After what has felt like an eternity, Microsoft has finally ended all forms of official support for Windows XP, more than 12 years after the operating system launched, and still with a significant portion of users globally.

Today, April 8, 2014, marks the end of the extended support phase for Windows XP and Office 2003. Mainstream support for these products ended a full five years ago, in April 2009, and Microsoft has since been giving users plenty of warnings that all support will (and now has) come to an end.

Over the past few days, Windows XP users running Microsoft Security Essentials have been nagged with pop-ups indicating support will end, much to the frustration of those who refuse to upgrade. However Microsoft has a point with the consistent messages: from now on, Windows XP will no longer receive any security patches, fixes or updates, leaving systems running the OS potentially vulnerable to attacks through unpatched holes.

As much as 28% of the world's PCs are running Windows XP - nearly four times the entire Mac OS user population - mostly due to business and government departments who are yet to switch to a newer, and inherently more secure operating system. Attackers will almost certainly ramp up attempts to infiltrate these systems, making third-party security solutions more important than ever.

Some large organizations who are yet to upgrade are paying Microsoft for custom support packages; the UK government, for example, is forking out £5.5m (~US$9.2m) for 12 months of Windows XP support. For the rest of us, upgrading to a supported OS such as Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 is a much more sensible option.