Here's a sobering thought for about 300 million Windows users worldwide: If you aren't running Windows XP, you're going to be out of luck when it comes to getting the most recent security updates and patches. That news comes courtesy of Microsoft, which revealed this week that it will deliver new security features, such as the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) improvements in XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), only to XP users. Microsoft says that about 300 million people use XP, and that those users make up about half of the overall Windows user base.
  
Although I reported earlier that Microsoft doesn't plan to support XP SP2 improvements for Windows 2000 users, the company verified this week that it also won't support other older Windows versions with those fixes. "We do not have plans to deliver Windows XP SP2 enhancements for Windows 2000 or other older versions of Windows," the company said in a statement issued yesterday. "The most secure version of Windows today is Windows XP with SP2. We recommend that customers upgrade to XP and SP2 as quickly as possible."
  
In the past, the company hedged when confronted with the possibility that it would sell only the security that's in newer Windows versions, but this statement seems to firmly establish that practice as the norm. And although this scheme might be a valid way to increase revenue, no one knows how customers who are otherwise pleased with their current versions of Windows will react to having to upgrade to XP to get the most recent security patches. We're aren't quite 3 years into XP's active lifetime, and its successor, codenamed Longhorn, isn't expected until mid-2006, almost 2 years from now. Chances are good that many of the 300 million people who aren't yet running XP will do so by the time Longhorn ships.
  
Also, recent news about the revival of Microsoft's IE team led some people to believe that the company would eventually release more standalone versions of the browser, which would theoretically run on non-XP Windows versions and would offer newer security features. Microsoft quashed that possibility this week, however. "IE has been a part of the operating system since its release," a Microsoft representative said. "IE is a feature of Windows." When ZDNet asked Microsoft about the company's pledge to keep IE as a free, standalone product, the representative referred to those plans as "ancient history." Nice.