GRAND RAPIDS, MI — The death knell for one of the most popular computer operating systems in the world is just days away.
On April 8, Microsoft will withdraw its free support for Windows XP, which is still used on about a quarter of computers including personal and networked computers.
Without the upgrades, machines are running on outdated software, which make them more vulnerable to hackers.
“April 9 doesn’t mean that your computer is going to crash,” said Kathy Koch, the president of CMIT Solutions of Grand Rapids, which caters to small businesses.
To avoid security issues, Koch is recommending businesses take no longer than 12 to 18 months to make the transition to a new operating system.
Microsoft, which introduced XP in 2001, has extended support for three years beyond the industry standard, which is about 10 years.
While the software giant has been getting the word out about the end date and its implications, Koch and other tech firms are trying to educate small businesses that don’t have IT people and may not even be aware of the change. The former Herman Miller vice president of marketing recently opened the tech franchise, which is part of a network of more than 130 offices nationwide with 700 technicians. Koch’s team also includes some local expertise in the form of Brian Fitch, a former chief information officer for Kentwood-based X-Rite.
Koch has five tips on what small businesses should do next if their computers are still running on Windows XP:
1. Assess how many of your business’s devices are running on Windows XP. Obviously desktops and laptops are the first order of business. But Windows XP is used in many other machines as well, including manufacturing and medical devices, alarm systems, lighting and environmental controls, and even bank ATMs.
2. If you’re sticking with Windows, decide whether Windows 7 or Windows 8 is right for you. Microsoft revamped its new operating system in such a far-reaching way that many longtime Windows users have had trouble migrating to Windows 8. Don’t feel like you have to jump right into unfamiliar waters, especially when considering things like retraining costs and time associated with learning a new system. Over 47 percent of the world’s computers are currently running Windows 7, and it’s a great option for small businesses.
3. Put a plan in place for hardware and software upgrades. Since Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP in a couple of weeks, laying out a plan for your business is important if you want to avoid workplace interruptions and are concerned about the security of your data. Do your existing PCs meet system requirements for Windows 7 or Windows 8? Do you have older XP-equipped machines that should probably be replaced? Does all of your equipment need to be replaced at once, or can you proceed by upgrading one computer at a time?
4. Take a look at the version of Microsoft Office your small business is using as well. Microsoft also will end all support for Microsoft Office 2003 on April 8. Sticking with the suite — now four full product cycles behind the current Office 2013 offering — subjects you to similar security risks as those associated with the death of XP. Compatibility issues also can arise as more of your customers migrate to newer versions.
5. Maintain older programs and data offline. Your business may have data on older applications that only run off XP, and you need to keep that data for record retention purposes or you might have to access it occasionally. Keep that computer in a corner somewhere, but don’t connect it to the Internet. Remember that your network is only as secure as the weakest link.