Windows XP deadline set to go off on April 8, 2014.

Thursday, October 10, 2013 |

Six months and counting. That's how long you've got until Microsoft stops delivering security updates for Windows XP, leaving those machines vulnerable to outside attackers. Here are three strategies you can use to kick-start the migration process.

 April 8, 2014. On that date, Microsoft will release its last security updates for Windows XP, whose extended support period will come to a hard stop. That end date is now less than six months away, which means you really should stop procrastinating and start planning on how you’re going to avoid being part of a relatively small population that will be targeted by every piece of villainous scum in the universe.

Exactly how many PCs will still be out there running Windows XP next April? Good luck with that forecast. It’s hard enough to get current estimates, with the two most popular sources estimating that XP-powered machines constitute between 20.5 percent (StatCounter) and 31.42 percent (NetMarketShare) of the installed base of PCs and Macs worldwide.

If we assume that 1-2 percent of those machines upgrade or die each month for the next six months, that still leaves more than 100 million PCs still running Windows XP when security updates stop next April. Will you be one of them? And if so, why?

Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone deliberately choosing to continue using an outdated and increasingly insecure operating system when other options are readily available. But I can understand people who feel forced to remain on a platform for compatibility’s sake.

Virtualize the problem apps

Some older apps simply don’t work on Windows 7, and in extreme cases incompatible apps are blocked from installation completely. For off-the-shelf applications, there’s usually an upgrade available, or a suitable replacement program.
A much worse problem, especially in enterprise settings, is with custom line-of-business apps that would cost a fortune to update—or, worse, can’t be updated because the program’s author is long gone and no one has the slightest idea how it works.
If the OS version is the only roadblock, you should be able to solve the compatibility conundrum by running the problem app in a well-sandboxed virtual machine (VM). Windows 8.x Pro and Enterprise have Hyper-V virtualization built in. Windows 7 Pro includes Windows XP Mode and Virtual PC, which has the advantage of eliminating the cost of an XP license for your VM. You can use VMware or Virtual Box on Windows 7 or, for that matter, on a PC running Linux.
With your virtualization software  Set up a VM running Windows XP, lock it down firmly so it can’t be used for web browsing or email, and then install your XP-only app. You can use the physical machine, with its modern, fully patched operating system, for everyday tasks and use the VM exclusively for that one app.
On enterprise networks, you can use application virtualization or session virtualization to package older apps and allow them to run in an isolated environment on client PCs, using Microsoft’s App-V, Citrix’s XenApp, or other similar solutions.

Ask for help

If your organization is large enough, you can call on outside resources for assistance with app compatibility testing, app management, and deployment. And instead of thinking of this as a one-time chore designed to fix a single problem, think of it as an opportunity to prepare IT systems for the future.
Compatibility testing is a huge issue for organizations, Jefferson Raley of Dell’s Strategic Consulting Practice told me last week. On average, he said, large organizations have about 700 apps installed for every 10,000 users. Very large enterprises might have 10,000 installed apps and several thousand more Web-based apps. To assist organizations that are stuck on an XP treadmill, Dell has set up a new Windows Migration Fast Forward service, which can transition up to 5000 PCs in five sites in 16 weeks. 
"We can get you to the April deadline,” said Raley, “but let's clean up your environment at the same time." By doing a comprehensive range of compatibility testing and setting up automated deployment and management tools, those outside consultants can process up to 500 apps a week, deciding which ones should enter the new environment as is, which ones can be virtualized, and which ones should be retired. The key is making sure that the infrastructure you build today will help you not just with this migration but with the next one, and the one after that.