, but the emergence of Windows 7 may signal the end of an era.

The vast majority of PC users still haven't adopted Vista. Eight years after its release — and months after Microsoft officially discontinued it — Windows XP is more beloved than ever.

So will Windows 7 convince XP loyalists to switch? Instead of guessing, we decided to ask them. In August, we conducted an online survey of more than 8000 people who told us that XP was their primary OS. The top three reasons they haven't upgraded to Vista: They're comfortable with XP, Vista lacks features that might justify an upgrade, and they're concerned about driver and compatibility issues.

Vistaphobia ran high among respondents who had tried Windows Vista (62 percent said that their opinion of the OS was somewhat or very negative) and among those who merely knew about it (81 percent were somewhat or very negative). But most respondents said that were keeping an open mind about Windows 7.

In fact, the 26 percent of respondents who said they had already used Windows 7 were quite enthusiastic about it: 73 percent said that their opinion of Win 7 was somewhat or very positive, and only 11 percent said that it was very or somewhat negative. Also, 56 percent said that they intended to move to Windows 7 immediately or eventually. Among respondents who had read about Windows 7 but hadn't used it, 56 percent said that their opinion of Win 7 was somewhat or very positive, and only 12 percent said that it was somewhat or very negative.

Still, a meaningful minority of respondents have no interest in upgrading: 40 percent said that they intended to stick with XP indefinitely. Which brings up another interesting question: When will it become impractical to keep using XP and spurning its successors?

Supposedly, that date has already come and gone: Microsoft formally discontinued Windows XP on June 30, 2008, and it ended mainstream support on April 14, 2009. But the company has continued to permit PC builders to offer downgrade discs that let XP fans install the OS over Vista. It says that manufacturers can ship Windows 7 machines with XP downgrades for 18 months after Win 7's release or until it ships the first Service Pack for the new OS — whichever comes first. In other words, XP downgrades may be available until April 22, 2011 (assuming that Microsoft doesn't extend the deadline further; it has already granted XP so many stays of execution that refusing to grant any more would be a bit surprising.)

Windows XP's final death knell is scheduled to sound on April 8, 2014. On that date, Microsoft says that it will no longer take support calls and issue security fixes. This doesn't mean that no one will run XP on April 9 and beyond — it just means that they'll be on their own. XP holdouts, you've been warned.

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Harry McCracken

PC World (US online)
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