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Windows XP: Hard-to-get-dead operating system is celebrating its 20th birthday

Microsoft is currently trying to bring its new Windows 11 to its users with rather ambitious hardware requirements. Exactly 20 years ago, on October 25, 2001, a new version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system was also released: Windows XP (“eXPerience”) .

The initial situation in IT at that time was completely different than it is today: While companies either used Windows NT or its successor Windows 2000, Windows 98 or Windows ME with their DOS substructures were usually still on duty on private users’ computers – and reported sometimes with the notorious blue screens. The “year 2000 problem” announced at the turn of the millennium was long over and the IT world did not end as feared. High time for a Win 2000 successor, according to Microsoft.

We take a look at the eventful history of Windows XP, which enjoyed great popularity after a somewhat bumpy start and is still hard to kill two decades later.

With modern Windows versions, the setup program simply copies an image to the hard drive. With XP it was all much more cumbersome and involved a lot more mouse clicks.

Originally, XP was planned in two versions. On the one hand, the successor to Windows Millennium was to be raised to the Windows 2000 architecture in the “Neptune” project. For the corporate world, on the other hand, Microsoft management launched the “Odyssey” project to develop the successor to Windows 2000.

However, the planned products never saw the light of day in this form. Rather, the decision was made in January 2000 to merge the development of the two projects. The result, which Microsoft conducted under the code name “Whistler”, was announced in April 2000 at the WinHEC conference. In July 2000, the company announced the release date for the new Windows in the second half of 2001.

The first beta versions of Whistler came out from October 2000, with Microsoft making some changes before the operating system was released. The “Luna” user interface for the new operating system was only introduced in February 2001. Microsoft was particularly critical of the colorful design of the Luna user interface: there was talk of a look that was based on the children’s program “Teletubbies”. However, Microsoft made only a few changes to this interface until completion. Further points of criticism at the time were the lack of support for USB 2.0 and the product activation that was introduced for the first time.

On October 25, 2001 the time had come: Windows XP was released worldwide in the versions Windows XP Home Edition for consumers and Windows XP Professional for company environments. The minimum hardware requirements at that time, such as 64 MB RAM or 1.5 GB of free hard disk space, seem from today’s perspective (and especially with a view to the current Windows 11) like from another world.

Even if 256 or 512 Mbytes of RAM were required for speedy work in practice, Windows XP managed – from today’s point of view – surprisingly few resources. At that time, however, there was harsh criticism that this new Windows XP would devour gigantic 2 GB of hard disk space.

On the other hand, it was positively received that those who switched from Windows 9.x now had the option of classifying accounts either as standard users or as administrators. And with the NTFS file system supported by XP, access rights to files and folders could be set. However, this last-mentioned function was deactivated for marketing reasons in the Windows XP Home Edition and was reserved for the Professional version. Although Microsoft had used the same code for Windows XP Home Edition and Professional, some functions such as user management in the computer management, the adjustment of file permissions at NTFS level or the encryption of files via EFS were deactivated in the Home Edition. Later, however, tricks made the rounds to adapt the Windows XP Home Edition to the Professional Edition by means of adjustments in the registry.

One problem was the firewall, which was deactivated by default in Windows XP. As a result, operating systems newly set up with Windows XP could be infected with malicious code within minutes via an Internet connection. This was only changed with Service Pack 2, which was introduced later, and the system was already sealed off from the Internet by a firewall during installation.

With regard to Windows XP, the accusation soon arose that the operating system contained espionage functions. This was never proven, but tools like the free “XP-AntiSpy”, which changed operating system settings with the aim of improving data protection, were quite popular. Quite a few home users ruined their systems with such tools, as they deactivated important functions such as Windows updates or time synchronization at the same time.

In spite of the mentioned and other points of criticism, Windows XP started a considerable triumphal march with private users and in companies. The author of this article still remembers how he swore at the candy-colored user interface back then – and how shortly after the appearance of XP all existing computers in his environment were converted to the new operating system.

After the initial release, Microsoft brought out other versions of Windows XP such as the (unsuccessful) Tablet PC Edition or the Media Center Edition. In response to pressure from the regulatory authorities, there were also the N and KN editions in Europe and Korea, in which the media player and various media functions had been removed. The vast majority of users were on the move with Windows XP Home Edition or Professional.

While only five years of support were planned for Windows XP in 2001 with an extension for two more years after the successor was released, Microsoft soon had to cash in on this again. Because the successor Windows Vista was seriously delayed and the users refused to switch to this operating system. This changed only with the introduction of Windows 7 on October 22, 2009, so that Microsoft finally extended the support period for all versions of Windows XP to April 8, 2014.

But even after this expiration date Windows XP remained in use on many systems. Windows XP runs loudly in September 2021 netmarketshare.com still on 0.26 percent of all desktop computers. These figures should not include the countless computers with Windows XP that are used in elevator or machine controls, cash and ticket machines or display boards. In 2020 it became known that the elevator controls at the new Berlin airport BER will still run with Windows XP Embedded, which has been supported with a security update for a little longer. Windows XP is also still used in submarines by the British Navy. In 2020, the source code of Windows XP was leaked by strangers.

The bottom line is that Windows XP turned out to be a terrific success for Microsoft in terms of its distribution. At the end of the day, however, the company fell victim to its own success. Because the numerous systems that are still running with Windows XP and are connected to the Internet represent a security risk par excellence that even requires unplanned improvements beyond the support period (e). In 2017, Microsoft was forced to release a security patch for Windows XP and Windows Vista to fend off attacks similar to those of the WannaCry ransomware. In the case of WannaCry, on the other hand, only the fact that Windows XP was too unstable for the malware and triggered blue screens prevented it from spreading more widely by computers with this outdated operating system.

Update 10/25/21, 10:52 + 12:30: “Start me up” naturally became the song for the Windows advertising campaign 95 used. Thank you for the reader’s reference; we have corrected the section. / Second correction: Support period Windows XP adjusted. (ovw)

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