Xpocalypse Not: China May Get Windows XP Support Indefinitely
A screen grab of the message sent out by Microsoft's Chinese division regarding Windows XP.
UPDATED 1:30 pm ET Tuesday with further comment from Microsoft.
Microsoft has apparently granted China a reprieve on the execution of Windows XP, and the company will continue to offer security patches for the operating system in that country even after support ends April 8 for the rest of the world.
An image tweeted out yesterday (March 2) on the official Microsoft Sina Weibo account lays out the plan: Microsoft will work with Chinese security firms to issue patches for XP for an indefinite period.
The plan dovetails nicely with a similar proposal last week by Chinese tech giants Tencent, Kingsoft and Sohu to independently continue XP support.
It's not clear why Microsoft would embed such an important message in an image, which is harder than regular text to translate by computer, while making no other announcement. The company may not want to be seen as giving special treatment to China.
"There is no change to our plans to end support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014," a Microsoft spokesperson told Tom's Guide.
"While some parties are extending support for their products on Windows XP, our research shows that the effectiveness of these solutions for an out-of-support operating system is limited," the spokesperson added.
"Running a well-protected computer solution starts with using modern supported software and hardware designed to help protect against today's threat landscape. Our advice is for customers to move from Windows XP to a modern operating system, such as Windows 8.1."
Officially or not, Microsoft may have to treat China differently. More than half of China's computers still run Windows XP, first introduced in 2001, and many, if not most of those installations were from pirated disks.
Chinese software pirates also sell bootleg copies of Windows 7, so it's not clear why so many Chinese users cling to XP. Russia, another giant country with a high rate of software piracy, has largely made the transition to Windows 7.
Officially, the entire world faces the "Xpocalypse," the end of support for Windows XP, on April 8, when Microsoft will issue its last security patch for the 13-year-old OS. (Microsoft will support embedded versions of XP that run on ATMs, cash registers and medical devices until the end of 2016.)
Microsoft is urging XP users worldwide to upgrade to newer versions of Windows or newer computers altogether; to do so legally would cost at least $100 per PC.
Hundreds of millions of unpatched XP systems could theoretically create an incubation pool in which malware could thrive and then migrate to the rest of the world.
A similar situation already exists with Android. Most Chinese Android devices use third-party app stores, many Chinese Android builds are unauthorized by Google and most Android Trojans have been found in the Chinese-language world.
Then again, extending security support for Windows XP may not make much difference. In its Weibo message, Microsoft noted that 70 percent of Chinese XP users had never once installed a security update.
UPDATE: In a statement to Computerworld, a Microsoft spokesperson clarified that while Microsoft would be working with Chinese anti-virus software makers to provide continued support to users of Windows XP, it would not be issuing security patches for Windows XP after April 8.