Tech Talk: The 27.69 percent-ers: Surviving with Windows XP?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Last week, I shared a graphic on the current market share for desktop operating system. Unfortunately, while data I fed was accurate, the percentages listed on the chart were not accurate. My apologies.

This discrepancy did not affect the versions of Mac OS X more than a percentage point (the subject of my posting), but it did skew the percentages of Windows versions. Windows XP was listed at 24% and should have been 29 and a half percent. Windows 7 should have been over 47% but ended up at 39%. For the chart below, I updated last week’s worldwide usage chart to show March’s figures and the date of each OS release.

Errors or not, these figures do show there are still a lot of Windows XP users out there and Microsoft is ending support for the operating system in just a few days.  It’s almost as if most of the townspeople of Windows XP has been evacuated to safer ground and nearly 3 out of ten folks have decided to stay in town.

Sticking It Out with Windows XP

(Illustration by Tony Auth)

There are a lot of reasons why people stay in their homes in the face of potential danger. A 2009 study in Psychological Science of those who stayed in the Hurricane Katrina’s danger zone showed many of them felt they didn’t have a choice, either because of money, community roots, and other local considerations. While a Windows upgrade is not in the same league as Hurricane Katrina, many of the same motives keep people from upgrading:

Cost – While computer built in the last five years do well upgrading to Windows 7 or 8/8.1, computer sold in the first eight years are probably lacking in processor capability (single core), memory (one GB or  less) or are simply too worn out to do an upgrade. That means buying a new computer. Though you can get a new and more advanced desktop system for same price the old one cost, it’s still an expense above and beyond others.

Dedicated Equipment – Some XP owners hang on to the OS because it is necessary to run older equipment that isn’t supported under a new OS. I have seen this in film recorders, plotters, or old printers. The reason is that the manufacturers of these devices either no longer exist to provide device drivers or they have chosen not do so. While Windows provides numerous ways through its Compatibility Mode or virtual machines to simulate a Windows XP environment for old software, a lack of available drivers can prevent an upgrade.

Fear and Uncertainty – The consequence of having an operating system around for 13 years is that people become unaccustomed to change in the face of all the other changes around them. For many consumers, Windows XP was the first operating system on their first computer. In that scenario, leap-frogging from XP over four versions to a different looking Windows 8.1 is terrifying. For businesses who spent thousands of dollars on the creation of internal business application around Internet Explorer 6 (Windows XP’s default web browser), the uncertainty and cost around retooling keeps the OS in business.

On April 8th, those folks staying in town with Windows XP will be tested along with users of Microsoft Office 2003 when Microsoft officially stops supporting these products. What can they do?

I talked a bit about this in February and have a few more insights today that might help the 27.69 percent-ers buy some additional time or at least put some plywood up for additional protection.

Things that will still work
  1. Windows XP will still be installable and automatically activated on a system
  2. Windows Update will still work and allow you to download currently available updates for Windows XP
  3. People who have Microsoft Security Essentials installed will still get anti-malware signature updates through July of next year.
  4. The Malicious Software Removal Tool will still download via Windows Update through July of next year.
Things that will no longer be available
  1. New Windows XP Security or software updates after April 8th
  2. Downloads of the Microsoft Security Essentials program itself
Things that might help

While upgrading to a new version of Windows and purchasing a new system are still the best options, there are still individual things that can be done to reduce risk.  While has been speculation about zero day exploits happening after April 8th.
  • Don’t access the Internet. Either unplug your network cable or turn off your computer’s wireless connection. If you must be online, don’t stay online more than necessary. Internet Explorer versions 6. 7. and 8 for Windows XP will not be updated. You should download Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Opera as they will at least be providing browser support on Windows XP for the next year.
  • Avoid using the system for email. Email is a common entry point for phishing attacks. While some people argue that web-based email is safer, systems still get infected my clicking on content in webmail.
  • Remove Java, if installed. Java has traditionally been an entry point for malware on Windows.
  • Keep programs like Adobe Flash and Microsoft Office up-to-date so they don’t become an entry point as well.
  • Avoid using removeable drives. USB-base harddrives or flash drives are another common entry point for malware.
If this appears to be onerous or too-restrictive, you probably should look again at upgrading or a new computer purchase. It takes more work to stay safe in a tough neighborhood and the town of Windows XP is now in a real-tough neighborhood.

Do you have a follow up on this topic or technical question on that needs to be answered or explored?
 Please share it with me at Your question may show up here on Tech Talk.

Brian Boston supported Microsoft products during his 18+ years with the company and now teaches, consults, and troubleshoots a wide range of software and hardware devices for Boston Legacyworks.

Updated 04-06-2014 1:06pm


Anonymous,  April 6, 2014 at 3:29 PM  

What a disgrace. I am ashamed of this company. Malware is not inevitable. It is the manifestation of a design flaw.

Brian Boston April 8, 2014 at 9:48 AM  

Anonymous, I hear your frustration but can't fault Microsoft for it. They have developed four versions of Windows over the past seven years to address these problems and support new changes in technology.

This reminds me of the story of the man who was convinced that God would save him from a flood. He refused the assistance from a car, a canoe, a motorboat and helicopter, saying God would save him. When he asked God why he wasn't saved, God replied, "“Son, I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

While you are correct that malware is not the inevitable outcome of every situation, your conclusion presumes that all "flaws" are reasonably predicable and solvable before a product reaches the marketplace. That is why there are products recalls, drugs that are removed from the market after federal approval, and warnings covering your step ladder advising "proper usage."

Some of these flaws occur not as design flaws but as flaws in execution. In other words, they are just the opposite of a "design flaw" in that execution fails to meet the design specification. In software parlance, this is what defines a "bug."

Another kind of "flaw" is perceived when something is designed for one purpose but then used for another. People are awful creative and frequently repurpose things. Sometimes this is done thoughtfully and other times not. This is why ladder-making companies get sued when people get hurt doing ill-advised things on them and your ladder is now covered with warning stickers.

Thoughtful repurposing also results in great products and features. That is the basis of any form of innovation and improvement.

What sets malware apart from any other innovation is the motive of its creation, not the flaws themselves. Any window is a effective barrier against weather, but flawed when confronted by rock hurled by someone with malicious intent.

So while malware is no more inevitable that any other form of crime, it is inevitable and advisable that we should seek protection to minimize its impact. That is our “flawed” reality and something you can take action to address. I recommend you take the motorboat and not wait for the helicopter

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