Warning: Your systems could soon be obsolete

April 8, 2014 will mark the end of an era in computing history. That is the official date of the demise of the hugely popular Windows XP. Office 2003 will quietly slip into the night at the same time. Yet as of August 2012 25% of the worlds computers are still running on the operating system. Oh by the way, that stat refers to computers connected to the Internet - estimates of the real percentage are as high as 50%.

Part of the reason for this is the notorious sluggishness of large corporates and government departments. The less obvious reason is that it was a very good operating system, loved by millions of users and still meeting their needs on a daily basis.

What's the rush - it's still 18 months away?

Actually no. Windows XP is currently in an extended support phase. This means that only critical security fixes are still being made. Microsoft will not open any new support cases, paid or otherwise and have no obligation to ensure that their own new products work on the OS. For example Internet Explorer version 9 was released in March 2011. It is not, and never will be supported on Windows XP. IE 10 is already available for preview which means that XP users will soon be 2 releases out of date.

Hardware and software vendors have no incentive to suport the old OS. So when your trusty office printer (or scanner or network card) finally dies there is no guarantee that your shiny new one will continue to work. Many software vendors have stopped testing on XP. Testing on multiple platforms is expensive and they already have multiple versions of Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 to contend with. That's right I said Windows 8, it's here. Reputable software and hardware vendors have been testing on this for some time. If they are lucky their new products will work on XP, but they won't be doing anything special to make this happen.

That's ok - my system meets my needs as it is

Perhaps, perhaps not. The reality is that the software you run will soon be unsupported. While they may meet your needs today they won't do so forever. If laws or regulations change your software may no longer be fit for purpose and upgrading or migrating may be difficult.

Also consider that in I.T. terms the world we live in today is very different from that of a decade ago. In 2001 your computer was first and foremost a desktop tool. You installed software from disks and occasionally browsed the internet, which was frustratingly slow, and sent and received emails. You probably used a modem to connect to the internet. Your data was stored on your machine - or on your own network.

Today it is difficult to imagine what use a computer would be without a permanent connection to the internet. We run applications online, store our data in the cloud. In most offices if the internet is down we simply cannot continue working. On the plus side we are no longer restricted to being in the office - we can work form home, check email on our mobile devices, and of course we expect all our data to be synched wherever we are. Windows XP was launched in an age when smart phones and personal satellite navigation were regarded as gadgets for geeks. Today we take them for granted. It is a credit to the operating system that it has survived for so long and that so many businesses are still able to rely on it to serve their daily needs. But it is creaking at the seams and hardware and software vendors alike are counting down the days till its final retirement.

If yours is one of the thousands of businesses that relies on Windows XP on a daily basis you should at very least be planning your upgrade. Don't wait until you have no choice!