On the 8th of April, 2014, Microsoft halted the support of their longest running operating system known as Windows XP as well as Microsoft Office 2003 and Server 2003. Due to the fact that many organisations around the world used Windows XP as their main operating system, it caused quite a few headaches when Microsoft initially announced that they were going to stop support.
But what does “Stopping support” mean?
In essence, Microsoft is stopping security updates. This means that Microsoft will no longer be applying patches to computers that are running Windows XP. Computers won’t stop working just because they are running the age old operating system but don’t expect updates to be delivered to you by Microsoft.
Microsoft has stopped updates for Windows security essentials and Windows update which could leave your computer vulnerable to attacks. Although, some third party application vendors are going to continue support for their applications. Avast, Chrome and Firefox are some of the applications which will continue support for XP however it is still advised that you should upgrade to a more up-to-date system to avoid the risk of cyber-attacks.
However, the UK government has invested £5.5m in further support for the public sector that intend to stay with Windows XP. This gives businesses that still use Windows XP an extra amount of time to migrate to a newer operating system for find an alternative such as virtualisation.
What does this mean for Servers?
Servers that are running Windows Server 2003 will need to be upgraded to a more up to date platform such as Windows Server 2012, Microsoft Azure or Linux such as RedHat, Cent OS, Ubuntu or OpenStack. Failure to upgrade them could leave the systems highly vulnerable to exploits from hackers such as traffic manipulation, packet interception and backdoor injection of malicious material such as Malware into the server. This could then infect other machines that connect to this server – if a mass amount of computers are connected to this one server via a local network, it can cause severe problems as all the computers connected could potentially become infected.
What do I do?
Many businesses will be upgrading to Windows 7 as its interface is very similar to that of XP while others may choose Windows 8 or 8.1 depending on their needs. As many businesses use other Microsoft products such as Office and Outlook they will want an operating system that supports this. Although not all of their business applications may run on newer editions of Windows due to compatibility issues, there is still a great amount of support from Microsoft and the Windows community to resolve issues if they arise regarding software incompatibility and migration troubles. A business could either buy Windows and upgrade their existing computers or upgrade their hardware as well but these can be problematic especially for hardware that isn’t supported on Windows 7, 8 or 8.1. In addition, the end users might need extra training to navigate the new interfaces of the Windows OS.
Businesses could also upgrade to a Hosted Virtual Desktop running Windows 7 or Windows 8. These can be pre-configured with the applications they need such as Microsoft Office and Outlook 2013 as well as specific applications that they may need such as graphic design applications or accounting applications. Unlike a traditional computer, these hosted machines can be accessed from a wide variety of devices such as tablets, smartphones and non-windows platforms such as OSX, Chrome OS and Linux which gives businesses the flexibility and the mobility that would be unachievable from a traditional desktop computer. Hosted desktops are also a lot more secure than traditional desktops and data that is stored on them is automatically backed up to remote ISO-27001 certified datacentres.
In the most extreme case scenario, a business could upgrade to Linux. This is a viable option as many Linux based systems such as Fedora and Ubuntu can run Windows applications such as Microsoft Office and Outlook through the use of Wine (Windows Emulator) or PlayOnLinux. These are small applets that run at system level which allow applications designed for Microsoft Windows to run in a virtual environment. However, there are problems with some applications not being able to run on Linux systems which can be expected as it not based upon the same foundation stones that Windows is built upon. For businesses that don’t necessarily require Microsoft products, there are alternative applications such as LibreOffice and Thunderbird email. Although the Linux route is available, it doesn’t mean it’s the best option for businesses.
Overall, it all depends on the business model and the requirements of the business to decipher what would be the best route to take in upgrading current IT systems.
How can businesses migrate their data over to a new system?
There are many ways in which a business can migrate their data to their new IT system. One of the easiest methods is to simply backup the data to external media devices such as USB memory sticks and external hard-drives so that they can restore it to the new system. If the business has network attached storage (NAS) then they could also store it all there.
Alternatively, they could backup everything to the cloud and then restore the data onto the new machines via the cloud. It’s up to the business how they restore data but they’d want to make it as quick and painless as possible. With a hosted desktop, businesses could migrate their data over to a secure datacentre which can then be used as their main computer.
What if I choose to stick with Windows XP?
It is not recommended but in some cases there is no other option than to stick with Windows XP. If you are choosing to do so then please ensure that you have the correct precautions in place to ensure that your data is secure.
Anti-virus software is a good start but these can only protect computers so far. Even with anti-virus, computer systems can still become infected with malware which can result in data loss and system failure. You would have to make sure that the anti-virus vendor is going to support Windows XP for a considerable amount of time if you choose to stay with Windows XP long term.
For those who are sticking with Windows XP, you may also want to invest in a hosted desktop to keep your IT systems up to date without the need of upgrading their hardware but instead leveraging resources to get the most out of their current IT systems. This also puts less strain on IT departments as they don’t need to manage the computers as often as they would have done prior as all the maintenance and management is handled for them already by a dedicated team of technicians who can deal with problems on a 24/7 basis from wherever you are. If you want to find out more about Hosted Desktop solutions, visit our Hosted Desktop product page to see a full list of features and benefits.
Even with these struggles addressed, business IT departments are still finding it complex to decide how to ditch Windows XP for a more up to date and secure OS. It is strongly advised that business upgrade their current IT systems to a newer more up to date operating system that can do what they want it to. Windows 8.1 is a very good option to get the latest operating system and support from Microsoft – it’s a fast operating system which is very easy to use and provides a faster and more enjoyable computing experience but legacy users of Windows XP may want to migrate over to Windows 7 which is still fast and easy to use but isn’t quite as up to date as Windows 8 or 8.1. On the other hand, a business could entirely jump ship and migrate over to Linux which, depending on the distribution, can be very alien to some users with the possibility of applications not working. Linux can, on the other hand, leverage current IT systems and breathe new life into old hardware as well as boasting lots of full featured free and open source applications, but this is a last resort option for businesses who really cannot afford to upgrade in any other way.
What are your migration plans? Are you thinking of upgrading your current systems to a newer version of Windows such as 7 or 8/8.1 or are you considering jumping ship to OSX or Linux? Let us know.