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Study: Staying on Windows XP Can Be Costly

Microsoft last week pointed to an IDC study it commissioned suggesting that organizations can save money by moving from Windows XP to Windows 7.

By sponsoring the study, Microsoft clearly wants to wrest the venerable 10-year-old Windows XP from the grip of organizations that have come to depend on it. Windows XP has been embraced by the commercial world to a surprising degree. IDC estimated in its report that by the end of 2011, Windows XP still accounted for 42 percent of commercial Windows client operating systems. That figure is expected to shrink to 11 percent by the end of 2014, according to the analyst and consulting firm.

IDC's report, "Mitigating Risk: Why Sticking With Windows XP Is a Bad Idea," is a financial analysis based on interviews with nine "large" organizations (an average of 3,680 employees). The study quantified the costs associated with staying on Windows XP, including lost user productivity time, as well as IT support and help desk costs. The one main factor that isn't accounted for in the study is the costs associated with updating applications to run on Windows 7.

Of course, security should be a principal concern for organizations still using Windows XP, as the OS will lose security-patch support by April 8, 2014 in accordance with Microsoft's product lifecycle schedule. Windows XP is moving out of its "extended support" phase, which means "the end of security updates, (paid) hotfix agreement support, and per-incident support services," according to IDC's report. An alternative option for organizations might be to pay Microsoft for "custom support," but that can be an expensive option.

IDC estimated that the annual cost for organizations to maintain a Windows XP-based PC is $870. That same cost for a Windows 7-based PC is $168, so organizations potentially can save about $701 per PC per year by moving to Microsoft's newer OS, according to the report.

The report breaks down Windows XP user productivity costs into six categories, including time lost to malware, time taken to reimage a PC, reboot waits, downtime and time waiting for help desk support. Reboots and malware constituted the top two productivity time drainers among users.

"Overall, user productivity is dramatically boosted by Windows 7, while Windows XP users are saddled with 7.8 additional hours of lost time per year compared with their colleagues using Windows 7," according to the report.

Lost IT productivity time using Windows XP is listed in the report under "operational activities" and "downtime-related activities." Patch management and deploying applications topped the operational activities as time wasters for IT pros. Meanwhile, the top issues causing downtime for IT pros were dealing with malware and providing help desk support.

"Moving to Windows 7 will reduce the time invested in patch management by 82%," the report claims (p. 6).

Over a three-year period, the study estimated that organizations that move from Windows XP to Windows 7 will have a 137 percent return on investment. However, the study acknowledges that in addition to the capital expenditures needed for the migration, organizations will have operational expenditures, which are more difficult to calculate. The study optimistically states that "once an upgrade is completed, and the operational costs are lowered, those operational cost benefits continue to accrue into the future with no further direct capex investment."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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