Planning For Windows XP’s “End of Life”
Microsoft announced that the Windows XP and Office 2003 products will reach “end of life” on April 8, 2014.
What’s That Mean?
For Microsoft, “end of life” means that Microsoft will no longer offer much in the way of support for the operating system. No new updates, no technical support, nothing. To be fair, that’s in keeping with Microsoft’s product support policy that’s been in place since 2002. Since then, Microsoft has agreed to offer at least 10 years of product support. If you store any kind of personal information about donors, the lack of security updates should be sending up a big, red flag.
While Microsoft is suggesting organizations not wait for Windows 8, expected out this fall, it may well make sense for your nonprofit to wait—and not just for the new technology. Upgrading can be a big deal. For most machines running XP, simply upgrading the operating system won’t cut it. Most XP-generation machines won’t be powerful enough to run Windows 7 or 8 nearly as smoothly as you’ll want. And let’s not even talk about Windows Vista (we’ll pretend Microsoft didn’t make that mistake).
Plan Your Upgrade
This can be an expensive task to undertake, and it’s okay to do it in phases over the next two years. For some organizations, that’s the only way to do it. A lot of organizations look out a few years in advance. In the technology world, the idea of a meaningful “five year plan” is an absolute fantasy. What makes sense for year five now will probably be obsolete in year three. Instead, plan about three years out for your technology.
Don’t Overspend, Don’t Underspend
With technology, it’s not as straightforward as “you get what you pay for.” There are a lot of ways to cut corners to keep technology costs down. Most of these ways will turn out badly. There are also a lot of ways to spend money to keep quality up. While it may not turn out badly, it can be pretty wasteful.
Think about what you need your machines to do. If all you need is to use the internet, email, and Microsoft Word and Excel, there’s no reason to spend $1,500 on a computer. At the same time, if you regularly find yourself running Outlook, Word, Excel, a web browser, Adobe Reader, and another management program all at the same time, you’ll probably be much happier with a $1,000 computer than something that costs $500.
It’s not as simple as a couple of cost brackets. It’s important to consider the majority of your daily use, and how each user or group of users uses their computer on a daily basis. Not every machine has to be identical, although if everyone is doing very similar tasks, it can be extremely helpful for in-house or contracted support to keep up with everything.
Don’t Fake It
If you don’t have anyone who’s knowledgeable with selecting new technologies for your office, it’s probably a good idea to check out a couple of professionals and see what they have to say. Trust me, it’s not worth the headaches it can cause to try to DIY when you really don’t know what to do. The end result can be painful to live with, and it can wind up pretty costly if it takes a contractor to make it all work right.
If you don’t have an in-house IT person, check out a couple of local IT retailers or consultants. You can shop around at one of the “big box stores,” but I don’t recommend it—your organization deserves the individual attention of someone that’s going to be around long enough to learn your name, and not need a GPS to get to your office.
It’s Okay to be Choosy
As an IT consultant, I can tell you that not all retailers are created equal. Some will try to push the products they can sell, and if a shortcut involves selling you something they make a profit off of, that’s what they’ll recommend. At the same time, there are also some great retailers out there that really will walk you through everything, and make sure you’re happy. They’ll work with what you have, and try to make everything work, as well as it can, even on a tight budget.
Don’t think of your relationship with your IT provider as a “speed dating” exercise. Instead, think about it more like a long-term friendship. You need to be able to trust your IT provider, and feel comfortable with the advice they give you. You also need to feel comfortable with the way they treat you—it’s all about mutual respect.
Start by asking for a bid. As they walk you through their recommendations, if all you get is technobabble, it’s probably time to get a bid from someone else. A lot of IT people forget that they’re people, working with other people. If your IT provider doesn’t respect you and your input as the decision maker, move on. Just like personal relationships, the longer you try to stick it out, the harder it gets to break up.
This is the part of the business I hate to talk about, but it has to be put out there. Software piracy is real, and IT providers aren’t completely innocent in it, either. When you purchase a new computer, especially for your organization, the first thing you need to look for is the Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity (COA).
It’s important to make sure that you have a legitimate license and COA for every copy of Windows your organization is running. This is absolutely critical for ensuring that you’re protected, and that you can get access to support services and updates in the future.
Fortunately, I’ve not seen much of this in the Springfield area, but this kind of licensing abuse does happen. Don’t assume your provider is cheating, but certainly be diligent in checking for the COA. A reputable vendor will understand, especially if it’s the first time you’ve done business with them. Bottom line: if your IT provider can’t produce a valid COA for each machine they sell you, refuse the order. If you feel so inclined, you can report it to Microsoft.
Microsoft Piracy Links
Jared has worked for nonprofit organizations and as an independent IT consultant since 2007. His primary area of experience is with Microsoft Windows systems. Jared is also currently a Graduate Assistant at the CNC.
The opinions expressed by CNC bloggers and by those members providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the Center for Nonprofit Communication or Drury University.