An abridged history of Windows XP

April 8 was a sad day, but it was a day of progress. Windows XP extended support finally ended that day.

Windows XP was, and still is, one of the most popular operating systems in the world. In fact, it still has almost 28% of the market share and is second behind Windows 7.

Windows XP wordmark and logo

Before Windows XP, there existed two streams of Windows: the business line and the consumer line. The business line was based on the standalone Windows NT kernel, itself having origins in OS/2, and the consumer line was a graphical interface to MS-DOS. The latest releases for the two streams before Windows XP were Windows 2000 and Windows ME, respectively.

The successors to the two operating systems were codenamed Odyssey and Neptune, with Odyssey being the next version in the business line and Neptune in the consumer line. Both systems were based on the Windows 2000 code; Microsoft had long wanted to base Windows on the more stable and reliable NT code instead of DOS. Internally, Neptune was capitalized as NepTune, hinting at its NT base.

Windows Odyssey

Windows Neptune

At one point, someone at Microsoft realized that it was redundant to develop two separate operating systems with the same codebase which would be more or less the same, so Microsoft merged the two projects into Windows codename Whistler, named after the resort in British Columbia, Canada.

A Tour of Windows Whistler by ReelDeal YT [YouTube]

Watercolor was very nice. I wish they had kept that.

Eventually, Microsoft scrapped Watercolor for the familiar Luna theme, in three colour schemes, that eventually made it into the final release. Some speculate that this is because Microsoft saw Apple’s Aqua interface for Mac OS X and decided that Watercolor wasn’t able to compete with it. Originally, Microsoft had intended to allow third parties to create themes for Windows XP, but they didn’t go through with that. Now, only themes signed by Microsoft can be installed and used on an unpatched system.

Windows XP Luna

“Luna” Visual Style in Windows XP SP3

New icons were made by the Icon Factory under commission by Microsoft.

Windows XP icons by the Icon Factory

New icons for Windows XP

Later on, they decided on the name “Windows XP”, where “XP” stands for “eXPerience“.

After months of work, Windows XP was finally ready to be released. It was released to manufacturing on August 24, 2001, and available to the general public on October 25, 2001.

Bill Gates End of the MS-Dos era by LatestWire

Windows XP – The Commercial That Started It All by Joshua Wilmot [YouTube]

Also, who can forget that famous “Bliss” wallpaper?


Windows XP “Bliss” wallpaper

The story behind the wallpaper we’ll never forget by MicrosoftNL [YouTube]

Windows XP was quite a revolutionary step for Windows. It was the first consumer Windows version to be based on Windows NT, it introduced Visual Styles, and perhaps annoyingly, product activation. Product activation requires a user to activate Windows XP before being able to use the system properly. This was done in an attempt to reduce piracy.
I’m not sure if it worked, but I think that it may have actually increased piracy.
(In any case, someone at Microsoft said that if people are going to pirate an operating system, they’d prefer it to be Windows).

Windows XP was initially released in two editions: “Home” and “Professional”. the Home Edition was marketed towards the consumers and the Professional Edition to the businesses. In 2004, the European Commission complained that Microsoft was abusing its market share by bundling Windows Media Player with Windows, leading Microsoft to release an “Edition N” which didn’t include Windows Media Player. A similar situation arose in Korea, leading Microsoft to release the “K” and “KN” editions in 2005. A very limited-featured “Starter” edition was also released to developing countries, also as a way to fight piracy.

After a while, some other versions of Windows XP emerged, including a 64-bit version, a Media Center Edition, and a Tablet PC Edition.

Versions of Windows XP

Windows XP version map

The Media Center Edition of 2005 came with a new look. The theme is called “Energy Blue”, or “Royale”, which was then used to create three other themes: “Zune”, “Embedded”, and the unreleased “Royale Noir”. These themes are all signed by Microsoft, so no patching is required to install and use them on Windows XP.

Windows XP had three service packs, plus two for the 64-bit version. Windows XP was used as the codebase for the new Server line (previous versions of the business line had server editions), the first of which was Windows Server 2003. Interestingly, Windows Vista was eventually based on Windows Server 2003, and from there came Windows 7, 8, and 8.1.

Windows 7 Professional and higher editions featured a Windows XP mode to help businesses transition from Windows XP to Windows 7. This was nothing more than a virtual machine (using Microsoft’s Virtual PC) with a fully licensed and pre-activated copy of Windows XP SP3 on it.

Microsoft released a patch for Windows XP on March 8 which nags users to upgrade as support came to an end.

Now Microsoft has let go of Windows XP. A few years ago, some have said that when Microsoft ends support for Windows XP, only Microsoft would not support it (implying that everyone else will). Apart from the security software companies, I’m not sure if this applies much anymore.
Interestingly, though, Windows XP is not the longest-supported version of Windows. Windows 1.0 was supported from its release in 1985 to the end of 2001 when Windows XP was released. That’s 16 years, compared to almost 13 years for Windows XP. Either someone realized that they hadn’t killed support for the DOS-based Windows yet, or they supported it because it still ran on DOS.

So, what to do with your Windows XP computer now that support has ended? You can keep it around and use it, but remember that as time goes on, it will be more vulnerable to security issues (having said that, there are still people using Windows 3.1). Over time, new applications will slowly cease to support Windows XP, especially proprietary vendors. You could also upgrade to a more recent version of Windows; Microsoft wants you to upgrade to Windows 8.1, but I still prefer Windows 7. Another option is to use another operating system, like Linux or (ick) Mac OS X. Or in the extreme, you could stop using desktop computers altogether, or at least not let Windows XP connect to the Internet. Still have an unactivated copy of Windows XP? Microsoft still wants you to activate it if you choose to use it, and the activation servers will still be kept active.

Farewell, Windows XP. We’ll miss you.

The development of Windows XP, installing and exploring builds:

Windows on Windows®: Development of Windows XP by MajorSky17 [YouTube]

What was your best memory of Windows XP? Perhaps you’d rather share your worst? Let us know and drop a comment!

Windows is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and other countries.

  1. No joke: When students would ask me what “Middle Latitude Steppe” is I would use that wallpaper as an example.

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