The Dangers of Windows XP

xpMost companies still have a few computers that are running Windows XP and Office 2003. This once-hallowed combination that for everyone relied on for years is no longer safe for your business. It is time to upgrade.

A Little History…

Windows XP was released back in 2001, so it is now more than twelve years old. Most Windows XP machines are using Office 2003 which is over ten years old. In technology terms, this is a lifetime!

Think about how much has changed since 2001. The iPhone, which is such a staple in modern life, was released six years later, in 2007; the first Android phone came out a year after that, in 2008, and the first iPad followed in 2010. Millions of people visit Facebook daily, but it wasn’t even launched until 2004; YouTube was founded in 2005. Back in 2001, texting saw limited use, mainly on BlackBerries and pagers; it only moved to widespread use after the iPhone and Android phones became popular.

Windows XP may have been released in 2001 but development started back in the 1990s. So many services and gadgets we take for granted hadn’t even been thought of yet. It is really an amazing feat that it has lasted so long.

Why It’s a Risk

Microsoft has announced their official end of life support as of April 8, 2014. No more security patches will be released after that date. If hackers discover a new exploit – which they will, guaranteed – there will be no fix available from Microsoft, and your systems will be vulnerable. The risk is not limited to your XP computers either. Hackers may find ways to penetrate the rest of your network once they find their way into an old XP machine. This means your business could grind to a halt, your company and customer data could be stolen, your computers could be used to send spam, and any other number of very bad things that would cause incredible disruption to your business.

The risk is so serious that companies with protected financial and medical information are required by law to upgrade their systems from Windows XP and Office 2003. The regulatory authorities for those industries do not consider strong network protection enough to ensure safety of such critical data. If they think that, why would you want to risk the safety of your own company’s critical data?

Keep in mind that no one will continue to develop software that is compatible with Windows XP. It will be difficult if not impossible to find anti-virus and malware protection that works reliably, which means there’s yet another hole in your overall security protection.

Additional Complications

The security risks are not the only issue you will face. Computers this old are far more likely to fail due to hardware issues. It will be difficult to procure replacement parts that work, and you could easily spend more to fix an old computer than to replace it. Add to that the impact of having an employee who is unable to work while they are waiting on a fix, or data that might be lost if a hard drive fails.

Another complication: if you need to upgrade software programs, new versions won’t work on Windows XP, and vendors won’t support such old technology. If you have staff running different versions of programs you could also face compatibility issues when you try to share files.

What to Do

When you purchase a computer today, it will come with Windows 8. Some computers are available with a downgrade to Windows 7, and short-term that can be a good choice for stability and compatibility reasons. It’s also helpful to standardize your computers, so if you have almost everyone on Windows 7 already, it will make sense to use that on new computers.

Moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8 is a big leap forward. Some of your team will play around with it and become familiar in a short period of time. It’s still Windows, after all. However, some of your team is probably less comfortable with technology. They will require more hand-holding to make this adjustment. Training can be extremely valuable in these situations, whether in-person or online. Many classes are available and surprisingly inexpensive. Even a “dummies” book can be a big help.

As for Office, the current version is 2013. Microsoft no longer sells Office 2010 except through volume licensing. If you have a volume licensing agreement, you can still download 2010 if you prefer it. Otherwise, unless you happen to find an old copy online somewhere, any new computers will have Office 2013. Fortunately Office 2010 and 2013 work well together.

Just like with Windows, the move from Office 2003 to Office 2013 is a major transition. Office has changed a lot, and it takes some time to locate all the familiar features in the new interface. Further complicating things, Office 2010 and Office 2013 are also somewhat different in appearance, so even staff with newer computers won’t necessarily jump right into Office 2013. Again, training can be a great investment, and there are many options available.

If You Really Need It…

There will be a few situations where companies run old software that isn’t compatible with newer systems. The best practice is to archive the data and retire those systems if at all possible. In the rare event that you have to keep something around, consider migrating these programs from Windows XP to Windows 2003 Server R2. This is still a very old operating system, but Microsoft will continue supporting it until July 14, 2015. It’s similar enough to Windows XP that your programs will probably run on it. This gives you an extra year and change to transition off the old software. Staff can access the software from their computer via remote desktop services (RDS). Again, this is not the ideal situation, but if you really need it, it’s an option.

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