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Windows XP isn't going to disappear in 10 days

Column Microsoft shouldn't rely on upgrade cash
Fri Mar 28 2014, 14:17

THE WORLD WON'T END in 10 days when Microsoft finally drops support for Windows XP on PC systems on 8 April, and perhaps aside from making a few minor adjustments, most businesses and consumers still using it probably will hardly notice and thus won't care, despite Microsoft's rather desperate recent campaign of fear-mongering about security.

Microsoft's desperation is understandable, since sales of new PCs fell off a cliff last year due to widespread dissatisfaction with Windows 8. The firm rushed out Windows 8.1 last autumn, but it wasn't enough to reverse the lack of market momentum and the lingering effects of hard times in the economy, so 2013 PC sales were generally down for the year.

Rising sales of tablets and smartphones also contributed to last year's decline in PC sales by taking market share, but Microsoft's Surface tablets flopped so miserably that Microsoft had to write off inventory and, despite sacrificing Nokia's former dominance in mobile phones, its Windows Phone devices struggled with low market share.

Microsoft was failing on all fronts in the last quarter of 2013, so no wonder it doubled down on its plans to retire Windows XP, which was still running on nearly 30 percent of installed PC systems.

The firm thought it saw an opportunity to extract more money from Windows XP users by forcing them to upgrade their PC systems to its latest release of Windows, coincidentally also helping its PC OEM partners by driving sales of new PCs. Not only would Microsoft sell millions of copies of Windows 8.1, but in addition that would also force those users to upgrade Microsoft Office as well, which is far more expensive than Windows itself, drawing even more revenue into the company.

One can almost visualise the now former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer rubbing his hands with glee, contemplating how he would turn around disappointing sales of Windows 8.1 by forcing Windows XP users to upgrade. Except it hasn't worked.

What Microsoft didn't reckon on was that businesses and consumers that are still running Windows XP find it adequate to meet their needs and aren't about to replace it anytime soon. Earlier this month, Net Applications reported that Windows XP market share actually increased in February as its stubborn users dug in their heels. It doesn't look like that's going to change next week, either.

Microsoft also didn't recognise that many Windows XP users have older PCs that they likely bought five to 15 years ago, and many if not most of those PC systems aren't powerful enough to run Windows 8.1. Many of them have relatively slow Pentium 4 or Celeron processors, only 256MB or 512MB of RAM, and old hard drives with less than 10GB capacity. Those PC systems can run Windows XP, but upgrading to Windows 8.1 would force those users to buy new PCs at substantial cost.

For many Windows XP users, including a lot of small businesses as well as relatively unsophisticated or barely computer literate consumers, many of whom think that the operating system is just part of "the computer", installing another operating system seems unnecessary and maybe more than a bit daunting. If their PC does what they need to do, they see no reason to buy another one, and their attitude to Windows and applications software can probably be described by the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I've never used Windows XP, because I've run Linux on all my PC systems for about 15 years, but Microsoft sysadmins claim it can be configured to be fairly secure if all of the service packs and patches have been applied.

Thus, if Windows XP users have done that and also have a good antivirus software package and keep that up to date, they probably can remain reasonably safe, as long as they also avoid clicking on links in suspicious email spam, don't do their banking online, and don't frequent disreputable websites.

As Microsoft ceases updating its Security Essentials service for Windows XP - which the firm has already extended until July 2015 due to ongoing usage - some users might want to upgrade their antivirus software, but that might be all they really need to do in order to retain peace of mind for quite a while.

Despite Microsoft's desperate bluster and rather shrill imprecations, Windows XP users and businesses shouldn't have to buy new PCs or upgrade to Windows 8.1 if they can't afford it right now or don't believe they need or want to do so. Microsoft is just going to have to live with the fact that it can't force Windows XP users to give it more money, and keep looking for new revenue streams outside of its old Windows cash cow. µ


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