Will Windows XP Ever Rest In Peace?

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 by Simon Morton

Over the years many things have faded from our lives. Some were the victims of progress while others seem to have been abandoned by their creators without a thought for those that may have loved them.

For those of us who look back to the days spent trying to press ‘play’ and ‘record’ simultaneously in the nano second between the DJ finishing his intro and the song starting, it’s a whole new world.

It’s a world that exists without Cabana bars, Pacer mints and Woolworth’s pic ‘n’ mix and soon it will be one that exists without Windows XP.

While many of us resist change until it is unavoidable, we generally accept the benefits when it comes to tech, an iPod is so much more user friendly than a boom box and using the phone and the computer at the same time is just brilliant.

But the world is a much smaller and more complex place than it ever was and killing an operating system is not as easy as halting production. Operating systems, it seems, have to be consigned to sort of starve to death with no medical support in a kind of technological long term euthanasia programme that may well come with some nasty surprises.

XP’s protracted death will begin on April 8th when Microsoft formally cease to create bug fixes and security patches leaving the system open to attack by ever inventive hackers. Not only that but it’s similarities to Windows 7 will even help them find the weak spots – next time a Windows 7 ‘fix’ hits the airways it will probably point them directly to a very similar and unfixed issue in XP.

It is estimated that XP is (as I type) still being used by over 28% of the desktop operating system market and although this is expected to drop in the run up April 8th, it’s likely that about 14% will still be using XP when Microsoft turn off its life support.

Most of those still using XP are believed to fall into two categories: those in fast growing economies where pirated versions are popular and business users (with particular reference to SME’s). Microsoft has been proactive in encouraging users to upgrade but for these two groups it’s not an easy sell.

One expert estimated in 2007 that 25-35% of Windows XP systems were pirated (a number which is more likely to have risen than fallen). Pirated software is a grey area but I’m going to take a guess that Microsoft probably share an opinion occasionally mooted (and largely denied) by designer brands. A person who acquires a fake handbag is rarely a person that could afford a real one, but one day they might (and we know they like ours), in the interim they’re reinforcing the idea that our brand is aspirational and acting as a walking advert for our products.

If Microsoft can somehow communicate with those people and offer some sort of amnesty then they will create lifelong customers and in fast growing economies that’s potentially a huge share of an emerging market that they would be churlish to ignore.

But let’s be honest the vagaries of such clandestine manoeuvres aren’t really our thing, so let’s move to more comfortable ground and look at how this whole thing might affect businesses.

Even for the smallest businesses upgrading an operating system involves work and expenditure that they would usually rather avoid and in a large multi-national it will probably involve (at the very least) committees, strategies and implementation plans before it even reaches the front line keyboard tappers.

It’s also worth remembering here that not so long ago the whole world got in a blue funk about Y2K, some believed that the ‘Millennium Bug’ would bring an end to modern living (something that could apparently be offset by hoarding huge amounts of toilet paper if I remember rightly) but the whole thing turned out to be the dampest squib that ever failed to explode.

So as XP goes into terminal decline, there are two key questions that need to be answered:

Is it necessary for those still running XP to take action? Yes

Will bulk buying toilet paper help? No*

What will help businesses everywhere is getting their arses in gear now. Experts predict that XP will probably stay safe until June or July, so there’s not much time – but there is enough to avoid headless chicken syndrome.

As we’ve seen before catalysts for change come in all shapes and sizes and often (once the initial frenzy has subsided) can result in unexpected gains or improvements.  And while resorting to some flowery adage about ‘challenges becoming opportunities’ isn’t really the Eyeful way, we’re going to have to risk it on this one.

A quick trawl of the ethersphere brings up some great tips and advice, Microsoft themselves have partnered with Laplink to provide a free data migration tool and even the scaremongers are keeping their rants at a level of ‘actually plausible’ – so far.

We all know that every business should have a robust (and regular) system for file backup and that there should be very little stuff lying unfiled on desktops, but we also know that we should exercise regularly, eat less chocolate and say no to that extra glass of wine. This is the real world where customer demands outweigh good intentions and one deadline can easily defer another.

No business, large or small, can say that they’ve never been spooked by a deadline, unprepared for a meeting or wasted valuable time searching for that one bit of collateral that will win the business, all situations that we explored in our recent (spectacularly informative and completely free) Sales Enablement Whitepaper.

Bearing all this in mind it’s probably best to embrace a little chaos provided you can identify and maximise the long term benefits. Changing operating systems is the perfect time for a spot of cyber stocktaking. There’s little point going to the trouble of upgrading your system if the information it contains remains outdated or untraceable. Collateral you’ve had for a few years could well be due a review and ghosts of lost business can be tackled head on and either converted or laid to rest with the peace and quiet they deserve.

And if, on the off chance, you happen to stumble across a presentation that needs a little TLC, just pick up the phone and we’ll be happy to help you out.

*For all those businesses that have already made the change and have been feeling a little self-righteous so far, I’d like to throw in an extra factoid that might make you pause for thought. Aside from its continuing presence in the areas we’ve discussed, XP is thought to be the operating system that runs approximately 95% of the world’s cash machines – so it’s just possible that the toilet paper thing isn’t such a silly idea after all….

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