Kicking and Screaming – the Internet Explorer Update and Windows XP

By: Michael Kachaniwsky

On May 1st Microsoft released a patch for Internet Explorer that fixed the Zero-day vulnerability for all versions of Internet Explorer (well IE6-IE11). This is remarkable because Microsoft has officially stated that they ceased support for Windows XP and Internet Explorer up to version 8.  Internet Explorer 9 will have support until 2017 according to Microsoft.

So what does this all mean? That Microsoft is a compulsive liar about ending support for IE8 and Windows XP? Not exactly, although you could certainly make a case for it if any more patches are released for XP or IE8. This patch brings up a few main questions that deserve some thought. The first one being:

If they ended support for Windows XP why did they release this patch?

Great question really, and there are multiple factors that contribute to the answer. First and foremost the Zero-day vulnerability was a massive security breach that would have pushed many users to use browsers other than Internet Explorer. This is obviously terrible for Microsoft so a fast update was expected.  Now there are a few reasons why Microsoft could have decided to patch older, unsupported systems.

The first being over a quarter of desktops still use Windows XP. Upsetting a quarter of your user base by not updating security on a web browser that is built into their operating system is not how you breed loyal customers. Not patching this major security vulnerability would have pushed many off of XP, and perhaps off PC’s entirely.

The second reason is the timing of the security breach.  Windows XP and IE8 support was pulled on April 8, and within a month the zero-day vulnerability was discovered. It happened too fast. A potentially disastrous flaw that could make using XP far too dangerous to use happened nearly instantly (in the grand scheme of things). Make no mistake Microsoft really wants XP to disappear, but they want the plane to go down slowly. They want the plane to glide for a while with no turbulence, eventually landing softly in a field or on a runway. If they didn’t patch this flaw that plane would have crashed and burned with no survivors.

The final reason is the severity of the issue. Had this been a smaller vulnerability I have no doubt Microsoft would have put up the Windows 8.1 sign and said good luck with XP. They would have pointed to the flaw as a sign of the future of unsupported XP. It all would have played out nicely for Microsoft, but instead there’s an easy way for hackers to gain equal user rights. Not exactly an easily ignored issue, and so Microsoft was forced to fix it.

I know what all of this likely has you thinking, because I’ve heard it many, many times when this topic is discussed.

XP does exactly what I need it to, I’m used to it, Microsoft will clearly patch any big problems and Windows 8 is trash. Why would I ever change it?

The old, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage is always brought up when I speak to XP users. The truth of the matter is they’re actually right… for now.

XP works just fine, it’s still used around the globe and people have grown very comfortable with it. In the future however XP is going to have quite a few issues, and major ones at that. If Microsoft doesn’t want you to use XP, you can bet they will force you to switch. New security breaches will appear and Microsoft won’t care one bit. Again, they’ll just put up the Windows 8 sign, tell you to upgrade every time a bug appears, and just force a new operating system down your throat. They want you to switch to a new operating system so they make money, and eventually even the most stubborn will have to listen.

XP was released for sale October 25th 2001, and so XP has had an astonishing 13 year run. 13 years of relevance is something unheard of in the software world. This brings up another, more puzzling question.

Why won’t XP just die?

I love this question because it started as a great story of success, and now is just a thorn in the side of Microsoft. What started out as the poster boy of Microsoft products is now preventing them from selling their new desktops. People love XP so much they don’t see a point in upgrading because XP is just that good.

It won’t burn out because it is being used in large corporations. The older, larger corporations invested a lot of money into their IT when XP was still being sold. It was new and far better than older systems. Back then an upgrade to XP seemed like the obvious choice as it did everything a corporation could want and dream of. It won’t die because it still does everything a corporation could want and dream of. These are absolutely massive clients for Microsoft who don’t want to reinvest in IT since it can be so expensive. XP still works for them and an upgrade seems like an unnecessary cost.

Now Microsoft has backed XP for this long in fear of upsetting these large clients, but it’s been 13 years. Support is cut and these corporations still don’t want to reinvest the time and money into a new IT system.

The time spent upgrading, a sometimes overlooked factor, is actually pretty significant. According to interviews done by it took companies about 18 months to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. I imagine the learning curve for some of the employees was considerably longer than that. Out of the 12 CIO’s interviewed 5 said they were not ready, or did not want to change just yet.

But they, like everyone else, will have to.

But when?

I think the honest answer is that no one really knows. Microsoft has stated that they are aiming to bring the rough 25% of all desktops running XP number down to 20% by the end of 2014. This sounds pretty realistic, but after that it’s difficult to definitively say when the number will start to plummet. Originally Microsoft had aimed to bring it down to 10% by the beginning of 2014, before they had even dropped support for XP. With Windows 8 being terrible and a few other factors already mentioned that goal didn’t pan out. Windows 8.1 is actually a nice improvement, over Windows 8 that is, as I have discussed before (Shameless plug for my Windows 8.1 blog post) but it’s very different from Windows XP. This makes people even more reluctant to upgrade therefore delaying the end of XP even further.

Windows 7 was pretty similar to XP, and is my personal favourite operating system. Microsoft doesn’t sell it to the public anymore, and they charge quite a bit extra to sell it to corporations. So, unfortunately, Windows 7 just isn’t a viable option anymore.

So here’s my theory, people are just going to try and wait as long as possible in an attempt to make it to the next operating system. Windows 9 will hopefully be a little closer to XP and 7, and we can all pray it won’t feel like you’re using a desktop sized phone.

However XP decides to goes down it’s had an absolutely fantastic run and will be remembered with fondness by its users for many years to come. Maybe it’ll even get a page in a history textbook one day.

One can hope.

CurrentWare Admin
CurrentWare Admin
CurrentWare is the maker of BrowseControl web filter and BrowseReporter employee monitor software. We help businesses improve employees productivity and restrict Internet access.

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