XP scaremongering and Windows 8.1

So I was going back over our older blogs hunting for inspiration (it is my turn to shoe horn those all-important key words of IT Support, IT services, IT support services or Managed IT services into a piece of text for our website you see), and I noticed that it has been nearly a year since we stoked your fears around the retirement of XP as a supported operating system.

Just to recap, On April 8th 2014 Microsoft will formally end its support of XP and Office 2003. What this primarily means is that from that point Microsoft will no longer release monthly security updates for the ubiquitous operating system. On the one hand this could be seen as a good thing, as on occasion these updates have been known to break more than they fix. However, this also means that exploits that are found in the operating system will no longer be addressed.

Popular exploits are giving the ability to an “attacker” to access your computer with the same level of access to your infrastructure as the person who is logged on to the machine. This could enable them to mine your data, monitor your activity or steal account logons and passwords.

Is there a feasible risk of this happening?

Statistically, yes. As of June 2013, XP still accounted for 21% of the global PC operating system market. From the perspective of a hacker, it must be an enticing prospect. We all know that online hackers and hacktivists exist, and history shows that they always focus on exploiting the largest user base. It is why Apple’s OS X seems so secure, it only accounts for little over 7% of the global market, while Microsoft’s cumulative share of the operating system market is 85%. This is the single biggest reason why there is more malware focused towards Microsoft’s operating systems. The prospect of such a popular operating system no longer receiving any security updates is probably too great to ignore. Just because you have antivirus software and a firewall installed won’t necessarily help either, as in some instances these exploits will circumnavigate these safety measures.

But with so many people still using XP surely Microsoft will extend support?

Microsoft has very little motivation to extend support any further. It is a business after all with an obligation to its shareholders to make money. It has spent $898 million on advertising alone for Windows 8 and the Surface so it has to force a return on that somehow. The April 2014 deadline is already an extension and Microsoft, having invested millions of dollars in developing and marketing XP’s replacements, it is well within its rights to stop supporting an application it stopped selling six and a half years ago.

So should one move to Windows 7 or Windows 8?

Technically the only operating system that you can get with a new computer today is Windows 8. If you get one with Windows 8 Professional installed then you can in theory downgrade it to Windows 7. There is increasingly little mileage in downgrading to Windows 7 though. The main reasons for your average end user to choose 7 in preference over 8 were the lack of unified search functions and the demise of the Start button. All this will change in the autumn with the release of Windows 8.1
What is new in Windows 8.1?

Unified Search

Currently in Windows 8 if I wanted to search for a file I couldn’t find I would have select search on the Start Screen (the screen with all the tiles), select “files” then type in whatever I was looking for. When I type that sentence it doesn’t seem so bad, but having spent years being able to click on my Start button and type whatever I was looking for in the search box presented to me, it felt like a step backwards. Microsoft has reengineers Windows 8’s search function with its Bing service, and is bring back the one stop search function, that will not only search your files, settings and applications but also the internet for appropriate results.

Start Button

Windows 8 was designed very much with the touch screen revolution in mind. The OS lends itself to mobile devices and touch screen monitors. The problem is that most of us are still shackled to our desks; we have little incentive to replace our £90 19” monitor with a £250+ touch monitor. It isn’t going help me send email any quicker, nor is it going to write those Excel formulas for me. The removal of the Start button effectively ostracised much of the IT user community, who subsequently and vocally avoided upgrading to Windows 8 because of this. I am an alleged IT professional and moved to Windows 8 as soon as I could get myself a copy. That said the first thing I did upon installing it was to go and spend $5 on a 3rd party start button from Stardock. My colleagues who have stuck with the Start screen proclaim that you do get used to it, but much like sweetener in my tea, I just don’t see the point of “getting used to something” if I don’t have to. I am pleased to say that Microsoft now agrees, so the Start button is coming back.

The semi-retirement of Control Panel

Historically everything administrative to do with your computer was hidden in the various components that make up Control Panel. The most common tasks such as changing resolution, product key and running windows updates through to binding computers to a domain can be done through PC Settings. It is not necessarily a big thing, but it is a little time saver and makes Windows 8 that little bit more accessible than its predecessors.

Further integration of SkyDrive

This is probably only relevant to those who have moved to Office 365, Windows Mobile or who have got a Surface, but you will no longer need to go to a separate interface to choose what to sync, you will be able to do it from one location from now on.

Lock Screen Slideshow

This is a thing apparently; you can’t have photo albums playing when you have locked your screen like you used to. Again, Microsoft has listened and this functionality is returning.

Internet Explorer 11

IE11 will ship with Windows 8.1 offering “even better touch performance, faster page load times and several other new features we think you will enjoy.” But don’t worry as Chrome will still work just fine.
There are rafts of other features coming of various impacts such as native 3D printing support, but these aren’t going to have as big an impact in the wider business community.

With these improvements to Windows 8 only a couple of months away, now really is the time to start considering the replacement of those XP machines you have in the office. XP will be going end of life, and this will bring with it a host of unforeseen problems for you if you still have these legacy machines in use in your office. There is tax breaks available on the purchase of new IT equipment.

As ever, for more information on this or any other aspect of your IT Service’s needs, speak to Virtual IT.

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