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No 'XPocalypse' Yet: Advice for Windows Change

It’s now just over 50 days since Microsoft ended support for Windows XP and it’s time for a more sober look at the whole affair to balance some of the shrill commentary that took place at the time and in advance of the cut-off.

‘XPocalypse’ is a headline-friendly coinage but disastrous cases appear to have been exceptional despite the dark (media-centric) forebodings. And where there have been issues, blame should surely be attached more to the lemming-like CIOs that have continued to advance to the XP precipice than Microsoft itself. After all, the cadence of Windows releases and Microsoft’s strategy has been pretty consistent for decades. A major release comes along every few years with an interim release in between. Support is cut off from aged operating systems with plenty of warning. If you don’t want to move with the times then you can pay a premium charge. This is not so much a gun to the head as a nudge in the right direction.

Certainly, Microsoft has made missteps with Windows in recent years and both Windows 8 and Windows Vista can be counted as relative flops. But those IT leaders who continue to use ancient system software must be aware of the price to be paid. Windows XP is over 12 years old: it became available when Who Let The Dogs Out? was in the charts, in the same year as Enron’s bankruptcy filing, the shoe bomber, Wikipedia’s launch, the US invasion of Afghanistan and the swearing in of George W. Bush.

Even by the standards of the relatively decrepit it’s a while ago, and in software terms, it’s the Stone Age. Internet usage, mobility, security threats, the consumerisation of IT, bring-your-own-IT schemes, cloud computing, social media and more have changed the digital world beyond recognition. In that context, staying on XP is like living in a cave rather than a house.

Anyhow, that’s my view but to get another before-and-after sense of this I spoke to an expert at the time of the cut-off and caught up again by email this week. Paul Veitch (no relation) is director of application development at Avanade, a consulting company that has a long association with Microsoft technologies.

At the time of the cut-off, he told me:

“I don’t think [the media furore is] overblown but there won’t be a general meltdown tomorrow. Companies shouldn’t panic but auditors and regulators will start asking questions. If a CEO’s PA is browsing the internet [on an XP PC], that’s clearly higher risk than an XP PC disconnected from the internet. There are lots of IT departments within the government and there are so many demands on them that it probably hasn’t been that high up on the agenda.”

Veitch added that virtual desktops could provide an alternative to a Windows-to-Windows desktop migration and added that many organisations will also be moving from desktop PCs to mobile PCs anyway.

When we caught up by mail this week, Veitch had this to say:

“Avanade has seen the firms who were urgently trying to get off XP do so before the deadline, and now the market has calmed down a bit with customers who have taken out support agreements taking a more measured approach to migration before the next renewal due in April 2015 (which will be significantly more expensive). However, companies shouldn’t rest on their laurels as the migration process can be time-consuming if companies haven’t performed one in a long time.

“In terms of the ‘XPocalypse’, we saw a close-run-thing with a widespread zero-day Internet Explorer vulnerability shortly after XP went out of support which, had Microsoft not stepped up and rapidly produced a patch, then we could have seen widespread compromises of XP machines. Microsoft may not be so accommodating next time, given the length of time since support expired and the period of time that they have been warning everyone about the end of support.

“Avanade’s recommended action is to remain focused, with the aim of migrating all systems off XP. Start with the most critical systems and avoid exposing the remaining XP systems to the internet to minimise exposure to any compromises. Consider novel approaches such as replacing desktop or laptop machines with mobile or tablet devices if appropriate and consider migrating to centralised or cloud based desktop virtualisation technologies which can be a way to mitigate mass migrations in future.”

That sounds like sensible counsel to me although I think Veitch cuts CIOs a fair amount of slack. It’s the job of IT leaders to prepare for the future and the XP cut-off didn’t happen overnight. Those that are scrambling to make sense of the post-XP word today are paying for being laggards.

 

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Editorial Consultant for IDG Connect

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