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Windows XP and Office 2003 End-Of-Life – What Does It Mean? (Part 2)

Office 2013 and Windows XPIn an earlier post we discussed what will happen when Microsoft’s support for Windows XP and Office 2003 expires on April 9, 2014 and some of the consequences. Long story short, if you’re using Windows XP and/or Office 2003 to deal with any secured data, including but certainly not limited to credit card transactions and medical e-billing, you need a migration plan put together now. Of course, even if you’re not using Windows XP or Office 2003 to utilize secured data, you should still plan on a migration, preferably sooner than later, simply because replacement hardware and software won’t be compatible. As we outlined last time, the latest version of Microsoft Office is not compatible with Windows XP; other software vendors will inevitably follow suit.

Now, let’s discuss possible obstacles to a successful migration and how we’ve been able to effectively manage those obstacles to date.

Obstacle 1 – Old Hardware

When attempting a Windows XP to Windows 7 migration, one issue we run into frequently, especially with our medical customers, is old hardware that doesn’t play nice with newer Windows operating systems. Sometimes it’s something as simple as an older laser printer that doesn’t work quite right in Windows 7; the solution there is to simply replace the laser printer with a newer model. Sometimes, however, it’s something more serious, like a $10,000 x-ray sensor that we have to work around. So, what do we do?

In our experience, the biggest source of incompatibility that we’ve encountered when migrating from XP to 7 is due to 32-bit vs. 64-bit compatibility issues. We won’t go into too much detail on what the differences are (if you’re curious, check out Microsoft’s FAQ on the subject), but we will point out that, while 64-bit Windows is the future for a variety of technically elegant reasons, it wasn’t the past, and that’s where most of our problems lie. 32-bit Windows has been around in some form or another since 1995, and is still for purchase today. Consequently, until fairly recently, most third-party hardware designed to connect to Windows PCs was designed with 32-bit Windows in mind first, with 64-bit Windows being something of an afterthought. The good news is almost all hardware that was compatible with 32-bit Windows XP is also compatible with 32-bit Windows 7, with the sole exception of a few printers that we’ve bumped into; so far, the expensive x-ray sensor mentioned previously also appear to retain compatibility with 32-bit Windows 7. The bad news is most PCs these days are sold with 64-bit Windows 7 or Windows 8 pre-installed. Thankfully, we can special order 32-bit Windows 7 PCs from Dell when necessary.

The best way to manage this obstacle is to first identify what hardware is already in production, then find out from the device manufacturer which versions of Windows it’s compatible with. Once that’s been determined, we can supply the necessary PC with the appropriate version of Windows.

Obstacle 2 – Old Software

Another issue we run into fairly frequently is the issue of software compatibility. Though most software, even older software, can be made to run either directly in Windows 7, some software either will only run inside XP Mode or will just fail to install entirely. Since Windows XP support is ending, taking XP Mode support out with it, we are actively encouraging our customers to find up-to-date replacements for their necessary line-of-business applications. Until suitable replacements or updates are purchased, however, we’ve had a reasonable amount of success installing older software in XP Mode or something similar, though the experience is nowhere near as seamless as a native software installation.

The best way to manage this obstacle is to identify which software packages on the network are mission critical and confirm with the software vendor that it’s compatible with Windows 7. Failing that, temporarily install the software package in XP Mode until a suitable replacement can be found.

Obstacle 3 – Software Incompatibility

This relates to Office 2003 upgrades more than upgrading an environment from Windows XP to Windows 7. Since Microsoft just released Office 2013 a couple of months ago, not all software that needs to talk to Office is compatible with it. One particularly troublesome example is Intuit’s QuickBooks 2013, which is only compatible with Office 2010 and earlier, though it’s certainly not alone – environments still running Microsoft Exchange 2003 are not compatible with Outlook 2013, either.

There are a couple of ways to manage this obstacle. One option is to secure an older version of Microsoft Office. Microsoft is pushing clients towards Office 2013 so older copies of their Office suites are becoming much harder to obtain. Once that supply runs out, the only solution will be to purchase a volume license for Office 2013, either Office 2013 Standard or Office 2013 Professional Plus, which contains the necessary downgrade rights through Microsoft to secure a licensed copy of Office 2010.

The other option, when and where possible, is to upgrade the incompatible software to a newer, compatible version. This, unfortunately, is presently impossible with QuickBooks, but is absolutely possible and necessary with Microsoft Exchange 2003, whose support will be expiring on April 8, 2014, exactly one day before support expires for Windows XP and Office 2003.

This concludes our analysis of the forthcoming expiration of support for Windows XP and Office 2003. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave us a note and we’ll get back to you.

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