XP's exit to have expensive effect on education

Nathan Baker • Apr 3, 2014 at 9:32 PM

Local school districts are still trying to identify and upgrade or replace computers that could pose potential security risks when Microsoft ends its support of the still relatively popular Windows XP operating system next week.

The software and hardware maker formally announced last year that extended support for the operating system would end Tuesday, meaning computers running Windows XP would no longer receive automatic updates, leaving them open to security breaches and viruses.

As of last month, the company estimated there were still 400 million PCs running the 12-year-old system, and urged all users to upgrade their software or replace their machines.

That’s a fantastic suggestion for single users, but governments and school districts left with thousands of outdated computers and little funding to replace them are now facing a hard deadline to upgrade their software.

Johnson City Schools Technology Coordinator Melony Surrett said all 11 schools in the system and the central office are affected by the loss of support.

The district is in the process of evaluating its 4,000 computers to find out how many of them are still running XP.

Some of the computers bought several years ago near the introduction of the new operating system were loaded with XP, but have a license allowing them to be upgraded to Windows 7.

Those are being upgraded as fast as possible to the supported system, Surrett said.

Others that have the processing power and memory capabilities to run Windows 7 will be upgraded when the district can purchase licenses allowing it to do so.

The additional license will cost about $55 per computer, Surrett said.

Some of the district’s computers would be able to run Windows 7 with a RAM upgrade, costing about $125. Surrett said the district is considering that hardware upgrade.

Still others are so obsolete the only option is replacement, which Surrett said Johnson City is “looking at options for.”

Until the inventory is completed, Surrett isn’t sure how many computers are affected or how much the upgrades will cost the district.

Washington County Schools are facing much the same situation.

Director of Technology Curtis Fullbright said as many as half of the district’s 3,000 machines could still be running XP.

The computers recently installed for students to take the new online-based PARCC testing, through which students’ data will be transmitted, are all running Windows 7, he said.

“Right now, we’re just planning to let those on the lower end fall by the wayside and replace them as they go,” Fullbright said. “We don’t have plans to do a mass replacement.”

Next year’s budget does not include any new money for technology replacements, he said, so students and teachers will be forced to continue to use XP computers to access the Internet in some cases, despite the security warning from Microsoft.

The district plans to closely monitor the machines using its firewall, hoping to detect and remove malware threats as they develop.

Washington County Schools are also planning to soon roll out expanded wireless technology at its facilities, which will allow students and teachers to bring in their own electronic devices and reduce the need for computer stations at the schools.

Follow Nathan Baker on Twitter @JCPressBaker. Like him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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