Windows XP is widely believed to be the most successful operating system of all time. Released in 2001 as the internet exploded into public view, Microsoft’s replacement for the unpopular Windows ME combined the best elements of the corporate NT and consumer-oriented Windows 98 kernels into one platform. For six years, XP’s startup chime and two-column Start menu were as ubiquitous as the Nokia ringtone or the BlackBerry handset. Over 400 million copies of XP were sold, and its default desktop background (a photograph of Californian hills) is believed to be the most viewed image in human history.
The legacy lives on
Many versions of the various Home, Desktop, Professional and Media Center editions of Windows XP are still used to this day. The UK’s National Health Service relies heavily on XP-powered medical devices and IT systems, partly because they continue to function dependably, but mainly because upgrading to a newer version of Windows would be prohibitively expensive for a state-funded health care service. Many small businesses and consumers were also deterred from upgrading by the myriad flaws of XP’s replacement, Vista. Indeed, XP’s record-breaking six-year lifespan was bookended by two of the least successful (and short-lived) Windows variants ever launched.
Given the breakneck pace of technological progress, it might seem like madness to retain a netbook or desktop powered by software which was first launched a few weeks after 9/11. This was a world of dial-up internet and Geocities, not Spotify and social media. Yet since XP-powered devices are perfectly capable of supporting these services (in devices with sufficiently powerful GPUs and memory banks), the biggest argument against its retention centers on security…
Safe and secure?
Microsoft stopped providing official security updates or technical support for Windows XP in 2014. At the time, they urged loyalists to upgrade to Windows 7, 8 or even 10. This was a huge gamble, since half of all Chinese computers still ran XP, as did almost all of the world’s ATM machines. The global recession had stymied many plans to replace legacy software, while Vista’s endless glitches also meant many companies didn’t want to upgrade.
As the years went by, upgrading has become steadily more difficult. Windows 10 requires 16 times as much hard drive space and RAM to run as XP does. Consequently, XP retains a double-digit share of the operating system market in many developing countries. Even in America and the United Kingdom, it still powers millions of machines, from indestructible desktops to 2010-era netbooks.
Maintaining the legacy
Some industry observers suggest that Windows XP’s enduring popularity demonstrates the system’s robustness and continuing stability. They also cite last year’s release of a patch for the WannaCry ransomware attack as evidence that Microsoft hasn’t completely abandoned it. Experts suggest XP loyalists should reinstall the operating system to delete obsolete patches or legacy software, before downloading the final Service Pack 3 and any high-priority updates. A firewall ought to provide a further bridge against malware and viruses, as will any antivirus package still compatible with XP.