Editor's note: On April 8, 2014, Microsoft plans to shut down product support for Windows XP, Office 2003 or Windows Small Business Server 2003. Harry Brelsford, founder of SMBNation, is an expert on the coming change. In the coming months, Harry will offer his insight and advice on what small businesses need to know about migrating from Win XP.
Most small businesses are unaware of a very important technology milestone that's fast approaching: It's the end-of-life (EOL) for a portfolio of Microsoft products including Windows XP and Office 2003. This past April, Microsoft announced that it would terminate all support and updates for the Windows XP, Office 2003 and anything Server '03 (such as Windows Small Business Server 2003) in a year's time: on April 8, 2014. The milestone is significant because of what occurs on April 9, 2014.
When the April 8 deadline passes, small businesses that rely on those technologies (slightly more than 37 percent of all desktops and notebooks run on Win XP) assume a lot of risk. Simply stated, you are on your own. No more "Patch Tuesday" software and security updates, out-of-band emergency updates or product support. And that's where the security risks—the zombies, as it were—lurk.
The Risk of Running Windows XP
Computer malware, like the Melissa virus of a generation ago (the heart of the Windows 98 era before Windows XP) used to be mere annoyances. In today's rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, the stakes are dramatically higher with much more information at play—and the bad guys use technology as a central attack vector.
Computing habits have evolved over the past 10-plus years to the point where we "trust" technology with more financial information and personal data. You have much more to lose than you did when Windows XP was first released back in 2001. With the higher stakes, hackers (which now include competitors and foreign governments) have much more to gain. Online backroom chatter already concerns hackers creating new malware to exploit Windows XP et al after April 9th when Microsoft ceases all product support.
Windows XP EOL Reality
So just what does EOL mean? It means that Microsoft and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), along with hardware manufacturers, are done with Windows XP and anything '03. On the security-side, beginning April 9th, these unsupported and unpatched environments are vulnerable to security risks.
On the software application side, ISVs will not provide support for Windows XP and '03 generation apps; they will encourage you to "get modern," by which they mean application upgrades. That's because the newer applications can do so much more stuff. And don't forget that Windows XP-specific virus definition files, created in conjunction with Microsoft and distributed to anti-virus ISVs, are also off the table after April 8th.
If you want a deeper understanding of Microsoft's decision, you can read the official site, but I'll "translate" Microsoft-speak into the language of small business. The first question everyone asks is: why did Microsoft elect to EOL Windows XP and anything '03? Cynics in the small business community smell an artificial revenue opportunity where the EOL deadline benefits only Microsoft.
However, I can offer balance on that perspective. Simply stated, the world has changed since 2001. If you agree that a technology generation roughly equals five years, then Windows XP is entering its third generation of service. With the increased sophistication of both software applications and hacker methods, XP's core operating system building blocks no longer constitute a valid design. To be honest, I'm puzzled why Microsoft didn't EOL these products earlier.
If your business runs Win XP or any '03 product, you can't afford to sit on this information. April 8 is coming faster than you'd like. Beware of the April 9th zombies, and start discussing your post-Windows XP and '03 plans—now.
Harry Brelsford, founder of SMBNation, is passionate about helping small businesses understand the issues and implications surrounding the end of Microsoft's support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. You can reach him at Harryb@smbnation.com.
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