Qld wrestles with WinXP upgrade

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blog Work in the Queensland Government and stuck on a dated desktop PC running Windows XP? Bad news. Your newly appointed whole of government chief information officer Peter Grant is currently considering the case for upgrading the state’s tens of thousands of Windows XP-based desktop PCs, and the prognosis for a Windows 7 fix isn’t good. ZDNet reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“To deal with the XP fleet would cost the Queensland Government more than AU$100 million, according to Grant. But there was no guarantee that he would simply upgrade the systems to Windows 7.”

I feel very confident that government departments and many of the more conservative private sector organisations around Australia are currently facing this very problem. With Windows XP continuing to function as well as it always has, is there really a case to upgrade to Windows 7? To my mind, and no doubt to the mind of everyone else relying on the many advantages of Windows 7, the case appears pretty easy on an individual basis. Windows 7 will deliver many users an instant productivity and software/hardware compatibility boost compared with Windows XP, to say nothing of the administration advantages for those maintaining desktop PC fleets remotely.

But when you’re a large organisation looking at a $100 million bill for the upgrade, and many of those desktop PCs only fulfil basic tasks which won’t really take advantage of Windows 7’s significantly upgraded functionality, the case starts to look a little more difficult. Looks like Microsoft might need to extend that Windows XP support date for another decade or so. It also looks like Gartner’s prediction that most organisations will not upgrade to Windows 8 will be quite accurate.

Image credit: Microsoft

30 COMMENTS

  1. This is what happens when government entities use archaic/EOL editions applications… They expect to be able to ‘innovate’ our society, yet they themselves can’t seem to keep up.

    • Or you could look at it the other way – the government bought XP and is using it until the end of its life, thus avoiding the need to keep paying Microsoft to update.

      There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with running Windows XP, unless it is stopping them from being able to do work.

      I still run Windows XP on my desktop because I have found no compelling reason to upgrade (except for Battlefield 3). I can still perform all the work tasks I need to do at basically the same level of efficiency as my colleagues who are on Windows 7 or Vista.

      • Too true. I’m still using XP at work and expect to continue until the hardware dies. Fortunately, I’m a Unix sysadmin and don’t care about my desktop, could use a Mac or even Windows NT for that matter. Fortunately again, I work at a university and can effectively choose my own desktop platform; my current plan is to install RHEL and run the enterprise desktop SOE in a VM. Then I’ll get Windows 7 :-)

  2. The clock is ticking closer towards EOL for XP and anyone running it has to upgrade. Regardless of what the cost is for Qld Gov to upgrade to Windows 7, it will be the cheapest alternative, particularly given that they’ve left it so late to upgrade. If they took more action a couple of years ago then *maybe* there would be other thin, cloud, or alternative solutions available to them but I can’t see how the business transformation cost could be cheaper than just installing a copy of Windows 7.

    Grant played hard & bluffed with Microsoft last time he was the Qld Government CIO, (right before he took the job as the Microsoft Qld Manager) – I suspect anything he’s saying now is just similar blustering to try and get a licence discount from MS.

  3. The QLD government isn’t alone here. WA government departments are slowly beginning the roll out of Windows 7 (I’m posting this from an XP PC).

    WA Health has chosen to implement the x64 edition (thank god) based on feedback from in-house developers who are constrained by the memory limits of x86 systems.

    The rollout is supposed to be completed this year but I can’t see it happening. Maybe 1% of all users are running Windows 7 and I the stumbling point is the legacy (archaic) applications (500+) many of which are still in use and the vendors are either long gone or the product is out of support.

  4. I can see how the benefits of Windows 7 are pretty small for the vast majority of users in government land. When you’re looking at a $100 million bill for what will amount to not much difference for nearly all users, it’s pretty hard to justify.

    That said, a 64-bit Windows 7 build needs to be developed and made available for those users who need it. This is especially the case if you need lots of RAM and the <4GB limit of 32-bit Windows XP is becoming a limitation (think developers, GIS analysts, anyone who works with graphics or video, etc). The stats guys in my office (Qld govt department) just ordered a bunch of high-end workstations with 16GB of RAM but because they're stuck with XP they can only use about 3.5GB and it has a huge impact on their productivity with the amount of data processing they do. It's madness.

    • There is a 64-bit version of Windows XP. Doesn’t really surprise me that these guys work for the Queensland Government though. Brisbane City Council was still running Windows 2000 on a lot of its computers when I was there is 2008.

      • 64bit xp was never really supported by Microsoft, so many things don’t work with it, it is much easier to go straight to win 7.

        Qld gov only upgraded from ie6 this year (and afaik some pockets remain). Things that only work in ie6 (and not ie8) has been a major impediment to upgrades. But now that’s happened it’s more likely an upgrade will happen. Or at least an upgrade is *possible*.

    • You can’t roll out x64 Win7 onto x86 machines though.
      You would have to install x86 Win7, which is still limited to ~4GB of RAM.

      But I understand what you’re saying, and agree completely.

      • I’m guessing those PCs were bought brand new. No one would purchase (let alone sell) hardware with 16GB of RAM and only a 32-bit processor.

        On another note, if the government has to buy Windows 7 (whatever bit-ness), they would also have to buy WinXP 64-bit if they wanted to use it.

  5. Those ” basic use” machines should be replaced with Linux, saving 90 million dollars in licence fees now and hundreds on millions in years to come.

    opensuse $0.00
    Win XP -pro/win7/win8: not much under $100 at best I suppose even at their rates., even if bargain basement $50 a pc, that’s $50 pc too much.

    Apache OpenOffice $0.00
    MS Office: few hundred $’s

    Slackware $0.00
    Microsoft Server: Countless thousands $’s

    MySQL/PostGreSQL $0.00
    MSSQL: Countless thousands $’s

    The savings are endless, in not only software, but in man hours, no constant need for large IT teams to constantly fix broken and hacked Microsoft crashed out products.

    It’s not likely they need to play solitaire or some crap all day long (though there are plenty of time wasting games in most default linux distros anyway)

    • you neglected to mention the costs for supporting these non-microsoft applications…

      please don’t be one of those that say that these types of applications do not need support. the costs of re-training existing employees or hiring new ones with the necessary skills to support this type of environment are not insignificant.

      also, as soon as you introduce non-microsoft applications, particularly word processing and spreadsheeting, you introduce compatibility issues (regardless of what the ‘openoffice’ vendors might tell you… ).

      • Also:

        Not able to manage *nix PC’s through group policy

        Not being able to have a single SOE anymore. Would need to manage multiple sets of application packages, distribution methods, patching gets infinitely more complex, etc.

        What about if you have users, especially non technical ones, who travel to different offices and might end up using a Windows PC in one place and a *nix PC in another office? What if they use a package which runs on Windows only? Do you expect a non tech person to learn to use two OS’s?

        Vendor support arrangements for open source OS’s and apps?

        Take it one step further: If I put a tender to market for some sort of project and only need to worry about Windows boxes and servers, I get a better response rate at better prices than I do if I introduce multiple platforms (*nix and others) and different apps. Essentially the greater the complexity, up goes the price.

        …and so on.

        • That would indeed be a problem… if someone hadn’t invented the Internet and figured out a way to move a big chunk of those applications into the web.

          All these “non-technical” people need to do is learn to use a web browser in most cases, and they’re done.

          If there is platform specific stuff that only runs on Windows, then obviously you’re stuck with Windows. But the other points you make about Linux seem just utterly bizarre to me.

          I personally don’t like Linux on the desktop – it’s always “almost there”, and I still run Windows (I dual boot Ubuntu on my laptop). But I also know 99% of my application base is easily doable on Linux, and the other 1% I can either run in a Windows VM or swap out for something else.

          I know several businesses have tried to switch to Linux and have failed – though whether it was due to poor organisation or better deals offered by MS + other vendors is an interesting question – but there are also some high profile success stories (e.g., http://linux.slashdot.org/story/12/03/29/0025239/munich-has-saved-4m-so-far-after-switch-to-linux ).

          I personally love the idea of the government switching to Linux and freeing themselves of the shackles of the eternal paid upgrade cycle for operating system software. A proper, concerted effort to do so would only benefit the open source ecosystem and I believe would result in significant long term savings for taxpayers.

          • a lot of the applications run by government departments are not able to be ‘webified’, so that would require the development of new applications, at a very significant cost.

            and the ‘they just need to learn how to use a browser’ argument is utter tripe. using a web-based application is a lot different to just browsing the internet. for example: if my department was running SAP locally on windows workstations and users didn’t know how to use it, how does making it run via a browser in linux make that any easier? all that has changed is the delivery mechanism. the training for the app is still required. the training in linux is still required. the development of the browser-based version of the app is still required. just because you move to linux as your distribution mechanism, doesn’t mean to say that costs just disappear. that’s why a lot of linux deployments fail. there is a perception that there are no ongoing costs, which is just wrong.

          • As I said, if you’re stuck with Windows-specific apps, you’re stuck to Windows. Companies and departments need to factor this into their TCO figures. If you need to upgrade Windows every 3 years to be able to keep running whatever application you’re running, that is a cost that needs to be considered.

            I don’t get your second point. If you need to train the staff /anyway/, it’s going to be a challenge, whether it’s Random App On Desktop, or Random App In Browser. When I say these people need to learn how to use a web browser, I mean they literally just need to click a bookmark to load their application, instead of doubleclicking a desktop icon.

            You still have to train them how to use the application – but if your application runs on Windows, it is tied to the Windows platform, and you (may) have to keep rolling out updates to Windows to keep it alive.

            Anyway, as I said, I do not necessarily think Linux is the right answer to Windows (just yet). But some people do (e.g., the government of Munich) and the more it builds a critical mass, the easier it will be for other governments to make the move – especially as more and more apps are “webified” to make them available on more platforms.

      • Oh, yes, re-training costs are a killer if you move to Linux.

        It’s not like there’s any re-training required if you, say, move from Office2003 on XP to Office2010 on Win7…

        Oh, wait, that’s just what my employers did recently. In just this one small office, I’d estimate between $50-$60k worth of time spent on training, and probably 4 or 5 times that again spent in lower productivity while people are still getting familiar with the new OS & completely different layout / functionality of Office2010.

        That’s for an office of 40 people. Globally, our Win7 rollout has been going for 9 months now, and still has a few more to go. *Excluding* licence costs, I’d estimate the cost is on the order of $10-$15million for an organisation with 2500 employees.

        If we’d been able to switch to Linux or some other alternative, we’d still have to spend that much on retraining. But OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice are both much easier to transition to from Office 2003 than Office 2010 is. And you’d enjoy the lack of licence fees in the future.

        It was never going to happen with us, though – they’ve gone too far down the Microsoft path. It also doesn’t help that almost none of the specialist applications we use in our business are available for any other platform. Or that government departments we deal with daily *require* files to be in MS Office formats (no, not OOXML, just MS Office – no ISO standards here!)

        On the other hand – our SOE contains some simple productivity apps for which there are open-source alternatives with exactly the same functionality, yet our IT dep’t has chosen the ones with a per-seat licence fee. Go figure…

      • I rarely bother to check back on these things, but glad I did,
        Yes Shanon, I hear this excuse all the time mostly from those who have never done it, or, from MS vendors/agents who are scared of losing out ripping off companies.

        A company I worked for around 1999, moved 55 desktop staff from windows 98 to RedHat, the savings they earned from not having to use w2k desktops, office and so on was staggering.
        The ongoing cost savings were less than windows.

        and if you need to retrain staff to use a web browser and email client, and dont know how to compose in, star office I think it was back then, the same as openoffice today, then they should NOT be employed in the first place.

        footnote: not a single one of those employees had any issues migrating, and once existing staff were migrated, theres no more ongoing cost than if they were using any operating system, in fact, less so, because no more ongoing OS upgrade licence costs.

        Oh, they also saved around 150K a year extra, their IT dept was made redundant, not needed, with only a general contractor on standby for new acquisitions and once every three months general “health check”

        It is true that some businesses are limited to windows for proprietary software in rare cases, but these days you can get anything from basic accounting to POS to entire company suites (from factory floor to sales, remote sales staff, remote POS, the works ) in nix, some large hotel chains in the U.S use it, I agree however that finding this stuff is knowing where to look, and as 90% of computer retailers staff wouldnt even know about linux/ unix/ bsd and are hopelessly clueless anyway, and of course dont suggest it (apart from the fact they cant make a profit on software sales) if they want to keep their job, that is. Theres a lot more example I can give, but at 4.30 on friday arvo, I’m about to leave :)

  6. While the concept that “we can stick with Windows XP because Windows 7/8 isn’t offering any extra functionality than we need” is potentially valid, there is also a flaw in thinking this way.

    Unless every application you are using is developed in house – (in which case, you could keep developing/updated for the XP platform) – if any of your COTS business applications end up discontinuing support for Windows XP, you’ve kind of painted yourself into a corner.

    A required upgrade comes along, and it doesn’t support XP. You have only XP out there, and all of a sudden you’ve gotten yourself a need to very rapidly deploy new desktops, probably in a short period of time, just to support a business critical application.

    This stance might be great in theory, but it’s potentially dangerous in practice.

      • Exactly – from the vendor side of the fence, look at it this way, if you’ve got two competing software packages from competing vendors:

        * Vendor A develops a new killer “must have” feature that relies on an application framework or library that is only supported on Windows 8.

        * Vendor B’s app still fully supports Windows XP, but they have to match the killer “must have” feature to complete with Vendor A.

        * Vendor B has to support Windows 8 to support the feature.

        * Vendor B customer insists on Windows XP, and therefore can’t progress to later versions of the app; or has to bite the bullet and move to Windows 8.

        Just because a company wants to stick with a particular platform, doesn’t mean the can when they look at their entire computing platform.

        Market inertia ultimately wins out.

        As far as I look at it, the fact that the Queensland Government is still sitting on Windows XP, and by the time Windows 8 hits the market, they’ll be three versions of Windows behind, it’ll be their own fault if their entire application suite suddenly becomes unsupportable.

        I think that’s potentially more expensive than spending the time and money upgrading now, before they cut off their noses despite their faces.

        • Market inertia does win out – but at the moment it is winning in the favour of Windows XP, because much of the market has not seem compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 7. By some estimates it is still as high as 40% percent! (http://www.netmarketshare.com/operating-system-market-share.aspx?qprid=11&qpcustomb=0)

          We only see ~23% of Windows users still on XP (70% on Win7, 5% on Vista) on our gaming website AusGamers, but it’s typical for gamers to be more ahead of the curve than corporate/government, especially given some games will simply not work on Windows XP – like Battlefield 3.

          There’s a lot of people still making sure their stuff runs on XP for that reason – there’s still a big chunk of corporate/government that – for whatever reason – is running it today.

          It still has ~18 months before it is truly end-of-lifed by Microsoft – I’m sure we’ll see a big drop-off after that point, and I would like to think those on XP are preparing for the End Time.

  7. The truth is, for most business applications, XP works just fine. My employees are happilt pecking away at Word 2003 on their XP machines. There is no conceivable need to upgrade them. “the technology environment has shifted. Technology continues to evolve and so do people’s needs and expectations”. Uh, no. My business needs did not evolve to need Windows 7. I can see using this same software 10 years from now. Basic web browsing and word processing. Of course if Microsoft stops supporting XP and all our computers become unusable because they are compromised by security exploits, that would change things.

    • MS will stop supporting it in about 18 months… you better start thinking about that upgrade.

      • That’s not going to stop anyone – just look at all the news articles about people being hacked because they’re running old unpatched operating systems.

  8. FYI I have received the following as an anonymous tip. It’s unverified, so probably not worth an article at this point, but I thought it worth posting here for those interested:


    Various Queensland organisation and government departments are still running outdated Windows XP operating system, which Microsoft had a end of life date of next year

    Some government departments and agency took it beyond themselves before election of investing and developing Windows 7 SOE environment. Both alot of money to invest in and generally a good idea, Not knowing what might happen post election

    What has happened is new government has came into power and before the election promised contractors weren’t going to be renewed or new hired. So the people working very hard on that organisation SOE the deployment officers, key testers and system architects the deployment get the chop.

    When they get the chop so does the entire deployment is scrapped and wasted investment.

    How do we get to the situation where contractors and Windows 7 deployment is scrapped
    1. We can terminate you at any-time client convince.
    2. You have a fixed date when work ends
    3. The internal staff aren’t smart enough. So you have to hire externally
    4. Managers want contractor like dialling a pizza. Not the internal long recruitment process which can take 1-3 months before you could hire someone

    We can take example scenario for a government department running windows XP
    Windows Xp can be hacked quite easily and we all know this fairly well.. A government department still running older windows XP are potentially not running the latest security patches are at risk of potential malware, spy-ware and virus.

    This very much because every new SOE must be carefully tested and includes selected security updates. Which won’t break stuff in the organisation

    It’s stupid idea to place a windows 7 deployment on hold or scrap it for a organisation. Because all it will take is one hacker or a group to discover security hole enough to embarrass an entire government organisation and that government

    I’ve had the opinion the audits just see numbers. They don’t see we have certain hacker groups which has a potential to disrupt the IT services and infrastructure if you scrap a major deployment, which will increase your security and decrease your chances of being attacks than staying on Windows XP for another 2 years maybe.

  9. “… outdated Windows XP operating system, which Microsoft had a end of life date of next year”

    Someone should do at least some basic fact checking. Windows XP reaches End of Support Life on the 8th of April, 2014 (http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?c2=1173). Coincidentally, Office 2003 also EoLs on the same date (http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=2488), as well as Exchange 2003 (http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?c2=730). At lease we have until 14th July 2015 to replace Windows Server 2003 (http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?c2=1163) although there are probably new projects within the government that don’t want to use Windows Server 2008.

    • The Qld IT Minister can’t even get the date for XP right:

      “Windows XP would not be supported by Microsoft from August 2013, Ms Bates said”

      As GoonerW has correctly pointed out, the end of the ‘Extended Support’ Phase for XP is in April 2014.

      Also note, the end of Extended Support phase for Windows 7 is 2020.

      Most organisations (ours included) will move from XP to 7, skipping both Vista and Windows 8.

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