One of the most divisive aspects of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 release this week was the company’s decision to support only Windows Vista and Windows 7 with the new browser. That means it doesn’t work on the older Windows XP operating system.

Plenty of people are defending Microsoft’s move — including tech media stalwarts PCWorld and Ars Technica. After all, Windows XP is almost 10 years old. Ten years old! Its moldy security protections are rivaled only by its inability to support some of the most modern graphics technologies.

Clearly, it’s in the interests of Microsoft’s business to get Windows XP users to upgrade to new Windows versions. Leaving them in the cold on the new Internet Explorer is one way to prod them in that direction. But it’s also not an unreasonable suggestion. A decade is more like a century on the web.

[Related Post: Firefox 4 Do Not Track: How it works, what it really means]

Here’s the main problem: A bunch of us haven’t gotten the message. More than 40 percent of web users are still on Windows XP. And that’s the first thing Firefox engineering director Johnathan Nightingale brought up when I asked him about the issue. In an ironic twist, Mozilla’s upcoming Firefox 4 is supporting not only Microsoft’s Windows XP but also Windows 2000, even though Microsoft’s new browser doesn’t.

“That’s a decision that they get to make, but it sure did surprise us, because the best metrics that we’ve got say 40 to 50 percent of the web is still on XP. That’s too big for us to just leave them behind,” Nightingale said via phone. “Yeah, it’s harder work, because XP has a totally different hardware-acceleration story. You need to be using Direct3D there, instead of Direct2D on Vista and 7. It meant we had to do a lot more work architecturally to make sure we could offer a high-quality experience across both of them. But you know what? That’s the job.”

[Follow-up: Firefox 4 soars, thanks to Microsoft’s luddite customers]

This might seem counterintuitive, but the open-source project’s decision to support Windows XP actually helps advance the web, he said.

“It’s not just that we want Firefox to look good on every platform. It’s that, if we don’t do it, web developers aren’t going to take advantage of it. If they can only address 20 percent of the web, they’re just going to sit on their hands for another couple of years and they’re going to build more native apps to do things that the web is perfectly capable of doing, because they just feel like most of their users aren’t going to be able to take advantage of it.”

Here’s the official word from Microsoft on its decision, via a company spokesperson …

“As the Web has continued to change in everything from security to the future HTML5 applications developers are starting to build today, browsers should require the modern graphics and security infrastructure that have come along since 2001. Internet Explorer 9 is intended to be run on a modern operating system in order to build on the latest hardware and operating system innovations. In addition, Web developers can now take advantage of the Windows 7 features (snap, jump list, pinning) integrated into Internet Explorer 9 that make the web feel native. Windows XP users have a fast, safe, reliable and private browser in Internet Explorer 8.”

Which philosophy will prevail? We’ll find out starting next Tuesday, March 22, when Firefox 4 is due out, absent any show-stopping last-minute bugs.

Todd Bishop of GeekWire can be followed on Twitter and Facebook, when he’s not looking longingly at the dusty Windows XP box in the corner of his office.

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  • Hugh S. Myers

    Despite fine words from spokes person, rationale is quite clear encourage/force as many upgrades as possible. Anything else claimed is utter nonsense…

    • Leslie Michael Orchard

      …and? The only way to get the web to advance is to convince people to upgrade, whether it’s by way of Firefox or Chrome or some other modern browser.

      If the way to do that is a free browser on an ancient operating system, so be it. Microsoft’s shot themselves (and the rest of us) in the foot plenty enough to make lots of people skeptical about upgrades to their OS, so tying that anchor to the web just does us all a disservice.

      • beltzner

        Les, I think Hugh meant that MSFT was encouraging people to buy Windows 7 :)

        • Leslie Michael Orchard

          …oh. Um, if so, sorry. I’m a little enthused about this.

          (Also, disclaimer: I work for Mozilla, though the foot in my mouth is my own.)

      • Rich Travis

        If it was an actual upgrade… Vista is just a newer version, NOT an upgrade; Windows 7 could arguably be called a upgrade, but just barely.
        This is purely to leverage people out of XP; it isn’t as if this was the first time they pulled this sort of thing.

  • Steven Roussey

    XP is the equivalent of IE6. They are both a danger to the web, and they both should die off yesterday.

    • visitor

      XP endangers the web only because Microsoft has decided not the fix the security holes. Migrating to newer versions of Windows is all about DRM and whether or not you really own that laptop you just paid $500 for…

      • Jan

        And can you watch streaming Netflix on DRM not support Linux? DRM is not Microsoft’s requirement, it’s the requirement of the media content owners.

    • Doug

      That would work… if Microsoft didn’t have the unfortunate habit of dropping features while they add them…
      — like, Server 2008 out-of-the-box not being able to search file contents (built-into every prior version of Windows INCLUDING XP)…
      — like SSIS not exporting ASCII to Excel without a conversion step (implicit in DTS…. and finally handled in the wizard for SqlServer2008, but how does the wizard help during modifications?)…
      — like the interface for Office 2007, in which they chose to no longer use the windows interface pull-down menus…
      — and like Visual Studio 2010, which doesn’t support SSIS???
      — or, changing the flow of windows explorer in 2008… folders no longer open with a single-click

      They always add features — certainly there are enhancements — but they seem to often save time on things we occasionally do, while wasting our time on things we do all day.

      • Carlos Osuna-Roffe

        Agreed. And let’s not forget the learning curve (both user side and IT admin side) needed to run and manage mixed Win XP, Win Vista and Win 7 installations (talk about heterogeneous).

        At this moment, IT departments that wish to support all three OS need to create three separate installation procedures, three separate mails and need to have three separate training programs just to support one app that in the end presents the same UI to the user.

        All the “added” security mumbo jumbo, won’t convince enterprise to switch as they know that it’s just market-speak with no real technical scaffolding.

    • Paulph04

      XP is not in any way the equivalent of IE6, as further work on that browser stopped quite some time ago. And unlike IE6, it has had major updates like SP3, which backported some security features from Windows Vista, and it continues to receive monthly security updates. And with SP3, all relevant security updates and a modern browser like IE8 or FF, XP can still be quite secure on the web.

    • Todd Carnes

      “Danger to the web”?… Puh-lease!

  • Jeff Hammel

    I wonder if MicroSoft will offer free upgrades to newer versions of Windows?

    • Max Peck

      Why should they? Do you offer “free upgrades” to the work you did last week or still expect a paycheck?

  • A2540692

    Microsoft can’t be excused for not supporting XP on the reasoning that it’s 10 years old. People were still buying new machines with XP on them in 2010. It will be supported until 2014. Microsoft’s decision ensures that web developers cannot fully embrace new standards like HTML5 until XP stops being widely used, which could happen in 2016.

    • Jeff Rodenburg

      Since when does releasing new products require backporting to an old OS? Microsoft’s XP support consists of keeping your system running, not ensuring the latest and greatest software runs on it.

      • Billy Wenge-Murphy

        It’s not required. You can release awful software if you want to, but in the Linux community we do it that way. Hey, I understand if Microsoft just isn’t as good as us.

        • Max Peck


          Awful nice of you guys. Do you treat your job that way too? I mean … do you give away all your work for free? If so, I’ve got an acre-sized yard full of leaves that need raking and I’d just LOVE your Linux style freebie service out there, especially since you’re so much better than Microsoft! ;-)

          • anon

            Yes, I would rake your yard if only I can do it sitting in front of my computer and you promise to let everybody else use your clean yard…Well, atleast thats what happens when we do freebie work for linux.

          • Jan

            You realize thousands of large corporations like IBM and Oracle and Google are making billions of dollars off your YOUR free labor. Do you get FREE use of Oracle’s database, no. Do you get FREE use of IBM’s servicea and products and services, no. Do you get ANY of the money Google makes by showing targeted advertising, no. If you ask me, Linux developers are being taken advantage of. There are some uses that I’d class as humanitarian, but many uses totally benefit the stockholders of corporations.

      • Carlos Osuna-Roffe

        Ask IBM and HP. They still support older OS (in minis and mainframes) with newer software. They offer newer OSs (IBM i, z/OS) but still support their installed base.

        On key example is HP-UX. Version 11i has been around since 2000. They are currently on 11i v3 with full software compatibility for all 11i.

    • Todd Carnes

      People will NOT stop using XP in 2016.

  • Anonymous

    Just admit it Microsoft, you didn’t want to invest in the web(browser) before and now you needed a lot of developer time to implement all this code to make a faster browser and implement atleast part of the HTML5/CSS3 spec. And the only way you could complete this task in a kind of short time is to just only Windows Vista and 7.

    Not even the 64-bit version of IE has full the same fast javascript engine like the 32-bit version of IE.

    IE support for HTML5/CSS3 is less than all the other browsers, which is an other sign.

  • John W Baxter

    I see both Mozilla and Microsoft as being right in their choices, and for the reasons they state. The weakness in Mozilla’s position, though, is that at least some of the volunteer hours that went into keeping XP compatibility could have gone into more future-oriented work, possibly finishing that sooner. But–as volunteers, many XP backers might have left the project or scaled back in the absence of XP tasks.

    Microsoft on the other hand would have been paying for a lot of engineering work on what would have been a parallel project with less good results.

    Note that Firefox 4 is “a little later than” the original projected date (not to mention more recent projections).

    –John (who is posting with IE 9–and doesn’t like being forced to turn anti-tracking off to post here)

    • Jan

      I think is was a brilliant business decision by Microsoft not to support XP in IE9. They knew the benefit to Microsoft in supporting XP was close to zero, and also knew the open source browsers would support XP, so XP users still were receiving updates to technology. The real question now wll be is IE9 on Windows 7 better that Firefox 4 on Windows 7. If so, Microsoft has succeeded in investing in the future, and the competition has wasted resources on the past.

      I’m sorry to say, I’ve worked on cross platform products for 20+ years (I’m a software developer), and my experience has been cross platforms products never work optimally on any of the supported platforms. I’ve also worked on Windows only optimized products, and the end result is a significantly better product on Windows.

      Just to be sure people are aware of the Linux community agenda, by not using the capabilities only available in Windows 7, it makes Linux look more competitive.

      People buy the latest hardware, run the latest version of Wndows, and they are then going to install a browser that doesn’t use everything they have to it’s fullest? I agree the people who run computers that I recycled years ago will not be happy with Windows 7 and IE9.

  • Vasilis Vasaitis

    Honestly, Microsoft’s decision makes perfect sense, because they never set out to build a cross-platform web browser. Think about it. Firefox probably has separate code paths in several places in order to support Windows 7/Vista on the one hand, and Windows XP on the other hand. But that’s fine, because it’s a software project built from the ground up to support different platforms, so it already has the necessary infrastructure and abstractions in place.

    Contrast this with IE9, which currently supports only a single platform. What this means is that it would probably take significant effort and modification of its code to support a second one, because that’s always the most difficult step (instead of, say, supporting a fourth platform, where the abstractions are already there). So it was arguably not worth the effort for them to add XP support to their brand new browser.

    Furthermore, I don’t see why Microsoft should be criticized for a decision to cede market share to its competitors. I mean, if an XP user wants a modern web browser, since they cannot have IE9 they’ll probably download Firefox 4 instead, right? So why are the Mozilla people complaining exactly?

    • HRJ

      From a web developer perspective, it is not enough to have _some_ users upgraded to Firefox4. The web developer has to support all the various browsers out there.

      If Microsoft supported IE9 on XP, then it would save a lot (and I mean a LOT) of developer work that goes in to supporting IE6 to IE8.

  • mario

    I hope some hacker group is working on backporting direct2D and IE9 for those hapless Windows users.

  • Billy Wenge-Murphy

    I haven’t “got the message” on XP, because it’s utter BS. Upgrades to DirectX were artificially tied to Vista (and then 7). The legendary John Carmack agrees. And then, gee, look at that, they backported DX9 after all! This stuff Microsoft is trying to feed you about it being so architecturally different is utter nonsense. I’m not shelling out for a new operating system because I don’t want or need it. It offers no real advantages except the ones created artificially (called “vendor lock-in”)

  • HRJ

    You say that 40% of web users use XP. It would be great if you could provide data on “how many of the XP users use IE and how many use Firefox/Chrome/Opera”.

    If most of the XP users are using Firefox/Chrome/Opera, then it hardly matters whether IE9 is ported to XP.

    • Yurij

      Many people use XP and IE just because they have some more interesting things to do then to fiddle about with OS and browser. So they don’t use Firefox/Chrome/Opera.

  • Florin Jurcovici

    “Internet Explorer 9 is intended to be run on a modern operating system”

    THen why don’t they support Linux?

  • cyp

    Actually Microsoft always had the motto: “If something is older than … then why make it better? Let’s just create a new version more flashy , that uses more resources (without giving you shit in return) and that we will force on people to buy.” Except for gaming a new hardware or a new os (vista or win7) is not really required for 90% of the users.More than that, in gaming they require more and more hardware and software resources because programmers become more and more ineffective in their coding, that being supported by the marketing division.

  • Peter B

    I’ve still got a lap top (occasionally used) running Windows 98. It will still access the web as well as run games for the grandchildren!

  • Mark A.

    As far as I know, all of Microsoft’s operating systems have been stored on the hard disc drive and not in a ROM (Read only memory chip)
    So as IE9 comes with Windows 7, perhaps this is part of the operating system, just like Notepad (text editor) is part of the OS.
    You don’t have to use NotePad to write out a letter and you don’t have to use Internet Explorer if you don’t wont to.
    You don’t even have to use a Microsoft’s operating systems if you don’t want to.

    If IE9 is part of Windows7 operating systems and a patch for Vista OS, then I expect that’s why it doesn’t work with
    Windows 3.0, Commodore 64, BBC micro, Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad etc.

    A2540692, I have said this before, ‘There is no browser that supports HTML5’.
    Some browsers support bits of HTML5 that IE9 don’t,
    but there are also bits of HTML5 that IE9 support that no other browser supports or supports properly.

  • Steve

    XP may have been released nearly 10 years ago, but it was only REPLACED (if you consider Windows 7 a “replacement”) a couple of years ago. So why imply that 10 years old means obsolete?

    Personally, I use Win 98SE OUT OF PREFERENCE, firefox 2 (later versions won’t work) and the only sites that give me problems are the one where clever buggers can’t detect my browser and give me a “you can’t use this” page. And where (like youtube), they give you a “try it anyway” option – it works fine!

    The main issue is that it’s getting more difficult to find anti-virus solutions.

    Microsoft are idiots – as any user of their software knows.

  • Aldrich

    @beltzner your correct on that :) well for me they were doing the right thing (Mozilla) for the sake of our new generation web developers. 50% of the world’s web developers still lying in XP platform because they could not afford the latest software and hardware technologies of today.

    @leslie Mozilla is the life saver of those who can’t affors win 7 and the upcoming windows Azure

  • Me

    This is also why they had like 40 beta releases. You have to test across all of these OS variants and find different bugs and behavoirs. If Firefox could get that time back and put it into other things they could have had a product to market sooner and a better product. People who are still using XP don’t care about technology and are probably still using IE 6 anyway

  • Mbox Laspina

    I would suspect that Microsoft and many other Software Development companies are not thinking about Virtual Desktops and the lack of hardware acceleration within that new and rapidly changing environment. It would be wise to develop a virtual friendly version that can use offloading plugs to GPU farms etc.

  • Dfgdgf

    There is some technical reason

  • Celmen

    time to drop m$ os, and start to tinker with Linux or any other os choices…
    your pick.

  • Carlos Osuna-Roffe

    Nonsense… of course Microsoft’s gonna blame a technical reason for not supporting Windows XP, but we all know it’s purely economical. Since before Longhorn, the softies created a pipeline of products the would “help”–“coerce” is a better word–their installed based to “upgrade” to Vista and further.

    In a rather concerted way, they have used the common “security” and “features” mantra to promote the post-Longhorn vision. But Vista’s tepid response, primarily due to a lack of focus and some hubris, delayed the actual migration. Microsoft thought that by now, 70+ percent of the public would be Vista-ready. In the end, only 30 or so indeed are.

    Today, there’s a mountain of bottle-necked software releases that counted on Windows 7. IE9 is one of them. Office 15 is another and Visual Studio 2012 is yet another.

    Until Microsoft faces the utter truth–that Vista derailed the whole upgrade–and accepts that people kept 10 year old technology because it outperformed the “successor” by leaps and bounds, and Windows 7 only offered modest real-life improvements, against a mouthful of learning curve “deprovements”, and that most are hanging waiting for a Windows XP-like system with Win7 “benefits”, they will have their products decline in market share by own means.

    Imagine, in the near future, when IE7 and IE8 usage evaporates (with massive IE9 upgrades but only on Vista/7 and massive defections once XP people find themselves out of options) and suddenly IE9 usage peaks topped out by Vistas/7 market-share; then will see the real decline of IE since die hard IE6 users would have given up hope and would have migrated apps to other platforms.

    In retrospective, Microsoft was an ill-chosen legacy app software developer, as they don’t stick to their guns even when people rally for them to.

  • Bob

    Yeah, I’m not upgrading my OS just to get an upgraded IE browser.

  • Rich the Engineer

    Yet Microsoft quietly announced that downgrade rights for WinXP have been extended to 2020. There are a lot of major companies that still have not made the jump to Win7 (forget Vista), and are still on XP. The one I work for, for example. And no, it’s not a backwards company. It’s a major player in the semiconductor industry. But why change it if it isn’t broken, and there is no rational reason to upgrade?

  • lil Joshu

    Thought… with  Cent OS becoming steadily more stable and being more xp compatible than any other windows compatible (possibly eventually becoming xp’s equivilent of freedos)… I kinda wonder the way things are going to go in the future, if those still on xp will eventually migrate to the more-familiar centos when it gets caught up… which if its running firefox… means they continue to advance without having to give up what they know, yet (finally) get seperated from microsoft… food for thought.

  • Neill Johnston

    Hey, XP is what, over a decade old?????

    Yes, I do have a newer computer running Windows 7 Home Premium Edition.

    But, BUT,I also still use XP, and the damn thing still runs very well.

    Maybe a bit slow, but still runs my apps, and I can also surf the web.

    Not bad, for an OS, that is NOW, over ten years old.

    XP, just WON’T, go away easy, I hope that it kicks and fights like crazy to beable to stick around for as long as it can.

    Sure XP, has got to eventually GO, BUT, it is NOT, going to go away that EASY.

    XP, will leave it’s trademark behind, of the best, and longest living Windows OS, before it goes.

    XP, was even far better then Vista.

    WHY, do you think, MS, offered a down grade option from Vista, to XP.

    Because, MS realized that XP, was a far FAR better OS, then pile of SH*T Vista, could EVER be.

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