Microsoft pulls the plug on Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows XP

Microsoft has suddenly decided you won't be able to install Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows XP after April 8

With three months to go until April 8 and the end of support for Windows XP, Microsoft has dropped another nasty surprise. Although it isn't clear when the decision was made, the official end-of-support Web page now states, "Microsoft will also stop providing Microsoft Security Essentials for download on Windows XP on this date."

We've all been anticipating, with no small amount of dread, Microsoft's threat to stop updating MSE malware definitions for Windows XP on April 8. This new revelation takes the sting to a new level of hurt: Microsoft is pulling the rug out from under XP's MSE entirely.

I believe Microsoft should reconsider its decision and continue to support MSE on XP systems by offering inexpensive subscriptions (say, $29 per year) for patches and MSE updates for XP. Even after XP goes EOL, there will be people and companies willing to pay a reasonable amount to keep their systems on life support. Who knows, Microsoft may be able to extract yet another buck from its aging multi-multi-billion-dollar cash cow -- the operating system that, more than any other product, made Microsoft what it is today.

I've been trying to figure out when Microsoft switched its policy from pulling XP updates to pulling MSE entirely. After all, the current MSE Product Information page doesn't mention MSE's pending death sentence, and a huge array of tech press articles from last October/November mention the demise of MSE updates but not MSE itself. (See Neowin, Techworld, and SlashGear, among many.)

The only hint I could find about the timing of Microsoft's change of heart (or heartlessness, as the case may be) comes from comparing the XP end-of-support Web page using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. The page in the Wayback Machine dated Dec. 10, 2013, doesn't mention an end to MSE; it says that automatic updates will no longer be available, but doesn't mention MSE. The same page dated Dec. 27, 2013, says unequivocably that MSE will not be available "for download" on XP -- whatever that means.

Merry Christmas.

Granted, running an old version of Microsoft Security Essentials without the latest updates isn't exactly recommended procedure. But it beats the pants out of running nothing at all.

Back in August, according to Gregg Keizer at Computerworld, Microsoft promised it would keep making new XP security patches for companies enrolled in expensive license programs, to the tune of an extra $200 per PC per year:

Those patches will come from a program called "Custom Support," an after-retirement contract designed for very large customers who have not, for whatever reason, moved on from an older OS. As part of Custom Support -- which according to analysts, costs about $200 per PC for the first year and more each succeeding year -- participants receive patches for vulnerabilities rated "critical" by Microsoft.

"Legacy products or out-of-support service packs covered under Custom Support will continue to receive security hotfixes for vulnerabilities labeled as 'Critical' by the MSRC [Microsoft Security Response Center]," Microsoft said in a Custom Support data sheet.

Which begs the question: Why would Microsoft throw hundreds of millions of XP users to the wolves -- risking not just ire and legal assaults from longtime customers, but potentially threatening the existence of the Internet itself -- when XP patches are readily available anyway?

It's a huge problem. You can read the latest statistics from NetApplications and StatCounter and take their guesstimates of how many Windows XP machines are out there, but both companies only measure the number of machines that are used to access specific websites. Windows XP is everywhere, and many XP machines never go onto the Web -- when was the last time you saw an ATM machine turn belly-up with an XP error, or a giant public display show an XP boot screen? Make no mistake: Much as Microsoft would like to sell a shiny new copy of Windows 8.1 or 7 to XP owners, for many people and businesses, it ain't gonna happen this month, next month, or next year.

Microsoft has made billions of dollars from XP and sold it for a long time -- don't forget that Vista was such an unholy mess that XP continued as the only logical choice in operating systems long after its nominal shelf life. Maybe extending XP MSE and patches for a few more years will cut into Microsoft's bottom line, but I doubt that'd even amount to a roundoff error. Mostly, it would be a very customer-friendly move at a time when Microsoft needs to keep customers happy.

And if Windows 9 is good enough, a happy XP customer sure beats an angry Windows 7 customer.

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