Windows XP: Dead or just resting?

The expiration date has come and gone for Windows XP. But Cringely wonders if it's really gone or just hibernating.

It turns out the reports of XP's death may be slightly exaggerated.

Sure, the obits have been posted and the requiems are being sung. The fat lady has already packed up her girdle and gone home with a bucket of KFC. Yet it seems XP -- like Bill Gates -- is still alive and kicking, at least in some form.

One day after XP's "demise", Dell SMB manager Jenni Doane posts a blog entry that details how you can still get XP by exploiting some of the loopholes left open by Microsoft. (Essentially, you can buy a Vista license but ask Dell to downgrade the system to XP, which they will continue to support. The catch? You have to buy it through Dell's Small Business sales operation, and you can only get XP Pro.)

You know the PC biz has gotten weird when offering a 7-year-old OS becomes a marketing advantage. But the reason why is obvious. Vista is such a dog it qualifies for the Iditarod. Even Intel won't let it in the door, lest it chew on the furniture and soil the carpets.

In a BuzzDash poll posted by my erstwhile colleague Jeff Bertolucci, 72 percent of respondents wanted Microsoft to "revive" XP, which is presumably encased in a glass coffin not dissimilar to Stalin's in the Kremlin. And of course, more than 210,000 InfoWorlders signed the Save XP petition, hoping Microsoft would grant clemency at the 11th hour. Instead, companies like Dell must come to the rescue. How humiliating is that?

My feeling about the sudden surge in nostalgia for XP is that it's really more a) a reaction to the Big Headache (or at best, the Big Nothing) of Vista, and b) revisionist history. When Windows XP came out, it was panned for being slow and incompatible, just as Vista has been. It was also woefully, almost laughably insecure. Imagine shipping an OS with the firewall turned off by default. Yet that was XP in 2001.

It wasn't until August 6, 2004, that XP began to grow up. That was the day Microsoft finally released Service Pack 2 for XP, which closed a bunch of gaping security holes in the OS (including turning the firewall on by default). From that point on, XP was a viable OS, though it was still far from airtight. It also signaled that Microsoft finally "got it" when it comes to Net security. We've seen a real turnaround in how it responds to and handles security breaches and patches ever since (from horrible to adequate, at least). And now, of course, Vista has (some) security built in.

But if this whole XP/Vista struggle means anything, I think it proves that Microsoft's approach to operating systems is fundamentally wrong. We don't need a brand-new-from-the-ground-up OS every three (four, five, six) years. We need incremental releases on a regular schedule, with fewer whizzy interface "improvements" and more bug fixes and performance boosts. In other words, more like a Linux distro. But I'll be selling snow cones in Hell -- or maybe Ballmer will be -- before we'll see that coming from Redmond.

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