Future Tense

Is Microsoft Extending Windows XP Malware Support Because It Can’t Bear to Say Goodbye?

Sweet nostalgia. Remember these days? Or maybe your computer is running XP right now.

Microsoft announced Wednesday that it will continue releasing anti-malware signatures for machines running Windows XP through April 15, 2015, even though the company will technically stop supporting the operating system on April 8, 2014. There won’t be automatic updates, service packs, or any type of official Microsoft tech support available for XP, but Microsoft’s Security Essentials program will still receive some anti-malware information for a year, though you won’t be able to download it after this April. Microsoft just can’t let its baby go.

Look, we get it. It’s an emotional time for everyone. The release of Windows XP in 2001 (2001!) was really the last time that Microsoft debuted something it knew was a winner. Windows ME (an enhanced version of Windows 2000) had been released a year before and had flopped. But it was still the glory days, and when XP came out, Windows roared back to life. Then Vista debuted in 2007 and was a disaster. After that, the tenor of Windows releases changed. There was a lot riding on Windows 7 (which turned out to be a pretty good OS) and Windows 8 (which is just OK). And now with rumors that Windows 9, codenamed Threshold, will ship in April 2015, Microsoft could really turn a corner in terms of cohesive vision and innovation. Or things might seriously fall apart.

And maybe that instability is what has made Microsoft cling to XP for so long. It was certainly the driver during the Vista years, once Microsoft realized that users were going to be sticking with or downgrading back to Windows XP. The company was supposed to transition XP from mainstream to extended support (the two tiers that Microsoft operating systems cylce through over their lifespans) in 2007, but instead prolonged XP’s mainstream support to 2009 to accomodate Vista refugees.

Over the years Microsoft has been trying to prime users to leave XP. They even created a “Windows XP End Of Support Countdown Gadget,” though it wasn’t compatible with XP for some reason. But perhaps Microsoft folks were emotionally preparing themselves as much as their users. XP was a blockbuster. It was a gold standard. It really worked. Hell, about 29 percent of desktops are running XP right now. You can see why Microsoft might have trouble letting its most recent definitive triumph fall into obscurity. Separation anxiety is only natural! But the healing process starts this spring, and every anti-malware signature Microsoft pushes until April 2015 will be a piece of Windows XP’s interminable swan song.