April 2014 is a significant month for many reasons. Spring weather finally returns to the Northern hemisphere. The Final Four NCAA tournament games will all be played. And three of the most widely deployed and impactful products from Microsoft all reach their end of life. In case you somehow missed it, Windows XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 all reach the end of life in the next two weeks. Many an enterprise IT infrastructure was built on these three classics. Windows XP is still widely considered to be Microsoft’s finest desktop operating system, even though the change from the “Classic Desktop” to what was then considered a “modern desktop” caused more than its fair share of figurative riots. And since no desktop is truly functional without core apps, Office 2003 was almost as widely deployed. And in the datacenter, Exchange 2003 was the first version of Exchange to really feel complete, and still hosts probably hundreds of thousands of mailboxes, even though support for it ends this month.
If your enterprise is still running any of these three products, you really want to do something about that soon… like as soon as you finish reading this article. Because once they go end of life, there will be no more patches, no more updates, no more new software, no more drivers-no more anything for these products. The truth is, except for updates from Microsoft, you probably have not gotten any other updates, or found new drivers for hardware to run XP. These products are multiple generations older than current, but users and admins alike have insisted on running them for years longer than anyone probably expected. If you are one of these, and the products fit the need, good for you, but now the end has truly arrived.
Nothing lasts forever
I do not want you to think that I believe customers should have to upgrade every time a software vendor releases a new version. Far from it. I think it is fine for you to get every last ounce of use out of anything you buy. But at the same time, I do think that when a product has outlived its usefulness, and reached its end of life, it is time for you to let it go.
XP has been out for well over a decade. Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 are both in the same boat. Their name tells you when they came out. There have been so many advances in what the technology can do that they are relative dinosaurs at this point. Most companies can depreciate software over a three year period, so from an accounting perspective, you’ve definitely gotten your money’s worth out of it.
It’s time to change. You cannot get support for these products after next week. You won’t find any software updates or security patches for them. New versions won’t be compatible with them. And even if you wanted to keep them, it is going to be harder and harder to find people with the skills to maintain them. Even seasoned admins who worked with them have probably moved on and can barely remember these older products. Newer IT pros today were in grammar school when these products came out, and won’t have the experience to maintain them, or the desire to learn legacy products.
Windows XP reached its end of life last week, corresponding nicely with patch Tuesday for April, and on that day we saw the last patches ever for XP. After XP came Vista, and then came Windows 7, and after that Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1. XP users are three major operating system versions behind, and need to understand that no more patches or updates means RISK.
You will be at risk from newly discovered vulnerabilities, because Microsoft won’t be releasing patches. You will be at risk from lack of drivers, since hardware manufacturers won’t be creating drivers for new hardware to make it work with older operating systems. And you will be at risk from IT staff turnover, since your rockstars will be tired of dealing with legacy and you won’t be able to replace them with experienced new hires.
It’s time to move on.
There will be no more updates for this aging application suite, and from a security perspective, that’s really bad news. All of your employees’ email and office documents could be at risk if a piece of malware exploits this older suite. Again, that’s an all-caps RISK.
Exchange 2003 has almost an extra week over XP and Office 2003, hitting end of life today. That week is not going to make any difference for you as far as patches and security updates are concerned, since after April’s patch Tuesday, it’s done. What’s really scary is that, while there are still a ton of people using XP, they can be upgraded relatively easily with new hardware and preinstalled operating systems, and they’re done. Yes, I know if it was that easy, you would have already done it, but you can also address users one at a time and not take down the entire company. Upgrading from Exchange 2003 is going to be much harder, since taking your email system offline is not an option. And you cannot even go to the latest version of Exchange directly, since 2013 is not compatible with 2003. If you are a Microsoft shop and want to stay that way, your best bet at this point may be either to upgrade to Exchange 2010 or migrate to Office 365. If you don’t want to stay with Microsoft, Google Apps may be the option for you. But whatever you do, do it soon, because after next week, your Exchange 2003 infrastructure is on borrowed time.
Honorable Mention – Internet Explorer 8
IE8 is not dead yet, but it may as well be. Google stopped worrying about making its products compatible with IE8 already, and even Microsoft’s flagship Office 365 has ended all support for IE8. Seriously, with IE 9, 10, and 11 out there, not to mention Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and even Opera, what are you doing still using IE8? If you answered application compatibility, then keep an eye out for the next update to Windows 8.1, as IE11 will have an IE8 compatibility mode that should make it easier for you to migrate.
Just one more thing…
And while you’re in an upgrade state of mind, you have just a little more than a year before Windows Server 2003 & R2 both go end of life. The big day for them is July 14, 2015, and we both know you have domain controllers, File & Print servers, and more key infrastructure running on 2003. You’ve got a year… don’t put off replacing those servers like you did XP and Office 2003 and Exchange 2003.
If you are still running XP, Office 2003, and Exchange 2003, we want to hear from you. Why are you still on these older versions, and what are you planning to do about it? Leave a comment and let us know.