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China has a massive Windows XP problem

By the time of XP's retirement in April, around 10% of all U.S. computers will be running the OS; in China, 65% of companies will do so

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The Chinese are going to have a very, very hard time kicking the Windows XP habit.

The deadline for the retirement of Microsoft's most successful operating system ever is eight months from tomorrow: April 8, 2014. That's the day when the Redmond, Wash. company is to deliver the last XP security update.

The problem is that a significant chunk of the world's PCs continue to run the aged OS, and with just months to go, a seemingly impossible task faces those users: Getting off the 12-year-old XP and onto something newer.

According to analytics company Net Applications, 37.2% of the globe's personal computers ran Windows XP last month. If Microsoft's estimate of 1.4 billion Windows PCs worldwide is accurate, XP's share translates into nearly 570 million machines.

But while much digital ink has been spilled on the impending deadline -- what one popular Windows blogger called a "coming Windows XP Apocalypse" on Tuesday -- the truth is that some countries have a bigger headache than others.

In the U.S., for example, 16.4% of all personal computers ran Windows XP in July, or about one in six, Net Applications' data showed.

But in China, where XP remains king, 72.1% of the country's computers relied on the soon-to-retire operating system last month, or nearly three out of every four systems. In any XP doomsday scenario, that means China is in a position four times more precarious than the U.S.

And it will get worse for China, not better, as the remaining eight months flip off the calendar.

If one assumes that recent trends in XP's decline continue, then its share in the U.S. will drop to between 9.1% and 11.1% by April 2014 (depending on whether the forecast is based on the last three months or the last six months, respectively).

China, however, is in a tougher spot because while it's been shedding Windows XP at about the same clip as the U.S., the country's much larger current share puts it at a severe disadvantage. By April 2014, XP will still be on between 65.2% and 65.7% of its personal computers. Eight months from now, China's XP problem will be six or seven times bigger than the U.S.'s.

The hand-wringing about XP's stubbornness, then, is largely overdone when talking about the U.S. But it's on target when it comes to cases like China's.

Theories about the staying power of XP have been proposed by almost every industry analyst and blogging pundit. Some cited the operating system's longevity -- it's been proven and tested by a dozen years of use -- while others pointed out that businesses hold on to XP because of internal, custom or niche applications that would cost a fortune to upgrade, even if they were available on other platforms. And China often was singled out for its propensity for piracy and a resulting apathy toward patches in general.

The share of China's personal computers running the aging Windows XP dwarfs that in the U.S. (Data: Net Applications.)

Some people may never upgrade for the simple reason that their Windows XP PC is their last PC. When it dies, so does their interest in traditional personal computers. Instead, they'll just use their tablets all of the time rather than just part of the time.

Migration experts have opined that the easy upgrades have been done, and what's left are the much more expensive ones. Many consumers simply can't comprehend why there are laggards at all, ignoring the economics of shifting hundreds, even thousands of systems from one OS to another.

But the truth is that people are deserting Windows XP.

In the U.S., XP's rate of decline over the last six months has been 60% higher than the global average. Over the last three months, it's been 116% higher. The majority have fled to Windows 7, which in July powered half of all personal computers in the U.S.

Even China has been making strides, with XP reduction rates equal to, or in the case of its six-month average, greater than the U.S.'s. A quarter of the country's computers now run Windows 7, Net Applications estimated.

But the large numbers of PCs destined to be running XP next April has prompted speculation -- in some cases, running back years -- that Microsoft will back down, perhaps at the last minute, and continue patching at least the worst vulnerabilities in Windows XP.

That hope stems from the numbers. In the U.S., the 9% or 10% or 11% of all computers likely to be running XP next April represents millions: If the Computer Industry Almanac's 2012 estimate of 310 million in-place systems is used, XP will be on at least 28 million PCs when the retirement clock reaches midnight.

Microsoft's given no hint that it will back down. Even as recently as last month, during its Worldwide Partner Conference, it touted the sales opportunities in helping customers ditch XP, claiming the migration was a potential windfall worth $32 billion.

Most analysts have concluded that there's little use thinking Microsoft will blink. John Pescatore, at the time an analyst with Gartner, put it best in a December 2012 interview: "I think they have to draw a line in the sand," said Pescatore. "They've supported XP longer than anything else."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.

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  • loupgarous This is the one gratifying part of the whole lets kill XP off debacle - that the Chinese the greatest bunch of freeloading software pirates on the planet are finally going to have to deal with the consequences of their thievery
  • loupgarous Now Im more strongly motivated than ever to keep my Windows XP installs running just to show Microsoft that they cant force me to buy an entirely new computer just to support their crappy new OSes
  • How_delightful One PROBLEM I never had with any XP version on any of my various computers over the decade but that MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ARE GETTING with a number of Microsoft versions of Windows 8 and 81 Pro is that Microsoft SECRETLY CRIPPLE your MS Install DVD REFRESHREPAIR Disc Facility when you updateHowNOTE- What Microsoft DONT TELL You is that Any Update from W8 Pro to W81 Pro or any Update from W8 to W8 MEDIA CENTRE or from W81 Pro to W81 Pro Media Centre all causes your REFRESHREPAIR Windows Disc to Fail Fail Fail FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAILQEDMicrosoft secretly CRIPPLE your install discBE WARNEDBEWAREThe shareholder sucker is in townIf you update you have to format your hard-drive and start again Or BUY A NEW DISC because Microsoft tell you after many attempts to fix the issues that they will not allow you to keep re-registering your Keycode on your computer that they wrecked the software repaid disc for and what they instead ask for is your Credit-Card details for you to pay for a fixThey are like Drug dealers these days Same techniques and same morals it seems
  • Omendata I wish i had concentrated on Unix years ago - its a small market for jobs but much better paid than windows and i would say more interestingMint is Mint
  • Omendata YaaaaawnnnnnnnI would rather be 10 than a 50 year old bad mannered greedy aggressive insulting oaf I bet you are one of those in IT dept that everyone hates and gives a bad name to - probably single hence the aggressive stance and attempts to belittle and humiliate others and no chance of a woman eitherIf i am not a sys programmer then how would i know how to revector a systems soft irq rightly and use that revectored machine code stub to load a 6522 via timer1 with a pre found value in order to load a parallax scrolling landscape bitmap before vertical flyback to minimise screen flicker and glitching - the irq is the vertical flyback interrupt by the wayOh i am aqlso a very good electrical engineer to component level as well - you might want to slag me off for that as wellI wouldnt want to work in your it dept - i bet you belittle and try to make everyone small - probably a miserable place to work - people like you actually create that type of placeYou probably cannot actually see it yourself but when you have an arrgument with more than one person on one single thread intimating that you are wrong then perhaps you should pay attentionPart fo a good sysadmin is listening to others and maybe admitting you couldbe wrong but i see you are not a good sysadmin Perfectly prooved by your attitude to others on hereEither that or you are a skitso
  • Brandon Did you really just break out internet tough guy on me Not only are you not a sys admin or a systems programmer youve just proved your not even over the age of 14Go back to school kid come back when you learn something worth my time
  • Omendata Any time any place I am also a black belt in kicking Sysadmins who have their head stuck up their arses and who think they are better than everyone elseI said previously previously a Games programmer and systems programmer are you trying to make some sort of one upmanship point Obviously one of those sysadmins that dont do humilityYeah you get paid to be nice otherwise you arent nice thats obviousWhat a wondefrul specimen of human ordure you areYou have just proved my point anyway in that you are incredibly rude to others and think that money is all Must be from London or surrounding then
  • Brandon Thats a big part of it but you cant mitigate clueless users You can merely plug holes to mitigate their ignorance from causing you damage And XP has a TON of holes
  • Brandon A sysadmin AND a games programmer AND a system programmer that uses Windows XP huh Well arent you a special Betty Well Im a pirate and ninja and a jedi thats a master of paper crochetThe mark of a good sys admin has very little to do with customer support it has to do with automation and maintaining proper backupsdocumentationetc What your talking about is a bottom tier help desk guy Regardless I get paid to be nice to customers not be nice on internet forums If your going to talk out your rear end you deserve to get it smacked
  • Omendata Its not so much the OS but the clueless users who use it and let in the nasties
  • Omendata And you are incredibly rude to others - Thats not the hallmark of a good sysadmin I guess when you users have an issue you go outside smoke a few BampH then tell them to hiss off thenI am also a sysadmin and previously a Games programmer and systems programmer and I still use Xp as all of my old programs run on it
  • Pascal Caillette Same rubbish as the great Y2K scare Tiny storm in a huge teacup Crims far more likely to go where the cash is newer OSs and Macs
  • David Bird Ill admit that I used to think like that Why change stuff that works However I tried a few Linux distros and have now installed Linux Mint Cinnamon or xfce on my 8 laptops and desktops The only regret I have is that I didnt do it sooner Very easy to install very easy to use runs much faster more secure and much easier to maintain And of course its free I used to run all my machines in dual boot but found that I was using WinXP less and less so now Ive replaced it completely Painless I now just have 1 desktop dual booting with Win7 for some specialist software
  • Brandon I left my original post you commented on uncorrected so you could feel useful First sentence of the first and third paragraph just in case you needed some help
  • travel_lite Youll hardly be needing me as I see that youve now corrected your original your talking about all by yourself Im sincerely impressed old chap and I hope to see a similar improvement in your turbulent attitude very soon Wishing you well
  • Brandon Thats perfectly reasonable What isnt perfectly reasonable is the guy blathering on about XP not being a significantly inferior product to Win 7 or 8It is a significantly inferior product and by all means you can choose to use it as a personal system Just realize its painfully outdated and has a multitude of security flaws
  • Brandon Sure go ahead Maybe youll actually know what youre talking about this time
  • travel_lite Thank you
  • travel_lite Dear Brandon Im presuming that you were in a state of agitation when typing as your response is peppered with grammatical mistakes If you would like me to correct these I should be very happy to do so at no expense to your good self Kind regards TL
  • Walter Topman Hey man corporate needs are different from personal use even a non IT person can see that Using abuse and being inappropriately aggressive is a sign of over-stress leading to hypertension and stroke Or it is a sign of a trolling bore -
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