Windows XP isn't dead: It just got more dangerous

Windows XP end-of-life: the day that, for a very long time, seemed like it would never come. Microsoft has officially washed its hands of XP after twelve years, prompting celebration from security experts tired of the old OS' holes. Yet the shift in focus to newer platforms – like Windows 8.1 – means that many at-risk users will simply be left behind, despite Windows XP's still considerable footprint.

Microsoft was already forced to extend its support for Windows XP, even after the 2001 platform was long pulled from shelves and no longer preloaded on PCs. Being one of Microsoft's more popular operating systems had a downside, in that schools, businesses, government divisions, and homes across the globe are still relying on XP – or on apps that will only run on the OS.

Some of those will upgrade – Microsoft has been doing its most vocal enterprise outreach for more than a year now, trying to coax them into something more recent – but many will stick with old, familiar XP, potentially not even realizing the security risks they leave themselves open to.

For companies, there's Custom Support for Windows XP, a paid-for service which will help the transition. Home users, however, don't get the same assistance.

Microsoft has committed to delivering anti-malware updates for Windows XP until April 15th, 2015, giving some reassurance from internet threats, but there'll be no patches or bugfixes. Meanwhile, Microsoft's advice to systems admins on how to better secure machines that simply can't be upgraded – including blocking USB ports, limiting or completely removing internet and network access, and ensuring no lingering users have Administrator privileges – is unlikely to be carried out for domestic XP PCs.

Exactly how many of those PCs are still around is unclear, with analysts split. The fear is that the true extent will only be realized when malware, hacks, and other security flaws are exploited. One thing is clear, though: even with Microsoft finally turning its focus away from XP and to Windows 8.1 and beyond, the old OS is far from dead today.

Instead, it's more akin to a zombie: no overarching strategy, but dangerous all the same.

If you're already ahead of the curve and running Windows 8, check out the Windows 8.1 Update released today.