XP End Of Life and the Small Nonprofit Sector

This week I thought I’d put on my nerd cap and write about something techy.  Most recently, I’ve been working primarily with nonprofit organizations and I’ve noticed that, in an effort to keep costs low, many tend to neglect their electronic components.  They throw caution to the wind by opting to not purchase back up batteries or upgrade outdated software/hardware in favor of spending money in other areas.  Please don’t mistake this as an indication that funds are being applied in any frivolous manner…they’re usually going to cover employee expenses or to fund some other aspect of operation that is necessary but not grant-eligible (I’ll have to write a separate post about this issue another day!).  Add to those limited funds a general lack of knowledge about all things tech and you have potential for a major disaster.

Most of the nonprofits  I’ve been in contact with are using computers that are at least 3 years old and usually are closer to 5 years old.  They’re almost exclusively using Windows XP as their operating system.  For years, this has kept their staff happy (everyone is familiar with it so they’re comfortable in that environment) and operations have been plugging right along.  Everything has been just fine.  Unfortunately, that is all about to change as of April 18, 2014 – the day Windows XP reaches its end of life.

You may be thinking, “end of…what?”  It’s true though.  As of April 18, 2014 there will be no more patches, no more upgrades, no more support for the Windows XP operating system.  I’ll give you a moment to celebrate the thought of never seeing that annoying little “Updates have been installed. Please restart your computer.” popup window.

All done?  Good.  Now, this is what it really means.  Hacker free for all.  If you’re still using Windows XP after April 18 and you connect to the internet at all, you are putting everything on your computer and your network at a level of risk much higher than you might think.  Anything your computer has access to becomes transparent to anyone who might be mining for information.  Think about what’s on your hard drive.  Think about what’s on your network (other computers, your ipod, your external hard drive…all of it).  I’ll bet there is at least one thing that has your social security number or birthday on it.  Maybe something that gives an indication of your kid’s personal information (a scan of their social security card…file names that give away their birthday)?

But I digress…I’m really trying to warn those unsuspecting individuals who operate nonprofit organizations.  Those of you in that audience, think about what’s on your server or main computer or the computer you work on.  How much data would you loose if your operating environment became unstable and crashed thanks to some add-in your browser installed in the background without your even knowing about it?  How many grants would you loose track of?  How many applications, reports, pay requests, photos, etc. would you loose that you might need to substantiate your progress or apply for new funding?  How much would it cost to start over? How many hours of staff time would be or have you already lost dealing with slow, uncooperative computers? Add it up & petition your board to allow replacement of all XP computers. I’ll bet it will be less expensive to replace them than clean up or stall.

Another bit of information to consider is, if you receive federal or state funding, you may be required by law to ensure your computer environment is secure. Check out this article from my friends at PRR computers for more information on that topic (check out their XP tagged posts for more on End of Life too).

I know it’s expensive. I know money is tight, but please, please, please, try to upgrade for the sake of your cause. You’ll save time and money in the long run. Those two things are what we always need more of, right, so why keep wasting them?

Don’t jump right to Windows 8. Chances are the peripheral equipment (printer, scanner, etc.) you’re using will not have a driver to support Windows 8. There’s a better chance that Windows 7 will be more compatible. Now, if you find a sponsor or grant to replace everything, go for it, but only after you’ve visited a store to take Windows 8 on a test drive. Navigation may be difficult for you and/or your staff. It’s designed to act more like a smart phone or tablet…much different from what you’re used to dealing with using XP.
Make sure there’s a Windows 7 driver for the peripherals you use before you upgrade. Knowledge is power. Plus, you may be able to work out a deal if you purchase everything at once. Now would be a good time to get those battery backup units you’ve been avoiding too. They’re not as expensive as you think.
Check out Tech Soup for the software you’ll likely need to replace. You can find some really sweet deals here if you’re a nonprofit. You’ll likely need to replace your Office suite & accounting software as well as any specialized member management software. Microsoft offers a special nonprofit discount on their cloud-based Office365.

I hope this helps you gather information to present to your board of directors and/or sponsors. Find a way do do this. It’s important.