Microsoft urges customers to ditch XP, Office 2003

Individuals and businesses sticking with the OS and suite after support ends in April face security risks, technical obsolescence, it warns

Microsoft has again painted a grim picture for customers who remain on Windows XP and Office 2003 after it ends support for the old OS and suite in early April, but it's unclear if the company is succeeding in its campaign to convince holdouts to upgrade.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Microsoft reiterated that consumers and businesses that stick with the products past the April 8 deadline will face severe security risks and be unable to take advantage of technical advances.

"Computers currently running Windows XP and Office 2003 won't stop working on April 9, but over time security and performance will be affected," reads the post.

Specifically, Windows XP PCs won't be able to run many "newer" applications or work with new hardware due to unsupported drivers. Additionally, PCs running the OS will become easy prey to malware, because Microsoft won't release new security updates and bug fixes for it, nor offer support services and technical content updates. Office 2003, on the other hand, can't provide modern mobility and cloud capabilities, according to Microsoft.

Unsurprisingly the solution the company offers is for customers to adopt Windows 8.1 and Office 365, while acknowledging that in most instances PCs running Windows XP lack the hardware specs to run the new OS. "The majority of PCs running Windows XP are not capable of upgrading to Windows 8.1 due to the age of the hardware," the post reads.

Windows XP remains quite popular despite its age -- it was first released in 2001. According to the latest figures from NetApplications, Windows XP has an almost 30 percent share of the desktop OS market, second only to Windows 7 which has about 47 percent. By contrast, Windows 8, which started shipping in October 2012, and its 8.1 update, released a year later, have a combined share of about 10.6 percent.

Windows 8 and its update have drawn criticism for their touch-optimized interface and a series of disruptive bugs. Microsoft is promising another update for the spring that will make the OS friendlier for mouse-and-keyboard users, but the impression in the marketplace is that Microsoft has struggled to get Windows 8 right. The most pessimistic critics have likened Windows 8 to the disastrous Windows Vista, released in 2007 and generally panned.

Office 2003 is also still heavily used. According to the results of a Forrester Research survey released in October, Office 2003 was in use in 28 percent of businesses polled, behind Office 2007 (51 percent) and Office 2010 (85 percent). The latest version of Office -- called Office 2013 when sold via traditional perpetual license and Office 365 when sold via an annual subscription -- was at the time used in 22 percent of companies polled, and with a slower adoption than Office 2010 at a comparable stage of release, according to Forrester.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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