Microsoft wants to migrate Windows XP businesses' customers to newer operating systems and is pushing that agenda with an internal program aptly dubbed Project XP.
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However, vendors such as Google Inc. and Mozilla Corp. are undermining those efforts by pledging to continue Windows XP support. This could give IT shops one more reason to designate a migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 as a lower priority.
It's good for application providers to support older versions, but for how long and at what price?
senior IT analyst, El Dorado Irrigation District
Microsoft representatives plan to call a list of 500 of its largest enterprise customers that are still on Windows XP to make sure they are aware of the April 8, 2014, cutoff and encourage them to migrate to a newer version of Windows, according to sources.
About one-third of these customers will make the April 2014 deadline, while another third will have to purchase custom support, and yet another third will risk passing the deadline and have to isolate those systems that are still running Windows XP, the sources said.
Microsoft declined to comment on the program.
Long live Windows XP
Those organizations that continue using Windows XP are hoping that the operating system's long history will overcome any security risks.
However, some Windows XP business users will get relief from Google, Mozilla, ColumbiaSoft Corp. and others beyond April 2014.
Google's Chrome will support Windows XP and Internet Explorer (IE) 8 end users until April 2015.
Many businesses face a tough migration path, requiring coordination among many external software vendors and developers, said Rajen Sheth, Google's product management director of Chrome for Business.
"For larger companies using hundreds of applications, this means a complex, lengthy and expensive process," he added. "As a result, many businesses will be on XP longer than they'd like to be, and we're extending support for Chrome to provide a more secure browsing experience through their migration process."
Mozilla also jumped on the bandwagon and intends to continue supporting Firefox in the Windows XP environment.
"We have no plans to discontinue support for our XP users," said Johnathan Nightingale, vice president of Firefox. A company spokesman would not elaborate on how long Firefox's support for Windows XP will continue.
Meanwhile, ColumbiaSoft, a software vendor in Portland, Ore., said it will continue to support Windows XP with Document Locator, a document management system, until after version 7.
"We have about 1,000 customers using our product, and we think 5% to 10% may not make the cut over for April 8," said Richard Day, president and CEO. "I think what will drive other customers to make the cut is not getting the security from Microsoft" after extended support ends, he added.
IT administrators appreciate the support from third-party vendors but also realize there is the inherent risk in doing so.
"It's good for application providers to support older versions, but for how long and at what price?" said Srinivasan Sundaram, senior IT analyst at the El Dorado Irrigation District in Placerville, Calif.
As a user of ColumbiaSoft's Document Locator, he noted that Windows XP users who update their applications need to understand that not all features in an upgraded software version will run on an older operating system.
Windows XP users face security, application compatibility issues
For IT shops that stay on Windows XP, security becomes one of the most prevalent concerns, and another is support for legacy Web-based applications and data.
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"The biggest offender here is Internet Explorer," said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "Most [organizations] are off of IE 6, but now organizations can get to Windows 7 and IE 8. It's all the IE-specific [apps] that [organizations] started with IE 6 that is still the problem in IE 8."
Some custom applications will not be able to migrate to Windows 7 or newer OSes, and the cost to rewrite these applications could be prohibitive for some organizations. These companies may choose to just patch their software as needed and add software to continue working with Windows XP.
"Enterprises are in a quandary," said Gary Schare, president and chief operating officer of Browsium Inc., an enterprise Web technology company in Redmond, Wash.
The company recently upgraded its Ion enterprise browser management application to version 3.0. Ion enables IE 6 and IE 7 applications to run in IE 8, IE 9 or IE 10, which helps Windows XP users continue using legacy applications and data.
"It's an ongoing chore to have legacy apps," Schare added.
In reality, organizations should look to migrate off of Windows XP and reduce the security threats to their environment. Microsoft this week published its latest report about security risks, which presents an extremely miserable picture, especially for those who continue to use Windows XP.
"Organizations should not be trying to stay on Windows XP. They should do their best to get off of it," said Silver. "The biggest danger here [is that] organizations can't become complacent. Even Google won't support this forever. Systems will be at risk after April 8 of next year."