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Looking Back: 10 Years of Windows XP

Microsoft this week is celebrating Windows XP's tenth anniversary, though I have to think the company's efforts to get businesses off of this aging OS and onto the more secure and reliable Windows 7 somewhat colors the event. On that note, the theme here is that a lot has changed since XP first hit the market, and having attended the post-9/11 XP launch in New York City 10 years ago, I can certainly attest to that theory.

Microsoft asked me if I would contribute some thoughts about the past ten years, but I was traveling last week and unable to find the time. With the anniversary here now, though, I do find myself reflecting on the world of 10 years ago a bit.

One of my more personal memories about Windows XP involves the XP beta announcement, from February 2001. I was in Redmond for that release, and had met Microsoft's Iain McDonald for the first time; he worked on Windows User Experience back then and was delighted that I had heard no murmurings about XP's "Luna" UI before Microsoft revealed it to the press that week. Less happily, I also received horrible news about my son while on the road; his cochlear implant was failing and the doctors weren't sure what was wrong. So I flew home in a haze of tears and confusion, after barely making it to the airport in a rare Seattle-area snowstorm, and wrote a ton of XP articles for the public beta release on the plane. Fortunately, my son's issue was fixed and when I arrived, I found out everything would be fine. But that event will always be a sadly dark moment that betrays an inner fear of technological failure, something that will always sit in the back of my mind thanks to my son's reliance on something that is essentially an embedded computing device that he requires to hear.

Of course, 2001 was also the year of 9/11, as noted above. Microsoft decided to hold the XP launch in New York City after much debate, and barely a month and a half after those events. What I recall from the launch was that it was my very first experience seeing several wirelessly-connected computers appear simultaneously in the Windows XP networking utility. I was so impressed, I took a screenshot.


Of course, being 2001, the wireless networks were all wide open, not protected, and XP would simply connect to the best one automatically. It was wonderful but dangerous, as we came to understand, and Microsoft halted that behavior---and shore up a ton of security issues in XP--in Service Pack 2.

The launch was at the Marquis Theater in Broadway, but there was also an event at NASDAQ, a Sting concert in Bryant Park, and various events at retailers like CompUSA. In my launch event notes, I record Bill Gates as saying (roughly), "We had a vision of new activities that the PC could enable, including security, messaging, and personal digital experiences. Windows XP is a milestone, a new platform for new experiences, and also an industry milestone with PC designs optimized for Windows XP."

It was also, as Gates noted, the end of an era, the MS-DOS era, and the Windows 95 era. "That movie wasn't called 2001 for nothing," he said. "XP is the end of too many crashes, the end of the static web. XP lays the foundation for the beginning of the end for the narrowband era. We'll have broadband for businesses and consumers. XP is the best of Windows 95 with the NT kernel. It's revolutionary, but evolutionary for users."

The odd thing is, I sort of cringe every time I see someone using Windows XP out in the world, or hear that overly-familiar XP startup sound. But XP is still with us, and will be for a few more years at least. It's something that should be celebrated, I guess, even though I feel, as Microsoft does, that users would be better off with a more modern OS like Windows 7. But it's pretty clear that XP will ultimately be seen as the most successful PC OS ever, and a high-water mark for Microsoft, despite a rough start.

As for my son, like Windows, he's made amazing strides in the past decade, and has had a second cochlear implant and continued great success. I'm sure some will roll their eyes at this comparison, but my original co-author, Gary Brent, saw the arrival of his son in 1995, the year that Windows 95 shipped (along with our first OS book), while my son, Mark, arrived in 1998, the year of Windows 98. So I've been charting the passage of time this way since the mid-to-late 1990s. It just seems natural somehow.

Here are some photos from that day, ten years ago.








PS: Fun historical fact: In addition to launching Windows XP on October 25, 2001, Microsoft also that day released a number of digital downloads that improved the XP experience. These included the XP PowerToys (an updated TweakUI, Super Fast User Switcher, and Power Calculator), an enhanced version of Windows Messenger, Cyberlink and Intervideo MP3 encoders and DVD decoders, a ton of device driver updates, a Windows XP Application Compatibility Update, and Movie Maker 1.2. Here's a shot of that Messenger version:

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