Edge of Innovation

15 years on, Windows XP still refuses to die

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

This year is an historic year. Today is an historic day. Yes, Pablo Picasso was born on this day in 1881. And yes, 25 October marks the charge of the light brigade (1854) and the battle of Agincourt (1415). But it’s also the day that Windows XP changed the world.

Microsoft’s memorable OS went on sale to the public 15 years ago on October 25.

More popular than Windows 8

Yet despite its age, NetMarketShare’s September 2016 data ranks the Windows XP desktop market share as 9.11%, making it the world’s third most popular OS. That’s bigger than Windows 8.1 (7.83%), Mac OS X 10.11 (4.07%) and Linux (2.23%).

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Over 400 million copies of XP (eXPerience) were sold around the world within the first five years, while estimates suggest that one billion copies had been installed by 2014. At the height of its point and click powers, 80% of desktop PCs ran the OS.

Was Windows XP revolutionary? After all, it was the first Microsoft OS to be aimed at both business and consumer markets. Plus it offered superior stability and performance compared to Windows 2000 and Windows ME, thanks a wider roster of built-in device drivers.

New features in Windows XP

It also introduced new features, including: font-smoothing ClearType technology; drop shadows and icon transparencies; expanded multimedia options; not to mention native support for ZIP files. It was also the first version of Windows to require an activation key.

It looked good too. The default Luna theme married its blue nav bars with the iconic desktop wallpaper known as Bliss. The landscape, a rolling green hill set against a blue sky with scattered white clouds, was taken by former National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear.

The hill in the photo is located in Sonoma County, California. It’s now a vineyard.

Bank ATM Windows XP
Up until 2014, 95% of the world’s cash machines ran Windows XP. Image copyright: Shutterstock/Capricorn Studio.

The enduring success of Windows XP, however, has as much to do with its technical achievements as it does to the underwhelming software that followed it. Windows Vista wasn’t released until 2007 and didn’t impress. “Users may wonder if [Vista] offers enough that’s truly new to be worth the bother,” wrote PC Magazine.

Windows XP is still in use today

The noughties were dominated by Windows XP and the OS appeared in at least eight different incarnations: Windows XP Home and Professional Editions, Windows XP Media Center Edition, the stylus-friendly Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, Windows XP 64-Bit Edition, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, Windows XP Starter Edition and Windows XP Embedded.

Up until 2014, the embedded version of XP powered 95 percent of the world’s ATMs. Amazingly, some NHS Trust computing systems still use the OS, as do old POS terminals and digital kiosks. Windows XP was even baked into the heart of some of the US Navy’s most advanced battleships.

But all good things must come to an end and, after an impressive 13-year run, Microsoft officially ceased support for Windows XP in 2014. These days, nostalgic use of the old OS could get you into trouble. Windows XP is riddled with security holes.

Yet October 25 is still an historic day. Happy 15th birthday to Windows XP, the OS that outlasted Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. The OS that refuses to die.

Main image copyright: Microsoft

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