Windows XP will reach the end of life on April 8, 2014. This means that Microsoft will no longer provide security updates to ward off hordes of virii, Trojan horses, worms, spyware, bots, spamware, and any of the other forms of malware targeted at what has been the most ubiquitous operating system on the planet.
Microsoft has been trying to bribe, cajole and coerce users of XP — there is still a huge number of them — into upgrading to a more recent version of Windows. But they are just concerned about the revenue stream and not about the safety and security of your computer systems.
Some users of XP are upgrading to newer versions of Windows but some are switching to Linux, in part because Linux is more secure and less expensive than any Windows operating system. However the vast majority of XP users are not doing anything because of huge masses of organizational inertia and lack of funding.
Many users, especially home users, are just going to stick with what they have because they have never worried about updates and have no clue that support is expiring, and would not care anyway if they did know.
My guess is that Windows XP will be around for many years, whether supported or not.
Security specialists around the world have been predicting the Winpocalypse in which every Windows XP system will become immediately infected and begin sending spam and malware to all of the other already infected XP systems. Some of the more alarmist predictions theorize the collapse of the Internet due to the mass attacks envisioned as a worst case scenario.
I am pretty certain that the worst of these Internet doomsday predictions are highly improbable. But that does not mean that there won’t be an impact. The Internet will be burdened with the effects of large amounts of traffic but, let’s face it, Windows XP is already a hotbed of infection. And not just XP; virtually every version of Windows out there, including Windows 7 and 8 are fairly easy targets for malware. Perhaps they are a bit less susceptible than XP, but that is simply saying that Windows 7 and 8 are better than XP because it takes a little more work to crack into them. It seems to me that lots of people get paid a lot of money to remove malware from those computers running more recent versions of Windows than XP.
Some media is covering this extensively, and the hyperbole is astounding. It might as well be Y2K again. Oh, wait! … that did not happen did it. Well, perhaps it did not happen because all of the programmers responsible for correcting that little issue before it did become a problem actually did a great job of it.
However there are no little programming tweaks that can be made to fix this issue. It is going to require a complete installation of a new operating system and most of the applications people are using will have to be upgraded with new versions as well. That will require new hardware in almost every case. So new Windows operating system, new applications and new hardware to run it all. It will all be very expensive.
And the old hardware will probably be given away, infestations and all, to people too poor or too ignorant about computers to do anything about replacing Windows XP, even if they had heard that there is a problem with it, or they will simply be scrapped and sent to third-world “recycling” centers in which the workers and the environment are slowly — or not so slowly — poisoned.
Those of us who use Linux or Unix are not particularly worried about the safety or functionality of the systems for which we are responsible so long as we install security updates as they are made available. We are a bit concerned about the effect on the Internet as a functioning utility, and very seriously concerned about the people and ecosystems affected by tossing all those perfectly good computers into one trash heap or another even if the recyclable components are extracted and reused.
It is especially difficult to see really good computers being tossed when organizations are convinced by their support organizations, whether internal or especially external, that perfectly good computers need replacing and the old ones should be trashed. I see organizations discarding computers with really decent specifications that could be refurbished simply by installation of a decent operating system like Linux.
Sometimes, not frequently but sometimes, the “older” computers are given to schools and other non-profits and are used by children in schools too poor to purchase new computers for a bit of computer learning. Of course that does not make these computers free, because the Windows license does not transfer and they should not be using XP anyway. So schools have computers dumped on them in some cases with an old, unsupported OS that they cannot use, so they must — to be legal at least — purchase a newer version of Windows, and quite probably a memory upgrade to allow it to work reasonably well and get booted before class is over.
Here again, installing Linux on those computers will usually negate the need to purchase more memory and still save the cost of paying for an OS.
If you have some old Windows computers that you are considering replacements for, think first about upgrading them with Linux. You will very likely be amazed at the speed difference that Linux will make, and it will be free in the bargain. And that is a real bargain.