Microsoft announced the date they will stop supporting Windows XP. The date they announced is April 8, 2014; and it’s almost here! There’s panic in the streets! If you have Windows XP computers, how will Microsoft’s announcement affect you? What do you need to do?

 Microsoft’s Support Policy

All companies choose a cutoff date to support older products. Here’s how Microsoft said it on their website:

“Microsoft has provided support for Windows XP for the past 12 years. But now the time has come for us, along with our hardware and software partners, to invest our resources toward supporting more recent technologies so that we can continue to deliver great new experiences.”

 Let’s face it. Twelve years is a long time for any software solution! So their decision makes sense, and no one is upset with them over it. They announced that support for Windows XP will end on April 8, 2014. What does that mean? Again, quoting their 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.”

 Okay, so they won’t offer technical support or write patches for flaws after the cutoff date. They go further to say:

“If you continue to use Windows XP after support ends, your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.”

 It’s this last statement that has folks panicking, and it’s very likely cash-flow and marketing driven. But there’s no need for panic… the sky is not falling.

Should You Update or Replace Your Systems?

The quick answer to this question is, “Yes!” Windows 7 (XP’s successor) has been in the marketplace for nearly four years now, and it is very stable. Windows 8.1 (Win 7’s successor) also looks good, but has some user interface challenges that most enterprise users (companies, corporations, etc) are avoiding. Windows 9 may be released before this year ends as Microsoft works hard to recapture the trust that was lost with Windows 8 and to recapture the cash flow they lost when their operating system sales dropped because of Windows 8.

 However, there are reasons to not replace a Windows XP system. Some applications won’t run on anything released after Windows XP. That limitation is extremely rare, but could be a reason to not move forward. I should mention, though, that as an IT engineering firm we have not run into this issue. Oh sure; old versions of some apps won’t run on anything after XP, but any company wanting to stay in business has released subsequent versions of their solution.

 So, if you don’t have any applications that can only run on XP or older operating systems, you really should upgrade. If you have some applications that can only run on XP and older operating systems, you should look for a replacement for those applications so you can move forward.

 But YOU DON’T HAVE TO UPGRADE if you don’t want to! Really!

How Can You Protect Your Systems?

Microsoft writes patches to fill vulnerability gaps in its software that some bad guys want to use to exploit systems. But that is only one piece of your defense system. There are a few others that, if you have them in place and current, will help you going forward.

  • Firewall. Your systems, whether at the office or at home, should be protected by a firewall. At home your router/ modem provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may be your firewall. If that’s true, contact your ISP and make certain it is protecting you appropriately (protection may not be turned on, for instance). At work you probably have a piece of hardware (like a SonicWALL, our favorite firewall) or software protecting you. The key is to make certain that your subscriptions are current (the manufacturers constantly update these systems to protect you against newly created/ discovered threats).
  • Email SPAM Filter. Many threats come via email. They can be embedded in graphics (like photos, logos, etc) or in links. SPAM filters (like Barracuda, our favorite) block about 85% of all email because the email is identified as intended to harm the recipient. Thus good SPAM firewalls reduce the vulnerability of using email.
  • Practice Safe Internet Browsing. A couple of good browsing policies are:
    • Be cautious which links and websites you visit. If it looks suspicious, avoid it.
    • Never enter personal information on a site that is not secure.

 So, should you replace your Windows XP systems? Yes! It’s time!  😉   Do you have to replace them before April 8th? Probably not.