Microsoft can throw its Windows XP retirement party, if it wants, but I won't count myself among the celebrants. Like millions (more likely many hundreds of millions) of people around the world, I have very good reasons for keeping Windows XP alive and kicking.
My leanings aside, Microsoft's attempts to get people to give up Windows XP have turned from somber to stupid. On the somber side, back on April 9, 2012, Microsoft posted on the Windows Blog a reasoned and detailed description of the many benefits of moving away from Windows XP. Unfortunately, the central tenent of that argument seems seriously flawed:
Windows XP and Office 2003 were great software releases for their time, but the technology environment has shifted. Technology continues to evolve and so do people's needs and expectations. Modern users demand technologies that fit their personal workstyle and allow them to stay productive anywhere anytime, while businesses have an ever increasing need to protect data and ensure security, compliance and manageability. It is in a company's -- and its employees' -- best interest to take advantage of the modern Windows and Office software that is designed with these needs in mind.
I'm a reasonably modern user -- I've beaten both Win7 and Win8, hard, written books about them, since the first betas hit -- but I don't demand Windows technologies that fit my personal "workstyle." In fact, I tend to think of "Windows technologies that fit my personal workstyle" as an oxymoron.
On the stupid side, last week Microsoft unveiled one of the dumbest infographics ever created, a call to "Get modern with Windows 8 Pro/Happy Retirement Windows XP/Thanks for all your hard work." The eight (get it?) reasons given for moving to Windows 8 include such gems as "The new Start screen is smooth and intuitive, and gives you instant access to your people, apps and stuff, so you spend less time searching and more time doing," and "From the moment you turn it on, you'll have a set of built-in apps for the things you do most," and tossed in at the bottom as an afterthought "Windows 8.1 advances the vision set forward with Windows 8 ... It's Windows 8 but even better."
My favorite stupid WinXP trick: Microsoft's very own Windows XP Countdown Gadget, which shows the number of days, hours, and minutes until WinXP gets the ax. It's cute because it only works in Vista and Win 7 -- like all Gadgets, it won't work in Windows XP, and it won't work in Windows 8, Windows 8.1, or Windows RT.
As for my justification for keeping XP, stuck in the corner of one of my closets lies an ancient IBM (yes, IBM) ThinkPad, with a very important distinction: It has an old-fashioned COM port. Pieces of brittle plastic fall off from time to time, and the creaking hinge always leaves me cringing for fear that the screen will finally fall off. But that old beast runs a proprietary piece of software that's vital for updating a specific line of Casio cash registers. My wife's business runs on those old Casio cash registers, and if that ThinkPad goes, her business goes, too. The WinXP program has a hardwired reference to COM1, and I can't get it to work on anything but an old-fashioned XP PC with a COM1 port. All the futzing I've done over the years -- USB-to-COM1 adapters, Win7 XP Mode, VM connections, even add-on serial port adapters -- don't work. I've finally given up, realizing it isn't worth spending all that time to fix something that, truly, isn't broken.
Some day my wife will get rid of the old cash registers. When she does, she'll undoubtedly get a cheap, easy Android-based POS system and dump the old Win XP POS. For now, that kind of expense doesn't make any sense.
Everywhere I look, I see old Windows XP systems that just work. After years fighting all the old battles and blue screens, these Win XP machines have been knocked into submission, and they do what they were intended to do: drive POS systems, as well as run industrial networks, kiosks, teller transactions, arcade games, transportation systems, basic business activities, the whole gamut of core PC functions. Now we're supposed to throw them out because Microsoft says we need to buy a new version of Windows?
Nobody knows how many Windows XP PCs are out there. The latest NetMarketShare numbers show Windows XP runs on 37 percent of the PCs used to connect to Internet sites in June, but the numbers are highly suspect -- and they don't even pretend to estimate how many XP machines are in the wild. My voice is just one in the wilderness, but you can bet your bottom dollar it's a big wilderness.
Perhaps Microsoft will get away with unilaterally cutting off security patches to Windows XP and Office 2003 next year following the end of active support for the duo on April 8, 2014. It's certainly true that Windows XP has been around since October 2001, and it's getting very long in the tooth. I can sympathize with how much of a burden maintaining old software can be -- it eats right into Microsoft's quarterly profit of $15 billion or so. But you have to wonder if Microsoft can be persuaded to keep Win XP and Office 2003 on life support for a few more years -- perhaps for a nominal fee. At the very least, it'd be nice to get updates to Microsoft Security Essentials for Win XP and Office 2003.
This article, "Why I'm keeping my Windows XP machine," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.