Windows XP in its early years started off ambitious and enterprising. However, in those early years (2001 and 2002), it also gave many a headache and received ample criticism. With time (and Service Packs) it matured into what is today regarded as one of Microsoft's best operating system efforts of all time.
Now the time has come at last to take the first steps towards laying the OS to rest. While sales of XP-downgraded computers will continue after July in the case of HP, and XP will still be installed on some netbooks until 2010, Microsoft is ending mainstream support for the OS on April 14, 2009. The first phase of the retirement comes over seven years after the first Windows XP shipped.
The fact that it will still be selling XP machines after this discontinuation is a testament to the OS's strong public image, but it also puts Microsoft in a strange position. Aside from new sales, an estimated 63 percent of internet-connect computers have Windows XP installed (as of March 2009), versus a mere 24 percent with Windows Vista. In short, Microsoft is in the curious position of ending support for its most widely used product.
Laurence Painell, Windows marketing manager at Microsoft UK reassures customers that while the majority of product-related (i.e. mainstream) support will be ended, key security updates will not. He states, "We will provide critical security fixes via Windows Update for all editions of XP until 2014."
However, Microsoft will no longer have the burden of answering any non-security issues, except for those users with an extended support contract with Microsoft or one of its channel partners. Microsoft says that the familiarity in the tech community with XP, should limit this becoming a problem. It argues that customers have plenty of support resources to turn to online.
Gartner analyst Michael Silver praises the move. He states, "The only thing extended support buys you is creation of new non-security fixes, at a hefty fee for each one. After all these years, most people figure that most of the functional bugs [in XP] are already worked out."
Microsoft is encouraging XP customers to switch to its upcoming OS, Windows 7, particularly those who skipped Vista. One curious aspect of Windows 7 is that it comes with an offer for an XP downgrade, again throwing a bit of a wrench in Microsoft's retirement plans. The downgrade is a quick process, but ironically an upgrade from XP to Windows 7 requires a full install.