Windows XP: The terrifying anarchy of technology 'have-nots'

Windows XP: The terrifying anarchy of technology 'have-nots'

Summary: It's easy to dismiss organisations that have failed to move away from XP as ignorant or lazy, but it's not quite that simple.

TOPICS: Windows
Inoculating the NHS against being stuck with Windows 8 in the future as it is with Windows XP today seems impractical.

Finally it's happened. XP is dead. Long live Windows 8. Or long live the slightly better Windows 8.1 Update 1.

There are still a lot of people using Windows XP though. Some 27 percent by some accounts, which is quite a lot of people who are about to sit down each day in front of a relentlessly exploitable, and downright dangerous operating system.

It's easy for us IT professionals to "hand wave" over this and dismiss those who've not managed to migrate as being either lazy, irresponsible, or willing ignorant.


We know that the NHS in the UK just spent £5m ($8m) keeping XP going for another year.

This scenario looks like one that falls into the "irresponsible and ignorant" camp. The NHS is a large, professional organisation. It looks, from the outside, like one that would have no problem navigating the migration away from XP.

Why then the $8m? Or, to put it another way, should we cut the NHS some slack?

To give you some idea of scale, the NHS is big. Really big. You just won't believe how mind-boggling big it is. It employs 1.7 million people — fourth in the world to the Chinese Liberation Army, Walmart, and the Indian Railways. It spends — albeit over its entirely — $5,000 every second of every day.

Importantly in this context, there is no central IT function per se. There are national IT initiatives, though. These look to deliver social care policy via technology across the entire organisation. By and large, the IT function is owned and operated locally. Glossing over complexity, there are 160 "NHS Trusts," and the Trust itself manages the IT for the (on average) 16-17 hospitals within its remit.

This is where things get complicated if you're actually trying to do your job of delivering healthcare to patients in terms of IT.


I should say the following is based on a true story, with the names changes to protect the innocent.

Imagine you run a small therapy team in a local hospital. Let's say there are ten of you on the team, and your job is to go out into the community and do something. You'll run clinics at the local hospital, but also run other outreach services and clinics out and about in that local community. You need some IT to do that job.

So you go and petition the Trust's IT to deliver something. But the Trust's IT turns around and says you can't have what you want, and let's say that's for very good reason. A typical reason is that you want something that's a subset of some larger system that's being rolled out over the whole Trust and that, rightly, it's silly to give you something that's going to be made obsolete when that new system comes online.

As the person in charge of delivering the service, what do you do? You could, in theory, find the budget to do it yourself, and so off you go and commission some local IT bod to come along and implement something. You like it, it works, and it lets you do your job.

Years go by and the IT system the Trust promised hasn't come along, and you're still using the system built by the local IT bod, but it runs on XP, and it will only run on XP. And now the Trust's IT turns round and says you can't use it anymore because it runs on XP. And the local IT bod can't upgrade it because of one of a million reasons. But you have to use it to do your job, so the Trust agrees to let you keep using XP so that you can keep doing your job.

In this scenario, everyone has done everything more or less right, but the end situation ends up being bad. The only finger of blame you can really point is at the Trust IT's for not being agile enough in delivering what the therapy unit needed in the first place. It stuck to its guns of delivering a snazzy system that sat above everything, and was lovely and beautiful in theory, but wasn't actually there or working in reality. (And, remembering this is a true story, was never delivered.)

Now go ahead and scale up that bad scenario for thousands of service delivery units across one of the world's largest organisations and, suddenly, that $8m looks pretty cheap. The real cost will be in the NHS's IT spend itself. Can you imagine how many of these tiny, fractured projects, they actually have? It's terrifying.

Have nots

This — and I hasten to remind you the above is based on a true story — is worth looking at because it's about those users in our purview who use IT but that have no control over it.

We IT professionals are lucky enough to be in the technology "haves." We sit there at the top and control everything. We can sit there and design beautiful systems, execute them elegantly, and have users all over the organisation buy us drinks, and generally commend us on a job well done.

Then there are people at the bottom of the chain who are the technology "have-nots." Those people will always exist, largely because entirely centrally controlled IT makes about as much sense as entirely centrally controlled economies. Those who are "local" to service delivery — whatever that service is — will always understand the needs of the service users better than the IT department.

This means there will always be a force pushing toward anarchy where the "have-nots" build, or engage, or buy, whatever they can to get the job done outside of the control of the IT function. In that scenario, the IT function needs to act as counsel, rather than arch-overseer of everything relating to bits and bytes that the business does.

So in 2023 will we see headlines about the NHS buying extended support for Windows 8?

Of course we will.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Windows

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  • Technology not about longevity

    I think the clash between technology and people is longevity. Just like you have people who cling to old cars, old houses and simpler living. You have people who cling to old operating systems, and hardware. For obviously many reasons, from costs, fear of change, lack of knowledge of importance of change or just the fact they don't like the upgrade path. As we saw with Windows Vista, it did not take long to jettison away from Vista. Hardly anyone uses Vista. Windows 7 was a OS that attracted many but left Windows XP users with no real compatibility path for older software. This is the conundrum Apple and Microsoft have faced. How to move along advancements in their OS without alienating the past. At some point you have to. I think the reality for users of computers is that they do not have the lifespan that many of us hoped they would. I think Microsoft and its partners did more then they should have to support XP for as long as they have. Even classic cars show their age and lack of technology. Sure, they are nice to reflect back on. But you would not want to necessarily drive them everyday.
    • It is time to ssuport ReactOS Community Edition

      ReactOS is an open-source computer operating system intended to be binary compatible with application software and device drivers made for Microsoft Windows NT versions 5.x and up (Windows XP and its successors)

      In April 2014, the ReactOS project announced an Indiegogo campaign to launch ReactOS Community Edition, a version of ReactOS based on the upcoming 0.4 release. Development of ReactOS Community Edition would be community-centric, with ReactOS users voting and funding to decide which software and hardware drivers the project will aim to support.
      • ReactOS

        Whatever? This is irrelevant and if they ever replaced Windows (good luck) would have the same kinds of challenges.
      • ReactOS sucks

        It is an interesting experiment, but I've downloaded it and run it... its just not up to the job of running a computer, never mind Windows apps in any sort of production capacity.
      • 0.4

        There is also a "0.4" version of an open source clone/extension game that was once popular, called Theme Hospital. This remake however shows signs of never becoming anything. It's changelog states "the handymen don't crash the game as often anymore."

        The original was rock solid and dead stable.
      • React OS - reality vs dreams

        Sometimes regardless of how much you support something, you need to think it through and let reality hit you right in the middle of your forehead.

        You see, the article and other real life situations with the demise of XP are not games that you guys play in your momma's basement or whatever place you hunch over you PC dreaming of react os or linux ever making it to the big time. I wish they did also.
        But we are talking of critical applications here. Like medicine, research, etc. in those areas there is no time to play with somebodys dream, because that dream of yours could hurt someone tomorrow.
        This is not about the fans of this one or the other. This is a real problem that will affect millions. This is not the time to, like always, throw out there your favorite, still not baked, preferred OS.
      • Spam

        Your comments splattered all over the forums has become spam. You are not doing ReactOS any favors.
        Rann Xeroxx
    • You can't compare old autos to OSs.

      Jay Leno and I disagree. There is purity to driving my old 240Z or my Corvair Monza. Regular maintenance keeps them looking new and, in the case of the Corvair, I added modern closed-loop fuel injection, crank timed spark so it is as reliable as a new car. This, upgrading an OS, is a lifespan issue. Like my old cars that need to have rust removed, fresh paint and interior and an influx of parts taking advantage of auto tech advances you need to push an old PC with newer hardware, increased storage and better operating systems. I love driving my old cars and do treat them as daily drivers. I have one old desktop left running XP. I can't stand it. Good as XP was it is a pale shadow compared to Windows 7 or 8. Doesn't give me the feeling it belongs on display in a museum either. It is the occasional driver kept to look at client problems involving XP and I can't wait to recycle it.
      The Heretic
    • clingingto the past.

      ...for myself it is cost.

      I have been unemployed since March of 2013. I knew well about what I call "XP Doomsday". What I was receiving in UI was barely enough to pay basic expenses to keep a roof over my head, power on, pay for net access and food on the table. Purchasing a replacement for my old XP notebook was totally out of the question. Without Net access I'm dead in the water as to a viable work search, as many places today prefer if not require one submit CLs, Resumes, and even applications electronically.

      Even to upgrade my current notebook is about a 300$ expense: 99$ for a Win7 home 32 bit OEM and 199$ for Office 2010 since my trusty old Office 2K is not supported past XP. Next I would have to wipe the HDD and re-install everything that would still work on Win7 my AV suite, my Browser (having to reconfigure it and recreate all my bookmarks from scratch all over again) and all my important files for my work search (which would have to be updated to the new office format).

      I am no IT wiz. I am a basic user who can get around well enough in windows to be productive.

      Linux with open source software and AV utilities? Um, please... As I mentioned just above I don't have the expertise to deal with setting all that up and maintaining it on a regular basis. I also don't see a security advantage of an OS that is constantly in what I consider "beta" status which I would have to spend more of my time and attention dealing with than Windows would require.

      In a response to another forum comment I read yesterday about how open source developers often tend to like rolling out new features often at the expense of useability. I used "Blender" as an example While over the years it has become incredibly and powerful open source 3D CG tool, yet still has an archaic UI and tools that are overly cumbersome and "clunky" to use. This makes learning the application a nightmare for many who did not start with it from it's beginning.

      On the other hand Win8 has gone too far in the opposite direction with all the "eye candy" to the point I feel it gets in the way of getting the job done (same with the recent releases of the Office suite as well). Win7 is better (especially if you switch the "Aero" feature off) but, I still find XP to be the most "elegant" of the three from the average user's perspective. Simple, basic, to the point, and uncluttered in comparison.

      Hopefully the developers at MS will realise their mistakes and actually make the next version of Windows (as well as their Office suite) lean, clean, and useful again.

      Oh and as to old cars, I find the attraction similar to WinXP, as they much simpler in concept and therefore are easy to work on by yourself (if of course you have the mechanical skill) instead of having to take it into the shop for every little thing that goes wrong. Shoot one friend has one of those new Honda Hybrids and if he so much as even changes the oil by himself that voids the warranty so he has to take it to the dealer every time something needs to be taken care of.

      I just need something to get me from here to there - simple. I can read a map, street signs, know how to use mirrors, read the odometer to know when to change the oil and plugs etc.

      Besides most cars (particularly SUVs) today are pretty bland looking if not downright butt ugly. No sense of style ny more.
      Kyoto Kid
      • Reinstall

        If you are going to wipe the old OS completely away and do a clean install I would recommend a close look at Linux Mint or Kubuntu. The downloads are free and only require dvd to burn the ISO on. Backing up your data could be troublesome and time consuming. The actual install of either will take about hour for a complete install and a complete update of the entire system. Once installed you an office suite (LibreOffice) and some other useful software already installed. More are available through the repositories. The new LTS (5 years of support) of Kubuntu is due out in couple of weeks and Mint in about a month or so.

        LibreOffice does an excellent job of handling the older MS Office format and a very good job of with the newer format.

        Both Linux Mint and Kubuntu use 'Live DVDx' so you can run the distro off the DVD to see if you like it.
        • Best of all you can now run Windows XP virus free inside Linux Mint

          Yes with stealth VM. Look it up. It runs on all Mint Editions and all Ubuntu Variants and Derivatives. Then you get a new Linux Mint OS but still can run your Windows Apps you need to run in a totally virus free enviroment.
          • You can run Windows XP under pretty much any OS that supports VM ...

            ... and successfully isolate XP from the Internet. The problem arises because the hardware in question is not robust enough to support XP running under a VM running under another OS. Way too much overhead for a PC built before 2007. If the PC was a mid-range system built AFTER mid-2007, it should be robust enough to support XP under a VM.
            M Wagner
        • deaf

          The guy just said Linux is not an option. Are you dead and deaf too?
          • bah

            Anyone who says Linux is not an option is not to be taken seriously.

            It's easier than Windows. My grandmother asked me why I didn't give her the "easy computer" first a few years back....
          • Your Granny....

            didn't have to install and maintain the OS herself. The person who said Linux is not an option is NOT a computer pro and has no one to do these things for him. I'd agree that in his situation, Linux is not an option.
          • about letting people do as they please

            What is more, I AM a computer pro and I still say Linux is not an option (for me personally, in any case, and pretty much for everyone I know who is not a Linux fanboy themselves).

            Someone once said "It is very inappropriate to question the choices people make. It is extremely inappropriate to condemn them."

            The English have a good way of responding to these arrogant postures, it goes like this:

            "I like drinking my beer from a bottle."
            "Why are you not using a glass??????"
            "There is more than one way to kill a cat."

            People generally don't question people's beer drinking choices. However, people tend to have all sorts of opinions on what is the "right" way of doing things and if you're using a different way (even though it is completely inconsequential) they are there to question your choice.

            Another retort is "What the fvck does it have to do with you?"
          • just a question

            What do you consider a Linux fanboy? What about a Windows fanboy? Apple fanboy?

            I have no problem with you liking Windows better, though my own opinion is completely the opposite. I do, however, disagree that you'd have to be a "fanboy" to prefer Linux over Windows.
            I chose it due to the lack of maintenance it's required of me, the lack of knowledge I needed to keep it running quite well and the lack of high end hardware necessary for it to run properly.
            You may have other reasons for choosing Windows instead. Perhaps you have Windows only software that's required by your job. Maybe you have a game that just doesn't work in Linux that you like playing too much to choose an alternative. Possibly you have an incompatible printer which just doesn't work due to proprietary parts.
            Whatever the case may be, that's your reason. My reasons for choosing away from Windows are still just as valid. That doesn't make me a Linux fanboy or you a Windows fanboy. Of course, if your only reason for using Windows is because it's Windows, then you're a fanboy. If my only reason for using Linux is because it's Linux, then I'd be a fanboy. Neither is a good thing to be.
            So, what are your reasons? I've given you mine.
          • Fanboy shmanboy. Its all rediculous.

            tmsbrdrs asks "What do you consider a Linux fanboy? What about a Windows fanboy? Apple fanboy?"

            Good question with an easy answer. We don't have to go into detail about what someone is getting at when they speak of a fanboy of a particular OS. Suffice to say its typically someone who trashes the rest mindlessly in favor of their own choice of OS.

            While there are a variety of ways we have seen this done around here, it typically ends up amounting to the same thing.

            I myself have said numerous times that I understand very well why someone might prefer OSX and Macs or a particular version of Linux over Windows. There are reasons and when they are honestly expressed without trashing into the sewer every other OS I don't see extolling the virtues of your favorite OS at all.

            What does make NO sense are these idiots around here who constantly do nothing except trash Windows and Microsoft and after they do, what should they expect but similarly idiotic Microsoft morons to come back and trash Macs and Linux? Start a fight with fighters and your bound to get a fight.

            Why is it so many Windows users can actually say the words that Linux and OSX are fine for you if that's what you use and enjoy it, but why is it so incredibly difficult for so many OSX users and Linux users to ever admit that Windows users have good reason to like Windows as well? Its like the friggin kiss of death for them to admit that reality.

            You get all the old fashioned old wives tales about how people only use Windows because that's what comes on their computer; YET, the very same lying idiots will tell us in the very next breath that people are coming into their shop and demanding that Windows 8 be removed from their new computer and to install Windows 7. This alone, if true to any significant degree would show with certainty that people just don't use Windows because that's whats installed that in fact they will complain and have it changed if its not working to their pleasure.

            Endless endless made up lies and stories about Windows, things REAL Windows users know are either completely untrue or only very rare occurrences that are made to sound like daily disasters for the countless millions who use Windows, yet the very same Linux user that claims Windows computers drop like flies around him daily due to security problems will tell us how the use of command line has fallen away in modern desktop Linux. Its like Windows users are constantly being told about Mac and Linux fanatics to believe old tales of woe about Windows that have long since gone the way of the Dodo bird, yet they are asked to believe Linux and OSX have left behind any problems they may have had in the past.

            Its purely ridiculous. Why cant a Linux fan or Mac fan just say "look, I don't care for WIndows, I like OSX/Linux and here are the reasons why, I understand that 90% of the people in the world still use Windows on their desktops and laptops but even though they seem to like it and the world seems to get their work done just fine on Windows machines, its not for me".

            Is that so impossibly hard to just admit and live with the truth??

            When you say Windows is crap and Microsoft is going down like the Titanic it makes the person saying it sound like they are on drugs and are out of their mind.

            It really honestly does. I guess it sounds cool to the person saying it or something, but they need to wake up because its is factually stupid and empirically ridiculous, and way too many people know that for anyone talking like such a complete moron to maintain any credibility after talking like that.

            Similarly, its not helping the situation in the least when Windows morons come back with insultingly stupid comments about Linux or Macs. None of these systems is perfect and rest assured none of them are in the least little way trash.

            Like it or not.

            Its simply a fact that could be explained in fantastic detail over hundreds of pages why that is.

            Its just that for each OS, there are those that have their own reasons for wanting one and not the other.

            The old theory of "if they would just give my OS a try they would see theirs isn't the best choice for them" is almost always absolutely wrong. For example, my experience with Windows over numerous machines over almost 15 years leaves me absolutely puzzled in the extreme as to why anyone would choose anything but Windows. I know others feel the same way with OSX and Linux.

            But I think that I have a brain and I see no reason why I should be calling Linux any version crap, or OSX as crap because I know deep down they are nothing like crap at all, just different and for those who feel they can capitalize on that difference it can make Linux or OSX a better choice for them.

            Just like Windows is the better choice for others.

            The childish bickering between the ABM crowd and Windows fanatics is sickening. But I for one am bloody sure it would drift into obscurity if every time an article mentioned Windows in its title we didn't get the ABM morons floating in like old vampire bats to start a childish frenzy of insults and lies about how Windows is dead and Microsoft soon will be, because its plain as the day is long that there is nothing, not one single thing in the market that indicats anything that would hint at MS becoming dead, in fact by ant measure, anything of any kind that could spell the death of Microsoft in the future would almost certainly cause the death of Google first, so that's the facts.

            I for one don't see either of them disappearing in the near or distant future any time soon.
          • And why I choose Windows.

            Its the easiest OS for ME to use and anyone just like me. Those numbers, as you should know are in the multiples of hundreds of millions around the world.

            I have used Linux before for months. Its a very good OS but for those like me it gradually becomes a headache because there is just too many things I can do with a click or two in Windows and it too often turns into way more than that on Linux.

            I don't worry about cheap hardware, for those who have a big concern that way, maybe Linux is a good choice, but I find that a difficult pill to swallow given the cheapest "general" hardware for sale over the last few years seems to run Windows quite well. Perhaps the bottom of the sale bucket hardware when used exclusively mat have some issues, I don't know, but in current times, you don't see too many computers sold with exclusively older outdated bargain bin hardware.

            Games? Yes I have quite a number of games, and Windows software, so yes, switching would lead to many software disappointments for me. But that's not the issue in the end, the issue is not simply one of why shouldn't I switch, it should be perhaps even more so; why should I switch? Without compelling reasons for switching to Linux, or a Mac, this isn't a discussion to start with.

            Ive seen all the claims about how Windows is such a security problem, blah blah blah. No, its not. I have run numerous machines over the years, many of them. I had one security problem on one machine way back in 2005 I believe it was with XP. Since then no problems. Do I accept that Linux is a more secure system?

            Why yes, I do!! I think there is every reason to believe there is some significant proof that when analyzing all the various attack vectors once can think about with a computer OS that Linux appears to have some build issues that make many kinds of attack unlikely against it.

            But does it matter enough to worry about? No. Not for me.

            I also suspect that Volvos may be the safest brand of car in the world, but does it make me want to own one over other brands?


            I have found Windows to be incredibly stable, particularly Windows 7 and slightly even more so in Windows 8 it seems to me.

            I find Windows 7 and 8 very fast.

            I find Windows easy and intuitive to work with and it makes me very productive when I need a computer to do work.

            I have been building my own computers for years now and I can no longer imagine purchasing a computer any other way for so many reasons Im not going to even go into it. That precludes OSX as an OS and it means its either Linux or Windows. I tried Linux for several months back in 2009, or it could be 2010, and like I said, I could no longer justify it for my own reasons.

            All I am saying is that when people come on and try and say things that refute my years of Windows experience across numerous Windows laptops and desktops, I know they are either lying outright, or they are the unluckiest person in the world. I know this because of absolute 100% personal experience related to all the things I just mentioned.

            So, for those like me, the question of switching is resolved, its not so much that there are reasons why we don't switch so much as no reason too switch, at least not yet. And no indication of anything to change in the near future.
          • his granny....

            Also didn't have to install or maintain Windows herself. The person who said Linux is not an option is STILL NOT a computer pro and has no one to maintain his Windows installation once support has ended (2 days ago). I'd severely disagree in his situation. Linux is close to being his ONLY option.