In case you haven’t been paying attention, and really, most people don’t to tech news, today is the last day that Microsoft will support Windows XP. What does that mean?
It means that there will be no more official security updates and bug fixes for the operating system from Microsoft.
Which is going to hit a lot of people, since figures are that up to 30% of Microsoft’s “installed base” (people using their operating systems) are still using XP. Last year during the Healthcare.gov roll-out, more than a few conservatives and media figures latched onto the notion that some of it was based on “10 year-old technology,” with the implied – or outright said – assertion that private business would never be caught using “obsolete technology.” Of course, that bears little relation to reality.
The idea that only some “die-hard, stuck in the past home computer users” are hanging on? Not true. Just as an example, there are still a lot of very large organizations who use it, like banks.
The news gets worse. According to a CNN-Money report, 95 percent of all ATM’s use Windows XP, which ATM’s can be a prime target for hackers.
Banking giant JP Morgan bought a one-year extension of service so Chase Banks could still run Windows XP in their ATM’s and still be covered. All of the big banks should be fine.
However, stand-alone ATM’s often found at a gas stations, for instance, could be at risk. Microsoft announced the change years ago and still most banks have yet to upgrade their systems.
Yes, the ATM you use is actually running on XP. Add in lots of industrial sites, doctor’s offices, and public works and you have an idea of the scope of that:
Mark Bernardo, general manager of automation software at General Electric Co.’s Intelligent Platforms division, says moving to a new operating system can be extremely complicated and expensive for industrial companies. Bernardo, whose GE division offers advisory services for upgrading from XP, says many of the unit’s customers fall into the fields of water and waste water, along with oil and gas.
On some of the tech blogs and comment sites, people often are rather scathing about people who “refuse to upgrade.” Why would they stick with an “obsolete” operating system? The answer is in the first sentence of the above quote. It’s complicated an expensive. It’s why anyone who thinks that private businesses would always have the “latest and greatest” either works for a “bleeding edge” tech firm or isn’t around a large business’s IT group. Having been through numerous cycles of “upgrades” over the course of years, both personally and professionally, I know it’s never as easy or simple as some would like you to think.
For example, when I switched from Windows 3.11 to Windows 98SE, I had to learn where everything went, and whole new menus and functions. It took time. Going from 98 to XP? Even more, and my time to “get comfortable” with it and learn all the tweaks and tricks was shortened by my extensive use of NT in the past. If I hadn’t had that it would have been longer. XP to Windows 7? Again, more time to figure out where everything was and how it worked. That doesn’t include the time spent learning the new software! On a personal level, it was more just a number of hours. From a business standpoint, with multiple employees? That’s expensive. Lost time, training costs, and lost productivity while your employees go through the same process. The other big problem? “Mission critical software.” Anyone who has ever tried to load an old program onto their new computer has run into the compatibility issue. It’s an annoyance for personal use, where a favorite game can’t be played on the new computer or an old file can’t be read, but for a business? It’s a nightmare. If your software doesn’t work on the new operating system, you’re out of luck. New software? Sure, but it takes a lot of time to migrate over and test it.
A little over 15 years ago I had to do a major upgrade and migration. New servers, new server operating system, new database software, new … everything. The planning stages took a year, and involved most of the IT staff and department managers. Hours and hours of meetings, and drafting plans. Then the testing phases. Several months of testing to see if everything worked as planned (it didn’t), ironing out bugs, and more testing. Before the migration, there had to be training of everyone who was going to be using the system. Finally the migration, which shut down everything for the better part of two days, and then a test cycle to see if it was complete and working before “going live.” We’re talking around 25 million dollars to get it all done. The cost of the new hardware and software packages? About a fifth of that.
That’s why businesses have dragged their feet over this. It’s expensive, it’s a lot of work, and you’re changing things that are critical to your business – if you can. No one likes that sort of risk and cost, so if things are “stable and working,” you stay with it. It’s why anyone who uses the phrase “10 year old technology” as a negative is usually … to young to know better or not very bright. If you’re still using XP on your personal computer, I’d recommend moving over to Windows 7 or to one of the numerous user-friendly Linux distributions. If not, it’ll still work, but today is the last day you can expect patches for your computer. It’s had a long run, more than Microsoft wanted, but that’s partly their fault as well.