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How much does XP's end of support matter?

Microsoft is in the middle of a migration, too. The service and software providers who migrate 3000 sites -- or just support homesteaders with a lot of Windows -- can roll their eyes at all the changes. But the shift from XP to Windows 7 is much bigger a deal than everyday security patches and product updates. Right?

Well, not so much. Over and over we've found that the 3000 site which has embraced Windows as a replacement doesn't perceive XP as a lame duck. At True Value Hardware Canada, for example, IT Director Tim Boychuk said the Microsoft announcements of end of XP life haven't changed his strategy.

"The majority of our production systems are XP," he said. "We're in the prototype stages of testing Windows 7 with [installed ERP solution] Microsoft Dynamics. If [Microsoft] does an announcement of end of support, they have extended it." The latest extension was announced last August; XP now has a 2014 end date.

This is practical and cost-effective IT management, the execution of "not broke, don't change it" strategy. Microsoft's latest announcement puts the third extension onto ending the life of XP Service Pack 2, with a new date of July 13. Online support is available after that, but extended support via Microsoft ends this summer. The simplest way to stick with Microsoft support is to upgrade clients to SP3.

This extension strategy from Microsoft doesn't change the fact that the desktop OS that links with server apps like Dynamics is well beyond Redmond's plan for retirement. (If that reminds homesteading 3000 managers of the string of HP support extensions for MPE/iX, perhaps it says something about keeping to your own schedule, rather than following the vendor's plans.)

XP still has hundreds of thousands of support experts available for hire, given that it was shipped with millions of PCs over the last nine years. That's a different picture than seeing the 3000's ecosystem pared down over the same period. Clearly, XP use can be a lower risk than MPE/iX deployment, until you look at browser support in XP. Explorer 6 has a long list of security deficiencies that require patches, and IE 6 has been an essential in the XP experience.

Boychuk's operations are moving to Windows 7 to address this, all the while keeping XP in mission-critical use. He's among the many 3000 sites that moved away from HP completely in their migration, following his shop's expertise. "We didn't have much Unix experience here," he explained. Today, IBM's servers power a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 environment. Add Microsoft's app and subtract the HP support contracts, and this becomes a customer who HP lost in its migration push. With 700 dealers and independent hardware suppliers to serve, this is not a small site, either.

One of the key elements of True Value's 3000 installation made the transition to Windows. Hillary Software's byRequest is still in use by those dealers, serving up 400,000 reports via email, fax or Web interface. Just like the Dynamics 2003 server app, byRequest doesn't care if a PC runs with the on-its-way out XP. It doesn't require Windows 7, but the more current Dynamics version will need 7. Risk always lies in the eye of the IT manager, beholding his choices independently.