No special treatment for China on XP, patches end April 8 in the PRC, too

After users wonder if they'd fallen into Bizarro World, Microsoft clarifies security announcement from its China operation

Microsoft today said it has not changed the end-of-support policy for Windows XP users in China, and will still cut off those customers -- as it will others around the world -- from security patches after April 8.

"Nothing has changed regarding Windows XP support," a Microsoft spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions.

Earlier today, a story by the IDG News Service, which is operated by IDG, the parent company of Computerworld, reported that Microsoft's China arm had announced some Windows XP security-related news.

Essentially, Microsoft said it was working with several Chinese antivirus (AV) vendors to continue security software support of XP, and to provide signature updates -- the "fingerprints" of newly-discovered malware that makes it possible for an AV engine to detect and block those threats -- for that software.

Without new signatures, AV software quickly becomes useless as new Trojan horses, viruses, worms and other malware appear.

"Microsoft China has taken special actions to closely work with leading Chinese internet security and anti-virus companies including Tencent for them to provide security protection for Chinese Windows XP users before they upgrade to [a] modern operating system," Microsoft said in a translation of the Chinese provided by the company.

IDG News' translation was slightly different, but consistent with Microsoft's.

Today's announcement out of China was similar to those made by Microsoft in the U.S., as well as by numerous AV companies, including Avast, BitDefender, Symantec and Trend Micro, in January.

Two months ago, Microsoft backpedaled from earlier decisions and said it would continue to offer its free Security Essentials antivirus program for XP until July 14, 2015, more than a year after it stops patching the aged OS.

A few days later, Microsoft confirmed that it would also continue to distribute its Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) to XP users until the same date. MSRT is not an AV program, but instead a cleanup utility designed to eradicate malware that has already wormed onto a Windows PC.

Around the same time, AV-Test, a German company that regularly evaluates antivirus products for Windows, said it had surveyed the major AV vendors, and found that most were going to continue providing customers with up-to-date signatures long after Microsoft pulls its XP patch plug.

Tencent and Qihoo, China's two largest AV providers, were on AV-Test's list.

However, some Computerworld readers interpreted the IDG News story differently, and came away with the impression that Microsoft was going to patch Windows XP systems in China after April 8.

"Let me see if I have this straight. The home users and businesses in the U.S. and elsewhere who paid for the software are losing support, but the country with the greatest number of pirated copies will continue to receive security updates," wrote someone identified as GriffOne in a comment appended to the story on Computerworld.com. "Apparently in the bizarro world of Microsoft that makes perfect sense."

"So companies in the West can get support if they pay through the nose and those in China get it free," echoed Chipesh. "So security fixes will be created after April but Microsoft will throw 30% of users to the wolves?"

According to the latest statistics from Web analytics company Net Applications, Windows XP powered 29.5% of the world's personal computers in February.

China will not be getting special treatment, Microsoft confirmed today. "There's some confusion this morning based on statements from Microsoft China and third-party AV vendors," the spokeswoman said.

In her email, she again repeated the standard Microsoft pitch to customers still running XP: Upgrade. "Our advice is for customers to move from Windows XP to a modern operating system such as Windows 8.1," she wrote.

That advice has been blasted by customers and experts alike. Today, Microsoft reacted to some of that criticism by saying it would offer a free file transfer tool for Windows XP upgraders later this week. Although the initial version will be in English, other languages, including Chinese, will be supported at a later date.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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