I typically enjoy the blog Ghacks.net, but its entry What do you like most about Windows XP? isn’t one of its finest moments. It starts off with a hostile tone, calling XP buggy and insecure, then states that some people will cling to it anyway, and never demonstrates its assertions about XP’s inadequacies. XP is buggy and secure because the author says it is.
I’ve never actually seen an objective look at XP’s inadequacies. I have machines running both. Some of those machines ran Windows XP better than they run Windows 7. The machine I’m typing this on (a Dell Inspiron E1505) runs Windows 7 slightly better than it ran XP. Is it better? Usually yes. It’s also 8 years newer, so it had better be. Do we give credit to 12-year-olds for being smarter than 4-year-olds?
I’ll grant that Windows 7 has a faster video subsystem, and being written after Microsoft got religion about security, it does generally need fewer patches every month. Theoretically fewer of those patches should require reboots, but in practice, I’ve never seen a second Wednesday of the month pass that my Windows 7 boxes didn’t reboot. So it really doesn’t matter if three XP patches require reboots and only one Windows 7 patch does–it loses the advantage.
Windows 7 does have User Access Control, which nags you when something is trying to change the system. That’s an advantage–when people read and understand the prompts. Some people just say yes to everything, and then you lose the advantage. Some people say no to everything, and end up with a system that doesn’t work right.
So what’s good about XP?
For one, that general rule that a system that runs XP well runs Windows 7 just as well isn’t always true, especially on older hardware. Depending on what you’re doing, XP can cope with 768 MB of RAM, or even 512 MB. Windows 7 just won’t. XP is also happier on single-core machines than 7 is. This advantage will fade away now that dual-core refurbished machines with 1 GB of RAM and Windows 7 cost $99, but for someone who has an existing machine that meets their needs and still works reliably, there is something to be said for leaving well enough alone.
XP can also fit on a much smaller drive. My surviving XP box is a netbook with a 16 GB SSD. My Windows 7 directory alone on this machine is 12.5 GB. If I put Windows 7 on a 16 GB SSD, I wouldn’t be doing anything else with it.
And if XP is unstable, I’m just not seeing it. I’ve had XP boxes go three years without rebuilding. (I replaced one XP box at 3 years; my other one is three years old now and still going strong.) They can run 24/7 for months (if automatic updates doesn’t intervene and reboot) without crashing. In all the years I’ve run XP, I’ve had either one or two bluescreens. I can’t remember if it was one or two, but the issue was caused by a device driver, and after updating the appropriate driver, I never had another issue. The Vista machines I use at work bluescreen about once a year. That’s still not bad, but once a year is a lot more than twice in 7 years.
I have a feeling XP is less stable than Linux, but I would have a difficult time proving it. If I run Windows 7 for 7 years and get two or fewer bluescreens, what does that mean? It’s newer. It should be at least as reliable as its predecessor, if not slightly more. But XP doesn’t run poorly. Previous versions ran poorly. But XP was the first version of Windows that ran really well. Its immediate successor didn’t run well. Do I blame the holdouts for being suspicious of anything but XP? No.
I see absolutely nothing at all wrong with running existing XP machines until Microsoft stops releasing security patches for it. I wouldn’t buy a machine with just XP on it today–unless we’re talking a $20 rummage sale machine–but considering XP’s cost, and that it works pretty well, and whatever you replace it with will cost less and be better the longer you wait, I just don’t see the urgency to run out and replace a working XP system.
And that doesn’t bother me. It seems to bother some people. But if the world really will be a better place when the last XP box finally breathes its last, the burden of proof is on the critics. Not on the defenders.