Microsoft keeps chipping away at Windows XP's end-of-life deadline

Amid the backpedaling on security updates, will Microsoft stick to its April 8 deadline, or is July 2015 the new XP cut-off date?

As Windows XP's end-of-life date draws closer, Microsoft has begun backpedaling, opening the door to speculation about a possible stay of execution. Mind, the official Microsoft party line hasn't changed one whit: Windows XP and Office 2003 will "transition" to end of life on April 8. As Microsoft says on its death knell website:

After April 8, 2014, technical assistance for Windows XP will no longer be available, including automatic updates that help protect your PC. Microsoft will also stop providing Microsoft Security Essentials for download on Windows XP on this date.

The corporate version of the same epitaph stings even a bit more:

After April 8, 2014, there will be no new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates. Running Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 in your environment after their end of support date may expose your company to potential risks, such as:

Security & Compliance Risks: Unsupported and unpatched environments are vulnerable to security risks. This may result in an officially recognized control failure by an internal or external audit body, leading to suspension of certifications, and/or public notification of the organization's inability to maintain its systems and customer information.

Lack of Independent Software Vendor (ISV) & Hardware Manufacturers support: A recent industry report from Gartner Research suggests "many independent software vendors (ISVs) are unlikely to support new versions of applications on Windows XP in 2011; in 2012, it will become common." And it may stifle access to hardware innovation: Gartner Research further notes that in 2012, most PC hardware manufacturers will stop supporting Windows XP on the majority of their new PC models.

But while the three-headed dog roars, Microsoft has also been backpedaling.

In early January, Microsoft changed its end-of-support page to say, "Microsoft will also stop providing Microsoft Security Essentials for download on Windows XP." It's hard to know exactly what that phrase means: Will Microsoft keep you from downloading MSE on an XP machine? (A toothless tiger, because you could download it on a Win7 machine and install on XP.) Will Microsoft keep you from installing MSE on an XP machine? (What if you have to re-install XP -- will Microsoft prevent you from having something you've had for years?) Will Microsoft prevent you from running MSE on an XP machine? Not likely.

Then in mid-January, Microsoft blinked. The powers-that-be announced that Microsoft would continue to provide MSE (and other Microsoft anti-malware package) updates for XP machines until July 2015. That's silly, because providing MSE definition changes without patches to Windows itself is a bit like handing out fire extinguishers while cutting off fire engines.

More perplexing, Microsoft is saying it will update the MSE engine itself, without allowing you to "download" MSE on Windows XP. Huh?

Now comes word that Microsoft will continue to push the Malicious Software Removal Tool to XP machines until July 2015.

All of those are good decisions, but they don't jibe with Microsoft's announced abandonment of XP -- unless July 2015 is the new April 8, 2014.

I still think it's beholden on Microsoft to provide some sort of inexpensive update subscriptions for all XP users. Microsoft loves to say that XP is 12 years old and ready to be put out to pasture. That's literally true, but if you or your company were shopping for a new PC during the Vista era, you probably chose XP. That means at least some customers climbed on the XP turnip truck as late as July 2009. For those who avoided Vista, XP is only four-and-a-half-years old. Long in the tooth, yes, but hardly deserving a summary execution.

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