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Buyer’s Guide: The top five business reasons to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7

Windows Vista, cost-cutting and stagnation

The security and business costs of using Windows XP

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Windows XP limits browser options

Audit hardware and software for Windows 7 upgrade

Windows XP is obsolete, insecure and limits business

 

Windows Vista, cost-cutting and stagnation

Many companies of all sizes are still using Windows XP and seem happy with it.  According to online education resource W3Schools, over 38% of desktops are still running Windows XP. While undeniably an impressive show of loyalty for Microsoft, it is causing the software supplier a headache in moving users to Windows 7. Those still on Windows XP should have that decision under review, as the rationale for businesses staying with Windows XP – as it faces the end of support, at the expense of a Window 7 upgrade – is now considerably flawed.

Many organisations have made an active decision not to move away from Windows XP, as it is seen as adequate for their needs.  Others looked at migrating to Windows Vista, but were appalled at the issues that they found around upgrading hardware, the lack of support for many existing applications and the need to train users on the new interface.  Many decided to leap-frog Vista altogether and wait for the next incarnation, which shaped up as Windows 7.  However, when Windows 7 came out, more excuses were found not to move – some valid, some less so. 

Still on Windows XP?

If your organization has considered an OS upgrade but hasn’t pulled the trigger yet, check out this Windows 7 migration guide.

At the more valid end of the scale was the need to review expenditure based on the recent (and possibly recurrent) recession. There was also the received wisdom with Microsoft releases that it is better to wait for the first service pack to deal with any issues that may arise with the initial release of Windows 7.

At the less valid end was the feeling that, as Windows XP had supported the business for so long, change was unnecessary. Users were familiar with the interface, developers were used to the platform and the help desk knew all the problems.  In short, a case of, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

 

The security and business costs of using Windows XP

However, one major consideration must be the age of the underlying platform itself.  Windows XP came to market in 2001, based on developments that had been going on since Windows NT 4.0 came to market in 1996, itself based on previous NT code from 1993. This in turn was based on work between Microsoft and IBM around using OS/2 as an enterprise desktop operating system. Windows XP is old and, in most cases, unfit for purpose.  No matter how many onion skins of security are layered on top, Windows XP will still be a security nightmare. While it retains a large market share, it will remain a target for the blackhats who by now know every wrinkle and back door there could be.

It was often said that updating to Windows Vista required heavy re-education of the user base, as the interface was so different to what they were used to.  The problem is now reversed – most users will already be using Windows Vista or Windows 7 and new recruits to an organisation will be looking at an interface that is completely alien to them.  Even those who have been with the organisation for some time will now be a little jaded with XP and are ready to move forward. They might well be using Windows 7 at home or something sexier from Apple or Google.

However, there are a few major areas that anyone wedded to Windows XP must consider against the needs of the business and the employees themselves.  Firstly, Microsoft has wanted to remove full support for Windows XP for some time. True, Microsoft has back-tracked on ending support for Windows XP on various dates, due to objections from customers, but it has to be accepted that Windows XP is now at the end of its life when it comes to full support.  Microsoft will still push out basic security patches, but nothing more geared to improving functionality or applying new capabilities to Windows XP will happen now.

 

Windows XP limits browser options

Anyone on Windows XP has now to accept that what they now have as web browsing capability is all they will ever have. There will by no Internet Explorer 9 (Windows XP does not support anything beyond Internet Explorer 8), although other, more modern third party browsers such as Firefox and Chrome can be deployed.  If the business wants to access the latest websites, running technology such as HTML5, the choice is to go to the expense of installing a third-party browser on the existing platform – or upgrade the operating system itself.

But at the other end of the spectrum are the many organisations which depend on Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) to access older web-enabled applications – particularly in the slow-moving world of the public sector.  With no capability to run IE6 on Windows 7, this presents major issues to the organisation concerned – but the reasons for the death of IE6 have to be looked at as well.  Microsoft decided the basic architecture was fatally flawed and dropped IE6 to move to a better security architecture – is it right for an IT department to be purposefully running an insecure, 10-year-old platform as a component crucial to the business’ daily operations?  However, many of the applications specific to IE6 could be updated either to run under later versions of IE, or such that the interface will run on an alternative web browser.  If neither of these is possible, it is likely the application will become – or already is – a constraint on the business, which, as such, should be reviewed.

 

Audit hardware and software for Windows 7 upgrade

One of the main objections analyst Quocirca keeps hearing against migrating away from Windows XP is the perception that hardware requirements are too demanding and as much as 50% of existing desktops will need to be replaced.  It’s true that, with Windows Vista, the hardware requirements were drastically increased against what was required for XP. But Microsoft learnt its lesson the hard way, and Windows 7 should be capable of being run on most hardware being used for XP. 

Additionally, migrating to Windows 7 also affords the opportunity to review how desktops are provisioned – it may be that virtual desktop infrastructure would provide a better service to the business, providing access to devices from existing desktops through new slates and tablets to smartphones.  Attempting to manage these devices – often brought in by users themselves as part of the trend towards the consumerisation of IT - as part of an ageing and creaking Windows XP environment just doesn’t make sense.

The other area of objection to migrating away to Windows 7 from Windows XP is application compatibility.  When Windows Vista was introduced, over 20% of existing applications did not work natively on the platform.  Although Microsoft provided some basic tools to identify where problems may arise, little was offered in the way of tools to rectify them.  Although the original statement with Windows 7 was along the lines of, “Windows 7 will run all applications that run on Windows Vista”, it did nothing to address the issues that had been found with Windows XP applications that didn’t run on Windows Vista. Microsoft did make available a virtualised, native Windows XP environment that could be enabled within Windows 7 so non-compliant applications can be run.  Even better, vendors such as ChangeBase and App-DNA offer software and services that interrogated application installation routines and clean them up so that the vast majority of applications will run – natively – under Windows 7.

 

Windows XP is obsolete, insecure and limits business

So what is the point of staying with Windows XP?  It is essentially unsupported by the vendor; it has a security model over a decade old; it does not support modern websites; it has poor overall performance; and the interface has been left behind not just by more modern Windows systems, but by the rest of the technology tools many are using in their day-to-day lives.  The question for IT should not be, “should we migrate away from Windows XP?” but now has to be, “why have we weighed down the business with a system that is stopping it from competing effectively in today’s markets?”

Windows XP – while being excellent for the job it was developed for – is no longer fit for purpose.  Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been and Windows XP should no longer be accepted as a suitable desktop for today’s business needs.  It is not worthwhile waiting for Windows 8, either.  This would just be procrastination of the worst kind – and will just enable the same old arguments to be brought to the fore as the interface changes, enterprises feel the need to wait for SP1, hardware requirements change and so on.

Quocirca’s advice is unequivocal – those on Windows XP have to look to migrate in the near future.  Whether this is to a direct, desktop-to-desktop replacement, or to a virtualised desktop environment is where the business and IT need to work together to ensure that the right decision is made.

 

Read more about migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7

Buyer's Guide: Top tips for CIOs migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7 OS >>

Buyer's Guide: Use virtualisation to run Windows XP applications in Windows 7 >>

Tools for migrating XP applications to Windows 7 >>

Ten essentials for enterprise desktop migrations to Windows 7 >>

Devise a Windows XP end-of-life strategy before migrating to Windows 7 >>

 

 


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This was first published in November 2011

 

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