10 things we’re really going to miss about Windows XP

Windows XP

On 8 April, Microsoft will finally cease support for its stalwart OS Windows XP. Released to manufacture back in August 2001, the company’s second most popular OS will be kicked out of Redmond well before its thirteenth birthday.

But is this a premature move?

Well, according to Net Market Share, XP is still used by a massive 29.5% of all PC users — dwarfing Windows 8 and 8.1’s current share of 6.4% and 4.3%, respectively. This being said, in the natural lifecycle of OSs, support must come to an end sometime.

Currently all XP users are greeted by this popup, warning them of the impending doom they face. Whether the move will drive a digital migration to Microsoft’s modern OSs will remain to be seen, but just like a familiar old friend, XP deserves a dignified send off. To mark its dozen years in existence, we get nostalgic, remembering our fondest features, experiences and gaffes of the now ancient OS.

1. Bliss and Luna

As synonymous with XP as blackbirds are with pie, the Bliss wallpaper and the Luna desktop environment, presented users with “a simple, colorful and clean look to the desktop,” according to the company’s then-chief Bill Gates.

The default bright green “Start” button and sky blue taskbar looks decidedly dated by today’s UI standards, but compared to Windows 98’s drear, it was a massive leap forward. XP also gave users their first chance to personalise their desktop with high quality images and third-party themes, although the latter was only made possible through unofficial OS tweaks.

2. The login jingle

Demonstrating the might of sound card performance, the XP “Welcome” screen audio note was not as aurally offensive as Windows 3.1’s fanfare, or as ethereally creepy as Windows NT’s space future jingle. Nevertheless, the XP start-up sound, to anyone working in an open office with speakers tied to every desktop, became rather annoying.

But a deep sense of nostalgia is roused when listening to the tune, recorded and composed by Bill Brown and Tom Ozanich, with the help of a performing orchestra. Today, Windows start-up sounds are more reserved, but XP’s will probably live on in the form of a novelty retro ringtone, hopefully forever.

3. Windows Media Player being all you needed

Although the original “Media Player” application was bundled with all versions of Windows, from 3.0 onwards, XP’s launch was the dawn of Microsoft’s switch in focus, from the professional office worker to the common home user’s budding multimedia needs.

“Digital media is a huge part of people’s lives, and it’s growing more pervasive every day. More and more music fans are getting into digital music every day, and millions of people are watching movies online. The spread of digital cameras, portable music devices, CD burners and camcorders are bringing digital media in all forms to more people than ever before,” explained Dave Fester, the then General Manager of Windows Digital Media Division, in October 2001.

Back when “CD Burners” wrote at a pedestrian 8x and Redmond fittingly launched its first XBOX gaming console, media consumption was blossoming into a major part of the computing experience. Windows Media Player, running on XP, gave users control of their media, control that was desperately missing in Windows 98.

4. When 128MB of RAM, was enough

It sounds ridiculous now, considering that the browser you are using to read this article is likely consuming more RAM needed to fuel the entire XP OS. Incredibly, a measly 64MB was all a user needed to get the OS to boot, in the specifications outlined by Microsoft.

Excessive compared to its older siblings, thanks to its then-new UI and expanded feature list, it looks feeble when studying Windows 8.1’s system requirements. Note, especially, the disk space needed for installation – 1.5GB versus 15GB, respectively.

Remember what the requirements were for Windows 98? No? 16MB of RAM, and 500MB disk space. That’s how far computing has come.

5. The task pane

The task pane is perhaps the most underrated innovation in Windows XP. It was first featured in XP’s beefed-up edition of Explorer, and is still present in Windows 7 and 8 under the “navigation pane” moniker. The side panel housed user’s most prominent file locations, commands and links allowing a more streamlined workflow, but now houses the libraries, Homegroups and favourites shortcuts.

Although it ate valuable desktop space circa 2001, it has become an integral part of file management in current Windows versions.

6. The “Regular Reinstall” debate

A hotly debated practice on forums across the web, some power users of XP would often reinstall the OS regularly citing a noticeable degradation in performance over time. A freshly installed OS would, in theory, perform much faster, but was it really worth all that hassle?

After reinstalling the same drivers and applications, this process seems senseless. XP ultimately taught the world how simple routine maintenance of the OS and system can prevent a problem rather, than solve a contentious one.

Some users of Windows 7 and beyond still employ this tactic, thanks to XP’s legacy.

7. The Sobig.F and MyDoom Worms

Although these were not the only malicious lines of code causing mayhem on Windows machines at the time, they are the most memorable.

Surpassing 2003’s Sobig.F mayhem, and still holding the record for the fastest spreading email-based worm in history, MyDoom infected millions of Windows-based systems in the space of a few days, many of these running XP.

It also marked a moment in technology when users would click on any attachment, in any email, regardless of the sender’s identity. They clearly liked to live dangerously. Although we are much savvier now, and the world of 2014 is obsessed with online security, we all have wretched memories of removing the worm from our own or friends’ PCs.

8. Internet Explorer 6

Back in 2001, it was a tall order loading a complete webpage, let alone having two open on your desktop simultaneously. But Internet Explorer 6 (barely) made this possible. Incredibly, Microsoft still supports the browser, but it too will die alongside XP in the coming days, with over four percent of the current browser market share. Not bad for an 11-year-old piece of software, especially since modern browser versions barely last a few weeks at most.

It would regularly crash, often for reasons unknown to the user, displaying that all too familiar dialog box with this feared message:

“Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close.”

It remains one of the most hated programs around today.

The now defunct Netscape Navigator was one of its competitors, a time when search engines like MSN and Yahoo! were also alive and well.

9. Simple user account control

On previous Windows platforms, the differentiation between users was not entirely clear or simple. Windows XP changed that. The ability to create multiple profiles within one Windows installation allowed, in theory, a family to use one desktop, but have their personal settings activated upon specific login.

So dad could have his golf wallpaper, mom her recipes and little Nick his saved games all available, and separate, upon login. This ultimately improved and simplified how users stored their data.

10. Microsoft’s first 64-bit OS

A select few ran XP x64 from its inception in 2005, but the architecture has become commonplace in all Windows offerings today.

Soon we will be saying goodbye to the once landmark 32 bit architecture.

An important milestone in physical computing and OSs alike, XP x64 seemed like an incredibly needless move from Microsoft. Limited to 128GB of RAM, unless you were a developer running a server or high-end workstation, there was no valid reason to upgrade. Few programs could utilise the performance boost and drivers for outdated hardware were scarce and buggy.

But this move opened up the idea of a 64-bit OS to the mass market, and is the architecture of choice for most systems today.

The release of XP was a watershed moment in Microsoft’s history. Not only was it “cool” again to run a Microsoft OS after the mild failure that was Windows 98, XP became the Microsoft flagship, selling 17 million copies in its first two months. Speaking of failures, one cannot rule out Vista’s role in XP’s cult status, scaring many users into downgrading back from the doomed OS.

If you remain an XP user today, you should think about upgrading for online security. Without support from Microsoft, XP’s exploits will not be patched and penetration of the OS’s defences will be child’s play.

Microsoft will finally kill XP, but to paraphrase Virgil, no day shall erase it from the memory of time, at least, not from the memories of your former users. Rest in peace, XP.

Image: Nick Perla via Flickr.

Andy Walker, former editor


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