This milestone in the product lifecycle of XP has generated a range of questions, some easier to answer than others. Below you will find a list of frequently asked questions along with answers, some right from Microsoft. Hopefully, the FAQ will be sufficient to provide guidance for customers that need to make the transition from XP SP2 to more recent releases of Windows.

1. How will XP SP2 customers be impacted by end of support for the service pack?

Microsoft software products evolve constantly, with major products receiving upgrades dubbed service packs. In the case of XP SP2, the upgrade was indeed massive, with some company employees noting that Service Pack 2 for Windows Vista’s successor could easily have been considered an entirely new Windows release. The software giant only offers support for Service Packs for 12 to 24 months after a new release. This period varies, and is connected with the product family. In the specific case of XP SP2, July 13th, 2010 will mark two years since the release of Service Pack 3.

“After the end of support, customers should expect the following: no security updates or non-security hotfixes; limited break/fix support incidents continue to be available, but there is no option to engage Microsoft’s product development resources; if the support incident requires escalation to development for further guidance, requires a hotfix, or requires a security update, customers will be asked to upgrade to a supported service pack,” revealed Jared Proudfoot, Group program manager, Microsoft Support Lifecycle.

2. What is the impact to XP?

Well, SP2 goes the way of SP1 and the RTM version of the operating system. However, customers can continue running XP, provided they upgrade to a supported version, in this case, SP3. Those already running XP SP3 will not feel any changes. XP is currently in the Extended Support phase, which will last until 8 April 2014, almost 4 years from now. But in 2014, XP will be dead and ready for a proper burial, since no support whatsoever will be offered.

3. What’s the impact to XP components?

Microsoft bundles a range of components into Windows releases, less now with the Vista and Windows 7 releases. Still, it is critical to understand that the end of support for XP SP2 also means end of support for programs that ship in box with the OS.

“Once a product or service pack reaches the end of support, all of the components associated with that release will also be unsupported on that platform. For example, Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) will continue to be supported on (…) XP SP2 until [it reaches] the end of support on July 13, 2010. After this date, customers who wish to receive support on IE6 will only be able to do so on a supported product version, such as (…) Windows XP SP3,” Proudfoot added.

4. Will the lack of patches leave XP SP2 opened to attacks?

Yes. This is perhaps the most important reason to upgrade. End of support means that Microsoft won’t be offering any patches for vulnerabilities affecting the product. This includes knows security flaws, and even vulnerabilities that are under attack in the wild. “Once a product or service pack has reached the end of support, Microsoft no longer provides any new security updates. Customers are encouraged to upgrade to a supported product or service pack to ensure they are able to receive continued support and security updates,” Proudfoot said.

5. Will XP SP2 continue to function?

Absolutely! Microsoft will do nothing to actually kill XP SP2. Fact is that if you have a copy of Windows 98 on hand and an older computer, you can still run that OS just as well. But starting on July 13th, XP SP2 will be just as unsupported as Windows 98. Customers that will continue to rely on XP SP2 must understand that they are exposed to increased security risks, as well as miss all the benefits that come with a supported service pack.

6. Can some support still be accessed for unsupported service packs, including XP SP2?

Some support. Yes. Actual hotfixes, security updates, time zone updates, and sustained engineering? No! Microsoft does offer what it refers to as Limited Troubleshooting. This is done in an effort to help customers that are in the process of migrating to a new, supported Windows release. But bear in mind, this option is available to smooth the transition to new Windows versions, but limited troubleshooting is just that, and nothing more, even though they are still allowed to leverage Premier Support resources.

Namely “limited break/fix support incidents will be provided through Microsoft Customer Service and Support; and through Microsoft’s managed support offerings (such as Premier Support). There will be no option to engage Microsoft’s product development resources, and technical workarounds may be limited or not possible. If the support incident requires escalation to development for further guidance, requires a hotfix, or requires a security update, customers will be asked to upgrade to a supported service pack,” Proudfoot explained.

In the case of unsupported products, customers with Premier Support contracts can purchase Custom Support from Microsoft. However, the company will require them to have a migration plan in place. And it’s worth noting that this option is only available for unsupported products, not the case of Windows XP at all.

7. What should XP SP2 customers do?

Upgrade. While Windows 7 is perhaps the best possible solution, fact is that for some, SP3 at least will have to do. Service Pack 3 for XP, just as any service pack from Microsoft is an upgrade which can be downloaded free of charge. Moving at least to XP SP3 ensures that customers will be able to enjoy support for their OS until 2014.

“July 13th is just around the corner, so please take the steps necessary to get your Windows XP machine to SP3 prior to then. Unsupported products or service packs pose a significant risk to your computer’s security; therefore, Microsoft advises customers to migrate to the latest supported service pack and/or product prior to the end of support. You may also want to determine if now might be the time to move to Windows 7, which provides greater security, reliability, environment-friendly features, and a host of other benefits,” noted Eric Ligman, Global Partner Experience Lead at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group.

8. What’s the best place to start accessing additional details on end of support for XP SP2?

Microsoft has set up a special site dedicated to providing information on the versions of Windows that are hitting end of support.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) Final is available for download here.

Windows 7 RTM Enterprise 90-Day Evaluation is available for download here.

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