Windows XP will hit the 10th anniversary of its release this month, and remains the most widely deployed desktop platform in use today, despite the fact that Microsoft ceased mainstream support for the operating system two years ago.
Why has XP proved so enduring, when it has been superseded by not just one, but two newer releases of Windows?
A decade is a long time in the IT industry, but Windows XP still appears to be going fairly strong 10 years after it was released to manufacturing (RTM) on 24 August 2001, hitting retail outlets a few months later on 25 October 2001.
However, time is running out for companies still operating the veteran OS, as Microsoft will cease to issue even critical security hotfixes for XP from April 2014.
Figures from Forrester Research suggest that 59.9 per cent of corporate desktops were still running Windows XP in March 2011, making it by far the most popular operating system in the personal computer space, although this share is slowly declining.
There are many reasons why XP adoption remains so strong, ranging from upgrades needing an investment in new hardware at a time when the economic outlook is uncertain, to XP's familiarity, application compatibility worries, and plain old corporate inertia.
"Corporations are still running Windows XP because it is very expensive to update a desktop, because they are looking to extend the life of systems from three to five years to five to seven years, plus some applications really don't run on the newer versions of Windows," said Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
XP has also been around for so long that it has matured into a stable platform from which most of the kinks have been ironed out, and companies see little reason to move because of the long support lifecycle that Microsoft offered.
Part of the reason for XP's extended lifecycle is the longer than usual gap between its launch and that of its successor, Windows Vista, which did not hit RTM until 2006. Ironically, this may have hindered the uptake of Vista.
"Because Microsoft said they would offer XP support until 2014, enterprises saw no need to hurry over any move to Vista," said Annette Jump, research director at analyst firm Gartner.
Vista was also a major overhaul of Windows, breaking compatibility with some applications and needing greater hardware specifications, which caused the majority of businesses to skip it entirely.
While Windows 7 has similar requirements, PC hardware and software had caught up by the time of its release, and enterprises are now much more comfortable about migrating to this version of Windows.
"Microsoft releases tend to come in cycles, with major releases such as Windows 2000 and Vista followed by minor updates such as XP and Windows 7. Customers tend to find it easier to absorb these minor releases, which is why XP was so successful," said Jump.
But XP did not always look such a sure-fire bet. Its launch came just 18 months after Windows 2000, and Microsoft initially seemed to promote XP as a consumer platform, encouraging enterprises to deploy Windows 2000 instead.
The two versions were in fact very similar under the hood, XP bringing better multimedia and plug-and-play support for peripheral devices. These improvements meant that XP rather than 2000 soon became the preferred option even for corporate customers.
XP also had more than its fair share of security issues, and during 2003 to 2004 there was a flood of reported malware attacks, such as the Sasser and Blaster worms, which exploited one flaw or another in Windows.
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