Those of us who work in the technology field have long been aware that Windows XP reaches the ‘End of Support’ on April 8th, 2014. This weekend, our least technology-oriented friends and relatives are likely to learn it as well if they haven’t already. Most users running Windows XP Home or Professional Editions with Automatic Updates enabled will begin seeing the pop-up message shown at the top of this post. (So far, it appears that corporate users who get their updates from an internal server running Windows Server Update Services, or WSUS, will not receive the update that displays this warning.) In addition, anyone unsure of whether they’re running Windows XP can simply visit amirunningxp.com for a quick answer.
Microsoft Windows XP was officially released on August 24, 2001, or twelve years and six months ago. As a desktop platform, it’s had an incredibly long run, and a lot has happened since. After XP, Microsoft released Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 and 8.1, and Apple has introduced eight full versions of Mac OS X, labeled 10.2 through 10.9. But Windows XP just kept on plugging along. XP is good enough, and few saw a compelling reason to upgrade, often doing so only when replacing a PC with one that happened to ship with a newer version of Windows.
In my day job at a medical practice, 9.14% of the people who visited our web sites and patient portal in the past month are still running Windows XP. It’s second in popularity only to Windows 7, and roughly tied with Apple’s iOS if you aggregate versions 7.0.4 and the just-released 7.0.6 together. Even at The Snnyc Blog, whose audience skews technical, 3.37% of readers in the past month have been running Windows XP.
What Happens Next
Microsoft releases security updates on the second Tuesday of every month, commonly referred to as Patch Tuesday. This coming Tuesday, March 11th, Microsoft plans to push out five updates for XP, two of which cover critical flaws. Since April 8th is also a Patch Tuesday, it’s possible that there could be one more round of updates for XP, depending on how Microsoft chooses to interpret the deadline. After XP support is discontinued, there will be no more security patches for newly-discovered vulnerabilities. When Microsoft releases updates for more recent versions of Windows on May 13th, the race is on. We can expect unscrupulous hackers, security vendors and government agencies alike to reverse-engineer May’s updates and see whether XP is vulnerable to them. From there, it’s only a matter of time until exploits are created, made available for sale, and released into the wild. Anyone still using Windows XP on a computer connected the Internet at that point is living dangerously from a technical perspective. Anyone still conducting business from a Windows XP machine may considered negligent, ethically, if not legally.
What To Do At Home?
If you’re currently running Windows XP on an older machine at home and can afford a new computer, now may be a great time to go out and buy one. Jumping from XP to the current Windows 8.1 will take some getting used to, but Windows 8.1 can run many – though unfortunately not all – of your current applications. You could also take the opportunity to try Apple’s Mac, which frankly may be more intuitive to use than Windows 8.1. Of course this transition would necessitate all new applications as well.
There are plenty of folks who either can’t afford a new computer, or loathe the idea of throwing away a still-functional machine due only to a software issue. You might consider replacing Windows XP on your machine with one of the free lighter-weight Linux distributions. Bodhi Linux, for instance, claims that it can get by on a, “300+MHz CPU, 128MB RAM, and 2.5GB hard drive space.” Transitioning to Linux will necessitate new applications too, thought there are many free options out there that cover much of what you’re likely using your computer for now. If you aren’t comfortable installing an operating system that you’ve never used before, now is the time to reach out to your social network for assistance. Most extended families have that nephew or niece who is good at this stuff. The one with little suntan; or personality. You can also post questions here in the Comments section.
What To Do At The Office?
The pace of business application development sometimes lags that of consumer-facing applications. For instance, our medical practice uses a digital dictation system that was incompatible with Windows 8 and 8.1 prior to a major release late last year. Given competing priorities for our time, we’re only now planning to install the version that is compatible with Windows 8 / 8.1. For this reason and others, businesses like ours have upgraded only as far as Windows 7 for the moment. If your business has an internal IT team, they are professionally responsible for determining whether it’s cost-effective to upgrade your existing XP systems, or if it’s more appropriate to buy new ones. If you have to rely on outside help and advice, hopefully you’re connected with a consulting organization that you trust to walk through the transition in an appropriate manner.
Windows XP had a great 12.5 year run, creating billions of dollars in value for Microsoft, for third-party developers and for all of us who used XP productively for years. But it’s time to move on. As this post goes live, we’ve got 30 days and a few hours to move off of Windows XP on any systems still running it. Make the most of it. April 8th is one deadline that you don’t want to miss.