It should come as news to absolutely nobody: One year from yesterday — i.e. April 8, 2014 — the Extended Support period for Windows XP will end. What this means in concrete terms is that Microsoft will no longer provide critical updates — which basically means security updates — for Windows XP.
Less attention has been given to the fact that the same fate awaits Office 2003 on the same day: It, too, will get no critical updates after that date. This will be a bigger deal in the short term: Office 2003 was the last version before Microsoft switched to the "ribbon" interface that many users hated. I personally know quite a few users who never upgraded because they never saw any reason to.
Neither set of users should feel badly treated. As is standard for the company, Microsoft gave Office 2003 more than 10 years of support. Windows XP received more than 12 years of support, a two-year bonus the company gave to enterprise customers as a consolation when it became clear that many would take a pass on Windows Vista. Nobody else in the industry supports its customers for as long as Microsoft.
To repeat, this is only about security updates. It has been many years since Microsoft has provided bug fixes or any kind of feature improvements for these products. If you want to talk to someone at Microsoft for support for these products, then you have to pay for it. But nobody's telling you that you can't continue to use the software. You're just completely on your own, no matter what trouble you get into.
Like I said, nobody should be surprised that XP support is ending. Here's a story I wrote about it four years ago. There are still a lot of users out there running it. According to NetMarketShare, almost 39 percent of Web users are on XP. It is an imperfect measure, but it's one of the best we have.
|Mac OS X 10.8||2.65%|
|Mac OS X 10.6||1.87%|
|Mac OS X 10.7||1.81%|
Last time I saw a breakdown, the lion's share of XP users were in China, perhaps because it was a fairly easy version to pirate. It's commonly assumed that pirated versions don't get updates, but that only applies to noncritical updates. Every update to Windows XP for the past several years has been a critical update, and even pirated copies can get them. But I doubt these users will care if the alternative is to pay for a legit copy.
By the same token, I'm sure that many of the remaining Office 2003 users are in China, but the difference won't be the same. Windows XP has been thoroughly demonized by the security community to the point where even the companies running it know they shouldn't be. The same isn't as true of Office 2003, but perhaps it should be.
So what's Microsoft's advice for you? As it says on the Support Lifecycle page for Windows XP, "Buy Windows 8 now!"
Larry Seltzer is the editorial director for BYTE, Dark Reading, and Network Computing.
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