Aged Windows XP costs 5x more to manage than Windows 7

As XP's life wanes, Microsoft talks dollars to get businesses to ditch 11-year-old OS

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The Microsoft-commissioned report also painted a rosy return-on-investment (ROI) picture for companies who do ditch XP for Windows 7. By IDC's calculations, the acquisition of a new PC -- one where Windows 7 is retained as the OS rather than being downgraded to XP -- pays for itself in one year and generates almost $1,000 more in savings from reduced IT costs and worker downtime over a three-year span.

"The migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 yields a 137% return on investment over a three-year period," claimed IDC.

Windows XP have a shortening upgrade window -- no pun intended -- and not only because of the April 2014 end to all support. Microsoft is expected to launch Windows 8 this fall, a time when most new PCs will then also be pre-loaded with the OS by computer makers, or OEMs.

That will not immediately strike Windows 7 from the rolls, but it does start a couple of clocks ticking: OEMs can continue to sell Windows 7-powered PCs as long as two years after Windows 8's launch, but the older operating system will disappear from most retail outlets one year earlier, or in the fall of 2013.

Organizations that have Software Assurance (SA) agreements -- the Microsoft-sold software insurance policy that lets firms upgrade to every new version of a specific product released during the life of the deal -- can downgrade any Windows 8 PC to Windows 7. But SA is almost exclusively an enterprise program.

Smaller firms that buy Windows licenses at retail, likely in the form of a new PC, can also downgrade from Windows 8 to 7, but only if the new system is pre-installed with Windows 8 Pro, the higher-end edition. They will also need media -- a DVD or flash drive -- containing Windows 7 Professional to complete the downgrade. If smaller shops wait too long, they may find it difficult to locate a seller for the latter after late 2013.

Likewise, while Windows XP Professional can be upgraded to Windows 7 Professional, companies sans SA also require a copy of the newer OS. The same end-of-retail caveat for Windows 7 applies to them as well.

Microsoft has been dissing Windows XP for some time, but the ROI report was its first argument that stressed dollars and cents.

In June 2011, a Microsoft manager said it was "time to move on" from Windows XP; earlier that year an executive on the Internet Explorer team belittled XP as "lowest common denominator" when he explained why the OS wouldn't run the then-new IE9.

The company has not yet turned on Windows XP like it has on the 11-year-old Internet Explorer 6 (IE6). For more than two and a half years, Microsoft has urged users to give up IE6, going so far in March 2011 to launch a deathwatch website that tracks IE6's shrinking share.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Microsoft followed suit with Windows XP once the OS drops to a more manageable share mark: According to Web metrics company Net Applications, XP accounted for 46.1% of all operating systems used to go online in April.

If XP continues to shed share at its last-12-months' pace, it will still own a 17.6% share in April 2014, when it drops off support.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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