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Apr 25, 2022

Microsoft had confusion in the Windows 2000 marketing and disappointment with Millennium Edition, which was built on a kernel that had run its course. It was time to phase out the older 95, 98, and Millennium code. So in 2001, Microsoft introduced Windows NT 5.1, known as Windows XP (eXperience). XP came in a Home or Professional edition. 

Microsoft built a new interface they called Whistler for XP. It was sleeker and took more use of the graphics processors of the day. Jim Allchin was the Vice President in charge of the software group by then and helped spearhead development. XP had even more security options, which were simplified in the home edition. They did a lot of work to improve the compatibility between hardware and software and added the option for fast user switching so users didn’t have to log off completely and close all of their applications when someone else needed to use the computer. They also improved on the digital media experience and added new libraries to incorporate DirectX for various games. 

Professional edition also added options that were more business focused. This included the ability to join a network and Remote Desktop without the need of a third party product to take control of the keyboard, video, and mouse of a remote computer. Users could use their XP Home Edition computer to log into work, if the network administrator could forward the port necessary. XP Professional also came with the ability to support multiple processors, send faxes, an encrypted file system, more granular control of files and other objects (including GPOs), roaming profiles (centrally managed through Active Directory using those GPOs), multiple language support, IntelliMirror (an oft forgotten centralized management solution that included RIS and sysprep for mass deployments), an option to do an Automated System Recovery, or ASR restore of a computer. Professional also came with the ability to act as a web server, not that anyone should run one on a home operating system. XP Professional was also 64-bit given the right processor.

XP Home Edition could be upgraded to from Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Millineum, and XP Professional could be upgraded to from any operating system since Windows 98 was released., including NT 4 and Windows 2000 Professional. And users could upgrade from Home to Professional for an additional $100.  

Microsoft also fixed a few features. One that had plagued users was that they had to gracefully unmount a drive before removing it; Microsoft got in front of this when they removed the warning that a drive was disconnected improperly and had the software take care of that preemptively. They removed some features users didn’t really use like NetMeeting and Phone Dialer and removed some of the themes options. The 3D Maze was also sadly removed. Other options just cleaned up the interface or merged technologies that had become similar, like Deluxe CD player and DVD player were removed in lieu of just using Windows Media Player. And chatty network protocols that caused problems like NetBEUI and AppleTalk were removed from the defaults, as was the legacy Microsoft OS/2 subsystem.

In general, Microsoft moved from two operating system code bases to one. Although with the introduction of Windows CE, they arguably had no net-savings. However, to the consumer and enterprise buyer, it was a simpler licensing scheme. Those enterprise buyers were more and more important to Microsoft. Larger and larger fleets gave them buying power and the line items with resellers showed it with an explosion in the number of options for licensing packs and tiers. But feature-wise Microsoft had spent the Microsoft NT and Windows 2000-era training thousands of engineers on how to manage large fleets of Windows machines as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE) and other credentials. Deployments grew and by the time XP was released, Microsoft had the lions’ share of the market for desktop operating systems and productivity apps. XP would only cement that lead and create a generation of systems administrators equipped to manage the platform, who never knew a way other than the Microsoft way.

One step along the path to the MCSE was through servers. For the first couple of years, XP connected to Windows 2000 Servers. Windows Server 2003, which was built on the Windows NT 5.2 kernel, was then released in 2003. Here, we saw Active Directory cement a lead created in 2000 over servers from Novell and other vendors. Server 2003 became the de facto platform for centralized file, print, web, ftp, software  time, DHCP, DNS, event, messeging, and terminal services (or shared Remote Desktop services through Terminal Server). Server 2003 could also be purchased with Exchange 2003. Given the integration with Microsoft Outlook and a number of desktop services, Microsoft Exchange. 

The groupware market in 2003 and the years that followed were dominated by Lotus Notes, Novell’s GroupWise, and Exchange. Microsoft was aggressive. They were aggressive on pricing. They released tools to migrate from Notes to Exchange the week before IBM’s conference. We saw some of the same tactics and some of the same faces that were involved in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer anti-trust suit from the 1990s. The competition to Change never recovered and while Microsoft gained ground in the groupware space through the Exchange Server 4.0, 5.0, 5.5, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016 eras, by Exchange 2019 over half the mailboxes formerly hosted by on premises Exchange servers had moved to the cloud and predominantly Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud service. Some still used legacy Unix mail services like sendmail or those hosted by third party providers like GoDaddy with their domain or website - but many of those ran on Exchange as well. The only company to put up true competition in the space has been Google.

Other companies had released tools to manage Windows devices en masse. Companies like Altiris sprang out of needs for companies who did third party software testing to manage the state of Windows computers. Microsoft had a product called Systems Management Server but Altiris built a better product, so Microsoft built an even more robust solution called System Center Configuration Management server, or SCCM for short, and within a few years Altiris lost so much business they were acquired by Symantec. Other similar stories played out across other areas where each product competed with other vendors and sometimes market segments - and usually won.

To a large degree this was because of the tight hold Windows had on the market. Microsoft had taken the desktop metaphor and seemed to own the entire stack by the end of the Windows XP era. However, the technology we used was a couple of years after the product management and product development teams started to build it. And by the end of the XP era, Bill Gates had been gone long enough, and many of the early stars that almost by pure will pushed products through development cycles were as well. Microsoft continued to release new versions of the operating systems but XP became one of the biggest competitors to later operating systems rather than other companies. This reluctance to move to Vista and other technologies was the main reason extended support for XP through to 2012, around 11 years after it was released.