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Best practices for a Windows XP migration to Windows 7 or Windows 8

Windows XP support ends on April 8, 2014, and businesses that haven't upgraded should follow best practices to move ahead with a Windows XP migration.

IT shops planning their Windows XP migration ahead of next year's end-of-life date can make the process simpler by relying on some best practices.

The looming Windows XP support end date of April 8, 2014 should compel companies that have yet to move off Windows XP to adopt a newer operating system. But Windows XP continues to be a workhorse for many businesses.

Net Market Share recently found that Windows XP still holds nearly 34% of the desktop operating system market. Microsoft stated during its financial analyst meeting that 20% of its installed base is still on Windows XP.

IT consultants said they worry that once the Windows end of life passes, security threats from malware and hackers could wreak havoc on organizations.

There are several ways an enterprise can ready itself for a Windows XP migration to a newer OS.

Windows XP migration considerations

Organizations need to collect the information to get the bigger picture on what has to be done to move a company forward, said Dave Kloba, general manager of endpoint systems management at Dell.

Enterprises should upgrade outdated hardware and software, determine which applications and data are truly needed, and gain more control over their IT environments. They should also investigate how to incorporate new technology -- such as tablets -- into their businesses, he said.

IT pros first need to analyze their entire environment to understand which devices and applications are actually used. Administrators are often surprised to find they don't know what has been installed in their organization, a situation compounded by the bring-your-own-device movement, according to IT consultants and vendors.

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Once businesses determine which applications are most important to end users, they should conduct compatibility testing to see which apps will port over to Windows 7 or Windows 8, which ones will be deployed in the new environment, and which apps will not work at all, said Michael Tweddle, senior director of product management at Dell.

IT consulting organizations recommend taking this upgrade process one step further.

"This is a compelling event, and why not apply user segmentation to recalibrate how you're deploying applications?" said Ira Grossman, chief technology officer of end-user and mobile computing at MCPc Inc., an IT consultancy in Cleveland. "We see a number of organizations [with] one big monolithic image thinking it's easier to give everyone all the applications rather than a careful thought as to what applications [are necessary] for each user's role or job profile."

Other best practices include determining how much productivity loss will occur during the Windows XP migration and calculating hidden costs. For example, companies may need to upgrade old peripherals.

Teaching employees to use a new operating system should also be part of the plan.

"The change in the user interface in the OS, Internet Explorer and Office is the biggest hurdle," said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys Inc., a cloud provider in Redwood City, Calif. "But that aspect can be handled with training, so organizations should take the risk and go to Windows 8.1."

Should you migrate to Windows 7 or Windows 8?

While a Windows XP migration to Windows 7 is probably easiest, Windows 8.1 poses an intriguing choice because of its enterprise-grade security features and management of mobile devices, as well as the potential for a longer lifespan.

"The question is, 'How far a jump should companies attempt and to where?'" said Robert Ryan, director of Microsoft services at Fujitsu North America in Sunnyvale, Calif. "In other words: Should organizations move from Windows XP to Windows 7 and over time to Windows 8.x or simply move from Windows XP directly to Windows 8.1?"

A move to Windows 8 may make sense for companies that want to give end users touch devices, MCPc's Grossman said.

In addition, other technologies such as the cloud should be considered as part of any enterprise's technology implementation strategy.

A Windows migration is also a good time to check into cloud replacements for Office productivity applications and decide whether they offer enough functionality to use in day-to-day operations, Kandek said.

"If so, IT [shops] can gain productivity because they can offload the maintenance work that they cause [such as] updates, security patches, backups, etc. that happen automatically for cloud applications," he added.

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