Windows XP (simply referred to hereafter as XP) is one of the most popular operating systems in the history of computing. Hundreds of millions of people have used it over its lifetime and hundreds of millions continue to use it today. With the end of support date for XP SP3 looming in less than 14 months (April 8, 2014), many enterprises have accelerated their plans to move to a more modern operating system. However, some manufacturing organizations plan to continue to use XP with or without support for many reasons, including:

  • Application compatibility: this is usually the biggest blockers users have regarding upgrading from XP to a newer system as some of their critical applications will only run on XP. Even in a virtualized mode, such applications will not run perfectly without some special configuration or tweaking in Windows 7 or 8, something that could be challenging. For organizations faced with this problem, they need to start planning how to address this issue soon and Microsoft and its partners are willing to help with this regard. You can start at this link or this one for more on how Microsoft could help.
  • Hardware issues: in many cases installed hardware will not handle newer OSs and customers prefer to continue to use the old hardware with XP over upgrading both hardware and software
  • Stability: many customers have been running XP for many years and are happy with the stability it provided and are reluctant to venture in learning a new operating system, especially in plant environments where users rely on certain applications and expect them to run in stable form for many years.

Despite all these concerns, the decision to stay on XP is not a good idea for many reasons:

  • Costly support: IDC estimates current annual costs of supporting PCs with XP at $870/PC compared with $168/PC for Windows 7. This cost is expected to rise even more after the end of support date on April 8, 2014 since any support will require special arrangements and contracts beyond what is available now.
  • Productivity cost for old PCs with XP are estimated to double with time from year 2 to year 5 of their lifetime. This is coupled with increasing IT cost per PC running XP. These increased costs are attributable to downtime due to security patching and wasted time waiting for support.
  • Security risk: XP was not only a popular operating systems for users; rather, it was also very popular for hackers and malware writers. With the end of support looming, Microsoft is not expected to provide the timely patches for vulnerabilities found after the EOS date. This could leave many mission-critical systems in manufacturing plants vulnerable for security risks that could cause downtime which would lead to production interruptions as well as safety issues.
  • New PC features and capabilities: users who insist on using XP, even with new PCs, will not be able to take advantage of new capabilities of such PCs. These capabilities were not existent when XP service packs were discontinued. Such users will not be able to enjoy faster USB drives, integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, or even higher resolution screens to name a few.
  • New features of Windows 7 and 8: users who continue to use XP will not be able to enjoy the much improved security, reliability, and stability of Windows 7 and Windows 8. They will also not enjoy the flexibility and ease of use of these newer OSs.

In the end, despite the convenience of using the same operating system and applications to run manufacturing plants, the security concerns alone make it a must to upgrade from XP. If this is not possible, then XP-based machines should be isolated and well protected from outside security risks. The downfalls for staying on XP should be well thought of, such as, support cost as well as costs associated with productivity and maintenance that are expected to soar after the end of support date. Organizations who opt to continue to use XP beyond that date will expose their environments to serious security risks as no patches for vulnerabilities discovered after that date will be available unless with special costly arrangements. Finally, the benefits of upgrading to new hardware and to Windows 7 or 8 should not be ignored either as these benefits allow the users to enjoy hardware and software that are more reliable, secure, and much easier to use.