Windows XP may be dead, but it’s not yet gone. Over 27% of computers connected to the Internet still run Windows XP. Here’s exactly what “end of support” means and what will happen to all those Windows XP systems now.
It’ll Continue to Run and Activate
Your computer clearly didn’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight on April 8, 2014. In fact, all those Windows XP computers will keep on chugging along just like they always would. The only noticeable difference you’ll see is a monthly pop-up message that will appear once per month. Even this message can be hidden, and it will only appear on home computers, not centrally managed business computers.
Microsoft will also continue to activate new installations of Windows XP. If you install a copy of Windows XP on a computer, you’ll have to go through the same activation process that checks with Microsoft to ensure you’re using “genuine” software and not a pirated version of Windows. Microsoft has announced they’ll continue to run the activation servers and everything will activate normally.
No Patches Mean More and More Holes
On April 8, Microsoft has stopped creating new security patches for Windows XP. Windows Update will continue to function and you’ll be able to install all the old security patches on new Windows XP systems, but Microsoft will stop working on new security patches. When someone finds a nasty hole in Internet Explorer that allows a web page to compromise you just by visiting it, Microsoft won’t patch it. Microsoft is throwing up their arms, saying they’re done with Windows XP, and moving on.
Windows XP systems will become increasingly vulnerable over time as more holes are discovered and not patched. Smart attackers have likely been holding back attacks until after April 8, waiting to exploit new flaws. If they exploited them earlier, Microsoft would fix them — but, if they exploit them now, they’ll be able to use those attacks against Windows XP systems forever.
XP is similar to Windows Vista, 7, and 8 in many ways, so attackers may even be able to look at Microsoft’s own security patches for modern versions of Windows and reverse-engineer attacks, finding new holes in Windows XP.
Microsoft has extended the support time frame for Windows XP several times — of course, they felt pressure to do so because of how long Windows Vista took to make and how poorly it was received — but they’re drawing a line in the sand and won’t extend it any longer.
Expensive Support For Organizations
Microsoft is still providing some support for Windows XP, but it will cost you. The “custom support” program costs about $200 per PC for the first year and more every year afterwards. Microsoft will fix problems rated “critical” and release patches for these users, while flaws rated “important” will only be patched if these users pay extra. Problems rated “moderate” and “low” aren’t patched at all.
This program is designed for large organizations who are still stuck on XP and can’t yet upgrade. They’re willing to pay big for the support and Microsoft will let them. If you’re a typical home user, these are absolutely not intended for you — you’d be better off buying a new PC than paying hundreds of dollars to Microsoft every year for a few scraps, anyway.
The high prices, harsh limitations, and increasing fees are designed to push organizations towards updating. Microsoft is done supporting Windows XP for free, but they’ll let slow-moving corporations and governments pay an engineering staff to work on it if they really want to. The UK government has paid millions of pounds for this support — they should have moved to upgrade from Windows XP sooner.
Phasing Out Software Support
New software will eventually stop supporting Windows XP. This is already happening — Microsoft’s own Office 2013 doesn’t run on Windows XP, while some already-released PC games don’t support Windows XP.
Windows XP is so widely used that most software will continue to support it unless there’s a good reason not to. Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera will all continue to support Windows XP with the latest versions of their browsers for now, while Microsoft will stop patching Internet Explorer.
Microsoft is obviously in more of a rush to bury Windows XP than anyone else, but their behavior sends a strong signal to other companies that Windows XP is on its way out. Most programs no longer support Windows 98 — Windows XP will one day have the same fate.
Realistically, we’re more likely to see more companies stop “officially supporting” Windows XP. Their programs may work on Windows XP because it’s so similar to modern versions of Windows, but they may not check how well it works or spend time fixing Windows XP-specific bugs.
Where This Leaves You
With the end-of-support date coming up, your Windows XP system will gradually become less secure. Yes, you can and absolutely should use an antivirus program — even Microsoft’s own free Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus will continue supporting Windows XP into 2015 — but an antivirus program is only part of a good security strategy. You should also ensure you’re using up-to-date, patched software- – and Windows XP just can’t be up-to-date, patched software anymore.
If you’re using Windows XP, be sure you’re using as much supported software as possible. Dump Internet Explorer for a secure browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Opera. Stop using Office 2003 and XP and at least use Office 2007 or 2010. You definitely shouldn’t be using Outlook Express either — if you love Outlook, be sure you’re using Outlook 2007 or later.
Keep all your software updated, especially browser plugins like Adobe Flash and Adobe’s PDF Reader. Uninstall Java if you don’t absolutely need it — if you don’t know whether you need it, you probably don’t.
Follow our guide to bullet-proofing that Windows XP system to ensure you’re as secure as possible.
Whatever your reason for still using Windows XP, it’s time to upgrade. If you don’t want to spend a dime, you can always try a Linux distribution like Ubuntu — it’s free and will be supported with security patches for years to come.
Image Credit: Daniel Oines on Flickr