Microsoft's recent 10 year anniversary for Windows XP was a widely-heralded event, and accolades freely flowed for Microsoft's longest lived OS ever. Sadly, Microsoft's efforts at highlighting the commendable track record of XP were overshadowed by overly zealous efforts by various Microsoft spokespeople to drive customers off Windows XP and onto Windows 7. Like the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the hapless peasant claims he isn't quite dead yet, Microsoft seems all too eager to boot Windows XP into the grave in favor of Windows 7.
Windows XP isn't dead yet, despite Microsoft's best efforts.
Using something as significant as a 10-year product anniversary to simultaneously applaud and denigrate a key product may seem a bit misguided. Yet Microsoft has a history of ham-fisted marketing efforts, ranging from the abstrusely-named Microsoft Equipt to the Gordian Knot of marketing obfuscation known as Windows Live. Here's a test: Grab a non-technical family member and ask them if they know what Xbox Live, Windows Live Essentials, and Office Live Small Business--now Office 365--have in common. Don't feel bad, as even Microsoft employees have a hard time answering that.
Branding obfuscation aside, Microsoft has also demonstrated a surprisingly tin ear when it comes to determining what their target audience wants and how to most effectively market to them. Like a passive aggressive acquaintance who says positive things but really can't stand you, Microsoft's marketing has been loaded with contradictions. Witness the projectile vomiting spouse who stumbles across her husband's porn collection using Internet Explorer 8, the Windows Phone 7 television ads that stressed how bad smartphones are for us, or the Windows Vista "Mojave Experiment" marketing campaign that managed to tell consumers how dumb Microsoft thinks they are. Stripping away the thin veneer of praise that Microsoft provided for XP, perhaps Microsoft's motives could have been more efficiently articulated as "Hey, Windows XP! Can't you hurry up and die already?"
Granted, Windows 7 is a superior OS in just about every way possible, with better security, reliability, better manageability, and a host of other real and substantial improvements over Windows XP. Recent data from Statcounter does show that as of October 2011 -- Windows 7 now has more market share than XP, but Microsoft clearly wishes people would move off XP faster.
As Microsoft has continually added new features to Windows over the years, it seems like more IT departments than ever are starting to drag their feet when it comes to client OS upgrades. The evolution of Windows that resulted in Windows XP created a product that -- to many IT managers and CFOs -- still passes the "good enough" test 10 years after it was launched. With businesses cutting costs, trimming fat, and laying off workers to stay afloat in harsh financial times, once thorny financial decisions become razor-sharp: Do we upgrade to Windows 7 and lay off half the people in marketing, or do we soldier on with Windows XP for a few more years? Virtualization, replacements for failing hardware, and SaaS solutions may be more more attractive IT upgrades to cash-strapped management than an upgrade to a client OS that -- for better or worse -- is still largely getting the job done. It's like having an old beater of a pickup truck has 125,000 miles on the odometer, rust spots, and threadbare seat covers. It gets you where you need to go, so why spend more money on a new truck with hefty insurance premiums and expensive monthly payments? For better or worse, many IT departments are reluctantly clinging to Windows XP for the same reasons.
A few informal queries I directed at IT pros on Twitter over the last few months resulted in some interesting replies about why they haven't dumped Windows XP yet. Twitter user @Twirrim said that it was "Hard to justify buying Win 7 licenses for the XP machines, esp when XP 'just works' and is less bloated," while @DecHL said "Why still XP? Boss is too cheap to allow me to refresh the remaining boxes on XP. Got most machines running Win7." And @prudentdad echoes the sentiment of several other IT pros who are held back by XP or IE6 compatibility requirements with key applications. "Still using Windows XP due to our document management software."
This lugubrious migration off of XP may be a sign of more ominous things to come for Microsoft's venerable product strategy of releasing a new Windows client every few years. Despite Microsoft's best efforts at cajoling, prodding, and soon shoving (via the April 8, 2014 end of life deadline) IT departments off XP, what happens when the majority of computing is done with tablets and smartphones? iPhone, iPad, and Android OS users have become accustomed to mobile OS software updates and upgrades being quick, largely painless, and FREE. Windows 8 tablets will more than likely put a huge dent in Apple's dominant tablet market share, but I predict that Microsoft never replicate the 90%+ market share it enjoys on the PC desktop in the tablet or smartphone market. My take is that those days are long gone, replaced by a multipolar world where tablets, smartphones, and desktop PCs distribute workloads evenly. A deeply troubling proposition for Microsoft is this one: if more than 50% of computing is done on devices where OS upgrades are free, what happens to the Windows business model when the OS moves to tablets and smartphones? Billions in lost revenue, that's what.
Are you currently planning to stay with Windows XP, migrating to Windows 7, or are you waiting for Windows 8? Let me know what you think by adding a comment to this blog post or joining the discussion on Twitter.