14 April 2014

Windows XP has never been safe, so nothing has really changed.

Windows XP has never been a secure and stable operating system. It will show our favorite blue screen of death every so often and tech staff know to re-install the operating system or restore from a backup every few months to keep it fresh. Yes, over the years there have been hundreds of worms that have snuck their way through despite Microsoft security support, so using XP without virus or spyware protection is just asking for trouble. However, despite all of the issues, Windows XP has always been "good enough" to get the job done. Even with Microsoft dropping support, there is no more rush to upgrade today than there was yesterday.

The amount of FUD and dire warnings circling about XP today is pure nonsense. You are running decade old software and just because the manufacturer has moved on does not make it any better or worse. For the few remaining XP die-hards, you just need a plan for how to use it safely. Heck, even the IRS plans to continue to use XP beyond the death date and we all know what a stickler for deadlines they are.

Personally, the only place I touch XP today is in a virtual machine for running old versions of software. For my core personal systems I have long since moved on with Windows 7/8.1, OS X or my favorite Linux flavor of the week. Most of the corporate installations of XP are in VM's and devices, such as the tens of thousands of ATM's still relying on the software.

Yes, you read that right. Banks everywhere have been using software that has always been insecure and temperamental to handle your money and they continue to do so today. They can get away with this because those machines are not directly connected to the internet - they are hidden behind firewalls and routers that are inaccessible to the naughty bits floating on the TCP/IP pipes. Microsoft not releasing updates does not impact them because they were not applying those updates anyway.

Speaking of which ... Ending Microsoft updates does us a favor, in a way. Constantly installing and rebooting a VM when we only turn the sucker on ever few weeks is an unnecessary hassle for something used so infrequently.

Even if you have an old XP machine sitting around that you do not want to part with, you can keep it as safe as it has ever been. Here is a wonderful article that covers all your bases and this is the short version: Make certain it is behind a firewall, has security software installed and take regular backups of your information. That is pretty much all there is to it. Yes, if you are browsing for porn on that machine then the system will probably not last for more than 15 minutes but you already knew that.

Yes, I would recommend moving to a newer operating system, but there is no need to fret over all of the dire warnings about poor little Windows XP. It will be around for years to come and still be just as messy as always.