Still in love with your X(P)?

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By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal, 2/7/14

You’ve got 60 days from today to get Windows XP off your PC.

C’mon, you knew this was coming. Almost two years ago, Microsoft announced it would euthanize XP on April 8, 2013. Of course, it has backpedaled - perhaps because more than 30 percent of all Windows desktops and laptops are still running XP, according to Net Applications, which tracks analytics for 40,000 clients. Its analysis of operating systems is based on 160 million unique visitors monthly.

In our get-it-new, throw-it-out-and-replace-it society, why are so many people holding on to Windows XP?

To borrow from Apple: It just works. It’s solid, familiar, and stable. Most users understand it; most things work with it.

Windows XP was the most widely installed operating system in the world. That has made it a giant target for hackers, crackers and thieves. Come April 8, there will be no updates, no security patches, no way to stop hackers from finding their way into your system and those connected to you. Hackers are reportedly ramping up for a big 2014 when millions of XP computers open their doors.

Unfortunately, most who still have XP are probably least prepared to upgrade: individual users and small businesses. Larger businesses most likely have a computer replacement cycle and stay more on top of new software, so the chances are they are among the 46 percent of Windows OS users on Windows 7. (The new Windows 8 is slow to gain ground because of the significant changes and learning curve; and there was no love in the world for Vista, which is also scheduled for the digital scrap heap in 2017.)

XP’s swan song may have an impact on Mac users too - at least those who run Parallels or other virtualization tools that enable Windows to run on a separate area of a Mac hard drive.

What’s next

  • Determine if your current PC can run Windows 7 (if you’re still on XP, I’m guessing you aren’t ready for the big jump to Win 8). Microsoft has a tool you can download to test your hardware capabilities.

  • Your next big decision is 32 bit vs 64 bit. Huh? This Microsoft page has some good tips to help you decide. But if you are on XP, the biggest issue you need to determine is whether the other applications you use will work with the new OS as well. So often, one change can knock the whole house of cards down. So write down all your critical software and then contact the vendors for information on compatibility, upgrades and costs. This is especially important for small businesses.

  • Don’t confine your analysis only to software, look at hardware too. Especially printers, network devices, and desktop peripherals like backup drives, storage devices, web cams, etc.

  • If you are a business owner who allows employees to use their own computers or connect to your network servers from their home, you should block Windows XP users effective April 8. If you don’t have a system in place that can do this, you should let employees know that their Windows XP computers can no longer be used on your network.

The costs add up

For small businesses with just a few employees and PCs, migration can be expensive. And you need to factor in the time it takes to do all this work. If you are not a geek and don’t have an IT staffer or outsourced contract, this is probably a good time to hire a professional. Plug and play is a nice slogan, but when it comes to major OS upgrades, you need an expert not a marketing pitch.

Isn’t it easier and cheaper just to buy new computers? It may be but you still have to consider the software and devices your business uses.

What if I do all this and Microsoft changes its mind again? There’s no doubt that Microsoft is backpedaling. They have announced that they will keep pushing out the Malware Removal Tool through July 2015. All that means is that they will give you a tool to remove dangerous code once it’s already in your system. That doesn’t help the other systems that the code may have moved on to once it got in yours.

XP is going away and the longer you wait to upgrade to a new OS, the more out-of-version you are getting. Migration will just get more expensive, not less.