Microsoft

Prepare yourself for the looming deadline of Windows XP

The end of XP support is inevitable and IT pros are tasked with maintaining a productive workforce armed with the tools they need to complete mission-critical projects daily.

By Justin Strong

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When Windows XP launched in 2001, it was widely adopted by enterprises and quickly became one of the most popular operating systems from Microsoft - and it still is today. XP is commonly believed to be short for eXPerience, which denotes the friendly user experience that enterprises and employees have relied on for productivity for over a decade.

Today, 12 years and three Microsoft operating systems later, XP still currently owns roughly 31 percent of market share - that's an estimated 500 million PCs, according to Net Market Share. On April 8, 2014, however, those 500 million PCs are scheduled for a rude awakening because if Microsoft holds to its current XP lifecycle, the extended support for XP will end, forcing those enterprises to migrate or be left open to severe security vulnerabilities.

As companies face the challenge of finding solutions to deal with this dramatic change, many will not be able to roll out new operating systems in time. In fact, Gartner has predicted that more than 15 percent of midsize and large enterprises will still have Windows XP running on at least 10 percent of their PCs in April 2014 when support ends. This leaves enterprises open to countless security threats, especially as hackers are actively pursuing XP's vulnerabilities to unleash viruses and access the sensitive data that so many organizations host on their legacy XP devices.

Why?

The question is, why are organizations so hesitant to upgrade to a new operating system? It's not because of the user-friendly interface, or the time and costs associated with OS upgrades. When XP launched, enterprises wanted to leverage this new and innovative OS as much as possible, and therefore began building custom applications and focusing considerable IT energy and work around the OS. Many of these custom-built applications for XP are still in use for mission-critical projects today - and they aren't made for Windows 7 or 8. For these organizations, they must choose between mission-critical applications and a stable, secure operating system.


Also read: Running Windows XP means you are non-compliant and open to liability


Options

Running an unsupported system leaves data at risk, putting XP-run enterprises in a difficult position. However, organizations have five options to consider prior to the April 8th deadline next year.

  1. Hire the person who built the applications (now sometimes over 10 years ago) to rewrite the application and make it compatible with other operating systems. Most organization that have/can afford this option have already migrated off of XP.
  2. Shim the app, or "trick" the application into thinking it is running in an XP environment. This option, however, is like trying to change a car tire using duct tape. It's unstable, risky and most of the time - it just won't work.
  3. Go the Citrix virtual route, for a while. It is a more secure approach to running XP in the enterprise, for a while, but also a significant drain on an IT budget if you don't already have a Citrix environment.
  4. Virtualize the application so that it will work in a different operating system - surprisingly effective, but not a "sure thing" solution.
  5. Keep XP, but lock-down administrative rights and don't let anything new be installed on it (virtual applications would be a good route here, as they don't require installations to run). This, of course, is a worst-case scenario and would only be a temporary option.

Many organizations cannot get off XP entirely by April 8, 2014. Those who cannot migrate immediately will need to prioritize quickly and make a decision on which of the above options is best suited to their needs. Those that can't make the first option happen and can't afford/justify a Citrix solution will probably have the most success with option four - virtualizing their applications. This can be technical and usually requires a lot of expertise to configure custom apps to run as virtualized versions, but most IT shops can make it work. And when facing the choice between no mission-critical app and an unsupported, risk-prone operating system, it's the easiest choice you can make.

Bottom line

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 The end of XP support is inevitable and IT is tasked with maintaining a productive workforce that is armed with the tools and applications they need to complete mission-critical projects daily. Organizations that cannot migrate immediately need to consider their options - and doing nothing is not one of them. Hackers are researching and gathering their resources to target legacy XP equipment after April 8, 2014. IT needs to enable day-to-day business operations outside of an XP environment, but with the fundamental applications that are so critical to an organization's bottom line.


Author bio: Justin Strong, Senior Global Product Marketing Manager, Endpoint Portfolio, Novell


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