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Windows XP: A look back

Windows XP: A look back
We look at the technology that was available when Windows XP first launched 13 years ago

After 13 years of loyal service to home, business and education users around the world, Windows XP came to the end of its support life on April 8th. Microsoft have said that the world has changed, and that new software suites and new devices can address today's ways of working, and also help protect against some of today's threats.

To mark this occasion I thought I would look at how far technology has moved on since XP entered the world in 2001. It's fair to say that the tech world has changed considerably, although with reports that XP is still installed on nearly 28% of devices connected to the Internet*, you could argue it still has some way to go (*source: www.netmarketshare.com). Oh, and if this is you then I'd suggest reading Tobi's blog post about how to upgrade. 

Let's take a trip down memory lane and look at both the computers XP would have launched on, and the gadgets and gizmos that were popular at the time.

Desktop PCs

With tablets and flat screens still practically unseen, the desktop PC was the device of choice in 2001.

According to Computer Shopper, a "mid-range desktop PC" was a Compaq Presario 5000. Which looked a little like this:

Compaq Presario 5000

Image credit: Erickarroqui, Creative Commons

It featured an AMD Duron Processor (900MHz), 128 MB of RAM (about 31 times less than today), a 40GB hard drive (less than a single Blu-ray disc!), a 56K modem and a 17 inch monitor. Although in the Presario's favour, you don't see many desktop computers nowadays with built-in speakers! Back in October 2001, this could be yours for "just" £923.

In many ways, it's hard to compare things like processors and graphics on a like-for-like basis. There have been so many innovations in the intervening 13 years that even the method of measuring these things has changed. The Presario just met the system requirements for Office 2003, but it was so close that you probably wouldn't have wanted to open more than one program at a time.

Laptops

Looking at a Dell advert aimed at small businesses in 2001, a typical laptop for the SME user would be the Inspiron 2500 (Inspiron later became a home range). It offered a large 12.1 inch display, an Intel Celeron 900Mhz processor, 128MB RAM, a 10GB hard drive, 24x CD-ROM (no luxury of a writer or DVD) and Windows XP Home. This beauty would set you back £620.

Dell Inspiron

Image credit: Danielm, Creative Commons

Should you want performance however, the Inspiron 8100 would be your laptop of choice, with a Pentium III processor, 128GB, 20GB HDD, 15" screen, 32MB graphics and an 8 cell battery. This would set you back a modest £1351, and it could genuinely be described as a heavyweight, at 3.6 kilos, without the charger.

In 2001, 39% of people claimed to have internet access at home. Whilst all the talk at the moment is around "superfast" internet connectivity, 84% of users 13 years ago were connecting via dial-up connections, often paying local call rates. This resulted in engaged home phone lines, and the universally frustrating experience of someone picking up the phone just as the website you wanted to view had loaded, cutting the connection.

But just how fast was our internet connectivity, compared to now? Concrete stats are hard to come by, as sites like speedtest.net weren't around 13 years ago. What we do know, however, is that the absolute maximum speed on a modem at the time was 56 Kbps or 0.05 Mbps. Nowadays, we're talking about home broadband of up to 100Mbps. The average internet speed in the UK today, according to Ofcom, is 14.7Mbps.

What's interesting though, is that despite connectivity being so much slower, 13 years ago 91% of users were either fairly satisfied or very satisfied with the service they received from their internet service provider. However, this could be explained by the significant changes in how we use the internet and what we use it for. In 2001 there was no YouTube, iPlayer, Facebook, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Skype, Dropbox...the list goes on.

Mobile phones

This was always going to be one of the most significant changes over the past 13 years. Mobile phones certainly weren't as common then as they are today. In 2001 just over half of UK adults owned a mobile phone, versus 94% now.
How we used phones was different too, and in 2001 ‘smartphones' were an unknown concept.

Let's have a look at what was on offer:
Nokia, the established market leader, were releasing devices such as the 5510 (who needs touchscreen with a full qwerty keyboard?) which boasted a whole 64 MB of memory for music (that's 256 times less than today's iPod!)

Nokia 5510

Image credit: Manorainjan Holzapfel, Creative Commons

If 64MB couldn't contain your broad music tastes, the Nokia 8310 boasted FM radio, along with infrared and a "full calendar". It would also set you back £400, about the cost of the entry level iPhone 5C. In the business arena, there were few pointers towards what technology would become today, with one notable exception...the Nokia 9210.

Nokia 9210

Image credit: Creative Commons

The 9210 had a colour screen, SMS/fax (yes, mobile fax) and email. You could also browse the internet, but in the days before Wi-Fi or 3G this was more frustrating than functional. It had a word processor, a spreadsheet programme and a presentation viewer. For the first time, it allowed third-party apps to be installed (although very few existed). Its maximum storage was 32MB. I owned one for a time, and my main recollection was it jabbing me in the ribs when I at down. It wasn't exactly mobile by today's standards.

It wasn't all bad. I do remember phones of that era being nigh on indestructible and lasting for days on a single charge. But then, I suppose a game of Snake is not as demanding, or as useful, as full Exchange sync.

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