Why One SMB Sticks With Windows XP: Truckload Of Toner
For budget-constrained small businesses, the decision to upgrade from XP is complicated by older networks, peripherals, applications, and, in this case, a multi-year stockpile of printer supplies.
It's not surprising, then, that the 17-person company is still using Windows XP, Microsoft's popular but aging operating system. But they're not sticking with XP because they don't want to buy new hardware or software. Rather, the company is sitting on a stockpile of printer supplies -- toner, drum units, and the like -- for seven Konica Minolta Magicolor 2200 color lasers. Standardizing on a single printer enabled Veripic to purchase large volumes of supplies at discount. The problem occurred when Konica Minolta released the next generation of the Magicolor line. "They didn't upgrade the drivers because they wanted people to go to the new printers, but by then we already had several years of supplies," said Veripic CEO John Kwan in an interview.
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Veripic does have Vista, Windows 7, and now Windows 8 machines in its office. But they are primarily there to ensure that Veripic's software for managing digital evidence, which is used by law enforcement agencies and the military, runs well on those platforms. Any employees who rely regularly on the Magicolor printers, such as the accounting department, will keep using XP until the supplies are exhausted. It's going to take a while: Kwan said they've got "thousands of dollars" worth of toner and other supplies on hand.
[ Holding back on upgrading to Microsoft's newest OS? You're not alone. Windows 8: Why I Won't Upgrade. ]
Depending on whose numbers you use, as many as two in five PCs worldwide still run XP, even though the OS is now more 11 years old. Microsoft will end support for XP in April 2014. Last year, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner told financial analysts, "This has been a great product, XP has been a wonderful product; great TCO has been given. It's now time for it to go."
As part of its overall cost-saving strategy, Veripic handles its own publishing and printing for everything from estimates and invoices to marketing collateral -- one of the reasons for its supply stockpile. When the ink eventually runs dry, Veripic plans a broader technology upgrade that will include its printing processes. Still, Veripic will likely have at least one XP box in use for five or more years, Kwan said. Many of the customers are police departments, which Kwan said tend to lag behind in technology refresh cycles.
"Believe it or not, in this day and age, most of our customers are still on XP," Kwan said.
Microsoft's end-of-life date for isn't circled on Veripic's calendar. "We have to ignore it," Kwan said, adding that his engineering team has found that some of Veripic's graphics-intensive applications -- the software is commonly used to store crime-scene photos -- still run faster on XP than on subsequent Windows versions. "Rendering digital pictures on screen is faster on XP than under the later platforms," Kwan said. "For our industry, performance is everything. A little bit of difference makes a big difference for us."
Veripic's not alone. Bryce Katz, president of Katz Computer Consulting, said he has several SMB clients whose legacy networks, equipment, or applications have made an upgrade from XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 far from a straightforward decision. A small sign-making business, for example, asked Katz to review their hardware and software for a possible Windows 7 upgrade soon after it was released because they'd been hearing rave reviews.
"The versions of all their design software would work with the security changes in Windows 7, but there was one large problem," Katz said via email interview. "The $12,000 material cutter they used to create decals didn't have a driver for Windows 7." In effect, upgrading would be far more costly than any potential downside of staying on the older OS, so Katz advised them to wait. The manufacturer has since released a Windows 7 driver, and the sign maker is now running Windows 7.
But Katz has other clients that plan to ride XP into the sunset and beyond. One industrial client plans to use refurbished XP boxes on its production floor for the foreseeable future, owing to an expected lifespan of just eight months under harsh conditions. "Even clean factories aren't nice places for computers," Katz said. "The software used on the floor is pretty light, has a few oddball issues with Windows 7, and the ready availability of refurbished Windows XP machines for $300 or less makes them largely throw-away units."
One of Katz's retail customers runs on even older infrastructure: four aging point-of-sale locations networked with a server via "thinnet" cable. "The 'server' is a Windows 98 box running on, I think, a 486 processor with 128MB of RAM," Katz said. "A screaming-fast system once upon a time, but now it makes people like me scream in horror at the thought of supporting it."
The store's owner is well-aware of her system's antiquity, but replacing the network, POS, and accounting system was estimated to run $75,000 -- a project that would also include the manual re-entry of thousands of SKUs worth of inventory data.
"The risk of crash, while real, was actually less expensive," Katz said. "$500 every six to 12 months to resurrect an ancient machine wouldn't pay for the cost of a new system before she retired and sold the operation."
Morris Tabush, head of the IT firm Tabush, isn't actively trying to extend the life of XP for any clients, which total more than 3,000 desktops under his management. He's also not in any huge rush to get them to Windows 7, nor is he concerned about Microsoft's 2014 end-of-life deadline. While Tabush sometimes turns to Microsoft for server support, PCs are another story.
"For many end users, XP is just fine," Tabush said via email. "Not having Microsoft support is meaningless. We [have] never had to call Microsoft for desktop OS support in the past and don't plan to in the future."
Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)