Microsoft's XP Eulogy: Not Everyone's Listening - InformationWeek

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Software // Operating Systems
09:56 AM

Microsoft's XP Eulogy: Not Everyone's Listening

Many businesses say they still have good reasons to run Windows XP -- and ignore Microsoft's ongoing warnings to ditch the OS that's on life support.

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Microsoft seizes every opportunity to remind us that it will soon end support for Windows XP. When the clock strikes midnight on April 8, 2014, though, you can bet plenty of computers will still run on the popular operating system.

The reason is in a part a numbers game. In the hyper-change world of technology, XP has had remarkable staying power: Around 37% of PCs worldwide still run the OS, according to Net Applications. Microsoft said recently that 30% of its small and midsize business (SMB) customers still have at least some of their employees using XP. HP pegs XP usage among its business customers at a higher figure, 40%, based on a recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive.

That agrees with a street-level view: Managed services provider (MSP) Tabush, based in New York City, said around 40% of the 3,000 or so desktops it manages for customers are still XP-based. CEO Morris Tabush predicted his firm will pare that down to 20% by the end of the year, but he nonetheless expects some customers to ride XP well beyond the sunset.

"They are still using it simply because it works, and many of the employees who have these PCs spend all their time in one or two business-specific apps, so the OS doesn't really matter to them," Tabush said via email interview.

[ For another take on why companies aren't making the switch, see Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise. ]

Microsoft is effectively a victim of its own success with XP, which is now three versions old -- and soon to be four if you count Windows 8.1 as a full-fledged release. Shareholders and consumers want the next big thing. Many SMBs just want what works. Which is why some businesses will simply ignore Microsoft's end-of-life date for XP. This might also put Microsoft in some conflict with its vast partner ecosystem. Referring to the number of SMBs still on XP, Microsoft exec Erwin Visser wrote in a recent blog post: "This represents a huge opportunity for partners to help move people off Windows XP and onto a modern operating system. Let's get the message out, it's time to switch!"

You don't need to read too deeply between the lines to understand what Microsoft is ultimately saying to its partners and, by extension, those partners' customers: We'd really, really like you to start buying Windows 8 devices. The XP end-of-support deadline delivers as much of a marketing message as it does a support or security imperative. But the "modern OS" part of Visser's sermon misses the mark. Many of the IT pros and service providers I heard from for this story, some of them Microsoft partners, said that their customers' decisions to stick with XP were often driven by hardware and budget -- which are irrevocably intertwined for most businesses, OS support deadlines be darned.

"The business owners generally have the 'if it ain't broke' attitude, and despite our urging, they don't see the value in spending extra money to replace machines that still work," said Eric Schlissel, CEO of Los Angeles-based GeekTek IT Services, via email.

Moreover, Schlissel said there comes a point where beating his customers over the head is simply bad business. You've heard the saying: The customer is always right. That's because customers pay the bills. Some of Schlissel's customers will stay with XP until the hardware it's running on fails, at which point they'll upgrade both hardware and software. "It's a waiting game at this point, and we get diminishing returns from pushing our clients," Schlissel said.

Much larger technology providers point to a similar hardware-driven issue. Paul Moore, senior director of mobile product management and marketing at Fujitsu America, said the Microsoft partner is doing its part to educate customers on how the XP end-of-support date could impact them in areas like security, bug fixes and so forth. He also noted that enterprise support contracts for businesses that want to keep XP around beyond next April can be expensive. Approximately 20% of Fujitsu America's client businesses still run XP, Moore said.

"The reality for our customers is that they will move off of XP when they buy new hardware," Moore said via email. "The need for hardware is driving the move, not the XP end-of-support [deadline]."

While he recommends that businesses buying new hardware should go with Windows 7 or Windows 8, Moore noted that OS upgrades aren't always a straightforward choice. "Qualifying a new OS can be a difficult process for customers if they have line-of-business apps [and] licenses for older versions of software that will require the purchase of new licenses, et cetera," he said. Businesses comfortable with their current hardware portfolio, but concerned about the end of Windows XP support, should look to upgrade to Windows 7, Moore added.

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