What does your OS say about your business?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

A comment was made by Gartner in June that suggested companies should begin to look towards the end of Windows XP.

A comment was made by Gartner in June that suggested companies should begin to look towards the end of Windows XP.

Despite Microsoft stating that it plans to support XP for four more years, this claim was perhaps done in order to draw attention to the fact that XP will not be around forever. A visit to most offices would likely find that XP is still the most commonly used operating system (OS) and statistics do show that to be true.

A recent survey by NetMarketShare found that two-thirds of users still work with the Windows XP operating system.

The survey found that while 61.87 per cent of users use XP, 14.46 per cent of users are using Windows 7 and slightly less (14.34) are using Vista. The data was collected from unique visits to its client websites and gathered through its analytics tool for July.

For SC Magazine specifically, 51.90 per cent of visitors during July were XP users, while 20.11 per cent used Windows 7 and 12.54 per cent were on Vista. Despite Microsoft ending its support in July, 6.99 per cent of the visitors to this site were on Windows 2000.

So what is driving this continued use of XP?

Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, commented that one of the reasons for not upgrading personally was the cost, and in order to upgrade he would buy a new laptop.

He said: “I upgrade when I buy a new laptop because I don't want to spend $100 on Windows 7 when I can spend $400 on a new laptop with it on. I don't think people go out and get it and there needs to be a changer, such as only charging $25.

“Plus the migration from XP to Windows 7 is not a smooth upgrade as you have to backup your documents. In a company it can be done easier, but on the home front I don't see people upgrading.”

David Harley, ESET senior research fellow, said that he ‘often sees XP dismissed as a security-starved OS, but it was a significant step forward in those terms'.

He said: “XP is a little different, since it's still viable as a reasonably secure OS, but the upgrade to 7 is probably more attractive than it was to Vista, and probably as feasible for reasonably modern hardware.

“If I were thinking about managing a migration, I'd be thinking seriously about running it now, rather than waiting to see what the next version looks like. But it's certainly going to be a big jump for users if they have no experience of Vista.”

I was recently featured on the Lumension blog where Don Leatham, senior director of solutions and strategy, and I talked about the value – and dangers – of running outdated operating systems.

He quoted Tami Reller's, corporate vice president and CFO for Microsoft, claim that XP users stand at 74 per cent. Leatham said: “The fact that Windows 7 has a superior security model compared to XP should be the driving force for any upgrade policy.

“However, the reality is operating system upgrades are often driven by hardware replacement cycles or application upgrades that require the new operating system. Resistance to upgrading may also be due to outdated historical assumptions and lack of knowledge over the performance and compatibility.

“Over the years, people have been trained to think they need a new computer to run a new version of Windows. However, with Windows 7, Microsoft has gone to great lengths to ensure it runs well on existing hardware – giving people the core Windows 7 features, compatibility with the latest application software and superior security.”

One of the reasons that people and businesses generally stay with XP is attributed to the negative response to Vista. I asked Leatham if this is one of the reasons why users failed to upgrade.

He said: “All indications are that it did. Microsoft did the right thing in building in new security with Windows Vista, with the unfortunate result that compatibility suffered significantly. Many peoples' existing applications and drivers broke and people were justifiably concerned about the cost of upgrading – new software, new peripherals – and a loss of productivity.

“Adding on to those concerns, Vista was a performance hog. In many cases Vista could not run acceptably on legacy hardware, where Windows 7 can. With Vista, people had to decide if they wanted to stick with XP, have a slow machine with Vista, or fork out cash for a new computer.”

Migrating to a new operating system, regardless of the size of the business, is quite an operation. For reasons of cost, practicality and not to mention the time spent applying patches and updating security, this is likely to be lower down on the IT strategy ‘to do list'.

Perhaps more concerning is the demand for Windows 2000. Kandek said that he still sees requests for Windows 2000 and companies saying that they need additional controls for it. He said that he tells them that they are not going to get any security patches let alone support.

Harley said: “I'm not sure that people who didn't bother to upgrade years ago will feel the need to upgrade now that support has gone, even though I might wish otherwise.

“To me, still running W2K generally makes barely more sense than running NT 3.5: you wouldn't do either unless there was a serious limitation (like the need to run a specialist application, or a system right at the limit of its upgradeability).”

I suppose in an ideal world we would all be on the most up-to-date OS and using the best-of-breed software, until then we will continue to see patching and it is up to Microsoft to ‘encourage' migration, with the end of support announced. One thing is for sure though, when we reach 2014 there is going to be a huge sea change.


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