July 1, 2009

It has been a year now since Microsoft officially ended the availability of the XP operating system via most channels, on June 30, 2008.   It will not come as a surprise to many of you that XP’s successor, Windows Vista, has not (apparently) been an unqualified success.  InfoWorld has an interesting article on the continued importance of XP in actual use.  Following the introduction of Vista, Microsoft had originally scheduled an earlier demise for XP:

In response to the public outpouring of support for XP — more than 200,000 people signed InfoWorld’s “Save XP” petition, for example — Microsoft did delay XP’s formal death from the original Feb. 1, 2008, date to June 30, 2008.

It did not become impossible to get XP, of course.  Some retailers, like Amazon, had stocked up on copies of XP prior to the deadline.  Microsoft allowed custom system builders, the makers of so-called “white box” PC, to install XP until February of this year.  And it still allows the installation of Windows XP on netbooks, most of which would not come close to meeting Vista’s resource requirements.

(The machine on which I am typing this post is an Acer Aspire 5610Z laptop.  It has an Inter Core Duo (dual core) CPU, and 1 GB of memory.  It came with Vista Home Premium pre-installed.  At present, however, it is running Kubuntu Linux 8.04, and I can’t remember the last time I booted up Vista.  The machine gives blazing fast response with Linux and the KDE environment, but is barely usable with Vista.)

It’s clear that, despite Microsoft’s occasional protests to the contrary, Vista has met with considerable resistance:

Microsoft officials periodically tell the public that Vista is the most successful version of Windows ever sold, but the numbers belie those claims. Officially, Microsoft has no comment on the rate of Vista adoption, and a spokeswoman said Microsoft doesn’t stand behind the claims of its employees.

Of course, Microsoft’s numbers count licenses sold, and since their agreements with PC makers usually call for Windows to be installed on all shipped machines, almost all new PCs get counted as Vista “sales”.  But many manufacturers, responding to customer demand, particularly from business users, offer a “downgrade” option to replace Vista with XP.  The following chart from the  article shows the percentage of downgraded machines by vendor over time:

The sample is a group of systems belonging to Info World readers; the number of systems included grew from approximately 3,000 to 17,000 over the sample period.  Note that each of these systems, actually running XP, was shipped with a Vista license.

Microsoft now has a new version of Windows, Windows 7, almost ready to be shipped.  The preliminary reports from testers are somewhat encouraging for Microsoft.  However, part of Microsoft’s past success has, I think, been the result of a sense of inevitability about upgrades to Windows.  The problems with Vista have probably shaken people’s confidence; it will be interesting to see how the next year or so plays out.

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