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A decade later, Windows XP still in business

Last week an Internet tracking company reported that Windows XP, first released in 2001, was losing market share at a record pace. The decade-old software is now running on just under half of the world's market share of Windows systems.

The 2.5 percentage points which XP lost in October leaves the OS with a 48 percent share. It was running 55 percent of the Windows PCs as recently as August, according to Net Applications.

XP logoMicrosoft would like to insist that its customers stop using an OS that was last enhanced in 2004, with the arrival of Service Pack 3. But SP3 is what's keeping companies in the Microsoft fold, just like MPE/iX enhanced in 2007 continues to provide HP with some targets for limited support services. HP can't force a company to stop using an OS last updated, well, more recently than Windows XP. A solution that continues to get the job done usually remains in place, until an acquisition goes down, or something breaks.

What's most likely to break in Windows XP SP3? There's one element that's certain to stop running: Microsoft's patching service for the OS, in 2014. Yes, the formula performed by HP upon the 3000 is a plan familiar to the rest of the IT industry. Time marches on for software which the vendor considers outdated. Internet Explorer, not exactly the most robust calling card, will not include an IE9 for XP's users. Of course, there's other browsers available to the Windows user, such as Google's Chrome, or Firefox. IE is required to run Windows' interface, however.

Browsers are a big issue in charting the lifespan for the version of Windows more widely installed than any other. (Vista holds a 9 percent share, while Windows 7 gets the rest.) In an article in Computerworld, the XP situation is painted based on colors from a survey by Net Applications, which uses data "obtained from more than 160 million unique visitors who browse 40,000 websites that the company monitors for clients."

Another group that operates for clients is the Gartner Group, whose Michael Silver reported that enterprises don't want to run an operating system when there's no security fixes available. The Windows XP environment is very unique in the computer industry, however. It's a proprietary system -- nobody's got source code for Windows, except Microsoft -- that drives, well, half of the greatest share of the world's desktops and enterprise servers.

In contrast, HP licensed the source code for MPE/iX to seven companies this year. Most of them haven't needed to use it yet, but we've heard that the source code has been quite valuable to the makers of the emulator that could be slowing down migrations in the 3000 space.

There's a migration in the future for companies which are adopting a Windows alternative to using HP 3000s. At least any of those who will find themselves the 48 percent of the XP-using populace. Microsoft wants to migrate everybody to Windows 7, now that the Vista experiment hit the wall with the user base. Windows 8 will have a smaller shot at the migrating market; Silver said the Windows world has "migration fatigue."

Windows XP users have almost three more years to get their migrations finished before those Microsoft patches disappear. There's been requests from the customers to get XP extended a year or two -- something like what MPE/iX and the 3000 got, as a lease on support life from HP in 2006. And in 2008. Microsoft is likely to say no, according to Gartner's Silver. But about 10 percent of that 48 percent don't see any urgency in migration, or haven't done anything to prepare, he added. Microsoft doesn't want any part of keeping those customers on XP.

"The longer they let them run XP, the more enterprises will slow down their migration," Silver said in the article.

The pace of migrations is a serious issue to the 3000 community suppliers who offer alternatives to the environment. A rise of emulator news and promises is likely to "slow things down for awhile," according to ScreenJet's Alan Yeo.

But the vendor's ultimatum date of Dec. 31, 2010 has already passed. So migrations from this point onward in the 3000 community are being spurred by something more compelling than support via patches -- which most system managers avoided anyway, according to support companies such as Pivital Solutions, or Beechglen.

What is triggering the remaining migrations is application aging, as well as the aging of the experts who can maintain and update them. When it becomes easier to hire and train Windows experts on the business logic of HP 3000 sites than to find MPE managers, a company has a strategy to make a switch. This is where HP is being cut out of the picture during migrations -- the spot where another vendor's proprietary operating system, not HP-UX, takes over for the 3000.

10 years of service in the PC community is a lifetime, according to the Gartner experts. And yet XP lives on, driving back the pace of change until this summer. Given enough time, and the continuity of expertise in Windows, a genuine majority of Windows 7 users is not far away. The continuity of experience helps keep the Windows customers in the fold, even through a migration. HP has not been as fortunate, telling the chief of the Stromasys emulator technical group it lost half of its 3000 sites to other vendors in a six-year period of migrations.