On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will officially stop supporting Windows XP. What does this mean for the millions of computers still using XP and what are some options for people that still rely on applications that can only use XP?
Who Uses XP Anymore?
Windows 7 has been out for four years and Windows 8 has been out for nearly two. Who is still using XP? According to NetMarketShare.com, a site that tracks both browser and operating system use, Windows XP is running on nearly 30% of the computers they track. By comparison, Windows 8 accounts for about 10% and Windows 7 is at 47%.
Microsoft has long made public their plans to end support for XP this year. What’s worrisome is the slow decline in usage of XP. If we look at Figure 1 provided by NetMarketShare, we can see that a year ago, Windows XP and Windows 7 were within a few percentage points of each other. Windows 7 actually gained traction while XP only dropped about 10%. At the current rate, there will still be millions of computers running XP come the April 8 deadline.
If millions of computers are still running XP in April, will they all shut down? Is the internet going to fail? No, nothing so drastic. Microsoft simply won’t support XP any more. That means no updates, including security updates. Most of the big security holes have likely been fixed since XP’s release 11 years ago, but the chance still exists that a new vulnerability could be found and exploited.
A new security flaw discovery may not be a huge deal for the average consumer running XP. However, XP is still running in a lot of large corporations and possibly even critical infrastructure systems such as those that control the power grid.
Corporations need to move on from XP, but many may not be able to do so due to financial and time constraints.
Why Not Upgrade?
In many cases, XP may not be the desired OS but is kept on life support by organizations due to old business systems that require the antiquated operating system. Business systems can be incredibly expensive and take years to implement, so simply upgrading is not always a viable option.
What can be done?
If you’re a consumer, I would suggest you pay for a Windows upgrade and move up to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Businesses are a bit trickier, but there are some inexpensive options for them as well.
Although XP may be required for some old business systems, the recommended approach is to see if the business system can be upgraded to support a newer OS. If not, it’s possible to run XP in an isolated mode as a virtual machine. While an end user could use a newer version of Windows on their computer, XP could be installed and run in an isolated virtual machine using VMWare Player, Workstation or Sun VirtualBox.
Although the security risks are still present for XP, the virtual machines could be configured to limit access, mitigating some of the risk.
Thankfully we have until January of 2020 before support for Windows 7 expires. Better start planning for those upgrades now!