With Windows XP moving to the extended support phase of its lifecycle next week, businesses need to plan to upgrade before full support for the ageing operating system ends.
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Users have until 14 April 2014 to migrate from Windows XP.
But between now and then Microsoft will support the operating system through its Extended Support programme. This means it will continue to provide security patches and critical updates, but users will have to pay for any additional support on a per incident basis.
Many businesses are putting off upgrading to Windows Vista as they see Windows XP as a more stable platform.
Ben Booth, global chief technology officer at Ipsos, says, "In the current economic situation businesses will want to reduce costs as far as possible, so if they do not have an ongoing financial commitment to Microsoft (eg, through Enterprise Agreement) then I expect they will carry on with XP." Booth predicts that many companies will skip Vista and move directly to Windows 7, which is expected in September.
Users are now faced with a race against the clock before XP support ends, warns Steve Kleynhans, vice-president for client computing at Gartner. Assuming Windows 7 does indeed ship in September 2009 and companies spend up to 18 months testing the new operating system before deploying, they will start rolling out Windows 7 only in 2011. "It could take three years for a large business to roll out Windows 7, which does not give businesses much time before XP support ends."
Kleynhans urges businesses to download the beta release of Windows 7 now and start testing on a small scale within the IT department. "Set up a small lab, test your applications and let your IT staff use it."
The release candidate software for Windows 7, which represents the final code that Microsoft will ship, is due out next month. "You can even start testing now with Windows Vista, because the software compatibility issues will be the same."
Microsoft offers a full 10 years of support on all products, which seems generous. But this only works well if companies upgrade without skipping versions, says Jon Collins, managing director of analyst Freeform Dynamics. Since many businesses are skipping Vista, Collins says that Microsoft's policy on support does not offer businesses as many advantages.
The clock is ticking. Windows XP is a stable operating system and many businesses are very happy with. But in five years' time it will no longer be supported by Microsoft. CIOs and IT directors need to plan to migrate from Windows XP now.
Overcoming software compatibility issues
Microsoft has introduced a virtual machine platform called the Microsoft Enterprise Desktop, which it says allows users to run older applications on future versions of Windows in a virtual Windows XP machine. Lawrence Painell, Windows product manager at Microsoft, says people will be able to access applications running on the virtual machine in the same way as they access native Windows 7 software, which reduces support and training issues.
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has used the tool to support XP applications as part of a Windows Vista roll-out across 5000 desktops.