by Shane O'Neill

Windows XP in the Enterprise: Stop Living in the Past

Jan 30, 20094 mins
Data Center

I’m by no means an IT pro and I’m not up to speed on the complexities of a full client OS upgrade so I don’t want to sound glib … but … It’s time for enterprises to move on from Windows XP!

XP use is still rampant in enterprises that have shunned Vista; consumers are the ones using Vista, mostly because they have no choice (unless they want to pay to downgrade to Windows XP, which I think is plain dumb). But if anyone is on the cutting edge of what Windows has to offer it’s the consumer. This was probably not Microsoft’s plan, but it could explain its consumer-friendly push for Windows 7.

But businesses are clinging to XP for dear life, and thereby clinging to the past. Sure, XP works. But so did my old tube television. Let’s face it, it’s an old operating system. How long can businesses stay the course with XP before they’re out of touch with advances in interface design and navigation, security, and networking?

I’ve talked to enough IT professionals to know all the rationalizations for XP: it’s good enough; it addresses all their needs; the users are familiar with it. I understand why they don’t want to switch away from something that works just fine. And yes, Vista is a hog that requires more hardware than an auto body shop. The man hours, money and the learning curve required for an upgrade to Vista were not worth it.

That may have been okay a year and a half ago, but XP will soon be an eight-year-old operating system. Yet most businesses are gladly sticking with it because they were appalled by Vista’s incompatibility issues and hardware requirements.

Vista’s successor, Windows 7, will not be any easier. Upgrades will also be hefty and pricey. They will require new equipment, training, licensing fees and business could slow down during the upgrade. But it’s necessary and at some point it will be unavoidable. It is a bad year for this kind of investment given the uncertain economy. But moving on from XP will be worth it, in the same way that buying a house is difficult but worth it.

I assure you I’m not drinking any Microsoft kool-aid. My thoughts come from using all three OS’s every day. I use XP at work, Vista Home Premium on my personal laptop and the Windows 7 beta is installed in a virtual machine on my personal laptop.

XP is competent and allows me to get my work done, but I feel like I’m stuck in 2003. Compared to the sleek Aero GUI on my home Vista machine and the even sleeker Windows 7 UI, XP’s interface looks like it was designed by a children’s toy company, and I’m constantly lost in a sea of open browser windows.

The IT community all seem to be in the same boat about XP. They are resigned to stick with it and are in no rush to upgrade, but they are somewhat relieved that Windows 7 is on the way.

I think as the Windows 7 release draws nearer, IT pros will warm up to it. Windows 7 is reportedly much less of resource drain than Vista and has new enterprise features such as BitLocker (hard drive encryption) and DirectAccess (allows connection to networks without a VPN) that should make it appealing to XP users.

As for this supposed user learning curve, I think users should be given more credit. Windows has the same fundamentals not matter what the version. Are your XP-savvy employees going to start up Windows 7 and suddenly become totally confused? Will they be thrown off by the much cooler-looking and intuitive interface? Will they have anxiety attacks and beg IT to go back to 2003, um, I mean XP?

No, they won’t. If anything, Vista and Windows 7 (based on what I’ve seen of the beta) are easier to navigate than XP. I can tell you from personal experience that backing up data to an external hard drive, switching between browsers and connecting to a wireless network are all much easier with Vista and Windows 7.

Users will adapt quite easily. It ain’t rocket science.

I know most of the resistance to change in enterprises has to do with risk aversion, a crappy economy and Vista resentment. I respect that. But eventually Microsoft is going to take Old XP out back and shoot her. I hope you have an exit strategy by then.