Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduces new devices running on Windows 8, at a press event in California last year. Photo: CFP
A Windows XP installation disk Photo: IC
Time is running out for people who still rely on Windows XP to manage their daily computing needs. In less than six months, Microsoft will shelve this 11-year-old personal computing operating system. No more assistance or even paid online help will be offered for the product, leaving users to fend for themselves. From April 8 next year, the computers of Windows XP diehards could become vulnerable in the face of malwares and hackers and may become easily trapped in "botnets."Currently, some 31.41 percent of computers around the world use Windows XP, according to US market research company Net Applications, but that figure is expected to drop to approximately 13 percent before the 2014 deadline. Microsoft believes that it is time for Windows XP to take a bow before dropping the curtains on the decade-pus-old operating system that is no longer able to address today's business or technology needs or security threats. "But we don't expect all computers to stop running Windows XP as soon as we pull the plug. People need time to accept a transition from this product to our newer generations," Cao Lei, senior public relations manager for Microsoft China, told the Global Times on Wednesday. It is a move that is likely to result in a greater effort on the part of Microsoft. It needs to convince Chinese users to make the change, given that their reliance on Windows XP runs deeper than that of users in the US, predict foreign tech bloggers. When time runs out, only some 10 percent of computers in the US are still expected to run Windows XP compared to some 65 percent in China, said tech blogger Shane MeGlaun with online tech magazine DailyTech. Users unfazedAccording to Beijing-based consultancy ZDC, 63.1 percent of 4,487 surveyed Chinese Net users say that they plan to continue using Windows XP after the product is pensioned off. In fact, Chinese users don't appear fazed by the news. After all, they've been left to their own devices - to solve their own problems - since the operating system came online in 2001. "In the early 21st century, China's piracy market was rampant and many computers in the market were installed with pirated versions of Windows XP. Though none of the programs were supported by Microsoft, most of them still ran well, largely because they were able to get free patches and bug fixes from multiple domestic third-party anti-virus software companies," Liu Dalong, an analyst with iResearch in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday. He noted that most Windows XP users in China currently rely on software like 360 Security Guards to protect their machines, and thus, are not afraid of Microsoft's sweeping move.Moreover, Windows XP users have no real incentive to switch to Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 since the newer generations have yet to convince users of any significant benefit, said Liu. And despite Windows XP having been officially replaced by Windows Vista in 2007, Windows 7 in 2009, and Windows 8 in 2012, it was still running on 60.98 percent of China's computers as of August, with the other three versions accounting only for 0.58 percent, 27.28 percent and 1.44 percent, respectively, according to a September report released by Singapore-based digital marketing company Incitez. Even as Windows XP officially became four generations old in China on Thursday, with the launch of Windows 8.1 on the China market, Chinese users weren't bothered by the news. "If a new operating system were to offer a better user experience, I'd discard my old pirated version," 27-year-old Shanghai-based white-collar worker Liu Wenqi, told the Global Times. "But I don't see much difference with the newer versions - they only require more computer memory and will slow down my computer, so I'm not convinced enough to make the upgrade."Matt Rosoff, chief editor of US tech blog Business Insider, said Windows 8 was designed for touch screen devices, suggesting that people can only fully appreciate the new version's best features after investing in such machines.After seeing his friends grow frustrated with the new Windows 7 and 8 versions, over periodic crashes due to incompatibility problems, Liu added that he has no intention of "fixing something that ain't broke."And not until Chinese developers, who still prefer to create products that run on Windows XP, are swayed to make the change to newer operating systems, are we likely to see more Chinese users following suit, Hao Peiqiang, an independent developer and tech blogger in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Tuesday.A smooth transition? But Microsoft China's Cao stressed the importance of users taking action before the end of the deadline to ensure their PCs are as secure as possible. "We're working closely within the ecosystem and our partners to help users transition smoothly from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8 or 8.1," said Cao. In a bid to save firms costly expenses during the transition, equipment manufacturers like Dell are offering Windows XP migration services, which are meant to free customers from the long and boring updating process, media reports said October 7. That may be helpful for companies with a computer network of thousands of desktops, a transition for which could take nearly three years to plan and execute, said Liu from iResearch. Microsoft also plans to open retail stores in the Chinese market to "brand the end-to-end experience that users have with premium devices from OEMs and our own," said Ralph Haupter, chairman of Microsoft Greater China in a June interview with South China Morning Post. But it seems a bit late for the company to be finally making a move on "educating Chinese consumers," given that the main channels for selling the software - via advertisements or the advice of salespeople - are now outdated, said Shanghai-based Hao. Hao added that because consumers nowadays require a positive user experience before they're willing to commit to a gadget, Microsoft would be smart to put their efforts on creating a device that shows off the features of its newer operating systems, if it wants to get more users on board. A failure on Microsoft's part to achieve this could even threaten its market position in the future, said Liu from iResearch. And as more OEMs move away from the traditional default of Microsoft software, the company should be wary of the shift, he added. Add rivalry to the mix and US IT company Hewlett-Packard, which launched several new devices running on Android and Chrome this week, could also contribute to a weakening reliance on Windows operating systems. But Hao said that a bit of healthy competition could be just the kick that Microsoft needs to get on developing a revolutionary product that users will not want to go without.