Preparing for a brave new world without Windows XP support

Preparing for a brave new world without Windows XP support

Summary: With Microsoft support for Windows XP ending in April 2014, Drew Turney learns what the end of an era means for users.


April 8, 2014, will be the beginning of the end for one of the most successful and longest-running PC operating systems in history as Microsoft officially stops supporting Windows XP, first released to hardware vendors on August 24, 2001.

That means it's time to upgrade, and at the risk of causing panic, if you're in charge of a large enterprise PC fleet and you haven't done anything about it yet, you might already be running late. According to Microsoft, "based on historical customer deployment data, the average enterprise deployment can take 18 to 32 months from business case through full deployment". If you haven't started planning yet, do it now — it's better to be behind for a while than broken altogether.

If you're an SME with only a couple of systems, it might just mean buying new computers and spending a weekend copying your data and making sure old applications still work, or investigating alternatives if they don't.

Most large enterprise users, some with hundreds of thousands of machines, are already moving. Nicholas Lee, Fujitsu North America's senior director of end-user services, has reported that 80 percent of the company's clients are "proactively migrating to Windows 7".

The next step to take will depend on your size, but the first port of call should be Microsoft or your OEM reseller. There are already a slew of tools that can test the upwards compatibility of applications and data.

Savings or bust

It's hard to get a CTO (or your small business accountant) to look favourably on a new computer splurge, but, as with most things, it's a cost/benefit analysis. How much is your data worth if it's lost, corrupted, or hijacked?

"I'm hard pressed to see any reason not to migrate to at least Windows 7 for anyone whose infrastructure and data is worth more than a few hundred dollars times the number of desktops," said Jeff Bolden, managing partner of Blue Lotus SIDC, a data conversation and system integration provider. Even if you really need XP, Bolden pointed out, Windows 7 has a virtual build of it.

The other potential cost is your hardware. "If you're using XP, the machine it's on will probably be old, too," said Adrian Case, technical director of IT provider Akita. While new hardware is leaps and bounds better than XP-era kit, Case said you "shouldn't expect much" if you run new operating systems in old boxes. It might even cause a productivity drop.

Microsoft itself has clear advice, and, as you probably expect, it's to buy its newer systems. Windows director of product marketing Jay Paulus told ZDNet that where he might have advised clients a year ago to continue with Windows 7 deployment plans, the world has moved on. But whether you take Microsoft's word with a grain of salt, it is true current Windows 8 users who get a free update to Windows 8.1. That's a cost saving if you upgrade now, because you'll port seamlessly to the latest system for free very soon.

Microsoft is also pushing technology like Secure Boot that blocks untrusted code from loading into the memory as the system boots up, and the company claims Windows 8 and 8.1 are 21 times less likely to be infected by malware.

A new world of content

When a software vendor acts, we all have to follow to come extent. If you swear by very old (or very new) versions of your favourite software, there's a chance you'll be cut out of the post-XP support world altogether. Along with XP, support for Office 2003 is also ending in April, and upcoming versions of software like Office 365 won't run on XP at all.

The biggest marketing push from Microsoft about Windows 8 is its suitability to the mobile and device age.

As Paulus put it, "It's about the same platform on all your devices. I can be on my desktop, notebook, or tablet and I have access to everything. You sign into Office 365 with your Microsoft account, and if you've worked on a document on another device, SkyDrive will ask if you want to pick up where you left off."

For many software developers, Microsoft has long been the target of criticism about using market reach to try to enforce its own long-hated standards.

"In the web development community, the end of Windows XP can't come soon enough," said Chris Carson, president of web developer "It's limited to Internet Explorer 8, and unless XP users install other browsers, their web experience will become increasingly limited."

The bottom line is that Windows XP will soon be history. For what to do about it, see where you can go after Windows XP.

Topics: Windows XP and the Future of the Desktop, Microsoft, Windows, Windows 8

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  • Non Windows Alternatives

    Upgrading options are not just to Windows 7. For many this is probably the best option when viewed objectively. But if you do not truly need a Windows only application migration to Macs or to Linux are options to consider. Macs will cost money but so will a new Win7 box. Linux might allow some to continue older hardware for a few more years.
    • No, they're not.

      Microsoft rules the enterprise.
      Most computers runs Windows-based OS.

      You can't argue with the facts and when it comes to IdM, Microsoft is the best one out there.
      No, I'm not working for MS or getting paid to say this.
      It's just fact over the recent, oh, 13 years or so.

      And if you know organizations, they're usually sluggish when it comes to adapting new technology. Especially the ones who were founded for several years.

      Mac is terrible. Apple's IdM is a sham.
      Linux can be perfect, but the average user will easily get lost and having the employees taught is just a wasteful expense better off supporting other expenses.
      2nd Paradox
      • Re: Most computers runs Windows-based OS.

        Of course not. Unless you have very narrow view of what "computer" is.
      • Microsoft default action always is fail.

        I do my job inspite of microsoft not because of microsoft.
        Each version more resembles a gerbil in a blender.
        Reality Bites
        • Nonsense childish remark

          Considering Windows gets more and more reliable your statement is pathetic. Office is very reliable too and has been for years. What would you use instead of MS Office? If you say Libre Office then clearly you are like the average user who knows about 5% of what MS Office can really do.
        • Consequences of MS Failings.

          Could be rather interesting times ahead for MS from next April as an army in the millions of unsupported, infected XP boxes starts attacking their current offerings.
          Lots of people have little interest in the 'Latest & Greatest' OS or its features. They simply want to continue using their PCs as before without having to deal with MS constantly rearranging the furniture every few years with a different GUI, playing hide & seek with re-named settings hidden ever deeper in yet another dumbed-down, unfamiliar OS.
          In my regular experiences with older users this seems to have deterred many from buying new computers as well as lots who had & then requested a downgrade back to XP as they "hate this new PC."
      • Non-conformity is still a serious option

        Lots of people get along just fine without Windows. Just because the majority use a particular computing platform doesn't mean everybody has to.
        John L. Ries
        • Absolutely

          For sure... a user only requires an OS which gets the job done. For that reason, many will "need" Windows and many won't. Consumers require little more than entertainment features and that's why they seem to be migrating to underpowered (compared to PCs) tablets. Professionals with highly-demanding computer needs will often require Windows or Macs, but Windows is far more established in the business market.
      • Windows is crap too.

        No how much you can claim that Windows is the best, it's the best only because it's mainstream.

        I have dealt with MS's clunky systems for too long. Windows 8/8.1 is junk. People don't want it and it's not about adapting new technology when the new technology isn't anything better then the old. I would rather pay my employees to learn Linux vs having to upgrade to W8 and expect them to know it or fire them because they can't. XP users don't want to deal with the new technology because they either can't afford it or they don't like it. Windows has too far to go before it is perfect and while W7 does a great job, there's still imperfections. The bad thing is when you choose to have an imperfection and pay for it instead of just getting something for free.

        No, i never hated MS or Windows before Windows 8 but since people want to say 'it's here, it's the future it's change deal with it'. That is baloney. The future isn't and shouldn't be dictated by a faulty company vision. You can't have a vision of a company without the people to support it. Microsoft thinks they can reel everyone in and expect any and all to follow what they set out, even if it's not good. While yes XP has had a good run but it's time to put the whole 'upgrade to a new system' to rest. Just because you are willing to fork over your hard earned money doesn't and shouldn't dictate whether others are going to do the same. There is room for both. Windows 8 is proof of that, some are willing to and that MS is capable of bringing new products to the table, but it doesn't work for everyone. People were still on XP then, that doesn't seem to change or disrupt technology or MS from producing new ideas.

        The fact is, Linux is just another OS, Windows is just an OS. Linux might or might not take hold, even though many Linux users want that to happen. Microsoft can either continue to move in a new direction or try appeal to more but MS and everyone else will have to deal with the fact that XP will continue to be a part of every day living. For how long, who knows.. and really should that matter, it seems that Microsoft has already moved on.. despite the constant whining about how XP users should upgrade to 8 or 8.1, while others continue to rant and rave about how everyone needs to get off of it.
  • Linux Mint all the way

    I've messed with Linux for YEARS -- since about 1999.

    I'll admit that I'm a programmer and "Linux Admin" material.

    HOWEVER... I also like my desktop to be hassle free and easy to set up since I have programming to do. I don't like fighting with my OS. I must say, I don't spend much time at all -- after a 10 minute Linux install -- getting things set up so I can use my machine for work (browser, plug-ins, e-mail, multimedia, office software, codecs, burn DVDs, etc.)

    In fact, it takes LESS time because I can install a whole Office suite from the "software repository". No digging up a CD or DVD, no product keys, none of that. All the (free) software is in one place -- just click to install! Easy as pie.

    I thought I couldn't live without Photoshop -- now I'm 100% used to Gimp and I can do everything my artist sister can do with her Photoshop (6.0).
    • Set up once and use the thing

      I understand what you are saying, but I think it is a little exaggeration too. I set up Windows once and then use it. It is highly functional and reliable. I take longer to set up than you do, but I get so much more! Your GIMP was a perfect example. It is a non-event alongside any recent version of Photoshop. All the additions to Photoshop since version 6.0 are 'massive' improvements, so why (as a photographer/graphics person) would I want to lose all that functionality? Not only that, for some of us the layout in GIMP is just terrible from a workflow point of view. Office suites for Linux are like 15yr old versions of MS Office in appearance and lack many features which rapidly speed up document design.

      I totally agree with you that Linux is definitely a viable option for many, probably more so for the 'average' consumer who barely does anything on a computer anyway. Why buy MS Office to use less than 5% of its features if you get Libre Office for free and it does everything you need it to do? Same with the GIMP - why fork out big $$ for Photoshop when the GIMP will do what the non-graphics/photographer needs it do? I can definitely see Linux expanding in the consumer market.

      The massive popularity of tablets is a testament to the fact that average consumers doesn't really "use" computers. Anyone who does wouldn't even consider a tablet for anything more than an entertainment device. I have an Android tablet for that purpose and love it for that purpose.
  • Preparing for a brave new world without Windows XP support

    Made that upgrade to Microsoft Windows 8 and haven't looked back. Its easy even for the enterprise. A custom image and some scripts to backup and restore the data for users and you are all set. I believe Microsoft even has migration tools for that task. To switch to any other platform would be silly.
    • Same here

      I have all my computers running Win 8 Pro and cannot see what all the hate and fuss is about. It is the best Windows OS yet and I can navigate around it at least as quickly and in some cases more quickly than I could in Win 7. It is fast, stable and functional. What more does anyone want?
      • Windows 8

        I agree been running Windows 8 since November of 2012, I do not see why everyone hates it so much, it is rock solid and hard to bring down. But I understand change is hard for some and impossible for others. I have a small client base and with just a little help from me they have taken to it with no problem.
  • Microsoft is writing off 30% of its users

    According to the most recent OS use survey I have seen, Win XP still accounts for 30% of the Windows market. One question unanswered in the article is how all those computers are going to be converted by April of 2014. As the article points out, Win 7 Pro with an XP subsystem is a good bridge, but the Win 7 Pro choice is not obvious at the point many PC users will make a purchase.

    As someone who has been using Win 8 for a year and who discovered that the manufacturer of my very useful sheet-fed scanner would not be providing a driver for Win 8, and to see the software costs associated with a major shift like the one from, say, Win XP 32 bit to Win 7 Pro 64 bit, minimized, I feel that this article overstates the value of an upgrade to a large number of users while understating both the difficulty and the cost.
    • Which may include the largest

      Ironically, this kind of change is hardest on the largest business customers. Senior management is often so many layers removed from where the work is done, and involved with high level financial manipulation and merger deals, that such companies take the longest to start the investigation process, and the longest to implement projects, possibly making them the ones in the most trouble. They are likely to have company-tailored software, or company-tailored versions of industry-tailored packages, many years old (example: in the truck freight industry, a mainframe system called COBIS in the 1970's), which either this company or one of its competitors originally developed, that depend on older versions of operating systems, and may not be well enough documented to adapt easily to a new system. So it's either a total rewrite or an upgrade that might as well be a rewrite, on short notice, or just be subject to the risks of not upgrading (in this case, the biggest one is malware exposure), which may one day bring the corporation crashing down.

      Is this part of Microsoft's "evil plot" to take down customers larger than itself? Or maybe it's not so evil? Just kidding, but anyone who works in IT for a company with software and procedures like this, be aware that you may have an old time IT "death march" in your future. Prepare your family for losing you for a year (compare it to a combat deployment) while you "live at" the office. Maybe more than a year if senior management changes its mind two or three times midstream. Since software design is not a union, or even hourly, job in most places, don't expect overtime pay. The best you can hope for is MAYBE a bonus if everything goes PERFECTLY on time and under budget (realizing that your overtime did not need to be counted in that budget), and MAYBE a raise or promotion if your role in making it work was extremely visible to senior management.

      Congress is not the only place where rational individual political survival strategies combine to yield stupid collective strategies and lead to disasters. It happens in large corporations also. And even, on a smaller scale, on a highway where two lanes are set to merge a mile from the first sign to say so.
    • I suppose

      that if MS can argue against supporting each version of Windows forever, then manufacturers are no more required to ensure that their products are also supported forever. But as far as I'm concerned, scanners should have a reasonable shelf life, and their manufacturers should expect their customers to upgrade their operating systems on occassion, so it seems to me that it is good business to ensure that your product remains usable for a reasonable amount of time. Failure to provide a new driver in that context sounds like poor business on the manufacturer's part, and perhaps an attempt to cash in on obsolescence. When you and other customers go to replace your scanners, then that particular manufacturer's refusal to update the driver is one factor to keep in mind when shopping around and comparing new scanners.
  • What About....

    Legacy Software that won't run on anything newer than XP and does not run in XP mode under Windows 7?

    This is software that has no updates available to allow it to run on such systems, but also is required to be run for legal reasons. It also requires an internet connection.

    I am wondering if anyone has a solution for this out there?
    • LOTS of external firewalls

      The best I can think of is to put the XP system behind a VERY good EXTERNAL firewall which censors EVERY packet in or out, and run ONLY the legacy software if possible, or else the bare MINIMUM of other software that MUST be on the same machine as the legacy application. In other words, treat that machine like a queen bee.

      It would seem that this need be only a temporary situation. If the use of that software is legally mandatory for you, it would be for your competitors as well. That means it must be a tempting investment either for the original vendor to get its belated Windows 8 (or 7) upgrade on the market, or for another vendor to develop equivalent software from scratch and get it out first. Unless you are in a shrinking field (such as abortion clinics in Alabama), there must be a profit in supplying every player in that field with a way to escape XP.

      Perhaps your own company could start a subsidiary to serve both yourselves and the rest of the market, once your operations are stabilized on your queen bee system. Good luck!
  • Linux User

    With all the confusion and such Microsoft has created, I'm thankful for my conversion to Linux. I use the Ubuntu/GNOME mix and I love it. I have poked and prodded at it and have pushed it to the limits. I have crashed it many times, but recovery was simple and easy. I'm happy to see comments from other Linux users and their comments on much better it is. When it comes to staying on top of newer ideas lately, Europe is in the lead and much of Europe is and has been switching to Linux. Nothing can compare as far as I'm concerned.
    Brian Schrader