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Grow Your Business Technology

Microsoft to End Support for Windows XP: What Businesses Need to Know

Microsoft to End Support for Windows XP: What Businesses Need to Know
What Windows XP's end of life means for small business users. / Credit: Microsoft

Is your business still running on Windows XP? If so, one of your first action items for 2014 is to determine whether it's time for an upgrade. On April 8, Microsoft will end support for Windows XP, forcing businesses to either keep using an unsupported operating system or invest in a Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 upgrade. Doing so, however, is no easy task. To help you get started, here's everything businesses need to know about upgrading from Windows XP.

For most businesses, the choice to upgrade from Windows XP is a no-brainer. Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks — an information technology (IT) services, support and consulting company — said that there are six reasons businesses should migrate from Windows XP to a more recent operating system: security, support, cost, compatibility, performance and productivity.

"Unsupported and unpatched environments are vulnerable to security risks," Landa said. "You can't run business applications on an operating system that does not get security updates. After April, if your employees are still running XP, your network and workstations will get infected very quickly." [7 Cybersecurity risks for 2014]

As a result, IT departments and vendors will see Windows XP as a huge risk and will do everything they can to remediate it, he said. Vendors will also likely stop supporting Windows XP.

"When Microsoft ends its support so, too, do most IT vendors," Landa said. "After all, how can we confidently support clients who are relying on systems that the manufacturer no longer supports?"

If a company refuses to upgrade, there will be costly ramifications, Landa said. "We will always try our best to support you, but it is very expensive to request support of an unsupported system," he said. "It's safe to say that if you choose to keep Windows XP, your tech service costs will increase exponentially."

By leaving Windows XP, machines will be safer and more reliable, which will result in less IT support expenses, he said.

Similarly, software vendors will also stop supporting Windows XP, limiting the number and types of software businesses can use.

"Upgraded operating systems give users the ability to run almost any software that is Windows compatible," Landa said. "In fact, newer hardware device drivers will no longer be written for Windows XP."

Another reason to upgrade from Windows XP is better performance. "With an upgrade, system boot times and application launch times noticeably decrease, as does the time required to [get in and out of] hibernation mode. This means more efficiency for your workforce."

Furthermore, new versions of Windows also have new features to make workers more productive. For instance, new search features allow users to look for keywords in documents, emails and attached storage devices. The search can also extend to networked servers and designated Web pages, Landa said. "Users gain immediate access to specific data they need in that moment, saving precious time and increasing productivity," he said.

Before upgrading from Windows XP, businesses should do three things: back up their data, perform a compatibility audit and determine which version of Windows is best for the company.

It's critical to back up data during any type of upgrade, especially one of this magnitude.

"As Microsoft ends support for Windows XP, more and more companies will undergo data migrations on a tremendous scale," said Ann Fellman, product marketing director at Code42, the creators of CrashPlan, an online backup solution. "Microsoft's own best-practices documentation recommends companies back up endpoint data on computers and laptops prior to migration."

Backing up data ensures that files, documents and other information stay safe and accessible if anything were to go wrong during the upgrade. "In the event of migration failures, IT can quickly and easily restore data, mitigating what can otherwise be an arduous process and tremendous burden on IT resources," Fellman said.

When looking for a backup solution, businesses should choose one that has protective measures for enterprise-grade data, Fellman said. "[It should] provide the necessary data security and support to make the migration as smooth as possible for IT teams and employees."

Next, businesses should perform an audit to determine software and hardware compatibility.

"It's likely that some software will no longer run on the newer version of Windows," said Paul Martini, CEO and co-founder of iboss, a network security company. "Compatibility has been made better throughout the years between Windows XP and Windows 7, so most should be fine."

Nonetheless, businesses should take precautions in case compatibility becomes an issue with Windows 7, 8 or 8.1. "Make sure you save or write down any license keys for software on the Windows XP system, as you'll need them if you reinstall later," Martini said.

Businesses should also check with software vendors to see if the license qualifies for newer versions of Windows, he said. "In some cases, you may need to download the latest version or a previous version of the software in order to keep the license," he said.

Additionally, businesses need to determine whether their hardware is fit for the upgrade. Victor Thu, director of product marketing of virtualization provider VMware, said businesses should ask themselves, "What devices are out there today, and how is that changing?"

This question is important to answer because there are more devices being used today than ever, and older devices may not be equipped to run later versions of Windows. "Macs and Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) really change how IT organizations need to think about delivering and managing corporate Windows systems," Thu said. "Also, many older PCs cannot run Windows 7, so an audit will help you understand if you need new hardware."

Lastly, businesses need to determine which newer version of Windows is the best for them: Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.

"If you're accustomed to the Windows XP layout and style, upgrading to Windows 7 might be a better choice than Windows 8," Martini said. "The feel of the operating system is very similar, and you'll most likely be pleasantly surprised with all of the feature upgrades that make the Windows 7 operating system run smoother than Windows XP."

Nonetheless, those that choose Windows 8 or 8.1 can also have the same experience by configuring the operating system to look and feel like Windows 7.

The most straightforward ways to migrate from Windows XP are to either upgrade current machines to newer versions of Windows or to purchase new machines preinstalled with Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.

[How to Upgrade to Windows 8.1]

Another option is to outsource the upgrade by moving your systems and network to the cloud via an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider.

"If you want to free yourself from the worry of these constant operating-system changes, your only secure option is to migrate your network to the cloud," Landa said. "Then, instead of buying operating systems every time they are released — or being forced to switch when support is terminated — you are renting them, and the onus is on the cloud provider to purchase and provide you with the most recent versions."

Businesses can also upgrade to new versions of Windows via virtualization, which allows users to run operating systems on virtual servers.

"Virtualization and image-layering technologies allow new ways of deploying the Windows 7 image and applications to your end users," Thu said. The virtual desktop infrastructure also allows roaming access to the same desktop from any device, regardless of platform, he added. "If your device landscape is changing, this may be the right time to consider something different," he said.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Sara Angeles

Sara is a Los Angeles-based tech writer for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom's IT Pro. A graduate of the University of California, Irvine, she has worked as a freelance writer and copywriter for tech publications, lifestyle brands and nonprofit organizations in the Southern California area and throughout the U.S. Sara joined the Purch team in 2013.