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SMBs Struggle in a Post-Windows XP Support World

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld, and not by PCWorld's editorial staff. ]

More than a month has passed since Microsoft officially ended support for the venerable Windows XP operating system. Windows XP PCs didn’t suddenly stop working on April 9, but that doesn’t mean it’s been all wine and roses, either. Small and medium businesses face a number of new challenges running Windows XP without support from Microsoft.

Let’s take a look at some of the primary challenges SMBs face trying to run an unsupported operating system.

Third-Party Software Support

Many small and medium businesses rely on accounting software or niche industry applications that were written for Windows XP, and don’t work with newer versions of Windows.

Many of these businesses can still upgrade to a newer version of Windows without losing access to the software they’re familiar with. Windows 7 offers XP Mode which essentially runs a virtual instance of Windows XP that can be used for these legacy applications, and Windows 8/8.1 has a Program Compatibility Troubleshooter that helps you run programs that only work in earlier versions of Windows. Unfortunately, neither of these solutions works 100 percent of the time, and in some cases businesses may just have to switch to different software designed to work with supported versions of Windows.

With this solution, SMBs don’t have to abandon your tried and true business practices or spend time and money their company can’t spare to purchase new software and train employees on it. But SMBs looking at long-term growth would still be wise to research new programs, rather than stubbornly living in the past.

Hardware Support

Just as with software, hardware vendors no longer invest time and effort to develop drivers or applications for an unsupported operating system. If an SMB needs a new webcam, or other peripheral, the options for Windows XP will be limited—if they exist at all.

As newer, faster technologies evolve, SMBs will be stuck using slower, obsolete standards. For example, 802.11ac is the emerging wireless network standard, but most hardware vendors are not going to waste resources to continue developing or updating drivers for Windows XP. There are also emerging technologies like Thunderbolt, 4K displays, USB 3.1, and more that older PCs are not equipped with, and that most likely won’t be supported for Windows XP even as add-on cards or peripherals. If this hasn’t already impacted SMBs sticking with XP, it will very soon.

Security Concerns

It didn’t even take a full month for the first major security issue to arise. Security researchers discovered a zero day vulnerability being exploited in the wild that affected Internet Explorer and Windows—including Windows XP. The exploit would allow an attacker to remotely execute malicious code on the vulnerable system.

With support officially expired, Microsoft could have left Windows XP users to face the threat alone, but Microsoft chose to rescue Windows XP users with one last update.

But Microsoft won’t do that every time, and there will inevitably be more critical vulnerabilities discovered in XP. Every month when Microsoft releases security bulletins for the supported versions of Windows, attackers will be able to reverse-engineer the patches to find out where the vulnerability is, and then determine if that same flaw exists in Windows XP and create an exploit for it. The first post-XP support Patch Tuesday included patches for Internet Explorer and Windows that very likely also affect Windows XP and could be a risk to XP users.

Replace or Upgrade Windows XP

With each passing month, Windows XP will continue to deteriorate from a lack of third-party software and hardware support, and from the increased exposure to security risks.

One of the easiest ways to switch to a new platform is to just buy a new computer with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8 Pro preloaded. If your Windows XP systems are using hardware that’s as old as the operating system, it’s probably time to buy new hardware anyway.

Whether you buy new hardware, or just upgrade the operating system on the hardware you already have, you want to ensure the migration goes smoothly. Businesses that are still dependent on Windows XP should engage the services of a vendor like HP XP Migration Services, and let the experts help move your Windows XP systems to Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8 Pro as seamlessly and painlessly as possible.

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