Chrome support for XP to continue after Microsoft ditches it – helpful, or dangerous?

Chrome support for XP to continue after Microsoft ditches it - helpful, or dangerous?

Chrome and Windows XP logos Google has pledged to continue supporting its Chrome browser on Windows XP until at least April 2015, a full year after Microsoft officially ends support for the legacy platform in April 2014.

Google’s rationale behind the decision is that some people will find the transition away from XP a difficult process, and that allowing them to ensure their browsers are kept free of vulnerabilities will ease that transition.

But could its decision end up dissuading people from moving away from XP in a prompt and timely manner?

Windows XP has now been superseded by three separate, fully-fledged Windows versions (if, that is, one counts the widely despised Vista). Its mainstream support phase ended way back in 2009, and the current extended, patch-only support period is rapidly drawing to a close.

This end of life has been described as a “perpetual zero-day”, leaving lingering XP users exposed to all manner of dangers, many of which will likely be easy to reverse-engineer from bugs publicised by Microsoft itself after they are spotted and fixed on later Windows versions.

So the best advice is for anyone still clinging to XP to bite the bullet and move on to something else if at all possible. The deadline for the end-of-life has been well-known for a long time, so there’s no excuse to be taken by surprise.

There are plenty of options available – people not keen to pay for newer and safer Windows versions can take their pick from all manner of well-built, well-supported and user-friendly Linux distros these days, and some have even suggested that Google’s decision to extend Chrome support may be a sneaky tactic to persuade people to move to its Chrome OS.

But the main message a lot of people are going to pick up from Google’s announcement is, don’t worry, there’s no big rush, you’ve now got an extra year to think about your options and finally get moving.

Don’t fall for this. OK, so during that extra year there will be at least one browser being maintained and patched, but the rest of the OS, and likely most of the other software you’re running on it, will be falling ever deeper into obsolescence and vulnerability.

The availability of a fully-patched Chrome could be more of a danger than a help – it could be giving a false sense of security and further delaying the switch to more modern platforms.

Patching shouldn’t be a partial process – you should be keeping everything running on your system fully up to date. That means anti-malware products, browsers, office suites and PDF readers, and anything else you use, but most of all the core operating system itself.

Don’t be lulled into thinking a well-patched browser is all you need to keep you safe. I know many people out there have developed a trust and fondness for XP that’s going to be hard to break, but break it you must.

If you’re still putting off upgrading from XP for no other reason than that you’ve got it, you’re used to it and you like it, don’t be tempted to keep delaying, just hurry up and move on.

It may be, of course, that you really have no choice. You may have XP embedded in some vital system which continues to run fine and isn’t due to be replaced for many years to come, or you may have some legacy apps which will only run on XP.

In these edge cases there’s not a whole lot you can do. But really, if such systems do need to stay in operation, you don’t really need to use them to check your Gmail, keep up with your friends’ holiday snaps on Facebook, or watch amusing cat videos.

Keep them running if you really must, but minimise their interaction with the web and keep them as secure as possible.