Microsoft has been warning IT managers for months that it will end support for Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) on July 13. That should be no problem, since there's still Service Pack 3, which is still under support, on which to fall back.
According to a study just released by Toronto-based systems integrator and reseller Softchoice, however, 77 percent of all IT organizations still need to deal with PCs running SP2. Some 10 percent of the machines in those organizations still run XP SP2.
Even more troubling, however, is that, of 278,000 PCs in 117 organizations inventoried by Softchoice between January and June 2010, about 127,000, or 46 percent, are still running XP SP2. The organizations polled were located in the U.S. and Canada.
"Microsoft recommends customers using platforms that are near the end of their support update to the latest supported service packs or to the latest operating systems. This move will ensure those customers continue to receive security updates," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail earlier this month.
That means that beginning in mid-July, SP2 users can no longer get paid support or security updates. There is no SP3 for the 64-bit editions of XP, though, so those users of that edition will continue to receive support. Additionally, support for Windows Vista RTM and Windows Server 2000 also expire on the same date.
The choice for IT managers, then, is whether to take the time to upgrade all of their XP SP2 PCs to XP SP3 or to upgrade the PCs that are capable of being upgraded to Windows 7.
"Failing to do so could create unnecessary security risks as hackers continue to look for vulnerabilities knowing that software updates will no longer be forthcoming from Microsoft," a statement from Softchoice said.
That should be cause for alarm among PC managers who may have been caught off guard despite Microsoft's warnings.
"If organizations aren't already on top of this they should be moving quickly to update their systems," Dean Williams, services development manager for Softchoice, said in a statement.
Microsoft released Windows XP SP3 in April 2008. SP3's arrival started the clock ticking down for SP2 to expire 24 months later, as is typical in Microsoft support schedules. In this case, the timeline was longer. Windows XP originally shipped in late 2001 and SP2 in 2004.
The time required to deploy a service pack can consume scarce technical resources, however. Additionally, SP3 expires in April 2014. So upgrading to SP3 would put off the Windows 7 decision for nearly four years, by which time a new version of Windows is due out.
Finally, many XP-based PCs already in place in corporate organizations are capable from a hardware standpoint of being upgraded to Windows 7, analysts have said.
Anecdotal evidence points to some enterprises already beginning the move to Windows 7, despite the fact that SP1 for the newer OS is not yet ready for prime time.
Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that the first service packs for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 Release 2 (R2) will begin beta test at the end of July.
Given that the labor to install Windows 7 on XP PCs that are capable of being upgraded is about the same as that required to install XP SP3, the financial implications of choosing one over the other appears to favor Windows 7.
"Within enterprises, there's a point where you've got the need to move ahead, making end of life [for XP] a certainty," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com.