Windows XP end-of-life migration guide

Windows XP end-of-life migration guide

Summary: Microsoft says that if you haven't migrated from Windows XP, you're running very late. ZDNet has the expert tips you need to make the migration as quick and smooth as possible.


While many organisations have made the leap to Windows 7, and increasingly to Windows 8, many remain on Windows XP.

According to Microsoft, a full operating system migration can take up to six months, depending on an organisation's size, so now is the time to act, before the company officially calls time on the operating system on April 8, 2014.

The company also says that it is essential to avoid roadblocks around application compatibility, change management, migration tools, and technical support in order to ensure that time and costs aren't added to the migration process.

There's also the question of which operating system is the best for your organisation, and how you can minimise the risks of continuing to use XP if you miss Microsoft's cut-off date.

ZDNet spoke to industry experts and recent XP émigrés, Campari Australia and the City of Sydney, for advice on making sure your XP migration journey doesn't become an odyssey.

Windows 7 or 8?

The first issue to tackle any XP migration is a simple and obvious one: Do you move to Windows 7 or Windows 8? The answer, Michael A Silver, VP distinguished analyst at Gartner, says, comes down to two factors: Risk and mobility.

"Windows 7 has been shipping for four years, it is stable, it is well supported by applications, third-party service providers know it, can service it pretty well, and can do migrations," he said. "The migration will be quicker and lower risk when moving to Win 7."

But for organisations with a high need for tablet PCs, or those wanting to future proof their organisations, Windows 8 is a viable choice, Silver says.

"If there are specific benefits you will get, Windows 8.1 is a fine choice," he said. "And for a lot of organisations, it is worth considering 8.1 to avoid this end-of-life migration issue for some time into the future."

Silver does, however, caution organisations that are already underway in their Windows 7 migrations not to stop to ponder adopting Windows 8. In all likelihood, this will introduce potential new costs and delays, and risk the organisation not being off XP by the April cut-off date, as well as potentially leaving the organisation to manage and support two new operating systems instead of one.

For some organisations, the need to migrate off Windows XP might seem like a good opportunity to move off Windows altogether and onto an Apple or Google Chrome-like operating system. Either approach has its risks, Silver advises.

"Today, typically half a given organisation's applications require Windows," he said. "If you had a group of users which didn't require Windows, or you are serving apps to them through something like Citrix XenApp or Remote Desktop Services, certainly, you may have the capability to move to something else, but at this point, it is still all about the applications, and a lot of those require Windows."

App compatibility

A common source of migration failures, says Silver, is whether applications, be they business critical or user specific, will work with Windows 7 or 8.

"In all the migrations that have failed, they have failed because they didn't have a complete list of the applications they needed to run, they didn't test all the applications they need to run, or they have purposely ignored applications which are user or department specific, then realised as they were doing the implementation that those applications were critical, and had to start again," he said.

Walter Cellich, manager of information services at the City of Sydney, said that particular attention was paid to application compatibility in his organisation's migration of around 1,900 XP machines to Windows 7.

The best approach to ensuring compatibility, he says, is to create a comprehensive list of all applications — about 233 desktop applications in the City of Sydney's case — then contact each application's vendor for confirmation on compatibility or the need to upgrade. Where this isn't possible, testing on a trial Windows 7 or 8 machine is recommended. The downside, Cellich says, is that this process can easily be a six-month project.

Loic Herbin
(Image: Campari)

Loic Herbin, IT manager, APAC, at Campari Australia, says that being late to migrate off XP can have an upside, in that most applications will now be at least Windows 7 compatible or can be upgraded.

"The lucky side of moving so late is that you are pretty sure all the vendors have updated their applications," he said. "But, to be sure, there is a cost, because you will need to upgrade to the next version of the application."

Herbin added that there are also shortcuts that can be taken, such as not cataloguing the applications of every single user.

"We ran a full pilot and targeted one user per department — the most advanced users — and tracked all the software they used," he said. "I think that is pretty standard for any new OS upgrade."

The City of Sydney's Cellich added that one upside of migrating is that it presents a great opportunity to consolidate an organisation's applications for easier management in the future. For the council, that was often as simple as moving from five versions of Adobe Acrobat to one, or three versions of Microsoft Office to one.

"For desktop-specific apps, we chose one variant and decided that was the version everyone would have," he said. "Where we found two apps that did the same thing, we standardised on one."

Migration tools and outside help

In having to migrate around 1,900 machines off Windows XP and onto Windows 7, Cellich said the use of the right tools to help automate and accelerate the rollout of both new operating systems and application deployments can be a lifesaver.

The City of Sydney employed Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) in particular.

"One thing SCCM does is allow you to pack up your software and then automatically push it out to one or more PCs," he said. "That enabled us to push the SOE [standard operating environment] out, applied it automatically, and then applied the upgrade from XP to Windows 7. It didn't work perfectly, but probably worked on 90 or 95 percent of PCs."

The organisation then used "floor walkers" on the day of the migration to manually assist staff with their PCs.

Gartner's Silver says that there are a multitude of available tools to assist in migrations — everything from inventory or utilisation tools to application testing and remediation, to deployment and automation — but often, finding the correct tool for your organisation and then setting it all up can be a six-month project itself. In that case, it's best to source outside help for your migration.

"If you are just starting to build skills and pick tools now, then you will not be done by April," he said.

"Leveraging a service provider, including using them to improve the overall manageability and for skills transfer for your employees and staff, might be a way for some organisations to get this done and retain some knowledge and get some longer-lasting benefits. Also consider that at this point, even service providers might be stretched by demand."

Change management

After so many years on Windows XP, moving your staff to Windows 7 may come as quite an organisational shock. That's why another crucial component of successful migrations is change management.

The City of Sydney's Cellich said he made extensive use of Microsoft educational videos in particular — on topics as simple as how application menus change between different versions of Windows. The videos were available to the organisation for three months before and after the migration.

"Apart from the training videos, we made a virtual machine sandpit area, where people could go and play with Windows 7, see what it looked like, and try our standard apps in that environment," he said. "That was about making sure the business knew what was coming, what it looked like on day one."

Campari's Herbin said that change management was also a factor in his organisation's successful Windows 7 and 8 migrations. Beginning at the top, Herbin ensured that management knew all about the new operating system, and were also some of the first users to have their machines migrated.

"For Windows 8, we trained a super user on the interface — it was considered the biggest challenge — and they in turn trained the rest of the staff," he said. "The approach we took was training one super user per state, and those super users received specific training from Microsoft."

Gartner's Silver advises that a good approach to change management is to create some form of a "Windows migration competency centre", where users and departments can test their tools, get some help in remediating them, and get some kind of virtual or physical sign-off for them.

"There is some communication required to the business that says, 'Hey, we are doing this migration and your department is responsible for testing this application or that application and having it signed off', and that is the only way," he advised.

Staying on Windows XP?

With just four months to go until end-of-life support, many organisations will have to face the fact that they will still be running some Windows XP machines by April. For Michael Barnes, vice president and research director at research firm Forrester, these organisations need to understand that if they choose to or by necessity remain on XP after April 8, 2014, they do so "at their own risk".

"For instance, as with Windows 98 and Windows 2000, drivers for new hardware will quickly become non-existent, creating compatibility issues," he said. "As with security, third-party solutions will arise to get around these driver issues, but they are not always 100 percent guaranteed for all scenarios.

"Most third-party software vendors will no longer test their software against Windows XP. Hence, there are no guarantees that newer versions will continue to work with Windows XP."

Agreeing, Gartner's Silver says that remaining on XP will introduce risk into organisations. But this can be managed — to an extent.

"Make sure a Windows XP user can't do email; use a Windows 7 machine instead," he advised. "Most security attacks will come through email or the browser, so if the machine can't access the internet or open email, the machine will be that much safer.

"If they have to browse, then you should restrict the use of Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 and use a browser that is supported. Also, lock down the PC by restricting administrator access on that device and put an end to any unwanted changes. You can have the PC reboot with a pristine image getting rid of the changes the user has made.

"All of this take time and money, though."

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

Tim Lohman

About Tim Lohman

Tim has written about the technology sector since the mid 2000s. He covers innovation across the business, education and government sectors.

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  • Continued XP Support

    Of course M$ doesn't mention that there are companies out there the are offering continued support for XP with security updates. Also a good AV program will also take up most of the slack anyway. M$ doesn't tell you a lot of things except the ones that try to scare you into putting money into their coffers.
    • Anti-Virus is not security.

      An Anti-Virus is not going to patch holes or close zero days. Without OS level support from Microsoft, XP will remain a "zero day forever."

      Also, I know of no company that will install untested, untried, or otherwise unproved "third party" junk. That just doesn't happen.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • I move from XP to Linux...

        ... and i did it already in 2008. Have never regret that move. Stable, secure, free and decent ecosystem.
        Napoleon XIV
        • I tried Ubuntu 8.04 when it came out

          And I had a usable desktop, and could get online and print FROM THE CD. That convinced me.

          I have a desktop dual-booting Win7 and Kubuntu 13.04 with MATE. I use my Win7 partition strictly for gaming (all I consider it good for) and do everything else I do with my computer using GNU/Linux. I have had 0 malware incidents since April 2008, and, when there is an upgrade, every program in the system that has an available upgrade will be upgraded, not just system files. Nothing can affect the system without a password, and passwords are encrypted on a file system that disallows peeking to users without permissions.

          Inherently safer: GNU/Linux users use an OS that is, from the ground up, far more secure than and closed-source OS can be, simply because so many more eyes look at the code and find and report security bugs to the community, rather than the way things are in the closed-source world, where security holes found are exploited rather than fixed and prevented.

          And I do some fairly advanced things, productivity wise, using GNU/Linux. As well as some pretty good games, and more and more coming.

          Another thing to bear in mind that the city of Munich, Germany, reacted to the XP end of life by distributing free Ubuntu discs to city users of XP. The program was a great success. And if the Germans think something is a good idea, it is likely that it IS a good idea.
          Frederick Wrigley
          • I'm exactly the same...

            I have a Windows7 laptop with Xubuntu on a dual boot. I do my serious work on Xubuntu and use my Windows7 side for gaming. Linux is very VERY stable. I've hardly ever had any serious bugs or crashes while using it. It's fast, easy to use and does everything I want it to do.
            James Stevenson
        • Move to Linux?

          While this all sounds nice in the consumer space, and in some businesses, it's not always applicable. What about those of us in regulated businesses?
          It would mean moving to something like RHEL, which ends up leaving us in the same place as just simply moving to Windows 7 as far as usability, security, and regulations are concerned.
      • I have not seen MS been able to prevent malware.

        I get virtually no malware with antivirus programs. If it's not security then what would be the point of getting antivirus software anyway?

        Iv'e seen 3rd party virus protection software do more than Windows updates. I see more and more shills coming out of the woodwork. More people that continue to think that because MS doesn't support an OS means that your system is compromised. Used W98 2 years after the retired date, no problems.. pretty sure Xp will be about the same. Oh yeah, i don't remember any news stories on any other 'outdated' OS having problems connected to the internet either. Good that antivirus companies will continue to support XP. They'll do a fine job, unless you got pentagon secrets i don't think hacking into XP will be worth much. Continue to spread lies that XP will be hacked into and your money will be lost, some people will simply either deny that it will happen or they will simply ignore you. Sad that some people actually believe this ridiculous junk. I bet XP will be fine for several years without MS to babysit. If you do your research you can find some antivirus companies that will do it's best to protect your system and might even help fix your compromised system. People will upgrade from XP when XP no longer works for them. They are not going to upgrade because MS is trying to scare them into thinking that 3rd party antivirus can't handle a 12 year old OS. For those wanting to upgrade, whatever it's their money.. for those that want to stay on XP i applaud them for standing up for something. Also you can find cheap parts on an XP system. Hard drive crashes, no problem just look on ebay for another.
      • xp

        I am an IT consultant with 20 year experience. Quickly realized that normal win xp updates causes much more damage than good. As long as you are running sp3 and your anti virus is up to date everything is fine. Have 100's of computers running this way and I predict they will for a few years more until the hardware fail.
    • What you mean to sayis that ...

      ... "M$ doesn't mention that there are companies out there [THAT WILL TELL YOU THEY] are offering continued support for XP with security updates."

      If you do not trust Microsoft, what makes you think some "fly-by-night" company you never heard of can/will protect your twelve-year-old investment in Windows XP?

      Sure, AV companies can continue to support Windows XP because, without Microsoft support, the existing hooks and known attack vectors will remain unchanged. But as new vulnerabilities are discovered, it will soon be too costly for those companies to continue to protect Windows XP. Just as it is too costly for Microsoft to continue to support Windows XP.

      The bottom line is that Microsoft is not going to provide their Windows XP SOURCE CODE to anybody so that company can provide you additional support for Windows XP. Without access to that source code, nobody can plug existing (or newly discovered) Windows XP vulnerabilities. All they can do is (MAYBE) block them.

      You may not want to put money into Microsoft's coffers. Fine. Clearly, you haven't bought a Windows operating system since they quit selling Windows XP. (Sometime between 2007 and 2009). That's at least four years - and perhaps as many as 12 years ago.

      In short, if you haven't bought anything from Microsoft in four years, you are no long a customer of Microsoft so why should they support you for free?

      In the end, you are going to have to pay someone for Windows XP support until you move to some other operating system and you need to be able to realistically assess your risks while remaining with Windows XP and compare those to the benefits of migrating to a newer operating system.

      As time goes by, your risks increase as do the costs of a full migration to another OS.
      M Wagner
      • Sharing source code

        Microsoft does share source code, especially with Anti-virus software companies. Theymake coders sign non-disclosure agreements, but whatever makes you think Microsoft doesn't share source code? How do you think software drivers get written?
        Christopher Daniels
        • The code shared can't be built into a system

          Source helps with writing drivers as it lets you see better the interface... But that has nothing to do with maintaining or patching a system.
      • " is too costly for Microsoft to continue to support Windows XP."

        So true, so true. But...NOT AS YOU IMPLY.
        What is so costly to microsift is their projected skim for bottom line profits.
        Seriously, are you trying to tell us that after over a dozen years of "service pack" servicing, monthly updates and innumerable security patches they still haven't made XP secure? If that's true, then why should I or anyone else go to the expense of buying a whole new OS to say nothing of the lost productivity during the learning curve OR the added expense of systems that must be upgraded/replaced so they don't get bogged down by yet another bloat-by-the-numbers enslavement OS by one of the two primaries of the OS royalty ('rotten to the core' Apple being the other)?

        No thanks. Like a fully paid-off vehicle, I'd rather keep it running until the added expense of replacement is unavoidable. Repairs and upkeep are a normal part of having one's name on the owner's card.


        ps Has it never occurred to you that it may just be microsift itself that is creating the new threats in order to compel XP'ers to "upgrade? Wouldn't be the first time nor the last. Or perhaps their good buddies at the NSA simply want OS's with easier accessing back doors?
    • A little help, please?


      Maybe you could share a few of these companies who offer continuing support with the rest of us poor peons. I looked through several pages worth of articles on Google and Startpage, bu
      t could not find anything about continuing support, except about Microsoft who would continue it for certain high end clients for about $200/year. I definitely can't afford that, but I would rather not switch my XP Pro to another flavor of Windows.

      • Avast, Kapersky, Zonealarm

        Need I say more? And for the home user, probably all you need is Avast and Zonealarm, and restrict access of unwanted programs and scan all downloads. True, this won't close undiscovered security holes in the OS itself (why was it released with them, and why is Micro$oft STILL selling their OS's with unpatched holes? Does it take TEN YEARS to patch up their lousy OS? In that case, the next release of Windoze should be released TEN YEARS from now when they've got it perfected.
      • Viable alternative to Windows XP

        Just get Linux mint if you want a viable alternative to Windows XP.. You don't even need to worry about Anti Virus software and it's supported for years completely free :p
        • Not

          This article is focused on enterprises running Windows XP. And enterprises want support for their software.

          Linux Mint is a consumer-focused distro and provides no enterprise support as do Canonical, Ltd., SUSE and Red Hat for their enterprise Linux desktops, Ubuntu, SLED and RHEL desktop, respectively.

          And you might be surprised to learn that some Linux shops use anti-virus software on their file servers. Not so much for their own protection, but for the protection of their business partners running Windows.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • But...

            I know what you're saying but I was responding to what janitorman said with "And for the home user, probably all you need is Avast and Zonealarm, and restrict access of unwanted programs".... To which I pointed out all you need is Linux Mint :p
    • fdhealy4: "Continued XP Support"

      I wouldn't trust continued Windows XP support from any organization other than Microsoft with its [very expensive] custom support. If you can't afford Microsoft's custom support, then this article is spot on regarding continued use of Windows XP after April, 2014.

      Disable Windows XP networking and unplug the Ethernet cable. Or:

      o Use a supported, 3rd party web browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Chrome is sandboxed on Windows XP, whereas Firefox is not. If you choose to run Firefox, download, install and properly configure the NoScript add-on. With NoScript, whitelist ONLY your frequently-visited, legitimate web sites for JavaScript execution. Ditto for Flash Player and Java, if you use it (better to remove Java if you don't need it).
      o Create and use a limited user account for day-to-day use. Log in as administrator only to administer Windows XP (e.g., update supported 3rd party software).
      o Use reboot-to-restore software to remove unwanted changes. Both paid and free solutions are available.

      I'd also switch to less popular 3rd party software for media streaming (e.g., VLC media player), office suite (e.g., LibreOffice, OpenOffice), PDF viewer (e.g., Foxit Reader), etc. Thus, making your system a smaller target.

      As for anti-virus software, use it if you like as long as it is supported on Windows XP.

      P.S. Note that, eventually, Google, Mozilla and other 3rd party software vendors will end support of their software on Windows XP. Hopefully, you'll be adept with your reboot-to-restore software by this time. :)
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: Continued XP Support

      I don't know why Microsoft even states about getting rid of XP support, they basically got rid of the XP support when Windows Vista came out, otherwise there would not of been so many targeted attacks to XP.

      Also, the problem with trying to push everyone to Windows 7, because to be honest, Windows 8 is a piece of garbage that needed to be yanked from the market like yesterday (the same way microsoft yanked Windows ME off the market). Migrating to Windows 7 basically means a step going backwards with technology, i mean to ensure that you're going to have software compatibility with older programs you're going to have to install a 32-bit edition. Which takes away from being able to put more then 4 gigs of ram in.
      • Reply to sja-allen

        I'm still getting regular patches to XP. They do come from Microsoft.