Ryan Bush

Microsoft will end support for Windows XP tomorrow, marking the end of a twelve year era for the operating system. Many people have been wondering how the end of XP support will affect their current IT systems, so here are a few things to be aware of in the coming months.

The end of support does not mean computers with Windows XP will crash, or fail to turn on, after April 8, 2014. In fact, barring an external event, the operating system will continue to run as long as the hardware that is running it continues to work. Outside events that will ultimately affect many machines running XP are viruses.

The end of support means the end of updates for the operating system. The most important updates for any operating system are the virus definitions that keep the antivirus software up to date in order to protect against new viruses. Any computer running unsupported software is vulnerable to viruses and malicious attacks. It is important for any user of XP to be aware that over time the computer becomes more susceptible to attacks without the updates.

Another point of frustration for users will be the lack of updates for third party software that remains on the XP systems. For instance, printer and scanner drivers will most likely not be updated by the third parties who create them because the potential need for support is too expensive. Software manufacturers will also be less likely to continue their support for software on XP machines. Software manufacturers will also be wary of continuing to support versions running on XP because of regulatory compliance issues.

The two biggest regulatory issues surrounding Windows XP are credit card processing compliance and HIPAA. Credit card processing is a major factor for industries such as the restaurant or hospitality industry where the point of sale (POS) system is built on an XP machine. For these businesses, the POS software provider will most likely require a signed release from the owner(s) in order to continue supporting the POS system. For industries affected by HIPAA the use of an unsupported operating system will most likely be considered a violation because of the threat to attack or data leaks.

While there are issues to be concerned about and industries that are affected more than others the end of support for Windows XP does not represent a drop dead date for users. For those who are considering a change to a new system ask one simple question: are my users ready for a jump to Windows 8.1, or will they be more comfortable moving first to Windows 7? Either move will be a drastic improvement for speed and functionality.