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Perspective: Microsoft risks security reputation ruin by retiring XP

Gregg Keizer | March 11, 2014
Telling users they must upgrade, and to Windows 8.1, doesn't cut it

So far, Microsoft has done little but repeatedly tell customers that the end of XP is near and that they should move to Windows 8.1, either by upgrading the OS or by purchasing a new device with Windows 8.1 already installed. Both have been met with incredulity and derision by users stuck on XP.

Microsoft's one-beat drum — Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1, only Windows 8.1 — seems as tone-deaf as its initial refusal to recognize customer beefs about Windows 8 were more than the usual griping. When Julie Larson-Green, then the co-lead for Windows, said last May, "We're not stubborn" about changing Windows 8, she could have been talking about the company's kill-XP strategy.

If Microsoft did decide to change direction, it has several options that have been proposed by customers, analysts and other observers.

Do a 180-degree turn and continue to patch XP. This would be the easiest to implement, but not to stomach, for Microsoft. The company could let natural replacement take its course, and keep patching XP until it reaches a lower share of all Windows PCs, that share set and publicized by Microsoft. The company could bolster its position by revealing the percentage of PCs running XP that access Windows Update, a telemetric mark it has declined to disclose, to show how prevalent XP really is, rather than make the media and customers rely on estimates from the likes of Net Applications.

Continue to support XP, but only with patches for critical vulnerabilities. Microsoft's security team has already committed to crafting patches for critical and important vulnerabilities in Windows XP, as those will be provided to enterprises that have paid $200 per PC for the first year of extra-extended support. (Those companies automatically receive all updates rated critical, but must pay extra, above and beyond the $200 per machine fee, for those pegged important.) If it did this, it would probably have to refund those moneys, or perhaps automatically ship the important updates free of charge to companies that ponied up for the additional support.

Offer the extra-extended support to everyone for a fee. Microsoft could offer a subscription to the uber-extended support to everyone, including the consumers and small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) not eligible for the corporate plan. Pricing the subscription would be the most difficult part of this decision: Low enough to entice a sizable number, high enough to be materially important as a replacement for the revenue Microsoft assumes it would lose in new licenses to OEMs. Customers have suggested numbers like $50 or $60 a year.

Revive Windows 7 and discount an XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade. Microsoft has already removed Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional from its own sales outlets, and stopped selling copies to middlemen like Newegg and Amazon. (Those retailers continue to sell the edition because they, or the distributors they rely on, have stockpiled copies.) By reviving Windows 7, and offering that as an upgrade from XP — few XP PC owners seem interested in making the jump to the radically-redesigned Windows 8 — Microsoft sells a license to Windows, if not to the newest Windows. A steep discount, perhaps to the $39.99 it charged customers for the Windows 7-to-Windows 8 upgrade in late 2012 and early 2013, might entice a measurable number to ditch XP. Reducing the price even further — to the $19.99 Apple charged in 2012 for OS X 10.8, aka Mountain Lion — should shake loose even more customers from XP, according to studies of upgrade pricing and user share changes.


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