Windows XP Turns 10: What Tech Was Like in 2001

Here are some technologies and trends that were all the rage when Windows XP released on Oct. 25, 2001, but have been killed off or vastly improved upon since.

Today is officially the 10-year anniversary of Windows XP (aka the Keith Richards of operating systems), so it's a good time to reflect on how technology has changed over the course of XP's rather remarkable lifespan.

To commemorate the occasion, Microsoft penned another company blog post with the theme of "XP was super awesome for its time but please please upgrade to Windows 7 now."

Windows XP

It may sound like a broken record, but Microsoft has no choice but to keep hammering this home. They've had to play the same game with Internet Explorer 6. Microsoft doesn't have the magical brainwashing power of Apple to lure users to the next version of its products. Apple's somehow makes you feel like your friends and family will disown you if you don't upgrade to Mac OS X Lion, iPad 2 or iOS 5. Microsoft, on the other hand, has to beg.

Nevertheless, XP is historical. When it was released in 2001 the first Harry Potter movie was coming out — there have been like 14 sequels since then. It was so long ago that Ja Rule was hip hop's biggest hitmaker. Yes, Ja Rule.

It was the OS that lasted through what was arguably technology's most innovative decade ever, through the development of smartphones, cloud computing and social media.

Although you can't buy XP anymore and mainstream support ended over two years ago, the OS is still in widespread use. Roughly half of all computer users are still running Windows XP, according to market tracker Net Applications.

Not many technologies that were in use in 2001 are still relevant. One clear exception is the iPod, which was first released two days before Windows XP.

For a little perspective, here are some technologies that were en vogue when Windows XP became generally available on Oct. 25, 2001, but have been killed off or vastly improved upon since.

  • Dial up modems (unthinkable today). Cable modems and wireless routers rule the day now.
  • Napster peer-to-peer MP3 file swapping (though Napster's free-for-all was busted in 2001 and gave rise to subscription-based music sites).
  • Clunky external hard drives for data backup (the cloud was waaaay off)
  • Cell phones (bricks and flips) — All were made by either Nokia, Ericsson or Palm and basically just allowed you to make phone calls and do basic e-mail (the horror!). Not much texting yet and multi-touch was science fiction.
  • Heavy Laptops — Workers were starting to lug laptops to and from work in 2001, but said machines were still much more expensive and less powerful than a desktop computer, and also weighed about as much as a small horse. All that has changed with the ultra-light, powerful and affordable laptops of today.
  • Going into the Office — VPNs (virtual private networks) were spotty and not reliable enough to serve remote workers. Today, half the world works remotely using a VPN to access work resources. Videoconferencing from your laptop was not there yet either in 2001 and Skype was just a funny word.
  • Analog Televisions — Those skinny HDTVs that we now wheel out of Best Buy were years off in 2001. Most people had analog TV sets. HDTVs were in short supply and only for the rich folks, costing thousands of dollars.

So you can see how the world has changed since Windows XP's birth. XP was good, but all good things must come to an end.

There are plenty of reasons to migrate off Windows XP to Windows 7 (which celebrated its second anniversary on Oct. 22), including vastly improved security and networking features, better support for modern hardware, and a much more dynamic user interface.

All support for Windows XP ends in April 2014. If you are a business downgrading to XP on new hardware at this point, you are officially weird.

Now who's excited for Windows Vista's 5th birthday coming up in January?

Hello? Anyone?

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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