The Cycle of Life

So there’s a lot of excitement in MicrosoftLand today. There’s a birth and a death!

The birth is the release of Windows 8.1 Update 1. Seriously, that’s what they’re calling it. Maybe somebody’s already trademarked “8.2”? Anyway, the update is the latest tiny step towards Microsoft’s inevitable admission that it just doesn’t make sense to have a single UI across their entire product line from phones with four-inch touch-sensitive screens to computers with thirty-inch non-touch monitors. Yeah, the update has a bunch of bug fixes (many of which are already installed on any computer that has automatic updates turned on). The big excitement is for the enhancements aimed at desktop users. The most thrilling of these is a tweak that will cause machine without touch support to boot to the traditional desktop instead of the new Start screen. Can you feel the adrenaline hitting your innards at the thought? No, me either.

The death is official End of Life for Windows XP. Sorta. At least two governments are paying Microsoft to continue releasing security fixes. But those fixes are for government use only; they won’t be released to the general public. Meanwhile, Microsoft has said that they will continue to issue virus definition updates for their popular “Security Essentials” program. They’ve also said that they will not continue the updates. Except that they will. But they won’t. At this point, I’m not sure if anyone, including Microsoft employees, know whether the updates will continue. Joy. That “general public” that won’t be getting security fixes, by the way, may make up close to a quarter of the machines surfing the Web. That’s a heck of a lot of machines that will be vulnerable to the security exploits that will be discovered from now on.

So with all that excitement, the search engines must be staggering under the load of people trying to find out how to upgrade their zombie XP machines to that thrilling Windows 8.1 Update 1, right?

Not so much, actually. A quick check of Google’s Trends shows that Microsoft and Windows haven’t even cracked the top searches lists.

OK, I didn’t really expect that all of the people who have been ignoring Microsoft’s increasingly frantic warnings that XP computers would turn into pumpkins to suddenly update, but I did think there would be a flood of people wanting to get the latest and greatest 8.1. I don’t have a clue what went wrong there–I can’t imagine that all of the early adopters have dropped dead. Maybe Windows 8 just isn’t as popular as Microsoft has been telling us? Certainly Microsoft has been complaining that the Windows 8 adoption has been slower than they hoped.

Here’s a thought, a way for Microsoft to solve two problems at once. We’ve discussed the recent “free OS” trend before. The latest OS X is a free upgrade. Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade from Windows 8, and Microsoft just announced a couple of days ago that Windows will be free to manufacturers of devices with screens under 9 inches.

So take the logical next step, Microsoft: Make Windows 8.1 a free upgrade from any version of Windows. Shove it into Windows Update for XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Millions of machines run by people who aren’t paying attention move off of XP, adoption of Windows 8 soars. Microsoft is leading the the way into the future instead of limping along shouting “Wait for me!” Everyone is happy.

Yes, I’m aware that you can’t actually upgrade XP to Windows 8: you have to do a clean install and migrate your settings. But it’s not technically impossible. Remember that–all jokes aside–Microsoft’s developers and QA folks have the expertise to integrate a migration tool into the Windows 8 installation system. They just need a reason to do it. Now there’s a reason.

What do you say, Microsoft?