Windows 8 Relationship Advice: Saying Goodbye to Windows XP


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The latest video release showcasing Microsoft Windows 8 benchmarks, and a quick press release by Emily Wilson at Microsoft, shows that Windows 8’s boot time capability will be superior to Windows 7. No, the system was not in hibernation; otherwise we would have seen the restore from hibernation animation after the POST. And no, we have no involvement in the design or development of these marketing pieces from Microsoft, but that still hasn’t prevented YouTubers from around the earth clamoring to claim it is an advertisement for Hewlett-Packard, a fake video created by Ms. Wilson and Microsoft to drive sales, or some other technology conspiracy.

The reality is that Windows 8 will be a revolutionary step in the right direction for Microsoft if the current circumstances give us any pause. The release of an operating system that can boot faster than Windows 7 shows that Microsoft is still committed to the streamlined policies that led them to grand success with Windows 7. We know that Windows 8 is also being designed for ARM processors, such as those found in cellphones and tablets. This is a great concept for regular computer users. It means that Microsoft has to be careful about how they allocate resources during development. When services are redesigned or updated, their impact on system usability has to be measured carefully in order to ensure that users are not plagued by an operating system riddled with slowdowns. This was the case with Windows Vista, but was not the case with 7. During Windows 7 development, it was revealed that Microsoft had developed proprietary tools that allowed them to simulate every possible scenario under which a system bottleneck would take place, using software that would run every possible system interaction at an accelerated rate. While this method was used for Windows Vista to security harden the operating system, its use in performance led to stunning results: The streamlining of the system kernel, services, and essential applications led to a reported revolt from some processor and GPU manufacturers, who, as the allegations go, wanted the operating system to actually run slower than Windows Vista in order to spur hardware sales.

As we move closer to a future release of Windows 8, Microsoft Windows users around the world have a reason to look into this technology as a constructive alternative. One element that would help many business environments would be a direct XP to 8 upgrade. And although we know such an upgrade path is unlikely to ever be developed due to the epic problems it would cause on many system set ups, it would provide businesses with a direct path to get out of the way of obsolescence. Just imagine, though, a Windows XP to Windows 8 upgrade... while technically possible the number of support incidents would generate from people on ancient hardware would create a support volcano. The reality is old systems that run WDDM as the graphics model can't even run Aero properly. And that's just the price we often have to pay for innovation.

That obsolescence is becoming more and more apparent as Windows XP users curmudgeonly complain about the superiority of an operating system that was released in October 2001. While it has stood the test of time, after 3 Service Packs, it has already been placed on life support: Microsoft extended support for the OS due to business environments being incapable of handling the task of keeping their IT infrastructure up-to-date, even when Windows 7 itself has a virtualized XP Mode.

It is not hard to see why people still like XP: RAM requirements are minimal, the OS is simple to use, and it seems “good enough”. But under-the-hood, and for those of us in the known, we are keenly aware of the kernel-level security flaws that allow buffer overrun errors, system injection exploits, and systemic problems that lead to security, and system failure. Old customers with old computers running IDE hard drives that should be dead by now (the hard disk drives, not the customers) shouldn't expect anything less than a nightmare on their hands.

These problems are embedded deeply into the operating system and the components designed around it. They are from another era. A pre-9/11 era, and a pre-"Why is my computer so slow?" tech support nightmare era. While a lot of this is only known to long-time Windows users who have either serviced other computers, worked in the IT industry firsthand, or suffered catastrophic failures due to lax security, we know these problems exist in the core of the operating system – or the kernel – and will never be patched. The only time in recent memory that Microsoft has literally replaced a Windows kernel free of charge was during the Windows Vista Service Pack 1 rollout. Under that scenario, Microsoft decided to upgrade Vista with Windows Server 2008’s revised kernel in order to add boosted reliability and to squeeze out some additional performance.

There is nothing wrong with being content with using an old or different operating system, for so long as you understand the risks involved. Many businesses, instead of upgrading their IT infrastructure, or formulating an end-of-life cycle for their hardware and software, have instead decided to attempt to security harden their systems with utilities like Symantec EndPoint. Under such conditions, Windows systems are typically managed from a centralized domain controller and EndPoint is used to deter potential threats. But from my experience, this can still lead to additional problems. Programs have begun to require more memory and hard disk space, as well as processing power. All of the security software in the world cannot do away with internal problems that can be manipulated once a computer is on a network. And certainly, as we have seen with the “fortress IT” model of doing things, systems are prone to compatibility issues, lack of driver support, and a general tendency for employees to be beguiled or confused when approached with the concept that their computer – operating with a system that is 10 years old, might actually have some serious internal problems. While the model allows businesses to save money, it also allows IT admins to lounge around looking up Dilbert cartoons.

This intrigue has led me to pursue the latest breaking updates with Windows 8. It is interesting for me to see Windows XP proponents going hog wild at the idea that the next version of Windows may actually boot at twice the speed of their 10 year old bar of gold known as Windows XP. Meanwhile, back in reality, new processors, general hardware, memory modules, and peripherals are all being designed with the NT 6.1 and 6.2 models in mind. Game studios are prepping their million dollar productions to be optimized for multi-core processors and the latest version of DirectX that will ship with Windows 8. Website developers have stopped supporting Internet Explorer 6 and 7 and have instead moved back into a position of HTML5-compliacne and W3C validation. The good old days of Windows XP may still exist for some, in theory, but increasingly, those days are numbered. This is coming from a man who entered an organization with deep, systemic problems in their infrastructure. Unpatched Windows XP machnies running in 2008 with no service packs and IE6... the scenario could not have been worse. Half of one segment of a network on one workgroup, another half on another, and another chunk on a domain controller. Meanwhile no one could figure out why they were having problems sharing files... These problems can be the norm in many environments.

With Windows 8 looking at a traditional October-November 2012 release date, one is left to wonder when, if ever, Windows XP proponents will upgrade anything.

It is not unheard of to enter a government office, a doctor’s office, a small business, or even a large enterprise and notoriously see dozens of Dell machines with the Windows XP label gleaming on the back. The dust corroded ventilation shafts on the chassis are a reminder of age. This system, released in 2001, is incapable of fundamental operations needed: not just by publishers, but soon by content consumers.

Windows 8 has a lot to offer, and the bar has been raised high, ironically, even by those individuals who still recommend Windows XP as though it is the gold standard of our era. Even by Mac OS users who prefer Apple everything. What happens if Windows 8 doesn’t just meet those stringent requirements laid out by its biggest critics? What happens if it raises the bar? Such is the case with revolutionary operating systems. When we look at Microsoft’s operating system release timetable, Windows 7 was considered a minor revision. Yet its development has led to advancements in high-end SSDs, better monitor quality, enormous improvements in video graphic card design, and computer processors that are capable of simulating 16 cores on a home computer. Take a trip back to 1985, and the only concept of computers that most residential home users had was of a fictional DeLorean time machine powered by a flux capacitor that seemed to use vacuum tubes. In Terminator 2, the T-800 was using some kind of Apple debug code whenever his infra-red eyeball view was displayed (we now know that these eyeballs were likely highly advanced Logitech web cameras... or since Cyberdyne may have been acquired by Apple, perhaps he was using the iBall or something...).

In any event, and on a more serious note, Windows 8 seems like it will raise the bar and raise standards in information technology. With it scheduled as a major release, as a opposed to a minor one like Windows 7, we can expect to see some groundbreaking features that will entice many enthusiasts to upgrade. And that may surprise a lot of people. That alone should be good enough to say “Hasta, la vista” to your old computer. After all, how long are you going to keep using a dot matrix printer and then complain it doesn’t work right?

These are just my views, but I’ve seen enough OS releases to know that this one is going to surprise a lot of Windows customers. Why fear or reject innovation? It's time to say goodbye to our friend Windows XP. We can still visit XP once in awhile: in a virtual machine where he belongs.