The end of Windows XP. Should you panic? Can you ignore it? And what does “support”mean anyway?
Well, if you are not a user of XP, you can ignore the news. But if your system is in the 14% of all systems in the UK still using it (as at November 2012), then you’ll have to wake up to reality some time in the next few months.
“Mainstream Support” for Windows XP ended in 2009. Since that time, we have been in what Microsoft calls “Extended Support”. During this phase the only changes to XP are those called “security updates”. These are the changes needed to keep up with new security threats as they crop up when the villains out there find new ways to exploit weaknesses in Windows XP. At the beginning of April 2014 Microsoft will stop fighting new threats to XP. They will no longer update XP to ensure that it is safe to use. In computer jargon, Microsoft will cease to support XP. Source.
What does it mean to “support” something in computer terms?
If we just look at a manufacturer “supporting” its own product, then it means that it will continue to make necessary changes (to remove bugs, for instance) and that you should be able to get help from the manufacturer if that product has a problem. So, if MegaBrill Software announces that it is no longer supporting MegaBrill 2002 it means that you are on your own if you still use that version. It doesn’t mean that the program immediately stops working.
If we look at how products interact, then “support” means that the software was specifically designed to work with whatever it claims to “support”. It also means that the program will be tweaked and updated to cater for the changes and updates to whatever it is supporting (Windows XP, in this case). So, if MegaBrill Software say that MegaBrill 2009 supports Windows XP then you can expect it to work on a system running Windows XP. It’s just possible that the two items would work together without official “support” but if anything goes wrong then there would be no help available from the manufacturer. It could also mean that the version of the program you have been using may work with something else now, but that a newer version won’t.
So, if you have been using Megabrill 2009 quite happily with Windows XP and you decide to upgrade it to the latest version – MegaBrill 2013 – you may find that it won’t run with your Windows XP. You might then find in Megabrill’s product information that MegaBrill 2013 only supports Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. This means that it probably won’t work with your XP. In the computer jargon, “MegaBrill 2013 does not support Windows XP”.
You may encounter the same problem if you buy a new piece of equipment such as a printer. It may not support Windows XP. If you think about it, it makes sense. If the printer manufacturer is bringing out a new product in 2013, why spend time and money to make it work with an operating system (Windows XP) that is not going to be supported by Microsoft beyond Spring 2014?
More and more software and hardware will cease support for Windows XP as they release new versions of their products. Again, why would they spend time and money making sure that their software works with an operating system that it will become increasingly dangerous to use. So, an existing piece of software that you have that currently works with XP may become “unupdateable”. It will also mean, of course, that XP users will not be able to use brand new software as that new software will not have been written to be used with XP right from the start of that software’s life.
Apart from software compatibility problems, Windows XP will become increasingly unsafe to use after April 2014 as the bad guys find new ways to exploit XP in order to mess up your system, extort money from you, steal data, and so forth. They may even increase their efforts to exploit XP and its users. For a while there will be a lot of opportunity for them as they know that their efforts to undermine XP will not be counteracted by Microsoft. Likewise, they will know that it may be worth spending some time and effort exploiting programs that stop supporting XP as they know that XP users will continue to use the vulnerable, unupdated versions of those programs.
There are going to be a lot of people affected by the withdrawal of support for Windows XP by Microsoft. In November 2012, Windows XP was still being used by over a quarter of all computers worldwide. Even in the UK, Windows XP is still the operating system on 14% of systems – more than the figure of 12% for Mac OSX (the operating system for Mac desktop and laptop computers). Source.
So, if you are still using windows XP, there’s no need to panic but it really would be a good idea to start thinking about replacing it. If you are still using XP then it’s almost certain that the hardware you are using it on should also be replaced. My guess would be that the hardware is at least five years old (as that was when Vista was released. So, even if you are a “light” home user who doesn’t need to be at the cutting edge of dekstop/laptop technology, I reckon you’ve had your money’s worth out of that computer and it’s time to move on. For what it’s worth, I advise my own computer clients that four years is long enough to expect a “business” computer to last and five years for a home user.