An official of a local government in Canada with thousands of desktop PCs recently got a shock, according to an industry analyst: Those end-of-support-for-Windows-XP stories should be taken seriously.

Wes Miller, a research analyst at Directions on Microsoft, recalled recently fielding a surprising call from that Canadian wondering exactly what end of support means. Some IT managers, apparently, haven’t got the message. Microsoft Corp. has been spreading the word for some time that venerable WinXP’s time has come.

It’s the end of Windows XP: Are you ready? Breakfast events across the country

An operating system that provided a significant boost in stability when it came out in October, 2001, it has been a highly popular corporate standard since then. Forrester Research estimated that a year ago 38 per cent of corporate PCs were running XP, and 16 per cent of companies were still deploying it on new machines. But all good things come to an end, and, following standard policy of offering a minimum 10 years support for business products, Microsoft will stop issuing XP patches (and Office 2003) on April 8, 2014.

That’s about seven months from now. It comes down to this: If hackers find an exploit in the operating system, it won’t be fixed. You’re on your own.

“A lot of organizations don’t understand what end of support means,” Miller says. “As a result, they’re not panicking when they should.”

But the reality is if you’re not executing a plan to get off XP today you’re probably not going to make it if you’re an organization of any size.”

The good news is many have already shifted to Windows 7 or 8. Forrester’s figures from a survey a year ago estimated 47 per cent of North American corporate desktops had Win7 at that point, and 67 per cent of new business PCs were sporting Win7.

Survey respondents also estimated that by Q3 of this year — that is, about now — 60 per cent of new PCs would be running Win 7 and 26 per cent would have Win8 loaded. Still, looking ahead three per cent thoughts they’d still be installing XP on machines now.

Henrik Gutle, director of Microsoft Canada’s Windows business group, said the company can’t disclose its figures on how many PCs are running XP here.

“If I look at some of the companies I talk to and friends and family I believe there’s still a significant amount of XP customers out there. And I’m not sure every one of them is aware of what it means that XP is coming up to end of support.”

Experts said there’s a number of reasons why XP is still hanging on. Some organizations, likely smaller ones, can’t afford to buy new PCs to run Win7/8. Others just take for granted XP’s existence, or don’t think certain staff need a modern OS.

And there may be those who follow one industry analyst quoted in a publication that as long as XP is running service pack 3 and has the latest updates and patches and is using any browser higher that Internet Explorer 6, things — for a little while — will be OK.

David Johnson, an infrastructure analyst at Forrester Research, is stunned into silence on that one.

XP might work for some uses like embedded systems, he concedes. But he notes that when Microsoft ends support, there’s a risk applications developed for the OS won’t work well because third party developers will stop their support. In addition, companies that make peripheral devices, like printers and mice, will stop their driver support for XP.

Miller notes that there’s never been a month when Microsoft hasn’t issued a key patch for XP.

If you’re a likely target of hackers — regulated company or government –you’re “asking for trouble” if you’re still running XP next April, he said.

Gutle believes large organizations have got the message and have been migrating to other OSs for some time. “I would be very surprised if there was a publicly-traded who is not aware of the implications and not embarked on a migration process.”

That means a lot of SMBs have a lot of work to do. The good news, Gutle says, is the smaller the organization the easier it could be — he estimates a couple of weeks for a firm with 20 PCs.
Still, he added, with seven months to go you need “a strong sense of urgency,” says Gutle. Migration “definitely does not happen overnight.”

Making a migration plan

If you haven’t started on an XP migration project yet, here’s advice on what to do:

  • Decide what platform you’re moving to: Few organizations are standardizing on Windows 8, says David Johnson of Forrester Research, in part because the new interface is so different from what staff are used to.
  • Do a hardware and application assessment. Can existing PCs run the new platform? Are your apps compatible with it? Once that’s done, decide if apps need to be migrated. Develop an application readiness schedule for each mission-critical app.
  • Do you have the resources to do the migration yourself? If so, Microsoft and other suppliers have some automated tools. If the work is too much, it may have to be outsourced. Delay other outsourcing decisions until you have a clear migration plan, says Forrester.
  • Build a Win7/8 reference image to test remediated applications against;
  • Develop a project plan and a communications plan. Departments have to know what’s coming – you don’t want to delay a product launch because there’s a PC migration. Every staff member getting a new PC has to know when to expect it. Do they need to avoid travelling at a particular time? Will the company have to give some people PCs temporarily?
  • Perform the migration on test groups to catch problems. If everything’s okay, do it.
  • Confronting a desktop migration is also the time to think about alternatives, like virtual desktop infrastructure, thin clients and allowing some staff to use Macs or tablets. In fact, it’s an opportunity to think about implementing a bring-your-own device (BYOD) policy, although that comes with other IT implications – BYOD means having security software that checks the configuration of anything that connects to the network.
  • Johnson notes that some companies are using unorthodox solutions rather than convert older XP-compatible apps, such as running them on Windows Server 2003 – largely binary compatible with XP — in a virtualized XenApp server environment and giving staff desktop access through Citrix.
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  • vyengr

    Some organizations simply may not be able to afford to move off XP based only on the implied threats associated with the end of XP support. Assuming the hardware has the necessary horsepower to run Win 7/8 (unlikely) there is no migration path from XP to anything other than Vista, so it means every box, old or new, must be rebuilt from scratch.
    Then the apps themselves may not work in 7/8 and will require potentially expensive upgrades and some older apps may no longer be available at all. Not to mention incompatible peripherals like printers. It is naïve to believe that “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is not the “prime directive” in small businesses on tight budgets. XP will live on for some time yet.

    • gisabun

      these “organizations” knew years in advance that the end of Win XP was coming [if their IT people were smart to tell them, that is]. Come on. 5-6 years prior to Win XP death and they could do any planning? Bad management.

      • vyengr

        Obviously you have never worked for or run a small businesses on a tight budget.

        • gisabun

          Actually I have worked for a couple of places. They knew that without upgrading hardware or software they can’t run properly.

          • vyengr

            OK, you win. Anybody who still uses XP is stupid. Happy?

          • David

            It is very hard for me to control the rage I have for Microsoft at the moment. I feel like I have been bastardized by a little bit of slight of hand or slight of finger so to speak. 99% of the time I use the computer for business and communicating by e-mail with the world. The day I upgraded to Windows 8 I lost everything and one by one had to start rebuilding everything. Windows 8 can not be trusted. As for tablets, phones and the like, I am not interested in shaking hands with anyone who take them to the bathroom. Call me old fashion or a dinosaur, XP has helped pay for two mortgage free properties, debt free business and two fully funded pensions. In four months of use Windows 8 has done nothing for me, but then I am a dinosaur. There is more to life than being connected all the time. And I think soft rolled toilet paper is the best technological invention of all time in the last 140 years. Windows 8 is just below wood splinters.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, vyengr. We had Microsoft Canada’s CIO, Steve Heck, come into our video studio and respond to your comment directly. Watch his answer here:

  • David

    How about a class action law suit against Microsoft for breach of trust,
    skullduggery, bait and switch, and moronic behavior….

    • gisabun

      Errr. Why? LOok at the EULA. Clearly states the support for Win XP. No one is stopping you from using it. You just won’t be as secure.

      • David

        End User License Agreement is not a get-out-of-jail-free card in this case. Because of the new code for Windows 8 I am out over $2000 worth of time and programs, and still counting. I have lost so much that only about 10% of our old programs are working. I have purchased a second hard drive and re-installed Windows XP OS on it. One by one I am getting the use of my computer back in shape where I can trust it. And, if all of us read every word on a EULA we would not have time to do everything else to make money. Windows 8 is not a Windows product, it should never have been added to the tried and tested time line of Windows 95, 98 and XP. I will be keeping Windows 8 running in the hopes of some power changes that should have been done in the first place. If it comes to it, most of my work is done using the XP hard drive, it will be a stand alone operation once Microsoft pulls the pin.

        • gisabun

          Isn’t upgrading software the name of the game when you upgrade the OS? The software developers want you to upgrade every time a new version is out. They don’t want to support a 7 year old application.

          • David

            Who is more important, the customer or the software developer? Just wait until all levels of government, our education system and productive small medium and large businesses realize they have been tricked out of public and private funds. Also, I understand that some of Microsoft’s top people are jumping ship right now. I have been told that I will just have to work right through it and spend more money and move on. Maybe it is time the thin the herd, there is just too many people calling themselves software developers. And all want an easy payday everyday. Just not going to happen.

          • NearCanuck

            Only in some industries, mostly office productivity software. There is a lot of equipment that is software driven for manufacturing, scientific equipment, medical equipment, etc., that will not have software immediately written that is compatible for a new OS. When you spend $500,000 on a piece of equipment, you need that software to run every time. No, or glitchy, OS support is not acceptable.

            I have colleagues in biological research still running Win98 and XP out of necessity. There are no comparable software programs for them that run on any newer OS.

      • koconor100

        Wont be as secure ?

        You were never secure. At all.

        This is windows we are talking about. the FUD Masters of the universe, because it’s easier to bad mouth the competition than fix the problem.

        • gisabun

          Let me guess? A Linux zealot?

          • koconor100

            Let me guess ? A windows Zealot ?

            The security holes in windows are real. Fluff them away all you like, but they are real none the less.

  • Tony

    This sounds like Y2K all over again. We tried Win7 and we ended up having to run the built-in WinXP emulator for a couple of our applications, so what’s the point of switching?

  • Well. XP still have a better performances on many systems, easier and definitely more capable of networking, and many are still using Windows XP in many countries.

  • Brett Hagey

    Microsoft ignores vertical markets, which is why virtual PC’s are gaining popularity: custom apps written for specific platforms that don’t get recompiled for the newer OS’s. Many of these apps won’t be recompiled either because the company writing them has such a small market it’s not worth doing, or their customers have no reason to purchase updated versions because the versions they run already do everything they need. It’s a Catch-22 for many.

  • Al

    If it isn’t broken don’t fix it. XP works, is still being installed, and as already mentioned, is cost effective. With almost 50% of the world still running XP, it will be around for a long time yet.

    • gisabun

      50% running Win XP? I don’t think so. Where did you get that total? NetMarketShare statistics for September say about 33.5%.
      As soon as Microsoft stops supporting Win XP, you won’t be able to buy a new printer [that came out after April 2014] with Win XP software. Other companies such as Apple, Adobe, Oracle, Google and others will stop supporting them. So no Photoshop Elements 12 with Win XP support [for example].

      • Not Falling For It

        There is plenty of old hardware floating around to buy so if companies stop making XP drivers for new hardware it’s no biggy, and often new versions of software contain only minor changes that a user typically doesn’t need or care about, for example my office needs are still met with Office XP professional 2002, yet it’s nearly 2014. Unlike math, real world problems often have multiple solutions.

  • chris

    After going through another painful week with a client’s Windows 8 (WAIT) machine. Perhaps the world should wait for Window’s 9 or move to Linux and open office etc. This most recent version of Windows make Vista & ME’s problems look minor.

  • Eric

    “What’s the point of switching?” “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!” and “It will be around for a long time”… Is anyone actually READING the article?

    • gisabun

      Windows XP *IS* busted.

    • Not Falling For It

      Kinda like vynl records, sure most people prefer to download an mp3 or buy a cd, but plently of people still use vynl and because they keep at it vynl will be around for a long time to come.

  • gisabun

    Microsoft may have notified companies and techies that the end is near, but I don’t think consuimers know. Ever see any ads saying the end is near?

  • Sheeva

    XP was indeed a better/best OS and the proof is that it’s still operating with no issues. Most of our business vertical apps work seamlessly with XP. When tested with Win7 there remains significant problems. Testing with Win8 has been a nightmare. The cost alone of upgrading all hardware is enough to bankrupt a small business (we have <100 staff). The constant cost of upgrading/migrating is not supportable any longer.

    Our best option is to NOT migrate to WinXXXX but to convert the remaining of our apps and systems to Linux. We have been testing our stuff on Linux and surprises abound. For example, no hardware had to be changed out; the cost of the OS and the training for the support staff has been minimal (they already knew how to use it) and the majority of our vertical business apps were easily migrated. Those apps that could not be are being replaced – whatever costs associated are still less than a migration to Win7/8.

    At the end of the day, those who haven't migrated haven't left themselves much time for testing. But our recommendation would be find a suitable Linux distro for your org and move on; MS Windows is no long "do or die".

  • koconor100

    If hackers find an exploit it’s because your fire wall sucks. The operating system has no business even trying to be a fire wall , a virus scanner, and 15 other things rolled into one.

    Oh , and if win98 is anything to go by the last patch will sabotage xp in some minor way (98 the graphics went down the toilet ) .

    Move to Linux , people. The only thing that sucks on Linux are the games. Windows is worth nothing except a game platform and has been for some time.

  • salsero69

    Maybe Microsoft should listen to those who are still on XP. Why are they still on XP? Maybe Microsoft is the reason people aren’t upgrading. Like Windows Vista and Windows 8, how can you trust Microsoft to do the right thing.

  • disqus_1sYQlFHkpu

    Plan to go to a different operating system alright! Microsoft can’t build secure software so what’s the difference? I’m sick of their bug infested garbage. It doesn’t matter if you have the fastest hardware ever invented. Put windows on it and you’ll still be waiting when you click on a button. Maybe they could put out something that isn’t garbage for a change. Patches are larger than the original OS!

  • TerryT

    I particularly resent the arrogance of Microsoft that says that we the users are at fault for not upgrading a system that worked fine for our purposes. If M$oft had made it possible to upgrade from XP to Win7 many more would have done so years ago. They are punishing the users for not buying a copy of Vista and migrating by making them rebuild every computer and re-install every application to go from XP to 7. M$ are showing their $ grabbing arrogance once again.

    We have only a dozen computers on our in-house network that were all running XP on a Small Business Server 2008 and it cost over $12,000 direct costs to move to Win 7 and that included only 2 new workstations and minor memory upgrades. That’s a thousand dollars for every single machine in direct costs and many more $ in indirect, lost productivity costs. I am sure glad we went for a dual boot arrangement to keep the older XP applications, macros, settings, preferences and shortcuts working until we could find the time to upgrade those as well. We do have to stay in business long enough to pay for the Upgrades.

    We were actually forced into this when Win 8 appeared as we were worried we might get stuck with that and bought a dozen copies of Win 7 while we could still get them.

    Just waiting for the inevitable end of support for Server 2008.

  • apothecare

    As an SMB owner, I can understand why some people are apprehensive about moving from XP to a new OS… XP has served well and has familiarity to managers in businesses that don’t have dedicated IT departments, so many of the issues that arise can be fixed in-house

    We have moved some of our services to Win 7 and haven’t had many problems thus far, but we still have several machines running XP and even a few using Win2K and they all play nice and share their toys

    Microsoft does have to consider that many small companies don’t have resources for training, hardware replacement and software management, so they will stay far, far away from a general migration until something breaks and they have no choice but to upgrade

    In general, it is almost less expensive to replace a workstation (with an OEM copy of Win 7 on-board) than it is to buy a new retail copy of windows 7 (or god forbid, 8)

    Only problem is, moving everything to the new box and making it work…not a lot of fun for non-techy managers

    Ironically, Microsoft will offer lots of support to enterprise level customers to make the move, but ignores the biggest chunk of users entirely

    until Microsoft develops a better plan for helping SMB’s adapt to the switch, they just wont….

  • Not Falling For It

    People treat the state of being “outdated” as if it’s death or perhaps cancerous in some way, but all it really means is that a project is finished. If an operating system does what you need it to, don’t let a word scare you off of it. Keep in mind that newer doesn’t mean better, or that any progress has been made. Yes XP is outdated which opens it up to new threats, but it’s also been around along time so it has less bugs. No matter what Operating system you use there will be pros and cons. Don’t let companies or peer pressure scare you into upgrading, upgrade because YOU want too, or because it’s in YOUR best interest. I have a windows 8 machine, it’s not compatible with Windows 7 due to the UEFI version (all new windows machines must support UEFI), and CPM is a joke so pretty much nothing but but Windows 8 can be installed on this computer, so I’ve turned my Windows 8 into a hypervisor and am happily running Windows 7, nice try Microsoft.

    Never forget.

    • Nixie

      Windows 7 x64 is compatible with UEFI. Also, many UEFI-capable machines (like the Dell XPS 8500) allow UEFI-boot to be disabled.

  • XP Devotee

    I am a small business – one employee – and every time I tried Win 7 I ran right back to my old desktop with XP. Everything I need to do just works with XP and has for 8 years virus and trouble-free. All the software I need is XP-compliant and once the machine works smoothly, no need to update as they are usually for security reasons which are irrelevant when not hooked to Internet. I’m computer-savvy but my one-person firm does not have the time to waste days figuring out UAC, broken Windows Explorer, etc. etc. etc. I am actually going to set up a new desktop for my main workhorse with XP and all my software, take it off the internet and let it run until it croaks. Hopefully by then, I’ll retire. There is not one compelling reason for me to switch to Win 7 and definitely not 8. My internet machine will be a tablet running Android since I can get a Wacom digitizer and a non-16:9 screen which I cannot get with Win8 (but don’t get me going on Microsoft’s 16:9 screen ratio idiocy for people who actually WORK on their computers!).

  • Nixie

    Last year, I migrated over to Window 7 a relative’s mid-decade Dell; the cost was around $275 for a 120gb SSD, a bracket, the cables and a copy of Windows 7 Professional x64. I created a dual boot so the old XP Professional install could still be accessed, and used Windows Easy Transfer to export the settings. The bundled Office 2003 installed on 7 without issue, and Outlook 2003 had no issues importing the email store.

    The result was a significantly quicker-booting and more-responsive machine, akin (in the words of the owner) to having a whole new computer.