Microsoft ends support for Windows XP more than 12 years after its launch despite 25 percent of enterprises still running the platform
Microsoft has ended support for Windows XP, more than 12 years after the world’s most successful operating system was first released, and two years later than Redmond orginally planned to pull the plug.
The final Patch Tuesday updates for Windows XP fix four flaws, two of which are critical. One affects all versions of Internet Explorer, while another fixes a rich text format (RTF) vulnerability in Microsoft Word, which impacts all versions of Office.
Microsoft has spent the last few years doing everything it can to move consumers and businesses off the aging platform, which is still used by an estimated quarter of all enterprises.
A ray of light
Development of Windows XP started in the late 1990s and was released in 2001 as an operating system built on the Windows NT kernel intended for both businesses and consumers. Its launch was greeted by a huge $1 billion marketing campaign funded with the help of Intel and a number of PC manufacturers, with Madonna providing the soundtrack for one of the TV adverts.
‘XP’ stood for ‘experience’ and the software came with new media applications, CD burning, fast user switching, an early version of Windows Firewall, new administration tools and a brand new user interface.
When it was first released, the Internet was not as widely used as it is today, at least on home computers, but XP came bundled with Windows Messenger, Internet Explorer 6, Outlook Express 6 and MSN explorer.
Three major service packs were released during the operating system’s lifetime, most notably Service Pack 2, which introduced improved Wi-Fi support, a pop up blocker, Bluetooth and Windows Security Centre in 2004.
The security, stability and efficiency of Windows XP made it immediately popular with businesses, who stuck with the platform even after the release of its disappointing successor, Windows Vista, and it has proved hard to encourage organisations migrate to newer versions of the platform. Windows 7 was much better received than Vista, but it wasn’t until August 2012 that XP lost its crown as the world’s most widely used operating system.
Mainstream support for XP ended in 2009, but Microsoft has offered extended support until now, while at the same time pushing users to move to a newer version – preferably Windows 8, which has had a lukewarm reception since its introduction in late 2012.
Microsoft’s most recent attempt to get users to upgrade was the release of a free data migration tool and a website called amirunningxp.com, which tells you what version of the operating system you are running.
However despite its best efforts, many companies are refusing to budge. Microsoft has agreed to provide a basic level of cyber security support until July 2015, such as malware signatures for Microsoft Security Essentials, System Center Endpoint Protection, Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection and Windows Intune, while a number of Chinese IT firms have also pledged to support XP after the cut-off date.
The British government has just signed a 12-month support contract with Microsoft which covers Windows XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 as an emergency measure. This means that an estimated 200,000 government computers in public sector organisations will be covered for the next year.
There has been much hysteria over the fact that many of the country’s ATMs are running the platform, but these use an embedded version of XP, which will be distributed until 2016 and supported long after that.
Holding onto XP
But what about those who can’t get support anymore? Michael Silver, vice president and analyst at Gartner, says they should get rid of them, but if businesses are unable to completely rid themselves of their beloved XP machines, they should reduce user rights so that only trusted applications can be used and that email and web browsing is reduced to a minimum.
Critical applications and users should be moved to server-based computing, but where this can’t be done because of cost, licensing or capacity issues, the applications should be installed for server access in case of an emergency.
“While most applications now support Windows 7, it’s possible an organization has very old applications or versions that don’t. Application testing is of paramount concern. Organisations need to decide whether to deploy Windows 7 or Windows 8,” says Silver.
“A migration to Windows 7 will likely be faster, but one to Windows 8 will have more longevity – Windows 7 support ends in January 2020, less than 6 years away, and organizations that are so late on Windows XP should not get into the same situation with end of Windows 7 support. For many, the best alternative would be to deploy Windows 7 for the most critical users and applications now and working to be able to start deploying Windows 8 starting early in 2015.”
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