The end is nigh!

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12 April 2013 | 0

The truth is out, the warnings are dire and the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

There’s a certain air of millennialism about this week’s notifications from various parties about the beginning of the end-the end of official support for Windows XP that is.

On the 8 April 2014, one year from now, Microsoft will officially end support for Windows XP, the venerable old operating system (OS) that has been around, as analyst Ovum points out, since late 2001, the same time as the first Apple iPod.

Microsoft led the charge in letting users know that the end is nigh, and the consensus is that there are a few options open to those who have not yet moved away from XP.
The first is to do nothing.

The second is to upgrade to the latest and greatest.

The third, and there’s a few different aspects within this one, is to move to a virtual desktop infrastructure, though some are suggesting a purely cloud-based option such as Chrome OS.
So, realistically, what does any of that mean?

Well, let’s look at the options individually.

First, there was do nothing. This is not as daft as it sounds. The kinds of organisations that have settled on XP, and are still using it on a wider scale are more than likely the kind of organisations that standardise on certain platforms and stacks to ensure stability, security and compliance: think financial, pharmaceutical and even defence and military.

Therefore, these organisations are likely to have a range of support staff, deep knowledge and understanding of the OS to the point where they don’t need the support of the manufacturer much longer. They tend to use application stacks that are tuned to specific needs and so usually have a game plan that looks at the longer term and so are more than likely well aware of the timeline and have a contingency plan for what they will do in their extended use of the products. In short, the do nothing brigade are most likely the best prepared for the eventuality.

Now, of course there are going to be businesses that have simply buried their head in the sand, do not have a plan and will suffer as a result of loss of support. Microsoft quotes some IDC figures about rising maintenance costs, and lost productivity from users. It says that IT labour costs go up 25% in the fourth year of continuing to run Windows XP past deadline, and user productivity suffers as well, with an increased cost of 23%. In the fifth year, IT labour increases by an additional 29%, and user productivity costs jump up a staggering 40%.

Now realistically, these are probably figures for large scale deployments as opposed to the odd ancient laptop that probably was bought on an XP downgrade anyway. It is likely to be fairly old, with minimal if any battery life and its maintenance and support costs are likely to be near nil anyway-it will simply soldier on until it dies and will be replaced with whatever is the next cheapest, closest machine. From a security perspective too, as XP usage declines, the hackers will go elsewhere as there would be less and less reward from targeting the older systems.
The next option is to upgrade to the latest and greatest. This means Windows 8 and Office 2013, as Microsoft points out, where there’s XP there’s more than likely Office 2003 too!

This is costly, in terms of licensing and hardware as even though Windows 8 will happily run on any hardware that can run Windows 7, but as an argument for upgrading from XP, the hardware costs cannot be ignored.

For deployments of scale, this is the least likely option for most organisations due to sheer cost, effort and time involved.

Ironically, for smaller organisations, this is the most likely option. This is because there are now many Windows devices in smaller form factors, such as Windows 8 RT tablets that can run Office 2013 and present organisations with fairly low cost options to get to the latest, fully supported OS. As XP machines die, they are often replaced ad hoc with whatever is cheap, available and supported-Windows 8 adoption by stealth in other words.

The next option is to circumvent the whole thing and use a combination of application delivery and virtual desktops to deliver an updated and much expanded user experience. This is the most likely option for larger organisations, as it not only reduces the overall costs in terms of hardware, it also increases control and centralises infrastructure where it can be managed more easily in the data centre with less people and resources.

Deployment within this option can be automated, often with end user deployment of hardware too. Many XP machines could easily have a client deployed that would allow them to act as a thin client for the switch over. When the machine fails, a stack of low-cost thin clients is available and a user can easily unplug the old desktop, plug in the new thin client, boot up and be productive in minutes.

Ironically, the move away from XP in this direction could be a bad thing for Windows 8, as Brian Gammage, chief market technologist (love that title), VMware, points out.

"Many organisations delayed their migration away from Windows XP, prioritising investments in other areas as their IT budgets came under pressure. There is now no scope to delay further and, with Windows 8 positioned as more of a consumer facing operating system and not yet seen as mature enough for broad deployment, migrating to Windows 7 is the only viable option for most organisations," said Gammage.

Oh dear.

Further bad news might be that some organisations might abandon the Microsoft platform altogether and go with Chrome Books and Chrome OS.

With Chrome OS having support for popular application delivery mechanisms, it could be a viable alternative.

So, overall, the end of XP being nigh is not the end of the world—but you’d better have figured out what you are going to do, even if you haven’t felt the need to do it yet.

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