Microsoft's not-so-secret plan to cripple Windows XP

Microsoft isn't particularly pleased about the continuing success of Windows XP, which has more than twice the installed base of Windows Vista and 7 put together. So it's trying its hardest to kill the operating system that won't die, including refusing to issue security patches for XP SP2, putting many XP users at risk. Is that the right way to get people to upgrade?

A report out yesterday from Net Applications shows that Windows XP has more than twice the market share of Windows 7 and Windows Vista combined -- 61.87% for XP in July, compared to 14.46% for Windows 7, and 14.34% for Windows Vista.

Gregg Keizer of Computerworld reports that XP market share is dropping very slowly, and that its current rate of decline, it won't drop under 50% until January 2012. And even then, it will far outpace Windows Vista and Windows 7, and likely have more market share than both combined.

This is bad news for Microsoft, and it's doing everything that it can to kill XP. Microsoft officialy retired XP SP2 from all support on July 13, which means it will no longer issue security patches for that version of XP.

The SP2 patch was a significant upgrade for XP, and included a firewall and big security fixes. Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer of Qualys, a California-based security risk and compliance management provider, went so far as to say:

"Compared to SP2, every other service pack has been just housekeeping."

Windows XP SP3, by contrast, was not a significant upgrade. So many people didn't necessarily upgrade to it, while many people made the jump to SP2.

So if Microsoft can get SP2 users to upgrade to Windows 7, it will have accomplished a great deal. That may well be the motivation for not issuing a security patch for a Windows shortcut bug that puts those users and others at risk. Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security, told Computerworld that "There's a ton of people still running SP2."

Microsoft clearly would like to make life uncomfortable for XP users. In not issuing this patch, that's exactly what the company is doing. True, because XP SP2 is at end of life, Microsoft did not have to issue a patch. But this is a serious security issue, and XP SP2 users are clearly at risk now.

Microsoft has been trying in other ways to get people to upgrade from XP. It has announced that Internet Explorer 9 won't run on XP, and neither will the new version of Windows Live Essentials.

So there's both a carrot and a stick involved in the plan. The carrot: If you upgrade to Windows 7, you get to run IE9 and other software. The stick: If you don't upgrade, you'll be vulnerable to malware.

There's a better way to get people to upgrade: Design an operating system so good that XP users will happily give up XP. I'm hoping that's what the next version of Windows will be.

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