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IT pros scrambling to migrate off Windows XP by its April end-of-life date have gotten a minor reprieve.
Microsoft will extend support for Windows XP's anti-malware security until July 2015 and continue to provide updates to its anti-malware signatures and engine for Windows XP users, according to a TechNet blog post.
Continued anti-malware security support applies to System Center Endpoint Protection, Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection and Windows Intune that run on Windows XP for enterprise customers and Security Essentials for consumers.
"I think it is good for the companies, [as it] gives them more time to move off XP to some other platform," said Srinivasan Sundaram, senior IT analyst at the El Dorado Irrigation District in Placerville, Calif.
In addition, he said, extended anti-malware support will give Microsoft more leverage with its customers and third-party developers, especially those businesses considering a jump to Windows 8.
There are many third-party application developers that need time to develop and port their software for Windows 8 and 8.1, Sundaram said. If businesses' apps are not on Windows 8, then they will still rely on the software running on Windows XP.
However, most organizations run Windows 7 or plan to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7. Only a small number of companies have jumped to Windows 8.The TechNet post noted that anti-malware support would not affect the existing end-of-life date for Windows XP, set for April 8, 2014.
Windows XP security roadmap
Customers in the midst of migrating off Windows XP will welcome the ongoing anti-malware security protection, since Microsoft will not want to leave XP prone to attacks after the end of its official support.
"Microsoft has a stake in ensuring Windows XP doesn't get hammered after support ends," said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. If customers get hacked, Microsoft won't be off the hook in many users' minds, he said.
Despite the extended anti-malware support, IT administrators must continue with their migration plans.
"The danger is [extended anti-malware support] could lull folks into a false sense of security," cautioned Silver, because it does not fix security holes or block every attack.
Indeed, highly regulated industries do not have a choice about updating the operating system in their environment.
If there is a compliance requirement that calls for the operating system to be supported and patched, Microsoft's extended anti-malware support will not do this, Silver said.
There still remains a large number of Windows XP machines, said Paul Parke, vice president of 1E Inc., a New York-based company that helps organizations automate their migrations. He estimated that at least 25% of Windows XP machines still need to be migrated.
Competitors such as Google, Mozilla and others committed to extending support for Windows XP months ago to ease the pain of migration and offer end users some level of security. Intel's security division, formerly known as McAfee, said it would continue to support current versions of the Enterprise Endpoint Products on Windows XP SP3 for a limited time after April 8, 2014, if it was reasonable to do so.
Symantec recently said that for customers running Symantec Endpoint Protection SEP 11.x and 12.1 on an XP platform, it would release definitions for all supported Windows operating systems, including Windows XP SP3.