So Long, Windows XP

With its last official update having arrived today, Microsoft’s Windows XP can pretty much be declared dead.

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Apr 8 2014, 7:00pm
Image: Flickr/George Ruiz

With its last official update having arrived today, Microsoft’s Windows XP can pretty much be declared dead. Sure, it’ll still work if you’re holding out to the bitter end, but it’s probably best to say your goodbyes now and leave on good terms, rather than wait for it to buckle under a cyberattack (unless you’re paying millions to keep it on life support for one desperate last year, that is).

Windows XP was—is—an iconic operating system. First released in 2001, it became the most popular OS ever, with 800 million users. At the great old age of 12 and a half, a bona fide grandaddy in the OS scene, it’s still a longstanding favourite: NetMarketShare estimates that it’s running on almost half of desktops, while Business Insider reports that as of last year it was on nearly a third of consumer machines (though Windows 7 has now overtaken it as the most popular). 

This YouTuber made an XP tribute video by screenshotting the startup/shutdown sequence, adding text in MS Paint, and compiling it with .wav sound effects in Movie Maker. XP's wonderful capabilities and clunkiness, all in one go.

Today, April 8, Microsoft ends security updates and technical support for the OS, leaving XP to the mercy of zero-day attacks. It’s time to move on. Some people I’ve spoken to about the end of XP (hi, Mum) are still loathe to give it up, considering the need to migrate a waste of money and effort. But it only makes sense to patch an old system so many times, and we must remember that the tech world in which XP was born was very different from our current environment.

In some ways, then, the end of XP marks the end of a broader era of computer use, and perhaps that’s why people are so nostalgic about it. Here’s a round up of some of XP’s highlights, to help you bid farewell or, if you upgraded long ago to Windows Vista (shudder), 7, or 8, to take a trip down memory lane. To get you in the XP mindset, let's start with an impressively accurate piano rendition of common XP sounds. Don’t they just tug at the heartstrings?

Video: Youtube/Bachmaninoff

XP seemed cutting edge at the time, of course—and it was—but now it’s a remnant of simpler times. 2001 was a world pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-Youtube. It was a time when we used MSN messenger, an AOL email address wasn’t an embarrassment, and everyone knew the cheat to get infinite money in the original version of The Sims (the only one released by then). There was never any question about how to find the Start menu.

Named for eXPerience, it was generally available from October 2001, and was the first Microsoft OS to move away from MS-DOS. Let’s not forget that, just as newer Windows are pushing XP into the past today, so too did its arrival render previous technologies obsolete. Here’s Bill Gates in 2001, explaining how Windows XP heralded the end of Windows 95 and the MS-DOS era, featuring a creepy voiceover from “DOS”:

Video: Youtube/th3l4bf4n

The launch of XP also saw the ritual killing-off of Office Assistant Clippy, the letter-writing paperclip, from Microsoft Office. He was infuriating at the time, but kind of quaint when you look back with rose-tinted spectacles. 

But that comfortable feeling of familiarity also pervaded XP, even before it became an old friend. Far from the cold, white-and-grey edges of today’s high-res screens, for many XP was all about what you made of it—and that meant adding colour. Customisation was in vogue, and you’ll find no scarcity of how to guides out there on how to change your background, the colour of your windows, and so on (as a side note, observe that this was something people needed guides for back then). 

I can’t figure out exactly when this series of BBC articles dates back to, but Britain’s public broadcasting body obviously thought that colour-changing your XP settings was of enough interest to merit step-by-step walkthroughs. Amateur tutorials on YouTube also have thousands of views. Don’t even talk to me about customised cursors (though they’re arguably less annoying than the spinning beach ball of death).

One of the most remarkable changes in computers since the early days of XP is, of course, the hugely increased use of internet. Data from the International Telecommunication Union shows that in 2001, 29 out of 100 people in developed countries used the internet. For 2013 that was estimated at 77. We’re using the internet very differently as well. You might have used dial-up. You certainly wouldn’t have used Google Chrome.

In fact, if you got XP from the start, you were likely on Internet Explorer 6, and let’s take a moment to commemorate the browser that died alongside XP today. IE6 will no longer be supported, though most people on Twitter (how modern!) seem to be bidding it good riddance.

Of course, time moved on from XP’s salad days, and it’s been among the more mature OSs for a while. Windows Vista was released in early 2007, though it never really caught on, mainly because many PCs struggled to actually use it—even Microsoft employees found their machines crippled by the “upgrade.” 2009’s Windows 7 was more successful, perhaps because it kind of looked like XP. And now, of course, we’re on to the touch screen-y Windows 8, which has seen more of a love-it-or-loathe-it response.

Indeed, the ongoing success of Windows XP could be interpreted partially as a sign of failure on the part of its successors. Or perhaps this is how you’re going to feel about Windows 8 in ten year’s time.