Forget Wolverine, clearly there is nothing more difficult to kill than Windows XP. Having finally ditched support for the 12 year old operating system in April, Microsoft performed an arguably foolish U-turn just three weeks later when a massive Internet Explorer flaw blew holes through every version of Windows. And now it seems users will be able to get five more years of Windows XP support – for free.
No Microsoft hasn’t changed its mind yet again. Instead the life extension comes courtesy of a simple hack spotted by betanews. The workaround exploits Microsoft’s continued support of ‘Windows Embedded Industry’ (previously ‘Windows Embedded POSReady’) which will last until 2019. Embedded Industry is designed for use in industry devices across retail, manufacturing, healthcare and – you guessed it – the operating system is based on Windows XP Service Pack 3.
Consequently the security updates that continue to be released for Windows Embedded Industry are essentially the same as what Microsoft would have released for Windows XP, had support continued. Now with a simple hack you can trick Windows Update into thinking Windows XP is Windows Embedded Industry.
This is how you do it:
1. Create a text document, and call it XP.reg. Be sure that the ending is ‘.reg’ not ‘XP.reg.txt.’ (check this in Windows Explorer by going to Tools > Folder Options > View and uncheck ‘Show hidden files and folders’)
2. Right click the file, select ‘Edit’ and paste in:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
3. Save it and double click the file twice with the left mouse button which will add it to the registry.
You’re done. Windows XP will now tell Microsoft Update it is Windows Embedded Industry and automatically download and install security updates as they are released. The snag is this hack only works for Windows XP 32bit because Windows XP 64bit is based on Windows Server 2003. There is a more complex workaround for that which can be found here.
Now come the caveats. Firstly the updates are designed for Windows Embedded Industry not Windows XP and while that should not matter, it is possible there may be some compatibility issues. Secondly – and most importantly – it is impossible to say whether these hacks will keep working until support ends for Windows Embedded Industry in 2019 or if Microsoft will close this loophole.
The optimistic viewpoint is Windows XP’s end of life status should mean it receives no future software updates so Microsoft would have to make another U-turn to close the loophole.
The cynical viewpoint is Microsoft would prefer users to move to a newer operating system so closing the loophole would be in its interest. This is a fair point given the age of Windows XP, but countered by the fact 1-in-4 PCs still use it. Microsoft also hasn’t helped its case after releasing misleading data earlier this month suggesting Windows XP is safer than Windows Vista and Windows 7.
Either way Microsoft is left in a tricky situation. Following the controversial ‘Update 1’ patch Windows 8.1 is actually a very good operating system, but its reputation is irreparably damaged.
Furthermore, while it is fair to stop providing a free warranty service for a 12 year old OS, Microsoft is offering military and government organisations a paid service to keep their Windows XP computers safe as part of a scheme dubbed ‘Clandestine Fox’. Surely this should also be a paid option for users who wish to stay safe, but can’t afford new hardware or fear the leap to a free Linux alternative like Ubuntu.
Yes Windows XP has arguably been Microsoft’s greatest success, but its legacy is fast becoming the company’s Achilles Heel.