Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP on April 8, 2014, more than 12 years since the desktop operating system first launched in 2001. Users hoping to eke a few more months, perhaps years, out of the OS, were dealt another blow by Microsoft.
In addition to putting a stop to security patches as updates for the aging OS, Microsoft has announced that it will also stop providing what amounts to a first line of defense for many XP users. Warning that "technical assistance for Windows XP will no longer be available, including automatic updates," the company said that it "will also stop providing Microsoft Security Essentials for download on Windows XP on this date."
Microsoft Security Essentials, the free, slimmed down successor to Windows Live OneCare, guards against Trojans, rootkits and other malware on Windows XP, 7 and Vista (Windows Defender replaces Security Essentials in Windows 8). Due to its tight integration with the OS, lightweight operation and lack of a price tag, it emerged as "good enough" protection for scores of users.
In a few short months, that protection is set to vanish.
Security experts at Microsoft have warned that come April, malware coders will unleash a wave of malware targeting Windows XP, endangering the data of users and businesses that are still reliant on the OS. Developed during the midst of a nascent Internet, Windows XP is simply showing its age, according to Tim Rains, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing.
"Microsoft Windows XP was released almost 12 years ago, which is an eternity in technology terms," he said in an Oct. 29 blog post. Inevitably, added Rains, "there is a tipping point where dated software and hardware can no longer defend against modern-day threats and increasingly sophisticated cyber-criminals."
Windows XP, while still officially supported, is already trailing behind its successors. Rains reported, for instance, that "Windows XP systems had an infection rate that was six times higher than Windows 8." And since Windows has a legacy of shared code between OSes, cyber-criminals may take cues from future patches that are issued for Windows 7 and 8 to exploit more weaknesses in XP.
In August, Rains painted a starker picture. "Since a security update will never become available for Windows XP to address these vulnerabilities, Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero-day' vulnerability forever," he cautioned.
Millions of Windows users are still clinging to XP, despite Microsoft's warnings. At last count, XP held 28.98 percent of the desktop OS market in December 2013, a 2.24 percent drop from the previous month, according to data from NetMarketShare. Only Windows 7 bests it in terms of popularity (47.52 percent).
The data suggests that there will still be many XP holdouts after the XP support cutoff. Windows 8.x (8 and 8.1 combined) only managed to cross the 10 percent mark last month, thanks to a 1.19 percent jump from November's figures.