The End of Windows XP: 3 Lessons Learned Over the Past 12 Years

On April 8, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) will cease technical support of Windows XP, the 12-year-old operating system that is still the second most used operating system in the world after Windows 7.

While users can continue using XP, Microsoft will no longer provide XP users with automatic updates or technical assistance. However, Windows Security Essentials, its anti-malware suite, will be supported until July 2015.

Windows XP still has a 29.2% share of the world's operating systems, compared to a 47.5% share for Windows 7 and a combined 10.6% combined share for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. The longevity of Windows XP, often considered Microsoft's best operating system, has been a blessing and a curse for Microsoft.

Windows XP. (Source: Softpedia.com)

XP's dominance over the past decade has kept competitors such as Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) Mac OS X (3.2% share) and various distributions of Linux (1.6%) at bay, but it has also throttled sales of Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1. That bottleneck, coupled with the steep decline in PC sales that started after Apple's launch of the iPad in 2010, caused Microsoft's Windows cash cow to start running dry.

As Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella takes over the top spot from Steve Ballmer, let's take a closer look at three lessons consumers and tech investors can learn from the end of Windows XP.

1. Windows XP was 'good enough' for most users
Windows XP was the last huge, innovative step that Microsoft took in operating systems.

Prior to Windows 95, the Windows GUI (graphical user interface) had simply "covered up" the traditional MS-DOS command prompt. In other words, clicking the icons and menus were simply visual shortcuts to prompt commands.

Windows 95 was a huge step forward for two major reasons -- the introduction of the "Start" button, which streamlined the clumsy menu system of the Windows 3.x series of operating systems, and the introduction of "Plug and Play" support. "Plug and Play" meant that most hardware didn't have to be configured through arcane command prompt menus and installation disks -- the system could automatically detect and install many more devices than before.

Windows 95 was still firmly built on MS-DOS foundations. (Source: Toastytech.com)

Windows notably evolved in two distinct paths -- the consumer series (Windows 95, 98) and the enterprise series (Windows NT, Windows 2000). Windows 95 and 98 were based on DOS, whereas NT and 2000 were built on a newer, secure system that wasn't dependent on the foundations of DOS. Therefore, Windows NT and 2000 were considered more secure options than their consumer counterparts.

Windows XP was the first system to unify both sides of the universe by completely eliminating the DOS foundations of the consumer series. It also improved support for USB devices, added enhanced security features, and added DirectX to simplify the setup of 3D games and multimedia.

These features, especially after being upgraded with three service packs, made Windows XP an ideal operating system that was simply "good enough" for most users.

In addition, it was still compatible with most modern software, and it was gracefully light on resources -- Windows XP can run on a PC with a 233-MHz processor with a mere 64MB or RAM and 1.5GB of free space on the hard drive. By comparison, Windows 8.1 requires a 1GHz processor, 1GB or RAM, and 16GB to 20GB of hard drive space.

2. Prettier, more restrictive operating systems made XP look much more attractive
Two of the most common complaints about Windows XP were that it wasn't as secure or aesthetically pleasing as Apple's Mac OS. Microsoft's response to both complaints was the ill-advised launch of Windows Vista in 2006.

Windows Vista: A beautiful nightmare. (Source: Softwareinreview.com)

Vista's aggressive control of the system frustrated users with constant confirmation boxes whenever they wanted to install programs or change system settings. In addition, many basic settings that worked flawlessly in Windows XP, such as file sharing, no longer functioned in Vista without major tweaks. Meanwhile, the graphical enhancements to the system, while easy on the eyes, wasted memory and drained the battery on laptops.

As a result, poor reviews throttled Windows Vista's growth and forced Microsoft to release Windows 7, a slimmed down version of Vista, only three years later in 2009. By comparison, the gap between XP and Vista was five years. Today, Vista has become a cautionary footnote, with a 3.3% market share in operating systems.

Unfortunately, Vista's failure simply reinforced the belief that XP was "good enough" for the everyday consumer.

3. It's not all about desktops and laptops
Although Windows XP is usually identified as a desktop or laptop operating system, it is also widely used in other machines.

95% of ATMs across the United States reportedly run on Windows XP. Upgrading a single ATM to Windows 7 can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, and U.S. banks have been reluctant to upgrade their 425,000 ATMs across the country.

95% of U.S. ATMs still use Windows XP. (Source: Extremetech.com)

Last year, a group of hackers in Europe exploited a security vulnerability in Windows XP ATMs with an infected flash drive to steal millions of Euros. That attack highlighted the fact that banks, unlike everyday users, must upgrade their ATMs by April 8 or risk being hit by new hacks.

Many point-of-sale (POS) devices in America also run the Windows XP version of Windows Embedded, a compact version of XP that is used in set-top boxes and vehicle computers.

POS devices at Target (NYSE: TGT  ) and Neiman Marcus were recently hit hard by malware attacks, highlighting the need for retailers to start upgrading their systems as well. Target reported 40 million payment card records and 70 million other records were compromised between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, and Neiman Marcus stated that 1.1 million cards were compromised between July and October 2013.

Last but not least, the U.S. Department of Health, which has XP installed on a large number of its machines, is reportedly negotiating with Microsoft for an extension beyond the April 8 deadline.

These essential upgrades in banking, retail, and the government could substantially boost Microsoft's slumping Windows OEM revenue, which fell 3% year-over-year last quarter.

The bottom line
Although Microsoft could get a boost from Windows upgrades in the consumer, banking, retail, and government sectors in the coming year, it still doesn't solve its three biggest problems -- the slow rate of adoption of Windows 8, which is regarded as a clumsy mishmash of desktop and tablet systems, fierce competition from free operating systems like Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Chrome OS and Linux, and a global slowdown in PC sales.

What's your take on the end of Windows XP? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 2:58 PM, GravityLogic1 wrote:

    As a full time user of Excel writing VBA code I am frustrated by Microsoft's lack of attention to optimizing what this amazing tool can do and should be able to do easily namely handle really big files.

    My current ad hoc project cannot be converted to a formal IT supported project. It's only 250 megs in size. I have one sheet of 800 columns and 44000 rows that has to be customized and my VBA programs modified quarterly. Excel cannot even copy or paste at times without taking minutes or asking me to continue without UNDO or failing period. I could split things up but that makes it awkward getting to where you want and referencing many sheets in VBA code is another headache.

    I have 8 gigs of ram on a relatively new HP running windows 7 and Excel 2010. I found turning off formats is the one thing that buys me any chance of doing some things.

    Make Excel work already - take advantage of multiple processors. Forget these operating system upgrades until you get this done.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 4:05 PM, Brokenwhistle wrote:

    Microsoft says that the only way to be protected after April 8th. is to upgrade your old computers hardware or buy a new computer. I most likely will buy a new computer.. however it will NOT be running Microshaft software. Apple may be more expensive, but it works better and is generally "backwards" compatible. Good bye Microsoft!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 4:37 PM, Hulgar1 wrote:

    I am IT support for a small grade school. About half of our PCs run XP and we have no plans to upgrade those. Win 7 on another 40% or so and it is my preferred MS version. Last 10% are Mac or a couple of Win 8 laptops teachers use. Running Linux on the main firewall and also on a Hypervisor housing multiple virtual servers.

    Tried Win 8, but had issues with virtualization, using older programs, and some of our networked printers so functionally it was a no-go for us.

    End result has been a growing weariness of the ever changing MS operating systems as well as MS Office versions. Last 2 years we have increasingly been using other operating systems in a few areas (Mac and Linux). Currently in the process of migrating to a school Google site and are buying multiple Chromebooks to begin testing.

    Long range net desire for us is to migrate toward open source, web based as much as possible. With the web based offerings the OS on the workstation is becoming of less importance. My workload goes down as well as the Linux based machines require almost zero support, not had one issue with spyware, etc. Still believe MS will be around for a while, but the trend is to reduce that use as much as possible.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 4:45 PM, Howdie wrote:

    People won't upgrade for two reasons--

    The big reason is MS totally dropped the ball on an upgrade path. There's no way to install a newer version of Windoze over XP and have all your files and applications come over. You must back up to an external disk, install a new OS, then copy your files back, then reinstall all your apps. If you have an eight-year-old PC, good luck finding all your installation disks for all your SW.

    The second reason is you have to go all the way to unfamiliar Windoze 8.x. You can't buy Win 7 any more.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 8:21 PM, rsattahip wrote:

    It's OK to make a mistake as Microsoft has done with Windows 8, but when your customers have been screaming at you for 18 months and PC sales have fallen off a cliff, yet they still refuse to put even an optional interface into Windows 8 so that it was be used like earlier versions, something is seriously wrong at Microsoft. Their arrogance almost defies belief.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 8:45 PM, luckyagain wrote:

    Reluctantly, I am in the process of making the transition to Windows 8. If the cost of an upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 was reasonable, I would have done it. But for a few bucks more, I could get a Windows 8 on a much newer machine. So I bought a new machine with Windows 8 already installed. I spent a few days trying to figure out how to do anything with it. Thankfully I had a laptop with Windows 7 and could do Web search on how to do things. The transition from XP to 8 would have been much easier IF the HELP for Windows 8 was available on the desktop. Maybe it is but I have not been able to find it.

    Some people will no doubt jump to Apple or a Linux machine, but that would mean more time spent learning how do things too, so in my opinion it would still take time to learn how to use it.

    I will probably convert my XP to running some version of Linux because I am sure that hackers will target XP machines for attack after April 8. So if you are using your machine and it is attached to the Internet, do not use it for anything that is important like banking, etc.

    My TWO CENTS worth.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 9:12 PM, Woundedeagle wrote:

    @Howdie: I hope someone told you the truth before you wasted your money on Windows 8. Windows 7 is readily available, is the most used OS, with almost twice as many users as Windows ATE (your money). Windows 8 is Vista rewarmed which is essentially Millennium revisited. Windows 7 Professional plays most, almost all XP programs, and the disk with a legitimate Product Key is about $130 on up, and is available in 32 and 64 bit versions. Windows 8 will be a monkey on Microsoft's back for a long time.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 9:21 PM, Woundedeagle wrote:

    @luckyagain: They saw you coming. Windows 7 might cost a little more, because it's worth a little more. You would be much better off with 7 on an older machine than 8 on a new machine. I'm typing this on one, and there is one still in a box next to me...which will never be unpacked. Navigating Windows 8 is like being on an LSD trip or trying to use a kaleidoscope as a telescope. It doesn't have goodies like a start button or display time, and hooking it up wireless leaves techs hairless. Our new printer, bought specifically for this computer and OS, has never worked properly. It's as slow as Win95, freezes like 95 and in general, I avoid using it like I avoid petting a porcupine...and I have built computers for over a decade, and have a Computer Tech degree. You'll probably wind up buying a Windows 7 disk, or wish you had, in my humble opinion.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 9:41 PM, btmudd wrote:

    Well I don't know I should be respectful but Microsoft isn't to all customers.Why they want to decide for others what is better for them.That's is Communistic system and I grew up in the Communistic system.Why all of these changes.At first people don't have money to upgrade the Operating system base on the cost of living and support Investors or share holders of Microsoft.Mr. Gate made millions and it's nice to support other countries by him ,but we have to be supported in this country as well and lot's of families don't have that kind of money to upgrade the system constantly.XP is the best system and it should a customer's choice to keep it and be supported as well by Microsoft Mr Gates!

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 10:39 PM, lindamh1 wrote:

    I'm just a user - used to use DOS and had XP for ages. I had to switch with the new machine to WIN7 and refused to try Win8. I would have kept the XP if I could have found my installation disk.

    I haven't switched to Apple because some software I use is Win specific but I'm sorely tempted.

    As time goes on, we users get sorely tired of changes that require a whole new learning curve. Another example: My newHP printer no longer can change from paper to envelopes or B/W to color on the fly. The fix is simple - just go out to..... A 5 min ordeal for something that was so easy before. Why can't we have a button to block email addresses without the 5 min ordeal?

    Why can't we have a preferred format button for Excel? Instead I have to go out to change to It seems the new set of programmers are forgetting the simple standard needs of the users. Complaints seem to get you nowhere.

    If it ain't broken, don't fix it! Why can't they offer support for XP with a yearly subscription fee?

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:04 PM, jasonbooty2 wrote:

    The problem is,Microsoft is asuming all computers can use thes new programs!When they are only thinking of new computers!There are millions of computers out there,That will crash,Or Is not powerful enough to run there new stuff! They have not give a hoot,Of these millions of people that have spent billions of there hard earned money,To buy them for there self,Or there children for school work.and have xp on them and barly run that,Now since they want more money,By starting these new programs,And shutting down the xp versions,I guess everyone will have to skip a few family dinners,And a car payment or three,And a house payment just to get a more powerul computers,Form them and there children.Just to satisfy there pockets,For them and there programers!!! XP.. Is the best thing,Micosoft has ever done in there whole existance!!!!!! It is the easyest thing to run,And runs circles around anything they will ever come up with,Meaning its all about money!!! Not a care in the world about the people that like XP.And have learned through the years,how to make XP work great for them! Its the same with all programs,From any company!!!! They make these programs,Then tll you theres one better now!!! There never is a better program!!! Just more added on to the old ones!! Bet Microsoft didnt tell you that did they???Kinda like if you have just bought a new SUV,And it runs great,Has everything you have allways wanted,Power stering,AC,All wheel drive,Powerful eng,An OK stereo,Hu o!!! Stand back!!! Now they tell you that if you buy the same SUV,Again,They can asure you a mosterest,Powerful stereo,This time ,Just by buying this new SUV also!! Get it???

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:16 PM, jasonbooty2 wrote:

    Microsoft,Listen !!!! If you dont want your stock holdings to drop so far as to were microsoft cant get there feet back in the door,Leave XP completely alone!!! Trust me!!!Your poles of how many people want you to stop XP,And go with these new programs,Well,,,,You have never been so wrong!! XP users,Want it to be left alone by at least 65% of the people in the world!! Get your facts right!!! And fire,You anilist,Have a good day,And if you keep this up,You will know what the unemployment line feels like to so many millions of people do in this world!! Be cool,

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 1:25 AM, GuitarJim wrote:

    Microsoft committed suicide with Windows 8. Switch to Linux. Most everything you did with Windows can be done with native apps under Linux. Open Office and Libre Office are good replacements for Microsoft office. If you need to run DOS programs then install DosBox. If you need to run Windows programs then use Wine. Linux is also secure. Best of all, nearly all Linux programs are free.

    Linux isn't going away, and it's not suddenly going to change from a prince into a frog like Windows has now done - TWICE!

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 5:10 AM, deabianfan wrote:

    The answer to this is very simple and has existed for long before Windows 7 and before.

    Its called "DEBIAN".

    http://www.debian.org/

    The world's most secure, free, efficient and reliable operating system based on Linux.

    Oh yeah did I say it was free?

    If you are still using any product from Microsoft, you deserve your misery, frustrations, and low bank account.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 5:12 AM, deabianfan wrote:

    If you are unsure about installing and using Debain, then install "VirtualBOx".

    https://www.virtualbox.org/

    This is a program that enables you to install entire "Virtual machines" on your PC and then run whatever OS you want.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 7:01 AM, wizardaeon wrote:

    one of the things this article has incorrectly stated is that most atms run windows XP. That would be incorrect, most atms run embedded windows CE or Linux. Most Lottery machines run a special linux version, and more and more machines run some version of linux. Windows, even windows xp, is a resource hog and slow down machines like gas pumps and atm. Linux can be run with a minimal install and do exactly what you want done, without running alot of software in the background.

    Strongly suggest for people ditching Windows XP to switch to Ubuntu or Linux Mint. You wont have to worry about viruses, and its a heck of alot more secure.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 8:50 AM, syndrome477 wrote:

    Why did they insist on cramming Windows 8 into our systems? It's completely confusing and not at all user-friendly. Windows 7 was great. What's with the random boxes and ugly interface?

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 9:38 AM, sopho6971 wrote:

    I have a hp pavilion that's 11 years old - running XP - 1.2 GHz; 128MB memory and 40 GB Hard Drive. I want to buy a new computer but have no idea what to buy as resources are limited <$500 and won't be able to use computer after 4/8. Why can't they just leave it alone? It it's not really broke why fix it????

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 9:40 AM, HenryHayne wrote:

    Virtual machines are great, I will move my XP into the virtual machine just like I have DOS. I still have old programs and records that use both and they are safe in their virtual box.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:39 AM, socketinfo wrote:

    Windows 8 is actually good if you take the time to learn it. The world is moving forward and XP was not design to integrate with smartphones, tablets, etc. so take the time to learn windows 8 and you will be more productive. Remember people, there is nothing bad about learning something new. If you're buying a new computer, just make sure it has a solid sate drive(SSD) and you should be fine.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:51 AM, wgcross2 wrote:

    I'm sorry but the neo-tech community and its writers are incorrect. 1. PC/higher end laptop sales declined for reasons other than the advent of the tablet. For a while, PC sales were ridding a wave, a bubble, that was inevitably going to hit the shore (burst). Many people upgrade and/or expand their existing PC's as opposed to new purchases. I'm sure the components industry has been doing just fine. I remember lines of people in stores buying big screen HD TV's not so long ago. You just don't see that anymore. But the big screen HD TV has hardly "died". Also, the insistence on loading new machines with Win 8, as opposed to offering the consumer a choice, likely impeded sales too. 2. The tablet will never replace the PC nor higher end laptops. Tablets too, are riding the same wave/bubble and they will wane into an accessory or niche device. 3. Win 8 was designed with the touch screen in mind. It was designed for apps, not programs. It was designed for the phone and the tablet, which is not suitable for PC's/higher end laptops. Keyboards are not legacy. However, I remember Tami Reller, Ballmer's talking parrot, telling the world that the touch screen was the future. Obviously she has never had a real job or she would know better. 4. The cloud is a joke. Privacy, security, accessibility and reliability are very real issues that are seldom talked about. But more so, the cloud is nothing more than a regression to the old time-sharing days. Those days ended for a reason. The cloud is nothing more than a new revenue stream that will now provide monthly income for a company as they extort fees for software and data on a monthly basis. Kaspersky predicted that the cloud will fail.

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 1:49 AM, Sunne wrote:

    Learning new technology is fine. What I resent is being held hostage. Choice should be the consumer's. Microsoft has continued to make products that are awkward and user unfriendly with the Vista and Windows 8 (I have used both). The 7 is okay and I use that on one of my home computers and XP on another. No matter what comes out, I still find myself liking XP better than any other system. Why should I and a huge number of other users leave something we like for something we don't? I really hate Windows 8 and am not especially impressed with 8.1 either. I will be leaving Microsoft finally. I have had it with their down spiral of offerings. I am going Linux. I get my new system next week. Actually, this may be an excellent situation for all computer users. We will get out of our ruts and expand the offerings in a more equable way for all. Microsoft may end up having shot their own foot off with this move. Their day may be passing.

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 3:16 AM, docwho3 wrote:

    I started with computers back when trash 80's were the new thing. I have been gaming electronic games since pong. I watched as boot times got longer and longer from win 3.1 and forward. I watched as it began to take twice as much RAM and more HDD space to run the very same programs I had before. I actually liked win 3.1 and its DOS and I liked win 98 ( didn't care for win 95 or win ME or vista.) I liked win xp quite well as it did file sharing easily on my home LAN, unlike the win 7 which hates to share files with win XP and in fact I have only gotten it to transfer shared files with XP if the win 7 machine initiates the move. Unfortunately Microsoft saw fit to not expand the RAM capabilities of XP and now many mmo's (online games) require 4 GB of RAM entirely for their own use and that leave XP pretty much on the sidelines for gaming. I still have a working XP machine which I will keep running as long as I can and I have the newer win 7 on another two.

    I may move older programs and OS's to a virtual box in time. But I am not planning to migrate to win 8 unless I see some major changes. I may go to one of the competitors OS's. I do not hate Microsoft . . . I just hate poor OS's.

    Really good mmo's release expansions to their games, making them bigger and better, but they do not try totally rewrite the game from the ground up with each expansion. They know to keep a good thing going - not take chances trying to redo it all. It's just a thought.

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 6:23 AM, WillWall wrote:

    It is really sad to see XP go the way of the dodo bird especially since it is the only OS Microsoft managed to recently “perfect” through months and years of regular releases of security patches and updates. As a former tech support person, I still remember what a nightmare XP was discovered to be within months of its release way back in 2001. It had more security holes than Swiss cheese, more functioning glitches than a cheap Asian toy and was more erratic than its by-then “stable” predecessor Windows 2000. It was both bemusing and infuriating to see how an organization as gigantic and wealthy as Microsoft could not get its core product right before unleashing it on unsuspecting users! The irony in this planned demise of XP is that one of Microsoft’s biggest horror stories is being put to rest when it has not only stopped being one but has become its most reliable and user friendly OS! Why Microsoft wants to scrap a product which has the largest market share of all its OS products is truly baffling. Hopefully Google will exploit the opportunity presented by this end-of-life event to promote its Chrome OS as a free and “familiar” alternative to XP users who stare at the unsavory task of migrating to the antagonistic and clunky Windows 8.X! Come on Microsoft, you have no excuse for indulging in this stupidity in the era of free, open source OS alternatives!

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 2:20 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    @freejazz:

    1. Yes, but it became lighter on resources as hardware improved. That's why so many people are attached to it.

    2. 5 years between Release to Manufacturing: Windows XP (August 24, 2001) - Windows Vista (November 8, 2006). Also, 5 years between General Availability: XP (October 25, 2001), Vista (January 30, 2007). NOT 6 years either way.

    And sorry, but Windows 8/8.1 is still bad, no matter how you spin it. Its poor market share compared to XP and 7 is proof enough.

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 2:23 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    In addition, freejazz, instead of calling everyone "imbeciles" for not adding the Start Menu to Windows 8 for it to look like Windows 7, why don't you tell us why anyone needs to upgrade Windows 7 to Windows 8 in the first place?

    This message is being typed from a Windows 7 machine, by the way. :)

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2014, at 3:11 AM, Argent wrote:

    I've used XP since it first came out, and still prefer it over more recent versions.

    I have an older PC, but I still consider MS operating systems to be far more unstable (or less stable) than competing operating systems, crashing or freezing up too often, and unable to stand up to multiple open web pages at the same time -- which supposedly it is designed to be able to support.

    Far too recently I switched to regular use of Mozilla Firefox on top of my XP OS. While XP can barely withstand having two windows open online at the same time, I currently have 15 (!) Firefox windows open without crashing my system.

    I live in the Seattle area, and if I ever run into Bill Gates on the bus, I intend to ask him about this.

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