Desperate Measures to Get Businesses to Upgrade from Windows XP

May 29th, 2012

It may seem strange to read the stats, but over 45% of Windows users around the world are still using XP. We’re talking here of an operating system first released in 2001, the same year that the original release version of Mac OS X debuted. While XP’s share has slowly eroded over time, it actually spiked slightly in January before resuming a downward slope.

Now this state of affairs is hard to relate to on a Mac. Apple’s rapid OS upgrade cycle, and the fact that growing pains tend to be minimal for most people, means that a hefty portion of the user base is pretty current. One recent survey, in fact, had Lion (10.7) and Snow Leopard (10.6) together taking almost 83% of the Mac market. In contrast, OS 10.4, Tiger, barely exceeded 3%. With most Mac users remaining fairly up to date with OS versions, it means most of you can run the latest and greatest apps, and Apple’s recent security fixes will make your computing experience safer, surer.

Let’s now consider Microsoft’s plight. Since Windows XP went out of production, Microsoft has released Windows Vista to tepid reviews and Windows 7 to reasonably favorable reviews. In the real world, Windows 7 is largely a shave and haircut of Windows Vista. It’s faster, more reliable, and it appears a fair number of people have upgraded, particularly in the business world. But there are still companies that have built carefully crafted workflows with XP, and have been slow to upgrade.

With official support for XP and Office 2003 — which is also still in wide use — ending on April 18th, 2014, Microsoft paid an analysis firm, IDC, to create a white paper to help encourage more companies to upgrade. This 12-page document claims that XP’s “end user labor costs” can be up to five times more when compared with using Windows 7. So, the annual support costs for a PC with Windows XP is estimated at $870, involving an extra eight hours of downtime, whereas the support costs for a Windows 7 PC are estimated at $168.

Compelling, yes, but the report is, obviously, self-serving. The white paper surveyed nine companies to craft this study, which would seem a pitifully small survey for the usage and expense patterns of an operating system in use by hundreds of millions of people. Imagine, for example, if a presidential poll from Gallup surveyed just nine people. Would you take it seriously?

That said, the survey covers a host of usage areas and bases estimated costs on how long it takes to perform a maintenance function, and the amount of expected downtime for companies that stick with Windows XP. They study calculates such usage criteria as reboot times, the impact of malware, and how long it takes to troubleshoot problems.

I am not going to judge the accuracy of the numbers. It would make sense that Windows XP is more vulnerable to malware than Windows 7. Even security experts have said as much. That said, it would seem that employee education and using current security software ought to take care of most of the issues. It may also be true that XP is more trouble prone, that it takes longer to fix system issues, and reboot the system. All this downtime adds up to reduced worker productivity. Being able to use Bluetooth, USB 3.0, and more efficient configuration of multiple monitors are just some of the additional arguments in favor of switching to Windows 7. But many businesses have no need for these frills.

The survey also ignores the costs of upgrading to Windows 7, the time it takes to deploy the new OS, employee retraining, and the potential need to upgrade third-party software as well to support the upgrade. Taken against the costs of just staying put, many companies may have decided that they just aren’t ready to make that commitment. In a climate where even large companies are downsizing, they don’t want to deal with potential uncertainties of this sort. A single survey of a handful of companies may not be sufficient ammunition to change their minds.

A better survey might have examined companies who aren’t upgrading to Windows 7, and understanding why they are sticking with XP. Maybe Microsoft would learn something from the exercise. Arguing that maintenance costs might be lower may not be enough.

What’s more, this study comes at a peculiar time. Microsoft is in the final stages of building Windows 8, and you’d think they’d want to work hard to encourage businesses to upgrade from Day One. Why concentrate on an OS that will be yesterday’s news in just a few more months? Or maybe Microsoft has justly concluded that Windows 8 is will not be a compelling upgrade for the enterprise.

The white paper hasn’t much to say about Windows 8, but here are two compelling sentences: “IDC has not yet broken out Windows 8 shipment projections from the current forecast totals. However, on traditional PC form factors (desktops, laptops), IDC does not expect to see any near-term acceleration to current commercial shipment forecasts associated with the release of Windows 8.”

That says it all. If Microsoft hopes to boost migration from Windows XP, it’ll have to be with Windows 7 for the foreseeable future. It appears Microsoft understands Windows 8 and the controversial Metro interface will be a hard sell for anyone but customers who might simply buy new PCs after the new OS ships. At the same time, if they can sell tens of millions of additional copies of Windows 7 to the enterprise — which will be highly skeptical of the potential for Windows 8 — this white paper becomes a critical tool.

Clearly, Microsoft has a problem. Far too many customers are still not ready to upgrade their OS, and the PC market is flat overall. This white paper appears to be a desperate effort to eke out some extra sales, assuming IT people look it over and are persuaded by the arguments about potential cost savings. I don’t envy Microsoft.

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3 Responses to “Desperate Measures to Get Businesses to Upgrade from Windows XP”

  1. Louis Wheeler says:

    Good reporting, Gene. There is a huge Sunk Cost here.

    Wintel was always sold on its utility; its target was business. Therefore, this reluctance to upgrade from Windows XP is a result of Wintel agitprop. Wintel was never about software; it was always the hardware which was improving and getting cheaper. And who in business cared about “Ease of Use?” Certainly not the people controlling the purse strings. Frankly, the Windows OS hasn’t improved enough to make a difference.

  2. Andrew says:

    One slight correction. Windows XP, actually even Windows 2000 did just fine with multiple monitors. It is easier to configure in Windows 7, but nothing new.

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