Microsoft extends XP anti-malware support until July 2015

Microsoft will offer updates to Microsoft Security Essentials for XP well into next year, giving existing XP users even less incentive to leave

No matter how many times Microsoft tries to put down the XP zombie, it always seems to lurch back to life again.

Consider the latest partial about-face from Redmond. Microsoft has elected to end all support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014 -- except for updates to Microsoft's anti-malware products running on XP, which will be available until July 2015.

No, that's not a typo. According to the Microsoft Technet blog post describing the decision, Microsoft "will continue to provide updates to our antimalware signatures and engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015."

The post details the products in question as well: "For enterprise customers, this applies to System Center Endpoint Protection, Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection and Windows Intune running on Windows XP. For consumers, this applies to Microsoft Security Essentials."

Microsoft originally planned to pull the plug on its Microsoft Security Essentials product and not offer updates to XP users at all. Now, while the company will not be offering the program itself for download after April 2014, it will be possible to get updates for it. One has to wonder, will see copies of the Security Essentials installer floating around the Web after the April 2014 deadline, the way we saw the Microsoft PowerToys or Microsoft GIF Animator re-hosted by others?

It's not as if Windows XP will spontaneously combust on April 8. But as InfoWorld's Galen Gruman wrote in his discussion of XP's end-of-life issues, dialing down antivirus support for Windows XP was one of Microsoft's ways to give added incentive to get people off XP.

Now it's questionable how effective that strategy will be, not just because of the extended schedule for Security Essential updates, but also because that product is far from the only XP-compatible system protection tool out there. The Av-test.org site maintains its own list of XP-compatible antivirus products, with Kaspersky's Internet Security 2014 currently topping the list. As long as third-party vendors decide to continue supporting XP -- especially if any of them offer free-to-use versions of their products -- XP will have that much more of a lifeline to hang on to.

It's more than just anti-malware software that keeps a system safe, though, as Microsoft hinted at in its blog post. And Microsoft would love nothing more than to not have to keep trying to fix structural problems with XP -- like the update that caused XP systems to grind their gears, which just now seems to finally be fixed. But the persistency of the decade-plus old OS has confounded most everyone's expectations, Redmond included.

XP numbers edged downwards over the course of 2013, but the most recent stats show XP still commands anywhere between 20 percent (Statcounter) to 28 percent (NetMarketshare) of the market. Most of the losses appear not to be to Windows 8, but to corporate deployments just now switching to Windows 7. At this rate, in 2015 there might well be at least as many XP machines as there are Mac OS X machines.

This article, "Microsoft extends XP anti-malware support until July 2015," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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