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Windows XP Holdouts Get Ready To Go Over Support Cliff

Partners, Microsoft campaigns and upgrade cycles got most users off Windows XP. The holdouts appear resigned to riding the OS into the abyss of non-security support.

As of March 1, there are 26 business days until Windows XP extended support officially ends, but the sense of urgency among remaining users to get off the OS appears to be lacking.

For the last five years, Microsoft has done the publicity equivalent of drawing a bright red circle around April 8, 2014, underlining the date repeatedly, following it with multiple exclamation points and circling it a few more times for good measure.

For many partners, Windows XP migrations have been a substantial business.

"We've seen some customers want to roll out enormous upgrades at the 11th hour."

Herb Hogue,
SVP, Professional Services and Engineering,
En Pointe Technology

"I would say we've seen a lot of momentum over the last few years, especially as the unsupported date gets closer and closer," said Herb Hogue, senior vice president of professional services and engineering at En Pointe Technologies, based in Gardena, Calif.

En Pointe is still landing new engagements. "We've seen some customers want to roll out enormous upgrades at the 11th hour," Hogue said in a mid-January interview. "We just got notified by a very large customer two weeks ago, and they want to get everything done by July."

Nonetheless, the Windows XP migration business is slowing down. "What we've seen is most of it depends on the physical assets. If they're on a three-year asset cycle, then generally they're already off. The guys who are trying to get seven years out of an asset? They're still on XP," Hogue said.

En Pointe isn't banking on a lot more migration projects coming out of the woodwork, though. Hogue suspects many of the businesses still running Windows XP are there because they don't have the budget to move: "For the most part, I don't see a big market going into April-May-June."

As the date approaches, the size of the installed base hanging onto Windows XP is large and persistent -- lack of security patches notwithstanding.

Net Applications.com published its month-end numbers on Feb. 1, showing Windows XP at a 29.23 percent share. At a time when users and organizations globally should be decommissioning the OS, the usage share is actually a very slight increase from the Windows XP 28.98 percent share for the close of 2013. (The Net Applications.com figures are based on data extracted from visitors to the company's global network of thousands of partner sites.)

Windows XP has followed a stair-step pattern in usage drops over the last half year, falling from about 37 percent in June and July to roughly 31 percent from September through November before hitting its current plateau.

For its part and after years of fairly consistent messaging, Microsoft itself did a head fake about Windows XP security in late January. Microsoft announced that it would continue to provide signatures for malware on Windows XP through July 14, 2015. Those signatures will be delivered through Microsoft security and management products such as Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection, System Center Endpoint Protection, Windows Intune and the free Microsoft Security Essentials.

What Microsoft hasn't done is change its decision on whether to keep patching Windows XP after April 8. So far, all indications are that it won't -- and it will be open season for the creation of zero-day attacks for Windows XP. All that signature support through July 2015 won't help much with that.

Microsoft's announcement of the decision acknowledged as much. "Our research shows that the effectiveness of antimalware solutions on out-of-support operating systems is limited," a Microsoft Malware Protection Center blog post stated. In explaining the strange decision, the blog post said the move was intended "to help organizations complete their migrations."

"I'm concerned that it will amount to kicking the can down the road and customers will still not feel a sense of urgency to get off Windows XP," said SMB Nation President Harry Brelsford, who has been organizing tech tours about the Windows XP migration opportunity in recent months, in a blog post about the antimalware decision.

But Brelsford sees a silver lining for the channel: "What most in our community may not realize is that this adds up to a great opportunity. Your migration business model opportunity essentially has another 1.25 years of life in terms of having a sales and marketing story."

For more on Windows XP's support deadline, go here.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.