Windows XP has been there since 2011 and it is still going strong with more than 30% of desktop operating system market share in October 2013, despite the fact that ever since its release Microsoft has launched at least three upgraded operating systems, namely Windows Vista (2007), Windows 7 (2009) and Windows 8 (2012). Although it has been reported that Windows XP market share has been decreasing steadily ever since 2007, it has been one year in the era of Windows 8, and it still does not seem like Windows XP is going to give up its place in the charts.
Based on the report by NetMarketshare, in 2013 Windows 7 has had the biggest share of the desktop operating system market so far with 45% of researched computers utilizing this operating system. Windows XP had 36% of the pie, while the notorious Windows Vista and Windows 8 are now basically at each other’s throats with respectively 4.53% and 4.95% of the market share. It seems like the users are unwilling to switch over to the newest operating system as Windows 8 daunts quite a few with its metro interface or the lack of the traditional Start menu.
However, Microsoft seems to have found a way to make users leave their old operating system, or at least Windows XP. Among computer users Windows XP has long been regarded as one of the best operating systems from the Windows series, and there are still people who do not want to switch even though it has been 12 years since the OS release. Nevertheless, now that Microsoft decided to stop supporting Windows XP on April 8, 2014, which the end of support Windows XP will become a lot more vulnerable to malware infections.
According to the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report, once the company no longer issues software updates for Windows XP, the OS infection rate might soar up to 66% in April. That is not to say that the supported operating systems cannot get infected, but the truth is that once your software is out of date and it no longer can download and install bug fix patches, malicious codes find it easier to exploit system vulnerabilities. That is a default course of action that is applicable not only to operating systems, but to various software applications as well.
In order to illustrate their own claim, Microsoft has release statistical data as well, displaying the infection rate of computers that run on Window XP version that is no longer supported.
The figure above displays an infection rate in four different operating systems. The type of Windows XP operating system used in the research was no longer supported by update patches. Consequently with 1000 computer scanned, more than 9 computers running on the outdated version of Windows XP were infected with malware. Other operating systems display significantly lower infection rates, but that does not mean that Windows Vista or Windows 7 is any less vulnerable than Windows XP. In fact, if these operating systems could no longer be updated, it is very likely that one could expect even higher infection rates from Windows 7, for example.
That is possible to infer judging on the data of severe software flaws provided in the statistics section of the National Vulnerability Database. Based on the data of the year 2013, it is actually Windows 7 which is the most vulnerable operating system, with 102 vulnerabilities found this year. Windows XP and Windows 8 have been the least vulnerable operating systems so far with respectively 89 and 58 vulnerabilities detected.
It also should be pointed out that these graphs do not include data on Windows 8.1, as this major operating system update was released less than a month ago. However, according to various reviews, the security advantages of Windows 8.1 should not be overlooked by even those who are too used to Windows 7. It is especially important to business enterprises, and Windows 8.1 comes with such features of BitLocker encryption, multifactor authentication, and other improvements that ought to prevent virus execution.
However, so far the security of Windows 8.1 is based only on the official reports and the fact that not only users but cyber criminals as well have not had enough time to acquaint themselves with the newly upgraded operating system.
Consequently, once can make an assumption, that the urge to switch over to the newer versions of operating systems is issued not because of the supposed current vulnerability of Windows XP, but because of the fact that it may increase once the OS support ends. It is also definitely a business strategy which is being employed in order to promote the newest operating system, but the question is whether the company should really stress the security this much, as it is doubtful whether one could guarantee the security of Windows 8.
For one, the low amount of infection rate and vulnerabilities in Windows 8 could be attributed to the fact that the operating system has been released merely last year. Also, considering that the biggest desktop OS market shares belong to Windows XP and Windows 7, one can postulate that virus creators primarily target the aforementioned operating systems. Hence, the reason why Windows 8 is relatively secure could be not because it is genuinely safe (which, no doubt, Microsoft really strives for), but because the operating system simply has not been here for a long time, and simply there are not that many viruses “compatible” with it.
To take everything into account is Windows XP an extremely vulnerable operating system? Not exactly, in general it seems that you may have more problems with Windows 7 actually.
Will it be troublesome when Microsoft stops releasing update patches for Windows XP after April 2014? Definitely. The operating system will become even more vulnerable to virus threats, and consequently you will be exposed to a number of serious infections.
Do I have to switch to Windows 8 right now? It is up to you. So far it seems that Windows 8 and the future support and update system will keep it less vulnerable, but there is more than just one operating system out there, and you can always switch to Mac OS or even Linux if you cannot stand betraying your good old Windows XP for a newer version.