Windows XP still on the way out, but anti-malware support for its users to continue

Microsoft said the decision will assist customers with their migrations away from Windows XP.

Microsoft reiterated Wednesday that it will still discontinue support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. But for those who can't make the transition in time, there's some hope.

Microsoft said that it would continue to provide updates to its anti-malware signatures and engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015--more than a year after XP support officially ends.

For consumers, the engine in question is Microsoft Security Essentials. For enterprise customers, the change applies to System Center Endpoint Protection, Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection, and Windows Intune running on Windows XP.

Microsoft said that it made the decision to assist customers with their migrations away from Windows XP.

That doesn't mean that Microsoft is advising customers to wait around. One part of a well-secured PC is the anti-malware engine, but the other has always been an operating system designed for security.

"Our research shows that the effectiveness of anti-malware solutions on out-of-support operating systems is limited," Microsoft said in a blog post. "Running a well-protected solution starts with using modern software and hardware designed to help protect against today's threat landscape."

And anti-malware will help, to a point. "Although anti-virus programs are unable to replace the soon-to-be abolished security updates for Windows XP, they can at least make it harder for malware to take advantage of your system's vulnerabilities," Andreas Marx, chief executive of AV-Test, said in an emailed statement. "After all, without patches, Windows XP is sure to develop more holes than a good Swiss cheese."

Bitdefender, ESET, G Data, and Norman have also committed to supporting their Windows XP anti-malware products until 2016, Marx added.

It's over

In April, Microsoft will cease publishing Windows XP patches, an event that Microsoft calls "zero day forever." Windows XP computers won't receive any additional security updates, making them easier targets for hackers. But researchers consulted last October said that they're advising their customers to choose Windows 7, not the latest Windows 8.

Microsoft's official stance is that as long as customers choose a modern version of Windows--not Windows XP--selecting either Windows 7 or Windows 8 is acceptable.

"Every business is unique and has different needs," a Microsoft representative told PCWorld  last October. "The most important thing is that businesses move off XP before April 8, 2014, and onto a modern operating system, and moving to Windows 7 will not only ensure that customers remain on a supported version of Windows, but they will be on a path to Windows 8 and can take advantage of innovations in the Windows 7 platform, including enhanced security and control, increased user productivity, and streamlined PC management."

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