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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

Kick off a Windows XP PC trade-in program in cooperation with one or more OEMs. If Microsoft is really serious about getting XP out of circulation, one approach would be to have customers turn in their old XP-powered PCs for a new device. Microsoft has run buyback programs before — last year it tried to goose sales of Surface tablets and Windows smartphones by paying customers for their used iOS and Android mobile devices -- and could do much the same for aged XP PCs. The deal would probably have to be limited to its own retail stores, or possibly the stores-inside-stores it's created within the Best Buy chain, because of the need to verify eligibility and assist users in moving data, settings, even applications, from the old to the new systems. But the reach of Best Buy and its Geek Squad technical assistance could make a plan like this realistic.


Such a program could advance several goals Microsoft has set. It would promote Windows 8.1 devices, and be seen as a way to boost that edition's profile as much as to eradicate XP. If the devices, after a trade-in, were in the lowest-priced category — Microsoft's reportedly cut Windows 8.1's license fee for sub-$250 notebooks — it might quiet the complaints from some current XP-forever users that they can't afford to upgrade and simultaneously attack Chrome OS-based Chromebooks, the cheap laptops that Microsoft seems to be very concerned about. Additionally, a trade-in or trade-up program would bring some XP users into the Microsoft Account fold, the single sign-on used to connect to the company's services, and so into the customer pool for those services.

But because it's the most radical of moves, it's also the one least likely for Microsoft, conservative by nature, to make.

Undoubtedly, Microsoft has thought of those options, and likely many more: The company doesn't lack for brainy people, even though some of its marketing messaging has been off-key. But by the evidence —silence most of all — it rejected them and decided to continue the march to XP patch cut-off.

That's a shame. Because once Windows's reputation and that of the ecosystem starts taking hits because unpatched XP systems become infected, it will be too late to do much more than watch that reputation swirl toward the drain.

None of the above suggestions are guaranteed to hasten the elimination of Windows XP from the rolls of active operating systems; ultimately, only time will do that. But by taking one or more of those steps, Microsoft could point to what it has done to help customers get off XP, rather than have others point out what it has not done. That could mean the difference between a tainted reputation and one still credible.


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