Microsoft will withdraw support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 in July 2014. Here we explain what that means, and how to keep running Windows XP safely after Microsoft withdraws support. Visit Windows 8 Advisor.

QUESTION I have read that Microsoft will withdraw support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 in July 2014. What does this mean and how can I prepare for it?

I assume MS will no longer plug any loopholes and not issue any further maintenance updates. I don't see this as a problem as XP is now very mature.

However, I need to retain Win XP/SP3 on at least one machine for applications which will not install or run Windows 7 or Windows 8. Also, from time to time I wipe the XP disk clean and re-install it to keep XP streamlined and clutter free.

For the reinstall, how will I get all the updates issued since SP3 was released?

Will Microsoft issue a final release e.g. Service Pack 4?  Will existing updates still be available for download, and for how long?

HELPROOM ANSWER The withdrawal of support for Windows XP means that Microsoft will no-longer be producing any security updates for the operating system or fixing any bugs. It also means that you won't be able to get any help or technical support on a free or paid-for basis.

Being twelve years old, Windows XP is indeed a mature operating system, but this doesn't mean that it is in any way protected against future exploits. Any exploits found in newer versions of Windows are likely to be tested to see whether they can also be adapted to attack XP, and if they're successful, there will be no help from Microsoft in fixing the problem.

There may be other ways of preventing the exploit, but you'll be relying on third parties to find them.

Furthermore, it's quite possible that there are individuals holding back exploits they have already found so they can unleash them after Microsoft has stopped producing updates – effectively ensuring these yet-to-be-exploited vulnerabilities never become fixed.

The end of support for XP does not mean that activation servers will be turned off, so re-installing the operating system and activating it should remain possible indefinitely. It's also possible that Microsoft will disable the requirement to activate XP at all at some point after the end of support.

However, we would suggest making a full image backup of any of the PCs on which you want to be able to perform a clean re-installation of Windows XP. This will be faster than installing from scratch and all of the required updates will be in place without the need to download them again.

When performing your next clean re-installation, install all the available service packs and updates and then create the image (also known as ghosting) using software such as Acronis True Image. Create one for each different PC.

The end of support for Windows XP doesn't mean that Windows Update will suddenly stop working either. It just means that no new updates will appear. Microsoft could decide to remove them at any time, of course.
If you'd rather not make an image of your hard disk, you can create a ‘slipstream' installation CD for XP containing SP3 and any remaining updates published up until the end of support. This will prevent you having to install SP3 and then re-download all the subsequent updates each time you re-install. The updates will be installed with Windows – effectively the 'SP4' version you mention.

A simple way of doing this would be to download nLite from This is a graphical utility which will let you create your own Windows XP installation CD incorporating any service pack or updates you wish, so they will appear pre-installed when your installation disc is used. You can also add your own selection of additional drivers and applications if you want to save even more time.

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