Industry Trends

End of Life for Windows XP

By Stefanie Hoffman | December 10, 2013

Microsoft's Windows XP is retiring.

For those who haven't heard the news, the Redmond, Washington-based software company is going to deliver its final security update to April 8, 2014, before permanently discontinuing support for the platform.

The news comes as a double-edged sword. While still a tried and true favorite for PC-lovers, by now, many in the U.S. have moved on to Microsoft's subsequent OS releases.

But not everyone else has. In fact, research and analytics company Net Applications estimates that around a third of the world's computers users -- 37.2 percent -- ran Windows XP as recently as July 2013. That translates into about 570 million machines out of Microsoft's estimated 1.4 billion Windows PCs worldwide.

XP target

Among the most prolific user of Microsoft's aging system is China where 3 out of every 4 PC's are running the OS. Consequently, there's a strong possibility that they're going to be suffering abandonment issues for the foreseeable future.

Now, make no mistake, China is taking steps to shed the legacy platform - perhaps as aggressively as the U.S. The task, however, is much more daunting simply because the Asian nation has significantly more XP machines on its hands than other countries.

As of July, around 16.4 percent of all PCs in the U.S. were running XP platform, according to Net Applications - which roughly translates to about a sixth of all personal computers.

In China, the problem is much worse, as an estimated 72.1 percent - almost three fourths -- of all personal computers rely on XP. Meanwhile, China's significantly higher popular and proportionately fewer infrastructure resources will make that separation all the more challenging. That means that regardless of its ability to transition users, China's anticipated task will be no small undertaking.

Even at its current pace, China will still be facing a copious amount -- between 62 and 65 percent -- of PC users on unsupported XPs by April of next year. In short, their separation anxiety is well-warranted.

Granted, it's not that U.S. users won't feel a bit of a sting as one of its beloved platforms falls by wayside and is permanently supplanted by newer models. With a dozen or so years under its belt, Windows XP has certainly stood the test of time. For businesses, its reliability has made sense from a financial standpoint. And by now, Windows XP also houses a bevy of specialized business-critical programs and applications that would undoubtedly be costly to upgrade or replace.

But as the platform continues to be the brunt of cyber attacks and plagued with security vulnerabilities, keeping it around has naturally made less and less sense for organizations. In fact, its upcoming end-of-life might be just the kick in the pants that the remaining businesses might need to transition their users off once and for all.

For China, the pain will be much more acute. Fewer overall financial resources, deficiencies in technology infrastructure and lack of awareness and education have combined to put the computer-using population at a disadvantage -- among other things, imposing barriers that have kept them from upgrading to most recent versions or applying security updates with any kind of frequency.

Meanwhile, there's a strong likelihood that instead of a motivator, Microsoft's departure with XP will ultimately present new security challenges for users, who will continue to use the outdated system or upgrade to cheaper pirated versions.

And that won't be lost on cybercriminals looking for new avenues in which to launch exploits. Along those lines, researchers have speculated that cyber criminals are holding onto remaining XP Zero Day threats, which they would sell to the highest bidder the moment Microsoft discontinues support for the platform. It's no secret, then, that areas with a proportionately higher percentage of users still running XP will be the most vulnerable and will undoubtedly suffer a maelstrom of attacks. On the bright side, Google pledged to continue to update its Chrome browser for a year after Microsoft ends its XP support - April 2015 -- in order to protect users from impending XP attacks. But the extent of its protection - particularly in countries such as China - is unclear.

Thus far, China and Microsoft have around five months to tackle a looming and formidable problem. And while perhaps the challenge isn't completely insurmountable, every day until then will count.

The clock is ticking.

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