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What to do with machines running WinXP that CANNOT be upgraded to Win7 or later

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#1 ptulkens


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Posted 26 January 2014 - 04:43 AM


I start this thread although I know there is another thread running about the end of support to WinXP, because I wish addressing a very specific point and avoiding to get lost in a lot of general discussions about the end of support to WinXP.

The specific problem is this one.

We have several WinXP machines that are mainly used for piloting scientific instruments.  Three problems here:

1. the corresponding softwares are very specific and most of them run only on "real" WinXP (i.e. they do not work on Win7 even under WinXP compatibility mode) because they use specific instructions that are not recognized in Win7 AND/OR need specific drivers that cannot be installed under Win7 (compatibility issues).  For some of these softwares, the vendor may offer an upgrade, but the cost is often VERY high (we often speak about 1,000 to 5,000 euros !) because those softwares are often "custom-built". Also, sometimes the software has been discontinued and the company simply proposes a migration to their new software, but this requires an upgrade of the instrument, which makes the whole cost even more prohibitive.

2. Many of these machines serve only to pilot the instrument and, therefore, are not affected by the "software obesity syndrome" that cripples other machines over time (i.e. difficulties for handling more and more complex and obese programs).  Apart from the specific software that pilot the instrument, all we often need is just an EXCEL program (and EXCEL 97 will work) to export the data.  Therefore, everything may work fine with older CPUs and low amounts of RAM, but this makes upgrade to Win7 impossible unless upgrading the machine it-self.      

3. While some of these machines can be disconnected from Internet (and run as isolated computers), several cannot because they must either collect validation keys for their software to run (which is one way the software vendor knows who does what with his/her program and prevents unauthorized [aka unpaid] use of the software) and/or they musts access remote servers and data bases to get or send the necessary information.  

So, to make the point here, there are several compelling reasons to keep those machines under WinXP after support is being discontinued.

What would be the most practical, and if possible, as safe as possible way to do this.

My personal option would be

- to place these machines in a private LAN that connects to Internet through a router that only allows outbound traffic (inbound traffic could be allowed only through specific ports and for specific softwares [i.e., for collecting data]) ;

- to have their common softwares (such as FireFox to access Internet or EXCEL to collect data) working in a protected environment (such as what is possible with "Deep Freeze", where nothing is written on the disk and the machine can be restored to its original configuration upon reboot).

But, will this be sufficient or are they other, better options ?

Edited by ptulkens, 26 January 2014 - 05:07 AM.

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#2 TsVk!


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Posted 26 January 2014 - 06:15 AM

I've also been setting up some systems for the same reasons you have outlined above. Have gone the route of an isolated private network and a machine running a dedicated firewall, with only the required servers and software vendors allowed through, all other network access blocked...


We have kept some machines running independently (ones that require serial connection to instruments), and have virtualized most others on a VMSphere cluster.


Running M0n0wall as the firewall. Could easily be set up on a low power machine for a small isolated network though, very cheaply.


You don't need a Wizard to set it up either, pretty straight forward GUI.

#3 technonymous


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Posted 28 January 2014 - 03:36 AM

I'll add my 2cents as I too have XP's with legacy hardware...


If the machine does not require internet then take it offline.


If it does need internet then lock it down like you guys mentioned with definitely a dedicated firewall and perhaps isolate it behind a double nat subnet.


Use security policies and lock it down and use limited users to login.


Install bare minimum to the XP machine and keep it updated and drivers etc & once the system is offically no longer getting updates then make a backup Clone of the entire partition to another drive and maybe create a DVD-9 set as well.


Create a vhd from the XP using disk2vhd. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/ee656415.aspx Import this into Windows 7 Virtual PC or VMWARE. As many times even though the hardware may not work in compatibility mode it will work in a VM. So you have to try it.

Edited by technonymous, 28 January 2014 - 03:41 AM.

#4 ptulkens

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Posted 28 January 2014 - 02:35 PM

Thank you to both of you ! This is VERY useful and I'll have a try. Cheers !

Edited by ptulkens, 28 January 2014 - 02:36 PM.

#5 quietman7


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Posted 28 January 2014 - 05:27 PM

I will be using my XP machine to store (backup) my personal data files and pictures.

While I already have an external drive to do this...having a second backup in place is gives me more peace of mind. Further I can continue to use my photo editing software which I prefer to much of the newer stuff.
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