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Windows XP end-of-life on April 8, 2014: the debate [UPDATED]

September 20, 2013 2 Comments



As I mentioned in my previous post (“Windows Forever and Ever?“), Windows XP still has 33% of the desktop/laptop installed base, even though Microsoft has set its end-of-life (meaning no more security patches) for April 2014 — seven months from now. That 33% actually represents half a billion computers, all still using an operating system that will become increasingly vulnerable to electronic intrusion and subversion as time goes on.

Well, over at ZDNet, two of their regular columnists — David Gewirtz and Ed Bott — have done a point-counterpoint on what Microsoft should do about that risk. Gewirtz, in a post entitled “The coming XPocalypse and five things Microsoft can do to prevent it“, says that Microsoft needs to protect XP users while offering incentives to upgrade to a later version:

1. Build a final, ultimate roll-up XP service pack…

2. Keep patching XP for XPloits…

3. Offer another great Windows 8 upgrade deal…

4. Give senior citizens free upgrades to Windows 8…

5. Listen to users and press…

The problem with suggestions #3 and #4 are that an awful lot of the people still using XP would be utterly lost with Windows 8, especially senior citizens. I’m not being ageist here; I’ve just given enough computer support to older family members to know the reality of this. Keep in mind, also, that Windows XP users have already had opportunities to upgrade to both Windows Vista and Windows 7 — a far less dramatic shift than Windows 8 — and have not done so. If anything, Microsoft should be offering cheap upgrades to Windows 7; I think they’d have far more success with that, and Windows 7 doesn’t hit end-of-life until 2020. Still, I think that Gewirtz is generally on target with his observations and suggestions.

Ed Bott takes a deliberate counter-point to Gewirtz in his post “Please, let Windows XP die with dignity“. I actually find quite a few more problems with Bott’s article than with Gewirtz’s, starting with the unstated (and anthropomorphic) premise of his title: that 500 million XP users can just let XP “die with dignity”. While it would be a boon to Microsoft’s bottom line to sell half a billion Win8 upgrades in the next 7 months, that’s just not going to happen for any number of reasons, starting with the most important: most of those XP users probably don’t even know about the “end of life” in April 2014.

Bott, in chastising those who have failed to upgrade from XP, sounds eerily like Prostectic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planet Council chastising the population of Earth shortly before blowing it up to make way for a hyperspace bypass:

VOGON CAPTAIN: There’s no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaints and its far too late to start making a fuss about it now.

MANKIND: [Louder yells of protest]

VOGON CAPTAIN: What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh for heaven sake mankind it’s only four light years away you know! I’m sorry but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own regard. Energise the demolition beams! God I don’t know…apathetic bloody planet, I’ve no sympathy at all… [The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams]

What Bott actually says is:

First of all, this should not be a surprise to anyone. If you use Windows XP, you are not sheep, you are a paying customer. You got one of the best deals ever, because Microsoft has been running this route, the XP local, for more than a decade. No one is being left at the station. This train has had a “going out of service” sign on it for two years.

The support lifecycle is a contract between Microsoft and its customers, one that’s been clearly described for many years. It is ridiculous to think that a software company should support a product indefinitely. That’s economically silly and technically unsustainable. In early 2014, Microsoft will be delivering security patches for five—count ‘em, five—major releases of its operating system that are still in mainstream or extended support.

Perhaps that is why Microsoft’s reliability record with patches has been getting a bit dicey lately.

If you thought you were getting a lifetime guarantee, you weren’t paying attention. XP’s end-of-support date was actually already extended once.

This shows a profound misunderstanding of — if not arrogance towards — XP users. Most are people or small businesses who bought off-the-shelf or mail-order laptops and desktops back in the XP era (2001-2007), or who have bought used computers since then. In many cases, they have not bought a new computer since Vista came out, and certainly not since Windows 7 came out.  They do not read ZDNet or other computer industry websites or publications. Vast numbers of them — perhaps the great majority — have no idea that XP is about to hit an “end of life” date, or if they have by chance heard that, what that actually means. After all, we almost all use various consumer devices after their warranties expire; no one expect that a car’s door and ignition locks will suddenly stop working, allowing anyone to get in and drive the car away, just because the car’s warranty has lapsed.

Ah, but Bott’s disdain and scorn for some 500 million XP users doesn’t stop there:

So who will those laggards be? I think they can neatly be divided into three groups:

The largest group is businesses that have mission-critical apps that run on Windows XP and can’t easily be upgraded. My dentist still has one of those apps. That PC can be locked down pretty hard, and the fact that it’s not connected to the Internet means it’s not really at risk. In big enterprises that have IT staffs and IT budgets, there are ways to virtualize those apps so they run in a session on a PC running a modern operating system, usually Windows 7. Those are the best available options.

The next largest group is cheap consumers who have an old PC that’s still running but is too underpowered to upgrade. Even if we concede these are all senior citizens and Microsoft takes David’s suggestion to give them all free Windows 8 upgrades, this bunch won’t be able to do it. An old Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM isn’t eligible to upgrade.

And then there are the clueless, the ones who just don’t know any better, the “lambs being led to the slaughter.” I’m afraid that bunch was mostly pwned long ago. After all, they don’t have up-to-date antivirus software, they didn’t update Java or Flash for years, and they’ll click just about anything if it has naked pictures embedded or dollar signs attached.

Classy, no? I wonder if Bott stopped to think of how many of those users are in countries outside the United States, particularly developing countries, and may not be in a financial position to buy a new computer or to pay for a Windows upgrade. For that matter, the US economy tanked in 2007 — while new XP systems were still in stores and on websites — and hasn’t fully recovered since. Unemployment is still above 7%; it would be even higher if vast numbers of Americans hadn’t stopped looking for work at all. I guess that Bott thinks all those folks without jobs are the ones sitting at home, clicking on “just about anything [that] has naked pictures embedded or dollar signs attached.”

In the meantime, Ed fails to address the core issue, the same one I brought up in the article I wrote back in 1996: how do you successfully deal with an entrenched (or “conveyor-belt“) technology? Of the two authors, I think Gewirtz has the better suggestions but also has the more realistic appraisal: Microsoft will do little that is useful until after the disaster begins to unfold. Or as he puts it, “They won’t listen until after the nukes go off and the fallout from that latest of bad decisions covers the earth.”

Interesting times ahead for Microsoft, and for those 500 million XP users.

[UPDATE 09/23/2013] This article over at ZDNet shows that a lot of enterprises still on Windows XP have not made all that much progress on moving to Windows 7:

Over a quarter — 28 percent — of survey respondents said they are yet to migrate over half of their applications over to Windows 7 before the XP expiry date, and only 3.7 percent say they plan to take another leap forward and go straight for Windows 8.

Note that last figure: less than 4% plan to migrate to Windows 8 from Windows XP. So much for the suggestions of both authors above that the XP ‘laggards’ should do just that.  Read the whole thing.  ..bruce..


About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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  1. 2014 BOOT WINDOWS XP FROM USB | September 24, 2013
  1. J. Nielsen says:

    Most of the old XP computers will run Linux.

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