Windows XP is hard to classify. I still remember when it was brand new, and technologically it’s closer to today’s versions of Windows than it is to Windows 98. To my kids, it’s ancient history. But what should we call it? Is Windows XP obsolete? Or is it retrro?

Whatever you call it, it shouldn’t be your everyday operating system anymore. I’ve talked before about what to do if you are still running XP and need something else to migrate to.

is Windows XP obsolete

Windows XP is as about as old now as the Commodore 64 was when people started collecting those. Does that make Windows XP retro? Or is Windows XP obsolete, and not quite retro yet?

As a retro enthusiast, XP can be useful. Even if you have little interest in XP-era software, it can act as a nice go-between, because it is new enough to talk to a file share on your modern computer, or your modern computer can talk to a file share on it. And it is old enough that a Windows 3.11 or Windows 95 computer can talk to a file share hosted on an XP machine. At least they’ll talk to XP on a network more readily than to Windows 10. Plus, it runs on systems that can support both traditional 34-pin floppy drives and USB, giving a fair number of options to get data to them.

The case for calling Windows XP retro

The terminology when talking about old things can be tricky. Antiques are 100 years old, unless you’re talking about cars. A car is an antique at 25. I haven’t seen anyone pushing for a car like exception for computers.

So that leaves us with other words to describe old computers. When you’re talking other collectibles, if it’s not antique and it’s not modern, it’s vintage. And I have certainly heard people talk about vintage computers. It
But Windows XP shows the problem with calling a computer vintage. There is a world of difference between an IBM PC 5150 or a Tandy 1000 and a Dell core 2 Duo running Windows XP. Let alone if you want to start talking about 1970s computing.

Now, when I was in college in the ’90s, we called ’80s music and ’80s technology retro. Radio stations would have retro hour when they would play new wave music, and bars would have retro night when they would play new wave music, and there were a few intrepid pioneers who were collecting computers and game systems from the early 1980s. And when I wrote about it, I called it retro gaming because I knew my audience at the time would assume I meant the same time that retro night at a nightclub meant.

And back then, the argument was whether to call the Nintendo NES retro. Atari systems certainly were. But Nintendo was right on the edge.

The passage of time makes that a little bit easier. The problem with calling the NES retro in 1996 was that it was only discontinued in 1995. A year earlier you could still get a brand new shrink wrap one at major retailers, with a warranty and everything. With luck you might be able to find a shrinkwrapped one in 1996 if you ventured to stores in less well traveled areas.

The case for calling Windows XP obsolete

So what do you call something that is no longer current, but not quite old enough to call retro yet? The word obsolete works nicely for that. You can’t buy it at retail anymore, you can’t get official support for it anymore, and it’s no longer suitable for mainstream everyday use. But it’s not quite old enough to call retro either.

XP checks those boxes.

And it’s a convenient place to put game systems that are in that awkward phase of its existence where the game stores aren’t interested in them, and the thrift stores have to sell it cheap to keep the inventory from piling up. As I’m writing this in 2021, the PlayStation 3 is in that category. XP and PS3 stuff today has the appeal that the Atari 2600 had in the mid 90s. Old enough to be nostalgic for some people, and cheap enough that you don’t have to be rich to collect it.

And by that measure, XP is a good fit. If you’re going to find a computer at a thrift store today, chances are it’s XP era. That’s assuming the thrift store even bothers with a computer of that age. An awful lot of them end up at Goodwill by the pound if someone donates one. You can find these computers at estate sales too. They’ll probably still be there the second day. The second hand sellers may or may not know the difference between vintage and retro and obsolete, but the smart ones learn.