If you are still running Microsoft Windows XP SP2, you have less than a month to upgrade. The venerable SP2 (Service Pack 2) version reaches the end of its life on July 13, after which there will be no more updates. Malware writers are not going to stop targeting it, but Microsoft is going to stop updating drivers and patching holes, leaving users vulnerable.
The quickest and simplest answer is to install Service Pack 3, and anyone using Windows XP with automatic updates turned on should already have this installed. However, the fact that Microsoft is trying to publicise this issue (while virtually ignoring Vista’s similar End of Life on April 13) suggests that plenty of PCs are still running SP2.
XP users who for some reason cannot download the SP3 upgrade can get it on disc from Microsoft for £5.98. This covers the shipping cost from the USA.
The obvious alternative is to upgrade to Windows 7, which has grown quickly to a 13% market share, according to Net Applications. This requires much more effort, because there is no in-place upgrade from XP: you have to do a clean installation. (This approach was, of course, widely recommended as the best option until Microsoft made it compulsory.) Moving to Windows 7 also costs more, because SP3 is free.
XP users will have to upgrade eventually, because support will end in April 2014. Some companies may therefore decide it’s cheaper to move to Windows 7 now (in terms of usability benefits, security advances and reduced support costs) than to keep putting it off. Whether they’ll be willing to spend the money in recessionary times is another question.
We have enjoyed an astonishing period of stability thanks to XP’s decade-long reign, but it would now benefit the whole IT industry to minimise the switchover period and move rapidly to Windows 7. It’s expensive to support multiple versions of Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) with multiple service packs, and both hardware vendors and software developers will drop support for XP as soon as they can.
Microsoft is sending the appropriate signal by dropping support for XP in the next version of its web browser, IE9, even though this may well lead it to lose more market share to Mozilla Firefox and the fast-growing Google Chrome.
The problem is that it will probably take another four years to upgrade or replace the installed base of up to a billion PCs. In fact, if XP continues to lose one percentage point of market share each month, it will take five years. XP was widely disparaged on its launch in 2001, and then hit by malware such as Blaster. No one expected it to last this long.