Microsoft is gearing up to release Windows 11 this fall, and it will bring the biggest changes to the company’s desktop operating system since Windows 10 was released in 2015. But thanks to new minimum system requirements, not all computers on the market will support the free upgrade, which could make Windows 10 the new Windows XP: an operating system that people continue to run long after Microsoft pushes out its successor.
In fact, there are still millions of people running Windows XP today, a dozen years after mainstream support ended and nearly twenty years after the OS was first launched. Almost exactly twenty years, in fact, because Windows XP turns 20 on August 24, 2021.
That’s the date the operating system was released to manufacturing, although it didn’t actually go on sale until October of that year.
Former Microsoft Project Director for Windows XP Iain McDonald reflected on the anniversary this week, noting that the goal of Windows XP was to bring the stability of the enterprise-focused Windows 2000 to a consumer version of Windows, with a user interface that built upon the ill-received Windows Millennium Edition.
Windows XP was built on the same Windows NT kernel, making it the first version of Windows that was not based on MS-DOS and/or the Windows 95 kernel. I vaguely recall finding the user interface with its big, bold colors, icons, and rounded corners to feel a little silly and cartoonish when it first arrived.
But the operating system was also the most stable version of Windows I had used, by a long shot. Starting with Windows XP, crashes became few and far between. People also had plenty of time to get used to the operating system, since Windows Vista wasn’t released until 2007, and when it arrived its relatively heavy minimum system requirements kept many users from upgrading.
Some users still haven’t done so – according to StatCounter, about 0.59% of Windows computers are still running XP. NetMarketShare puts that figure at 0.32%. Either way, considering the huge number of Windows Installations, both numbers equate to millions of users.
At this point the OS is certainly showing its age. Microsoft hasn’t released feature or security updates for Windows XP in years. Some newer software won’t run on the operating system. And rather than focusing only on high-performance PCs as it did with Windows Vista, Microsoft shifted its focus a bit to ensure that Windows 7 and later could also work with entry-level machines (you can probably thank netbooks for that).
While it’s probably not a good idea to run Windows XP on anything these days, as of a few years ago there were still hundreds of thousands of ATMs that were powered by the OS.
It’s unclear whether Windows 11 will really be the next Windows XP. But not only does it require computers to have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which will disqualify many older computers (and some relatively recent models), but changes to the Start Menu and other user interface elements could put off some users.
That said, there are some exciting new features coming to Windows 11 including support for Widgets, new Window snapping behavior, the ability to run Android apps on your PC, and much more.
But I wouldn’t be shocked if, twenty years from now, some folks are still using Windows 10. Heck, there may even still be a few Windows XP holdouts in 2041.