Windows XP countdown: Will Microsoft blink?

Windows XP support faces the chopping block one year from today -- which makes sense for Microsoft, despite user protests

Ask not for whom the Windows XP bell tolls, it tolls for thee if you're still running the ancient OS. Blogs are alight with a reminder that Microsoft's official support will end one year from today. Those with the temerity to still be running WinXP one year hence will face blight, plagues, and unpatched security holes -- at least that's what Microsoft wants you to believe.

The official Windows blog this morning carries an early announcement of Windows XP's death, together with the exhortation that "now is the time to upgrade to a modern OS." Your definition of "modern" may not coincide with Microsoft's, but there's no doubt that the handwriting is on the wall:

Microsoft will no longer provide support for Windows XP users. This means that customers and partners will no longer receive security updates to the operating system or be able to leverage tech support from Microsoft after this time.

The venerable pre-Ribbon Office 2003 will sing its swan song on the same day: No more Office 2003 support after April 8, 2014, either.

In the same blog post, Microsoft announced a 15 percent discount on Windows 8 Pro and Office Standard 2013:

If you are a small or medium-size business currently running Windows XP Professional PCs, you can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro and Office Standard 2013 at a 15% discount now through June 30 as part of Microsoft's Get2Modern offer. This offer is only available on up to 100 licenses each of Windows 8 Pro and Office 2013 Standard editions.

You have to wonder why the same offer doesn't apply to Office Pro Plus 2013 (which includes Access, InfoPath, and Lync) or Office 365, but I guess that's looking a 15 percent gift horse in the mouth.

Several people have asked me whether I think Microsoft will go through with it -- is the company just playing Chicken Little to spur on upgrades or will it really will drive a stake through XP's heart on April 8, 2014? After all, according to various reporting companies, XP currently accounts for something like 40 percent of all Web hits worldwide. That's a big sliver of the online access pie, and you'd think Microsoft would be crazy to summarily feed all of those loyal customers to the malware wolves.

But is the move really crazy? Online use of XP in North America hovers around 14 percent, according to analytic site Statista, quoting figures from StatCounter. If Microsoft can cut that figure in half over the course of the next year, the number would be looking pretty anemic.

More than that, there's no telling what percentage of those XP users are in fact paying customers. If 40 percent of all Web hits globally come from XP, but only 14 percent of the machines in the United States are browsing with XP, that means a huge percentage of PCs in China (and other corners of the world where the term "genuine" draws guffaws) are using the OS.

Perhaps Microsoft brass figures that cutting off XP would be dealing just desserts to the pirating masses.

My gut feeling is that Microsoft has every intention of going through with it and sending XP to the guillotine next April. Whether a last-minute reprieve is in the cards is anybody's guess. But when you look at it from Microsoft's point of view -- killing off a product that swallows enormous amounts of resources, combined with a free pass to lynch a few million pirates -- getting rid of XP makes a whole lot of sense.

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