Yesterday saw the release of the last security updates for Windows XP, ending over 12 years of support from Microsoft. XP was the longest-lived of any of the Windows operating systems, and one that I used regularly at home and at work, from late 2001 right up until last summer.
I got to start using Windows XP within a month of its release in the late autumn of 2001. We had it on my parents’ computer, although I set it to dual-boot with Windows 98 – the operating system that came with the computer – as there were a couple of programs that wouldn’t work.
Indeed in the early days compatibility turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Windows XP was the first operating system in the Windows NT (‘New Technology’, not ‘Neil Turner’, sadly) family to be made available to home consumers – previous NT releases, including Windows 2000, where aimed more at business users. Home users were used to Windows 95, 98 and Me, which had a different architecture. Though XP had the ability to mimic these earlier operating systems, many games refused to run. And you needed new sets of device drivers too, if XP didn’t already come with them.
The computer my parents had just about met the minimum system requirements for Windows XP. It had a 400 MHz AMD K6-2 processor, a 10 gigabyte hard drive and 128 megabytes of RAM, which had been upgraded from 64 MB. 128 MB was the minimum that XP required, which was towards the high side even then.
Underneath, Windows XP wasn’t massively different than the well-received Windows 2000, but the new ‘modern’ interface was controversial with some if I remember correctly. I liked it personally but I know some people used to call it ‘Tellytubby’ or ‘Fisher-Price’ mode. Either way, you could easily switch back to the ‘Classic’ interface if you so wished. Or, if the blue of the so-called ‘Luna’ interface wasn’t to your liking, you could change it to a silver or olive theme, but Microsoft never really bothered to add many other official themes – ‘Royale’ was the only other one I came across and it was never officially released.
One innovation Microsoft introduced with Windows XP was ‘ClearType’, its name for anti-aliased fonts which de-pixelated the text on screen. Except it was off by default and buried away in Control Panel, so most users weren’t aware of it. It wasn’t until Windows Vista followed in 2006 that ClearType would be enabled by default. Apple, on the other hand, enabled anti-aliasing from an early stage on Mac OS X which helped it to look better when compared with Windows at the time.
Early issues with its new interface and compatibility aside, Windows XP has had extraordinary staying power, with a significant number of computers still running it even now. I suppose migration away from XP wasn’t helped by Windows Vista being poorly received – again, high system requirements and poor third-party driver availability gave it a bad name. And Windows 8 has had a flaky introduction, with a poor experience on non-touchscreen devices. It won’t surprise many that Microsoft is planning on re-introducing the Start Menu in a future update. But Windows 7 is a solid operating system which is well-supported and has another six years of updates ahead of it.
So, farewell Windows XP.