If your IT department is scrambling to ditch Windows XP before support for the operating system ends next April, the odds are very good that you'll soon be running Windows 7—and not Windows 8.1, which Microsoft says it will officially release Thursday morning.
Why? Because many businesses won't transition into a new OS unless it has been available for at least a year. Some even wait two years. And with less than six months to go before Microsoft discontinues Windows XP support—and with Windows 8.1 instilling confidence in far too few corporate decision makers—your IT department is most likely beginning to eye Windows 7 as the only viable option.
All of that should be bittersweet news for Microsoft, which benefits from Windows 7 upgrades but must still lament its Windows 8 problems. When the company released Windows 8 in October 2012, it must have envisioned that businesses would make the leap from Windows XP to Windows 8 within 18 months—and so it set Windows XP to "time out" by the end of that time frame. And even before the launch of Windows 8, that plan seemed tenable, as Microsoft preinstalled 16 million licenses.
But then the harsh reality of Windows 8 set in. Consumers struggled with the new OS and its lack of apps, and the poor first impression rippled throughout the retail and enterprise markets. In May 2013, Microsoft released what would be its last public Windows 8 sales numbers, reporting that license sales had reached 100 million. That's a much bigger number than 16 million, but still a fraction of the some 217 million PCs sold since Windows 8 launched.
Indeed, Windows 8 celebrates its first birthday later this month. At this point it seems inconceivable that all of the world's businesses will migrate from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 (or whatever the latest Windows 8 version is) by April 2014.
Staving off the XPocalypse'
Windows 8 is clearly facing an uphill battle, but many businesses can't afford not to upgrade. In April 2014, the world will suffer an "XPocalypse": Microsoft will cease publishing Windows XP patches, an event that Microsoft calls "zero day forever." Windows XP computers won't receive any additional security updates, making them easier targets for hackers. And that's a scary proposition to any IT manager who's concerned about the integrity of his or her network.
"With only six months to go, now's the time to start putting your foot on the gas, and get off of XP," says Jefferson Raley, director of consulting offer development at Dell. That's the advice he's sharing with customers. "You really don't want your last PC to migrate off on April 7," he says.
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