It’s D-Day for XP – but will anyone actually notice?

8 Apr 2014

The day has arrived and Microsoft will officially stop supporting Windows XP, the popular operating system it debuted in 2001. While many are suggesting D-Day means ‘doom’ day for computers, what does it really mean for computer users in Ireland still using XP?

In Ireland, XP is the third most popular OS, with 10.3pc internet usage. Its share has shown little change since the start of the year despite the looming deadline for the end of Microsoft technical assistance and automatic security updates.

This means that there are 300,000 PCs in Ireland that will no longer receive updates or security patches – the obvious implication is they are now open to being attacked by hackers and viruses.

Windows 7 leads the Irish market on 51.4pc in terms of internet usage, followed by Mac OS X (all versions) at 12.1pc. Windows 8 currently takes up fourth place at 9.2pc, having increased from 5.8pc this time last year.

The chances are users still running an XP machine will find it grindingly slow and incompatible with most of today’s apps. Those users’ machines are probably due an upgrade.

“The world has changed dramatically since 2001,” said Patrick Ward, Microsoft’s Windows business lead for Ireland.

“Thirteen years later, consumers and businesses who are still using Windows XP should be aware that it is 21 times less secure than Windows 8.

“And after 8 April, everyday transactions, such as buying things online, could be a big security risk for them. Today, consumers expect to access their favourite information, applications and content across tablet, phone and PC – Windows XP cannot give them access to their favourite stuff on the go. In business, the needs of today’s lean and efficient modern worker cannot be met by a 13-year-old operating system, either.

“You don’t wear the same clothes you did in 2001, don’t live and work like you did 13 years ago.”

So who’s prepared?

A surprisingly large number of computers in the Irish Government still run XP.

So does that mean services will grind to a halt and critical systems vital to the running of the State could fall prey to hackers?

Not to fear. In February reported that Irish Government’s Office of the CIO had signed a €3.3m memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Microsoft to handle security issues that could affect four critical State departments when support for Windows XP ends today.

There are four main sectors covered by the MoU between the Irish Government and Microsoft: Health, Justice and Equality; Environment Community and Local Government; Education and Skills; and all of their associated entities.

In the UK, a similar deal has been reached concerning the extension of security support for thousands of ageing National Health Service Windows XP machines and migrating them to more modern systems.

It is understood that 90pc of ATM machines in the world today are running on XP. Banks across the world, including those in Ireland that run XP-based ATMs, are understood to have entered into a similar arrangement with Microsoft as the Irish Government that protects the machines and have begun an upgrade process to Windows 7.

But what about the thousands of businesses that have yet to embark on an upgrade?

“There can be no denying the fact that PCs running Windows XP are ‘at large’ in the enterprise, even though their number is declining,” said Richard Edwards, principal analyst for enterprise mobility and productivity software at Ovum.

“Speaking to CIOs, there are various reasons why a business or institution might continue to run Windows XP past the April deadline, and not all of these are low-risk scenarios.

“Supporting operating systems beyond their end-of-life is nothing new for the corporate IT department, and there are plenty of ways and means to reduce or mitigate the risks associated with unsupported software. In the meantime, Google has said it will support its Chrome web browser on Windows XP until April 2015, and anti-virus vendors (including Microsoft) have said they will continue to update their software running on Windows XP computers until 2015.

“It would appear that some CIOs and IT managers have been busy mitigating the risks of Windows XP in another way: bespoke support from Microsoft. The UK government has reportedly paid stg£5.5m to Microsoft to ensure support for public-sector bodies for another year, giving organisations like the NHS a little more time to complete their upgrades and migrations.

“Compared to smartphones and tablet devices, PC operating system upgrades are an ugly affair, and thus PC replacement is the preferred option.

“But the traditional PC replacement project is not what it once was, as there are now many more options and alternatives to be considered: Windows 7 versus Windows 8; tablet versus PC; Android versus iPad; etc.

“But whichever option is chosen, moving on from Windows XP could prove transformational for employees and for businesses, as any change of tool brings with it a change in thinking and capability,” Edwards said.

Blue screen of death image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years