Is Microsoft really extending XP support?

Microsoft was due to stop all security updates for Windows XP on 8 April, but the company has now muddied the waters. We explain what this means for you.

With the clock ticking down on Windows XP, Microsoft Seemingly handed users a lifeline when it recently announced it would continue some support for the operating system until July 2015. On 15 January the company said it would still release “antimalware signature” updates to help protect people still using XP from threats.

In plain English that means the company will still be issuing updates for XP systems running Microsoft Security Essentials to help protect them from malware. Previously Microsoft had said it would stop issuing updates for Windows XP systems running Security Essentials on 8 April.

But this volte-face isn’t quite what it seems and even Microsoft has warned that the updates will offer only “limited” protection. It said the decision to continue issuing antimalware updates for another year would protect people until they switched to a newer version of Windows. Microsoft has reiterated that support for Windows XP as we know it still ends on 8 April, despite the extended grace period for antimalware updates.

If you’re still using Windows XP, this news shouldn’t be seen as a reason to stick with the operating system. Microsoft has previously admitted that Security Essentials only offers “baseline” protection and our tests have shown it to be seriously second rate (see our cover feature in Issue 415). Anyone still using XP should still upgrade to a more recent operating system.

With the 8 April deadline drawing ever-closer, it isn’t surprising that Microsoft has backtracked to an extent. In December 2013 nearly 30 per cent of computers were still running XP, making it the world’s second most used operating system.

Its use isn’t just limited to home computer users either. Security experts have warned that 95 per cent of the world’s cash machines still run versions of XP, leaving them open to attack when support for the operating system is switched off. Large organisations – such as the NHS and HMRC – are also heavily reliant on Windows XP. Freedom of information requests show they are struggling to upgrade.

Despite Microsoft’s determination to kill off XP, other companies will continue to support the operating system. Google’s Chrome browser will continue to receive updates on Windows XP until April 2015, while Firefox will also still be updated. Kaspersky, Norton and ESET – who ranked first, second and third respectively in our antivirus tests – will all continue to release security updates for Windows XP for the foreseeable future, with Kaspersky pledging to support XP until 2018.

THE FACTS

• Microsoft will continue issuing antimalware updates for Security Essentials on XP until July 2015.

• But security updates for XP itself will still stop on 8 April 2014, leaving it open to attack.

• Most antivirus companies will continue to support XP while it is still popular, but security experts have urged people using XP to upgrade to a more recent operating system to protect their computers.

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