Getting Office Software Into Shape—Windows XP Demise for Lawyers

Many law offices run Microsoft software—Windows, Word, Outlook, etc. Over the next year, Microsoft continues an aggressive set of upgrades to its core software and, perhaps more importantly, will be retiring all support for many well-used software packages. Continuing to use software after vendor support ends places law firms at significant risk. That risk should not be casually dismissed considering lawyer confidentiality duties, recent warnings from the FBI regarding cybercriminals specifically targeting law firms, and increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks preying on vulnerable and outdated software. Thus, now is the time to take a hard look at your firm’s software.

Demise of Windows XP

First, Microsoft’s support for the 11-year-old Windows XP operating system will end in early 2014. If you are still running Windows XP, you are not alone. The estimated installed base remains at about 40%. Nevertheless, Microsoft has made clear that all support will end in early 2014.

But, why raise an alarm now with over a year before support ends? First, planning and budgeting for a computer upgrade requires considerable time and resources. For example, one must

  1. verify compatibility of older software and equipment;
  2. configure the new system;
  3. install and update related software;
  4. migrate data; and
  5. pre-plan for the significant downtime from your current computer as the upgrade occurs.

Second, the alarm focuses on the reality of the marketplace. Remember the estimated 40% installed base? While the PC marketplace is currently economically depressed, a rush could mean increased system prices and scarce IT help later in 2013 and early 2014. Thus, for both reasons, now is the time to act.

Windows XP Replacement Options

If you need to replace Windows XP systems, current Microsoft options are 1) Windows 8 and 2) possibly the older Windows 7. Because the availability of new, Windows 7 systems quickly wanes as computer vendors rapidly transition to Windows 8, I focus largely on Windows 8.

Windows 8, released in late 2012, comes with a number of notable changes and upgrades. Foremost, Windows 8 significantly changed the look-and-feel of the Windows desktop to the new, tile-based, “flat” Windows UI. At minimum, the new Windows UI requires adjustment for many users—officially gone is the familiar Windows Start Menu. Nevertheless, Windows 8 contains important security upgrades, performance enhancements, business-related features such as Windows-to-Go, and reduced boot time. Windows 8 also transitions to Microsoft’s new, cloud-centric, computing model.

Windows 8 comes in three editions:

  • Windows 8 (for home use),
  • Windows 8 Pro (for business use), and
  • Windows 8 Enterprise (for big business use).

Law firms (even solo firms) might benefit from the slightly more expensive Windows 8 Pro edition. Windows 8 Pro includes important business features such as enhanced networking capabilities, ability to join Windows domains, a new feature called Windows-to-Go, and re-tooled remote desktop access. Furthermore, if you use a laptop, Windows 8 Pro becomes essential because Windows 8 Pro, not regular Windows 8, includes BitLocker for full-disk encryption. (Full disk encryption may help a lawyer to meet a lawyer’s confidentiality requirements and to mitigate issues under Pennsylvania’s Breach of Personal Information Notification Act.) Albeit different, Windows 8 is the most likely upgrade option for many law firms.

In limited cases, however, Windows 7 might still be an option for some law firms via “downgrade rights”—especially if the firm has a current enterprise license or maintenance contract with Microsoft. According to Microsoft, Windows 7 and Windows 8 systems can co-exist, so mixed operating systems should work. Microsoft plans some Windows 7 support until 2020.

Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 Addendum—02 November 2013

After the original writing, vendors have changed course and are now offering Windows 7 as an option for businesses. Windows 7 has been the primary upgrade path, not Windows 8, for businesses. Furthermore, as of October 2013, Microsoft released the Windows 8.1 upgrade to Windows 8—purportedly resolving some of the most egregious issues with Windows 8. However, note that Windows 8.1 is not yet generally available from vendors. Nevertheless, law firms would have two options—upgrade and standardize to Windows 7 or upgrade to Windows 8.1. Windows 8.1 can be a significant training and productivity obstacle for some because Windows 8.1 works differently from Windows 7—although with some training, Windows 8.1 becomes more familiar. The deeper concern is Microsoft’s seemingly “cloud-first” strategy in Windows 8.1 which integrates cloud options, and the risks for law firms from cloud services, deeply into Windows 8.1.

System Replacement vs. System Upgrade

If replacing a Windows XP computer, you will probably need to replace the entire computer. The computer industry assumes a steady computer equipment upgrade every two to three years. Trying to upgrade an older computer (in technology talk, anything over two years old) might result in unresolvable problems with the older hardware, with system drivers, and with other software required to operate the computer. Furthermore, if upgrading any computer to Windows 8, Windows 8 now requires a new type of security module (TPM) that is only included newer computers. Adding the costs of buying an operating system license and the time required to attempt an upgrade (potentially days), a new computer usually becomes a more pragmatic solution.

Microsoft Office Changes

The desktop operating system is not the only recent Microsoft upgrade. Many law offices use Microsoft Office (Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint). In early 2013, Microsoft launched Office 2013. Office 2013 replaces Office 2010 and Office 2007.

However, the benefits of the new offering appear minimal for firms using Office 2007 or later. The most compelling updates in Office  2013 largely focus on cloud-computing, native PDF editing, and some minor aesthetic updates. Office 2013 uses a new licensing model that encourages the adoption of the cloud-computing-based, Office 365. Expect marketing materials to highlight the purported savings from the cloud-based offering. (For law firms, cloud-computing might raise some challenging ethical duties so cost alone might not be determinate.) However, one can still purchase “real” versions of Office 2013, but the license costs have increased from previous editions.

If you are still running Office 2003 or older versions, you should consider upgrading because support for Office 2003 will end in early 2014. But remember Microsoft is on an aggressive track to force upgrades across lines. Thus, upgrades of older versions of Office might also unexpectedly require a predicate operating system upgrade because Office 2013 only runs on Windows 7 and Windows 8. Also, remember that older Office Products (Office XP or Office 2000) are no longer supported and should be removed and replaced promptly as they may be an information security risk.

Major Microsoft Server Changes

As with the desktop, Microsoft also launched several new server updates and soon will retire older server systems. Many firms use office servers to handle electronic file storage, network printing, user logins, and other network functions. Windows Server 2012 now replaces the older Windows Server 2008 and the increasingly outdated Windows Server 2003—mainstream support for the latter ended in 2010 and limited “extended support” ends in early 2015. Therefore, if upgrading older server equipment, adding users, or considering upgrades to server software, a firm should seriously think about updating to Windows Server 2012. Windows Server 2012 includes some compelling updates to security, storage handling, system virtualization, file system structure, and management tools. An upgrade to Windows Server 2012 probably will require updates to the physical server equipment to keep up with continuing computing advances—so budget accordingly.

Similarly, many law firms use Microsoft Exchange Server to handle email. Exchange Server 2010 is the current version of Exchange Server—but release of the newer Exchange Server 2013 pends. Because many firms still use the older Exchange Server 2003, firms should carefully note that all support for Exchange Server 2003 expires in early 2014. While any server upgrade can be time consuming and complex, planning for an Exchange Server upgrade is an especially formidable and highly complex process. The complexity is exacerbated due to the critical function that email plays at a firm. Thus, if your firm still uses Exchange Server 2003, plan now for upgrades.

Because of the diversity and complexity of Microsoft’s server options, the above are only two major changes that may affect many firms. However, several other Microsoft server-related offerings have also undergone upgrades recently or are slated for retirement. (For general information about Microsoft Product Lifecycles and the other affected software, see http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifeselect.) Thus, now is the time to be thinking about a careful assessment of servers to avoid outdated software.

Summary—Numerous Software Changes Warrant Prompt Action

The recent flurry of upgrades across Microsoft’s product lines and the retiring of a number of long-used software packages force law firms to take a hard look at law office technologies. Many law firms will probably face some significant upgrades. While some of the “deadlines” only occur in early 2014, because of the complexity, costs, planning, and time necessary to assess and upgrade, now is the time to get your software into shape.

Addendum—02 November 2013

Microsoft recently released a summary of the dangers and risks associated with running unsupported software. The analysis applies directly to the Windows XP and Office 2003 end-of-product-lifecyles. One must understand how the malware marketplace works to fully understand the significant risks of using Windows XP after April 8, 2014. Suffice to say, cybercriminals will likely specifically exploit Windows XP systems and lawyers are especially vulnerable—and will be very hard-pressed to justify such risks as reasonable considering years of warnings. Read a synopsis of the risks at Microsoft details risks of running unsupported software.

Original Publication Information

Manuscript Delivered: 10 February 2013
Publication: 18 March 2013
Cite As: Shannon Brown, Getting Office Software Into Shape, 16 In Brief [Lancaster Bar Association Newsletter] 1 at 13,18 (First Quarter 2013), available at.