Microsoft Paint Was Never Going to Die, But It Made for Good Headlines

Some stories are simply too good not to be true. It’s an old adage in the media, something reporters knowingly say to each other when something is too fun, too good of a story, and too likely to go viral for anyone to fact check. You don’t want to be that guy, killing everyone’s buzz.

This week gave us an illustrative example of this (albeit one that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of anything). Microsoft, you see, was going to kill Paint. The horror! Several dozen tech blogs reported this as fact: Microsoft hates fun! They’re going to take away your pixel art! The mainstream media gleefully hopped onto the bandwagon.

I’m sure it was a click bonanza. Pity it wasn’t true.

Microsoft listed the iconic program as deprecated as of the (terribly named) Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, meaning the company would not be pouring further resources into maintaining it. It would, for the record, still be there, deep in the bowels of the Windows system, like so many features that haven’t been useful since Bill Clinton’s first term. Hit Start, type “mspaint,” and there it would be, likely until Armageddon or the Year of the Linux Desktop (whichever comes first.)

Yet because it was deprecated, everyone reported that it was marked for death. Never mind that nothing ever seems to die in Windows land: Internet Explorer still comes pre-installed in Windows 10, the old “Windows 7 Backup” works just fine, and you can still use the 30-year old SMB1 file sharing protocol, even though it’s insecure and inefficient.

Microsoft never said they were going to kill mspaint.exe: they were merely going to stop updating it. Which to me, a Paint fan, is perfect: Paint is charming precisely because it is outdated. Anything you do to bring it up to date only makes Paint less obsolete, and as such less charming.

Opening the program in 2002, when it was included with Windows XP, was like traveling back in time to the mid-90s. Microsoft added the Ribbon™ at some point, but for the most part Paint is still the same crappy program fifteen years later.

Which is awesome! The entire charm of Paint is built on its obsolescence. You like Paint pictures on Twitter and Reddit because they look bad, because making things in Paint in an age when everyone has access to better editing tools is just innately hilarious.

Which is why this whole story bums me out. We should be celebrating Microsoft’s decision to leave well enough alone, not begging them to continue “updating” what was already perfect.

But the stories were printed, the tweets spread far, and Microsoft cleverly decided to not even try to correct the record, instead spinning it their own way by announcing Paint would live on in the Windows Store. It’s a pretty naked attempt to exploit the whole narrative in order to bring attention to Windows Store, which users have been happily ignoring since 2012. Tech blogs everywhere obediently reported that they’d done it, their revolt worked, mspaint is saved, and the mainstream media once again followed suite.

I’m sure the “new” version of paint will use the Metro/Modern/Universal/WindowsStore/WhateverNewNameTheyHaveThisWeek design Microsoft keeps unsuccessfully trying to replace actual desktop applications with. I’m also sure that when it’s released you’ll see lots of blog posts about how Microsoft “saved” Paint, linking the otherwise unloved and unused Store.

To which all I can say is “well played, Microsoft.”

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.