Despite Windows XP Deadline, Microsoft Partners Say XP Migration Business Isn't Drying Up

Windows XP migration business has padded the coffers of many Microsoft system builder and solution providers over the past few years. But the party isn’t over yet: Although the deadline for XP support is here, Microsoft partners are still expecting to see steady XP-related business for the foreseeable future.

Starting tomorrow, Microsoft will cut off all customer support and security fixes for Windows XP, an operating system that debuted back in 2001 and has been arguably one of the company’s most solid products ever. XP is so solid, in fact, that many customers are stubbornly continuing to use it despite Microsoft’s best efforts to get them to upgrade.

XP accounted for 27 percent of worldwide Web traffic during the month of March, according to research firm Net Applications. While that figure was 2 percent lower than it was in February, there are clearly going to be lots of organizations -- including some businesses -- that won’t heed Microsoft's warnings about the consequences of using an outdated, unsupported OS.

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Companies that decided the disruption and expense in migrating from XP outweigh the risks of not being supported, as well as the high costs of custom support agreements, are likely to remain dug in after the deadline, Andrew Brust, CEO of Microsoft analyst firm Blue Badge Insights, New York, told CRN.

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For Microsoft's system builder and solution provider partners, XP has been a fruitful business opportunity. Many have done quite well migrating customers from XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. But some customers have decided the hassle and expense of upgrading to a new OS and PC hardware just isn’t worth it.

Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based Microsoft system builder partner, has come up with a unique approach to making XP migrations as simple as possible.

Puget Systems recently launched two free XP migration services for customers that buy new PCs. The first service involves copying all the files and data on a customer's XP machine to a cloud storage service hosted by Puget Systems, Bach said in an interview.

"We install it on the old XP machine and remote in so files can start syncing up to our servers. This process can start weeks before the customer actually orders," Bach told CRN. When the customer gets the new PC, all its files from the old XP machine are there and ready to go, he said.

The second, more sophisticated service, starts with Puget Systems sending the customer an external hard drive via mail. The system builder's staff then remotes into the customer's XP machine to take a virtual image of it, and copies the image to the external hard drive, Bach said.

NEXT: Next Steps In XP Migrations

Once that's finished, the customer mails the hard drive back to Puget Systems using a prepaid shipping label. Then, the system builder copies the image of the customer's old PC from the external hard drive, and loads it onto the new PC, said Bach.

Finally, Puget Systems creates a virtual PC on the customer's new PC using that disk image. "So when they get their new PC, the virtualized old PC is right there, with an icon to run it on their desktop," Bach said.

Bach told CRN the second service option took awhile to get worked out with Microsoft's licensing department.

"I think we're in a situation where we're well aligned with Microsoft's vision and goals, but unclear on their EULA [End-User Licensing Agreement]," Bach said. "In conversations with Microsoft, they can't give me any other answer than that we have to be totally compliant with licensing. It took a fair amount of working with them to make sure that we were."

In the end, Bach determined that Puget Systems is within its rights to use the licensing granted by Windows XP Mode, which is included with Windows 7 Professional, to provide the XP migration service.

"If a customer is upgrading an old Windows XP PC, and buys Windows 7 Professional on the new PC, they are all set with licensing. In all other situations, they will need to specifically buy licensing for the virtual PC," Bach told CRN.

In addition to individuals, Microsoft partners say they’re still seeing a decent number of businesses that are still using XP. FiberLink, an IBM-owned mobile device management vendor, recently analyzed more than 1 million laptops and desktops it manages for business customers and discovered that more than 40 percent are still running Windows XP.

Windows 8, in contrast, accounted for less than 1 percent of laptops and desktops covered in the FiberLink analysis.

Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at ASI, a Fremont, Calif.-based Microsoft system builder partner, has several reseller partners that will continue trying to move customers off XP after the deadline.

"They feel like a lot of people have procrastinated, so they're expecting to be busy for the rest of the year," Tibbils told CRN.

Once Microsoft stops patching its security vulnerabilities, some experts believe hackers are going to have a field day with PCs running the OS. And Microsoft's security experts haven't sugarcoated things in recent comments.

"Over time, attackers will evolve their malicious software, malicious websites, and phishing attacks to take advantage of any newly discovered vulnerabilities in Windows XP, which post-April 8, will no longer be fixed," Tim Rains, director of product management in Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group, said in a blog post in late March.

NEXT: As Deadline Looms, Some Partners Aren’t Worried

Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Fresno, Calif.-based Microsoft partner, said he has educated customers on the risks of continuing to use XP but has done so on his own terms, without using Microsoft's marketing guidance.

"There are still many who don’t care, and no matter how many times Microsoft asks us to ’sell’ them, our job is to educate them. If they choose to ignore it, we can’t force the sales to happen," Duffy said.

One issue stalling upgrades, partners told CRN, is Microsoft's insistence that it's better to move to Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 than it is to upgrade to Windows 7. Last month, Cindy Bates, vice president of Microsoft's U.S. Small and Midsize Business (SMB) division, told attendees of the XChange Solution Provider 2014 conference that partners would be "shortchanging" customers by recommending Windows 7 over Windows 8.

Many organizations have given Windows 8 a pass due to the dramatic user interface changes it introduces and the learning curve that would come with getting employees trained on how to use it.

However, Brust from Blue Badge Insights agrees that Microsoft should be guiding customers to the latest version of Windows.

"I suspect some customers will opt for Windows 7, but those who really wish to minimize future migration burdens would be wise to go with the newest platform. Booting Windows 8.1 straight to the desktop provides a very Windows 7-like experience," he said.

Despite all the warnings from Microsoft, and partners’ efforts to get customers to upgrade, some organizations have decided they won’t be moving. Software To Go, a St. Peters, Mo.-based Microsoft partner, has a "handful" of customers that use XP to run industrial equipment, and replacement is not an option in those situations, company President Joe Balsarotti told CRN.

Balsarotti, for his part, isn’t expecting disaster for customers that continue using XP after the deadline.

"We still have industrial clients with DOS and Windows 2000 units out there and their world hasn't ended, so I have to have a dose of skepticism and wonder how much of this is real and how much hype,’ he told CRN.