Microsoft Is Finally Killing Its Darlings

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 8 2014 6:44 PM

Microsoft Is Finally Killing Its Darlings

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Internet Explorer 6 and Windows XP are giving their farewell error warnings.

Screencap from Windows XP.

There are a lot of metaphors one could use to describe the decade plus longevity of Windows XP, Microsoft Office 2003, and Internet Explorer 6. But I'm gonna go with lichen. These software gems were hardy, reliable, unobtrusive, and enduring as wave after wave of technological progress crashed over the jagged rocks they clung to.

Lily Hay Newman Lily Hay Newman

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

What, you don't like my metaphor? Microsoft has been working to kill these services, and they just keep holding on. It's apt! But I guess we can also call them zombies, if you insist.

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But today Microsoft released seven security updates for Windows XP and four for Microsoft Office 2003. The company made it clear (if it wasn't already) that this is the end of the line. The operating system and Office suite will no longer be supported, which means using them will run major security risks. It's finally happening.

Though a death isn’t usually pleasant, this day of Microsoft funerals feels long overdue, especially for IE 6. By 2001, when Microsoft released IE 6, the browser was so dominant that Microsoft didn't work hard to innovate. The company didn't release bug fixes in a timely way, it didn't attempt to compete by adding features that were available in Firefox and other new-generation browsers, and it didn't always follow agreed-upon Web standards. These things weren't that noticeable when generations of IE were dominating the game, but in the five years it took Microsoft to release IE 7, the brand's influence had been significantly eroded. Web developers in particular are thrilled to let IE 6 fade away.

And while XP and Office 2003 didn’t do anything wrong in particular—in fact, they were innovative in their day—they stuck around much longer than software usually does and just couldn’t function normally toward the end.

But wait—they’re still fighting from beyond the grave! Windows XP market share is still at almost 28 percent. That’s after years of Microsoft efforts to get people to switch. And Office 2003 has been going strong, too. IE 6’s market share is still 4.4 percent worldwide, and it’s purportedly 22.2 percent in China, though those numbers might not be reliable.

No matter what Microsoft does, it seems like XP and IE 6 zombies will be roaming around for a while. Be safe out there, everyone.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.