Ask LH: What Happens When Windows XP Support Ends?

Hey Lifehacker, So we are now days away from Windows XP reaching the end of service. I don't believe there has ever been a situation where so many computers will be left vulnerable in this way. It has more than 10 times the market share Windows 98 had when support ended for it. This is unprecedented, right? Is this likely to be a really bad time for an awful lot of people? Thanks, XP Expires

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Dear XPE,

The situation with Windows XP, which officially ends extended support on 8 April, is indeed unprecedented, in large part because the operating system's lifespan has been so much longer than the normal decade Microsoft supports older software for on extended contracts. That in turn reflects the fact that its successor Windows Vista was both delayed and awful, so many people never made the switch.

As of April, Windows XP will not receive any further updates or security patches. That doesn't mean that computers running XP will stop working. However, any vulnerabilities that are uncovered after that time won't be fixed by Microsoft.

This isn't going to be a problem immediately, but (as we've discussed in some detail before) it's likely to become an issue as patches for newer versions of Windows emerge in the months and years ahead. Because Windows shares a common architecture, flaws in Windows 7 may also be replicated in Windows XP.

Malicious hackers could exploit those flaws as a way to install malware on systems. I can't help suspecting that individuals in this position might already be part of a botnet anyway -- if you've resolutely refused to upgrade your PC for over a decade, the chances that you carefully keep it patched and have up-to-date security software are also much lower.

People who fall into that scenario may indeed have a "bad time" in the near future. But let's be realistic -- they're already having a bad time. XP is a 13-year-old operating system. There are plenty of modern alternatives (Windows and otherwise) which are faster, better and more reliable. Sticking with XP at this point is essentially bloody-mindedness, and that's an approach to life which often makes you angry and unhappy anyway.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Many non-profit organisations in my city use donated computers, old enough that they won't run
    Vista or 7. And they don't have sufficient money or IT expertise to upgrade.
    So, it is not always bloody-mindedness.

    Any chance MS will open source it for modders...? :)

    Windows XP is light and runs on old machines with low specs. The alternative need higher specs.

      That's not really correct. XP is feature light and bug heavy. Those 'low spec' machines were the 'high spec' machines of their time, any PC sold today will run 7 better than XP I guarantee it. In most cases 8.1 will run even better than 7.

      Install 7 on an old machine and run in performance mode. You will be pleasantly surprised at how well it runs.

    It is time for XP to die. It had it's moment in the limelight but to continue supporting such an old OS is a cost and waste of resources for Microsoft and other developers.

    Newbies over 70 don't need, and shouldn't be forced to buy, anything more than basic XP functionality and programs, which is more than adequate. Not everyone supports or obeys the tyranny of newness.

      So, by that logic, we should all be using Windows 3.1 With networking? Because if we all we need is a TCP connection to get online, why make a better OS?

        I inferred no such thing, but you knew that.

        Have you ever tried to provide tech support & explain even the seemingly simplest tasks to newbies over 70? Have some sympathy. A lot of them didn't even want to have to take up email in the first place, but that's where their grandchildren are (and their great-grandchildren are lost in Kik). But they'll all be gone soon enough, preserving your online security & principles.

    Just because the XP updates are stopping, doesn't mean XP is going to explode or start not working as it currently is. XP will be usable until the software you wish to run stops supporting it.

    Tips for sticking with XP.

    1 - Run as a limited/non admin user. This will greatly reduce the area of attack. 82% of current attacks are mitigated just by not being an admin. 100% of IE attacks are also mitigated.
    2 - Run a browser other than IE. Use Chrome or Firefox (should be anyway, really) as they will continue to be updated and secured.
    3 - Run a third party AV. Yes, Security Essentials is still getting definitions, but the program itself won't be changing. If you need free, look at AVG etc, or purchase a subscription based AV.
    4 - Watch your habits - Be very careful on what you look at, sites you visit, files you download and open. Changing your habits can greatly decrease the likely hood of infection, not downloading software from unknown sources, opening files from torrents etc.
    5 - Disable Java in your browser - Java exploits are some of the more common vectors, by disabling it from within your browser, (so you can still play Minecraft etc) will prevent java being an in.
    6 - Uninstall old/unused software - Removing unused software again reduces the attack vectors available for malware to get in.

    Don't freak out and buy into the scaremongering that is happening. Yes, XP is old. But most people who still use it, use it for a reason, or they are cheap. Either way they shouldn't have to upgrade until they are ready, regardless of Microsoft support.

      I don't think you understand how important Microsoft support is at an operating system level.

      Not only are you missing out on security updates to the OS itself, which is quite major, but it's also a huge flag to software companies to stop updating/releasing compatible versions for the platform?

      Chrome no longer installs? Well, Google can say 'not worth fixing, as the system is currently at peak numbers anyway'.

      The OS should only be used if there is a critical need for it, not because you hate change.

        *sigh* Finally someone points it out.

        Everyone I see in these comments just looks at their own PC and says 'I don't need to upgrade'. The reality is that if you want to continue operating in a modern connected world then: yes, yes you do have to upgrade.

        From a business perspective it's even more pronounced.

        From my post - XP will be usable until the software you wish to run stops supporting it.

        If you cannot use the internet anymore on XP, and you need to use the internet, then yes you have to upgrade, no choice. But you can't honestly think that as of April 8th all these Windows XP machines are going to be useless? It may be months or years before that particular program stops being updated. I can run Windows 2000 quite fine, sure a few are missing, might not be able to run all my programs but it still works just fine, my Windows 2000's world won't end in an explosion of virus attacks, it will just keep being.

        I understand completely how important security updates to an OS is. I make my living as an IT consultant and spend most of my time locking down networks and computers.

        If a computer is locked down as I described above, good luck in infecting it. If I make a XP machine, connect it to the internet and do nothing else except browse Youtube, check Facebook read news etc and don't do anything stupid or open up unknown files that XP computer wont have an issue. Yes, exploits with Windows/IE/'Insert App here" will happen, but that doesn't mean all XP machines will be affected just because they are XP. Exploits can't just happen, they need to be executed, and if you don't execute them, they don't happen. XP has a firewall built in, majority of users will be behind a NAT router, ports are mostly closed.

        From a pure security perspective, it's not as big of an issue as its being made out to be. Lock it down, be smart, use up to date applications. Upgrade when you need to.

        From a business perspective, you need to update. I have been updating all my medical clients to Windows 7 as they require a current and support OS. I do not have a problem with that. I have a problem with the scaremongering the world is going end for you responses without actually helping people.

        TL;DR - I'm not advocating staying on XP. I am giving advice to users that for one reason or another CAN'T move of it. XP won't just start not working.

        Last edited 27/03/14 3:54 pm

      Maybe if the XP PC is sitting on a factory floor with a serial interface to control some machine, this is ok advice. But really for most people who want to use the PC, the effort they'd need to put in to complete these 6 steps combined with the limiting experience it would give them probably outweighs the cost of a new PC. At some point you have to put a value on your own time and understand not upgrading may cost you more.

    To me the big issue is the sheer quantity of computers about to become vulnerable. It's around 28% of all desktop computers; that is astonishing. As soon as an exploitable weakness is found, it's not the last 1% or 2% of stubborn users who haven't upgraded yet who will be at risk, its damn near 1/3 of all desktops. I don't know of a census of how many desktop computers there are in the world but is hundreds of millions about right?

    What's the bet hackers have already found exploits but haven't used them yet and are waiting until after EOS so they won't ever get patched? Lets recap in about 6 weeks or so and see how it all went.

      Almost certainly there are hundreds of exploits waiting for the EOL to tick over! I know if I was writing malware it's what I would do!

        You obviously don't write malware. You can't sit at your PC and write malicous code to attack my PC. Unless you have access to my PC (behind the router, firewalls etc) you have as much chance of gaining access to a XP machine as a Windows 8 machine or UNIX machine etc.

    Good, kill XP already. Imagine how much money Microsoft is burning through supporting such an old OS which they probably haven't made a dime off in a very long time. Time to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8.1

    I produce product. My product comes out of the PC as a piece of paper or a PDF. I don't need to learn a new operating system to produce my product. XP worked just fine.

    Now I have to use windows 7 which, to me, is not as good as XP. Underneath no doubt the code is better, the architecture is better (I'm not an IT person so forgive me if my terminology is dodgy).

    For me its a bit like having a "typewriter" (google it) that has all the keys moved to different positions, and some keys gone altogether. All i can see, at the monitor level, is change for change sake. I want my old XP back.

    Don't say that I am a philistine because I don't want to learn a new OP. I am learning new things everyday, essential to my career growth, its just that they are not related to computers.

    Software companies really really suck sometimes.

      So you want Microsoft (in this case) to continue spending millions of dollars a year on a product they replaced 7.5 years ago? I'm not driving a Model-T and expecting Ford keep it up-to-date either....

      If you want to continue using your dinosaur, no worries - just don't expect everyone else to be actively supporting you to do it.

    Even heard of Puppy Linux anyone!

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