The two-year deadline for users of Windows XP and Office 2003 to abandon their software or face a life without official support started ticking on Sunday, Microsoft has reminded millions of customers.

In a message that follows up on last October’s 10-year anniversary announcement that support for XP would end on 8 April 2014, Microsoft marketing director, Stella Chernyak has underlined that users will not receive security updates, non-security hotfixes and technical support after that date.

“Windows XP and Office 2003 were great software releases for their time, but the technology environment has shifted. Technology continues to evolve and so do people’s needs and expectations,” she said.

This is consistent with the company’s 2002 support lifecycle policy that offered a minimum of 5 years mainstream support and 5 years extended support for the company’s software.

The problem, as ever, is that XP remains popular with up to half of Windows users still running XP up to SP3, a figure that suggests a sizable minority of users risk being caught out by the 2014 deadline.

Windows Vista and Office 2007 are also on notice and will continue to receive support until April 2017, the company has announced.

Microsoft wants businesses and consumers to upgrade to Windows 7 and Office 2010, though some may end up plumping for Windows 8, expected to make its commercial debut at the end of 2012.

For consumers unwilling to upgrade their PCs to a hardware spec that can run Windows 7 or Windows 8, the only alternative will be to embrace Linux. Current versions of Mint, Ubuntu or Fedora (to pick the most popular distributions) will happily run in a footprint similar to that of XP with the same conveniences (processor dependant) of a Windows 7 PC.

Inevitably some will continue to run XP just as a small number of users today continue to run Windows 2000 beyond its extended support date.

In late March, Mozilla announced that Firefox 12 would be the last version of the browser that would run on versions of XP before SP2.