The coming XPocalypse and five things Microsoft can do to prevent it

Summary:It is in Microsoft's best interests, as well as those of their customers, to take some steps to prevent the XPocalypse.

The risk to Microsoft

There's no doubt Microsoft has been trying to move consumers off of Windows XP since the early Vista days. As Ed's chart shows, the company has been moderately successful, in that Windows 7 usage as a percentage of all PC operating system usage now exceeds XP 45 percent to 33 percent.

There's also no doubt, as I discussed above, that Microsoft has the right, like any company, to abandon its XP users, especially since it really has spent more than half a decade trying to get them to move on.

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But having the right to do something doesn't mean it's right to do something. And it also doesn't mean that there won't be unintended consequences. Here's one example.

If you think Microsoft has gotten bad PR for the Surface RT and how buyers confuse it with a real Windows machine , you haven't seen anything yet when it comes to abandoned Windows XP users.

What happens when families start losing their entire life savings because their XP machines were hacked? Up until now, you could point your fingers at the users and blame them for not upgrading. But once upgrading is unavailable, it's inevitable that Microsoft will get blamed. The bad PR for Microsoft and the stories of Microsoft's security failings will be epic.

It is therefore in Microsoft's best interests, as well as those of their customers, to take some steps to prevent the XPocalypse.

Five things Microsoft can do to prevent XPocalypse

I promised you five things Microsoft can do, and here they are:

1. Build a final, ultimate roll-up XP service pack: This is probably the easiest and most practical. Today, we can download roll-up service packs and apply them outside of the Windows Update process. Just as soon as Microsoft finishes their last patches for XP, they can create a downloadable SP4 and make it available on their Web site in perpetuity.

2. Keep patching XP for XPloits: We know how desperately Microsoft wants to move on, but if they do, XP will continue to be subject to ever-worsening exploits. The company has roughly $77 billion in annual revenue and almost 100 thousand employees. If they can devote an entire team to the universally-hated Bing Bar, they can keep a small team of dedicated security patchers updating XP and keeping their laggard customers safe.

3. Offer another great Windows 8 upgrade deal: Back when Windows 8 was launching, Microsoft offered a $39.99 upgrade deal to Windows 8. Now, however, if you want to upgrade an XP machine from XP to Windows 8.1, you're going to pay a minimum of $119 .

Microsoft could encourage XP upgrading by creating a perpetual $39.99 upgrade pack for XP users. They can certainly detect XP and if the user is upgrading from XP, make it inexpensive to do so. If Microsoft want to encourage XP users to move on, this is a great way to do it. After all, the cost of goods for those extra Windows 8 bits approaches zero.

4. Give senior citizens free upgrades to Windows 8: Seniors are most at-risk in the XP world. They're the least technology savvy and they have the most to lose. Given that many are on a fixed income, they are also the most likely to look at the upgrade cost for either a new PC or a $119 copy of Windows 8.1 and think the options are too expensive.

Granted, there would be some cost to Microsoft. But imagine the good press they could get -- while at the same time supporting brick and mortar retailers. Microsoft could do a promotion (and promote the heck out of it for the good PR) telling seniors to go into Office Depot, Staples, or Best Buy, show ID, and walk out with a free copy of Windows 8.1.

Given that these folks wouldn't be buying 8.1 anyway, Microsoft would gain new users, reduce its support headache, and look like it really does care about users.

5. Listen to users and press: I know this is hard for those remaining Microsoft executives who haven't jumped ship, but their customers and those of us in the tech press have been around the block a few times.

We know how users will react and what the press will write. We knew Microsoft would get panned for the lack of a Start menu way before Windows 8 went golden master The company ignored us, the Windows 8 launch was a disaster, and Microsoft is finally adding a Start button to Windows 8.1.

We knew the Surface RT was going to be a dog. The company ignored our accurate predictions, and wound up taking a $900 million write-down on unsold inventory.

So, in the context of the XPocalypse, we know there will be bad fallout leaving 500 million or so users out in the cold as targets of predators. Microsoft may be able to prevent the worst of it by following one or more of the five items I've listed here.

Nah. They won't listen until after the nukes go off and the fallout from that latest of bad decisions covers the earth.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Microsoft, Windows, Windows 8

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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