Hysteria or Hype? The End of Days for Windows XP

I have been both amused and concerned about the rash of recent articles around the end (sort of) of support for Windows XP.  Most of the articles are just there to stir up a little anxiety, if not for the enterprise, then at least for the users or consumers.  I especially enjoy reading through the comments, where a factions of the either the uniformed or the Microsoft haters or the Microsofties or the pious, self-righteous know-it-alls meet to exchange opinions and barbs.  All of which ends up as good fun, but a rather useless knowledge transfer.  For example, there have been numerous articles around global ATM’s still running on Windows XP.  Can you believe it? How could banks be asleep at the switch?  Will that mean that come this April ATM drive thru lanes will be clogged up not by bank customers, but by hordes of criminals helping themselves to your cash?  Start stuffing your mattress with cash, people. Break out Grandma’s cookie jar and for Heaven’s sake do not use your bank issued debit card for online purchases! Oh, the humanity! Let’s all put on our chicken suits and seek shelter from the technological fallout!

Well, maybe not.  ATM’s, as it turns out, have a myriad of security protocols layered on top of the version of XP they run, so your cash is fairly well protected, but it may explain why some ATM’s run dreadfully slow.  Now, does these mean you or your organization should scoff at the April 2014 date?  Probably not.

Although Microsoft has extended certain anti-malware products running Windows XP until July 2015, it doesn’t mean you are on safe ground.  Windows XP itself will not be supported (this means no security patches, folks) and that’s a significant risk for everyone still running XP.  Like Office 2003 whose support also ends in April 2014, XP will continue to work.  The April date is not like the predicted Y2K apocalypse. It’s not a drop dead date, but the software Grim Reaper is standing next to your computers.  Windows XP is terminal.  Like it or not, it will be going away.   Sure, computers and Office applications will still be humming along with no disruption in productivity after April 2014, but for how long?  Well, until a vulnerability is exploited by the bad guys and your organization gets hacked.  That is, assuming you even know you were hacked which is a whole different topic.

Ironically, one of the main reason Windows XP has stuck around for over a decade (that’s like 100 in techie years!) is because it was a stable, secure operating system.  For enterprises, security and stability are foundational tenants in the IT charter.  Users and administrators alike have forgone the latest features and functions in exchange for a tried and true OS. One could certainly argue that is a prudent exchange. The real challenge is where do you go from here?  The difficulty for those entities still on Windows XP or Office 2003 is that the upgrade will be very expensive.  Remaining on a platform for over 10 years comes with a price and it going to be a shock for some who haven’t been planning for it.  Application incompatibilities, Office file incompatibilities, user training, equipment upgrades, etc. all have to be absorbed as part of the migration to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.  If you are planning to jump to the Windows 8 OS, be prepared for a whole host of challenges around “to touch or not to touch.”

I’d probably opt not to touch Windows 8 at all and go to Windows 7.  This of course means jumping from an ancient OS to one that is just old (but pretty stable and well supported).  And much to Microsoft’s chagrin, so the cycle begins again. IT departments, after suffering through pains of the upgrade, will not be all too keen on going through that process again anytime soon.  Microsoft, as a technology company, is compelled to keep pushing out new versions of its operating system in order to stay ahead of the competition and fuel those most profitable maintenance renewals.  It has been our experience that most of the enterprises we deal with have chosen to land on the Windows 7 platform.  Do I think Windows 7 will hang around as long as Windows XP did?  Probably not, but since it’s already 4 years old, it may be closer to 7 years (or Windows 9, SP1 perhaps) which would still make it, like 70 in techie years.