An unpatched Windows XP machine won’t eat your children

There’s no doubt migrating away from Microsoft’s Windows XP OS before support is cut off on April 8th is important, particularly for businesses. And it’s undoubtedly a massive opportunity for Microsoft and its channel partners. But let’s not get carried away with the fear-mongering and paranoia.

Microsoft gave the channel clear marching orders at its Worldwide Partner Conference last summer: “you’re sitting on a gold mine” so get out there and get the upgrade. And it’s not just about moving to a “modern” OS. End of support (EOS) gets you in the door, but once you’re there, pitch the need for new devices to run that snazzy modern OS on, not to mention new software such as Office 365, which won’t run on XP or Vista.

Now, while partners are being incented to drive attach, the EOS message is absolutely one partners need to deliver in their role as a trusted adviser. For nearly any business that relies on technology, and today that’s most of them in one way or another, running an unpatched OS is an unacceptable risk. Many vendors are trying to get attention with extended anti-virus support, for example, but that’s no substitute for a fully patched OS.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is diluting its message by over-reaching in its rhetoric. Take a recent Microsoft communication to its partners, as reported by CRN. The vendor warned even permanently disconnecting a Windows XP machine from the Internet won’t protect businesses.

“Being disconnected to an internal network [sic], or using a USB or CD to transfer information, may reduce the attack surface but will still leave you vulnerable to several types of attacks once support ends. Aside from a few special situations, keeping your Windows XP machine in a sealed room on its own is not the right choice for your business,” Microsoft said in the document (emphasis mine).

So in other words, even locked in a closet without a web connection, your Windows XP machine could still eat your children. So maybe Windows 8 isn’t so bad…

Microsoft has been accused of overreach before. Shawn Allaway, CEO of Converter Technology, a solution provider specializing in enterprise migrations based in Nashua, NH., in the past likened Microsoft’s torquing of the XP threat to the Y2K drama.

“What can we take away from Y2K? If you are a systems integrator, software or hardware vendor then you learned there’s a great deal of money to be made by hyping fear and uncertainty, and offering the ultimate panacea to enterprises seeking protection – new hardware, software and migration services that promise to avoid the risks associated with unsupported critical systems,” wrote Allaway. “If you are the enterprise, you may have learned that to avoid scrambling the jets to fly off and execute a major company-wide upgrade you must first fully understand the business impact of such capital expenditures, disruptions to employee productivity, and your own individual risk tolerance.”

There’s no need for anyone to play Chicken Little here. The sky isn’t going to fall. You really should go ahead and update your OS though. And the new laptops are pretty nice.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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