Windows XP EOL in under 500 days: Educating Customers on the Risks of Keeping XP

windowsxp

It’s a topic that many technicians don’t want to engage customers in. And in some respects, rightfully so. Many customers have hesitation to spend money for something they see as not necessary yet; others are adverse to change and don’t wish to play the “compatibility game” that Windows 7 or 8 present. But all of these statements are just that: excuses for procrastination to a problem that will only get worse as time goes on.

I previously took up this topic in a condensed FAQ article which covered some of the biggest questions surrounding the looming death of Windows XP. Since the baseline facts and dates have been established for some time, I wanted to take a moment to give fellow technicians some options in how to approach their own customer base. The “What do I do after XP?” conversation should be getting started now, and there are numerous reasons for it.

While it is definitely easiest to let machines merely live out their useful lives, customers who knowingly continue pushing a 12+ year old OS past its prime are in for a bevy of technical, legal, and financial risks, to name a few. Either way you cut it, XP has less than 500 days left on the support clock, which means organizations and users need to start taking the conversation seriously if they want to stay ahead of potential problems.

My computer repair company FireLogic has been starting this very conversation with some of our most important business clients as of late. Here’s how we are tackling the post-XP dilemma.

Free local classes on Security & Windows 8

It’s not a secret that my company has a sweet tooth for providing complimentary classes to our local community. I outlined why this makes sense from a new lead standpoint in a previous article, but it also offers other benefits. For example, we routinely invite our established customers to attend our classes both as a gesture of kindness, but to also educate them on trends we see in the industry and provide best-practice recommendations for their own environments.

Starting this past summer, we decided to start a new series titled “Computer Security for Beginners” which not only covers the basics of malware, prevention, and other pertinent topics, but we touched on the need to move off of aging platforms like XP and Vista. Attendees really appreciated the information, and we happened to pick up a few new clients from the events.

More recently, we begun a 3 class offering under the title of “Windows 8 for Beginners” which gives anyone the chance to come and learn about what Windows 8 has to offer and the benefits it affords over Windows XP. While some users (like businesses) are best suited to move to Windows 7, the discussion on Windows 8 shouldn’t be left off the table entirely. The OS is already on store shelves for one month, and judging from how many people came to our last class with Windows 8 laptops, its penetration is only growing.

You don’t have to approach the topic of education the same way we do. Local classes work for us because we have established a name as effective IT trainers in our area. Your company may be better suited with doing targeted training for businesses you support which have larger user bases. Whatever you come up with, you should be handling the upcoming end of XP in some sort of proactive manner that customers can notice and engage you in.

Guide the conversation in areas that matter: time & cost savings

Customers listen when you start talking dollars and cents along with saving time in the long run. This is multi-pronged conversation which should be fully mapped out before attempting to approach a customer about why they need to consider leaving XP. Whether you want to take the discussion towards Windows 7 or Windows 8 is up to you – but get the conversation going in some way by presenting the following facts:

  • Long term support: After April 2014, not only will Microsoft be ending support for XP, but so will manufacturers one by one. It will be a gradual process indeed, but finding new XP-compatible equipment after 2015 will likely start becoming a challenge. The biggest problem, however, is the lack of security updates after April 2014. Make sure customers know they are “on their own” from Microsoft’s perspective when it comes to security & functionality with XP after this EOL date.
  • Stability: The pro-XP zealots claim that XP is still the most stable OS from Microsoft to date, but the numbers surely don’t support this. System optimization tool Soluto has a beautiful page on their site showing the bare stats surrounding XP vs 7 vs 8 stability. Believe it or not, Windows 8 wins every category in terms of stability over XP and 7 except in average # of blue screens per user. For example, Windows XP shows as averaging 11.7 non-responsive apps/user/month, while Windows 8 only hits 1.7 apps/user/month. That’s a time savings in lost work for every user still on XP, and most businesses do care about this fact.
  • Starting a migration early beats rushing things: Some business owners take the pending death of XP with an “I’ll tackle it when it affects me” mindset. But what does waiting until April 2014 do to benefit their situation? Not much. They may hastily find themselves pushing to get off XP if a compatibility problem approaches them, or if a security breach hits their business, and this will likely come with more downtime and money loss than a gradual move off XP. I’m sure most of us enforce emergency labor rates – something most customers don’t love paying.

There are numerous other reasons why technicians should begin the conversation early on with clients. The above are just some of the most common ones which tend to matter most to my own clientele.

Windows XP is a bigger security risk the closer April 2014 gets

XP was never a model for a excellent OS security. Part of this was due to it becoming such a big target for malware writers in the mid-2000s, and some of it resides with some poor decisions Microsoft made in writing the OS from the start. Nonetheless, encouraging customers to stay on XP past April 2014 could open numerous security (and legal) holes that no one wants to be a part of.

As Jack Schofield wrote in his piece on the looming sunset of XP for ZDNet, “Good luck telling a judge [after a cyber breach] that your security was based on using an insecure and unsupported operating system.” Malware writers are without a doubt going to continue bombarding the systems still running XP out there, and the legal ramifications for even small businesses that host or deal with sensitive customer data could be large if they are found liable for breaches against their aging, insecure systems. Windows XP, I’m talking about you.

Jack makes a good point here: sure, you can take on large premiums with your cyber liability insurance provider, but is merely sticking more coverage over your company’s head the best approach to preventing a legal mess by using XP for the long term? It’s a similar argument to bumping the health coverage aspect of your car insurance to offset the fact that you drive an old, unsafe vehicle. It may be a fine calculation of risk management, but it doesn’t make much sense in the end.

Application compatibility will continue to get worse

Security and application compatibility are topics which go hand in hand in many ways. For example, Windows XP doesn’t allow for any version of Internet Explorer newer than 8. The browser was recently humiliated by hackers in the notorious Pwn2Own contest just last year, giving malware writers a proof-of-concept that may unlock the doors to bigger and meaner attacks on the browser in the coming future. Microsoft will likely drop IE8 in a heartbeat once April 2014 turns the corner. Google already made an announcement that Google Apps no longer supports IE8 as of November 15, 2012. Expect this to become a trend soon.

The compatibility issue will become a problem for other areas too. Major software vendors will likely start withdrawing support soon after XP dies off to focus more development energy on Windows 7 and Windows 8. And security vendors like Symantec and ESET will focus less development towards XP as user bases for 7 and 8 keep creeping up – meaning XP users will be facing larger security risks the longer they stay on the platform.

And those companies cringing at the thought of moving off of XP because of old software not functioning under 7 or 8 shouldn’t worry too much. Windows 7 has a wonderful native feature called Windows XP Mode which emulates a full instance of XP Pro under a virtual machine, and seamlessly integrates usage into the primary OS. Windows 8 dropped Windows XP Mode, but has similar functions with the newly included Hyper-V capabilities which replicate 7’s XP Mode in nearly all aspects.

You aren’t getting anywhere the longer you stand still

No matter which path your customers wish to take, either by moving to Windows 7 or the newly released Windows 8, the fact of the matter is that getting the discussion moving is better than putting it off indefinitely. Customers (especially business clients) who choose to stick with XP past April 2014 will be leaving themselves open to legal risks, application support sunsetting, and wasted funds on continued maintenance for aging XP machines.

I hope that some of the above perspectives on how to approach your own customers gives you a way to ease the conversation in slowly while hitting the aspects most important to your clients. April 2014 is quickly rearing its head and it could blindside customers in big ways that they may not be entirely prepared for. Use your position as their technology curator to educate, assess, and plan for the inevitable life after XP.



Derrick Wlodarz

About the Author

Derrick Wlodarz
More articles by me...
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist that owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over 8+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him directly at derrick@wlodarz.net.

Comments (14)

  • dito says:

    true about Microsoft dropping support, however I still see Windows 2000 servers around, in businesses, software that doesn’t work on newer versions of OS… my point is, with 2000 being around this long… I suspect 2003 (XP) being out for a LOOOONG time…
    I run it on my netbook (Atom with 1GB of memory, what am I going to install, Vista? 7? 8?), dual booted with BackTrak, in addition, I run DeepFreeze on top of XP… so that the PC goes back to its original state after reboot, for this reason I even run without AntiVirus on it (very fast netboot, if I can say…).
    IE compatibility!? You really use IE? I use a combination of Opera, Firefox and Chrome… and I am sure it’s going to be around for a while, the compatibility with XP that is…. AND to tell you more… I am not even sure when they’ll start working on new builds for Surface/Win RT/ARM technology…. I don’t see them running a 64bit browser either in the near future.

    There are workarounds to security holes, very good workarounds, after all, they have been keeping us safe for all this time.
    I don’t see XP and 2003 disappearing anytime soon, they are fast and stable and they don’t require an insane hardware to run fast. I think we walk on a thin line between expensive hardware upgrade and cheap low-power one, as Intel announced that they might start soldering their CPUs on their Mobo, I don’t see a bright future for PC gamers… with games going to tablets, phones, iTV devices, etc.. I don’t even see the OS upgrade for a desktop being “this important”.
    As usual MS has been going strong b/c of their business clients (exchange, outlook, sharepoint (isn’t that why we use IE!?), so they can make these “push” decisions, but the home market is switching, fast, to something that might not really be Windows. So why upgrade at home? For small businesses that I support, I see them going to the cloud, more and more, phones and tablets is a must, and they like leasing PCs, so the “suggstion for Windows 8″ doesn’t really work for my customers, as they leases will run the OS they come with.

  • NETWizz says:

    We are in a world of trouble where I work now given our licencing and that a whopping 72% of our systems are still running Windows XP. We do NOT have a single copy of Windows Vista on the network YET our licencing only allows:

    1. XP Only on Optiplex GX620 Systems

    2. Vista or XP on Optiplex 760, 755, 745, 740 systems

    3. 7, Vista, or XP on Optiplex 780, 790, and 960 based systems

    It is NOT too bad in that we generally replace about 500 computers/year, which means I can 100% get rid of ALL the Optiplex 620 computers and simultaneously deal with those numbers.

    I can then run an audit of ALL 780, 790, and 960 systems not running Windows 7 and order them re-imaged to 7… YES, we have a couple bitchy users who demanded Windows XP on brand new Dell systems as late as 2012… and I gave in; since, our image works on everything.

    We MUST then track down ALL our Optiplex 740, 745, 750, and 760 systems and Update them to Windows Vista… This is going to be a PR nightmare for our department. We are going to have to convince users that Windows Vista doesn’t suck…

    • Tony Scarpelli says:

      I have never had to upgrade 500 systems at the same time. I’ve had good luck with and been pushing Vista systems for some long time now. It helps to refer to it as Windows Classic. :) The “vista sucks” thing is our own fault as most of us bitched about it when it came out and caused us pause to get used to it.

      I mostly quote security, better 64 bit driver support so you can have more ram and better all around system performance and security. It helps to give some apology for the whole industry’s initial dislike and bad mouthing it unfairly. I explain we don’t like Paradise shifts especial when forced on us without much notice.

    • Mauri says:

      Hey Netwizz!, we work in a similar environment. What kind of software do you use of imaging? Thanks!

  • Buffet says:

    XP is the ONLY OS worth having – all else is rubbish. This article is nothing more than a lame attempt to sell me that resource hogging swill!

    • Bryce Whitty says:

      XP was a great OS but at the end of the day it doesnt matter what you and I think and what our favorites are – XP will no longer be supported in under 500 days.
      Nobody is forcing you to update your operating systems on your own machines but you wouldnt be doing your job as a computer technician if you recommend/keep customers on an operating system that is slowly losing support by the applications around it and has security holes.
      Its your job to recommend the best option for your clients, whether its your personal favorite or not, and XP is slowly not becoming the best option.

  • Gabe says:

    Are you subsidized by Microsoft?

    • Tony Scarpelli says:

      Everyone in the IT business is directly or indirectly subsidized by Microsoft.

      • Scott says:

        Tony Scarpelli says:
        Everyone in the IT business is directly or indirectly subsidized by Microsoft.

        +1

        Like it or not, its a truth we all live with.

  • bob lou says:

    When I worked in Los Angeles there were 2 people in our building still using Windows 95. And our repair shop had 2 computers running Windows 2000.
    We used them to print invoices and to download things from the Internet.

    The owner didn’t want to spend the money to buy new computers. It’s probably better to buy new computers than to spend money and try to upgrade them.

    • Tony Scarpelli says:

      I had a machine shop call me about his win95 controlled CNC machine. The system has seen better days and he needed it fixed. It took me longer to remember what I forgot than to fix it. However he paid for it, every minute. I think in the end only higher support costs will convince many to change from an old OP.

      I too think this article is a little bit hyperbole but it is also true and becoming more true by the month. Still if clients software doesn’t support newer OS they will not move.

      I recently told my largest client they needed to upgrade their server, workstations and NOS/OS and it put the fear of god into them. I gave them about 6 months to swallow it. They trust me enough to know it is the right thing but many clients would just ignore a consultants suggestions. Particularly when they are going to cost so much. This clients entire operations rely on a proprietary inventory system which has to be upgraded. Last I checked they had not fully checked it on Vista nor Win7. Which will add expense to my client to pay me to set it up in a test network first.

      • Jim Ross says:

        CNC machines on old OS’s are very common typically because they are proprietary and cost a fortune to replace with a new OS. I also have a client with windows 95 on their CNC. Works great but soon, parts etc for these old workhorses will become non-existent unless you hoard old computers.

        I’m at a bit of a loss why anyone would slag this article when 99 percent of my clients run Windows OS’s. I would think it is a good idea to get up to speed, regardless of your personal preferences. Personally, I am encouraging clients to use windows 7 and wait until windows 9 to see if they improve on the windows 8 platform as the did with Vista/Windows 7. I still cringe when I see a Vista machine and expect the next OS will be better. The same thing happened with Windows 2000/XP. XP was a huge improvement over 2000 and I suspect we will see the same with the next OS, windows 9.

        Either way, whether I like it or not, I will have to deal with whatever operating system lands on my desk and Windows 8 is one of those OS’s.

  • Matthew says:

    Windows XP, to this day, is still the fastest, most reliable, and overall best operating system ever coded by Microsoft, in my opinion. Vista = Horrendous, Windows 7 = Decent, Windows 8 = Confusing, not user-friendly, and ugh…

    I personally recommend keeping XP, if that’s what you’re used to, until the VERY last second.

  • Graham Tovey says:

    I already have a few clients on Windows 8, even in the back and beyond where I live. Change is coming and pretty fast, as I have said elsewhere I actually quite like Windows 8 but even if I didn’t many customers are going to upgrade and so will businesses, in a few years XP will very much be in the minority.
    I also think repair work will also drop due to Win 7 & Win 8 being more stable and reliable, time will tell of course.