After far more than a decade, the sun is finally setting on Windows XP as we approach its End of Life. It has been a long and exciting ride for the operating system, but this has undeniably been a long time in coming. When you consider the possible financial and logistical expense of maintaining such an old operating system, particularly in an enterprise environment, not to mention the tremendous amount of effort needed on not only the development end but also the support and end-user sides of the equation simply to keep the operating system running well and properly patched against the various exploits that have been discovered over the past 13 years, the decision should, of course, be a no brainer.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to reason that Windows XP was surpassed by numerous new iterations of Windows, and very few machines would be running Windows XP at this point. We’ve seen Windows Vista. Windows 7 came on strong in following Windows Vista, and even if you consider Windows 8 and the later Windows 8.1 dubious successors to the Windows line, there have been numerous avenues for upgrade. Further, those machines that initially came with Windows XP installed are, themselves, rather aged at this point.
The unfortunate reality is that a significant number of machines are indeed still running Windows XP, and like that old car you bought in high school, many of them actually seem quite happy to continue plodding along until they turn to dust. Recent surveys have suggested there are a tremendous number of users, and even quite a few people within the information technology field, who are unaware of the upcoming Windows XP end of life. Of those who are aware of the impending retirement, updates and upgrades frequently seem to be a hot debate. From an anti-malware support standpoint, we have even seen quite a few users who are using older versions of Windows XP that are not patched to the latest Windows XP Service Packs, creating an environment that is significantly easier to infect and harder to clean . When it comes to matters of updates and upgrades, the familiar old adage always rears its ugly head. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
In any other situation, that argument can legitimately hold some weight, but a situation such as this when we face a product’s end of life is where that logic quickly falls apart.
The good news is that any user who wishes to continue using Windows XP is free to do so. Windows XP will continue to function. Microsoft is maintaining its activation infrastructure for Windows XP, which will allow for “new” installations of Windows XP. Microsoft is also ensuring existing updates are available for users who may have older.
The bad news is that the very nature of end of life means Microsoft has no intention of continued updates and patches for Windows XP, and this makes continuing to use Windows XP far more costly than people might realize.
The first consideration a user should give to the decision to continue using Windows XP is that an ever growing number of Microsoft and third-party software packages will state they are not officially supported on a Windows XP machine. Basically, if Microsoft is no longer supporting the operating system, quite a few software companies will follow suit, and you will find greater numbers of technical support staff unable and unwilling to assist with software and hardware issues.
From a malware standpoint, there is a larger issue to consider. While Microsoft will no longer support or update Windows XP, hackers and malware engineers will be eagerly looking at Windows XP as a far more appealing target than it ever has been. We’ve historically seen outdated and end of life products meet this disappointing end time and time again.
Over the next few years, Windows XP will become an increasingly dangerous platform. Malware that will run on Windows 7 will likely also run on Windows XP, although while Windows 7 will get the privileges of updates to cover newly discovered exploits and security holes, Windows XP will be left vulnerable.
For those people unsure of whether they are running Windows XP, Microsoft has put together a quick little web site to assist in making the determination and provide further information on the Windows XP end of life. Users intent on sticking with Windows XP will have some work ahead of them, and strict security and good habits will now be more critical than ever. Machines running unpatched versions of Windows XP should be updated with the latest service packs and updates as soon as possible. Your anti-malware software of choice should also continue to be as conscientiously updated as always.