Windows XP Users: Upgrade Now, Or Forever Be Hacked

    April 12, 2012

It’s been almost 11 years since the launch of Windows XP in October of 2001. The operating system is getting on in years and Microsoft has done their best to get people to upgrade. Unfortunately, its successor, Windows Vista, did little in the way of making people upgrade. In fact, there were probably a lot of users who downgraded from Vista after all of its problems became more known. Those users should probably start looking into getting an upgrade because your operating system of choice may soon be a hive of exploits and botnets.

While the big news yesterday was that Windows Vista was losing its mainstream support, it also made us aware that Windows XP would be losing its extended support in 2014. This poses a problem for the 35 percent of people in the world who still use the operating system.

Speaking to Network World, Jason Miller of VMware, says that Windows XP came out during the “hey-dey of buying computers.” It’s true, the Windows market was booming back in the late 90s leading up to the 2001 release of XP. Everybody had to have a Windows PC and XP was the affordable option. I would argue that a new PC equipped with Windows 7 is just as affordable as an XP PC was in 2001, but the market for a new PC isn’t as big as it was then.

Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek gets it when he says that says enterprises are going to upgrade, while regular users are not. The reason being is that regular consumers just aren’t looking upgrade or buy a new PC anymore. Many computer owners probably bought an XP system when it came out and are just as content with it now as they were then.

Kandek also says that it’s a problem of awareness. How many people know that Microsoft is ending support for XP in two years? The company never really lets you know beyond going to their Web site. I know my parents and I know people like my parents, they’re not checking Microsoft’s Web site for the latest updates on platform support. The computer is just a tool, or a time waster for them, not something to be invested in.

The final problem, according to Amol Sarwate of Qualys, is the rise in tablet use. I think we can all see how this is a problem with everybody using tablets these days. The problem is that tablets aren’t the end all be all of computing yet. Apple CEO Tim Cook may say that we live in a post-PC world, but we’re still very much a PC world until tablets can crank out 10 page essays on the pastoral themes in The Tempest.

What happens when this person boots up their old Windows XP desktop or laptop to write a paper in 2015? What if they have to get onto Google looking for sources because they can’t find any evidence of the pastoral in The Tempest beyond a few vague instructor-created allegories. They might stumble upon a bad Web site, and BAM, their computer is now part of a botnet. There’s nothing they can really do either since Microsoft is no longer providing updates to the OS.

Even though its predicted that most enterprises will upgrade, there’s still potential danger there as well. Sarwate says that SCADA systems are particularly at risk. While SCADA is a unique operating system for controlling industrial or manufacturing processes, it still runs on a modified version of Windows XP. If you’re going to replace those computers, you’re going to have to rewrite the SCADA software. Who’s going to foot the bill for that until it’s too late?

It’s a scary world out there folks, and it’s just going to get scarier. Windows XP may be Microsoft’s crowning achievement as far as stable operating systems go, but it’s still as vulnerable as anything else. Come 2014, it’s going to become even more vulnerable.

If you’re still using Windows XP, you have a couple of options. If you’re a power user and your hardware can facilitate it, why not upgrade to Windows 7. While it’s pretty expensive, the peace of mind you gain should be worth the price of admission. I recommend Windows 7 Home Premium since its the cheapest option. If your XP PC is from 2001, you probably should just upgrade. You can get a great desktop for anywhere between $400 and $600 that’s running latest version of Windows 7. The third option is to just get a Mac, they never get viruses. Oh wait…

If all else fails, there’s always Linux.