A requiem for Windows XP

We remember the pros, and a few cons, of the most popular version of Windows to date

Despite an outpouring of demand -- including more than 210,000 people who signed InfoWorld's "Save XP" petition, Microsoft held firm and Monday discontinued sales of XP in most cases. So, we bid adieu to Windows XP.

Sure, any copies of XP in use will continue to run, so the venerable operating system isn't leaving us entirely. And enterprises, small businesses, and some consumers will still be able to install XP as a "downgrade" to Windows Vista Business or Ultimate. And until February 1, 2009, system builders will be able to install XP on "white box" PCs they assemble, which also ironically includes Apple Macs that are bundled with Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion by resellers such as MacMall and CDW. Finally, low-cost, low-power desktops and laptops such as the Asus Eee PC can ship with Windows XP until 2010.

But it is the end of an era nonetheless.

In response to XP's passing, several InfoWorld editors and contributors shared their memories of XP.

Mario Apicella: After all the rather buggy versions of Windows since the very first edition (that was 3.0, I believe), Windows XP was a pleasant surprise. "Microsoft finally got it right," was my thinking. Well almost.

Windows XP has been much more stable than previous versions, but Microsoft failed to address one major issue in it as well as in Vista: the capability to install a new version of the OS without having to reinstall all applications.

For me this is a major issue that affects home users as well as business users because it makes a simple OS change a major endeavor if/when an update in place is not possible. That missing capability puts Windows at a striking disadvantage against other OSes, such as Linux where a new OS can almost always play nice with existing applications.

I realize that because of the Windows architecture, decoupling applications from the OS is a significant change, which seems to me a good reason to start moving in that direction.

Another of my pet peeves with Windows XP (and Vista): Try using a keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+V) to paste text in a command Window, and all you'll get is ^V on the command line. How many software engineers does it take to write that code? I don't know the answer, but must be a large number because that inconsistency with the regular window behavior has been there since the Paleolithic Windows version.

These are just two examples of the issues Microsoft could have fixed or begun fixing in Vista but didn't. It's clear that the Redmond developers' agenda is in conflict with what I and many other users would like to see.

Yet, it's not a biggie for me if Microsoft prefers its own agenda. There are other OSes, after all; Mac OS X and Ubuntu are mighty attractive.

Brian Chee: I just moved to a Mac laptop due to my frustration with Vista's flaky behavior when I switch among lots of different networks, as I must do when I perform test setups. I'm also really tired of the lack of 64-bit drivers. So I'm running XP and Linux under VMware Fusion.

XP was also so much more stable for kiosk-type work. Thank God they aren't killing the thin XP version for kiosks and embedded applications.

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Steve Hultquist: I always hated how all that pretty eye candy came with a significant performance impact. One of the easiest ways to improve the performance of XP was to make it look like Windows 2000.

I never liked that it maintained the random DLL model. I've never understood how the guys who created VMS could let that happen.

I liked that it was stable, and that it finally got users away from the DOS-based Windows of the past.

And I think Microsoft is really messing up in trying to force people to upgrade to a system that is even less of a productivity improvement for end-users than was XP over Windows 2000. Companies can only force their customers to do things that they don't want to do one or two times. After that, they look for alternatives. Anyone see any evidence of that with Microsoft products, yet?

I'm keeping my clients on XP, and have no intention of moving them to Vista if I can possibly avoid it. And so far, I've been able to.

James C. Owen: Yours truly moved to Mac a long, long time ago. On the other hand, I've had to keep one fairly decent "Windoze" XP machine around for those products that are Windows-only. I'll resist Vista as long as possible even on that machine or any other machines I have to purchase. And I corrupted one Mac a long time ago with Parallels -- never again. It's never worked right since.

Galen Gruman: I was very happy when Windows 2000 (despite its limited driver support) and Windows XP came out, especially XP SP2. I had spent several years in the Mac OS 8 world, which was a major advance over Windows 98 but starting to show its limits as well. Plus Apple was falling apart in this period. So XP SP2 was a stable, modern, well-designed OS that made my day-to-day work easier without getting patronizing, as so many "helpful" apps end up being.

I toiled away merrily with XP for years. Mac OS X came out and looked interesting, but my platform was the PC and my primary OS was XP. Flash-forward to fall 2006. I was updating a pair of InDesign how-to books and needed to run the beta software on the current OSes, meaning Mac OS X (10.4 Tiger) and a time-limited demo version of the soon-to-ship Vista, in addition to XP. I had a six-year-old Mac to run Tiger, and a two-year-old PC with two boot drives, so I could switch between XP and Vista.

Usually, I love to explore new software, but, man, did I quickly come to dislike Vista. The interface was clumsy, with many menu items disappeared. If you didn't know something existed, now you had no way to find it other than random right-clicking. "Why mess with what worked?" I grumbled to myself. And it was slow. So slow. I used it only when I absolutely had to, dreading the "where did Microsoft hide it?" and "will I remember what I was doing when Vista finally responds?" games.

It was clear that to run Vista, I would need a new PC. But my much older Mac handled OS X just fine. I really didn't like Vista, and I couldn't see buying a new PC to run something I didn't like. I did, however, really like Tiger. "Hell," I thought, "if I'm going to invest in a new OS, let me invest in one that works." So I got a new MacBook Pro and installed XP on it via Parallels Desktop. In just two months I had abandoned all my PC apps, as it turned out I could live fine without them. My XP virtual machine is essentially a tool to run Web sites that require Internet Explorer. I never did buy Vista, and I won't. Life went on merrily.

A year later, InfoWorld launched its "Save XP" campaign, and I remembered anew the Vista experience. But now I was hearing it from dozens of IT people and individuals. With the "Save XP" campaign, it became hundreds of thousands of people. As the hope for an XP reprieve diminished this spring, I did the only rational thing: I replaced the other aging PC at home with a Mac, and helped my relatives and friends get new XP machines while still available or, for those with the money to do so, switched to an XP-equipped Mac. The Mac users among us are hoping Apple will continue on its successful path and we won't need to worry about whether Windows 7 is better than Vista. Most of the XP users are casual PC users, whose primary work is using the Internet and printing out holiday cards. For them, XP will do the trick indefinitely.