On April 8, 2014 Microsoft ended support for Windows XP after a great 12 year run. When you really think about it, 12 years is a really long time in the technology world for an operating system to survive. Other systems are seen being updated every few years which makes sense due to the ever changing capabilities of technology. There has been a history of the consistent cycle from the Windows operating system of great versions followed by what some would say are flops. When you find something that works for you, you tend to stick with it. I still have computers with Windows XP loaded on them because they just work. However, there are some precautions I must take to try and protect myself. Fortunately, the machine is really just a test machine and not my main computer.
You might be wondering what it means to say that it is end of life. Basically, it means that Microsoft will no longer supply updates or patches for the operating system. Of course, they did break this rule shortly after the end of life by supplying a patch for Internet Explorer for Windows XP. This is out of the ordinary and has created a divided crowd as to whether they should have done that or not. On one side, they are helping protect people that are still running the out of date operating system. On the other side, they are supporting people to continue to run this out of date operating system.
So should you upgrade your computer if you are running Windows XP? The simple answer is to recommend updating to a newer operating system. Understanding that the system still works and is stable, there are many concerns around using the system. First, of course there is the issue of no more security updates. That poses a significant risk because the attackers are going to start looking at the patches that come out for the newer operating systems trying to identify which ones are in shared components with Windows XP. They can then use these against Windows XP users because they know the system won’t be patched.
The second issue is just finding supported applications. For example, Internet Explorer 9 and above are not supported on Windows XP. Not only do these newer browsers have better security features, they also support new browsing features. We will start to see web applications that only support the newer browsers. Of course, at this time you can install FireFox or Chrome onto your system and that would still work. At some point, those may stop being supported on Windows XP as well.
Keep in mind that many attacks to the end user are performed through the web browser. An attacker getting you to open a malicious URL that takes advantage of a flaw in the browser, java, flash, or some other object. One option a die hard Windows XP fan can take is to stop using Internet Explorer and use an alternative browser, but that is not a full solution. There are many sites talking about how you can extend the life of Windows XP, just do a simple Google search.
From a user perspective, I understand the difficulty of upgrading the Windows operating system. It has never been a painless process and can be very time consuming and difficult. Even worse, what hardware is your computer running and do they support Windows 7 or Windows 8.1? You have to determine what options you have before you determine which course of action to take. Maybe you can just upgrade the OS. Maybe you need to get a new system and migrate files over to it. It is important to make sure that you take the time and work with someone knowledgeable to make the upgrade seamless.
For companies, we need to look at what our upgrade plans are. Microsoft was very open about when the operating system was going to reach end of life. Companies had plenty of warning. There are always reasons why the upgrade hasn’t happened, legacy applications, cost, etc. Set up test systems to ensure that all the applications needed to do business work as expected. You don’t want to just upgrade and then find out business is stopped because that critical application doesn’t work. You don’t want to have a gaping hole sitting on your network.
While it is not the end of the world, Windows XP’s end of life is significant. It was/is a great operating system with a lot of support and with the UI changes that were made with Windows 8, it is no wonder people are hesitant to upgrade. Look at your alternatives, be aware of the life cycles, and find out what the next operating system will be. We don’t want to be early adopters, but we also don’t want to be living on outdated technology.