If there is one thing that Microsoft has an aptitude for, it’s pomp. Windows 95 launched to a soundtrack scored by none other than The Rolling Stones and Weezer. For Vista, Redmond made sure that those who turned up to the launch party were given enough worthless tat to fill a landfill. However, nothing quite topped the vainglorious fanfare of the launch of XP, which saw New York turned into a literal, honest-to-god fairground, which was scored with a performance by Geordie crooner, Sting.
Few technology products are quite as well loved as Windows XP was. In the first three years of its existence, it shifted around 400 million copies. It took ten years and three iterations of the Microsoft Windows operating system for it to be knocked off from the top spot, and even to this day it has a firm toe-hold in most businesses.
Yet, all good things come to an end, and Windows XP is no different. In April of 2014, Microsoft will stop offering security and performance updates for its elderly operating system. After almost thirteen years, this should come as a surprise to nobody. However, there are hundreds of millions of people who are still using an outdated Windows XP for their computing needs. What does this mean for them?
Consequences For Consumers
As a consumer, your biggest concern is likely whether your computer will continue to operate as normal as Windows XP transitions from a product that is supported by Microsoft to one that isn’t. The answer to this is an unambiguous ‘yes’. You’ll be able to carry on as normal, although you might notice that some your third party applications will stop getting updates. An example of this is Google: the company has said they will discontinue support for Windows XP by 2015, including updates for their flagship web browser, Chrome.
Ultimately, it’s entirely possible for you to continue using Windows XP for your general purpose computing needs, however you will almost certainly find yourself left behind when it comes to the software available to you. You’ll also have to contend with a number of more persistent security threats, as a result of no longer receiving security patches.
Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP happen to have a lot in common. They all share a lineage that stretches back to the 90s, with Windows NT. For better or for worse, each version of Windows has built upon earlier ones.
Another unifying attribute of each version of Windows is that they are all astonishingly big, comprising of billions of lines of code reflecting millions of hours of man work. As a result, it’s absolutely impossible to ensure that each copy of Microsoft Windows is 100% secure. New vulnerabilities are being discovered daily.
It’s quite certain that after April, security researchers will find vulnerabilities in newer versions of Windows that will also be applicable to Windows XP. Whilst Microsoft will almost certainly provide security updates for supported versions of Windows, users of Windows XP will be completely unprotected.
The Cost Of Doing Business
Businesses have had a hard time moving from Windows XP in recent years. The reasons for this are huge, including bespoke applications that only play nice with Redmond’s geriatric operating system and the immediate cost of upgrading thousands of users to a newer version of Windows, which may or may not include replacing hardware.
Windows XP is still almost ubiquitous in organizations which have to adhere to strict privacy and security standards, including the banking, finance, security and healthcare industry. Britain’s primary healthcare provider, the NHS, has XP running on almost 85% of all boxes. In addition, Windows XP is seen as the go-to operating system for ATMs, with almost 75% of all ATM machines in the US running Microsoft’s relic of an operating system.
Small deployments in the financial services industry will have no choice but to upgrade. Large companies who are determined to cling onto XP no matter the cost, however, have the ability to enroll in Microsoft’s ‘Custom Support’ packages, which will provide access to software and security updates. This of course isn’t cheap. Support is charged per computer basis, with the cost increasing each year for the first three years, before being discontinued entirely. It’s important to stress that this option is only available to large companies, who have huge amounts of computers running Windows XP. Think of the likes of IBM, and you’re close.
Finally, companies still using Windows XP can expect to run into all sorts of problems when it comes to complying to security standards. What does that mean? So, let’s think about when you use your credit card.
You probably know that any site that accepts credit cards has to have SSL encryption. You also might know that they are routinely subjected to security testing, to ensure the website itself is free of security vulnerabilities. Well, this is part of a larger package called PCI-DSS, which sets up a bunch of prescriptive rules that companies have to adhere to. Using an operating system that no longer receives security updates is a big no-no.
Should a non-compliant company find themselves the victim of a security breach, they can be guaranteed of a hefty fine by the Payment Card Industry.
However you look at it, Microsoft’s decision to no longer support XP has ensured that companies are guaranteed to incur significant costs; be they the cost of purchasing custom support; the cost of fines incurred from industry bodies; or just the cost of upgrading to the latest-and-greatest version of Microsoft Windows. This can never be good for consumers, who can see costs passed on to themselves.
Despite Microsoft’s eagerness to wash their hands of Windows XP, it remains wildly popular. Will you be ditching it before April? If not, why not? Let me know in the comments below.