Old is Not Necessarily Dead

Microsoft Windows XP wordmark official.

Microsoft Windows XP wordmark official. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some reason, last month was a time when I kept running into legacy systems over and over. And by legacy systems I am talking about older technology platforms that everybody assumes are little used or dead and gone.

First, I ran into two separate CPA firms that are still using PCs with Windows XP. They said they are using it because the programs they use don’t require a higher version of Windows, and the XP platform is stable and trouble-free. As it turn out this is a fairly common opinion in the corporate world. It is estimated that one-third of worldwide computers, or 500 million computers still run XP. And this is a 13-year old operating system.

It turns out that Microsoft is going to officially stop supporting XP in April 2014, and that will drive a lot of corporations to upgrade to something newer. But many smaller firms (like these CPA firms) will choose to not upgrade and they will continue to run it without the Microsoft backstop. Their reasoning is that hackers are no longer concentrating on the older operating systems and the platforms will actually get safer over time as fewer and fewer people use them. And let’s face it, upgrading a Windows platform at a company is a lot more of a pain in the butt than doing it at home. I know I have spent a whole day before making my machine work right after an upgrade, and figure that same effort times many machines in an office.

I also ran into XP when we started doing number portability and the NPAC system that everybody uses for number porting is also still on Windows XP.

But then I ran into something even older. One of my clients has recently started using MS-DOS as the software to control external access to his server. He has it set up so that somebody gets only three tries to log in and then the operating system shuts down. He thinks this is hacker-free since most LANs are hacked by programs that try millions of password combinations to get into a system. Many of you reading this are not going to remember the pleasure of turning on your computer and being greeted by a C prompt.

There are other legacy applications that are more telephone related. For example, I know a company who offers a very vanilla voice service where every customer gets a basic line and all of the features in the feature set. The cheapest way they could figure out to do this was to buy an old legacy TDM switch. They picked it up used for almost nothing including a big pile of spares. Since they aren’t trying to do anything unusual it’s easy to provision and it just hums along.

I have a lot of clients who just ditched legacy systems over the last decade. But the reason they ditched these switches was not because they didn’t work, but rather because the maintenance fees charged by the switch vendors was too high. But if you buy these same switches on the gray market you have zero vendor maintenance costs and operating the switch becomes a very different economical proposition.

As someone who is getting a little gray around my own edges I take an odd pleasure in knowing that people are finding uses for things that were used decades ago. I know I am nowhere near to obsolete and it makes me smile to see the value in older but still great technology.

One thought on “Old is Not Necessarily Dead

  1. Keeping with your theme of OS nostalgia, Windows XP was Microsoft’s fulfillment of the promises they made starting with Windows 95. It was and continues to be one of the most stable OS platforms developed by the company. I actually thought that Microsoft had already ceased support for XP before I read your article. I went back and looked it up myself to confirm, and I came across an article that cited a netmarketshare.com statistic that 38% of net connected PC’s are still running Windows XP. Considering the total number of connected PC’s in the world, that puts XP still running on 500 to 900 million machines. The fact is, XP runs very well on some pretty old hardware. This, plus its stability, has undoubtedly contributed to its longevity.

    However, I have to disagree with the assertion that “hackers are no longer concentrating on the older operating systems”. I would even go further to say that they are more than likely awaiting 4/8/14 with somewhat baited breath. While the percentage of XP users will diminish as new PC’s are sold running the latest OS, the fact that XP users have not upgraded tells me that they will more than likely not do so between now and 2014. That means that after April 2014 there will be over 500 million vulnerable PC’s out there. Considering how many of those are military, telecommunications infrastructure access, education, accounting, and medical…it gets pretty scary.

    I am, by no means, a fan of the ‘forced upgrade path’, but it is what it is. One thing Microsoft could do is release XP as open source which would allow others to continue to develop security fixes for exploits. However, if they did that they would never get these people to buy Windows 7 and isn’t that what this end-of-life announcement is really all about anyway?

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