Windows XP: How one company said goodbye to the ageing operating system

Summary:Windows XP still accounts for more than four out of 10 UK desktop infrastructures, even though supports ends in 2014. Low-cost carrier easyJet is one organisation that has already made the move away.

With just 12 months to go before Microsoft ends support for Windows XP, budget airline easyJet has wrapped up a project to move 9,000 users off the veteran operating system.

Windows XP did what it needed to do and people have sweated that asset — easyJet CTO Andy Caddy

It's a task that still awaits four out of 10 IT departments in the UK, assuming they want to make the 8 April 2014 end-of-life deadline — and it's not a process to be rushed, according to easyJet CTO Andy Caddy.

"If you put the whole thing in all at once, I think that would have overwhelmed people," Caddy said.

"Approach it in a methodical and controlled way from a user perspective — so, not trying to dump an enormous amount of change on people at once," he said.

"We didn't try to do the email, the desktop, the remote access all at the same time. We did them in a set of drops of technology, which mean that it was easier for users to adapt and gave us a better chance of delivering communications and training to people."

Migration timescales

The timescales involved in a migration of an estate of 2,500 laptops and desktops from XP to Windows 7 can also be long, with easyJet starting initial work in 2010.

"We used 2011 in terms of supplier selection and preparing our initial work and 2012 was delivery year," he said.

The airline chose Accenture- and Microsoft-owned consultancy Avanade for the systems integration and ongoing application provisioning using Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager.

Caddy has nothing against XP but easyJet knew its infrastructure and desktops needed upgrading — and poor feedback from a staff satisfaction survey helped signal the end of the line for the operating system.

"XP served its purpose for a long time. It may not have had the bells and whistles but it did its job very satisfactorily," he said.

"It was reliable and it did what it needed to do — and people have sweated that asset. From our point of view that's exactly what we did. We're a very low-cost company and with a very lean IT budget and we thought we'd get the most out of the technology."

Slow boot times

But boot-up times for the XP machines had become "horrendous", Caddy said. In an organisation where aircraft crews may only have minutes to load materials before every flight, this delay was unacceptable.

"We've had examples where it's taken four or five minutes to boot up and this is in an environment where pilots and crew are going into crew rooms and they have got to be on a plane in 15 minutes, so you can't have that. We set this target where everything had to be under 30 seconds and we beat that by a long, long way," he said.

With staff perceptions of their XP-based machines deteriorating, Caddy said management issues with the old operating system were also starting to surface.

"Being able to manage an estate of PCs in a really effective manner — you can do some of it with XP but you can manage better with Windows 7. We felt that running modern PCs we could get better value out of the equipment," he said.

"With XP we were starting to find a bit of interoperability problems. You'd get modern equipment that wouldn't work with it. You couldn't get the drivers. It was getting tricky to support."

According to Avanade research published in February, 52 per cent of UK IT departments have yet to put in place a strategy for dealing with applications that currently run under XP, first released to manufacturers in August 2001.

User needs and requirements

Caddy said the first step of the project involved dividing the needs and requirements of the airline's 9,000 users at 19 European locations into five distinct classes.

"It's quite a big ask but when you start to break it down and do a bit of analysis, you can say there are these five different types of people and here are the solutions that you need for each of those five situations. That worked really well and that helped us get away from treating everyone as an edge case," he said.

As well as putting Windows 7 Enterprise edition and Office 2010 on all laptops and desktops, the project involved a Wi-Fi upgrade, and a move to Microsoft Forefront Endpoint network and terminal security, as well as Microsoft DirectAccess for mobile staff.

"A good Windows 7 laptop working with the right technology is a good experience for people. They can sit at their desks or in Costa or Starbucks or whatever. That would have been something that would have been very hard to reproduce with XP," Caddy said.

He said easyJet was at an early stage with BYOD. "We have people who like to bring their iPhones and their iPads and we probably underestimated how important that was and we had to go round the loop again to try and either put in the right policies to deal with those or the right technical solutions," he said.

"These days to be able to say, 'Here's a solution: it's either this PC or this laptop. End of story' doesn't work anymore for people. They need something that's a little more flexible to incorporate personal devices as well."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Project Management, Windows

About

Toby Wolpe is a senior reporter at ZDNet in London. He started in technology journalism when the Apple II was state of the art.

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