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Breaking Up With XP Is Hard To Do

For many businesses (and home users), ending the long love affair with XP is hard, yet necessary for many reasons. Microsoft has recently claimed that there are over 1.3 billion active users of Windows worldwide, making this the most widespread and successful technology platform on earth. Between 350 million and 400 million new PCs are sold every year, and roughly 90 percent of those come with a Windows license of some kind. And although most of those PCs, of course, ship with Windows 7, Microsoft’s enterprise customers retain downgrade rights. And some, believe it or not, are still installing XP.

OS Usage of NRC Client Computers (%)

XP Win7 Vista
53% 43% 4%

From a usage share perspective, XP is still roughly neck-and-neck with Windows 7. (Some polls even place XP decidedly ahead in select markets.) This is bad for a number of reasons. From Microsoft’s perspective, it hampers the company’s ability to push more modern platforms and technologies, and this is surely a concern for the next OS release, Windows 8, which will be the most ambitious change to the Windows OS since 95. For users, this means that app and web developers must target the least-common denominator, with the result being that most applications and websites aren’t as technologically advanced as they could be.

Business users stick with XP for a few reasons, but the big one is compatibility with legacy software and hardware. And although Microsoft has made huge strides in application compatibility in Windows 7 (and Vista), it’s done little in the way of website compatibility, choosing instead to direct customers to expensive and complex virtualization solutions to meet this need. And it’s been pushing an initiative to kill off both XP and Internet Explorer (IE) 6, the browser that ships with XP, because it’s insecure, out of date, and doesn’t adhere to modern web standards.

Microsoft discontinued mainstream support for XP two years ago. Thus, you no longer receive automatic updates and fixes. Support for Service Pack (SP) 2 ended in July 2010, and extended support for SP3 will end in 2014. At that point, XP will be even more vulnerable to malicious software (viruses, Trojans, worms, etc.,) than it already is. And that’s saying a lot. There’s already a huge amount of malware designed to penetrate XP systems and steal information. This problem will get worse as XP ages. Windows 7, on the other hand, was designed to provide much better security against malicious attacks. And Windows 8 (currently in developer preview) will be better still at protecting users.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for security firm F-Secure, has a plea to make: “Do a good deed today. Uninstall an XP.” “Ten years is an eternity in this business,” Hypponen added. “So it’s no wonder XP’s security architecture is not up to date.” Given the operating system’s persistently high market share, however, “The attackers have never had it so good. The easiest target is also the most common target.”

Life with Windows XP has been good. But it’s time to move on.

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