Windows XP's End Of Life: Readers Respond

Windows XP loyalists have a bone (or three) to pick with Microsoft.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

July 24, 2013

8 Min Read

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You could fool yourself into thinking that people who still use Windows XP are just laggards, a bunch of change-fearing folks stuck in the age of flip phones and Web 1.0. You could also buy into a theory that XP usage stats are inflated by PCs that will never be upgraded or replaced; those machines will simply grow old and die, and tablets and smartphones will rule the world.

Neither perspective would adequately explain why so many of the world's computers still run on XP. It's a dozen years old and nearing the end of its so-called life -- which just means that Microsoft will soon end support for the operating system. No more security patches, bug fixes, driver updates, you name it -- all of that goes away on April 8, 2014, which poses potential risks for businesses and individuals who plan to stick with XP beyond that date.

Yet less than nine months from XP's retirement party in Redmond, one in three PCs still run the OS, give or take. OS usage statistics tend to vary based on a variety of factors. Microsoft estimates around 30% of its small and midsize business (SMB) customers still use XP; recent market share data from Net Applications said XP accounts for 37% of PCs around the world. These aren't exactly "margin of error" numbers.

Recent emails and story comments from InformationWeek readers shed some light on the Catch-22 that XP has become for Microsoft. XP has a been a whopping, enduring success -- so much so that its most loyal users have little interest in buying newer versions of Windows nor, in many cases, newer hardware.

[ What's holding back Windows 8 tablets? Read Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise. ]

Here's what those readers have to say. (Note: Minor changes have been made to some responses to ensure clarity without altering content.)

We Just Like XP Better -- So Why Change?

Reader "sholden334" wrote in a recent story comment: "When I got my new Windows 7 PC, I loaded Parallels and transferred my whole XP work environment to a virtual machine. I find Access 2000 and Borland's C++ very productive, Excel 2010 handles bigger spreadsheets and XP is rock solid. Why should I change?"

The Honda Civic Of Operating Systems

Likewise, Lee, an IT pro, wrote via email that he can't foresee any good reason to stop using his XP machine, especially when it's more reliable than his newer PC. "I still have an XP computer that is running fine. The original hard drive was dying and it was ghosted onto the current drive," Lee said. "It boots faster than my Windows 7 computer. Everything runs fine. Why should I get rid of it?"

In a piece a while back on my own Windows 8 hesitations, I felt oddly compelled to mention that I drive a 2002 Honda Civic. There might be something to the Civic mentality -- and some common ground with XP in terms of long-term reliability. By way of explaining his XP usage, Lee wrote: "I had a 1988 Honda Civic for 19 years and 140,000 miles because I turned the key and the engine started."

We'll Move When We Must (And Not A Moment Sooner)

"Moonwatcher" wrote in a story comment: "Businesses will move when they HAVE to. I'm still running XP on my main home machine. Why? Because I've spent hours and hours configuring programs to work as I want them. I'm not looking forward to repeating the process just to make Microsoft some money. I did have to buy a new PC recently to run a computer-aided design (CAD) program for work and unfortunately at the time, Dell would not allow me to get Windows 7, so I got stuck on (and hate) Windows 8. I only use that PC to run my CAD program. For all other things I use the old, reliable XP box."

We'd Love To Upgrade -- If Only It Weren't So Difficult

Some businesses would like to upgrade but find themselves stuck in a constant tug-of-war for resources. Roy Atkinson shared this hypothetical scenario in a story comment:

"If I am an application developer at a large, say, healthcare institution and 80% of the PCs there are running XP, when we institute electronic medical records (EMR) software, what OS am I developing and testing for? XP, of course. The project managers and hospital administration are likely pressuring me to complete the EMR rollout, so I cannot stop now and then begin developing and testing for Windows 7 or 8, as much as the desktop support folks would like me to. So, now we have a larger problem. I can't test for Win7 because I'm on a deadline, but I can't stay on XP because it's on a deadline. My speed is holding up deployment of new equipment and OS.

Many desktop support groups I talk to are losing sleep because they are stuck in this situation. They know exactly how vulnerable XP will be once the patching stops, and they'd love to get a new OS rolled out, but they can't." Define "Support," Please

A number of IT pros I've heard from recently have mentioned that while end-of-life security concerns are legit, "support" is an ambiguous term. Several of them said they never contact Microsoft's technical support, so they won't miss it when it's no longer available for XP. But not every Microsoft customer is an IT pro.

Reader and business owner Ed wrote: "I have three towers running XP Pro for my company -- they came installed when purchased from Dell about six years ago. My main tower’s OS crashed. I took the tower to Microsoft's store in Scottsdale, Ariz. They said, 'Too bad, we no longer have the disk to reinstall.' My only option was to purchase Windows 7 and install it on a new tower. I checked my calendar and it is clear that it isn’t April 2014 as far as I can tell."

The Alternatives Have Improved

Rick wrote via email: "I'm an XP hanger-on -- of the 'if it ain't broke (mostly), don't fix it variety' -- and if Microsoft is going to force me to move to a new operating system, it very well may not be to [a newer version of Windows]. Android and Google look more and more appealing with the key factor being the potential for having my desktop business machine be compatible with my tablet and smartphone."

Once upon a time, ditching Windows meant either Apple or Linux for PCs. But the advent of Google's Chrome OS in conjunction with its Android OS for mobile devices has added another choice. The kicker here is that Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy is geared largely around exactly what Rick wants -- seamless movement between work and personal lives, no matter the device. It's just that he's not impressed on the tablet and smartphone front, where both Google and Apple had major head-starts.

"Microsoft has nothing in either category to measure up against Google and Apple. If they sustain and support XP and keep the old horse working and current, I'll continue to ride it for another couple of years at least. I don't need them to be compatible, but if I am to go through the torture of learning a new operating system, I will be giving money to their competitors who offer compatibility with my other personal technology. That's really a no-brainer."

Microsoft Should Reconsider Its End-Of-Life Approach

One reader thinks Microsoft should use XP's long-term popularity as leverage -- while avoiding potential PR damage -- by dropping the support cutoff in favor of sales promotions. Microsoft has already offered these kinds of deals, though the offers may need to get more aggressive.

"Francoman" wrote in a comment: "Microsoft should resist efforts to cut off XP users from support. It will surely backfire and Microsoft leaders will again have egg on their faces. Instead they should use incentives to lead XP users to embrace Microsoft and partner Web applications and even upgrade the OS. I am sure these are budget-conscious people. This is not a time for Microsoft to be mean-spirited by axing customers. Instead work with your partners to create hardware and OS incentives to drive sales among this group of users. Listen to and understand your customers, because 40% of a billion desktops is a HUGE number of people. If Ballmer cuts of 40% of his customer base, then he deserves to go."

Never Say Never?

The bottom line for XP fans: Microsoft's saying goodbye to XP even if many users are not. Microsoft isn't trying to sneak one past anyone here. The end-of-support date has been known for a long time. In fact, we already know when support will end for Windows 7 (Jan. 14, 2020) and even Windows 8 (Jan. 10, 2023).

Reader Neil asked via email: "What's the likelihood that Microsoft will extend the April 2014 date?"

You've got a better chance of seeing Steve Ballmer doing the foxtrot on Dancing with the Stars.

Join the conversation on Windows XP. Tell us why you're sticking with it or moving on, using the comments field below.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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