December 13, 2013, 10:26 AM — Microsoft today used the hoary practice of predicting next year to drive another nail into Windows XP's coffin.
In an eight-item prognostication from several security professionals on its anti-malware and Trustworthy Computing teams, Microsoft forecast an increase in cybercrime that exploits unsupported software.
Microsoft's No. 6 prediction put the spotlight, and the onus, on Windows XP.
"This venerable platform, built last century, will not be able to keep pace with attackers, and more Windows XP-based systems will get compromised," prophesied Tim Rains, director of Trustworthy Computing, in a long post to Microsoft's security blog on Thursday.
Windows XP isn't quite "last century," at least to users; it may be old, very old in OS terms, but it wasn't released until September 2001.
Still, it is creaky, as any 12-year-old operating system would be. (By comparison, the same-aged Mac operating system would be OS X 10.1, aka Puma, a long-dead OS that required just 128MB of system memory; ran on the long-deserted PowerPC processors co-designed by Apple, IBM and Motorola; and was handed out as a free upgrade from OS X 10.0, or Cheetah.)
Microsoft has set Windows XP's retirement party for April 8, 2014, less than four months from now, and has given absolutely no hint that it will backtrack from that schedule.
Even if the retirement kills -- or infects -- millions of still-used PCs.
According to analytics vendor Net Applications, Windows XP powered 34% of all Windows PCs last month. And with a two-month stall in decline, it now appears inevitable that the antique OS will be running more than one in every four PCs come April.
"The most effective way to protect systems in the current environment, where drive-by download attacks are so popular with attackers, is to keep all software installed on them up-to-date with security updates," said Rains.
True. But easier said than done.
Nor was Microsoft's 2014 prediction a trip to the ledge's edge: Rains has rained on Windows XP's parade before. In October, he extrapolated data on PC infection rates to conclude that XP users will face a dramatic uptick, perhaps a hike by two-thirds, in attacks after April 8 because patches won't be provided to the public.
And like some predictions, Rains' was self-fulfilling. Microsoft is, after all, the one pulling the plug on users. Users aren't abandoning XP, at least not in numbers large enough to suit Microsoft.
But most outsiders don't see Microsoft letting this prediction fall flat: Even analysts who once believed the company might be forced by events to continue patching have retracted those statements as Microsoft has failed to breathe a word of any last-minute lifeline.
If a bookie will take Rains' bet, put down some money. It's as certain as the sun coming up tomorrow.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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