Technology changes so quickly that it’s hard to imagine something 16 years old still having a role to play, but in the case of Windows XP, which was released in October 2001, it remains a vital part of the tech strategy at many organisations. Millions of applications were built specifically to run on it, and as a result, remain in use to this day.

It’s still not that unusual to see XP being used on systems to check people in at the airport or to sign someone up to a new mobile contract, for example. In itself, that shouldn’t be a problem – after all, why go to the expense of updating and re-writing apps if what you have still does the job?  It fits right into an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. 

But a great deal has changed in the last 16 years. Microsoft has released five major versions of Windows since XP and signalled ‘end of life’ for the product when it ceased providing support and updates for it in April 2014. One of the effects of this was that XP became less secure – patches to protect against new security risks were no longer available, as Microsoft focused on more recent versions of Windows and advised customers to update. 

This situation was brought into focus earlier this year, when the WannaCry ransomware attacks proved particularly dangerous to organisations running XP. These vulnerabilities continue to draw media attention, with the BBC recently revealing the results of a Freedom of Information investigation into continued use of XP in the public sector. 

Containing The Compatibility Challenge 

While security is of understandable importance, one of the other issues for users of legacy operating systems such as XP is compatibility. Upgrading to the most current version of Windows offers many advantages, but for those running applications written for XP, that’s often still not possible without drawn-out, time consuming and expensive software re-writes. The reason why so many XP-based applications are still being used today is that there’s either not enough budget, expertise or it just isn’t a big enough priority to re-write them. 

And while the focus currently sits with XP, as Microsoft innovates and more recent versions of Windows near ‘end of life’, the compatibility, security and support issues will themselves reappear across another range of apps.  Mainstream support for Windows 7, for example, the most widely used version of Windows, has already ended and will cease altogether in less than three years from now. 

That doesn’t mean that XP users are stuck where they are. The development of flexible software technologies, such as compatibility containers, are offering a way for businesses to run applications designed for legacy versions of Windows on the latest modern and secure versions. While for many they are used to bridge the gap between contemporary environments being used by different parts of the same organisation, they can also enable older applications designed for XP to work alongside their newer replacements.

It’s important for organisations to make legacy software planning a bigger priority, and to do so in the understanding that the end of support for once dominant systems such as XP is not the end of the line for the important applications that still remain.