My 7/18/10 Missoulian column
(Also see my 7/25/10 column WIndows XP Won’t Die, Part Two)
Microsoft first released its Windows XP operating system in August 2001, and while nine years is a very long time in the tech world XP is still very much alive, even though the company has since released two more versions of Windows.
According to Wikipedia, there are at least 400 million copies of XP currently in use, and last month, XP was the most widely used operating system in the world, with more than 50 percent market share. Microsoft’s own stats say that 74 percent of business PCs that run Windows use XP.
Microsoft has been trying to get people to upgrade for years and has had to extend its support deadlines several times because of the number of people still needing XP security patches and bug fixes. You can’t abandon that many users, the company has correctly reasoned.
Now, Microsoft must feel users need an enticement to get the new version of Windows, called Windows 7. So last week, Microsoft started offering a downgrade option, which means that if you buy Windows 7 and don’t like it, you can go back to XP.
It sounds like a desperate move, and in a way, it is. Windows is very lucrative, and Microsoft needs to keep the money rolling in from upgrades. But there’s some logic behind the downgrade option, if not simply the sales pitch.
If you’re a organization with hundreds or even thousands of PCs to support, a change in something as major as an operating system that doesn’t work out well can be crippling. So businesses can be reluctant if there isn’t a way back to the old ways of doing things.
But one of the unspoken reasons Microsoft wants users to upgrade is XP’s security problems. Time and again, Windows XP has been exploited by hackers who discover vulnerabilities and Microsoft issues patches each month to protect users.
Patching XP costs Microsoft huge amounts of time and money, and the bad PR of security problems can’t be overstated. While Microsoft has had to patch Windows 7, it is more secure than XP.
But hand in hand with the push to upgrade from XP for more security is another recent development that is something of a contradiction: As of July 12, Microsoft stopped issuing security patches for an early version of Windows XP.
What does that mean for hackers and computer security? More next week.
This week in Mac Q & A: What’s Better Than iPhoto?