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Microsoft Windows 7: Is New OS The Beginning Of XP's End?

Microsoft is ending mainstream support for XP, and it's unclear whether PC makers and app developers will continue supporting the OS. It might just be time to move on.

Windows 7's Oct. 22 release will be an exciting day in Redmond, but IT folks should mark it for another reason. It's the beginning of XP's end.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a raving XP fan. But Vista's flop gave us a long run with a relatively stable platform that actually got better over time. You can buy a new machine today with a clean XP SP3 image and have the same look and feel you had when XP came out in 2001.

Windows 7 screen shot
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A lot of companies are doing just that, with 70% of corporate desktops still running XP, Forrester finds.

Full Vista rollouts are rare, and instead most tend to have what Roy Atkinson, director of end-user support at the Jackson Laboratory, calls "Vista leak-out." Less than 5% of Jackson's several thousand desktops run Vista; most are on XP. "We only deployed Vista if there was a driver or application that clearly worked better," he says.

It would be nice to have the tighter security, 64-bit OS, and higher performance networking of Vista. But delays, bugs, hardware requirements, and bad market perception have held it back.

There's no need to jump off XP yet, but it's going to get harder to stick with it, especially later next year. Mainstream support for XP ended April 14. This means Microsoft doesn't have to release any new features or make any design changes. Security fixes will be released as needed, but non-security hot fixes won't be released to the public.

Phone support is available if you're willing to pay and if you bought extended support from Microsoft (that deadline was July 14).

"So what? I don't call them anyway," a particularly anti-Microsoft IT director says. He should read the support terms closely, because there's more here than the end of free phone support. This is Microsoft's official way of saying it can leave XP alone if it wants, ending all feature updates and enhancements.

XP could start to get shortchanged on feature development as soon as Oct. 22, when Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are released. The new Windows Server 2008 R2 features--including DirectAccess, which provides simplified remote access; BranchCache, an automated file-caching option for remote offices; and an updated offline folder synchronization capability--will only work with Windows 7 clients. No XP or Vista updates are planned.

If Microsoft adds any features for XP, it would have to add them for Vista, too, and Microsoft is moving as fast as it can away from Vista. Windows 7's October ship date is three months earlier than the company's targeted January 2010 release date. Businesses can get it Sept. 1. Microsoft early? I have the same stunned reaction as when my 6-year-old cleans his room, and I find myself asking, "What's he hiding?"

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