If Microsoft Dropped Support of Windows XP, Why Did it Just Get a Security Patch?

A security flaw in its Internet Explorer browser has caused Microsoft to make an exception to its decision to drop support for the still-popular operating system.

May 3, 2014 at 7:41AM

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) made a big deal of its plan to drop support for Windows XP after 12 years on April 8. The end of support meant that users who insisted upon keeping the outdated software (roughly 30% of Windows users) would receive no more security updates or technical support.

The company seemed really intent that it wasn't just threatening to stop supporting the product -- it actually planned to follow through, making it very clear on its website that not upgrading from XP would leave customers' systems vulnerable to all sorts of evildoers hoping to infect them, steal data, and generally wreak havoc.

After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or technical support for Windows XP. Security updates patch vulnerabilities that may be exploited by malware and help keep users and their data safer. PCs running Windows XP after April 8, 2014, should not be considered to be protected, and it is important that you migrate to a current supported operating system – such as Windows 8.1 – so you can receive regular security updates to protect their computer from malicious attacks. 

The language was clear and Microsoft appeared for a few weeks to stick to its guns, but a vulnerability in its own Internet Explorer web browser has caused the company to reverse its decision, at least for one time. The company will be issuing an emergency update to fix the critical bug in Internet Explorer.

"We decided to fix it, fix it fast, and fix it for all our customers," spokeswoman Adrienne Hall, the company's general manager of trustworthy computing, wrote on Microsoft's official blog. 

Microsoft still really wants you to upgrade

Microsoft claims to have issued the security patch because the problem came up so close to when it officially ended support. That's likely part of the story, but it's also probably relevant that the security flaw being exploited was in Explorer, which has caused some companies and government groups to stop using the browser until repairs are made. It's also possible that Microsoft realizes that its efforts to get customers to stop using the unsupported OS and upgrade to Windows are -- to be kind -- not going as well as they might have hoped.

Two companies that track OS usage show that while XP's share of the OS market has fallen, it's not falling very fast.

According to StatCounter, Windows XP accounted for 17.2% of desktop operating system usage in April. That's down from 18.6% in March, and from 22.8% a year ago. Another metrics company, Netmarketshare, measured Windows XP usage at 26.3% of desktop operating systems down from 27.7% in March, and 38.3% in April 2013.

The drops are small enough that a decent percentage of those leaving XP are likely just people upgrading because their computer dies, not because they heeded Microsoft's warnings. Still while the company begrudgingly issued a security update after it said it would stop doing so, Hall insists it won't happen again and that the company is serious when it says it plans to stop supporting the OS.

"Just because this update is out now doesn't mean you should stop thinking about getting off Windows XP and moving to a newer version of Windows and the latest version of Internet Explorer," she wrote.  

Microsoft has a real problem

The decision to stop supporting Windows XP was a bold one for Microsoft as the company risks having users decide to not upgrade to Windows 8 but to switch to an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) device or one running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android. If a customer switches he may leave Microsoft entirely, which could cost the company money in a variety of departments including  a loss of ad sales on MSN.com and Bing and the customer deciding to not use Microsoft Office. The loss of a customer from its ecosystem also hurts because if someone switches to Apple or Android they are more likely to choose compatible phones and tablets in those ecosystems as well.

The problem facing Microsoft -- and the reason it may ultimately have to quietly keep offering XP patches -- is that even heavy pressure has not caused a mass exodus away from XP.  If somewhere between 17% and 30% of Microsoft's users are still sticking with XP it's one thing to say you're leaving them vulnerable to hackers and another thing entirely to actually do it. It certainly won't make someone more eager to upgrade to Windows 8 if the reason they finally decide to buy a new computer is because their bank account was hacked because Microsoft stopped issuing security patches. 

Microsoft was smart to make this exception while using the announcement as another chance to push people to upgrade. It probably needs to keep making exceptions -- at least when high-profile threats are detected -- and hope that the pace of people dropping XP picks up.

Are you ready to profit from this $14.4 trillion revolution?
Let's face it, every investor wants to get in on revolutionary ideas before they hit it big. Like buying PC-maker Dell in the late 1980s, before the consumer computing boom. Or purchasing stock in e-commerce pioneer Amazon.com in the late 1990s, when it was nothing more than an upstart online bookstore. The problem is, most investors don't understand the key to investing in hyper-growth markets. The real trick is to find a small-cap "pure-play" and then watch as it grows in EXPLOSIVE lockstep with its industry. Our expert team of equity analysts has identified one stock that's poised to produce rocket-ship returns with the next $14.4 TRILLION industry. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening report.

Daniel Kline is long Microsoft. He has a backup laptop still running XP. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (C shares), and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers