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Options for Windows XP's end of life

Windows XP will be gone before you know it. These four options can help you prepare for its postmortem.

Windows XP is gone for good on April 8, 2014, about 12 1/2 years after it was first released. Considering how quickly the computing market changes, it’s pretty impressive that Microsoft’s operating system endured for so long.

In this era of reduced budgets and staffing, you might have been putting off an operating system refresh. But you can’t wait much longer. By the spring of 2014, Windows 7 will be almost 5 years old, Windows 8 may be a few years young, and you certainly aren’t staying the same age.

Here are four directions you can take.

1. Start your Windows 7 migration planning now

If you never migrated to Windows Vista, this may be good thing. Windows 7 is widely acknowledged to be a fine, stable operating system, and its first service pack was just released. Once XP reaches end-of-life status, Microsoft will provide only critical security fixes; you won’t be able to contact the company for help, and there won’t be any more service packs.

Times change, applications change, and if you’re not looking at moving to a more modern OS, you should make it a priority.

2. Consider application virtualization for stubborn legacy programs

We all know of those line-of-business programs around which we’ve built an entire organization, such as the one from 1997 with no updates that simply refuses to work on Windows Vista or Windows 7, even with compatibility shims.

The good news is that there are ways to allow these applications to run in their own legacy operating systems and be delivered alongside a more modern platform like Windows Vista or Windows 7. Microsoft's App-V technology is one such product, and others are available from Citrix and other application virtualization providers. This way, you can continue running your stubborn app in a “legacy sandbox” and still get the benefits of a more contemporary -- and supported -- OS for everything else.

3. Plan for a hardware refresh

As you might imagine, new operating systems have different hardware profiles. Windows 7 runs very comparably to Windows Vista on the same hardware, but if you’re still lumbering along on PCs from circa 2003 or 2004, then you’re going to want to invest in more capable hardware. In addition, newer hardware has better management features and power usage, so your operational costs may decrease. This brings me nicely to the next point.

4. Consider thin-client or managed terminals for future purchases

It seems like we went from mainframes and dumb terminals to thick, smart desktop clients. However, for many office workers, there is now technology to deliver a thick-client-like experience using very thin clients and the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). New multimedia features are even available through Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 2’s RemoteFX feature.

By centralizing users’ desktops on a cluster or farm of terminal services, you can have much more control over update and refresh cycles, and an OS migration becomes easier. For one, it removes hardware from the equation and gives you a known base against which to test. This may not pay off immediately for your XP-to-something migration quest, but it would make future moves simpler and cheaper.

Migrating enterprise desktops to a new operating system is a challenge, but if you start tackling the project now, you’ll be ready when Windows XP bites the dust.

About the author:
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

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