It seems like Windows XP Pro has been with us forever and in the world of computer programs and Microsoft Operating systems it kind of has been. It was launched in October 2001 and technically replaced Windows ME but in reality, as well as practically not many users deployed ME, succeeded Windows 98. It was the longest running version of Microsoft Operating System lasting until January 2007 when it was formally replaced by Windows Vista.
We are now on Windows 7 with Windows 8 in the pipeline and the end of Windows XP as a viable Operating system is approaching.
XP and Managed IT Service Providers
As an IT support company and a provider of IT services to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME) the advent of Windows XP was a massive step forward in our ability to connect to and support our customers. It was the first Operating System from Microsoft to include remote connection tools as part of the base software and that enabled Managed IT Service Providers to offer a remote support model to SME’s at an affordable price point.
Windows XP, after some initial criticism particularly around security, was also widely regarded as a stable Operating System with fewer performance issues than its predecessors. It represented the merging of the Windows NT/2000 and Windows 95/98/Me lines and was the first desktop Operating System to utilise the NT core (geek alert if you know what this means!). Microsoft released 3 major Service Packs (revisions of the software in the form of one consolidated installable package including updates, fixes and patches). These enhanced the software and led to a very wide uptake amongst both business and home users.
As a Managed IT Service Provider in London by late 2002 we were happily deploying Windows XP to all our customers to great effect. There was very little resistance from people migrating from older versions of Windows and the feedback once customers experienced XP was universally good.
Vista – oh dear!
Windows Vista was released in November 2006 to business customers and to home users in early 2007. Managed IT Service Providers will always review and test a new Operating system carefully (well they should if they are doing their job properly). This is also the case with larger enterprises and corporates with their own IT in house support.
By the time of Vista’s release the world had become a smaller place due to the Internet and peoples access to it and to the growth in things like social media. What this meant was that when Microsoft started to push Vista the feedback from early adopters reached huge numbers of influential people very quickly. That feedback was pretty much universally negative and remained so for a long time. In a way Vista became the skipped Operating system and the resistance and lack of uptake from mostly businesses meant that Microsoft was forced to continue supplying XP as a downgrade option (the PC would ship with Vista but with XP as an alternative OS that could be installed).
As a Managed IT Service Provider we made the decision, along with many similar companies, not to deploy Vista at all to our customers. Even though later versions were more stable and a lot of the bugs were eventually fixed it came too late to make a difference and people waited for the release of Windows 7.
Windows 7 – everyone is much happier
Windows 7 became available in October 2009 and was greeted with much more enthusiasm by the general IT community. It was a much more focused effort by Microsoft and sought to avoid the mistakes made with early versions of Vista while introducing some new and positive features for end users and IT Providers alike. The most important and fundamental point for Managed IT Service Providers as well as end users was that it work and it was stable.
The option to buy new hardware with XP ended a couple of years ago so all new hardware shipped by Managed IT Service providers during this time has been with Windows 7 installed. While it is not perfect (this is Microsoft after all) it is a pretty good and well performing OS with any bugs generally dealt with through patches and fixes. The interface is different and more modern than XP but otherwise users generally find the transition very straight forward.
End of XP
Microsoft has what they call a “Support Lifecycle Policy”. What this means in practise is that the software they provide has different stages of support until it is removed completely and becomes unsupported. For most versions of XP Mainstream Support ended in April 2009 and the Extended Support will come to an end in April 2014. Once the extended support for XP ends there will be no more fixes or upgrades or patches from Microsoft so the software will become more vulnerable and unstable.
As a Managed IT Service provider we are already making our customers aware of the need to plan to upgrade any remaining XP machines. Because hardware is more robust and XP has been so stable over the years the driver to upgrade sooner has been removed. What we are seeing throughout our customers is that those still on XP are starting to struggle with both performance and reliability. Our view and that of many Managed IT service providers is that this situation will only get worse as we near the end of extended support for XP.
What should you do?
Talk to your IT Service provider and get their advice. It is likely that if you have a PC running XP and it’s older than 2 or 3 years the best course of action will be to upgrade to new hardware with Windows 7 preinstalled. The cost of buying a Windows 7 license and installing it on an old PC is really not justifiable seeing as that hardware is unlikely to last for much longer and will probably lack the necessary power to effectively run Windows 7.
If you have a newer PC that has a Windows 7 OEM sticker on it but is running Windows XP that will be because at the time you purchased it installing XP as an option was still there and that was deemed the right way to go by your IT service provider. These PC’s can be rebuilt without the need to buy a license so again talk to your IT support company and they will be able to advise what to do.
XP has been with us a long time and it’s been a trusty friend. Now it’s time to lay it to rest and move on to a brave new world (or just upgrade to a new OS!!)