One of the longest-running operating systems for personal computing is finally reaching the end of the line. On April 8, 2014 Microsoft Windows XP will be fully retired as ongoing life cycle support will be permanently halted. Anyone who knows the history of Windows and has been a long time power user will understand and appreciate the significance of this upcoming date. For those who don’t know, Windows XP has been one of the longest running operating systems in the history of computing to be maintained and used for over a decade—12 years to be exact. It was an important stepping stone as Microsoft was looking to find a way to unify both the consumer and business oriented lines of Windows into a single versatile platform, by using existing features found in prior releases. Previous versions were never meant to be multipurpose, and provided different user experiences. One version would be meant to run on the client side for consumers, while the other for servers used on an enterprise level. There was always the vision since the late 1990s to build a system that would move past Windows 98 and its MS-DOS foundation, to something that could serve as a hub for emailing, playing music, managing or viewing photos, and searching the Internet. The final product was the end result of combining the core foundation from Windows 2000’s NT kernel, and the familiarity of the user interface consumers experienced in both Windows 98 and Millennium Edition. After its debut on September 24, 2001, XP was acknowledged as one of the most robust, versatile, and dependable operating systems to hit the market.
A lot is to be said about Windows XP, and it can be good or bad depending upon who you talk to. However if you have been acquainted long enough, you would say that XP was more than just an operating system. It was part of the innovation and development of how modern computers are used today. On a personal level, Windows XP had been with me through many milestones in my life. It was my primary operating system that I used when I began pursuing my interest in computers at the age of 11, and I refer to it as a scale for measuring how far I have come from the beginning. I can remember starting off learning customization features such as rearranging and creating toolbars, icons, keyboard shortcuts, and controlling start up applications. Then once I got into high school, I started experimenting with the principles of formatting, partitioning, and installing the operating system with drivers. It was even how my passion for gaming unlocked when I first set foot in the world of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and realized that I wanted to get into software engineering.
Aside from all of the nostalgic sentimental stuff, the pressing issue is where to go next since Windows XP is the second most used operating system with anywhere from 20% – 30% of the market share. A lot of corporations have not moved up to newer versions, mostly due to the bad reception of Windows Vista at the time, and generally speaking there is a large amount of overhead needed for infrastructure planning and testing in order to start using a new OS. What I would like to point out is that there should be no surprise about losing support, as this is something that typically happens for any piece of software. Throughout the progression of XP there has been various ongoing stages where support would be dropped in favour of updates replacing it. There has already been three phases of updates, and each time the previous one would be discontinued, so this isn’t an uncommon practice. Right now Windows XP has been in the extended support phase for nearly 5 years, which is different from mainstream support. During mainstream support Microsoft would provide free technical support, warranty claims, and sometimes design changes to improve functionality. But once entering extended support, only security updates would be provided every month. The reason for this is that it is expected for users to have already upgraded beyond XP to a more “stable” platform, and it is partially Microsoft’s way of slowly enforcing conformity and change. With that being said you can easily guess that the ending of extended support means no more security patches or support information. However Microsoft still claims that they will provide critical patches based on the discretion of other services, but these will only be made available to customers subscribing to a paid support plan.
Now what does this really mean? Simply put, if a hacker happens to find a vulnerability within Windows XP, it will not be patched up and solved, thus leaving you at a potential risk for information to be compromised. Although keep in mind that this is an overstatement. As technology keeps advancing and users continue to follow along, it means that hackers are going to be more focused on circumventing current technologies that the general population is using, rather than anything outdated. On top of that, if you stay current with using the latest applications that are updated frequently, then security vulnerability is already being addressed by the developers who maintain their own independent software. Example being, Microsoft may stop patching latest versions of Internet Explorer for Windows XP, but Mozilla will most likely keep supporting XP within Firefox as part of routine updates, so patches are always continuous.
Another thing to be especially aware of as an enterprise user, is that some third-party companies who are aware of the still existing Windows XP users, are going to provide their own protection against hackers with their own firewalls and antivirus that can be purchased and downloaded. This will continue to provide viable protection, but again it is at the discretion of each antivirus company to decide the importance and duration of supporting XP. The last question that I think has more concern compared to security vulnerabilities, is whether or not Windows XP will be able to reinstall and be activated, as well as still have access to all the updates that currently exist up until this point. Multiple sources, including Microsoft, have confirmed that Windows XP will still be able to be activated, but the answer as to whether existing updates still being available is questionable. From past examples, there is no reason why they wouldn’t be able to. Microsoft has kept so-called legacy patches online and available for legacy versions of Windows in the past, but over time they were removed once there was no more statistics referencing to those older versions of Windows; this would be expected to happen for XP as well.
All in all, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the state of Windows XP if you are still a user. It’s not going to magically disappear, and your files are going to stay intact. The only difference is that you will be completely on your own, with no help from Microsoft. Needless to say, don’t worry too much about that. If you think about it, who would you usually contact if you need something fixed on your computer? Is it Microsoft? No. You would typically take your computer to Best Buy, Future Shop, or some small computer repairs store and they would fix everything for you, without any association with Microsoft. If you live in Seattle and need computer repairs click here. Our friends at Geek Serv are knowledgeable when it comes to all your IT needs. All of that will remain the same. What I do advise if you are still using Windows XP, and haven’t done so already, is to start using security software that is not from Microsoft. I have already talked about this in a previous article called Preserving The Life Of Your PC, so browse through that and follow some of the links that I provided for virus and malware protection. Lastly on a final note, it is still recommended at some point or another to move away from Windows XP, so start preparing for that process now. Whether that means backing up your data, or purchasing a new computer, it is something that shouldn’t be overlooked; and stay away from Windows 8. Windows 7 is the successful big brother of XP, so you can’t go wrong there.