Microsoft Corp. is finally pulling the plug on a piece of technology that has refused to go away.
On Tuesday, the software giant will stop supporting Windows XP, the still ubiquitous computer operating system that's been around for almost 13 years, an eternity in tech terms.
Even though XP was born well before smartphones and cloud services took over the tech landscape, an extraordinary number of consumers and businesses have clung to it despite Microsoft's best efforts to get them to upgrade to subsequent operating systems.
Analysts have debated whether that means XP was just that amazing, the sequels just weren't worth the price and hassle, or people were just that lazy. Or all three. Whatever the case, after years of warnings, Windows XP users will be on their own after Tuesday.
"It's an old operating system," said Tom Murphy, director of communications for Windows. "Think of the cellphone you were using in the late '90s compared to what you see today. XP doesn't do the things we expect from our PCs or devices today."
Maybe so, but getting consumers and small businesses to dump XP has been a bigger chore than anyone could have predicted. As recently as February, nearly 30% of all PCs in the U.S. were still running on Windows XP, according to Web analytics firm Net Applications.
PCs running on Windows XP will still function as they did before. But Microsoft says it's unlikely that your PC will be secure, even if you're running anti-virus software.
It's not only consumers who are vulnerable. Businesses have also been slow to upgrade. According to Softchoice, a supplier of information technology to businesses, about 40% of enterprises of all sizes still use Windows XP to some degree. In 7% of those firms, XP runs on more than 80% of devices.
Regulators said they warned banks and credit unions in October to prepare for the cutoff. Many automated teller machines still run on the XP operating system.
The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the National Credit Union Administration were among the agencies that told financial firms to assess the risks and manage them so that safe ATM services would continue and urged them to upgrade to a non-XP system.
Some bank ATMs use a specialized type of XP that differs from desktop software, which Microsoft plans to continue supporting, American Bankers Assn. Vice President Doug Johnson said.
Johnson, who leads the trade group's cybersecurity and fraud deterrence efforts, said other banks are making relatively easy changes to beef up ATM security or are paying Microsoft for continued support until they change the software. In some cases the upgrades are being delayed to take place at the same time the banks change their ATMs to accept smart cards, which use a microchip instead of a magnetic stripe to store and transmit information, he said.
But Microsoft is clear that for just about everyone else, Tuesday is the end of the line as far as XP support goes. On that day, Microsoft for the last time will push out updates and security patches for users of Windows XP.
"Almost a decade ago we told people that it was going to end, and it's going to end on that day," said Mark Kornegay, the general manager for Microsoft in Los Angeles. "It was an incredible platform that enabled people to really have a rich experience on the Web. It was still a very sturdy platform, it has done a lot of things, but it's reached the end of its life."
If you still haven't upgraded to Windows 7 or 8, and are not sure what to do about it, here's a few things to try:
First, you can check to see whether you are running Windows XP by heading to AmIRunningXP.com, a website run by Microsoft.
Microsoft is advising Windows XP users to either install a newer version of Windows or buy a new computer. Users should check to see whether their computers can support a more recent operating system.
Users who plan to keep using computers running XP should copy sensitive files to another storage device and delete them from their Windows XP machine so the files aren't accessible to potential hackers. Security experts also recommend disabling the computer's Internet connection.
To get users to upgrade, Microsoft is offering Windows XP users a $100 gift card to buy a new Windows 8.1 machine.
Best Buy is also offering customers who turn in their Windows XP computers a $100 credit that can be applied to the purchase of a new PC, an Apple Mac computer or one of Google's Chromebook machines.
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