Twice a week, a crew armed with thumb drives loaded up with the Windows 7 operating system enters administrative offices at UC -rvine and gets to work upgrading some 1,500 computers from the decade-old Windows XP program.

With an April 8 deadline and 300 machines to go, they're not going to make it.

XP, first released by Microsoft in 2001, is approaching a retirement date of sorts. After April 8, Microsoft says it will stop providing technical assistance for XP and will no longer issue the security updates that protect the astounding number of PCs still running XP from yet-to-be-seen hack attacks.

Windows XP and its applications will continue working without Microsoft's support. The risk is that they could fall prey to "zero day" threats -- that is, hackers who use a new method of accessing a system that hadn't been publicly revealed before.

"We wanted to hit all of the offices that may have dealt with restricted or confidential information -- HR, accounting," said Jeremy Paje, a desktop support manager at the university. "The ones we left for last were the departments that didn't deal with confidential information or they had a (secondary) firewall."

XP wasn't supposed to last this long. But its immediate successor, Windows Vista, was a bug-filled disaster in 2006. Windows 7 in 2009 fixed many complaints, but it didn't offer enough for most people to upgrade or swap out old hardware.


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Windows 8 came out in 2012 as a touch-screen/PC hybrid; it was just recently revised to answer criticism that it confused people by hiding the familiar desktop display.

So many just stuck with old, reliable XP. As one indication of how ancient the program is in operating-system years, Apple also released its OS X version 10 in 2001; it's now on the ninth update.

The upshot is that XP still runs on countless older machines in businesses and organizations across Southern California. According to some reported numbers, between 20 percent and 30 percent of all PCs worldwide still run XP, including half the machines in China and more than 10 percent in the U.S.

XP also runs on many automated teller machines -- up to 95 percent of the 420,000 ATMs in the U.S., according to Bloomberg News.

Microsoft itself is under intense pressure from rivals, with Apple at the high end and Google at the low end, each eating at the company's longtime software dominance.

Depending how you categorize today's iPhones, iPads and Androids -- which receive over-the-air software and security updates periodically -- Microsoft could already be considered in the minority of computer systems.

"Very few older computers will be able to run Windows 8.1," Microsoft warns on its website, "it might be time to consider shopping for a new one."

The April 8 deadline isn't being received like the Y2K bug, which threatened to cripple computers when dates went from "99" for 1999 to "00" for the year 2000, and drove frantic upgrading of hardware and software. Businesses and organizations just need to decide whether they'd rather invest in costly new machines, coding and training, or risk security by sticking to aging systems that might become more vulnerable to attacks.

UCI began its updates in August; it expects to be done in June. Contractors upgrade 25 to 30 computers twice a week. About one-quarter of the machines Paje is responsible for are more than four years old and not upgradeable to Windows 7; each one of those needs to be replaced with a new Dell system, at a cost of $625.