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Ignore the Windows XP deadline and you could be in for a nasty shock



WHAT'S the first thing you see on your office PC screen each morning? If it's the words 'Windows XP', you could be in trouble very soon. Come April, Microsoft is switching XP off.

This is not an exaggeration: the company is casting XP aside. There will be no more security patches or updates. If you're still using it and a virus strikes, tough luck: there will be no Microsoft protection anymore.

This is not a small problem. At least a third of all Irish office PCs use Windows XP. The Irish public sector – including hospitals, government departments and other institutions – also use the 12-year-old operating system in large numbers. Come April, all are exposed.

The killer blow is that if you haven't already started transferring over to Windows 7 or Windows 8, it's probably too late to make it in time for April. Microsoft calculates that it takes at least a year for most companies to fully 'migrate' from XP to a newer system.

This is largely because lots of companies have specific software programs that are designed to work with Windows XP alone.

So, upgrading XP could mean a much larger, costly overhaul with significant logistics involved.

But don't try pleading that when you're calling Microsoft for help. The company's Irish executives have made it quite clear that such excuses will fall on deaf ears. When the first serious virus attack aimed at XP occurs in April, Microsoft Ireland executives are adamant that they won't answer your calls on it.

Unfair? Precipitous? Not really. The company has been warning about this for at least two years. It has put out leaflets, sent reminders, phoned up big customers. It even deferred the shut-off date on a previous occasion due to customer inaction on the matter. But not this time. Microsoft is totally firm that you're on your own from April 2014.

"Windows XP is no longer enough to defend against the onslaught of modern threats that organisations face on a daily basis," warns an official Microsoft document given out to Irish business customers.

"Businesses that still run Windows XP will become even more vulnerable to malware and attacks after April 2014. The most significant risk is that PCs, and the data they contain, could be hacked and compromised. Today, Windows XP is 21 times more likely to be infected by malware than Windows 8."

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Could Microsoft be bluffing? Might it defer the switch-off? Some still think it's a possibility. These people include Ireland's recently appointed chief information officer, Bill McCluggage. Mr McClugage previously told this newspaper that if enough big organisations really weren't ready in time, Microsoft might have to think again.

The problem is that big business has already largely switched over. This week, the IT analyst firm Gartner revealed that 90pc of large enterprises have already either migrated or are migrating to Windows 7 or Windows 8. It's not hard to figure out why.

Enterprise-scale organisations need to satisfy the (increasingly demanding) exigencies of 'IT compliance' that are creeping in to insurance and trading rules.

They know, for example, that if you lose a wedge of customer data after a malware episode which only affects Windows XP, they might face a difficult legal task in consequent legal action by customers which have suffered loss.

After all, it's hard to argue a proper 'duty of care' standard – which is still the metric by which such tortious cases are measured – when you are stuck using an outdated, malware-susceptible computer system.

So, in Ireland, this is largely an issue that affects SME firms and public sector offices. In other words, the entities that tend to defer IT upgrade issues for as long as possible on the basis that they are 'non-essential'.

If you're reading this and are thinking of 'getting IT on to it' sometime next February, you might be in for a nasty shock sometime after April.

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