On October 25, 2001, Microsoft released Windows XP based on an NT kernel. We look (back) at this extraordinary operating system.
Microsoft is currently trying to bring its new Windows 11 to users with fairly ambitious hardware requirements. Exactly 20 years ago Years ago, on October 25, 2001, a new version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system was released: Windows XP (“eXPerience”).
The initial IT situation at the time was very different from today: While in Companies used either Windows NT or its successor Windows 2000, but mostly Windows 98 or Windows ME with their DOS substructures still did their job on the computers of private users – and sometimes logged off with the notorious blue screens. The “Year 2000 problem” announced at the turn of the millennium; was long overdue and the IT world did not go under as feared. Microsoft thought it was high time for a Win 2000 successor.
We take a look at the turbulent history of Windows XP, which enjoyed great popularity after a somewhat rocky start and is still hard to kill two decades later .
Prehistory: The Whistler project
Originally XP was planned in two variants. On the one hand, in the project “Neptune” the successor to Windows Millennium can be upgraded to the Windows 2000 architecture. For the corporate world, on the other hand, the Microsoft management had the project “Odyssey” was launched to develop the successor to Windows 2000.
The planned products never saw the light of day in this form. Rather, in January 2000, the decision was made to combine the development of the two projects. The result, which Microsoft codenamed “Whistler” was announced in April 2000 at the WinHEC conference. In July 2000, the company announced the second half of 2001 as the release date for the new Windows.
Beta versions of Whistler were released from October 2000, with Microsoft making a few changes before the operating system was released. So it was only in February 2001 that the user interface “Luna” introduced for the new operating system. In particular, the colorful design of the Luna user interface brought Microsoft a lot of criticism: from the children’s show “Teletubbies” ajar optics was the speech. However, Microsoft only made a few changes to this interface before it was completed. Other points of criticism at the time were the lack of support for USB 2.0 and the product activation introduced for the first time.
Bumpy start on October 25, 2001
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 of that time, such as 64 MB RAM or 1.5 GB free hard disk space, now seem like they are from another world (and especially with a view to the current Windows 11).
Even if in practice 256 or 512 MB of RAM were required for fast work, Windows XP got by with – from today’s point of view – surprisingly few resources. Back then, however, there was harsh criticism for the fact that this new Windows XP would gobble up a gigantic 2 GB of hard disk space.
On the other hand, it was positively received that those switching from Windows 9.x now had the option of using accounts as standard users or as an administrator. And with the NTFS file system supported by XP, access permissions could be set on files and folders. However, precisely this latter function was deactivated in Windows XP Home Edition for marketing reasons and 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 in the Home Edition were deactivated. Later, however, tricks made the rounds to align the Windows XP Home Edition with the Professional Edition by means of adjustments in the registry.
One problem was the firewall, which is deactivated by default in Windows XP. As a result, operating systems freshly 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 that the operating system contained espionage functions soon arose . This has never been proven, but tools like the freely available “XP-AntiSpy”, which changed operating system settings with the aim of improving privacy, were quite popular. Quite a few home users ruined their systems with such tools, since they deactivated important functions such as Windows updates or time synchronization at the same time.
And suddenly you can’t kill it
Despite the above and other points of criticism, Windows XP was a notable triumph among private users and in companies. The author of this article still remembers how he cursed the candy-colored user interface back then – and how shortly after the appearance of XP all the computers in his area were converted to the new operating system.
After After the initial release, Microsoft brought out other variants of Windows XP such as the (unsuccessful) Tablet PC Edition or the Media Center Edition. Also, under pressure from regulators, there were the N and KN editions in Europe and Korea that had the media player and various media features removed. However, the majority of users were using Windows XP Home Edition or Professional.
While support for Windows XP was only planned for five years in 2001, with an extension for two more years after the release of the successor, Microsoft had to do this collect again soon. Because the successor Windows Vista was seriously late and the users refused to switch to this operating system. This only changed 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 stayed on many systems in use. According to netmarketshare.com, Windows XP is still running on 0.26 percent of all desktop computers in September 2021. These figures probably do not include the countless computers with Windows XP that are used in elevator or machine controls, money and ticket machines or display boards. In 2020 it became known that the elevator controls at the new Berlin airport BER were still running with Windows XP Embedded, which had been supported with a security update for a little longer. Windows XP is also still in use in submarines of the British Navy. In 2020, the source code of Windows XP was leaked by unknown persons.
Success with downsides
The bottom line, Windows XP proved to be in terms of its Spread as a terrific success for Microsoft. At the end of the day, however, the company fell victim to its own success. Because the numerous systems still running Windows XP and connected to the Internet represent a security risk par excellence that even requires unplanned improvements beyond the support period. In 2017, Microsoft was forced to release a security patch for Windows XP and Windows Vista to thwart attacks similar to those of WannaCry ransomware. In the case of WannaCry, on the other hand, only the fact that Windows XP was too unstable for the pest and triggered blue screens prevented it from spreading more widely on computers with this outdated operating system.