Aging Windows XP a cost for local schools

Budgets must stretch as Microsoft drops system

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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A decision by Microsoft is impacting educational institutions in Clark County, from kindergarten through college.

Microsoft is ending support for its Windows XP operating system -- the dominant operating system in K-12 education -- after April 8, 2014. Although information technology directors knew this change was coming, computer upgrades for an entire school district or college campus are expensive. The fleet of more than 6,000 work stations in Evergreen Public Schools, the largest district in Clark County, is still running Windows XP.

"It's not that XP will stop working on the day support is stopped," said Kurt Gazow, the district's manager of information technology.

His district is researching a licensing contract with Microsoft "to allow us to maintain a more updated version of their software including their operating system

over time. It's not an inexpensive endeavor to upgrade operating systems. Decisions like this brought to scale have a large impact on our bottom line."

In Battle Ground Public Schools, "the vast majority of our computers still run Windows XP," said Scott McDaniel, district director of technology services.

"Fortunately, we passed our levy last month," he said. "That still doesn't mean we can afford to replace every computer in the district.

"The biggest challenge of upgrading to Windows 7 or higher is the ability of the hardware to support it," he said. "The vast majority of our computers have been donated by state agencies, and many are eight years old and won't support the Windows 7 operating system.

"We've saved a lot of money by utilizing a donation program called Computers for Kids," McDaniel said.

In the last school year, the Battle Ground district was given about 700 computers. It also purchased about 300 new computers, which run Windows 7. The district owns about 5,500 computing devices, and about 4,500 are computers. Most are still running Windows XP, he said.

Vancouver Public Schools began a migration to Windows 7 last year, said Mark Ray, district manager of instructional technology and library services. Although all new PC labs and computers use Windows 7, some older computer labs still use XP. The district passed a six-year technology levy in February.

"The technology levy will help us replace those computers in the coming years," Ray said. "Any remaining XP computers will continue to be functional independent of Microsoft's support."

The information technology leaders at both Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver said the XP deadline was a nonissue because they've already made the move to Windows 7.

"We have only a handful of computers left on XP, usually because an outdated piece of software runs on it," said Phil Sheehan, director of information technology services at Clark College.

In the last two years, Washington State University Vancouver has converted classroom labs and student open labs to Windows 7, said Grisha Alpernas, information technology director. The campus has about 900 desktops and laptops that are Microsoft-based and about 250 Apple desktops and laptops.

"The few computers still running XP will be converted before the deadline next year," Alpernas said.


Susan Parrish: 360-735-4530; http://twitter.com/col_schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com.