I remember when I first used Windows XP. As a poor student in 2001, I wasn’t likely to upgrade to the new OS and instead had the glorious Windows 98 SE installed on my laptop, a device with the physical characteristics of a London telephone directory made of black lead. So it wasn’t for a few months that I actually got to grips with XP, on a new machine at the company I’d started working for between classes.
From the beginning, XP represented a clear improvement on its predecessors. Its massively improved user-interface, for example, made XP feel like an operating system made by a company that finally understood something about what users wanted. Other new features like smart new graphical effects, fast user switching, faster startup and so on really added to a general feeling that XP was good.
Then the years started to pass. And some of the things I hadn’t worried too much about back in 2001 started to look like major problems. Security, especially, became a concern and it didn’t feel like Microsoft was doing anything to deal with the problem. I remember doing the research for a decent free firewall (ZoneAlarm), anti-virus (Avast!) and anti-spyware tool (Ad-Aware). And all the time I wondered why Microsoft themselves weren’t providing this protection. Also, the user-interface, which had once seemed like a bright new world of smart usability, began to feel sluggish and out-dated. XP crashed all the time.
As more time passed, and I ventured upon my 3rd or 4th reinstallation of XP, I started to tire of the system. I was using it all day at work by now and felt that I’d rather have something different to come home to. The obvious alternative was Ubuntu Linux, which seemed to offer vast security improvements, lots of interesting new software to try and a more, ahem, attractive price tag. Ubuntu is… alright. But the number of things an intermediate level user can do with it are, unfortunately, limited.
By the time Vista was released, I had bought an iMac and followed Windows developments professionally but not personally. As it very quickly became clear that there was pretty much no point in installing Vista, I thanked my lucky stars that this was no longer the only upgrade option open to me. Vista was nothing more than XP with a new theme and an irritating User Access Control mechanism. Even major PC manufacturers started to offer new computers bundled with XP, until they were warned off by Microsoft.
And now, XP has 40 days left. At the end of that time, XP will no longer be on sale. It has been replaced by a costly, unwieldy and largely unimproved new edition. I won’t be signing the petition to ‘save XP’ because deep down, I don’t think saving XP is the solution. But I will say that unless Windows 7 is a surprisingly good release, XP may well be remembered as the last time Microsoft nearly got it right.