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Ten years of Windows XP: how longevity became a curse (arstechnica.com)
59 points by shawndumas 906 days ago | comments


m0nastic 906 days ago | link

We still standardize on XP on the corporate images at my work (where we have more employees than many cities have residents), and are just now starting to even consider running a trial build of Windows 7.

We had to skip over Vista completely, as a year after it was released there were still loads of applications that didn't work on it (including our VPN software, which boggles the mind as it's not exactly like Vista was a surprise).

We had a few security applications we use day-to-day that prevented us from even installing XP Service Pack 2, as the changes to the raw socket support broke them.

Were it not for Microsoft preventing newer versions of IE from being installed, I think we'd probably stay on XP forever.

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MatthewPhillips 906 days ago | link

What software specifically stopped working (and are you aware of why)?

Have you researched alternatives?

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m0nastic 906 days ago | link

If you're referring to our VPN software, the version distributed by the vendor would crash upon initialization every time for a good year after Vista was released. I presume they eventually released a version that was stable, but my company had already decided to skip Vista by that point.

As to the applications which wouldn't work with XP SP2, WebInspect was a specific one (they eventually fixed it), but I recall there were a few others (basically any scanner that used raw sockets).

As to researching alternatives, I don't work in IT at my company, but if you're testing out a new version of the operating system that you deploy to all of your employees, and the VPN client doesn't work, you don't research alternative VPN solutions. You just decide to hold off on upgrading several hundred thousand systems until everything works.

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MatthewPhillips 906 days ago | link

I'm afraid I don't understand; why don't you research alternatives? Is it a training thing?

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m0nastic 906 days ago | link

I don't think training has anything to do with it.

Rule number 1 for corporate IT: Keep operations going (i.e.: make sure everything works).

At some point you see that Microsoft is releasing a new version of their operating system:

  1.) You build some test images to see what the upgrade process would be like
  2.) You discover that your VPN client doesn't work with the new version, so you see if the vendor has an updated version that works.
  3.) It turns out that they don't, so you hold off with the upgrade until such time as they do.
  4.) Enough time goes by where to where you decide that it doesn't make sense at this point to bother with this version of the operating system, so you decide to just skip it (and when you ask around, it turns out a really large amount of other enterprises are doing the same thing).
The idea of replacing your existing (working) VPN solution enterprise-wide just to enable you to use a newer version of the operating system isn't something you seriously consider (as it goes against IT rule number 1).

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MatthewPhillips 906 days ago | link

Again, just asking, why wouldn't you do a limited deployment to your QA group to make sure everything works, and then do the company-wide deployment over a weekend after you know everything works.

I've worked at a programmer at companies where you weren't allowed to touch Widget X because it works, so I understand the mindset, but more often than not in programming departments the focus is on shipping so nothing is off the table completely. I guess I just don't understand why IT has a different mindset.

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m0nastic 906 days ago | link

That's the point, they did a "limited deployment" and discovered that everything didn't work. Specifically, the VPN didn't work.

Making the VPN work would require spending millions of dollars in hardware, as well as the deployment of said new hardware in thousands of offices across the globe.

That's one option...The other option is to not upgrade to Windows Vista.

I don't understand what you mean by "mindset". The "mindset" of IT is to provide operational support. That means that they don't decide to upend the network infrastructure of the company willy-nilly for no discernible positive benefit.

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nknight 906 days ago | link

> then do the company-wide deployment over a weekend after you know everything works.

Even if there weren't serious network infrastructure issues involved, I wouldn't dare do an OS rollout like this.

This isn't a new version of some webapp you can just upload to a server and be done with. You're talking about fundamentally altering the operation of thousands of desktops and laptops around the world being put to diverse use by people who are very probably not technically minded.

And it would be impractical at best to upgrade all of that over the network on a weekend. Every piece of hardware would have to be turned on and connected to a high-speed link with appropriate netboot infrastructure. That's not going to happen.

QA can't catch everything, so rolling it out all at once means the entire company goes apeshit on IT all at once. Watch the senior IT people walk out the door because they don't have to put up with the abuse and can find a new job. Watch the young and inexperienced IT people have nervous breakdowns and take months to address all the problems, possibly costing the company millions in the process...

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VladRussian 906 days ago | link

there is huge difference between upgrading to new OS and [upgrading to new OS plus simultaneous replacement of the VPN solution company wide]

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MatthewPhillips 906 days ago | link

With Group Policy you can install a new VPN solution to everyone in your company at once. I think this has more to do with training (and IT having other priorities).

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throwawayday 906 days ago | link

you obviously have a very limited view: if you're talking 10 or 20 machines, no problem. If you're talking 1000 or 2000 (or 10 or 20 thousand) then it's a whole different ballgame. Doing this would be career suicide. Imagine Monday morning, and half your upgrades cause people to have to change their way of doing things. Suddenly your HelpDesk is swamped. What do you tell your boss? Start off with a phased approach, IT first (the good IT people), then a couple of groups of power users. Allow them time to get aclimatized to it and you learn the sharp edges. Then gradually roll it out to the rest of your user population. Group policy is for changing all your backgrounds at once. But event then, you risk pissing off people in positions of power.

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ck2 906 days ago | link

I'm a happy XP user. XP fits into 1GB and is very very fast.

Windows7 takes 10GB and grows exponentially as it keeps two copies of almost every system file that cannot be deleted.

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artmageddon 906 days ago | link

Only 1GB? In my experience I've needed about 4GB on a modest install.. but then again, that may be including updates and service packs.

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bm98 906 days ago | link

Actually I would say 5GB is a more reasonable minimum.

I recently installed an old XP Home CD in a VM with a 4GB disk. The only way I could get enough space for SP3 + updates was to compress the disk.

AFAIK, there is no easy way to resize the primary partition without reinstalling the OS or using third-party partitioning software, so I get by with my 4GB primary and a 2GB secondary for applications.

And I thought my days of running "Disk Cleanup" and manually cleaning out "\WINDOWS\SoftwareDistribution/Download" were over...

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ck2 906 days ago | link

Unlike Windows7, there are many places you can trim WindowsXP, for example you can remove all the backup copies of the service packs it keeps, you will never need to uninstall years-old service packs.

Are you including the swap file in the 4GB, because I am not.

I'm also referring to a clean new install for 1GB vs 10GB

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recoiledsnake 906 days ago | link

How much does 10GB of HDD space cost these days? I would rather have the OS be able to recover from corruption or deletions than save 5 bucks or something.

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qjz 906 days ago | link

Space on a hard drive is finite, no matter how much it costs, and the size requirement makes it particularly unattractive for running in a VM, compared to a leaner OS.

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zedpm 906 days ago | link

I run only SSD in my desktop and I was running out of space for VMs. I decided to move a VM to my NAS and I discovered, happily, that it runs great on the NAS, connected over Gig-E. I moved the rest of my VMs over there and I really don't notice a difference in performance.

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barrkel 906 days ago | link

My SSD system drive is about 40% allocated to Windows. It wouldn't be so bad but the location of many space hogs is not configurable. You just have to live with wasting quite a bit of expensive high performance space, rather than cheap bulk drive space. Performance of the rest of the system suffers, as only critical apps can benefit from being installed on the SSD.

10GB is a low usage ime. Installer directory alone approaches that on my system, much less winsxs.

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gwern 906 days ago | link

5 bucks is way too high. The cheapest drive with 4 eggs on http://forre.st/storage#hdd is is 23gb/$; 10/23 * 100 or 43 cents.

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viraptor 906 days ago | link

Too much if you want a one off install like I did this week. When you want a quick VM and one app, why waste more space/time? I know this is not a common usecase, but I was actually wondering - when most apps won't run on XP anymore - what is the minimal-windows going to be?

Also, not sure what you mean by recovering from deletion... How could any system recover from that?

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MatthewPhillips 906 days ago | link

You purchased a Windows XP license simply to run one app?

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viraptor 906 days ago | link

No, I bought one years ago - it doesn't go bad with time ;)

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pavel_lishin 906 days ago | link

That was a lot of paragraphs to say, "Despite being pretty great for its time, Windows XP is pretty outdated, and somewhat annoying to deal with."

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dmfdmf 906 days ago | link

> Windows XP needs to be not only the first ten-year operating system; it also needs to be the last.

I disagree with this.

I agree ten years is a long life for an OS now but sometime in the future that won't be true. The point is that the OS is a platform that should be stable and supported for years, if not decades. At some point the underlying technology and operation principles of an OS will plateau or reach diminished returns and a new OS will not be needed or just not worth the trouble.

Fast tracking OS releases today is really bad for all (except MS which is why they do it). Vista came out 5 years after XP but it was not ready for prime time. Win7 came out 3 years after Vista and Win8 is slated for 3 years after the release of Win7. This 3 year OS cycle is insanity. One reason no one wanted to give up XP was because it worked, it was reasonably stable and no one wanted the pain and cost of moving to a new OS with all the inevitable driver and app problems. I'd bet that most of the new "features" of Win8 are really improved apps that would work fine on Win7 or completely unnecessary. Sell new features in the old OS but make them standard in the new OS and release the new OS on approximately 5 year (and eventually longer) cycles when the fundamental functions of the OS need to change to improve security, efficiency or operation, not because MS needs revenue.

Win7 is a good OS, a worthy successor to XP, but we aren't even out of the Win7 adoption period (by users, hardware manufactures and ISV's) and we are suppose accept Win8 and stir the whole pot again? I suspect that Win8 is going to have the same marketing problem that (in part) submarined Vista. People don't care about Operating Systems, they run them to run Applications.

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rkudeshi 906 days ago | link

I think OS X does this right.

Every Windows upgrade feels like a brand new operating system. In contrast, every new OS X release feels more like an iterative update.

In a sense, OS X has been your ten year operating system, just with rolling updates.

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redthrowaway 906 days ago | link

One minor note:

" Direct3D 10, for example, only supports Windows Vista and Windows 7; it's not available on Windows XP. The continued widespread usage of the old operating system makes it much harder for developers to depend on these new features: every time they do, they rule out the ability to sell to half of all current Windows users, and that's a bitter pill to swallow."

How many devs who would like to use the features offered in D3D 10 but not 9 are realistically going to be selling to people running XP? An outdated OS with outdated hardware and users who are behind the curve on upgrades does not seem to be a market that people implementing rich graphical features would be targeting.

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coffeeaddicted 906 days ago | link

I guess the best available survey for hardware used by gamers is from steam (http://store.steampowered.com/hwsurvey/?platform=pc). Around 20% are using XP there - still a hard decision if you want to ignore a fifth of your potential customers.

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redthrowaway 906 days ago | link

Steam's a bit weird, as it has a lot of games that run on lower-spec systems. Your point's a valid one, but I think Steam might be a bit of an oddity.

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Gormo 906 days ago | link

Gamers are particularly reluctant to 'upgrade' to new versions of Windows, especially where there are major overhauls to the driver layer or DirextX. Doing so could break comptatibility with their existing library of games, or prevent hardware from working properly. SLI wasn't even supported under Vista for ~4 months after launch, for example.

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Androsynth 906 days ago | link

Win7 feels like aliens came down to Earth and decided to rebuild their own version of OS X. They know nothing about human user interfaces and they are just kinda putting all the pieces together. In the end, all the pieces are there, and if you look at it superficially it looks good, but once you really get into it, it feels like bizarro usability.

Just to give you an example of some things that make no sense: -shaking windows minimizes everything -moving the window to the top of the screen maximizes it (its easier for me to just click the box in the corner, and now I can't place windows across the top edge) -window explorer went from a couple large buttons to a ton of small buttons -the clickable area of a directory in windows explorer in list view is about half the size, making it very difficult to right click a directory unless its already selected (something done a lot with tortoise svn) -control settings has become so complex its almost unusable

I won't go on, I know from experience that you either vehemently agree or vehemently disagree.

edit: I should add: I used XP for 10 years then switched over to win7 last year. I am not a mac or linux fanboy. I recently switch to osx full time at home, and use XP to play games. I could not be happier with that setup.

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hvs 906 days ago | link

Fun note, OS/2 Warp 4 support was discontinued on December 31st, 2006; ten years after its release.

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yuhong 906 days ago | link

Another fun note: MS rounds the end of support date to the nearest quarter. I still remember when extended support for XP was to end at the end of year 2008.

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Alpocan 906 days ago | link

I'm still on XP because there is no clear choice for an upgrade path. I have a pile of business, programming, and electrical engineering applications that work well on XP and maybe fine on Windows 7. I don't like the bloat, interface, and locked-down nature of Win7. But do I wait for Win8? Or maybe try some Linux flavour and run XP/7/8 in a VM? It's really not an easy choice. Larger enterprises must hate this.

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wvenable 906 days ago | link

Have you actually seriously tried Windows 7? I couldn't stand Vista, but Win7 is a worthy successor to XP. It's faster, more memory efficient, and more stable. I've done my fair share of tweaking to make it more XP-like but many of changes are improvements.

Most businesses I work with are now moving to Windows 7 after skipping Vista entirely.

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Androsynth 906 days ago | link

At my old job, I was initially running xp on a thinkpad with 2GB of ram and I never had any issues with performance. I was doing standard web development work and used a relatively lightweight editor.

I switched over to win7 on the same laptop and they gave me 4GB or ram. Using the same software, the system lagged so much I had to go back and upgrade to 6GB of ram just to get the PC running at the xp-level of performance.

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eropple 906 days ago | link

Something was broken on your setup. I run Win7 on extremely resource-constrained computers (1GB RAM, Pentium III 1GHz) and it works considerably better than XP SP2. I've had the same experience on old-but-not-ancient (Pentium M 1.7GHz, 2GB RAM) machines as well as screamingly fast new boxes (3.4GHz quad-core i7 with 16GB RAM). Across the board, Windows 7 beats out XP SP2 in perceived performance, and I'd be willing to bet it does so in real performance too but I can't be bothered to benchmark.

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Androsynth 906 days ago | link

That's entirely possible, I never bothered to look at the junk IT installed on it. I also used the base Aero interface, which I suspected was a resource hog. I never tried to optimize performance since memory was free.

I also haven't ran XP with less than 2gb of ram since 2005, so I don't know what kind of slowdown xp experiences under resource constraints.

But my perceived performance equilibrium was about 2gb with xp to 6gb with win7.

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eropple 906 days ago | link

It sounds like your machine probably wasn't capable of running Aero on whatever IGP it had, more than anything. Aero Basic runs excellently on even really old stuff (and handles screen drawing much more intelligently than XP did, so it feels considerably snappier).

6GB sounds excessive for that situation, but if your IGP is getting testy about system memory, it seems likely that it'd require a hell of a lot to simulate decent behavior.

(Typed on my Toshiba Win7 netbook, with a 1.6GHz Atom, 1GB of RAM, and Aero running without a hitch.)

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MatthewPhillips 906 days ago | link

There are a lot of usability improvements as well. Maintaining the "All Programs" menu in XP was a full time charm. In 7 you just press start (or hit the Windows key) and type the first couple of letters of the program you want and hit enter.

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dmpk2k 906 days ago | link

Faster and more efficient than what? They've been saying this every single release since at least as far back as Windows 95.

Strangely enough, Windows 3.1 sure seems a lot smaller and snappier than Windows 7...

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chadzawistowski 906 days ago | link

I get the feeling that Windows 7 takes more resources, but utilizes a powerful computer more effectively than Windows XP does.

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TruthElixirX 906 days ago | link

Seven is faster and more efficient than Vista. I have it running (with Aero off) on a 6 year old Thinkpad. It workss great, just as well as XP.

I also used Vista for 3 years, and recently moved to 7. It boots much quicker and uses less resources on a consistent basis.

Of course I realize that the plural of anecdote is not data but I haven't heard anyone contradict what I said.

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megablast 906 days ago | link

Faster than Vista? High praise indeed.

Vista is what drove me to Mac OS, Windows 7 does not seem like much of an improvement in my limited testing. I hated the fact that Microsoft would just move everything around for no good reason, so I had to relearn to do everything I could do in XP. I managed with Dos v3.3 -> XP.

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TruthElixirX 906 days ago | link

How is Windows 7 more locked down?

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testz3453 906 days ago | link

UAC

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TruthElixirX 906 days ago | link

I have a feeling that is not what the OP was referencing, but if it is, it is disabled with about 3 clicks.

Also, I am glad they implemented it. It gives people who just click things, like my girlfriend, pause. It makes them double check what is happening.

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yuhong 906 days ago | link

XP is still common enough that I wonder how many enterprises will opt for custom support in 2014 (costs $200,000 for first year, more every year after).

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pavel_lishin 906 days ago | link

Depends on how much upgrading would cost, right? Enterprise-wide licenses, plus the cost of upgrading (downtime, overtime for IT staff, training for users, etc.)

It might make sense to shell out $200k/year for a few years, while gradually rolling out upgrades to more recent versions.

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yuhong 906 days ago | link

Note that $200k/year is for the first year. The price of Custom Support generally increases every year, with the pricing generally disclosed 3 years in advance.

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testz3453 906 days ago | link

I will use Windows XP for another 5 years - until new software and hardware will stop working on XP.

Windows 7 GUI is 5 times slower than XP and has bugs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay-gqx18UTM (Windows 7 GUI slowness) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToFgYylqP_U (Windows 7 GUI slowness: file explorer)

Windows 7 uses 5 times as much resources: XP: 233MHz, 64MB RAM, 1.5 GB. 7: 1GHz, 1GB RAM, 16 GB.

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redthrowaway 906 days ago | link

1 GHz, 1 GB RAM, and 16 GB HD are micenuts. You couldn't buy less than that if you tried. Hell, you could run it on a phone.

Windows 7 is faster and much, much nicer on any computer made in the last 2-3 years. I'm not a Windows fan by any means, but choosing to run XP over 7 in 2011 is incomprehensible.

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noarchy 906 days ago | link

Today's high end smartphones are more powerful than the last machine on which I ran XP. Vista ran like a bloated pig, but Win 7 seems to be the sweet spot, much like XP was in its time.

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eropple 906 days ago | link

Vista wasn't bad after SP1 or so.

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markkat 906 days ago | link

I was using XP until my Lenovo died this weekend. I pulled Vista off of it pretty quick. I suppose I'll be moving on to 7 now. :)

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nobody3141 906 days ago | link

So 10years of R+D from the foremost manufacturer of PC operating systems has produced ......

Hardware accelerated transparency effects on the desktop (if you're lucky and not on an Intel chipset)

Just think what the next 10years might bring - multicolored keyboard CAPSLOCK lights?

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to3m 906 days ago | link

I suspect a lot of the R&D goes into making sure that people can make this sort of "is that all" type comment without looking ridiculous :)

Perhaps if Windows 8 were to break all your old apps, and look utterly radically different, then people might find it easier to believe that it was genuinely something new? Maybe that could work.

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nobody3141 906 days ago | link

Hey the new 2012 Oldsmobiles are in! And not only are they new and improved in ways you can't actually detect - but they are guaranteed compatible with your current gas.

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brisance 906 days ago | link

Tell that to the iPhone 5 prognosticators.

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mappu 906 days ago | link

I realise i'm missing the point here, but I have an Intel GMA950, and it runs Aero flawlessly. Windows 8 is introducing ubiquitous DWM compositing regardless of hardware.

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