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As time runs out on security support for Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, it is believed that a sizable number of companies are still struggling to start the Windows XP migration process or to complete the transition to a more modern platform. Security pros at organizations that have wrapped up large-scale XP migrations say it’s best to focus on application compatibility and, more broadly speaking, not lose focus on the big IT picture.
Originally launched in 2001, Windows XP is Microsoft’s most successful operating system. Microsoft will end support for its 12-year-old Windows XP operating system April 8. But unlike Vista, many businesses have bought into the upgrade path and are migrating from XP to Windows 7.
Those easier migrations are becoming fewer each day, though, with many companies lingering on XP because of mission-critical applications that only function on the aged OS. For example, a financial institution that relies on a Windows-XP-based application to perform sensitive transactions and trades can’t simply move from XP to Windows 7 over a weekend.
Experts advised large organizations to use the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit or a similar tool to determine which XP-based apps will function properly on a newer Windows OS. Once tested, applications can be categorized as being OK to migrate, needing some patching prior to migration, or being absolutely incompatible. Organizations can use that data to decide whether to retire an application, re-architect it or utilize an alternative option such as virtualization to keep it operational.
Before even beginning the migration process, experts suggest that large enterprises should have an understanding of where they want to be from an IT perspective six to 18 months down the road. For example, Windows 7 is the still the most popular option for companies moving from XP, but for organizations like hospitals that lack extensive, fixed-desktop environments.
We feel that the better option may be to deploy the more mobile-centric Windows 8, along with tablet devices. Now may also be the time to consider whether certain users could be moved to virtualized desktops. One of the options open to the IT department is to run XP in a sandboxed environment, such as by using Citrix or VMware.
VMware recommends virtualizing applications that cannot be migrated to Windows 7. Its ThinApp application virtualization software takes an old application and encapsulates it with all the software components its needs to run in a single .exe file.
According to Gartner, Microsoft supports the virtualization of IE6 applications only if the IT department runs its Terminal Services software or chooses to run Windows XP in a virtual machine locally. Migrating XP onto a server that runs Microsoft Terminal Services may give businesses a way to keep Windows XP running securely, but there are restrictions.
Microsoft states it does not support the use of Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) or similar third-party application virtualization products to virtualize IE6 as an “application” enabling multiple versions of Internet Explorer on a single operating system.
In addition, the terms under which Windows and IE6 are licensed do not permit IE6 “application” virtualization. Microsoft supports and licenses IE6 only for use as part of the Windows operating system, not as a standalone application.
If users follow the wording, then Microsoft effectively forbids companies from using application virtualization to run IE6 applications – even though these applications can run in a virtual environment. To remain compliant with the Microsoft end user license agreement (EULA), the only option open to businesses which have a requirement to continue running IE6 applications is to virtualize the whole OS.
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