Microsoft seeds doubt by erasing XP line in the sand

Move may end up encouraging some customers to stick with XP even longer

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Some customers still running Windows XP may view Microsoft's patching decision as a pass to continue running the 13-year-old operating system which, as Microsoft has repeatedly hammered home, lacks many of the advanced security and anti-exploit features and technologies in newer editions, including Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

Even further in the future, customers running Windows 7 may recall this XP patch and conclude that Microsoft is not serious about retiring that OS when its January 2020 support deadline nears.

"There is now a difference between what Microsoft thinks they mean and what [customers] think they mean," said Miller. "Everyone is playing chicken. Which means [years from now] people may say, 'I can keep running Windows 7.'"

Microsoft was in a "lose-lose" situation with XP, according to Silver, because of the operating system's large user base. At the end of April, XP powered about 26% of the world's personal computers, analytics company Net Applications revealed last week.

Although Microsoft didn't mention XP's stubborn resistance to retirement, and the vast numbers of PCs that still run the OS, the decision was clearly based on its continued prominence. Which makes one wonder, analysts said, what Microsoft may do in the weeks and months to come.

"I think Microsoft thought hard about this one. But if the same thing happened in a year, you wouldn't see it. So that [patch last week] may have been the real line," contended Silver.

"Six months from now, an XP vulnerability may get the same [media] coverage," said Pescatore. "But then Microsoft has a much stronger story. They might say, 'XP's dropped in half since April, so we're sticking to the plan.'"

Computerworld's current projection -- based on a 12-month average of Net Applications' data -- is that XP will still account for 19% of all personal computer operating systems at the end of the year.

"This was the right thing to do," argued Silver. "Microsoft's move was defensible." But what about next time? Will there even be a next time? "Caveat emptor," said Silver, illustrating the new uncertainty about the company's support policy.

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.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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