Windows XP diehards: Can you survive the April 2014 deadline?

Windows XP diehards: Can you survive the April 2014 deadline?

Summary: Some organisations intend to keep running Windows XP after support ends next April, but the options for doing so safely are narrowing.


To those planning to stick resolutely with the aged Windows XP operating system even after Microsoft ends support next year, the advice from experts is simple: Don't do it.

But despite the chorus of warnings, there are fallback measures for diehard XP users, who could still constitute as many as 40 percent of businesses. One in five of the organisations currently using the OS intend to stick with it after the 8 April 2014 end-of-life deadline for support, according to research from software consultancy Camwood.

Ovum principal analyst Roy Illsley said the critical thing for organisations who found themselves dependent on the OS on the wrong side of the deadline was to look at where XP was positioned in terms of access to the internet and the outside world.

"Because the one big thing you're not going to get is any more security updates for XP. You can hide it behind firewalls and everything else but if somebody spots an opportunity and a flaw in the XP operating system and writes something that gets into you — most of that will come in through the internet and emails," Illsley said.

"Antivirus will help but the real issue is with an unsupported OS is once someone spots a flaw, that's a weakness you're not going to have fixed unless you pay Microsoft a shed-load of money, and nobody's going to do that.

"If you've got a particular application that's got to run on XP, then it's how to ring-fence that device so that if it gets infected, it's not going to spread out to any others. Because that's the critical one."

Isolate the XP operating system

That approach of isolating the operating system is being adopted by Graeme Hackland, CIO at Lotus F1, who is confining the remaining role of XP at the Formula One racing team to specific, offline tasks.

"We will still be running XP beyond the end-of-life date mostly in labs and we've narrowed the purpose of that machine down to, 'It runs a jig' or 'It runs one thing'," Hackland told a recent roundtable.

But the trouble is many of those organisations sticking with Windows XP are not planning to be so circumspect, according to Paul Veitch, director, application development at services firm Avanade UK.

"The problem that we see is that people are still going to run their business on [Windows XP]. It's not point problems; it's their entire business," Veitch said.

"Key for those organisations is that at the end of life you won't have support from Microsoft or if you choose to go into extended support then you'll be paying larger and larger fees," he said.

"Clearly, that helps create a business case [for migrating] but you're putting at risk your IT organisation, your desktop and your end users by not having a supported operating system from Microsoft."

Microsoft's withdrawal of support

Because Microsoft's withdrawal of support was at the heart of the issue, Ovum's Roy Illsley said organisations must face up to the risks and focus on how this problem will be addressed.

"You've got to look at support for the operating system. Do I need support? Is it stable? Do I need constant calls to Microsoft — have I had that over the 10 years I've been running it? Probably not. But if you've got an old OS, how do you make sure it's safe, it's secure and still operating successfully," he said.

"It's recognising how much of a risk it poses and minimising that as much as possible. If it's an application that's on the network that everybody uses, then that is a really big risk if you're not going to move that off XP."

As well as assessing the risk posed by the operating system itself, organisations also need examine the apps that are running on it.

"If you're running an application that's that old, have you got the code? Have you got the escrow for the code? How can you make sure that the app still works? The operating system may not be anything significant to you. Actually, that may be the least of your concerns because the application might be completely and utterly at risk and unsupportable."

According to Illsley, organisations deliberately or reluctantly running legacy XP after the end-of-support date should think about the issue in three distinct stages.

"It's a case of ring-fence it — make sure it's secure, it's in a play area, a sandbox of some sort — then evaluate the risk and formulate a plan to move off it," Illsley said.

"You've got to have a backup plan even if that's a case of running it in a cloud service. Give it to someone else to run isolated, so that it's away from you. If there's any infection, it's not going to come back onto you because all you're doing is you're logging on to a browser to access it."

Illsley said organisations might even be able to move Windows XP by putting it in a virtual container.

"AppZero do server app migration between Windows server OSes. They don't do it on the desktop but some technology like that might be a way of containerising and packaging up the app so that it can run in Windows 7 but as an XP virtual machine," he said.

"There are always ways around it. It depends on how much money you want to spend, how important it is to the organisation and what risk it poses. Those are the three things that you just have to juggle and balance up."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • It's not a question of if...

    ... It's a question of when. Running XP past the due date is akin to playing a game of Russian Roulette. Can you afford to clean up the mess WHEN something does go wrong? I hope you'll be paying your IT staff well, past the 2014 date.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Will Microsoft make it easier to upgrade?

      Will Microsoft make it easier for people to upgrade (i.e., not "fresh install", but be able to upgrade Win8 on top of XP)? Will they offer discount rates (or better yet, free across-the-board upgrades) specifically for people who are still running XP? Will they offer free training for people to transition from XP to Win8?

      If not, I imagine the people who are sticking with Windows XP already know the risk, and have planned accordingly. It's their decision to keep running it, and if Microsoft won't offer an actual compelling reason to upgrade for them (because "we won't support it anymore" isn't quite the reason MS would like it to be), then there's nothing Microsoft can do about it.

      Also, if anything goes wrong, Microsoft apparently can't be held responsible in most jurisdictions (something which is indisputably BS, because if you're selling something, you're supposed to be responsible for its quality). So why should they care? Anyone who's using Windows 7 on will apparently still be supported (until they aren't, then you'll surely be badgering them to upgrade lest some nebulous Very Bad Thing happen), and anyone who uses XP will be doing so with either full awareness of the risks, or will have someone who does.

      Also, isn't it more likely that as the XP rates fall down, people will stop targeting XP? I mean, isn't the only reason Windows is targeted to the extent that it is that so many people use it? At least that's what the Microsoft fanboys and Windows supremacists tell us. Surely that means that XP will be safer once it's off support.
      Third of Five
      • no business does upgrades

        press F12 to PXE boot and let WDS do the work, easy as pie imaging a windows PC.
      • Will Microsoft make it easier to upgrade?

        "Will Microsoft make it easier for people to upgrade?"
        "Will they offer discount rates for people who are still running XP?"
        "Will they offer free training for people to transition from XP to Win8?"

        What sort of La-La land are do you live in?

        And why on earth should they?
        • No lala here

          My point here is that there are reasons for companies sticking with XP. Some can't afford to upgrade, some don't want to have to rewrite old software, some would prefer not to relearn everything.
          Third of Five
          • Microsoft are a business you know

            So, you reckon they should release an OS, continue to support it after 12 years, continue to pay their developers and support staff with little revenue being returned to themselves.
            If your running a business yourself, an about of budgeting for IT expenditure and upgrades should be taken into account. Re-learning, 10 mins.
            Sure someone somewhere might still be running their business on a BBC computer (64kb RAM), but I doubt it, you have to migrate sometime, and 13 years is pretty long time to actively support an OS, more than most would.
      • Re: Will Microsoft make it easier to upgrade?

        They have already done everything they're going to do.

        The rest is up to you.
      • depends on how proftable it will be to attack it

        I agree, at the beginning it will be risky, but after that, no one will care about attacking XP, just like no one cares about attacking Win9x.
      • At Microsoft they don't want to help anybody but them ...

        That all depend on the use you have for the computer ! We had, until a few months ago, an old Pentium II machine with a 20 GB HD and Windows 98 and it was still doing the job running older technical programs we can't no longer afford today ! We were only using it off-line, so no virus problems ! Even if the computer itself is dead since, we managed to save the HD content and still using it ! We paid nearly 3000$ for this computer with an HP CD-Writer (that was new in those years !) at the time !

        Finally, it's the dynamics we don't like from Microsoft : no compatibility whatsoever between the versions and no drivers support for older hardware and that's what will eventually kill Microsoft !
    • XP Lives!

      And salesmen like Cylon Centurion will just have to be disappointed.
    • XP

      You really hate Windows XP. You're always at every XP blog. Go to the Windows 7 blogs and praised that OS. You must work for Microsoft.
    • Spoken like a Microsoft plant...

      Many people are happily using Windows XP now, and for them, there is no trepidation about some arbitrary date, simply because Microsoft wants to further extract money from customers.

      Of course there will be a need for caution, but, just as the current protections keep the nasties at bay right now, they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

      I know [personally] of many businesses, and persons, running XP, and truthfully, there has not been much from Microsoft other than the many fixes for Internet Exploder since SP3, way back in 2008 [unless you count the myriad fixes for Office products, I don't]. So, using a good, updated antivirus, a better-than-stock firewall, and avoiding the use of Internet Exploder should provide happy computing for many for quite some time.
      • you mean their are more Microsoft plants than

        toddbottom3.1, Loverock Davidson and OWLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLnet.....who would have thunk
        Over and Out
    • XP is fine, stop fear mongering.

      It's easily sand boxed in a VM. Most of these users are running it on Linux and using it like one would use WINE for Windows-Microsoft compatibility. As WINE gets better and XP gets worse eventually they'll make the switch to WINE. But in the meantime, from a flexibility standpoint; XP is an excellent way to run Windows apps without supporting the Microsoft machine as MS can't sue themselves for being compatible and graphically similar to other Windows products like they do Android. WGA, Automatic updates, live tools, and skydrive aren't like the freely available Google tools that just gather general tends; it's part of a company who once you buy into them they own you and continually try and use their market position to leverage users into buying products they don't want.
  • C'mon!

    Hey guys... it's 2013. XP was officially released on October 2001. That makes it a 12 year OS. In computer year, it was enough to reinvent computers and how we use them. Since then, another excellent OS came along that as pretty much no learning curve switching from one to the other: Windows 7.
    • it is the software

      In a lot of industrial environments there is older software that will not run on Vista/7/8. To update that software it is going to cost 10s of times more that the whole pc, an expense many businesses are not willing to pay for. I know in our case the industrial PC's need to be connected to the network and the internet for data logging, and remote troubleshooting by the vendor.
      • Re: In a lot of industrial environments there is older software that will n

        Why are no updates available?

        I know, don't tell me, the vendors have gone out of business. Most likely because of their inability to keep up with changing technology.

        Looks like a lot of customers are going to follow those vendors into oblivion...
        • Why are no updates available?

          A lot of reputable scientific instrument manufactures do very poor or no software support. They'd much rather that you buy a new instrument for a few hundred grand. That is sometimes more of an issue that cost of a computer OS.
        • Why are no updates available?

          Some of the software that these industrial and even commercial industries use has no need to be updated. It serves it purpose and they feel no need to update. As far as still using them on the company's network - they are typically ran on the company intranet for logging purposes. Bottom line - the businesses sticking with it will be fine until they purchase machinery that requires more modern software.
          • Re: has no need to be updated

            Then why won't it run on newer versions of Windows?