One worrisome thing I noticed during my trip to Asia several months ago was that Windows XP is everywhere. I am not joking here. Even though Windows XP has been discontinued by Microsoft with no updates and totally open to all kinds of exploits, it is still heavily in use. This gets me thinking, maybe those end of day prophecies are not about bombing, wars or whatever humanity issues but just that Windows XP stops working one day in the near future.
Official support for Windows XP has ended in year 2014 yet almost all the government services I have to deal with are still using Windows XP. Remember I travelled to quite a number of countries in Asia. This means all these countries, assuming they are using legitimate copies of Windows XP, have not upgraded their computers nor the operating system for at least 10 years already.
Originally I intended to take photos of these computers but I was challenged multiple times with serious threats to my personal safety for trying. Seriously, I did not, like, pull out a big ass camera to take a picture. All I tried to do was to take a quick photo with my cell phone. And nope, it is not allowed everywhere. The hassle I have to went through for even attempting to take a photo or asking about the computers is unbelievable. It is as if I was trying to spy on them or catching them for doing something criminal.
Bureaucrats Do Not Really Care
I do not see this as an issue of the frontline government workers. They have to use whatever they are given. I wonder who gave them the instructions to forbid people from taking pictures of their computers showing the Windows XP desktop or logo. And more importantly, what is the reason for being such paranoia?
My theory is that those who made the decision to use Windows XP computers could have been long retired in all these countries. If not, they probably moved higher up in their ranking or positions already. Hence those who inherited the existing equipment have no idea that computers are not furniture. Maybe those who originally made the purchase decision also have no idea that computers are waste asset that have to be replaced while they are still working.
Since we all know how bureaucracy functions in the real world, it is not hard to figure out the rest. Replace a broken computer is allowed. Repairing a broken computer is part of the maintenance program. But upgrading to new computers with operating system that may not work well with the rest of the deployed frontend computers, is definitely not a good idea for any smart bureaucrats who care about the safety of their jobs.
As long as these computers are still kicking, the bureaucrats in power would leave the headache of computer upgrades to the next bureaucrats.
Windows XP Is Common in Many Critical Government Services
I will not name names here. In the countries I have visited, Windows XP is used in customs, police stations, fire stations, centralized control centres for major bridges and tunnels. We are talking about critical government services here. We are also talking about the most vulnerable version of Windows being used for such purpose.
If these governments want to reduce the upgrade overhead, they have to bite the bullet and switch to something cheaper like Linux. Of course there will be huge up front cost to switch over and likely firing many of the IT staff too because they may not be tech savvy enough to maintain Linux based computers. In other words, either way these government departments are facing large expenses that the politicians will not approve. This is the other reason why many countries are stuck with their trusted Windows XP computers.
Time Bomb is Ticking
I am not saying Windows XP does not work well. In fact, the matured version of Windows XP was much better than the initial releases of Windows 7. Windows XP is also much less demanding in terms of CPU power. In short it is more efficient.
The problem though, is that Windows XP was released so long ago, that the components in those old computers with Windows XP can stop working anytime. When that happens, it is still possible to get new computer hardware to work with Windows XP now. In a few more years, however, it may no longer be the case.
A good example is the newer generation of USB ports. Currently, we are having the 3rd generation of USB being adopted everywhere. Windows XP can barely working with the components supporting this generation of USB. Soon, when the 4th generation becoming the standard, it is likely it may not even work with Windows XP at all.
I can foresee already that massive computer failures on these Windows XP machines happening in the near future. When that happens, I wonder if the government officials and the politicians understand what it takes to resolve the problem.
Defusing the Time Bomb
Hopefully, some government workers and high up bureaucrats, get the chance to read my post here. The important thing now is not to panic since they cannot suddenly upgrade all the computers anyway. By having a disaster management plan in place, it will take care of the crisis faster and minimize the impact of normal government operations. I think that is the number one priority for these government departments.
Many IT departments already adopted the practice of taking complete image of their deployed computers. Such backup image is great for dumping onto another computer should the original machine break down. It minimizes the down time but it only works if the target computer is having almost exactly the same configuration with very similar components. This is where the real bottleneck is as I discussed earlier in the article. Basic image of the computer hard drive is not good enough any more.
To improve the situation, the IT departments can create virtual machines of these frontline Windows XP computers. There are many solutions out there that do not cost much and can handle this task perfectly. What it means is that when new computers are needed, any hardware available can be used and having the cheapest stable operating system installed on such computer will be enough. The actual solution is just deploying the virtual machines onto these new computers.
Of course there are technical details that has to be attended to but it is well worth the effort. If anyone cares about the continuity of their computer systems operate smoothly with minimal down time, using virtual machine technology is probably the best solution right now.
I have my personal agenda here when I am writing this article. I actually talked to some high up government officials who understand the problem but they do not know what to do about it. Obviously, their people who manage the computers have not keep up their knowledge with the current technology we have nowadays.
I do not wish that one day I am stuck at a airport just because the computers suddenly not working and they have no way in restoring the service quickly.
I do not want to spend days waiting for something from a government just because their Windows XP computers are out of commission.
Hopefully, more people are aware of this crisis in the making so that it will be defused before major impact is felt when these Windows XP computers failing massively in the future.