RIP: Windows XP

I was at COMDEX  in Las Vegas when Bill Gates strode purposefully onto the stage back in 1995 and did a demo of Windows 95. I still remember thinking that I saw beads of sweat on his brow when he was demoing that “brand spanking new Plug and Play technology” (which at the time Apple had already nailed). Bill plugged a drive into the computer and patiently waited for the icon to appear. In front of thousands of people. Just when I thought he was going to flip out from the stress of the moment, the icon appeared and you could see him visibly relax.

He also played a video of “what things were going to be like in 2005” some of which was pretty prescient (like touch screen tablets) and other’s not so much (the video featured some people driving around in what they called “an old Oldsmobile Aurora” – guess Bill wasn’t prescient enough to realize that Oldsmobile would be gone by then).

Of course, even the touch screen tablet was a bit off, I think they had this in-car system but the screen was giant – kind of like having a 23 inch flat screen attached to your windshield. Yep, Microsoft had predicted something like the iPad, about 15 years early. I wonder if Steve Jobs was in that audience.

But I digress. That was ’95, XP was a different beast. XP was truly the first broad based consumer and business focused OS which wasn’t built on DOS. It really was its own thing, it was the first OS from Microsoft to use the Windows NT kernel (remember NT meant New Technology)

I’m actually surprised that Microsoft supported XP for as long as it did, but I can totally understand why it ended up everywhere – almost like a poor mans embedded system. That thing powers everything from gas pumps to cash registers to that little trolley thing that hospitals use to capture your information when you check in. I think I still have a netbook in the garage which runs XP, that thing was solid as a rock. I bet I can fire that up right now and it would still be a great experience. In many minds, still better than Windows 8. (Full disclosure, I have Windows 8.1, and a touchscreen, and I love it. Seriously. No, I do.)

Things in the tech world progress and change at a crazy rate. If you ask me Moore’s Law is nothing – we are seeing change at a much faster rate than ever before, especially in the software space – where there are really no physical limitations to what you can do. On the one hand, software keeps getting better and better (if you, ahem, forgive, asides like Vista) but on the other hand, for many enterprises, who have to think about huge changes from top to bottom when rolling out a new OS to the organization, its not an easy decision. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Well, it might not be broke now, but at some point, it WILL break. New hardware, new security threats, software companies don’t simply release new versions in order to help their bottom line, they do it to improve the product, release new features, and protect against new threats.

Case in point: the Heartbleed bug, which is making the news this week, exposed a serious vulnerability to OpenSSL, which drives a HUGE chunk of the internet. People everywhere are scrambling to patch for it. This is not something that is going to go away – if anything it gets worse.

So you will, at some point, even if your software manufacturer doesn’t decide to stop supporting your software, still need to upgrade. The whole question is when. Some wait until the last possible moment, others are more proactive, still others wait until something breaks. But in most cases, you can’t wait until something breaks – even though it might cost a lot to upgrade, it also costs a lot to support and maintain an old OS. Probably even more, as the skill set to maintain that OS starts to retire to Hawaii (or Florida). Try looking for someone to program an Altair 8800 nowadays.

So lets have a toast to XP, it was a great OS, and we’ll miss you. Don’t worry though, your spirit (and probably some bits of code) live on in Windows 7+, so even though you’re not around – we still feel your soul. 🙂

“THIS week sees the last batch of bug fixes and security patches that Microsoft will issue for Windows XP. After April 8th, computers using the 13-year-old operating system will continue to work just fine, but all technical support for XP—whether paid or otherwise—will cease. In a change of heart, Microsoft has at least agreed to continue issuing updates for its Security Essentials malware engine, which runs on XP, until July 2015. Apart from that, users who continue to rely on the thing will be on their own—at the mercy of mischief-makers everywhere.

via Difference Engine: End of the road for Windows XP | The Economist.”