The Long, Slow Death of Windows XP Has Begun

Yesterday Microsoft officially kicked off what it called a "two-year countdown" to the death of Windows XP, its longest-lived operating system. According to a company spokeswoman, Windows XP and the business productivity suite Office 2003 both exit all support on April 8, 2014. On that date, Microsoft will stop shipping security updates for XP and Office 2003. XP went on sale in October 2001 and Office 2003 was launched in October 2003.

"Windows XP and Office 2003 were great software releases for their time, but the technology environment has shifted," argued Stella Chernyak, a Microsoft marketing director.

When Microsoft finally pulls the plug on XP, it will have maintained the OS for 12 years and 5 months, or about two-and-a-half years longer than its usual practice and a year longer than the previous record holder, Windows NT, which was supported for 11 years and 5 months. This wasn't the first time that Microsoft has urged XP users to dump the operating system -- and perhaps their PCs too -- for newer tools.

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

The company has not yet turned it's back on Windows XP the way it did on the Internet Explorer 6 (IE6). For more than two and a half years, Microsoft has been urging users to give up IE6, going so far in March 2011 to launch a deathwatch website that tracks IE6's dwindling usage share.

In the last 12 months, XP has lost nearly 10 percentage points of market share, or 14% of what it had as of April 1, 2011, according to Internet measurement company Net Applications. If XP continues to shed share at that pace -- the OS would have just 17.1% in April 2014.

Yet as is always the case with lazy or cheap PC owners, you can bet that some PCs will still be running Windows XP when Microsoft retires the operating system.

"Our recent Symposium survey in October had respondents telling us they'd have 96% of their PCs migrated off XP by end of support," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver in an email reply to questions Monday. "But 16.5% of organizations say they will have more than 5% of their users still on XP after support ends."

Not surprisingly, Microsoft wants XP users to upgrade to Windows 7 now, perhaps figuring money in the hand with Windows 7 is better than dollars from the bush that's the unfinished Windows 8.

"We don't recommend waiting [for the next editions of Windows or Office], said Microsoft's Chernyak. "Not only is it important for companies to complete deployment before support runs out, but ... by upgrading to Windows 7 and Office 2010 today they can gain substantial results while laying the foundation for future versions."

On Microsoft's website, the company was blunt about XP's ticking clock. "If your organization has not started the migration to a modern PC, you are late," Microsoft said, citing data that claimed OS migration programs in large businesses can take between 18 and 32 months to complete.

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