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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: You can keep using XP for another year, but do you really want to?

While clinging to the 11-year-old OS after Microsoft issues its last security patch in April is defensible, the security risks are going to keep mounting

February 18, 2014 10:50 AM ET

Computerworld - On April 8, Microsoft will pull the plug on Windows XP SP3 when it issues the final security patch for the 11-year-old operating system. So it's high time to switch to Windows 7, right?

Probably. But it's still going to be possible to hang on to XP for another year or so, and given the number of users still clinging to it, I'd guess a significant chunk will do so. But is that wise? Not really. Security risks are just going to keep mounting.

About those numbers: Net Applications states that in December, XP was still running on 29% of all desktop and laptop PCs. By some counts, XP still accounts for 32% of all Windows systems. That's a heck of a lot of users.

One reason users haven't switched is that Windows 8.x is garbage. There are others. One is that XP machines simply still do their job. I'm a big believer in the maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and many XP users believe that too.

Of course, Microsoft wants you to move to a newer version of Windows. If it can't talk you into Windows 8.x, it'll be OK with you moving to Windows 7. To help this process along, it's trying to scare you into moving by publicizing claims such as the one that XP-specific malware is going to jump by two-thirds. As for the OEMs, they'd like you to abandon XP too, but they'd be just as happy to see you shifting to Android PC or Chromebooks. They're not proud; they just want to sell new units.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft hasn't been quite so loud about what it's doing to make XP viable for another year. But it's going to continue to support its Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) on XP until July 14, 2015. The company will also be offering antivirus signatures for Security Essentials until mid-July 2015.

Meanwhile, most antivirus companies are going to continue to support XP for years to come. The top three Windows antivirus companies, by AV-Test's count, Kaspersky, BitDefender and Avira, have pledged to support consumers until 2018, January 2016 and April 2015, respectively.

It's true that Microsoft has already given up supporting its latest software on XP, but many other companies haven't. For example, while Internet Explorer 8 is the most recent Web browser Microsoft will give you for XP, Google will be supporting the newest versions of Chrome on XP until at least April 2015. Indeed, as far as I've been able to tell, no major company currently producing XP software plans on ending support for its programs anytime soon.



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