The sane person's guide to the Windows XP apocalypse

Put down the hand grenade, and step away from the keyboard -- the end of Windows XP doesn't have to be a disaster

Microsoft giveth and Microsoft taketh away. In between, it also files lot of bug reports. Come next week, we'll say good-bye to either Windows XP or the digital peace of mind provided by regular patching and hotfixes.

Yes, I recently hammered folks who've been complaining about XP's retirement either because they say they've been caught off guard and can't afford to upgrade all their machines at once or because they don't think it's fair they're being pushed to drop something that isn't broken. As my brother would always say while delivering a HALO* wedgie, "Let's not fight."

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You're a small business with limited resources, and you're in this situation. What can you do about it?

The real costs of upgrading XP

Unfortunately, this generally isn't about licensing costs. I was schooled/lambasted/burned in effigy after my last XP post by a reader who said her small business could afford upgrading the 25 PCs in the office to Windows 7, but not the specialty software she was using, which cost a little more than $8,000 a seat. Why hadn't I thought of that, sad excuse for a human being that I am?

That's a bad position to be in, and I sympathize. While I can still say this should have been all the more reason to prepare for this April on her part, I'm inclined to concentrate my stink eye on that price-gouging, kitten-chewing software vendor.

Sign up for access to the Microsoft Partner Network (it's not hard) and you'll find mounds of resources that Redmond hurls at anyone making software for Windows. You'll see the XP end-of-support message slapped on everything from a long way back. That's just the free stuff -- an MSDN subscription (which you'd be nuts not to have if you're making Windows apps) takes you to a whole new level: here's what's coming, here's what to do about it, here's how to do it.

It's amazing to me that these vendors can leave their customers hanging while pointing the finger at Microsoft. The business owner said she'd never been contacted by her software vendor about upgrading based on XP EOS. I have trouble believing that, but then again, we've established he chews on kittens. I suppose it has to be true.

Options abound

My advice to this reader or anyone trapped on XP by legacy applications that can't move forward for whatever reason remains the same: Check out Windows 7 Pro or higher, which give you the option of using either Compatibility Mode or XP Mode. The former lets you tell Windows to run an application as if it was XP. The latter starts a virtual XP machine in which to run your app. If you have an IT staff, you can also run XP applications from the server side using Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) -- basically the same as XP Mode, only run and managed on the back end. 

If you think Microsoft built three ways to do this because none of them work perfectly, you're right. Not every XP application is guaranteed to run in any of these modes, so your nephew's hand-coded, eight-year-old college thesis project powering your business may not work. In typical Microsoft fashion, these features are only enabled in the more expensive Windows 7 versions, not Home Premium. Worse, XP Mode and MED-V support weren't implemented in Windows 8+ only Compatibility Mode (yet another reason to avoid upgrading to Windows 8 and stick with Windows 7). And Microsoft's support for XP Mode and MED-V end on April 8 as well, as part of the end of XP support -- so they'll get no further updates, either.

But these options are there. Before bursting into tears or spending $200,000 on new seats for that vile bastard's software, get your nephew, IT staffer, or consultant to test your app using these features. Then maybe reconsider the tear-stained good-bye note to your cat, the WWII-era live hand grenade, and the one-way ticket to Redmond.

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