THE YEAR IS 2001. Having dodged the black monoliths and giant space babies predicted by Arthur C Clarke, the year nevertheless saw a number of major advances.
Wikipedia launched. The first iPod arrived with its 5GB of storage. And, of course, Microsoft released Windows XP, its biggest update to the system in years, introducing a whole bunch of new features, a speedier interface and the very real prospect of avoiding the Blue Screen of Death for upwards of, ooh, 10 minutes.
People took to Windows XP. It was a pivotal moment in the history of operating systems and was, for most, a partner into the world of being online, all the time.
So why, nearly 14 years later, when there have been three major upgrades to Windows and a year after the official XP end of life, are so many people using the dated and crumbling operating system?
The latest monthly figures from Netmarketshare show that XP has a market share of 16.94 percent. It's a bit like nearly one in five of us still using a Nokia 3310 and wondering why we can't get 4G.
One reason is simple. Piracy. The Product Key system used in XP comes from an era when online registration was still in its infancy and, as a result, it was, in short, rubbish. So it came to pass that, generally, Windows XP works no matter how many times you use the same Product Key.
There are millions of XP users in mainland China, for example, working off pirated copies. The Chinese government has made overtures to 'Dewindowsify' (their official term) the country with a new Linux operating system.
There are others who simply don't trust newer versions of Windows, perhaps under the (possible) misapprehension that XP was just too soon after 9/11 for the NSA to have installed surveillance back doors.
One of the main reasons seems to be the ongoing problem of proprietary software that hasn't, or even can't, be updated to run on newer versions.
This appears to be particularly true in areas like banking, where the soak-testing of applications can take years to avoid any scenario which could potentially cost the company billions by simply putting a decimal point in the wrong place.
In medicine, too, the change is a matter of life and death and many departments of the NHS continud to run XP after the government paid £5.5m for extended support.
Of course, that first year expired on 8 April 2015 and it is as yet unclear whether a further fee has been charged for a second year. That kind of information is likely to come out between now and the election. Especially if Labour gets to it first.
Computers running XP are at serious risk of contracting nasties that can wipe out an entire network, according to Microsoft and various security firms. There are ways round it, of course, chief of which is to virtualise. Embedded software engineer Mike Hibbett told us:
Microsoft also has to deal with the issue of backwards compatibility. In the case of Windows 8 vs Windows 7, it was a complete change in the UI that put people off and forced Windows 10 to become a hybrid monster of the two.
But with Windows XP moving up to Vista and beyond, the changes are more than aesthetic, with drivers having to be completely rewritten and entire packages that wouldn't play ball with the kernel.
Upgrading would simply have been too expensive for many businesses, and to add insult to injury, the per-unit price for upgrading to an operating system that broke software could reach hundreds of thousands of pounds. So people just didn't. And then Windows 7 came along, and Window 8, and they kept on not upgrading.
And then there are some people who just aren't worried. The concern about upgrading outweighs the concern of not upgrading. Musician Boy 8-Bit explains:
Microsoft is so keen to get rid of the spectre of fragmentation in its platform that it is offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade to personal users. But that doesn't apply to XP. So what is Microsoft going to do to wean away the 17 percent?
The short answer is very little. A chunk will fall away when the official Chinese operating system arrives. IT departments will catch up, and refuseniks will eventually break down until there is just the last ebb and flow of the odd XP user.
The fall away will happen, it's just happened too slowly for Microsoft's liking and, under CEO Satya Nadella, it seems that the firm's new strategy is to make an operating system in Windows 10 so good that no-one will ever want to be left behind again.
Lest we forget, in the week leading up to XP's end of life last April, 13 percent of our readers said they planned to switch to Linux, more than the 11 percent who said they would move to Windows 8. Sometimes, even with cutting-edge technology, the old ways are the best, it seems. Game of Snake, anyone? µ
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