The traditional reasons why businesses don’t upgrade from one version of Windows to another are changing. Before it’s mostly been focused around security, stability and dependability.

A new operating system (both for the desktop and server) needed time to bed in and prove itself. The first major service pack needed to be out the door to fix flaws and incompatibilities in the OS, and companies needed valuable time to make certain that their existing hardware and software would work.

Now the reasons are changing, partly because of the harsh economic times in which we find ourselves; with businesses only wanting to upgrade to a new OS when they finally replace ageing hardware, and because of the limited amount of time that Microsoft will continue to support Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6.

While it’s reasonable and rational for companies to sit on old operating systems and software “that just work”, are you aware you could be sitting on a time bomb?

There are now less than 1,000 days of support remaining for Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6. Microsoft say that when this happens “Microsoft [will] no longer provide automatic fixes, updates, or online technical assistance.

Without Microsoft support, you will no longer receive security updates that can help protect your PC[s] from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.” But what does this mean in the world of business and how concerned should you be about it?

In recent months we’ve seen many major companies hacked by criminals who want access to sensitive customer information. These criminals, who have broken into every type of business and even governments worldwide, have stolen between them tens of millions of people’s personal records.

Don’t think either that the cases you hear on the news are the only ones. You may have had reports from your within your own company that haven’t been shared with the wider world.

This isn’t the only threat facing your company though. Are you properly defended against threats from inside? The good news is that Microsoft’s newest products provide excellent defences against both internal and external attack. It’s simply not just about the extended support life, there’s so much more to it than that.

Failure to properly defend against external and internal attack is an offence in many countries where customer data is put at risk. The result can be huge fines, significant public embarrassment and loss of customer trust. All of this is made worse by an ever more vocal public using ever-increasing numbers of online social forums.

Despite rumours to the contrary, Windows 7, especially when paired with Windows Server 2008, provides Enterprise-level legacy compatibility for businesses of all sizes. Couple this with the added benefits of tight integration with the latest cloud services, including Office 365 and Windows Intune, means that even the smallest business can save time, money and greatly boost security.

As the author of Troubleshooting Windows 7 Inside Out I’ve heard all the horror stories from businesses large and small about data loss, hacking and downtime. I find the largest irony being that the very thing they’re trying to protect the most, dependability, would be the first thing an upgrade would improve.

It seems crazy then not to begin migrating your systems to Windows 7, especially when your company may well already have paid for licences through the Software Assurance programme. If you’ve not made the leap yet, don’t wait too long. That time bomb isn’t going away, and criminals are just waiting for you to hesitate.