Microsoft Ending Support for XP, Vista Variants

Microsoft has announced the impending end of support and ongoing updates for several popular Windows operating system variants, which means no further updates and — more importantly — security patches will be forthcoming. The affected operating systems include Windows Vista with no service packs installed, which loses support as of April 13; support for Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and all versions of Windows 2000 and Server 2000 ends as of July 13.

If you’ve installed Service Pack 3 for Windows XP (which was released in Spring 2008) or Service Pack 1 or Service Pack 2 for Vista, you will continue to receive updates and patches.

“This is in line with our existing Microsoft Support Lifecycle policy that has been in place since 2002, and we want to educate customers so they can make an informed choice about what they want to do,” reported Frank Fellows, senior manager of press/analyst relations for Microsoft Services. “In order to receive support, including security updates, customers are required to install the product’s supported service pack. When a new service pack is released for Windows products, Microsoft provides 24 months of support for the previous service pack.”

Business owners who have installed the latest service packs for XP or Vista, either by leaving Windows’ Automatic Update feature turned on or by manually accepting and initiating these updates when they were released, need to take no action. In fact, Windows XP with Service Pack 3 will be supported through April 2014, and Vista with the latest service packs will be supported well beyond that.

However, if you’ve disabled the update feature and declined the latest service packs when offered — a common practice for people worried about making their PCs slow or unstable — it’s time to download and install the latest service pack for your operating system. “Installation of the most current service pack and all available security updates (at a minimum) is recommended to ensure that available security protections are in place for a Windows computer and to prevent the spread of malicious software to other computers,” noted Fellows.

Another option, of course, is to consider upgrading to Windows 7. For consumers and small business owners who buy their PCs retail (as opposed to through a Microsoft business reseller), Microsoft has set up a portal site to provide information on the end-of-life announcements and tools to make the switch to Windows 7, if desired.

Most notable is the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor utility. This free download scans your PC for potential issues with your hardware, devices and installed programs, and recommends what to do before you upgrade. For example, if the utility detects that a given PC has too little RAM, it will recommend that you add more. The site also lets you compare versions to see what features you gain when you move from XP or Vista to Windows 7, as well as compare the features found in Windows 7’s various iterations (Starter, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate).

For small business customers with a Select License agreement for multiple PCs, Microsoft offers the “Up to Date Discount” program through July 2010. Individual license upgrades run $119.99 for Windows 7 Home Premium and $199.99 for Windows 7 Professional, or you can step up to Windows 7 Ultimate for $219.99.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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