When support for Windows XP finally ends, the single most important thing to realize is that there will be no new fixes.
Even if a security vulnerability is discovered that impacts people running Windows XP, that vulnerability won’t be fixed. That’s the bottom-line implication of Windows XP support ending next year.
What does that mean for everything that’s already been produced?
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What ‘no support’ really means
The downloads that you have (like SP3) will most likely be available for a long time. They don’t require any additional work on Microsoft’s part. Microsoft just needs to keep the files on their servers and make sure they’re are available for download. I’m fairly confident that those will be there for a while.
The problem is we don’t exactly know how long “a while” is.
Microsoft isn’t even required to do that. They could remove those files at any time. I’d be shocked if the equivalent files for Windows 98, Windows 95, or even the original Windows NT are still available online anywhere officially.
Someday, the scenario that you’re concerned about is going to happen.
So what do you do? Well, there are some ways to protect yourself now from that happening later.
Back up Windows XP
Normally, when you set up a new machine and have it completely up-to-date, I recommend that you create a backup system image – a complete image of your entire computer that snapshots everything in its most up-to-date state.
The same applies here – take a snapshot of your Windows XP as of today or the last day of support. That way, if you ever need to revert to this old version of Windows XP or reinstall it from scratch (which is the scenario that most XP users worry about), then you would simply restore this backup image. Because everything’s there, you wouldn’t have to reinstall Windows and then search the internet to find the bug fixes and service packs that you need to apply (that is, if you can find them).
When backups won’t work
There is one scenario where having a backup image won’t work: installing Windows XP on replacement or new hardware. The backup image will be specifically for the hardware on which it was created. The drivers and settings for that specific hardware will be there. If you try and take that image to a new or different piece of hardware, there’s a very good chance that it won’t work. You can try it, but it simply may not work.
The interesting thing about that is if your machine is significantly newer than Windows XP, then it may not even have XP driver support. In other words, you couldn’t run Windows XP on it anyway. You would have to upgrade.
Ultimately, what I suggest you do is take a complete image backup of your machine when it’s convenient. Use that as your reference copy if ever need to go back. That’s your safety net.
You can keep using the downloads for as long as they are available. Personally, I think they’ll be available for a pretty long time. And eventually, someday, you’re probably going to end up moving off of Windows XP.
But we can delay that. It doesn’t have to be any time soon.