BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Microsoft plans to end extended support for Windows XP in 2014, but enterprises continue to delay operating system upgrades because of costs and application compatibility issues.
Microsoft reminded customers in a blog post this week that it will cease Windows XP support on April 8, 2014. Customers who don't upgrade to a newer OS by then won't receive security updates or tech support from Microsoft.
That warning may go unheeded, however.
OS upgrades are often low on enterprise IT's priority list, especially when the popular Windows XP version still works just fine. Plus, the expense of upgrading hardware and software and installing a new OS is a huge barrier in the current economy, one analyst said.
"How is a business more competitive just because they change the operating system?" said Michael Cherry, research vice president of operating systems at Directions on Microsoft, an IT consulting firm in Kirkland, Wash. "This could be potentially expensive for them because of the number of apps they need to change."
More on Windows XP migration
Migrating to Windows 8 must include plans for legacy apps
It's not too late to jump on the bandwagon of Windows XP migration to Windows 7
What happens if users don't migrate from Windows XP?
Understanding how the end of Windows XP support will affect apps
Where to start with a Windows 7 migration plan
Understanding the cost benefits for conducting a Windows XP migration to Windows 7 or Windows 8 can prove daunting. It's a Catch-22 situation, especially when a business still runs well under Windows XP.
Microsoft has tried to soften the cost of a Windows upgrade for some customers. The company this week announced a 15% discount for small and medium-sized businesses to upgrade their Windows XP Professional environments with up to 249 licenses each of Windows 8 Pro and Office Standard 2013, if the software is purchased together. The promotion ends June 30.
Despite Microsoft's efforts to encourage end users to update their desktops and laptops, businesses will likely continue to run the old OS.
There is still support for Windows XP among customers, and enterprise accounts have pilots in place for Windows 7, said Marie Breedlove, a product manager at Hewlett-Packard Co.
Microsoft claims that the majority of its customers are moving to Windows 7.
Research from the 2013 IT Priorities Survey revealed that among 611 worldwide respondents who were asked to select which desktop projects -- such as Windows migration and desktop and application virtualization -- would be implemented this year, 38.1% said they would migrate their environment to Windows 7, while 21.3% said they would upgrade to Windows 8.
Last month, NetMarketShare revealed that Windows 7 commanded 44.3% of the overall desktop OS market share, while Windows XP held 38.7% and Windows 8 had 3.2%. The remaining 13.4% of market share was held by Windows Vista, Mac OS X and other environments.
ROI on a Windows 7 migration
Research conducted by Framingham, Mass.-based IDC in 2012 quantified a three-year return on investment for upgrading an operating system from Windows XP to Windows 7. The initial discounted average of replacing a computer for $712 revealed a discounted average cost savings of $1,685 per PC. Savings included reduced IT labor support and lost productivity of workers over a three-year period.
However, IDC noted that its study didn't take into account application upgrades or application compatibility concerns because each business is unique. "When you move off of Windows XP, and in most cases go to Windows 7, there will be an impact on applications," said Al Gillen, IDC vice president for system software research. "There will be mitigating costs for whatever the problems are."
Some industries might not have a choice as to whether they can remain as a Windows XP shop or need to migrate. Regulated markets, such as the banking and financial industries, will have to face Windows XP migration to newer OSes because they need the support from Microsoft, Gillen noted.
Enterprises must do their own risk analysis and calculate the capital expense for remaining on Windows XP or upgrading.
Companies need to determine the total cost of upgrading their environments versus the total risk of exposure to problems if they stay with their current OS past the end of Windows XP support, Directions on Microsoft's Cherry noted. "We've got to remember that at the end of the day, the operating system exists to run applications," he concluded.