Windows XP turns 11, still not dead yet

The aged OS has 18 months until retirement, but it's not going quietly into the night, say analysts

On the same day Microsoft loudly proclaims Windows 8 in New York, the aging-but-still-going Windows XP today quietly celebrated its 11th birthday.

On Oct. 25, 2001, Microsoft launched Windows XP, unknowingly unleashing its most successful operating system ever.

If they only could do the same today, the company's executives must think as they assemble for a day-long Windows 8 launch party.

"It was a good operating system," said David Johnson, an analyst with Forrester, in an interview today. "It was a very, very good operating system ... a superb OS because it removed a lot of pain."

So superb, in fact, that it continues to run on an enormous number of PCs across the globe. According to Web metrics firm Net Applications, Windows XP powered about 41% of all personal computers -- 45% of those running one form or another of Windows -- in September.

Only the much newer Windows 7 has a bigger share, and that only recently: It wasn't until this August that Windows 7 passed XP to take the top spot.

By Forrester's count, said Johnson, 48% of enterprise PCs now run Windows 7. But 38% of their systems continue to rely on Windows XP.

That last number is one Microsoft desperately wants -- has wanted, in fact, for over a year -- to drive to zero, preferably by getting customers to dump old hardware, upgrade to new machines and devices, and pick Windows 8 as their OS.

As far back as June 2011, a Microsoft manager claimed it was "time to move on" from XP, while even earlier that year an executive on the Internet Explorer team belittled XP as the "lowest common denominator" when he explained why the OS wouldn't run the then-new IE9.

What's the rush to dump the old XP?

On April 8, 2014, less than 18 months from now, Windows XP exits all support when it receives its final security update. From then on, most users of the OS will be exposed to attack from hackers exploiting new vulnerabilities that Microsoft simply won't patch.

That's not the only problem. ISVs, or "independent software vendors," tech-speak for third-party developers, already have or will soon drop support for their XP programs.

But with so many machines still running the venerable XP, what's the chance that all users, particularly those in enterprises, will be off the OS in 18 months when Microsoft puts it out to pasture?

Little or none, said Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner.

"There's a good chance that 10% or 15% of organizations' PCs will still be on XP after support ends," said Silver in a Wednesday interview. "That wouldn't be atypical, actually, for a Windows operating system."

Forrester's Johnson said his firm's numbers were similar, although it posed the question differently to enterprises.

"We asked 'What are you deploying now on new PCs?' and enterprises are saying the 76% are deploying Windows 7. But 16% are still going with XP," said Johnson.

"When we ask them what they'll be deploying 12 months from now, their answer is Windows 7, with 60%, Windows 8, at 26%, and Windows XP, 3%," Johnson continued. "But enterprises are notoriously optimistic about future deployments, so I'd say that by the time it reaches retirement, XP will still be on 15% to 20% of PCs."

Windows XP UI
Ah, the familiar UI of Windows XP. The venerable OS turns 11 today and faces retirement in under 18 months, but firms still on it must make haste to migrate to something newer, analysts urge.
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