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Windows XP's retirement is in doubt, say some experts

Some security researchers wonder if Microsoft will indeed retire Windows XP on April 8, 2014, as the vendor has announced.

After that date, Microsoft will no longer distribute official security updates or bug fixes for the ancient operating system -- though it will offer them to enterprises that pay for high-priced support contracts.

PCs still running XP won't just suddenly stop working, of course, but they will be vulnerable to attacks exploiting weaknesses in the operating system that are discovered after that date.

Some observers believe that leaving PCs running the still widely used operating system could lead to trouble. Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, conjured up this scenario: What happens if "a security problem with XP suddenly causes massive problems on the Internet, such as a massive [denial-of-service] problem?" That could become a worldwide tech crisis, and "in this scenario," he said, "I believe Microsoft would have to do the right thing and issue a fix."

Others disagree. "I think they have to draw a line in the sand," said Gartner analyst John Pescatore. "They've supported XP longer than anything else, so they'd be pretty clean from the moral end."

Pescatore said the only scenario he could envision in which Microsoft extended XP's life would involve business considerations, not security concerns: The company might continue to support XP as a way of holding on to customers still using the operating system rather than risk losing more market share.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Read more about operating systems in Computerworld's Operating Systems Topic Center.


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