Will Windows XP keep working after support ends?

The end of support for Windows XP means that Microsoft will no longer be issuing security updates. But there are ways to continue using an older machine safely.

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Lots of people on the web think that when support for XP SP3 ends, the OS will no longer work. If I’m correct, patches will end like they did before (Windows 98). So what is the harm in me continuing to use this old machine with viruses and spyware? With an iPod, I can’t think of what I would really get in a new PC with Windows 8 or 9 if I wait long enough. I don’t buy much software  anymore. I use Chrome because IE doesn’t work anymore. I also have an Ubuntu DVD burned for banking. I run it directly off the DVD to avoid viruses. And I ran several scans before I burned the thing last year. Should I rush out and get a new HP compact tower before they’re no longer made?

No, you don’t need to run out and getting a new tower before they’re no longer made.

Let me address your questions here more or less in order.

Will Windows XP keep working after support ends?

You’re absolutely right. Windows XP will keep working. The only thing that happens when support ends is that bug fixes, patches, vulnerability fixes, and so forth will no longer be made available.

This will be very much like Windows 98. If you’ve got Windows 98, it still runs. It may not support all of the software that you care about and you’re certainly not getting bug fixes, but fundamentally, it never stopped working.

The same will be true for Windows XP. When the end of support date arrives, Windows XP will just keep happily XPing along. You just will no longer get any important or even unimportant security updates.

No updates… is that an issue?

Well, yes and no. There’s really no harm in continuing to run Windows XP with the exception of what we refer to as “unpatched vulnerabilities.”

What that means is somebody discovers a bug in the software that could be somehow exploited by malware writers to insert or cause malware to be installed on your machine. If you’re running Windows XP past the security date, that unpatched vulnerability will remain forever unpatched. In other words, you will always be vulnerable to any malware that might want to take advantage of that.

How can I mitigate that problem?

Windows XPIf you’ve got anti-malware software that continues to work on Windows XP, that’s one way to at least minimize the threat. Good anti-malware software will probably catch the malware that tries to exploit those kinds of vulnerabilities.

The catch is how long will good anti-malware tools continue to support XP? This I don’t know.

The other factor is that as XP declines in market share, the actual authors of malware are now focusing their efforts and their attentions on things like Windows 7 or Windows 8. Those types of malware may not even apply to Windows XP anymore. In other words, you may actually be kind of more secure by having the older operating system that the malware authors aren’t paying attention to either.

So, ultimately, given what you’ve described – the fact that you’re really not doing that much with your machine and that you’re using an Ubuntu DVD to do your online banking – I think you’re in a pretty good situation and I’m not sure that there’s much I would change.

There are 44 comments:

  1. Tony Reply

    Hi Leo

    Even though there will be no *new* patches for XP after its retirement date, will ‘existing’ patches still be available to download, if say, you were to reinstall Windows, with an SP2 disk, for example. Will updates from SP2 upwards still be downloadable through the Windows Update site?

    • Leo Reply

      I believe they will for “a while”, but I’ve never seen any official word on this. I’d be shocked if Windows 98 updates were still available, for example, so I’m sure there’s some point at which they go away. My advice is to get your machine as up to date as possible after the date passes, and save a backup image at that point in time in case you ever need to restore.

    • James Reply

      I just restored a computer using the factory restore partition, which was SP2. After a couple of hours of frustration over updates, I stumbled on this bit of information:

      Automatic updates no longer work for SP2 and you can’t use Windows Update to get updates either – you get an error message.

      The solution is to download the SP3 network installation package from Microsoft and ignore their advice to use Windows Update to get a smaller install. Run this install to get your computer up to SP3 and then use Windows Update/automatic updates get the rest. There were still 189 updates after installing SP3!

      So now I’ve got that SP3 installation file saved for a rainy day. And I’ll take an image backup (like Leo suggests) after end of life, but if all else fails, at least I can get back to SP3, even if it’s not the most up to date SP3.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if they packaged up SP3 and all those 189+ updates just prior to going to end of life? It would be nice, but I don’t think we have a chance of that happening.

      • carmen Reply

        RE: “now I’ve got that SP3 installation file saved for a rainy day”

        I also couldn’t get updates after a reformat, but I found advice on askleo that led me to do what James described. I didn’t make a copy though, so I’m interested. I saw an askleo article about making a “slipstream” disc, but it may be too geeky for me :). Is making a copy of SP 3 as easy as clicking SAVE instead of run/download from the Microsoft site? Can I use that to re-install Windows or would it only work if SP 2 is already installed?

        • James Reply

          YES! Just click Save. After it downloads, you should make sure you back it up somewhere else. Remember, if it’s only in one place, it’s not backed up.

          If you’re ever in the position to do a reinstall, it’s as simple as double-clicking on the file to run the install. It’s just an .exe. The one I got was this one: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=24

          They also have a .ISO version if you want to make a CD/DVD. I’m with you. That’s too geeky for me, too :)

  2. Mark Jacobs Reply

    One statement which I tend to have some reservations about: “you may actually be kind of more secure by having the older operating system that the malware authors aren’t paying attention to either.”
    I believe that was true in the case of Windows 98 after XP had come out, but I’m not sure if that will be true about windows XP after it is no longer supported. XP still has close to 40% market share of OSs. XP has such a loyal following that when support stops, it will still have probably well over 30%. In that case I thing that it will become prime target for hackers, with known vulnerabilities and such a large pool of unpatched machines.

  3. carmen Reply

    Re: “…using an Ubuntu DVD to do your online banking…”
    Can someone briefly explain Ubuntu/Linux to me? :)…From what I’ve read, it seems to be an operating system, but I see it mentioned A LOT as a tool for trouble-shooting.
    (1) If I have a computer that XP failed to install on, could Ubuntu help me? Which version do you recommend for an “average user?”
    (2) And it sounds like the asker of the question hasn’t actually installed anything from Ubuntu–can you run that OS from a DVD and keep XP?
    THANKS.

  4. Craig Reply

    Carmen: yes, Ubuntu could help you if XP fails to install–you can run it without installing on your hard drive
    YES you can use Ubuntu and still keep XP. You can even get a virtual machine and run Ubuntu installed on your pc running INSIDE XP (really neat and helpful). This way you wouldn’t need to run of the CD anymore; there are restrictions if your RAM is limited on your PC.

    • carmen Reply

      Thanks a lot for the info CRAIG–I’ve been wondering about this for a while. I’ll see how long I can manage with that and XP until I’m forced to get with the times :) and purchase a new computer after almost ten years.

      • Len Reply

        Hi Carmen. Further to Craig’s great advice, I have several LInux distros set up in VMs. (virtual machines) In addition to Ubuntu, I also run Lubuntu (which is a lightweight Ubuntu derivative) Fedora, CentOS, Debian and 2 versions of Linux Mint – one with the MATE desktop and the other with the CINNAMON desktop.

        You can Google those names to get to their respective websites. Also, as a newcomer to the world of Linux this is a useful site to keep your eyes on … http://distrowatch.com/

        As for more info on the wonderful world of virtual machines, Leo has many useful articles on this very site. Additionally, here is a link to VirtualBox by Oracle, it is free and Open Source … https://www.virtualbox.org/

        Other people prefer VMWare player. It is a free alternative to their propiertary offerings. http://www.vmware.com/products/player/

        • carmen Reply

          A lot of that didn’t make sense to me :). But I’ll check out the links, thanks.

          Question:
          If I can’t get Windows XP to install on my old Sony computer, but I AM able to get Linux to run, will I be able to install the basic drivers for my old computer from the Sony website THAT REQUIRE XP (only) or am I out of luck? Thanks.

          • Connie Delaney

            Carmen,
            Ubunbu is pretty good about finding drivers on its own. Which Linux product did you install?

          • Leo

            Linux drivers are unrelated to Windows drivers, so no anything that is a Windows driver (XP or otherwise) will have no application for Linux. The manufacturer might provide Linux drivers (rare), or the distribution will have drivers for what you need already (much more common).

  5. Jean F Reply

    If you don’t use the XP based computer to connect to the Internet, you are at no risk at all. You might consider using such a machine for storing things (photos, documents) you don’t need to send elsewhere. Should you need to send them, you could copy the file to a thumb drive and connect it to a computer with an updated Windows version or even a Mac.

  6. BaliRob Reply

    Thanks also Craig – could you be more explicit please when you say, “to boot on your machine, close it out and reboot to XP”. To be able to use a CD, in this case Ubuntu, for banking is, to my mind, almost the Holy Grail of safe computing in respect of Online Banking. If you, or Leo if he is looking over your shoulder, could explain to us mere mortals how we can do this in very simple terms, I would remember you in my Will.

    • Tom R. Reply

      Google “Ubuntu iso”, surf to an appropriate site and download the iso file. Save it to your favorite location. Burn the iso to a dvd. Inert the dvd into your dvd drive and restart the computer. The machine will hopefully boot into Linux and away you go.

    • Leo Reply

      I guess I don’t understand your question. To boot Ubuntu from a CD, insert the CD and reboot your machine. To return to XP, shut down Ubuntu, remove the CD, and reboot the machine.

  7. Myxtyplx Reply

    Devious thought….who knows XP better than Microsoft? They can put real junk out to sabotage
    XP to quicken its demise and force massive shift to newer a newer OS????

  8. Bill Reply

    Myxtyplx- Interesting thought but I wonder why they wouldn’t have already
    done that?

  9. maro Reply

    1. Windows-XP has been the most robust 32-bit OS Windows-7 is successful and available here only as 64 bit. Some programs do not run on it (like the older 16- bit which can run on XP
    2. I have MS Mouse (pocket size, bendable) It works well on XP and 8 but regardless of how many times I tried to get newer drivers for it, the right click and left click work exactly the same on Windows-7
    3. Somehow you have not ADEQUATELY addressed the BIOS in Windows-8 built in computers. Regardless of how much I try to change it to start booting from the CD or DVD it still does that from Windows. A dealer told me (?) that it has no number like other Windows as it is in the mother board not in the hard drive like other older Windows?!! This made me unable to rely on Backup software in case my Windows-8 computer does not start for any reason as I would not be able to boot from the backup supplied program CD, like in my Windows-XP and 7.

  10. Alison Reply

    I have xp which I love. I can work so quickly on it. I also have windows 7 which takes 10 times longer to find stuff on and work with. Can’t we join forces and force mr moneybags microsoft to let us choose to use the system we bought off him if we want to? Why is he such a moneygrabbing selfish person. Can’t we start a save xp campaign before it’s too late………….

    • anonnnnn Reply

      WOW! I cant believe theres someone out there that feels the same way I do. Ive used win7 on other laptops & it is no way as fast as XP to navigate. Im using XP as I type this :) Some third party should introduce a new OS that is user friendly/faster to navigate through & logical. Then we can hopefully say bye/ good riddance to mr.microsoft & apple too.

      • B. E. Smith Reply

        Saying goodbye to Microsoft and Apple is exactly what has made Linux so popular. In my opinion, the one thing that has hindered widespread adoption of Linux, is wide variety of Linux versions. I’ve only tried Ubuntu, and I like it okay. But like moving to any new OS, there is a steep learning curve, and some familiar programs just won’t work with anything but Windows or Mac.

  11. Pong Reply

    I kept having the error message on Outlook popping up. What can I do to get rid of it. I also love to play games with players around the world, will those games and Zone.com will still be working and available ?

  12. B. E. Smith Reply

    Like many other people, I think Windows XP is as close to perfect as Microsoft can get. I’m also quite fond of the old dinosaur Office 2000. I am slowly learning Windows 7 (and Office 2010, with the help of a free “Menu” tab for the ribbon). The bottom line on why Microsoft and Apple insist on forcing new operating systems/software, is MONEY! If we buy a product, like it, and stick with it indefinitely, their opportunity for profit is minimized. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It takes money to run a company, and profit is the name of the game in American business. But it is what it is, and all our belly-aching won’t change a thing! I’m buying my wife a new ChromeBook for Christmas. Maybe that will be my ticket out of the Microsoft abyss!

  13. Bill F Reply

    Carmen:
    Ubuntu and the other Linux/Unix versions are a different Operating Systems (OS). They are used by some people for dealing with banks and for malware testing because they are relatively obscure enough so that the malware creators just don’t bother writing much for them.
    The operating system is the very low level program that tells your computer how to run programs and read the keyboard, screen, and other devices.

    Basicly, by installing a non-windows operating system, you are changing your computer that windows programs (wether they be nasty malware or something you want to use like your photo editing software or Microsoft Office) will not run. Your windows drivers will be useless, you will need to get drivers for your hardware from the Operating System provider.

    Depending on your needs, there are quite a few pieces of software for the various Unix derived operating systems but for the same reason as the lack of malware (relative obscurity), it is frequently not as polished as the Windows counterparts.
    I use the Office package a lot and even though I don’t do really wild things with Word and Excel, I still found that the “open sourced” alternatives were far enough from the real thing that they were useless to me.

  14. J.C. L:ettow Reply

    I use online banking with BofA. I run XP3- I read your articles, (as usual,) and noticed Linux is needed to run my banking. PLEASE, I am 80 yers young, just lost my Wife of 60 years of marriage. (she did the accounting as she used to work for BofA.) My Son from Colorado set up on line banking. HELP Leo, plain and simple.

    • Leo Reply

      Unfortunately it depends on too many details. You may not NEED Linux at all. I’d recommend you discuss this with your son, since he set it up for you.

  15. n Reply

    would one be likely to get viruses/get hacked if one were to merely use XP on a computer for visiting trustworthy sites, gmail, bbc, microsoft websites, wikipedia? will it be vunerable due to any connection online or just due to browsing into sites that are run or compromised by the malware makers.

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      Trustworthy sites, very unlikely. The problem is if you are tricked into clicking on a bad link which looks like a good one.

  16. Guest Reply

    An alternative solution that would still allow you to use XP *and* go online, watch music/video, etc., is to use nLite on a fresh XP CD and remove IE and WMP prior to install (more info at nLite forums on MSDN). These are essentially “part” of the operating system and could be subject to vulnerabilities. Use an alternate browser like Opera, Firefox or Chrome (or the better privacy version, SRWare Iron) instead, and VLC or Media Player Classic as music/video player. I forget where I read it but I believe that browser plugins in general — Flash, Java, etc. — are being phased out in favor of things like HTML5 embedded media. Those pesky things are ALWAYS being exploited no matter what flavor of Windows you run. I believe most YouTube videos can be set to watch in HTML5 rather than relying on the native Flash plugin. If not, last-resort workaround is to just download the video and watch it offline. I don’t use social media websites at all, but I gather these don’t rely too heavily on plugins either. Heck, you can even download an offline Twitter client for classic Mac emulators that runs in System 6.

    Overall, I really don’t think failing to upgrade past XP will be that big of a deal. People panic at the slightest drop of a hat from M$, when in reality it won’t make much of a difference anyway if people just don’t bother with IE (not a problem nowadays with alternate browsers) and don’t rely on M$’s crappy Security Essentials software for an anti-virus. Freebies exist; the three “A”s — Avast, AVG and Avira — tend to be top-rated even over subscription services. Since 99% of programs that run on XP run in 7 (and those that don’t can fallback to Compatibility Mode), I really don’t see a problem in sticking with XP. Plus, you can always go to OldApps.com and download legacy versions if that elusive app just refuses to run on anything lower than 7. 7 is just eye-candy/Vista lite anyway, and 8 is a totally different (and ugly, and cantankerous, and mutated) beast.

    I’m sticking with XP on my Acer netbook, and XP Mode in Virtual PC on my 7 laptop. Linux has way too much of a learning curve; Macs are too expensive, and Windows 8 is just, well, ugh. M$ should have quit while they were ahead. XP was the Goldilocks OS. Not too tricky; not too flashy; not too bloated… but “just right.”

  17. claymell Reply

    Have had Microsoft for about twenty some years and have liked it and have had very little trouble with it. Just bought a Acer Chromebook it came being too fast for me so I had to find ways to slow it up but it sure isn’t all that great otherwise. I still like my PC but it is slow. I miss not being able to send e-mail on the Chromebook from my Outlook site. Will wait and see how my pc works after Microsoft get done . Probably replace mine with a new one but ??”windows I may replace with Google ! Bet they will end up losing a lot of users..

  18. Teresa Reply

    My computer is Windows XP,but all my husband and I do on it is look on LSN,I e-mail family and friends alot and job search,Should we upgrade to Windows 7?? I also have virus,mal-ware,protectionthrough the company that provides our internet,will this help also?? Please e-mail {email-removed} with any help or comments

  19. Frances Reply

    Dear Leo, Your information is most valuable & I notice your links recommend VIPRE as opposed to Trend [ used by a couple of colleagues who unlike me the technodinosaur are rather computer savvy]. Before I invest in that to add to my Malwares for cleaning my XP regularly [is weekly enough?]… I just wanted to have your confirmation that VIPRE is best.
    And could you please explain why going online through Gooogle Chrome to my internet banking site would be dangerous after 8 April ?
    Great site & advice Leo. best wishes Frances

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      The problem is that after Microsoft stops patching Windows XP, hackers might find a “hole” in Windows that they can exploit and install a program which, for example, reads everything you type on your computer and sends it to them. They can then analyze this data and get your passwords. You may not even have to go to a questionable website. It’s possible that a reputable website gets hacked and the malware can reach your computer through that. This is only one of many possible scenarios.

      • carmen Reply

        I’ve read that to be safe, after April 8th 2014, one should stop using Internet Explorer (and someone above mentioned Windows Media Player). Does this ONLY apply to Windows XP users?

        • Mark Jacobs Reply

          I haven’t heard of that before, but this would apply only to XP users as versions of IE and WMP compatible with supported versions of Windows will continue to be patched.

  20. fixitech Reply

    I had the warning appear on MSSE and chose to install a backup of the hard drive and then when the offending update appeared (I removed traces from the registry) I opted not to install it. It vanished from Microsoft Updates. My version of MSSE looks like the original and is updating regularly. Were I to run Malwarebytes if necessary and use the Bitdefender boot disc I can handle anything that comes along. Three of four partitions on the external drive are used for HDD images, one is on a USB drive, and I will make an archive copy on DVD (which has saved my system on more than one occasion when there was no usable partition on the external hard disc.)
    I want to watch what happens-observe the situation, monitor the results, see if the vulnerability issue is hype or the real thing. I know for sure, using Windows 7 in the local library has not convinced me that it is either better or faster.
    I also used the link on Microsoft Updates to download the latest version of MSSE as an executable and saved it to disc. This, before it could not be done-likewise, Windows Defender Offline cannot be downloaded so I made another copy of the ISO image from a saved .exe file.
    Should there be a problem, I will be ready. The real issue is how much of the paranoia is just that-hype, a modern chicken little declaring that the sky is falling. We shall see.

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