XP has been a cornerstone of the IT establishment for more than a decade, but it’s time to move on.
Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system has undoubtedly been the most successful, widely-installed operating system of all time. It’s easy to forget that before XP’s introduction in 2002 it was considered unusual for an operating system to remain widely in use for more than three or four years.
Operating system changes didn’t just cause upheaval through users needing to become familiar with a revised interface, but frequently required changes to the applications that ran on the OS platform, a bigger problem for user’s productivity.
Although Windows Vista was released in 2006 and was subsequently replaced by Windows 7 in 2009, it is estimated (there are no definitive figures) that around 25% of computers connecting to the internet are still using XP. For business users that figure is likely to be higher still; without the incentive to move to a newer OS, many businesses would choose to not change.
Microsoft have always been fairly aggressive in trying to force individuals and businesses to use the latest OS. New desktops and laptops shipped with Vista in 2006 and it was only intense pressure (caused mainly by the fact that Vista was both radical and poor) that led to new computers shipping with additional discs to allow a ‘downgrade’ to XP. For a while after Windows 7 was released the same option existed, though Windows 7 adoption by business has been way more relaxed than Vista due to few compatibility issues and the fact that Win7 is a way more agreeable OS.
These eleven years of XP have pushed OS compatibility issues to the back of the minds of IT decision makers, but more than the impending end of official support from Microsoft (April 2014), it is compatibility issues between XP, Office and Exchange that will bring about the end of XP.
Office 2013 will not install on XP. Although the differences between the various versions of Office were not huge (other than the visual difference of the ribbon interface introduced in 2007), each modern version (2003, 2007, 2010 and now 2013) has improvements. We’d previously recommend using the current version when purchasing from new, but likely recommend skipping at least one generation if considering upgrading. Now, that choice is restricted – with a modern operating system (Windows 7 or 8.1) you will need Office 2013.
Outlook 2013, the e-mail client bundled of course with Office 2013, will not connect to an Exchange 2003 mailserver. While Outlook 2010 will connect to exchange 2003, Outlook 2010 is not officially available to purchase any longer.
Plenty of organisations still running XP will also be running Office 2003, and more importantly Outlook 2003. Office 2013 will not install to XP and Office 2007 and 2010 are no longer officially available, meaning there is no upgrade path. Additionally, Outlook 2003 is unable to connect to Exchange 2013 servers. With Microsoft committing to ending the Small Business Server line (which ships with Exchange 2010), new mail servers will likely be Exchange 2013, ruling out the potential for XP workstations to be used unless running Outlook 2007.
It has been a while since we’ve been in this position of needing to consider the entire server, workstation and Office package, with XP previously being the constant that would work with all versions of Office, and all versions of Outlook being compatible with all Exchange servers. Now though there is a double incentive to change; the end of support from Microsoft which means no further patching, and the inability to run the latest versions of Office and hence connect to the latest Exchange servers.
With Win7 now being reasonably well established and the adoption of Win8 being eased by the 8.1 release, many organisations will at least be aware of compatibility issues preventing software such as proprietary databases and custom applications from running on post-XP machines. XP’s time has been impressive, but it is time to accelerate those fixes for any compatibility problems and plan for retiring XP.
Our advice is for clients to be aware that the IT landscape has changed. For the first time in a decade they need to consider aligning the operating system they run, their Office version and their version of Exchange. We strongly recommend an IT policy that allows for a move away from XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 when upgrades are considered.