RIP, Free Windows XP Support: Here's What You Need To Do Now

As of April 14, 2009, free support from Microsoft for Windows XP will be laid to rest. Microsoft has officially stated that security patches and updates will continue for XP after that date.

Ironically, new PCs will most probably continue to be offered with XP as an operating system option. Not so ironic are the millions of business desktops that are still running XP and did not upgrade to Vista—VARs and IT professionals will still have to plenty of XP machines to support.

Of course, extended, fee-based support will be available until 2014. There are, however, some other options out there for XP support, without customers having to break the bank or solution providers having to take on additional headaches.

Here are some ways to maintain and seek out support for XP to keep those machines running smooth.

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Upgrade all XP machines to the latest Service Pack and patches:

If this hasn't been done yet, now is the time. Get those XP machines loaded up with Service Pack 3 and any additional patches, in particular, security patches. This way, the machines are fully up-to-date, plus you can still get support from Microsoft if the patches cause any problems such as compatibility with third-party applications.

Confirm with third-party vendors that they will continue to support their products on XP, and for how long:

Most of the world's desktops are currently running Windows XP. It would behoove vendors to continue supporting their products with a customer base as large as that. Contact the vendors of applications and any devices that are currently running XP to ensure that they will continue to support their products on XP and how long they intend on supporting on that platform. Dell, for example, announced its plans to continue support for XP beyond the April 2009 date.

Check if your licensing provides alternate support options:

Customers that have Software Assurance or other enterprise licensing options may have other alternatives to support that ends today.

Use online support options:

There probably aren't many undocumented issues anymore concerning XP. The Internet can be a treasure trove of information when it comes to XP support. Start with Microsoft's Knowledge Base of articles on XP (which, hopefully won't retire anytime soon.)

Other options for online help include forums and newsgroups on XP and other Windows products, as well.

Map out a strategy for the eventual XP phase-out:

It won't happen today or tomorrow, but there will come a time when all Microsoft XP extended support will end and when vendors will cease support. In the interim, it may be a good idea to isolate a testing environment with Vista or Windows 7 (when in final release).

Testing all critical applications and devices long before upgrading from XP will allow for plenty of time to detect and isolate issues. If testing Windows 7, work with third-party vendors to ensure that their products will work on the latest Microsoft desktop OS and if they do not, ask them when.

Although the end of free support is upon us, it certainly does not mean that support isn't available.