Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Why so much fuss over Windows XP’s expiry?

Mumbai: There was perhaps less noise when Microsoft Corp. launched its Windows Phone mobile operating system (OS) than there is before the Redmond, US-headquartered company ends support for its most popular desktop operating system, Windows XP, on 8 April, more than 12 years after its launch on 24 August, 2001.

There’s good reason for the fuss.

Unlike the 2000 (Y2K) scare, which resulted from the practice of shortening a four-digit year to two digits but ended up with a whimper, this time around the threat is real since many companies still run their personal computers on Windows XP.

Microsoft has cautioned that all machines that are not upgraded to a higher version of Windows will be more vulnerable to security risks and viruses since Microsoft will stop providing Microsoft Security Essentials for download on Windows XP. This will also mean that thousands of older bank cash machines, using Windows XP, will become vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Antivirus software will continue to support Windows XP through 2015, but there will be problems nevertheless. The OS, for instance, will not support new versions of Internet Explorer. Besides, if you already have Microsoft Security Essentials installed, you will continue to receive anti-malware signature updates for a limited time, according to Microsoft, but this does not mean that your PC will be secure because the company will no longer provide security updates.

Antivirus vendors like Quick Heal Technologies, too, maintain that since Windows XP has an over 30% of market share, factors like cost and compatibility or convenience play a major role in upgrading to a newer OS, but the biggest threat that looms over XP machines are unknown threats like unpatched vulnerabilities or malware whose fix has not been developed yet.

They advise companies that XP machines should be updated to the latest patches released until 8 April. A web browser other than Internet Explorer should be used to access the Internet. Updated Microsoft Office should also be used so as to prevent risky attachments. Deletion of third-party software should be carried out.

On 16 May, research firm IDC said companies are prone to spend three times more if they don’t plan to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8. An estimate suggests the cost of upgrading (assuming no enterprise license agreement and three-year amortization period) will be $95 compared with the cost of non-migrating, which will be $300 per seat per user followed by almost a double the cost in the subsequent year, should they choose to opt for a custom support contract to stay on Windows XP post April 2014.

This, noted IDC, does not include costs related to business loss due to security and data breach threats, productivity loss and other similar factors.

For instance, the UK government has paid £5.548 million to Microsoft for an additional year of support to maintain critical and important security updates for Windows XP, Office 2003, and Exchange 2003, according to a 7 April report in PCWorld, an International Data Group (IDG) publication.

Microsoft suggests that users can move their Windows XP data with Laplink, a free data migration solution to a new Windows laptop, desktop, or tablet. But you can only migrate the data to a personal computer (PC) that runs Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1.

According to Microsoft India, 84% of PCs in large businesses have moved away from XP but small and medium-size businesses face more risk.

Until 2011, XP ruled with a market share of 43.29%. It is still the second-most popular operating system after Windows 7, and is estimated to still have a market share of around 30%.

According to Citrix Consulting India, running a PC with XP will incur significantly more cost due to heavy maintenance. Citrix suggests desktop virtualization as a solution—a single upgrade of the OS centrally without upsetting business continuity. Additionally, it is possible to run two operating systems—upgrading to Windows 7/8.1 and running Windows XP temporarily.

Research firm Gartner estimates that 20-25% of enterprise systems will still run XP and that one-third of enterprises will have more than 10% of their systems remaining on XP after 8 April.

A migration to Windows 7 is likely to be faster, but one to Windows 8 will have more longevity, maintains Gartner. It reasons that support for Windows 7 ends in January 2020, less than six years away, and organizations that are so late on Windows XP should not get into the same situation with end of Windows 7 support.

For many, says Gartner, the best alternative would be to deploy Windows 7 for the most critical users and applications now and working to be able to start deploying Windows 8 starting early in 2015.

Other than Windows, users and companies could look at Linux versions that run many Internet servers and those in companies. GNU/Linux is also at the foundation of Google Inc’s Android mobile OS.

Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Elementary, Zorin and Lububtu. Ubuntu 12.04, for instance, comes pre-installed with the LibreOffice suite—a Microsoft Office equivalent. However, migrating applications from Windows XP to a non-Windows (read Linux) platform is easier said than done. But then, Linux distributions are free.

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