Are you prepared for the end of Microsoft support for Windows XP next month?
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In less than a month, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP, still the second most widely used PC operating system in the world. The company announced the OS's April 8 termination date years ago, but with as many as 500 million XP systems still active last month, not everyone is going to make a move in time.
XP users have vocally protested Microsoft's abandonment of such a popular product. Objections include upgrade costs, application compatibility concerns, and whether customers should be effectively forced to leave a product that they are happy with. Despite Microsoft's increased efforts, which now include daily pop-up notifications on XP systems, almost one in three computers still ran the 12-year-old OS in February, according to web-tracking firm Net Applications. More alarming for Microsoft, Windows XP's market share hasn't decreased since last year and Windows 8.1's has barely grown. Both trends imply the company's escalating messaging has fallen largely on deaf ears.
So what will happen when April 8 passes and millions of people are still running Windows XP?
"We're into panic time," Michael Silver, a VP at the research firm Gartner, said in an interview. He said the amount of risk depends to some extent on what XP laggards can accomplish in a hurry.
"The ones we're speaking to now are the ones that have done barely anything." If companies haven't already taken action, Silver said, they probably don't have time to even replace XP systems with virtual machines, let alone migrate their operations to Windows 7. Silver told us many late-comers are removing admin rights, restricting permissions, and otherwise locking down any XP systems that can't be retired.
"The reality is, the absence of patches for Windows XP just exposes companies to risk," Forrester analyst David Johnson said, noting that companies must be mindful, not only of security concerns, but also of compliance obligations.
"It appears a lot of organizations don't realize or don't care how porous Windows XP will become after it ceases being patched in April. It isn't a war-hardened OS, as some customers believe," Wes Miller, research VP with IT consulting firm Directions on Microsoft, said last fall in a blog post. "XP systems will be ripe for an ass-kicking beginning next spring, and they can, and will, be taken advantage of."
Indeed, zero-day exploits are a major IT headache even today, with Microsoft supplying patches and support. The situation could get worse after April, especially if criminals are stockpiling new exploits in anticipation of the deadline, as some have speculated. Silver warned that attackers might also be able to use future Windows 7 and Windows 8 patches to reverse-engineer
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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