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After 12-plus years, Microsoft is about to pull the plug on its XP operating system.
Trouble is, millions of users aren’t yet ready to give it up.
“It’s a stable operating system,” said Mike Trabbic, who owns Trabbic Consulting Ltd. in Sylvania Township.
Mr. Trabbic works primarily with small businesses, providing technical and network support. A number of those clients are still using XP, never having seen a reason to upgrade from what they view as a perfectly adequate system.
“They’re looking at it as, ‘This car’s running just fine; why would I have to buy a new one?’ And that’s what we’re up against,” he said.
That stability could be seriously undermined come April 8. That’s the day Microsoft will stop providing support and security updates for XP.
Technology experts say that could leave the door wide open for hackers, unscrupulous programmers, and other cyber villains to gain access to systems still running the program.
“A lot of people have likened this to a Y2K issue. If you grab it by the horns squarely, confront it, and budget for it, it’s a nonissue,” said Matt Adkins, owner of Vanguard Technologies Ltd. in Toledo.
“If you don’t, it has potential to be fairly catastrophic.”
While usage of XP has fallen over the last year, it remains stubbornly high considering the stakes.
According to Web analytics firm Net Applications, 29.5 percent of Internet-connected desktop and laptop computers worldwide were using Windows XP last month, making it the second most popular operating system in the world behind Windows 7.
Microsoft has made a big push over the last year to get XP users to switch to newer operating systems, and information technology professionals are similarly encouraging their clients to upgrade.
For many, it has worked. Mr. Adkins said his team has been steadily rolling out Windows 7 to his clients for the last year or so.
“It’s mostly been managed, but there’s going to be those people who don’t want to do it, or somehow missed the word,” he said.
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Experts say many companies still using XP are small outfits that have few employees and rely on their computers for fairly simple tasks. However, business use is far from limited to accounting offices and law practices.
Many manufacturing companies still use XP-equipped computers to run crucial processes and equipment in their plants. Upgrading computers can mean downtime on the line and big costs. In many cases, new software and drivers are necessary to allow the computers to communicate with machinery. Mr. Adkins said that could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And that’s assuming that software is available.
“Some companies will offer the drivers and some will not,” said Bill Goings, who owns Apex Micrographics Inc. in Toledo. “If it’s obsolete, it’s too bad. And that’s what’s happening in the digital world. In two or three years, everything’s obsolete.”
Mr. Goings, whose firm offers scanning, imaging, and printing services, said that years ago when he switched to Windows XP, he couldn’t get the necessary drivers for a large, $30,000 scanning machine he used.
As he looks toward retirement, he doesn’t expect to upgrade much this go-round.
“Some of it we might [but] the economy’s so bad we can’t spend that kind of money anymore for this equipment,” he said. “The economy just doesn’t show enough favor to spend that kind of money.”
It’s tough to say how many local companies are still using XP. Some may have one or two computers running it, while others may use nothing but XP.
“There’s a lot of businesses out there that are kind of stuck in this trap, and we’re only a month away from the deadline,” said Gary Yambert, a technology consultant with the William Vaughan Co. in Maumee.
While it can be costly — he said it might cost $40,000 or more to equip a 15-workstation office with new hardware, software, and servers — those who don’t upgrade are playing with fire.
“There will be holes in the operating system which will be exploited,” Mr. Yambert said. “Your data and any information on that workstation, and potentially any other workstation connected to, it is vulnerable to attack.”
He and others fear that hackers could ramp up efforts to exploit those weaknesses once Microsoft stops issuing security patches.
The William Vaughn Co. is an accounting firm that also does business consulting work. Mr. Yambert said his company switched to Windows 7 some time ago, but he’s working with many clients who are in the process of switching over now.
While it’s concerning, it’s not surprising that so many people have held on so long.
“A lot of people don’t like to change, and once they get familiar with a product, it’s easy to use that way. They don’t have to learn something new,” he said, adding that many feel new features aren’t something they need anyway.
It’s not just businesses that are facing up to the deadline.
Joe Chew, owner of the Toledo area’s five Computer Discount stores, said he’s getting a lot of questions from worried customers.
“A lot of consumers, when they hear Windows XP is no longer supported, they’re confused, they don’t know what that means,” he said. “We’ve had quite a bit of foot traffic about that.”
It’s not as if XP will suddenly stop working on April 9, but Mr. Chew said people shouldn’t take their chances with the security risks that will open up.
Security aside, more devices and programs will stop working with XP as new updates aren’t released.
“You don’t want to go on using it too long,” he said.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.