Check Call: Falling dangerously behind the times

Well-run fleets don’t skimp on routine maintenance. They don’t wait for tires to blow out on the highway. They replace the rubber when it shows significant signs of wear. They don’t wait for engines to seize up. They change the oil on schedule. It’s a basic business practice that puts safety at the forefront and that attempts to maximize uptime and minimize catastrophic and unexpected expenses.

It would make sense to think these same fleets apply a similar approach to other aspects of their business, but apparently that’s not the case—at least when it comes to computer security and maintenance.

On April 8, Microsoft Corp. officially ended support of its Windows XP operating system. That means no more security updates or bug patches. Admittedly, at the beginning of May, the Redmond, Washington-based software giant did issue an emergency update to address a zero-day vulnerability, and it included a fix for XP users, but that’s not something fans of the old operating system can count on happening again.

Despite Microsoft warning customers for years that XP support would eventually end, and despite massive media coverage prior to the April 8 cut-off date, many businesses have not yet made the switch to newer and more secure software.

Curious to see how far the trucking industry had progressed on along the O/S migration path, we conducted a poll on, asking visitors “Are you still using Windows XP in your trucking business?” Just under half of respondents indicated they were and that they had no intention of changing.

In total 119 people answered the poll. The answer that got the highest number of responses, with 57 people selecting it, was “Yes, and will continue to do so.” In second place, with 48 responses, was people answering that they don’t use XP. Five people ticked the answer that said, “Yes, but we’re migrating to a different O/S soon” and nine people didn’t know what software their companies ran.

To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised by the results (as unscientific and inaccurate as they may be). I know that experts and analysts estimate there is still a large number of businesses running XP. In early April, Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Connecticut-based IT research and analyst firm, released figures about O/S usage. “We estimate that 20-25% of enterprise systems will still run XP and that one third of enterprises will have more than 10% of their systems remaining on XP.”

Even assuming that both Gartner and our poll are erring on the high side, our figures show that nearly 15% of the visitors to the website that use a version of Windows as their O/S are still on XP. While this could indicate people are surfing from older, home-based computers and not corporate devices, there is no denying that Windows XP is far from dead in the trucking world.

Tim Brunt, program manager of personal computing and technology at Toronto-based IT research firm IDC (Canada) Ltd. told Fleet Executive that companies clinging to the old O/S for financial reasons are making a mistake.

“The little upfront costs [of upgrading] certainly pale in comparison to the potential losses that can happen due to a major threat—or losing everything,” he said, adding businesses “are definitely at higher risk because they’re running XP.”

For businesses that haven’t migrated because they fear mission-critical software won’t run on newer operating systems, Brunt says there are ways to keep the old programs functioning.

“There are different solutions where they can run XP in a virtualized environment and still be perfectly up-to-date with modern software. It’s not too difficult and even for a small business, it’s quite cost effective.”

For those who think that because they’re running anti-virus and anti-malware software, their XP systems will be safe, don’t count on that being a long-term solution.

“I know a number of [anti-virus and anti-malware companies] pulled product development on XP a while ago. They are just running old versions of their software, keeping it up to date, looking for the latest threats out there, but I don’t imagine they will be putting too much support behind that,” said Brunt.

The take-away from all of this is simple. If you have a computer that can send and receive e-mail or surf the Web (or is connected to other systems with those capabilities) and it is running a version of Windows XP, you really should upgrade now. As to which version of Windows you replace it with, that depends on your environment and your users.

“Whether it is Windows 7 or 8 or 8.1 depends on the applications,” said Brunt. “It takes some people a little bit to get used to using 8 or 8.1 but once they’re in it and have gone through the growing pains, it’s a pretty decent operating system.

“It’s like driving in Canada versus driving in the UK. It’s still driving. It’s just that you’ve got to do things a little bit differently.”

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