Perspective: Throw Windows XP a lifeline, Microsoft

Security pro makes case that Microsoft rethink April 2014 retirement

The forecast for Microsoft: There's a Windows XP storm coming.

According to statistics from analytics company Net Applications, Windows XP's user share declined by just two-tenths of a percentage point over the last two months, the smallest decrease since Computerworld began recording data for the aged OS in early 2007.

Normally, a Lilliputian decline when user share has been leaking like a rusted bucket of a boat would be time for celebration, but Windows XP's resistance to erosion is different. Support for the 12-year-old operating system is slated to end in less than four months, and Microsoft has been loudly telling customers that they need to move on before it stops providing public security updates.

They aren't. Or better put, they were, but then they quit.

As recently as the two-month span of August-September, Windows XP's user share plummeted by 15%, or more than six percentage points, prompting Computerworld to prematurely claim that the OS was in a "nose-dive".

Wrong. Instead, users pulled up on the control yoke and leveled off: Windows XP's decline slipped just two-tenths of a point in October, then stabilized in November. At the end of the latter, XP powered 31.2% of all personal computers used to browse the Internet and 34% of all those running Windows.

While overly-optimistic projections made at the end of September showed that Windows XP would have contracted to a significant-but-perhaps-manageable 21% in April 2014, the same forecast two months later pegged the remaining user share at more than 27%. So unless Windows XP restarts a descent, it's inevitable that a quarter of all personal computers will be running Windows XP come April.

The number has real-world ramifications, as Microsoft has repeatedly underscored this year. Absent security updates, Windows XP will be substantially more vulnerable to malware attacks, perhaps -- if Microsoft's own estimate is on target -- as much as 66% more likely to be infected after April 2014.

If a major chunk of the world's PCs remains tied to XP, as seems certain, Microsoft will face an unenviable choice: Stick to plan and put millions of customers at risk from malware infection, or backtrack from long-standing policies and proclamations. In either case, it will face a public relations backlash, whether from customers who complain they've been forsaken or those angry at Microsoft for pushing them to upgrade when, in the end, they didn't need to.

Microsoft is determined to retire XP, even though it previously extended that deadline by more than two years beyond the usual decade. It has given absolutely no hint -- zero, zilch, nada, nichts -- that it will rethink that schedule. Even analysts who once believed Microsoft's hand could be forced by events have retreated as the company has failed to allude to a last-minute lifeline.

But one security expert has made the case that Microsoft should reconsider, and is, in fact, honor-bound to lend a helping hand.

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