Bring Out Your Dead! Windows XP – Not Dead Yet

As much as Microsoft would love to put Windows XP onto the cart of Dead OS's, Windows XP isn't dead yet.

As much as Microsoft would love to put Windows XP onto the cart of Dead OS's, Windows XP isn't dead yet.

Fans of Monty Python’s Holy Grail will remember the infamous “Bring out your dead – I’m not dead yet” sketch. With the release of Windows 7, Windows XP is the guy saying “I’m not dead yet”, while Microsoft is the guy saying “you will be”.

To borrow from and mangle Shakespeare – “I come today not to bury Windows XP, but to praise it”.

So should Windows XP  be retired to the bit heap of dead operating systems? I don’t think so. Sure XP is long in the tooth and it’s not very elegant when compared to Windows 7 and it’s not even close when compared to Apple’s Snow Leopard, but its age is actually a strength because its flaws, numerous as they are, are well known. 

Maybe instead of “Bring out your Dead”,  XP’s new catch phrase should be “Alive and Kicking.

Windows XP runs on just about any working hardware these days – it doesn’t need much memory when compared to Vista or Windows 7; it doesn’t need much hard drive space; it doesn’t need a lot of video memory; and it can handle a slower processor. All of which make it a very acceptable OS for Netbooks and for older hardware. Some people choose to run Linux variants on their netbooks – don’t get me wrong Linux is a great OS – really an OS equivalent of a Leatherman tool. But many people just need a single lock blade and that is where the netbook running Windows XP is ideal. Small, light, and dependable – even if it’s not very elegant.

The most important thing is that it can run your browser of choice – IE8, Safari, FireFox, Opera; and it can run Google Apps, OpenOffice or MS Office 2003/2007 without any issues. As more and more productivity software migrates to the Web – the vital importance of a partiuclar OS diminishes somewhat. Sure Apple is different because it includes software like iPhoto, iChat and iMovie – which along with a browser like Safari or Firefox is all many users will ever need. But comparing Apple’s Snow Leopard to Windows XP is unfair. It’s kind of like comparing a BCS contender to an Ivy League football team  – sure they both play football but the comparison stops there.

Back to Windows XP. It’s not all gravy because you do have to use and keep your Antivirus software up-to-date and subscribe to the MS auto-updates to help protect your system (it is a MS product after all), but Windows XP is a completely known quantity at this point.  XP is the technology equivalent of an old pair of running shoes – they fit great but you don’t go run a marathon in them because they aren’t up to the task.  The longevity of Windows XP is really extraordinary. It’s over 8 years old and it will remain in use, whether or not it’s officially supported by Microsoft for at least another 2-3 years, and probably much longer with the rapid adoption of the netbook form factor and the continuing shift of applications to the internet.

Windows XP's new theme song should be Simple Minds' Alive and Kicking.

Windows XP's new theme song should be Simple Minds' Alive and Kicking.

Windows Vista did come out in early 2007, but the adoption rate was dreadful – with most businesses and many consumers choosing to run XP instead and wait for Windows 7, even on brand new 64-bit hardware, because it was/is stable when compared to Windows Vista. And 8 years after it’s release, XP is still the most widely used operating system in the world with an estimated 66% of all computers accessing the internet using the venerable OS. Definitely a case of the devil you know and not an example of true love.

It always astounds me when you compare Microsoft OS development cycle time frames to Apple’s. They really are a study in contrasts. Both desktop operating systems, Windows XP and Apple OS X, were released in 2001 but over the last 8 years Apple has chosen to release updates on a far more rapid schedule. Since its release in 2001, Apple OS X has gone through 6 revisions improving each time adding substantial new functionality, while in the same period of time MS has released only 2 new operating systems – Vista and now Windows 7 – as well as the constant windows updates to fix security holes and improve stability.

Given the pace of change and the rapid shift in technologies – taking 3 or more years between OS updates or revisions is an approach that should be relegated to the past. The ‘big bang, everyone will hop on board’ approach doesn’t seem to jibe with today’s purchasing cycles as well as the shorter shelf lives of hardware. Apple’s approach also seems to pay dividends in that end-users can more easily adapt to the smaller incremental changes when compared to the massive changes Microsoft introduces with each new OS version.

You can extend this approach to look at Microsoft’s other cash cow – the MS Office suite of software – I am astounded by the number of businesses that I know that have chosen to continue using Office 2003 because the training cost and productivity hits upgrading would entail. What’s even more amazing is that these business are all already licensed to upgrade to 2007 – so their only costs to upgrade are end-user training. And they still don’t want to want to go through the upgrade process. 

Putting aside the actual merits of the each individual software package and focusing on the product marketing and segmentation choices of each company is again a study in contrasts. First of all, Apple only has one desktop version and one Server version of OS X Snow Leopard. This compares to Microsoft’s 75 (actually only 4) versions of Windows 7 in addition to the 7 versions of their Windows Server 2008 R2 package. So to recap Microsoft has 11 different versions of their current desktop and server product line and far too many licensing variations to begin to list here each with different price point and volume discounts. Apple pricing and licensing for the Apple OS X Snow Leopard Server couldn’t be easier – $499 with unlimited client access and it can run on any Mac desktop or laptop, even the Mac Mini.  

A mother snow leopard and her cub. Will OS X Snow Leopard continue Apple's market share growth?

A mother snow leopard and her cub. Will OS X Snow Leopard continue Apple's market share growth?

Apple takes a lot of guff because of the higher prices for their hardware/OS combo, but their strategy for getting people to upgrade is brilliant. Upgrading to OS X Snow Leopard desktop costs an individual user only $29 . That is a pretty compelling pricing strategy to incent your user base to upgrade.  Microsoft’s pricing strategy is a little different, it all depends on which version you are upgrading  Windows 7 to, the cheapest of which is $119.99.  This seems to be an approach designed to drive people to buy a new computer instead of using an existing one. Of course as Apple is already pointing out in ads – if you are going to buy a new computer and migrate your data, why not buy a Mac?  Two different approaches with Apple following the KISS principle, and MS following ‘the more is more’ principle.  Personally I’ve always felt that sometimes less is actually more.

Much criticism, most of unfair even if accurate, has been leveled at Microsoft with the recent opening of their first Microsoft brand retail store. For MS their retail store isn’t as much about selling product, although it isn’t a non-profit, its more about flying the flag and flogging the brand. I think this could be the best thing that’s happened to Microsoft in a long time. MS employees will be able to directly hear from their customers without any of the intermediaries to filter out unwelcome news – and those retail employees will definitely hear from customers. 

Only time will tell if Microsoft will duplicate Apple’s recent success with their retail stores. Apple’s growth coincides with the opening of their first stores in 2001 when their total revenues were only $5.3 billion. Fast forward to 2009, and Apple now has  277 stores with over $36 billion in revenue. For you MBA types out there that is a 27% CAGR for 8 years. Sure the retail stores alone didn’t deliver that growth, but the stores coupled with great products and good marketing have helped drive Apple’s growth year after year.  

Who knows what will happen with Windows XP and the new Microsoft, but the next 6-12 months should be very interesting. Do you have an opinion about Windows XP? Apple? Windows 7? Let me know what you think – yea or nay. -t

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  1. #1 by Gary Gilliland on 2009/11/10 - 12:21

    I think Microsoft’s biggest problem is that XP is good enough. The majority of users are in business so Office, a browser and a few line of business apps meet their needs.

    Home users don’t care about the OS since their needs are met by the freebie browser (which isn’t as bad as zealots make out ), most other functions are handled for free by the likes of iTunes, free software bundled with cameras etc.

    In either case the costs of upgrading are hard to justify when the current software meets the user’s needs and changes inevitably introduces problems. Whilst small tweaks introduced by new versions are generally of little enough value that the need to relearn provides sufficient barrier to ensure that adoption is minimal.

    Apple on the other hand is seen as much as fashon / lifestyle brand, with it’s users being more tech savvy. So upgrades are accepted as either a fashion requirement or as part of the need to be on the cutting edge of tech.

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