CEO: Why you should worry more about XP than you did about Y2K

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The Year 2000 came and went without all the horrific events speculated by the prognosticators of doom. Why was that? … It was because; we understood the problem (99-98=1 and 00-99=-99), we knew how to fix it, invested billions of dollars years in advance to fix it and fixed it before it became a problem.

The scale of the XP problem is much worse. Why?

Because few people even understand the problem.

Let’s try an analogy first.

  • You have bought a car in the year 2000. The manufacturer no longer has a warranty and there are no parts suppliers on the planet who make replacement parts for your car or mechanics who know how to fix it.
  • On April 9th, 2014 when you put the key in the ignition, the key locks in place and cannot be removed and the door locks are fixed permanently in the unlocked position. Wherever you park, you can turn the engine off, but cannot remove the key and if you leave your vehicle anyone can get inside, mess with your stuff or steal the car or its contents.
  • You can buy a new car but
    • You have to get your stuff moved from the old car
    • Your favorite cassette tapes all need to be converted to CD or repurchased on digital music streaming.
    • You lose what fuel is left in the tank

With those thoughts in mind, let’s explain 3 things you really need to know about the XP problem.

1) You can’t get hardware anymore.

Today is a special day; the last XP compatible PC rolls off an assembly line at Dell. Every other manufacturer has already stopped making XP compatible machines. What does this mean?

It means that the PC you use to send orders from the ERP system to your factory floor that has been sitting there for over a decade, when it broke before you sent someone to the computer store, they brought another PC back, plugged it in, restored the backup and you were back running again. Now when it breaks, you can’t get a computer to replace it. It stays broken… forever.

2) On April 9th 2014, XP is no longer fully supported by Microsoft at any price.

XP without a doubt was the single largest advance in operating systems ever. One of the reasons for that was that it made building great business applications simple and the operating system would eagerly do things with storage, memory and networking that was previously handled by complex application code. In fact XP was so good at this that it became easy for other programs to take advantage of those same services but for nefarious purposes. Viruses and malware became the bane of XP’s existence making it the most hacked piece of software of all time. On April 9th of 2014, Microsoft will stop supporting XP which means that you will no longer be able to get hardware, driver, firmware change support or fixes at any price. You can purchase critical security fixes from Microsoft but be aware these are only the “Top” priority ones. You are still exposed. Today, you likely don’t even know that you apply 20 or so updates or patches to your XP system every month to keep it healthy. On April 9th, that number goes to zero and your system is immediately exposed to threats.

“But I have Anti-Virus software!”. Sorry. The bad news is that AV software actually relies on operating system functions to do its job. AV software only protects you from viruses that are already known but when (not if) a new virus gets in and exploits the Operating System with no ability to patch the system. It’s game over. You are down, potentially permanently.

3) Well I’ll just move to Windows 8 if that happens.

A few things you need to know.

  • The existing computer may or may not be able to run Windows 8 and may need to be replaced. (CapEx warning)
  • Your XP Application may not run on Windows 8. As I indicated before the new Operating Systems are much more secure than XP. That means that they do not emulate many of XP’s bad habits like being friendly to applications requesting services before they are trusted. There is therefore a probability that an XP version of your application, simply will not run on Windows 8.1. Sometimes there are techniques for getting it to run, but they take remediation time and effort to accomplish. Sometimes there is nothing you can do and the application must be replaced.
  • Some applications you MUST upgrade to run. New versions of applications mean:
    • Business process impact
    • User Training Requirements
    • User Data Migration (excel spreadsheets, access databases etc.)
    • Organizational Change Management
  • You have more installed applications than you think that you actually run your business on. For companies where software installation is not centrally monitored and controlled it is not uncommon to find that users have installed 5-10 applications per year each that are now used daily to support your business. You can’t just ignore them. Some companies have 10’s of thousands of unique applications that were installed without IT department knowledge but do still play a critical part in running the business.

Plan and Budget accordingly, especially for the time required.

The biggest problem with XP is that many people don’t see it as a problem. If your company hasn’t budgeted and is executing on a robust XP remediation program to get you on a supported platform by the spring of next year, it’s time for a new CIO that will make it a priority.

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