Windows XP SP2 nears End of Life

Windows XP SP2 nears End of Life

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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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.

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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9 comments
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  • I'm finally hearing from PC manufacturers that businesses are taking PCs with Windows 7 rather than downgrading to XP en mass; it doesn't make sense for them to roll out SP3 now and Windows 7 next year so I predict a swifter dropoff of XP in the business market. Anyone buying a new PC as a consumer or smaller business is getting 7; it's that middle group of people thinking 'why should I pay for something new when what I have works' who don't have the support worry to push them to upgrade.
    M
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • "The quickest and simplest answer is to install..." Linux? ;)
    Jake Rayson
  • I definitely think Microsoft has extended its support for Windows XP well beyond what it needed, considering it's practically a decade old, and will be well over a decade old by the time that XP support is dropped completely. But, I think they dropped the ball as price breaks are not being offered for migrations to Windows 7, for people already running XP and Vista. There have been significant discounts for students and certain niche conditions, but I think the cost alone has a lot of companies pondering their alternatives, and is why many are dragging their feet. I am most surprised with Vista, as Microsoft has admitted it has "learned" from Vista's shortfalls, however they've not helped any customers that have Vista, by offering steep discounts for them to upgrade. Why? I can't help to think that Microsoft is just being greedy here.

    I agree with Jake in that Linux should be a consideration. Companies are going to need to migrate whether they choose Windows or Linux, and now is the time to assess all possibilities and choose the path to take. The benefits of Linux however are great, especially in corporate environments and educational institutions where costs and maintenance counts are significantly increased. And it has already been demonstrated by large organizations that migrations are possible and have a significant savings in the long run. Take Google as probably the top example, in their move to throw out Windows for Linux and Mac OS X.
    Chris_Clay
  • @Jake Rayson
    > "The quickest and simplest answer is to install..." Linux? ;)

    Yes, indeed! You're roughly the 10 millionth person to tell me this over the past 10 years. However, all the evidence is that you while desktop PC users will pay big bucks for Windows, Linux is almost impossible to give away ;-)

    @apexwm
    > they've not helped any customers that have Vista, by offering steep discounts for
    > them to upgrade. Why? I can't help to think that Microsoft is just being greedy here.

    Personally I'd have given a copy of Windows 7 to all Vista users but Microsoft wasn't keen to forego a few billion dollars. However, it did offer very good pre-launch discounts -- that's how I bought my first copy, from Amazon.

    In any case, Windows 7 is free to businesses on Microsoft's Software Assurance scheme, which is a lot of them. Price isn't really the overriding issue, as you should be able to see from the very low take-up of "free" Linux.

    > The benefits of Linux however are great, especially in corporate environments and
    > educational institutions where costs and maintenance counts are significantly increased.

    The benefits of Linux are somewhat outweighed by having to rewrite more than 100 million business applications, the fact that it doesn't actually work with a lot of intranets, the massive costs of staff retraining etc etc. A look at the costs and the pain they've suffered in Munich might well put many companies off. The fact that "Linux" is a perpetually moving target with 157 varieties doesn't help.

    You know, out here in the real world, there are lots of reasons why so many companies are still on XP with IE6....

    > Take Google as probably the top example, in their move to throw out
    > Windows for Linux and Mac OS X.

    Google is a start-up with little or no investment in decades of Windows applications, it has a tech-savvy workforce, and it has tens of billions of dollars in cash at the bank, so it doesn't have to act rationally. However, it probably was a good marketing announcement, and could influence people who are a bit short of a clue.
    Jack Schofield
  • @ Jack,

    >> the very low take-up of "free" Linux.

    Care to explain why you've put the word "free" in quotes? Linux *is* actually free, in every sense of the word.


    >> Google is a start-up with little or no investment in decades of Windows applications

    From Wikipedia: Google was incorporated as a private company in 1998 and went public in 2004. I think that puts them a tad beyond the "start-up" phase by now, don't you?
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • "The benefits of Linux are somewhat outweighed by having to rewrite more than 100 million business applications, the fact that it doesn't actually work with a lot of intranets, the massive costs of staff retraining etc etc. A look at the costs and the pain they've suffered in Munich might well put many companies off. The fact that "Linux" is a perpetually moving target with 157 varieties doesn't help."

    Every organization's scenario is definitely different. If some are so heavily invested in Microsoft technologies and already locked in, then yes there will be high initial costs involved for any migration. It requires patience, cash, and motive.

    Even companies that choose to stick with Microsoft products need to re-train employees. Consider the vast UI differences between Windows XP and 7, or Office 2003 and 2007.

    157 varieties? Is that counting those still active? Point is, stick with mainstream distros like Fedora/Red Hat, Ubuntu, CentOS (which most companies already do), and you will be fine. These top distributions are widely used and supported around the world. And they are very much alike. Admins of one distro can easily hop to another.

    "You know, out here in the real world, there are lots of reasons why so many companies are still on XP with IE6...."

    A few that I can think of are high costs of upgrading (or in the case of Windows 7, migrating), incompatibility problems with upgrading to IE7/IE8, etc.

    I've run Windows and Linux servers side by side, and consistently the Linux systems provide more value. First, because the hardware was the only cost, and second because they run with little to no maintenance and hardly any downtime because they were accessed globally 24x7, while our team of administrators was constantly babysitting the Windows servers from monthly reboots.

    All of the time I see articles put out by Microsoft and entities paid by Microsoft, touting Windows and how it's superior to everything else. However, I don't find as many of these reports from real admins, real users of the software. But in the reverse situation, you do see a lot of feedback, reports, information from those using Linux in the real world.
    Chris_Clay
  • @apexwm
    > 157 varieties? Is that counting those still active? Point is, stick with mainstream
    > distros like Fedora/Red Hat, Ubuntu, CentOS (which most companies already do),
    > and you will be fine.

    That's a Heinz number. In fact there are only a couple of usable distros for which (a) you can buy viable support and (b) there are qualified applications.

    > I've run Windows and Linux servers side by side, and consistently the Linux
    > systems provide more value.

    I'm sure there are plenty of cases where that's true, and things like the LAMP stack help a lot. But if you need to run Exchange Server, Sharepoint and the odd 100 million business apps, it's irrelevent. Sure, you could spend a huge amount of money converting your billion old documents and rewriting thousands of in-house apps, and maybe you'd come out ahead in a decade or so. However, if you live and die by quarterly financials, and your IT staff change every two or three years, you probably don't care. That's why IBM still rakes in $100 billion a year.
    Jack Schofield
  • >> there are only a couple of usable distros for which (a) you can buy viable support
    >> and (b) there are qualified applications.

    That's last millennium thinking, Jack. I'd take the open source community's support over any of biggies' paid-for variety, any day. IBM, Microsoft... it doesn't really matter who. When the brown stuff hits the fan, they're generally not worth their money.

    And what's a "qualified application" exactly? Maybe you'd better qualify *that*!


    >> But if you need to run Exchange Server, Sharepoint and the odd 100 million
    >> business apps, it's irrelevent

    But nobody does... need to, I mean. The thousands of customers who buy them may as well flush their money down the toilet.

    Exchange is a simple email and calendaring tool. It offers nothing that couldn't be done with open source, for a good deal less money, not to mention heart-ache. Exchange's reliability (lack thereof), piggish resource requirements and huge expense are well known.

    Sharepoint is nice and easy for simple shared spaces and document management. Try and build a *real* business app with it though, and you're up to your neck in the you-know-what before you know it.

    I'd argue that there's not "thousands of in-house apps" yet, either. Not finished ones, anyway. Probably thousands that were started off with good intentions, and are now bogged down in a quick sand of difficulties and escalating costs.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • @BrownieBoy

    > And what's a "qualified application" exactly? Maybe you'd better qualify *that*!

    One that has been tested on and certified to run correctl;y on a particular distro. Otherwise, my apologies: I no longer have time for children's games.
    Jack Schofield