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End of support for Windows XP a danger to tech freedom

David Taber | May 16, 2014
What could be less news than the end of Windows XP support? Everybody on the planet has been told about it a hundred times. This article concerns the real danger you haven't been reading about.

What could be less news than the end of Windows XP support? Everybody on the planet has been told about it a hundred times. This article concerns the real danger you haven't been reading about.

The IT industry has been blessed with being very lightly regulated, with self-regulation that works and minimal government interference. This has meant high rates of innovation and profitability, nearly a commercial nirvana that supports millions of families' lifestyles. Even the legal community hasn't been able to mess it up, with the exception of the sloppy software patents and the resultant trolls.

IT grew up in the glass house, only entering the consumer space in the last 30 years. So its sensibilities are not highly developed when it comes to consumer attitudes and the political dangers of "bad optics." This was first made plain by Intel's floating point SNAFU of 1994, and was still plenty evident in the iPhone's death-grip antenna problem of 2010.

Let's compare this with the auto industry, which has product recalls seemingly by the week. The vendors all know they have to balance public opinion and bad press against short-term cost-avoidance. Sometimes they get it spectacularly wrong (think Ford Pinto), but most of the time they come across as doing the right thing for the customer. Of course, an automobile is a bigger investment than a PC, and its failures can cause bodily harm and property damage.

Even with all that, the auto industry doesn't shut down an old product that is somewhat risky to use. I own a 1963 Studebaker: It is still allowed on roads, I can use modern gasoline and all the current auto infrastructure. Imagine if GM were to one day declare that their cars from even 25 years ago were no longer allowed on the roads, and that anybody driving them should be considered a danger to themselves and anyone else on the highway. Imagine if they were to put out a bunch of articles telling owners "you must send your car to the crusher by April 8!"

Computation has become a required feature of modern life, at least in North America. If millions of computers fail, disruptions to power supplies, money supplies, and food supplies are not out of the question. A PC is no longer an optional luxury item, and has acquired "utility" status in most U.S. homes and businesses. So PC vendors can't act capriciously.

Microsoft supported Windows 1.0 — a technical quagmire — for 15 years. But when it came to XP — the world's most popular operating system of all time, with a solid technology foundation — support ended only three years after Microsoft stopped selling it. It's amazing there have not been more inflammatory articles and exposés.

 

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