With the beta release of Internet Explorer 9, though, XP users are finally seeing this in terms that might be real enough to notice. If you're on XP, Microsoft isn't giving you IE9, and at a critical time as the internet shifts from HTML4 and CSS2 to HTML5 and CSS3, enabling all manner of content delivery which will be the internet for most people. If your webmail or social network requires HTML5 features, IE8 will be dead to you.
Microsoft assumes this leaves one path going forward - everyone pay up and get your Windows 7 so you can have "the internet" back. What I think they fail to realize is that the money-spending public is not the computer neophyte crowd that were in the critical age bracket back when the blue "e" was mistaken for the symbol of the internet. While most people use Internet Explorer when visiting Microsoft's website (because IE used to be the only one that worked there due to intentionally bad site design), the statistics on other websites are much different. W3C, for example, shows a steady decline in IE usage, down to 30.7% this month, with Firefox clearly leading and Chrome gaining ground fast.
So is it more likely that someone will pay for a whole new operating system, which likely requires a new computer, re-installation or repurchase of various software, setting up new profiles and reconfiguring old accounts? Or will those who feel XP "still works fine" for them, just stop using Internet Explorer and switch to one of the browsers that already supports the new standards better than what IE9 is expected to do when it finally comes out at some vague point in the future?
Even I still have an XP machine at home that I use regularly. It's days are numbered (possibly in single digits...), but I still use it. And I only open Ineternet Explorer when testing compatibility. Internet Explorer 8 is already a dead browser for me on a personal level. If a programmer like me doesn't see the dire need to upgrade to 9, and therefore Windows 7, why does Microsoft think this is going to work?
My suspicion is that this will not be the death knell of the Internet Explorer empire, but the capitol has at least moved to CSStantinople while the "barbarians" gather siege weapons in their WebKit. Just as the Romans before them, the empire fell from within, the "barbarians" were merely the power that rose up in their place.