Planning an XP Exit

October 14, 2012

Microsoft first introduced Windows XP in 2001.  Eleven years later, despite the introduction of two subsequent versions of Windows (Windows Vista and Windows 7), XP is still being used by many individuals and organizations.  Microsoft is on the verge of releasing another new version, Windows 8; it has also announced that it will cease supporting XP in early April, 2014.

This means that current Windows XP users will need to develop a strategy for migrating to a more up-to-date version of the OS.  (I posted a note about that back in  July.)  In addition to the usual complications occasioned by trying to “leapfrog” intermediate versions in an upgrade, moving to Windows 8 may be problematic because its user interface is significantly different from the “classic” Windows interface that has been around for many years.

Ars Technica has what it terms an OpEd article, by Sean Gallagher, on his experience with lending his laptop, running a preview version of Windows 8, to his wife, an experienced Windows user.

…  in less than a month, the general public will start having its first brush with Windows 8, and average PC users will suddenly encounter a strange new world that, based on my experience today, will drive them to the edge of frustration.

As Mr. Gallagher relates it, his wife found the experience maddening, because she suddenly had to try to figure out how to perform everyday tasks that, in her accustomed environment, hardly required conscious thought

Some Web application editing controls simply didn’t function well. The changes in the browser interface were less than intuitive—”How do I change the search engine? How do I bookmark this?,” she had to ask

Even allowing for a certain amount of literary license, it seems clear that the system change was a significantly disruptive experience.  The disruption, moreover, is likely to be worse for the more experienced and skilled users.  Novices who are still baffled by much of the existing environment will just have to get a new set of conundrums to solve; the dab hands in Windows XP will find they have to unlearn what now seems the natural order of things.

Mr. Gallagher’s story is amusing, but it has a serious point.  If you are using Windows XP, or are responsible for a bunch of XP users, you really need to develop a plan for the OS migration.  (That July post I mentioned earlier has more details and some suggestions.)  In particular, a move from XP to Windows 8 is likely to produce some user resistance.

If even a tenth of a percent of new Windows 8 users respond with the level of dismay and distress my wife did, Microsoft and those unlucky enough to be in frontline tech support are going to be at the business end of a volcanic eruption of hate.

From the experienced XP user’s perspective, such a move in effect takes away tools (s)he knows how to use, and substitutes an unfamiliar system which doesn’t even look like the old one, probably with no immediate or obvious benefit.  It’s not likely to be fun in any case; but, believe me, you don’t want to walk into that situation unprepared.

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