The land of forgotten XP installs: Have you looked everywhere?

The land of forgotten XP installs: Have you looked everywhere?

Summary: Do you have forgotten (but still running) XP machines hidden throughout your home, office, or data center? If so, now is the time to hunt them down, turn them off, take them out of service, or upgrade them immediately.

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As one of my side projects, I run a series of Web servers that do some automatic content analysis and generation. These sites have been running for well over a decade, although various subsystems have been updated over the years.

 Yesterday, my server monitor informed me that one of the servers wasn't updating properly. This machine has been running smoothly for well over a year, and, quite frankly, I haven't given it much share of mind for almost that whole time. It's not a current project, it generally works, and I'm very busy working on other things.

Apparently, the automatic file transfer scripts had stalled. That's not why I'm writing this article. Instead, I'm writing because I realized, when I went to check out the VM that runs this particular subsystem — that it runs Windows XP.

Oops. Red flag.

How many other background systems and forgotten VMs do I actually have running, both here at Camp David and on the various co-location sites I employ?

As it turns out, quite a few. Over the last decade-plus, whenever I've needed some sort of utility system to do some task or another, I've generally spun up a spare XP machine or VM to accomplish it. Yes, I know I could have used Linux for some of these tasks, but I had a large pile of spare XP licenses, and XP — especially for low impact tasks — has been rock solid, efficient, and easy.

None of these machines are user machines. None of these browse the Web, open email, or do anything similar (although one acts as a mail transfer agent for some very old email accounts for some family and friends). 

I took stock and realized I could easily account for seven working, running systems (physical and VM) that are currently running XP. That doesn't count the closet and garage of powered-off, out-of-service machines that could still boot into XP if I fired them up.

Those seven machines need to be either taken out of service or upgraded pretty much immediately. With XP support ending in April, and more and more vulnerabilities becoming apparent, any forgotten XP machines need to be rediscovered and updated.

Fortunately, I bought a bunch of Windows 8 licenses during the $40 deal, so it's time for me to get to work installing and upgrading. Remember, make sure you upgrade your XP machines to Service Pack 3 first.

Here are some more tips: 8 lessons learned from upgrading a dog-slow XP machine to Windows 8

Do you have forgotten (but still running) XP machines hidden throughout your home, office, or data center? If so, now is the time to hunt them down, turn them off, take them out of service, or upgrade them immediately.

Topics: Microsoft, Security, Windows 8

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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61 comments
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  • I will not be doing this

    I have two XP machines that I plan to keep in service. However, I am taking them off the network.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Our organization is still on XP

    With about 6500 hundred employees on XP, it sounds like we will be migrating to Windows 7 very soon.

    Should be interesting.
    ceewanchuk@...
  • Why bother with the SP3 update?

    If you are replacing Windows XP and you are installing from bootable media (DVD or USB), just boot from it and do custom install. Recover your data from Windows.old. Starting your installs from the XP desktop is just a waste of time and novice approach.
    adacosta38
    • Those $40 licenses were UPGRADE licenses

      In other words, you have to have a running Windows XP machine with SP3 installed in order to activate the new licenses.
      M Wagner
      • Doing the custom install will exempt that problem

        That's why I said custom install and not format the drive. I know that Windows 8 upgrade needs to do a compliance check for a previous qualifying version. In the case of Windows 8.1, its not even necessary, since retail and OEM System builder copies are full versions.
        adacosta38
  • I aint movin'

    I have four XP-Pro machines and one WIN-7.
    All are working fine as intended. All are on MY network.
    All have dedicated uses...the programs are old but do the job perfectly, except WIN-7 (which is a disaster). All go to internet occasionally for a search. Browsers work fine (all three).
    If WIN-7 is an example of the "modern" OS, I don't want anything to do with the "new stuff".
    IF IT AIN'T BROKE....DON'T FIX IT.
    oh, BTW, I first started withe the Apple I and original IBM PCs.
    JERRY KOLINS
    • If your Windows 7 Machine is a "disaster" you did something wrong.

      Windows 7 is a rock solid OS. Your XP machines may be running fine now but when they stop getting security updates it will just be a matter of time before they are infected.
      GrumpyOldMan
      • yes, but......

        there are annoying degradations from xp in terms of usability while improving other aspects of the same area. here are a couple as illustrations. Why is the speaker balance control buried deep in the speaker properties? Yet win7 allows you to control the volume for every application individually just like linux. Head scratcher. For a long time, you could fiddle with start up programs using msconfig. now, it's shell:startup. (Why isn't it a selectable item in the administration menu akin to how linux mint approaches the issue?). Where's Tweak UI's setting that stops programs from hijacking the focus and cursor?

        Don't get me started on Win8, it seems extremely regressive. Does MS think that users have gotten dumber or perhaps that's an MS staffer affliction?
        WhatsamattaU
        • What are you doing?

          And where are you getting shell:startup from? Windows 7 startup items are still listed in msconfig. In Windows 8, they were moved to the Task Manager.
          The one and only, Cylon Centurion
        • Julie Larson didn't want you have to make any tough decisions

          Windows 8 was made for the masses because Microsoft thought "everybody on planet earth" wanted to do nothing more than swipe their way into nirvana. So yes, Windows 8 is basically a dumbed-down operating system for the masses, with less power and control over customization of the operating system. "Keyboard and mouse for our users? Oh hell no, just let them use their index finger. They're not any smarter than a chimpanzee anyways" Thanks Julie, love ya. God bless ya.
          j4w4
          • You must not use Windows 8

            because there are some serious improvements for power users. The right click menu on the start button is a great set of short cuts to control panel/command prompts. The task manager in Windows 8 is so much better, we wonder why did we ever use the Windows 7 one. File Explorer, file copying, & multiple monitor capabilities are just some of the other great improvements.
            grayknight
          • Boy have you got it wrong j4w4

            I've got a fairly good handle on Win 8, or 8.1 now on desktop or laptop machines. Haven't had the opportunity to use it on a touch screen. My experience tells me that I don't like it at all on desktop or laptop-probably wouldn't like it any better on a touch screen.

            I have a desktop that occasionally needs to be used to get my sheet music from the Net, or get information from Social Security because both of those sites are too lazy to upgrade their systems to recognize mobile computers. Then too makers of DVD recorders need to write drivers for Android. Maybe then this would make it so we don't need clunky desktop or laptop machines.

            I don't know, but having my android tablet allows me to get rid of my resource library, thousands of books or stacks of sheet music, and carry just one item that replaces all of that. It allows me to study on the bus, train, or plane and prepare lesson plans so that I am able to walk into class to dazzle my students with incredible insights, or after a little setup, walk out on stage and be able to sing and play my heart out with only a small 10" tablet sitting on my music stand and a trusty foot pedal to switch pages for me.

            I don't like Win 8 or 8.1 at all, but I genuinely love my Android tablet and the fact that I can dictate to it or swipe away at somewhere between 50 to 100 words a minute doesn't make me love it any less.

            By the way, this is a dream machine, and not dumbed down in any way-it's dazzling. I spent years earning my doctorates. The Android is a very effective and good tool that makes for a much easier life.

            By the way, God Bless You too, from a tech savvy aging pastor-teacher who often sits in with the band or plays solo as a fairly mean keyboardist.
            Robert Christopulos
          • Boy have you got it wrong j4w4

            I've got a fairly good handle on Win 8, or 8.1 now on desktop or laptop machines. Haven't had the opportunity to use it on a touch screen. My experience tells me that I don't like it at all on desktop or laptop-probably wouldn't like it any better on a touch screen.

            I have a desktop that occasionally needs to be used to get my sheet music from the Net, or get information from Social Security because both of those sites are too lazy to upgrade their systems to recognize mobile computers. Then too makers of DVD recorders need to write drivers for Android. Maybe then this would make it so we don't need clunky desktop or laptop machines.

            I don't know, but having my android tablet allows me to get rid of my resource library, thousands of books or stacks of sheet music, and carry just one item that replaces all of that. It allows me to study on the bus, train, or plane and prepare lesson plans so that I am able to walk into class to dazzle my students with incredible insights, or after a little setup, walk out on stage and be able to sing and play my heart out with only a small 10" tablet sitting on my music stand and a trusty foot pedal to switch pages for me.

            I don't like Win 8 or 8.1 at all, but I genuinely love my Android tablet and the fact that I can dictate to it or swipe away at somewhere between 50 to 100 words a minute doesn't make me love it any less.

            By the way, this is a dream machine, and not dumbed down in any way-it's dazzling. I spent years earning my doctorates. The Android is a very effective and good tool that makes for a much easier life.

            By the way, God Bless You too, from a tech savvy aging pastor-teacher who often sits in with the band or plays solo as a fairly mean keyboardist.
            Robert Christopulos
      • Win 7 a disaster ?

        Windows 7 is far better than XP.
        It's faster, less prone to blue screens and IT'S SUPPORTED.
        Win 8.1 is a better choice for an upgrade as it's as rock solid as Win 7, is faster than Win 7 and, for the ones who are desktop fanayics, it has the option to boot straight to the sektop.
        didier.m.rousseau@...
    • Interesting

      I have a mix of Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows XP machines at home and I found that Windows 7 was more solid and problem free than Windows XP. Windows 8 is also a rock solid OS and works well with some tweaking. Perhaps your issue is that you don't like change.
      athynz
  • With 26 Windows XP machines upgrading is a financial nightmare

    Since my office has 26 Windows XP machines I cannot afford to upgrade all of them to Windows 7 and no one here can tolerate using Windows 8, so I hired an IT Consultant who recommended a very polished Linux operating system called Robolinux which runs XP or 7, inside it, making our XP machines completely immune to all viruses and malware, requiring absolutely no updates or anti virus or anti malware software purchases. The Robolinux OS was a 7 minute install per PC. Also extremely easy for our users to operate it. It saved our company thousands of dollars. At first I was skeptical but my local IT Guru explained to me how the advanced Robolinux VM technology operates and it made perfect sense to me. So far after 6 months not one of our 26 Windows XP boxes have been infected by any viruses or malware. I hope this helps others who just can't afford to upgrade.
    global-george
    • This solutions certainly buys you time but ...

      ... had you begun your migration back in 2009, you would not have had to hire a consultant and you would probably have spent a lot less of your hard-earned cash.

      Still, sooner or later you are going to need someone to do care-and-feeding on this Linux system and more likely than not, when that time comes, your replacement Linux system will not support Windows XP VMs any longer.
      M Wagner
      • blsht

        The Linux VM doesn't care what OS it's VMing, as long as XP drivers for the hardware are available, things will work. If the drivers aren't available, the fact that it's a linux VM or a standalone XP install makes no difference, the OS can't talk to the gizmos and you've got a large brick on your hands.
        WhatsamattaU
    • Why didn't you look at this sooner?

      Like, back in 2009 when Microsoft announced the 2014 cutoff date? How do you not budget for these things?
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • did this xp thing come as a surprise?

      or do you not get the internet on your motorola star-tac?
      jasona93