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Rediff.com  » Business » End of Windows XP gives life to a new industry

End of Windows XP gives life to a new industry

March 26, 2014 09:14 IST

End of Windows XP gives life to a new industry

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Surabhi Agarwal in New Delhi

Microsoft’s decision to end support for its longest running and most successful operating systems, Windows XP, from April 8 will have a big impact globally.

The continued use of the old OS will expose enterprises to security risks and vulnerabilities, the technology giant has warned.

The new threat has already spawned a new stream of revenue for the scores of small-time vendors in markets such as New Delhi’s Nehru Place that thrive on pirated software.

Operating from makeshift shops or even out of a bag full of software CDs, the informal sector in Nehru Place has taken to offering an addition to its existing array of services which includes selling patches for XP.

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Image: Microsoft Corp's Windows XP software products are displayed at a shop.
Photographs: You Sung-Ho/Reuters

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For a paltry sum of Rs 300 -- which can be further negotiated down to Rs 200 -- furtive figures under a staircase promise to make the dying OS, launched 12 years ago, robust enough to fight virus attacks and deadly malware that can steal sensitive financial data or can expose machines to hacking.

Upgrades of Windows 7 and Windows 8 also come at the same price -- Rs 300.

Then why would anybody get patches for XP when he or she can simply upgrade to the latest software even if pirated?

Pat comes the reply: “XP is the most successful OS from Microsoft because almost all software can run on it compared to newer versions which do not support all programs.” Point taken.

With millions of users worldwide, Microsoft’s decision to end support for XP is causing a ripple, not just in India but across the globe.

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Image: Upgrades of Windows 7 and Windows 8 also come at the same price -- Rs 300.
Photographs: Reuters

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As a result, not just the informal sector but also security companies such as Kaspersky Lab have announced that they  will continue to support the Microsoft Windows XP operating system until the second quarter of 2016.

“Although the Windows XP operating system was released more than 10 years ago and three newer operating systems have subsequently been released, Kaspersky Lab realises that many PC users still prefer this system.

This is why Kaspersky Lab has no plans to end support of Windows XP in the near future,” the company said in a release earlier this month.

However, Microsoft is not convinced.

Amrish Goyal, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Business in India, says the patches being offered in the market may help cover current vulnerabilities in Windows XP.

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Image: Security companies such as Kaspersky Lab have announced that they will continue to support the Microsoft Windows XP operating system until the second quarter of 2016.
Photographs: Reuters

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But, since Microsoft is ending support for the OS, the company will also stop issuing advisories -- based on which anti-virus companies used to come out with adequate protection.

“So, now, they will know of weaknesses only when the systems are exposed to some major attack,” Goyal says.

The ATM connection

It is not that the weaning away of Windows XP will hurt only personal computers.

The most vulnerable is the financial sector and, within it, the automated teller machines  -- a significant number of which are still running on XP, says Goyal.

According to statistics by the largest ATM supplier in the US, NCR, 95 per cent of the world’s ATMs are powered by Windows XP.

The figure for India is not available.

There are roughly about 100,000 ATMs in use in the country.

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Image: Bill Gates.
Photographs: Reuters

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Microsoft India estimates say that almost 16 per cent of computers in large enterprises in the country, or around four million, still use Windows XP.

If the overall installed base of all small, medium and large enterprises was considered (around 20 million computers), the percentage would be around 10.

However, of the total computers in the banks and financial institutions that use Windows XP, only 65 per cent have so far upgraded to other OSes.

“We have seen a healthy rate of conversion, but the banking and financial services sector continues to remain a laggard,” says Goyal, who also cautions that since banking and especially ATMs handle sensitive consumer transactions, they run the highest risk of misuse.

The concerns were echoed by an advisory by the Reserve Bank of India last week which asked banks to take immediate steps because banking operations, including ATM services, may be hit after Microsoft ends support for Windows XP  from April 8.

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Image: This file photograph shows a Microsoft engineer introducing the new Chinese Windows XP during the launch of the operating system in Beijing.
Photographs: Reuters

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"The probability of attacks on such a system may increase and it may be difficult to defend such attacks in the absence of Microsoft support," RBI had said in the circular.

A senior executive with Indian Banks’ Association said there have been no reports of virus attacks in ATMs that are running on Windows XP so far.

But, the vulnerability of the machines to attacks may increase post April 8.

“IBA has reviewed the situation and cautioned member banks about it,” the official says.

The colour of money

According to the bi-annual Security Intelligence Report published by Microsoft last year, Windows XP installations are six times more likely to be infected by malware than Windows 8 machines.

However, the company is not disclosing the revenue gain from the software upgrade.

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Image: ront lobby entrance of building 17, one of the largest buildings on the Main Campus portion of Microsoft's Redmond campus.
Photographs: Derrick Coetzee/Wikimedia Commons

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“We are not giving it the colour of money,” Karan Bajwa, managing director, Microsoft Corporation India, had told Business Standard earlier.

He had added that the company expects one-third of the potential users to shift to a new OS without having to buy new software as they already own licences for Windows 7 or Windows 8 but had chosen to continue with the downgraded product.

Of course, not everybody is convinced about the risks.

Greyhound Research chief Sanchit Vir Gogia called the development ‘over inflated’.

Why does the company’s decision to stop supporting Windows XP coincide with the increase in licensing fee for Windows 7, he asks.

He infers, ‘In a way, the company is forcing a much higher price on consumers.’

Unless Microsoft tries to play with the security loopholes, there should not be much trouble as XP is a standard OS.

“The full migration will take 12-24 months,” says Gogia, “The concerns are a little overhyped.”

Abhijit Lele in Mumbai contributed to this report


Image: Unless Microsoft tries to play with the security loopholes, there should not be much trouble as XP is a standard OS.
Photographs: Reuters

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