Windows XP: The end is nigh

The end-of-support deadline for Windows XP, heavily publicized since 2007, is upon us, and hundreds of millions of PCs still run the OS

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This containment strategy should significantly reduce security risks, according to most experts.

It's hard to predict the extent and intensity of the fallout. "A year from now, we'll either have seen a massive set of attacks after support ended, or it all may end being a yawner because nothing happened," Gillen said.

However, the security trend for Windows XP isn't encouraging. In February, security firm Secunia reported that Windows XP security flaws doubled to 99 from 2012 to 2013.

What's clear is that any business with one or more critical applications that required special security precautions had time to either move off of Windows XP or take precautionary measures, Gillen said.

Should Microsoft be doing more?

Whether fairly or unfairly, Microsoft will find itself pelted with negative publicity if in the coming six months or a year malicious hackers ravage the large community of home and work Windows XP users.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the hacking community has been reserving exploits until after support ends," Forrester's Johnson said. Microsoft itself has predicted that crafty hackers will try to parse out future Windows patches and updates, attempting to identify equivalent vulnerabilities in XP.

It's clear the threat against Windows XP machines will grow with each passing day after the deadline. "This isn't Y2K, where that day passed and everything was fine," Silver said. "Here the risk increases as hackers have more and more time to discover vulnerabilities."

Asked about this, Microsoft's Murphy said the company cares about the potential impact to Windows XP customers, which is why it has been aggressively creating awareness about the deadline for years. "We're concerned and we want our customers to be safe," he said.

The backlash from that worst-case scenario could lead individual customers, and small and medium-size businesses in particular, to become disgruntled with Microsoft and seek non-Windows options, such as desktop Linux alternatives, the increasingly popular Chromebooks that run Google's Chrome OS, Apple's Mac OS laptops or desktops, or Android tablets and iPads.

So should Microsoft adopt drastic measures to accelerate the migration off of Windows XP? The company has tried a few tricks, including offering credit at its stores for users trading in XP PCs and buying new ones with Windows 8.1. How about going further and giving away Windows 7 to users who don't want to buy a new PC but rather upgrade their current one?

Microsoft could take such steps, but ultimately, there is no stopgap measure it could offer, short of extending full-fledged support for another year, that would entirely satisfy and be useful for Windows XP holdouts, Silver said, adding that the best way for companies to protect themselves is simply to upgrade from Windows XP.

And at this point, it's hard to criticize Microsoft for sticking to a deadline that it announced in 2007 and has been diligently reminding people about since then, according to Gillen. "If you don't have plans to move at this point, it's your own fault," he said. "I find it difficult to have sympathy for companies that haven't done anything yet."

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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