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Are XP users buying Microsoft’s FUD?

February 2, 2014

Be vewy, vewy, quiet. Hunting the wascally Windows XP — and penguins.

Microsoft has a habit of using fear marketing to keep Windows customers from leaving the fold; for nearly 20 years they’ve tried to hold back the threat of open source software by sowing Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about the Linux operating system; belittling it, calling it a cancer and ultimately claiming it infringes Microsoft’s patents.

Lately, Microsoft has taken to throwing mud, or “FUD” as the technique is known, at its own popular operating system: Windows XP.

XP is still, after 13 years, the second most popular operating system, used on an estimated half billion computers.

But, except for a small percentage of enterprise customers using embedded XP under long-term service contracts, XP is dead to Microsoft. Both they and PC makers can only see a lot of potential new computer sales.

What a wicked web we weave when first we practice to FUD

But how to drive XP users into the stores?

Set an arbitrary deadline, say April 8, when all tech support and security and virus updates will cease and fill the media with scare stories about how Windows XP is set to become the Typhoid Mary of operating systems… and sit back.

But wait! Windows XP users already are filled with their own fear, uncertainty and doubt… about Windows 8.

If Microsoft’s campaign of fear against XP works the total effort could still fail, depending on what XP users fear the least, Windows 7/8 or Linux?

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt or Sality, Ramnit and Vobfus

XP disk seen in a dumpster yesterday, just where Microsoft says it belongs.

Microsoft is now warning that sticking with XP after Microsoft stops providing security updates on April 8 will have dire consequences: viruses, malware and spyware — oh my!

A good example is a “cybersecurity report” released by Microsoft last October which detailed the risks of running unsupported software.

After analyzing “threat intelligence” from 1 billion systems worldwide, the report says it found Windows XP was six times more likely to be infected with a virus than say, Windows 8. The report also names the three top threats to XP, two kinds of malware: Sality and Ramnit and a worm called Vobfus.

The first thing to note? This warning has nothing to do with unsupported software — in October XP was still supported and, near as I can tell, at the time Microsoft released this report they listed that their free anti virus program, Microsoft Security Essentials could detect and remove all three threats, and it was still a free download for Windows XP.

Remember that FUD is a marketing technique to create sales. XP users basically haven’t put any money in Microsoft’s pocket for 13 years now. The PC industry’s sales slump would disappear over night if even a quarter of the world’s XP users bought a brand new computer.

Microsoft doesn’t really want XP users to upgrade anyways!

Let’s say you want to upgrade your old XP to either Windows 7 or 8/8.1 — both cost about US$100. Assuming your hardware can handle the upgrade, you’re in for a time-consuming, manual process, but Windows 7 is easily your best bet. In fact Microsoft’s own instruction on upgrading Vista and XP to Windows 8.1 says:

“Windows 8.1 isn’t designed for installation on PCs running Windows Vista or Windows XP”

Undaunted Vista and XP users need to use the retail DVD says Microsoft, but…:

“Consumers will need to back up their files and settings, perform clean installation, and then reinstall their files, settings and programs.”

Upgrading XP to Windows 7 likewise involves a backup to an external drive and a clean install from DVDs. However, unlike the Windows 8.1 upgrade, the instructions for upgrading XP to Windows 7, include a step-by-step video walk-through and there’s even a free download for XP users called Windows Easy Transfer which can backup settings and files before the clean install and then reinstall them afterwards. But, sadly, not application programs; those still have to be manually reinstalled.

Microsoft ups the fear factor but are XP users going to buy it?

Hewlett Packard quietly puts out the welcome mat for window shopping XP users.

Obviously Microsoft and the entire sagging personal computer industry really want XP users to just go out and buy a whole new computer. But can they imagine longtime XP users reeling from the future shock of Windows 8? Apparently Hewlett Packard and Dell can.

Under the slogan “Back by popular demand,” HP, the world’s number two computer seller, is again selling new laptops preloaded with Windows 7. Dell is also telling potential customers that “Windows 7 PCs are still available.”

Windows 7 at least bears a strong a family resemblance to Windows XP but a lot of XP users may not want to drop a lot of cash on a new computer and a lot of new software. In that case Microsoft’s deadline may push a lot of XP users to take a hard look at Linux. Many of them should like what they see.

Linux is free, super stable, runs fast on old hardware, is far more virus-resistant than anything Microsoft makes and it can look comfortably like Windows XP. And a lot of XP-era Windows software can actually run in Linux! And did I mention that it’s free.

Close the Windows, you’re letting in Linux!

An XP user would be right at home with Linux Mint 16 with the Cinnamon Desktop.

XP is running on something like over 30% of the world’s computers, which strongly suggests a lot of that 30% is made up of old hardware. Business customers have to be concerned not only about the large learning curve between Windows XP and Windows 8, but whether the newer Windows will even run on their old computers. Linux in contrast, is well known for running great on older hardware.

A quick look at the minimum requirements

Windows XP Home

  • Pentium 233 MHz processor or faster
  • At least 64 MB of RAM
  • At least 1.5 GB of available  hard disk space

Windows 7 and 8.1:

  • 1 GHz or faster processor with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2
  • RAM: 1 GB (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)

Linux Ubuntu 12.04

  • 700 MHz processor
  • 384 MB of RAM (32-bit) or 1 GB of RAM (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 5 GB (32-bit) or 10 GB (64-bit)
  • VGA capable of 1024×768 screen resolution
  • Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port

Linux Mint 16

  • x86 processor
  • 512 MB RAM (1GB recommended for a comfortable usage)
  • 5 GB of disk space
  • Graphics card capable of 800×600 resolution
  • CD/DVD drive or USB port

XP users can run lots of their Windows software in Linux!

Is that even Linux? Zorin’s XP theme: Start menu, Task bar, notification area.

On particular distribution of Linux, called Zorin OS, has always crafted itself as a stepping stone from Windows into the Linux environment. Even to the point of offering premium themes to more closely emulate Windows XP or Windows 2000.

One point to add but not over-stress is that Linux has an emulator to run Windows software side-by-side with Linux; it’s called Wine and it has been in development for a very long time. It’s one weakness — that it’s best for running older Windows software — makes it perfect for XP users moving to Linux.

How end of support can mean better security for XP users

What about just staying with Windows XP — is that as bad a thing as pundits are saying? Not necessarily.

After April 8 when Microsoft cuts support to XP (if they go through with it) there will be no more security updates, the XP edition of Microsoft Security Essentials will be discontinued and the XP-specific Internet Explorer 8 will no longer be supported.

Far from being a bad thing, this could be the best thing to happen to XP users if it weans them off the weak sauce of Microsoft Security Essentials and the Internet Explorer 8 Web browser.

Security-wise, sixty bucks a year will allow an XP user to use any number of real commercial anti-virus and malware programs, such as Kaspersky Antivirus, that beat anything Microsoft is giving away for free. Even Avast Free Antivirus is consistently rated head and shoulders above MSE.

As for browsers, both Chrome and Firefox have up-to-date versions which run in XP and run circles around IE8. Google has announced it will continue supporting and updating Chrome for XP until at least April 2015. Both Firefox and Opera also say they will support XP after the April 8 deadline.

Software makers will never abandon such a large market segment. In fact, after April 8, Windows XP users will become a valuable niche market in their own right.


A brief history of Microsoft’s FUD about Linux

Over the years Microsoft’s attitude toward Linux has grown from dismissive to disdainful to downright despicable. For the last handful of years the centerpiece of Microsoft’s FUD campaign against Linux has been the chilling, fear-inducing, threat of litigation over patent infringement.

Microsoft has one of the largest patent portfolios in the computer industry; it legitimately holds fundamental patents in every area of modern computing. So claims that Linux infringes on any number of Microsoft’s patents has always been plausible, as have threats of legal action against companies using Linux.

As Linux adoption continues to accelerate in both the private and public sectors, Microsoft has begun pulling the trigger on its litigation threats.

As Linux grew so did Microsoft’s alarm

When Steve Ballmer became Microsoft’s CEO at the beginning of January, 2000 (the same month Steve Jobs dropped “interim” from his title as CEO over at Apple) Microsoft was well into a campaign designed to keep open source software on the sidelines. Under Bill Gates’ Ballmer had been the face of a sneer-and-smear campaign against the Linux operating system beginning in the late 1990s.

Linux grew alongside the public Internet so it wasn’t until the late 1990s that Microsoft had anything to worry about. However Linux, and Microsoft’s concern about it, grew quickly.

Glyn Moody’s A Brief History of Microsoft’s FUD succinctly details how Microsoft’s attitude towards Linux changed from dismissive to snarky to downright nasty.

Five months after assuming the CEO reigns at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer dropped his famous “Linux is a cancer” quote in a June interview with the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper.

“The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source,” Ballmer explained. Open source software, in effect, infected any other code it came in contact with.

2003: The infamous “Year of the Worms”

Three years later, in 2003, Ballmer had good reason to be phobic about infections. XP was savaged by three major virus outbreaks in a row; particularly the Slammer, Blaster and Sobig worms. The estimates of the financial damage from the Sobig worm alone ranged from $14.6 billion to $37.1 billion.

Microsoft’s FUD campaign against Linux escalated in intensity as XP looked more-and-more like unprotected virus-bait compared to Linux.

If XP users were going to change operating systems to get better security and performance, Microsoft wanted them to change to the new, more secure, Windows OS-in-progress named “Vista,” not Linux.

While they worked to put the polish on Vista, Microsoft worked to put the so-called fear, uncertainty and doubt into potential Linux adopters by questioning the legality of Linux; saying it might very well violate Microsoft patents.

In a 2006, Ballmer explained to Forbes magazine:

Well, I think there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property. I’m not going to comment. But to the degree that that’s the case, of course we owe it to our shareholders to have a strategy.

At the end of January, 2007, Microsoft released Windows Vista worldwide.

Beyond a superficial facelift, Vista was a stopgap measure designed to address fundamental security flaws in its predecessor. In XP every user automatically had maximum administrator privileges by default. This had the consequence that any malware the user unwitting launched had unfettered access to the entire operating system. Vista limited standard user privileges by default and walled off the Web Browser’s downloads.

Vista failed to win over Windows users; It didn’t replace XP. The perception and reality of Vista’s performance and stability flaws caused companies to downgrade from Vista back to XP, and caused other users to stay with XP, forcing Microsoft to continue supporting Windows XP with updates far beyond its intended shelf life.

Microsoft had hyped Vista as both a Linux and Mac OS X “killer.” It was neither. Worst of all, it wasn’t even an XP killer.

It was a huge misstep for Microsoft and CEO Steve Ballmer. There was nothing else to do but do better. Fortunately, they had something better already in the works.

“Windows 7 will be Vista, but a lot better,” declared CEO Ballmer in a 2008 interview which was headlined: Ballmer: It’s ok to wait until Windows 7.

Windows 7 was released in late 2009. It was styled to look like Vista, and embodied Vista’s security improvements but ran circles around Vista performance-wise. Code-wise it was more a child of XP. A lot of users, enterprise or otherwise, had been waiting a long time for new features in a stable framework; Windows 7 was very successful — is very succesful.

The problem is all those lagards; Windows 7 was released in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2012 that it finally overtook Windows XP as the top OS.

An item from 2011 — When XP was still the number one OS — parsed visits to one Website by operating system and found 140 visitors were still using Windows 98, three were using Windows 95, and, in 2011, one brave user somehow made it to the site on their coal-fired computer running Windows 3.1 — only 16 years after it was officially dead-and-buried!

From → Gnu Linux, Ubuntu, Windows

  1. ~xtian permalink

    Good post. That said I’ve given up talking to people about this. If there’s a solution that doesn’t need to be paid for or stolen there just isn’t any interest. In fact some people I’ve talked to get quite offended.


    And then with a sly look on the face HEY – CAN YOU GET ME A FREE COPY OF THAT?

    If the warez people have any sense at all they’ll be hammering out “cracked” Windows 7 installers like the army of greedy little trolls they are.


    • Thanks. I know what you mean: Top 100 torrents — Adobe this and Micro$oft that down the line practically. Some people deserve to be left to their fate.

      Did want to be able to mention at least one commercial antivirus program offering good real-time, zero-day deterrence/protection couldn’t find one in time.

      Here in Vancouver B.C. (Buy Condos) I’m told the city will be upgrading its XP fleet after April to Windows 7. All their talk about alternative thinking and I don’t think they ever seriously considered Linux. Considering writing a post on large-scale Win-to-Lin switch-overs but the required time frame seems to run to ten years. Munich folks said most important requirement was political will. Not much of that about.


      • ~xtian permalink

        The best comment I’ve heard about AV in general is that you can’t patch ignorance/stupidity. Of course in theory you actually *can* – but it requires time and inclination to acquire a bit of knowledge.

        When asked I suggest AVG Free – pure placebo without the Norton/McAfee scareware tactics.

        And yeah – practicality fades in the face of a bureaucratic structure. Not that I have a grudge against bureaucracy mind you – I’m quite happy sitting here in the monolith’s crack spending taxpayers’ money 😀


  2. Michael permalink

    Thanks for writing this. A refreshing sip of sanity in a sea of FUD insanity.
    It’s pretty amazing what these scumbags have been able to accomplish. They’ve got thousands upon thousands of mindless wannabe tech fanboys parroting their FUD at every turn.
    People who have never even used XP and know nothing about its actually security level besides what M$ or their favorite tech website is telling them.
    It’s like the tech version of Reefer Madness.
    Also, M$ now has human impersonation bots spreading their FUD so it’s getting really crazy.


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