Microsoft and the Windows XP Albatross

February 7th, 2014

Lest we forget, Windows XP was released in the fall of 2001, not long after the first version of OS X arrived. Despite it’s age and great success, XP has become one of Microsoft’s worst nightmares, because tens and tens of millions of users simply won’t give it up. The tepid uptake of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 hasn’t helped one bit.

According to a recent set of Web metrics from Net Market Share, the piece of the Windows XP pie actually grew from 28.98% last December to 29.23% in January.

Now before I go on, let me make it clear that stats of that sort are approximate, based on online access by computers running different OS versions. It doesn’t include computers that don’t go online, or don’t visit the sites used in the sampling. But that may only make things worse, as Windows XP is widely used in point-of-sale systems that will never go online, or go online to connect to a private network, such as a merchant processing system. So it may very well be that XP’s share is far higher than these estimates indicate, which only makes matters worse.

In contrast, the very same metrics show that Windows 8 and 8.1, collectively, have a mere 10.58%. OS X 10.9, Mavericks, has 3.2%. Windows 7 has the largest share, at 47.49%.

Now it’s not as if Microsoft isn’t doing everything it can to persuade Windows users to upgrade. Support for XP will finally be dropped on April 8, but security updates will still be offered until July 2015. So you’d think that customers would be rushing to ditch XP and at least move on to Windows 7.

But that is by no means certain, nor is it certain that Microsoft won’t delay those deadlines yet again.

As I’ve mentioned previously, lots of businesses still depend on XP, such as my chiropractor’s office. When I asked him when or if they will ever upgrade, he said he expects to eventually, but the software they use still runs just fine. So there’s no rush. The same can be said for a local dry cleaner that’s still using an impact printer from the 1980s. The possibilities for a Windows upgrade are even less for that business.

This doesn’t seem to be an issue of quality either. Most industry professionals agree that Windows 7 is a far better operating system from the standpoint of reliability and security. But upgrades in the Windows world aren’t always as seamless as on a Mac. So going to Windows 7 would invariably involve rebuilding the PC’s drive and reinstalling all apps, which is not a casual process by any means. A business may simply set up a drive image to deploy to the company’s PCs, but smaller businesses might put off such an upgrade as long as possible.

There are other considerations, such as drivers for graphic cards and peripherals that might also be as old as the OS. As you see, this is a decision that carries considerable costs to a business and isn’t going to be considered unless absolutely necessary. For a point-of-sale system, it may be less likely to happen.

Now Microsoft would surely prefer to sell customers on Windows 8.1, but there is that embarrassing decision from HP recently to offer PCs with Windows 7. That comes as the PC industry is almost collapsing for some makers. This week, Sony announced that the VAIO PC line would be, in part, sold off, and otherwise discontinued. So after all is said and done, and thousands of employees lose their paychecks, the line will only be offered in Japan.

This is typical of the way the PC industry is going, however. Sony tried to sell premium Windows PCs to a market that wanted cheap and cheaper. They did a pretty good job of it for a while, though; so good, in fact that Steve Jobs famously went to Sony in the early 2000s to discuss the possibility of having them build OS X clones. It never happened, of course, which is probably a good thing, but it is also clear Jobs very much admired Sony over the years.

Sony’s departure from the PC business merely confirms what has been obvious, which is that it’s no longer possible for any company, other than Apple, to earn large profits from selling traditional computers. That Microsoft continues to have problems persuading customers to upgrade to Windows 8/8.1 is only part of the problem.

But with a new CEO taking charge, will there be much, if any, change at all? After all Bill Gates will, for a while at least, be watching over the shoulder of Satya Nadella, and I can’t imagine what that’s going to be like. Sure, it may make sense in the sense of taking an engineering-oriented executive and schooling him in the finer points of dealing with the company’s various divisions, partners, the financial community, and putting forth a proper public face. The latter may be the most difficult task of all, if you consider some of those recordings of Nadella’s public speeches. Sure, Tim Cook hasn’t been so great either, but he’s learning. Perhaps Nadella will as well, but the real problem will be fixing what’s wrong at Microsoft.

And just persuading large numbers of users to upgrade from Windows XP may be the most difficult task of all.

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6 Responses to “Microsoft and the Windows XP Albatross”

  1. Articles you should read (Feb. 7) …. says:

    […] “Microsoft and the Windows XP albatross: Lest we forget, Windows XP was released in the fall of 2001, not long after the first version of OS X arrived. Despite it’s age and great success, XP has become one of Microsoft’s worst nightmares, because tens and tens of millions of users simply won’t give it up.” — Read the article on > […]

  2. Monotonous Langor says:

    Funny enough, I just recently had to install XP via BootCamp on one of our Macs so that I could view an EEG tracing in Windows. Holy fricking hell! It took multiple attempts to get XP installed, and once I did, it wouldn’t connect to the Internet. After hours of putzing and gnashing teeth, I finally gave up and found someone with a Windows PC who already had the software loaded.

    Having had to use XP at previous jobs, I was painfully reminded how klutzy, crappy, and downright awful running Windows is. Literally, one could not pay me enough money to get me to use Windows.

  3. Sponge says:

    While all the reasons you give for why many are sticking with XP are valid, in my experience the biggest reason is that they know how to use it, and a lot of them have been using it for a long time so they’re comfortable with it. I recently worked at a large organization upgrading their systems to Windows 7, and was surprised how many people actively opposed, and tried to avoid, having their systems upgraded. One woman literally left the building every time one of us was on her floor performing upgrades. But after the upgrades were complete, I was further surprised at how much difficulty many people had adapting to Windows 7. To a computer person, the change doesn’t seem that drastic, but I spent hours explaining how to use 7 to people who had been using XP for a decade and just wanted their computers to work the way they always had. One even told me that they should never change, since everyone knew XP so well. “Why should I have to spend time learning a new way to do the same thing?” he asked. I’ve met many who feel the same way. I think the disaster of Vista created an enormous user base of people who either got out of the habit of adapting to new Windows versions or never got in the habit to begin with. Now Windows 8, being such a radical departure from earlier versions, is having the same effect on both Win7 and XP users.

  4. Viswakarma says:

    Perhaps selecting Satya Nadella as the CEO for Microsoft indicates that the Bill Gates might have finally decided to leave the end-user computing universe to Apple, and focus on the Middle Tier (NT server) and Cloud computing to survive.

  5. Viswakarma says:

    Also, Apple focusing on Health Care will gradually wean the device manufacturers to use Apple’s iOS for medical devices to provide an integrated environment for all of the Health Care Environment, just as many of the Auto Manufactures are integrating iOS devices into the automobiles.

  6. Joe S says:

    And wasn’t XP part of the reason for the ID thefts at Target?

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