ATO still struggling with WinXP upgrade



blog Remember how in October 2011 the Australian Taxation Office revealed that it would finally ditch Microsoft’s legacy Windows XP operating system and adopt Windows 7? Yeah, not so much. iTNews reports this morning (we recommend you click here for the full article) that the agency is still struggling with the upgrade. One has to feel a little sorry for its tens of thousands of employees stuck on a decade-old operating system. A sample paragraph:

“The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will be breathtakingly close to Microsoft’s Windows XP and IE6 support deadline when it finally upgrades its 22,000 end-user machines late this year.”

Of course, the ATO is the only major Australian organisation to still be struggling to get off XP and onto a modern O/S. You may remember that the Queensland Government is still debating whether it can actually afford to move off XP, and the National Australia Bank only recently started deploying Windows 7. This sort of problem isn’t exactly uncommon in Australia, unfortunately.

Image credit: Who the hell do you think?


  1. I’m sure you meant it to be “Not only”.

    Of course, the ATO is the only major Australian organisation to still be struggling

  2. Interesting article, but…
    “One has to feel a little sorry for its tens of thousands of employees stuck on a decade-old operating system.”
    Eh? What actual value does any more recent version of windows have for an office automation role over Windows XP? Apart from IE6 (which you’d have to be insane not to replace w/third-party browser), and Microsoft perhaps forcing you to upgrade the OS to run recent versions of Office or interoperate with more modern Windows file/domain services, what was the actual problem for the staff? Nobody cares about whooshy UIs on corporate desktops. The IT support people are probably getting tired of procuring spares hardware that has drivers for XP, but the workers themselves don’t see that.

    The far bigger problem is when corporate desktops are so underspec’d with RAM as to be swapping their guts out trying to keep up with workers who have a few apps open at once. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched someone have to use a woefully unresponsive PC to do basic work, while the hard drive light constantly flickers. It’s degrading and stressful for the workers: “this is how much the company values your attempts to get work done”.

    To the extent that Win7 forces hardware upgrades, there’s a chance that people can spend more of their time doing work and less time waiting for the machine to play Tower of Hanoi with its virtual memory. That’s about it as far as I can see.

    • “To the extent that Win7 forces hardware upgrades, there’s a chance that people can spend more of their time doing work and less time waiting for the machine to play Tower of Hanoi with its virtual memory. That’s about it as far as I can see.”

      + bajjillion.

      There are so many studies, commentaries, complaints about the need to improve productivity within the Australian workplace, a small part of this is being held up in infrastructure that ensures that users cannot work consistently.
      This can be through IT infrastructure that is either “under specced” or completely unsuited to task at hand.
      Personal experience on this one as my work machine is running XP with 2GB ram, whilst connected to local applications whilst also connecting to a Terminal Service to access “other systems” at least I have two screens so that I can twice as much stuff running slower than a wet week.

      • “Personal experience on this one as my work machine is running XP with 2GB ram”


        At the small business I’m at we have a lab PC stuck with 512MB that struggles swapping between Word and Excel.

        • Well I dunno about all you saps, but our XP computers at work are useless.

          They take about 3-4 minutes to boot into client mode and 30-45 seconds to open any application. They’re also locked down tighter than a baboons backside, but that’s neither here nor there in this context.

          I’d just about slit my own wrists than keep using them. Fortunately they’re finally upgrading to Mini-ITX Towers with 7 and 4GB of RAM (oh yeah, they’re running 512GB RAM and AMD Opterons….great tech hey?).

          Practically a royal feast after dealing with them every day….

          Say what you want about Win 7- with a decent amount of RAM (Read 4GB) its’ faster and smoother than any XP machine I’ve ever used. XP was great. But we need to dig out of that ditch now.

          • The ATO machines arent that bad. Early quad core processors, with 4 Gb of ram. Pretty much what I have at home actually (note to self: upgrade), which runs Win 7 fine. The problems arent with the hardware, its with the software running on them.

            Nothing that cant be solved, but issues that take longer than you’d hope or expect.

          • 3-4 minutes to boot? Wow, that’s fast. Compare to a prior job’s bank supplied XP notebook with enough security software to satisfy auditors, boot time – at least 10-15 minutes. Hibernation or Standby not allowed.

    • “To the extent that Win7 forces hardware upgrades”
      And there is the pain.
      No support for hardware from major suppliers (like HP) for Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.

      I still have to run a Virtual desktop with Windows XP to run apps and drivers that ONLY work on Windows XP and older operating systems. And this is for hardware still available up to 12 months before Vista came out.

      I am not going to spends hundreds of dollars replacing perfectly good hardware, just because the vendors refuse to support more modern operating systems.

  3. It’s not quite as simple as lets go, there are a lot other apps that need to made be Win 7 ready. As for IE6, this was upgraded to IE8 last year for all of the ATO. Most government agencies I know of have been dragging XP along for as long as they can, which has made it even harder to migrate.

  4. @Jason Ozolins

    Seems strange that anyone would have to point out the advantages of 7 over XP at this point but here is a quick summary:

    Security – Above all else this is the most important factor. In addition to the core OS being more secure, support and security patches for XP will cease shortly. Considering the sensitivity of the data these people will be accessing this is a major concern for all Australians.

    User Expierience – Anyone who has used 7 and XP will tell you that using 7 is much better for productivity. example features: Task bar jump lists, “Snap” points for windows, Start menu search. The list goes on.

    Performance – Simply put, XP cannot take advantage of modern PC hardware. Windows 7 with even a moderately to low specced machine will run better than XP.

    There are several other reasons but unfortuantely my lunch break is over and i should get back to bossing people around.


    • Security is a given. When the patches stop, you can’t keep on using it in a standard, networked office environment. Fully agree. But the original article quote was about the staff being so sad about having XP, and TBH staff aren’t dying in a ditch over the impending loss of XP patch support because they just don’t know that side of the story. But it’s a big deal for the IT folks, definitely.

      I actually have two Win7 laptops in the house, one super-cheapy for my son and one for me. Mostly Win7 annoys me that it doesn’t work like XP. I have to use XP, Win7, MacOS and couple of GNU/Linux GUIs, so I guess I haven’t invested enough time in Win7 to see whether I can remove the annoying HP Support/crapware and Windows Live jump lists that HP and Microsoft put where the Quick Launch bar used to be, and somehow get some productivity gains from jump lists. I’d prefer if they’d tackle basic annoyances like new browser windows opening with their bottom right hand corners off the screen once I open more that a couple, and how many dialog boxes still seem to be unresizable, forcing you to view large data through small portholes. Not like MacOS gets some of this stuff that right either.

      Windows search? Meh, gave up on in XP that when I realised that it wasn’t showing me files or folders I was looking for because they were supposed to be special hidden files that mortals weren’t meant to see. Use third-party tools instead.

      One thing that actually works much better in Win7 over XP, is that Win7 actually realises that it has an Explorer window open that it needs to close when you try to eject the removable media that the Explorer is looking at, rather than just bleating that “something is mysteriously still using this device, we won’t tell you what but you need to fix the problem” like XP and, IIRC, Vista. Truly, that was lame.

      And I think it was Vista that finally ceased the pretence that the first disk partition should start at sector 63 and respect the stupid “255 heads 63 sectors” sizing restrictions; which killed Flash, SSD and 4K sector hard disk performance under XP if you were unlucky enough to assume XP’s formatting tools knew how to lay out disk geometry.

      As far as multicore and hyperthread-sane scheduler and NUMA memory management stuff in Win7, that’s super for servers, but hardly relevant for most office automation desktops. I did mention that XP support for commonly available hardware is getting really problematic. Win7 beating Vista on low-end hardware I can believe; XP I can less believe. FWIW, wife is still using an ancient 1.6GHz Centrino Dell D400 w/1.25G and XP, from 2004; it’s fine unless she makes it swap, but the applications are the issue there. Sure I should upgrade it but she unilaterally declared it “hers” one day so I’m not that fussed…

  5. define major organisation. I know plenty of large organisations that are still on XP.

    DHS in Victoria for one.

  6. Then there are those departments that have customised enterprise level systems that won’t even run on anything other than XP and IE6. Now those are the ones that are in serious trouble.

  7. In January, before the price went up I updated any machines in my office that were still running XP to Windows 8. Unfortunately the ATO Electronic Lodgment System relies on a Cisco VPN that does not play nice with the latest Windows.

    The ATO currently advises
    “The vendor of CISCO VPN client has not yet certified it will work with the recent release of Windows 8. However, we expect the vendor to certify a product in late November 2012.”

    • And herein lies part of the problem. They need to cater to people using XP, Vista, 7, & 8 for things like ELS, and its not necessarily easy to get every program working well on every platform.

      Internally, they can deal with it relatively easily. But externally, like with ELS here, they cant. The ATO needs to rely on those third parties (like CISCO) providing a solution.

  8. My local supermarket just upgraded to a new pos system with guess what, Win XP ?

  9. Legacy applications and services can be fairly easily addressed through either compatibility mode or ‘XP Mode’ (VM). I’ve overseen deployments of Win7 in environments that needed Win2k and XP for legacy applications, hardware and websites and if adequately tested all worked essentially seamlessly for the user (particularly Virtual Applications from XP Mode), while providing substantial benefits to productivity, security and management. Remember XP can’t address more than 3GB of memory no matter how much you stick in there and doesn’t play nice with SSDs (even after sector realignment it will always lack TRIM support). Then there’s improved multithreading and memory management that improves stability and performance. Finally, for those who are intimidated by the UI, you can run the whole thing looking like XP if you really can’t get your head around the improved functionality.

    For business, this is a no-brainer, especially when combined with an SSD and RAM upgrade – consider that every time an employee has to eat for their PC to perform a task they actually lose triple that time on average because they get distracted and go and do something else while they’re waiting. Fast PCs mean more focused, more productive staff. Per head a new PC every two years is actually an extremely prudent and efficient use of resources as it will pay for itself in improved productivity within weeks. But try explaining that to the bean counters… *sigh*

  10. Here at the Dept. of Housing and Public Works in QLD, we’re still stuck on Office 2003 and XP. There’s a lot we would like to do, but limited by the OS.

  11. Alot of the QLD agency and other department will use software that relys on IE6 and has no product support

    I presume thats the case with the ATO

  12. Seriously, win7 is pretty to look at, but slow. It’s only when I get out an old XP box or a ubuntu box, with a clean clutter free install I realise what I miss- SPEED. It doesn’t matter what hardware you put win7 on, it ‘feels’ slow, like it’s in slow motion. It takes forever to connect to network resources, it refreshes folders slowly, it copies slowly, it has trouble with network shares in a wireless environment where NAS servers are used. It’s media processes place a ridiculous overhead just doing nothing.
    Yesterday I got out my trust IBM netvista with a P4 1.8G in it because I knew I could acomplish all the file copying and NAS organisation much faster than with the i7 box. It was up and running, connected to the wifi and operational in 21 seconds. Things happen instantly with XP. win7 is like iOS on an iphone- everything is animated to hide the delay in the background.
    Yes XP is dead, but it is still the best operating system for actually doing work.

    • Win7 slow? It was refactored by Microsoft to run all XP tasks faster. WHich is my experience, it has always felt faster, and it is.

      • Agree with Oliver

        I’ve found Win 7 to be faster than XP in ALL tasks, especially networking. Only exception is VMWare on Mac because of Win7’s inherently different memory management.

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