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The Coming Windows XP Apocalypse

The Coming Windows XP Apocalypse

What will it take to get businesses off Window XP?

The clock is ticking. In April 2014, just 8 months from now, Microsoft will finally stop supporting Windows XP, an OS that was released 12 years and three major Windows releases ago. But here’s a sobering statistic that should give anyone pause: Despite this impending deadline, XP usage has barely changed in all of 2013. What gives?

If you’re a fan of numbers, head over to, NetApplication’s site for usage share statistics. They measure web browser usage share, search engine usage share, and operating system usage share, and it is of course that latter measurement that I’m focused on this week. According to the firm, Windows XP still accounted for over 37 percent of all desktop OS usage share in July 2013, behind Windows 7 (44.5 percent) but well ahead of Windows 8 (5.4 percent), Vista (4.24 percent), or the most recent Mac OS X version (3.3 percent).

What the…?

No matter how you measure things, this is a disaster in the making. Over the first 7 months of 2013, usage in Windows XP has declined only 2.3 percentage points (from 39.51 percent in January to 37.2 percent in July), just behind Windows 8’s tepid rise of 3.1 percentage points (from 2.3 percent in January to 5.4 percent in July). And Windows 7 has remained at virtually the same usage this entire year.

Put another way, if Microsoft’s estimate of 1.5 billion active Windows users is correct, there are over 510 million PCs still running Windows XP on this planet. 510 million. Over half a billion.

While I don’t have any accurate figures on what percentage of these half billion PCs are in enterprises and other businesses, I think it’s fair to say that most of them are still in businesses. Anecdotally, XP machines are to PCs as BlackBerries are to smartphones, not systems that individuals choose for themselves but rather machines that are pushed on them by employers.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is pushing a new world of the consumerization of IT and of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), two concepts that were basically science fiction in the superglued USB port days of 2001, when XP first shipped. XP has lived through three two-term US presidencies and was most notable in its day for being the OS that finally moved customers off the aging DOS-based Windows 9x codebase that dated back to 1985. This thing isn’t just venerable, it’s ancient history.

But it is perhaps somewhat ironic that XP’s continued popularity—if we might call it that—is at least partially the fault of Windows 8, which does aim very high with its modern ideals: a touch-centric UI that is optimized for tablets and seems aimed at killing off the desktop environment that is so familiar and dear to Windows users. Here we are in the last year of XP’s lifecycle, and Microsoft has released a version of Windows that virtually no XP user seems particularly interested in.

This is short-sighted, I think. The initial version of Windows 8 actually includes a wide range of improvements to the desktop environment, and as I’ve written in the past, the delta between Windows 7 and Windows 8 is easily as big as that between Windows Vista and Windows 7; this is a legitimately excellent Windows upgrade, even for those not particularly interested in touching their PC screens. And as I noted in "Microsoft Makes Its Case for Windows 8.1 in Business," the coming update to Windows 8 is even better still, especially for businesses. Plus it really does ease the previously awkward transitions between the old desktop environment and the new “Modern” mobile environment.

My opinions notwithstanding, the transition from XP is proceeding slowly. And while there could certainly be a surge of upgrades in early 2014, I’m starting to wonder if we’re not about to enter some brave (read: foolish) new world in which some businesses trade security for the relative familiarity of XP and its ability to continue working on out-of-date hardware.

This is a situation without much precedence. The closest comparison, perhaps, is the Y2K scare, though I’d argue that these two events are in fact complete opposites. With Y2K, many were forecasting an electronic doomsday scenario in which society crumbled overnight as aging computer systems reverted back in time 100 years, resulting in what I took to be a “Planet of the Apes”-type outcome. The XP expiration is a bit more insidious. Obviously, these PCs will continue to work just fine and will still run much modern software. But equally obviously, many believe that Microsoft will step back from the cliff of this expiration date and offer some minor concession that will result in the firm continuing to offer at least security updates going forward. Should this not happen—and it won’t—these PCs will become increasingly unprotected against electronic attacks over time.

I’m nervous that businesses either don’t take this threat seriously enough or have determined that the sheer amount of time, effort, and cost that an XP migration would require simply makes this change untenable for the short term, and they’re reacting with a predictable “deer in the headlamps” gaze that could result in a disaster that will in effect be a realization of the Y2K predictions. (Well, without the Dr. Zaius stuff.)

Folks, it’s time to get serious about this migration, and if you’re dead-set against Windows 8 for some reason, Windows 7 is still there for the taking. Don’t be a statistic: Migrate before the clock stops ticking.

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