The operating system might be moving towards its twilight years — Microsoft has announced it will cease to support it with updates from summer 2014 onwards — but the fact remains that over one-third of the world’s PCs are still running Windows XP. And when one considers the reams of bad reviews surrounding Windows 8, the company’s latest operating system, it’s not hard to understand why consumers are more than happy to stick with what they know.
The issue in question surrounds changes to the Google protocols that deliver validation certificates to devices that confirm the requested website is the one the user is landing on and specifically something called the SSL/TLS protocol and virtual hosting — i.e., how it works with web servers that are hosting more than one secure website.
If a server hosts one secure site — one that loads with a padlock icon in the browser window — it only needs to hold and send one authentication certificate. If it hosts a number of secure sites, the web server and the computer have to work together to identify which site is needed and which certificate should be provided. If the two ends can’t reach an agreement, the site won’t load.
This process, called SNI support, isn’t built into Windows XP or its default version of the Internet Explorer browser, meaning that as Google moves more secure websites to virtual hosting, parts of the internet are going to start disappearing for XP users.
The obvious long-term solution is to upgrade to a newer version of Windows, such as Vista or Windows 7 (which may require hardware specifications beyond those found in a typical Windows XP-period PC). But of course, that could also mean having to buy a new computer. This also means running the risk of being forced to adopt Windows 8. However, Google’s Chrome browser, Mozilla’s Firefox and even Apple’s Safari for Windows browsers all do support SNI even on older WinTel PCs, so downloading and installing one should also solve the problem.