Windows XP@20: From the killer of ME to banging out patches for yet another vulnerability

When NT and 9x became one


Feature It was on this very day, 20 years ago, that Microsoft released Windows XP to General Availability.

Regarded by some as the cockroach of the computing world, in part due to its refusal to die despite the best efforts of Microsoft, XP found its way into the hands of customers on 25 October 2001 and sought to undo the mess wrought upon the public by 2000's Windows Millennium Edition (ME). While ME used the Windows 9x kernel, XP was built on the Windows NT kernel, formerly aimed at the business market and a good deal more stable.

It also upped the hardware requirements on its preceding consumer OS. Where ME recommended 64MB of memory, XP wanted at least 128MB. And although masochists could run ME on a VGA screen, XP insisted on a minimum of SVGA. It all seems rather quaint now, but could be a painful jump back in the day.

The user interface was given an overhaul, giving the OS a markedly different appearance to what had gone before, and the Start Menu introduced with Windows 95 was tweaked as well to feature two columns.

Internet Explorer 6 also came in the box, but it wasn't until 2004's Service Pack 2 that a Security Center was added as Microsoft sought to bolster the defences of what had turned out to be a highly hackable operating system. Enough to make one, er, Wannacry.

Still, that particular bit of miscreant nastiness was in the future as Windows XP launched. Two editions appeared in 2001: Home, which lacked enterprise features like domain joining, and Professional, which was aimed at corporates and also had the breath-taking ability to support a pair of physical processors.

While mainstream support ended in 2009 (and extended support breathed its last in 2014), Windows XP remained hugely popular until finally being overtaken in popularity by Windows 7 in 2012 (another operating system, Windows Vista, was launched between the pair but proved unpopular). Microsoft has, however, continued to emit the occasional patch for the OS. The last was in 2019, just as mainstream support for the POSReady 2009 version of XP ended.

Although the consumerisation of Windows NT caused a twinge or two – some might regard Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 as the high-water mark for Microsoft's operating systems – XP signalled a new era for the company. Sure, the default theme might have felt like a child's toy, but what lurked behind the scenes represented a huge leap forward from Windows 9x.

The same, we fear, cannot be said of Windows 11.

Happy GA day, Windows XP. ®


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