Microsoft is officially calling it “the end of life,” a phrase used to tell users that it no longer will support the Windows XP operating system.
And while computer operating systems come and go, XP’s decade-long run means its death will affect more computer systems than prior expirations.
“It’s the first time we’ve had this mass expiration,” said Cristie Street, co-founder and managing partner of Nextrio, a Tucson computer support and networking firm.
On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will end all support, updates and security guarantees for Windows XP and Office 2003.
“So essentially, the end of life means they’re killing it off,” Street said. “That doesn’t mean it stops working; it just means that Microsoft stops doing all of the things to care and feed and nurture that piece of software.”
According to Net Applications, a Web analytics firm, about 31 percent of the world uses Windows XP, while about 47 percent of the world has upgraded to using Windows 7.
While many computer users have upgraded to Windows Vista, Windows 7 or 8.1, Windows XP is still relatively common. Launched in 2001, XP was still being installed on some new computers as recently as 2010.
“In Tucson, we have a lot of small businesses — in fact we are about 90 percent small businesses — and Microsoft knows that of that 30 percent of desktops in the world, the largest concentration is (among) small businesses,” Street said. “So because we have a huge number of small businesses in Tucson, it’s very likely that this impacts us on a large scale.”
Street said that 38 percent of corporate PCs were running Windows XP and 16 percent were still deploying the operating system on new machines.
Not switching from Windows XP to recent Windows software can be problematic as software and hardware compatibility issues arise, Street said.
Nextrio has seen a 100 percent increase in XP workstation replacements since June, and the company expects it to double again in January, Street said. She did not give the number of clients upgraded.
While many people have upgraded to Windows 7 or 8.1, there is still a portion of the community that has yet to make the switch or face potential security and compatibility issues.
Street said that for XP users who will not have made a switch by next year, viruses are a huge concern.
Since software protection will be unavailable for the unsupported XP, all security holes will remain open, allowing for viruses to crawl in and corrupt the software.
Another issue XP users will face is that hardware makers will stop making devices such as printers, scanners and professional equipment compatible with Windows XP and focus on newer operating systems.
“Technology has moved a long way forward,” Street said. “It’s just time to let the oldest one go.”
However, not making the switch by April won’t be devastating for users.
It’s very important you upgrade, but it won’t tear down your business if you don’t right away,” said Adam Dellos, owner of local computer services firm Adam D Technology, a local IT company, said.
While for the average home user the switch away from Windows XP isn’t too difficult, most businesses have multiple computers. Businesses also face regulations that can result in legal and financial penalties if they continue using an unsupported system.
Street suggests that businesses add replacement costs to their 2014 capital budgets and schedule enough time to get it done, since the transition may need expert help.
“It can be a time-consuming and complicated change,” Street said.
Organizations such as the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce have received notifications advising them to make the switch from Windows XP. Nextrio helped the chamber upgrade its systems over a year.
“It was kind of a long process, but we knew we had the time and wanted to do it right,” said Laura Nagore, the chamber’s financial and operations director.
The chamber replaced one of its 12 computers every month, taking about a year to switch to Windows Professional. Making the switch early allowed time to iron out any problems, while incrementally replacing the computers spread out the cost, Nagore said.
“It was about $1,000 per computer,” Nagore said. “You do it all at once and it’s a huge budget crunch.”
Dellos said that simply licensing new software plus the labor costs for installation could cost the average user from $300 to $400 per workstation.
Dellos, who has helped about 150 clients upgrade from XP this year, said getting new computers instead of updating the operating systems on existing hardware could be a good investment.
“You could invest in an upgrade or get a brand new computer for $550 and then we will just move all your data over,” Dellos said.
Street said it takes about two to three hours for Nextrio to help clients replace both their computer or laptop and the operating systems, costing $200 to $400 per desktop, while upgrading just their operating systems can take three to four hours and cost $300 to $500 per desktop.
There’s also a little learning curve for users.
Since the switch, the Chamber of Commerce is providing training for its employees on the newer versions of Microsoft Word and Excel.
“You get used to being able to work on it, and then something isn’t there anymore. … That was probably the most frustrating thing for everyone in the office,” Nagore said.