Microsoft Windows XP's Long Enterprise IT Goodbye

News Analysis: It's taken 10 years to get rid of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, despite its flaws and security holes.

Someday soon you won't see Microsoft's Windows XP as an option on new computers. A little less soon, and Windows XP won't even be available as a special order item. In three and a half years, all support for XP will stop. By then, everyone using Windows will presumably have moved up to Windows 7 or whatever else is next.

But of course, that won't happen. Getting rid of Windows XP will take more than a decision based on the calendar. It'll eventually take something catastrophic like an incurable virus to pry people loose from their trusty Windows XP computers. As eWEEK Staff Writer Nick Kolakowski points out, alternatives have been around for a year, and have been standard equipment on most laptop and desktop computers since the fall of 2009. But that hasn't stopped people from buying XP. Who's to say that something like a little ol' deadline from Microsoft will do it?

Part of the problem is that Windows XP is by far Microsoft's most successful operating system. Partly that's because it has simply been around for a very long time and people are used to it. In addition, computers with XP installed are still being sold, despite the fact that it's been superseded-twice-by new operating systems. People really are used to it. Windows XP is what they know, and it's what their computers run.

Partly this is Microsoft's fault, which might explain why the company has been amazingly patient in trying to wean people from XP. The attempt to move to Windows Vista was a disaster, and people were reluctant to move to a new operating system that showed few benefits and a lot of reasons not to make the change. By the time Windows 7 came along, XP was so totally entrenched that getting it out of the enterprise was nearly impossible.

And, of course, helping it be impossible are those thousands of locally created applications the companies have built for their own use and that run fine under Windows XP. Some of those applications are critical for the operation of the company that developed them, and many were never written with Windows 7 in mind. Companies aren't in a hurry to rewrite those applications if they don't have to. While Windows 7 has a compatibility mode that is supposed to run XP applications, it doesn't always work, and companies know that.

In addition to being inconvenient to make the move, for many users, it's probably impossible, or at least they believe it is. The last time I made a visit to a computer store and looked at a netbook computer, for example, it was loaded with Windows XP. The tiny machine didn't meet the memory or processor requirements for Windows 7, and because of that, was doomed to be an XP machine, unless its owner decided to install Linux instead.

But it's not just netbooks that seem to have Windows XP welded in place. When I bought a professional workstation from Hewlett-Packard earlier this year, I found that it came with XP preinstalled. It's a machine aimed at the enterprise market, and that market is very much an XP domain. Windows 7 machines are filtering into the enterprise slowly. In this case, the upgrade to Widows 7 was free, and it happened the day the computer landed in the lab. But for most enterprise customers, there's no real reason to make such a switch-their other machines run XP, their applications run on Windows XP, and that's what their IT staff knows.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...