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Microsoft is Still Making Security Updates for Windows XP, But You Can’t Have Them

enterprise-windows-xp-custom-support

Windows XP isn’t dead and buried yet. Microsoft will be creating security updates for XP for years to come, but those updates won’t be available to normal users. No, they’re just for large businesses and governments with money to burn.

Most people still using Windows XP at home are happy with their PCs and don’t want to pay more money, so Microsoft isn’t offering this service to normal users. They’d probably just be upset if a request for $200 popped up.

Out of Extended Support, Into Custom Support

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Windows XP is now out of the “extended support” phase where Microsoft creates security updates for Windows XP and distributes them to all users via Windows Update. Microsoft won’t release any more security updates to most Windows XP users. But Microsoft still offers “custom support relationships” for organizations. Organizations must contact “their account team or their local Microsoft representative for more information.”

The wording here makes it clear that these support contracts aren’t for typical users or even small businesses. They’re intended for large organizations.

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Exorbitant Pricing

More than 27% of computers on the Internet still run Windows XP. This includes critical government computers, hundreds of thousands of ATMs, and a huge amount of mission-critical computers inside slow-moving businesses. These governments and businesses may have been asleep at the switch and missed the upgrade deadline, but they’re now scrambling to secure those computers. They have money to burn, and Microsoft will happily take their money.

For a fee of about $200 per PC for the first year — or maybe as low as $100 per PC if you negotiate — Microsoft will continue producing security updates for Windows XP and giving them out to you. That’s just for the first year — the per-PC price will go up in future years.

Microsoft’s quotes for custom support have apparently ranged from $600,000 to $5 million for the first year alone:

“An IT manager, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, told Computerworld that Microsoft had quoted his company $1 million for the first year of custom support to cover 5,000 Windows XP machines, $2 million for the second year, and $5 million for the third.”

Worse yet, these quotes apparently only include the price of critical security updates. If you want an update for an issue only considered “important”, you’ll have to contact Microsoft and pay extra.

The UK government is apparently paying £5.5 million for the first year of custom support, while the Dutch government is also paying several million euros for its own deal.

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Profit and Punishment

These high prices serve two purposes. On the one hand, they make a good amount of profit for Microsoft. It’s hard to feel too sorry for organizations who have known for years that the Windows XP end-of-support deadline was coming up. Microsoft even extended this deadline several times in the past. They have to pull the plug at some point. At least some of the money goes toward paying software engineers to produce and test updates.

On the other hand, the high prices encourage organizations to move away from Windows XP as quickly as possible. Microsoft really wants organizations to upgrade so it can forget Windows XP, and punitive fees encourage that.

Custom support isn’t intended for typical users. Microsoft would rather they upgrade from Windows XP by buying a new computer or a boxed copy of Windows 8. They’re not interested in charging normal computer users for security updates. Users would probably react negatively if a request for hundreds of dollars popped up on their Windows XP PCs every year.

Luckily, there’s one free way for Windows XP users to get security updates — upgrade to Linux. Microsoft’s updates are pricey.

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Custom Support Makes Sense, But…

Custom support makes a lot of sense. Microsoft wants to end support for Windows XP, but there are large organizations and governments in a panic, willing to pay almost anything for an extension. They’ve had years of warning and multiple extensions of support. They can profit from the situation, get good press for saving governments from a complete security disaster, and encourage everyone to upgrade.

But this may leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. If Microsoft is already producing security updates for Windows XP, why can’t they just release them to all Windows XP users so everyone can be as secure as possible? If you live in the UK and your government is paying millions of pounds for XP security updates, why can’t you get those updates your dollars are paying for?

We’re also in uncharted waters here — never before have there been so many users of a now-unsupported operating system. What will happen when we see an Internet Explorer vulnerability that infects millions of Windows XP users? People will call for Microsoft to release the security patches they’ve already made to everyone. Will Microsoft hold firm, or will they buckle and release the occasional security update to everyone? It’ll be a no-win scenario for Microsoft — they can look bad by refusing to release a critical update or they can release it and continue keeping Windows XP on life support forever.

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Windows XP support is a mess. Microsoft is throwing a lifeline to governments and other large organizations who were asleep at the switch, but they’re also making good money from it. You probably don’t have millions of dollars to spend on security updates, so Microsoft isn’t offering this service to you.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/11/14

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