Requiem for Windows XP

The end of Windows XP and the start of a new Microsoft

Say good-bye to Windows XP -- and hello to the 'cloud-first' Microsoft, which shows new signs of responsiveness to users and developers

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Ultimately, more than 210,000 people signed the petition, which we delivered to Steve Ballmer. Although the Save XP campaign was unsuccessful in pushing out the deadline, we like to think it played a role in extracting a couple of concessions: Microsoft decided to allow OEMs to continue to sell "low power" laptops and desktops with Windows XP pre-installed until 2010. Plus, hardware vendors were not prevented from offering a "downgrade" option, so systems sold with Vista pre-installed could be rolled back to XP.

Windows 7, which debuted in October 2009, made users forget about the sins of Vista. It was the best Windows ever produced, with 100 million licenses sold in six months, and easily earned an InfoWorld Technology of the Year Award.

Save Windows 7?
Just three years later we were stunned to see Microsoft pull another Vista. The warning signs for Windows 8, as with Vista, came early. After diving into a Window 8 beta, InfoWorld's Peter Bruzzese, normally a staunch Microsoft defender, nailed it with his "Windows Frankenstein" preview in which he slammed the ungodly mashup of the traditional Windows Desktop and Metro UIs. When Windows 8 shipped, InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard offered his own devastating analysis in "Windows 8 review: Yes, it's that bad."

Then, in June 2013, InfoWorld offered a proposal: "Windows Red: A serious plan to fix Windows 8." Most of the suggested changes were obvious, starting with splitting Windows 8 into mobile and desktop editions, the latter restoring the Start Menu and jettisoning the Metro UI, but adding the ability to run Metro apps on the desktop. Remarkably, under CEO Satya Nadella, the "new Microsoft" actually seems to be moving in the direction of implementing such commonsense changes.

But not in Windows 8.1 Update. Yes, the Start Menu is back, but you can't really get Metro out of your face. As Leonhard says, Windows 8.1 Update -- likely the last substantial revision to Windows 8 -- offers little more than an olive branch to mouse users. We'll just have to wait and see what Microsoft has up its sleeve for Windows 9, due out as early as March 2015.

Meanwhile, Oct. 31, 2014, is officially the day when hardware manufacturers are supposed to stop selling consumer PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled. In keeping with Microsoft tradition, that's two years after Windows 8 was introduced. But interestingly, no end date has yet been set to stop selling Windows 7 business PCs. It's a safe bet that Microsoft won't be as intractable as it was with XP.

Microsoft's cloud future
It's a different world than it was in 2008. Users have many more choices, and they demand the usability they've come to expect from websites and smartphones. More than that, it's not about the operating system anymore, it's about the apps.

Microsoft is becoming a cloud company, and as the release of Office for iPad showed, it seems willing to provide the multiplatform support necessary to make the cloud dream a reality. With Azure and Office 365, Microsoft has the ability to deliver its entire portfolio of apps through the cloud, as well as provide a platform for developers to "broadcast" applications everywhere. As Nadella said at last week's Microsoft Build developer conference, "It's crazy to abandon what you've built, and it's crazy not to want what you've built across the broadest set of devices."

Who knows? Perhaps there won't be a Windows 9 -- as with Windows 8.1, maybe Microsoft will simply continue to deliver free updates to its customers. Windows is still important to Microsoft today. But as Microsoft officially pulls the plug on XP, April 8, 2014, may be just another milestone on the path to the cloud mattering more and the client operating environment mattering a whole lot less.

This article, "The end of Windows XP and the start of a new Microsoft," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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