This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.
President Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
Change can be especially terrifying when you don’t fully understand how it will affect you. Perhaps the biggest information technology change facing businesses and individuals in 2014 is the phaseout of Windows XP.
It has been public knowledge that Microsoft would end support of Windows XP by April 8, but many people don’t completely realize what this means for them. Many believe this simply means that technical support for Window’s XP will no longer be available, which is true, but it’s actually far more complicated. The downside could extend beyond inconvenience to serious security risks.
The good news is that this is not uncharted territory. Other Microsoft operations systems have gone the way of the dodo bird as part of the natural evolution of software because Microsoft does not support its workstation and server operating systems indefinitely. In Microsoft’s words, “Every Windows product has a life cycle. The life cycle begins when a product is released and ends when it’s no longer supported or sold.”
So there are clear, proven guidelines for how and when to handle this transition. Microsoft actually provides a detailed timeline of when its flagship products will no longer be eligible to receive automatic fixes, updates or online technical assistance far in advance of the product reaching the end of its life cycle.
If you ignore all of these warnings, you could be opening yourself up to attack. Hackers are already working on ways to exploit Windows XP, because they know that Microsoft will not be releasing security updates or patches to address any future exploits.
Hackers who spread viruses, spyware, malware, etc., are looking to glean sensitive information from an unprotected computer or from a server to which the unprotected computer may be attached. For this reason, it’s critical that businesses immediately begin to replace or upgrade any Windows XP workstations with a Microsoft-supported operating system like Windows 7 or Windows 8.
Additionally, many software developers and antivirus vendors will no longer be supporting software that runs on Windows XP. Since some software developers have yet to make their software platforms compatible with Windows 8, businesses that rely on a critical line of business applications should reach out to their software vendors and/or developers to confirm that their software will be compatible with the version of Windows to which they are looking to upgrade.
For businesses that still have a large number of Windows XP workstations deployed, now is the time to begin phasing in new machines to ensure they work properly.
For home users, you’ll need to shop around for a new computer and upgrade soon. Allow for adequate time to copy over data and install programs. Ideally, after April 8, Windows XP machines should never be connected to the internet.
If you haven’t yet upgraded to Windows 7 or Windows 8, now is the time to act. Waiting until April will be risky, cause more than one headache and not allow for a smooth IT transition.