Think Microsoft is letting Windows XP die too soon? You’re not alone.
Recently, we asked what seemed, to us, to be a no-brainer: do you agree that Windows XP needs to die?. We expected most of you to say “yes”, but your responses surprised us. A lot of readers are still using XP, and deeply wish Microsoft would extend support. Some of you also think Microsoft stopping support is a cash grab.
But what if I told you that Windows XP is the longest supported operating system in Microsoft’s history? And that there’s not really an operating system you could have bought in 2001 that’s still getting security updates today?
Let’s say you paid $200 for Windows XP in 2001. You’ve been getting security updates for $1/month, and that doesn’t even include the initial cost of the operating system.
Does that change your mind, even a little? Maybe not, but it’s still remarkable how long Windows XP has been supported. Let’s review a little.
A Long Time Ago…
When Windows XP was released for retail, on October 25, 2001:
- AOL had 24 million subscribers, and most people heard this sound before getting online:
- The iPod was a brand new product pundits weren’t sure about.
- Wikipedia was less than a year old.
- Barack Obama was a member of the Illinois Senate.
- The first films in the Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings franchises were upcoming.
- Halo: Combat Evolved – the first Halo game – was a launch title for Microsoft’s upcoming video game console, the original Xbox.
- No one had heard of Firefox, released a year later in September 2002.
Windows XP support will last 149 months, or almost 12 and a half years. That’s longer than:
- The entire recording career of The Beatles (7 years).
- Calvin and Hobbes’ complete run of publication (10 years).
- World Wars 1 and 2, combined (4 and 6 years, respectively).
XP Lifespan Compared To Other Windows Versions
Anyone can make 12 years sound like a long time with tidbits like that, but how unusual is XP? How long does a Windows operating system get updates?
It varies. It’s worth noting there are typically two kinds of support: “Mainstream support”, during which updates deliver new features, and “Extended support”, during which only security updates and major bugfixes are offered.
Here’s a list of how long “Extended Support” has lasted for the versions of Windows leading up to XP, starting from the date of retail release:
- Windows 3.1, 117 months: April 6, 1992 to December 31, 2001
- Windows 95, 76 months: August 24, 1995 to December 31, 2001
- Windows 98, 98 months: May 15, 1998 to July 11, 2006
- Windows 2000, 127 months: December 15, 1999 to July 13, 2010
- Windows XP, 149 months: October 25, 2001 to April 8, 2014
So Windows XP is the longest supported version of Windows to this point; only the mostly-identical Windows 2000 is even close (within 22 months). Compared to Windows 95 and 98, support for XP has gone on for an eternity.
Think of it this way: when Windows XP came out, Microsoft still supported Windows 3.1. An OS that basically predates the Internet was getting updates in 2001. That’s a long time to support software, but Windows XP has been supported 32 months longer at this point.
Microsoft has gone above and beyond for XP, but support for Vista and 7 won’t go as long:
- Windows Vista, 125 months: November 8, 2006 to April 11, 2017
- Windows 7, 123 months: October 22 2009 to January 14, 2020
If this keeps up, XP might go down in history as the longest supported version of Windows, ever.
XP Lifespan Compared To Mac OS X Releases
Many in our thread suggested that switching to Mac would be a good idea, but that’s not obvious at all. If you bought a Mac in 2001, you’d have stopped getting security updates in 2012 at the latest.
Macs sold at that time use PPC processors, and Apple stopped supporting those processors after 2007’s Leopard. The last security update for Leopard I could find dates to 2012, and basically just deletes outdated version of Flash. Before that, the most recent update is from 2011. This leaves every PPC Mac – every Mac up to 2005 – completely without access to security updates of any kind.
So, in terms of the time that they got security updates, XP users are far better off than Apple users.
Today, of course, Apple’s a much richer company than they were in 2001. Have things improved? Sort of. Support for Snow Leopard, released in 2009, recently stopped completely. This is partially made up for by the fact that Mavericks, the latest version of the OS, is now free. But Macs made before 2007 don’t meet the requirements for running Mavricks, so even that isn’t completely ideal.
The result: a PC user who started using XP in 2006 got security updates longer than someone who bought a new Mac that same year.
XP Lifespan Compared To Linux
Other readers suggested XP users switch to Linux, which isn’t a terrible idea – distros optimized for older systems will likely run better than Windows 7 or 8.
Still, let’s talk about support. I’m fairly certain there’s not a single Linux release from 2001 still getting security updates today – unless you count rolling releases like Slackware. Still: Linux distros are free, and users are expected to upgrade regularly if they want security updates.
But how does support compare? Most Linux distros for desktop users offer support for a few years, expecting their users to upgrade regularly. Ubuntu, long considered a standard, offers two years of support for most releases and five years for Long Term Support releases.
XP obviously beats the 5 year mark, but Microsoft isn’t offering free upgrades to the latest release of Windows. So Linux isn’t a bad alternative in terms of security releases, if you’re willing to upgrade to a new version semi-regularly.
Nothing Lasts Forever
There’s not a single operating system that will be supported forever – but Windows XP has come close.
Of course, Windows XP still has plenty of devoted users today: some estimates say 30 per cent of computers still run this ancient operating system. All of them will likely be vulnerable to zero-day exploits Microsoft will never patch.
Should Microsoft be blamed for that? I don’t think so. They’ve supported XP for a long time, but can’t be expected to do so forever. Still, it’s worrying that future security fixes for Vista, 7 and 8 could act as blueprint for attacking XP systems. The only fix is to update.
Not convinced? Complain about Microsoft in the comments below, then read our list of ways to bulletproof XP forever.