Is XP expiry another Y2K scare?

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Tomorrow, April 8, is when Microsoft will officially be retiring Windows XP, raising alarm among some pundits who say that computers with XP will be vulnerable to hacking attacks and malware (screengrab: Microsoft).

Tomorrow, April 8, is when Microsoft will officially be retiring Windows XP, raising alarm among some pundits who say that computers with XP will be vulnerable to hacking attacks and malware (screengrab: Microsoft).

oon yeohBy Oon Yeoh

It’s hard to imagine that Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system has been around for more than 12 years. In the tech world, that’s virtually an eternity.

To give you a sense of how long ago that was, when XP was launched in October 2001, there was no XBox console, no iPod and no Facebook yet.

Tomorrow, April 8, is when Microsoft will be officially retiring the XP. Quite simply, what this means is that Microsoft will no longer issue security updates or provide support for it.

This has raised alarm among some pundits who say that computers with XP will then be vulnerable to hacking attacks and malware.

Considering that nearly 30% of PC owners are still using this outdated OS, this should be a cause for concern. It’s certainly something that governments are taking notice of.

The UK government, for example, has signed a £5.548 million contract with Microsoft for a year’s worth of Windows XP support after the April 8 deadline. The Dutch government has also signed a multi-million euro deal with Microsoft for continued support for its Windows XP systems.

What does it mean for normal users?

Not much actually, in my opinion. I would classify the XP scare as being akin to the Y2K scare. If you have been happy using XP all along, I think you can continue using it on your computer even after April 8. (That said, you should consult the appropriate IT professionals and/or authorities for their advice. This commentary is just my opinion.)

Come tomorrow, Microsoft will no longer send automatic updates for XP. But that sounds scarier than it should. Those updates from Microsoft are usually for specific program-related issues and if you do not have those specific programs on your computer, those updates may not be important.

There will also no longer be any security updates but if you have adequate virus and malware protection, you should be fine, I believe. Malwarebytes has launched an updated version of its Anti-Malware Premium suite, and the company says it will support XP users for life.

But if you’re still using XP, it’s really worth considering upgrading. Visit microsoft.com to download the Windows 8.1 upgrade assistant, which will let you know whether your PC can handle 8.1. Even if your computer is old, as long as you have a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of hard drive storage, it should work.

If your computer is simply too old to handle the upgrade, perhaps it’s time to just buy a new computer. I can understand the reluctance to switch to Windows 8 or 8.1 because of the radical change in the user interface. I had concerns too when I did it. It took some time to get used to the new interface but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. It’s not rocket science, I assure you.

What about for banks?

It might be a shock for you to hear this but apparently some 95% of the world’s ATM machines are running on XP.

But just as PCs with XP will continue running as usual after April 8, so will ATMs in my opinion. They shouldn’t suddenly stop dispensing money nor will they spit out lots of free money. In short, there will be no malfunction.

It’s worth highlighting that many ATMs run a special embedded version of XP which Microsoft will support well into 2016. Besides, banks have been aware of XP’s impending demise for some time now and they should have already taken extra precautions to ensure their ATMs are safe from hackers. Some banks like JP Morgan have taken the extra precaution the UK and Dutch governments have done, and have bought an extra year’s worth of support from Microsoft.

When it comes to computer systems, it’s always good to be cautious but there is no need to be alarmist about things. Those who are overly anxious about XP’s demise are probably the same folks who lost sleep over the Y2K millennium bug. Nothing disastrous happened on January 1, 2000. Nothing will after April 8, 2014 either, but that’s just my humble opinion. Like I said earlier, please seek professional advice for your IT needs.

 

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant. Views expressed are his own and for informative purposes only.

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