Beijing pressures Microsoft to extend support for Windows XP

James Sanders discusses Beijing's request to extend support for Windows XP in China. He also examines some reasons why China has experienced a slow adoption of Windows 8.

Windows 98 support for Beijing
Windows XP will reach End of Life next April, but the Chinese government wants an extension instead of migrating to Windows 8.

With the upcoming end of extended support for Windows XP on April 8th, 2014, most IT shops are working to upgrade systems still running the now 12-year-old operating system, if they haven't already. Among the most notable groups still holding onto Windows XP is the government of the People's Republic of China. According to StatCounter, Windows XP remains in use on 50.48% of computers in China as of December 2013, down from 63.68% one year ago.

These aren't all pirated copies of Windows, either. China's National Copyright Bureau has performed investigations of computers in central and provincial government offices, and last year, the Chinese government spent $160 million (USD) on software licenses to ensure that government computers were running properly sourced, licensed software. After such an investment, appetites for purchasing new licenses for Windows are slim. This has led to a request from Beijing to extend support for Windows XP in China.

Of course, this wouldn't be a difficult thing for Microsoft to do, as paid private support for Windows XP will continue to be offered by Redmond at a hefty fee that increases every year. Of note, extended support for Windows XP Embedded, which shares a great deal of code with "standard" Windows XP, does not end until January 12, 2016.

In addition, Beijing is requesting Microsoft resume sales of low-cost versions of Windows 7 (presumably Windows 7 Starter and/or Home Basic) that were discontinued at the launch of Windows 8. Although there was an announcement of a presumably lower-cost "Windows 8 for China" by Microsoft's Corporate Vice President Steve Guggenheimer, this product appears to have been scuttled.

The adoption rate of Windows 8 in China is well below the already poor figures seen worldwide. At present, the global combined market share of Windows 8 and 8.1 is 9.30%, according to NetMarketShare. In China, the combined market share of Windows 8 and 8.1 is 3.48%. The adoption rate of Windows 7 in China far outpaces the growth of Windows 8: Over the last 12 months, use of Windows 7 jumped from 31.2% to 40.24%.

The slow adoption of Windows 8 in China is a complex problem, parts of which are unique to China. Here are three reasons why:

1: Microsoft won't sell Windows 8 in stores

Microsoft has declined to manufacture and sell Windows 8 media and boxes for Chinese retailers. Instead, Windows 8 is only available through sales of new devices through OEMs and online through software downloads. This is an apparent attempt to combat software piracy by making Windows 8 more difficult to locate and purchase. Consequently, all boxed versions of Windows 8 in China are either illegitimate or imported.

2: Nobody knows how to market Windows 8

The problem isn't exactly specific to China, as Microsoft's marketing stateside is fraught with bizarre commercials, but its marketing efforts in China are completely beyond the comprehension of the public. For example, take a look at the following Windows 8 videos:

This isn't a slight against the intelligence of the Chinese, because the commercials aren't in any particular language at all. In comparison, Microsoft's advertisements in India aren't appreciably better, but the background music features vocals in an actual language.

Historically, this has been a long-standing issue at Microsoft, dating back to its attempts to sell Windows Vista by having Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates not talk about the product at all.

In fairness, the introduction of Windows 8.1 has brought a new round of Windows 8 advertisements to the United States, which actually highlight benefits of the product.

3: Don't call it "Metro"

Microsoft squandered an opportunity to correct the complaints regarding Metro in the Windows 8.1 update — instead, it continues to force users to boot to Metro. The reintroduction of the Start button is simply cosmetic, because it doesn't serve the purpose that it served in previous versions of Windows. Instead, the great improvement in Windows 8 is the ability to pin up to four Metro apps in one screen, a feature first introduced in Windows 1.01. With the forced tiling, garish color scheme, and odd UI decisions, Windows 8 is far more like Windows 1 than any of the intermediate versions, as pointed out by The Verge.

Final thoughts

Microsoft continues to fight the problem it's had for quite some time — namely, its biggest competitor is its own back catalogue. How would you, as an IT decision maker, advise on how to proceed? Let us know in the comments section below. 


James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware. James is currently a student at Wichita State University in Kansas.

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