Business Technology

Thursday 28 August 2014

What happens now? An idiot's guide to life after shutdown

Adrian Weckler

Published 03/04/2014 | 02:30

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Microsoft is shutting down its security support for Windows XP next Tuesday, April 8.

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Q.  What, in basic terms, is happening?

Microsoft is shutting down its security support for Windows XP next Tuesday, April 8th. This means Microsoft will no longer provide ‘security patches’ for the operating system, as they do at present. So whenever a bug or a flaw is detected -- and they are, on a daily basis -- Microsoft will just leave them exposed.

Q. What will that mean?

It means that if someone releases a virus or writes a piece of malware aimed at exploiting the known flaw, there will be little to stop them succeeding, as Microsoft won’t issue a security patch to plaster over the flaw.

Q. Who will this affect?

In Ireland, it will hit at least one in ten PCs (that’s the number of web-connected PCs still using Windows XP, according to Statcounter, a global internet-tracking firm). But the figure could be higher for Irish businesses.

Q. What’s the worst that could happen to my personal or work PC?

It could start to become infected with lots of malware, ranging from minor bugs to more serious malware that could slow your PC down or compromise its security.

Q. What about anti-virus software? Won’t that work?

Nope. "If you think about what we're talking about, it's our actual operating system," said Patrick Ward, head of Windows in Microsoft Ireland. "There is no other organisation that can provide hot fixes or patches for that. So I don't see a way that another company can provide the support that you will need here. In the same vein, anti-virus is only part of the story. I would strongly recommend not relying solely on anti-virus software."

Q. Why are Irish businesses still using Windows XP, anyway?

There are quite a few reasons. The most common one cited by larger Irish businesses (and public sector bodies, such as semi-state companies and government departments) is that there are lots of custom-made software applications that were made to work with Windows XP. If you change the underlying operating system, some applications need to be completely overhauled, including a potentially lengthy re-testing phase. This would cost time and money. Other reasons cited include a lack of IT budgets, a lack of awareness of the issue and scepticism that Microsoft would go through with the scheduled cut-off date.

Q. Is it just businesses that are going to suffer?

No. Public sector organisations have been left exposed here, too. The government had to stump up a €3.3m emergency payment to Microsoft to provide extra security cover for Irish government PC systems in multiple departments still using XP.

Q. Why is Microsoft doing this?

It says that the operating system was never supposed to last this long and has now become way too costly to support. It’s also frustrated that all of the enhanced security features it claims to have built into systems such as Windows 7 and Windows 8 are still being missed by a large chunk of people still using Windows XP.

Q. Is there any chance that the company might put off the Windows XP deadline?

It seems very unlikely. It has already deferred the deadline once before, but is adamant that April 8 is now the final cut-off date. "I can categorically assure you that we will not be providing continued support for it after April 8,” said Mr Ward.

Q. My company PC still uses Windows XP. What can I do?

You can either buy a new machine (a standalone PC now costs around €300) or you can upgrade the operating system yourself. You can do this by either buying a Microsoft Windows 8 disk (around €100) or downloading the system from Microsoft.com.

Q. Should I opt for Windows 7 or Windows 8?

If you’re used to Windows XP and are comfortable with the way it feels, Windows 7 is probably your best bet. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t sell it directly anymore as it wants you to buy (the less popular) Windows 8. But you can still get Windows 7 on business laptops and desktop PCs. Bear in mind that Microsoft says that its mainstream support for Windows 7 is due to end next January, with extended support ending in 2020.

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