Windows XP: How one company said goodbye to the ageing operating system

Windows XP: How one company said goodbye to the ageing operating system

Summary: Windows XP still accounts for more than four out of 10 UK desktop infrastructures, even though supports ends in 2014. Low-cost carrier easyJet is one organisation that has already made the move away.

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With just 12 months to go before Microsoft ends support for Windows XP, budget airline easyJet has wrapped up a project to move 9,000 users off the veteran operating system.

Windows XP did what it needed to do and people have sweated that asset — easyJet CTO Andy Caddy

It's a task that still awaits four out of 10 IT departments in the UK, assuming they want to make the 8 April 2014 end-of-life deadline — and it's not a process to be rushed, according to easyJet CTO Andy Caddy.

"If you put the whole thing in all at once, I think that would have overwhelmed people," Caddy said.

"Approach it in a methodical and controlled way from a user perspective — so, not trying to dump an enormous amount of change on people at once," he said.

"We didn't try to do the email, the desktop, the remote access all at the same time. We did them in a set of drops of technology, which mean that it was easier for users to adapt and gave us a better chance of delivering communications and training to people."

Migration timescales

The timescales involved in a migration of an estate of 2,500 laptops and desktops from XP to Windows 7 can also be long, with easyJet starting initial work in 2010.

"We used 2011 in terms of supplier selection and preparing our initial work and 2012 was delivery year," he said.

The airline chose Accenture- and Microsoft-owned consultancy Avanade for the systems integration and ongoing application provisioning using Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager.

Caddy has nothing against XP but easyJet knew its infrastructure and desktops needed upgrading — and poor feedback from a staff satisfaction survey helped signal the end of the line for the operating system.

"XP served its purpose for a long time. It may not have had the bells and whistles but it did its job very satisfactorily," he said.

"It was reliable and it did what it needed to do — and people have sweated that asset. From our point of view that's exactly what we did. We're a very low-cost company and with a very lean IT budget and we thought we'd get the most out of the technology."

Slow boot times

But boot-up times for the XP machines had become "horrendous", Caddy said. In an organisation where aircraft crews may only have minutes to load materials before every flight, this delay was unacceptable.

"We've had examples where it's taken four or five minutes to boot up and this is in an environment where pilots and crew are going into crew rooms and they have got to be on a plane in 15 minutes, so you can't have that. We set this target where everything had to be under 30 seconds and we beat that by a long, long way," he said.

With staff perceptions of their XP-based machines deteriorating, Caddy said management issues with the old operating system were also starting to surface.

"Being able to manage an estate of PCs in a really effective manner — you can do some of it with XP but you can manage better with Windows 7. We felt that running modern PCs we could get better value out of the equipment," he said.

"With XP we were starting to find a bit of interoperability problems. You'd get modern equipment that wouldn't work with it. You couldn't get the drivers. It was getting tricky to support."

According to Avanade research published in February, 52 per cent of UK IT departments have yet to put in place a strategy for dealing with applications that currently run under XP, first released to manufacturers in August 2001.

User needs and requirements

Caddy said the first step of the project involved dividing the needs and requirements of the airline's 9,000 users at 19 European locations into five distinct classes.

"It's quite a big ask but when you start to break it down and do a bit of analysis, you can say there are these five different types of people and here are the solutions that you need for each of those five situations. That worked really well and that helped us get away from treating everyone as an edge case," he said.

As well as putting Windows 7 Enterprise edition and Office 2010 on all laptops and desktops, the project involved a Wi-Fi upgrade, and a move to Microsoft Forefront Endpoint network and terminal security, as well as Microsoft DirectAccess for mobile staff.

"A good Windows 7 laptop working with the right technology is a good experience for people. They can sit at their desks or in Costa or Starbucks or whatever. That would have been something that would have been very hard to reproduce with XP," Caddy said.

He said easyJet was at an early stage with BYOD. "We have people who like to bring their iPhones and their iPads and we probably underestimated how important that was and we had to go round the loop again to try and either put in the right policies to deal with those or the right technical solutions," he said.

"These days to be able to say, 'Here's a solution: it's either this PC or this laptop. End of story' doesn't work anymore for people. They need something that's a little more flexible to incorporate personal devices as well."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows, Project Management

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64 comments
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  • the more the enterprise wait...

    ...The closer we might be from a viable upgrade to a completely different OS. Google chrome, Ubuntu. The interest for other system is growing. In fact, diversification is a trend. Ms better watch out.
    gbouchard99@...
    • I agree

      Byt the time Windows 7 goes out of support i fully expect a non microsoft desktop upgrade for enterprises to be a viable option for me windows 7 will die of old age on my machine unless microsoft reverses course.
      ammohunt
      • I agree.

        I think Windows 7 will die of old age with me too. Not sure about the "non microsoft desktop upgrade for enterprises" though.
        Arm A. Geddon
      • Windows 7 will die of old age

        Precisely I couldn't agree more. I can see Windows 7 becoming the modern day XP as Windows 7 is the last true release intended for the desktop alone
        5735guy
        • MS will start making incompatible browsers for it.

          I haven't really followed this, but they may have already done it to try and force support of Win8. I haven't used Windows in 11 years and refuse to use IE whenever possible.

          Killing Win7 would be a normal MS operation. Although they haven't been very successful with killing XP despite tremendous efforts.

          Linux is secure, stable, does not require maintenance or AV. Linux Ubuntu and Mint release new, free versions every 6 months. Why would anyone pay licensing fees to MS for something (XP) that stays around for 10+ years when they can get a free upgrade every six months. Modern Linux (Mint) doesn't require any significant re-training from Microsoft products.
          Joe.Smetona
          • This is the nail on the head

            For me I can accomplish everything on Ubuntu as I can on any microsoft based os, and I am only paying for hardware, in most cases on the current hardware I have I can simply delete MS products install Ubuntu and there is just so much more I can do on the same hardware platform and most if not all solutions in the business take the same amount of time to come up with and the best part is its free. Note to users I deff dont like the donate sliders on ubuntu page .
            DoDbAnZ
    • For me, it was simple

      I dual boot Mint along with XP on my desktop. I use LibreOffice, occasionally use SkyDrive to make sure Word docs are compatible.

      Once in a while, I boot XP just to get the updates and make sure it still works, but don't use it for work any more.
      james.vandamme
    • ... almost

      Except that Windows 7 can run pretty much all apps and most drivers XP can. Ubuntu, however, can't run drivers for Ubuntu if the driver is a year old (that OFC applies to all Linux out there).
      NeoBoot
      • ...almost?

        Puzzled I am, about the "year old driver" comment.

        I like to collect "old" printers and scanners from people who can't use them on Windows 7. They work fine on Linux, just plug in and hit the power button.
        james.vandamme
    • I like your thinking.

      And I hope that you are right!
      Richard Estes
    • Google chrome?

      Google chrome inan air craft??? don't think so... what happens if they are not connected to the internet? You need a stand alone os, even android would be better
      notrozer
  • What the...?

    "With staff perceptions of their XP-based machines deteriorating...."

    "A good Windows 7 laptop working with the right technology is a good experience for people. They can sit at their desks or in Costa or Starbucks or whatever. That would have been something that would have been very hard to reproduce with XP"

    It seems EasyJet has one of the most incompetent IT departments I've ever heard of. "Windows" as a class deteriorates and not just XP (which they will find out soon enough with Windows 7), but keeping XP speedy and fast booting is not all *that* hard: periodic reimaging, regular cycles of defragging and cleaning with something like CCleaner, avoiding installing unnecessary software, choosing your AV products smartly, swapping in SSD drives, adding memory, etc. A well maintained XP system on older (~3-4 yr old) hardware will run perceptively faster than Win7 on most brand new midrange system out of the box (which I've personally noticed more that a few times.) A poorly maintained Windows XP system on old, un-upgraded hard can and will indeed become frustratingly slow, but that has little to do with XP itself. Geez Louise....
    JustCallMeBC
    • RE: What the...?

      The only thing that slows any Windows machine down is the installation of tat.

      In my experience XP will never run faster than a Win7 machine on the same hardware, unless Win7 can't even be installed on it.

      I loved XP, and never felt the need to go Vista, however when Win7 came out and I built myself a new machine I wasn't so impressed with it's performance under XP so bought Win7 and I've never looked back.

      Unlike EasyJet I didn't find the cross over at all difficult, sure there are a few differences, but nothing anywhere near as annoying and frustrating as the change from Office 2000 to 2010.
      Pastabake
      • Win7 is not faster than XP in the real world

        I've installed enough XP and Win7 systems to call BS on your "in my experience XP will never run faster than a Win7 machine on the same hardware" statement, especially when you factor in networking. Just yesterday I had to go through yet another cycle of network tuneups (as well as clean-ups, defragging) on a near brand new i5-3470 powered Win7 PC that was just running Office 2010 and a few legal-specific software apps after the owner complained about its sluggishness on the network and accessing email (which came on top of an issue with his old, beloved wireless Microsoft mouse/keyboard combo.)

        I would say out of the last dozen people I know who got new Win7 PC's to replace old but well-maintained XP systems in an office environment, only one hasn't complained about performance issues. I've only personally seen three fast Win7 systems: one was running a hacked, stripped down version of Win7 called Tiny7 as a test, another was a notebook I wiped and installed the 32 bit version of Win7 Pro on from scratch, and the last was a i7-3770-powered PC to mostly see what would a high end Win7 PC bring it terms of everyday use.
        JustCallMeBC
        • I guess Windows 7 could be sabotaged enough to be slow on an i5.

          "I've installed enough XP and Win7 systems to call BS on your "in my experience XP will never run faster than a Win7 machine on the same hardware" statement"

          We all know you hate Windows so it wouldn't surprise me if you sabotaged these installs to make them slow. "See? See? Windows 7 sucks." he says as he installs the 7th AV program on the system.

          Your reputation preceeds you and no, I don't believe any of what you've written. It goes against my experience and it goes against the very well documented experiences of far too many people I know.

          Sounds like someone is either sabotaging the system or is grossly incompetent. I'll let you pick which one fits you better.
          toddbottom3
          • No, what I hate are

            1) Bad software
            2) Bad software companies
            3) Weak hardware
            4) Poor system design
            5) People oblivious to all this
            JustCallMeBC
          • This has nothing to do with apple

            Let's keep this on topic, shall we?
            toddbottom3
          • Good one.

            Thanks for the laugh!! I see you haven't lost your humour.
            Arm A. Geddon
          • My reply was in response to "This has nothing to do with Apple" post."

            .
            Arm A. Geddon
          • Umm...

            I think that was relatively easy to figure out.
            JustCallMeBC