UK government pays £5.5m penalty for not listening to Microsoft

UK Government pays £5.5m to Microsoft
£5.5m says UK government should have taken Microsoft seriously about XP

Imagine you’re at an important hospital appointment and you’re kept waiting because the scanner, which potentially cost £100K, needs a re-boot. And then you discover it’s driven by Windows XP which is no longer supported by Microsoft. That would be insane wouldn’t it?

Sadly not. It’s a true story and it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg across the NHS. Just how big a problem it is we don’t know because, as The Register discovered, the Department of Health doesn’t actually know the penetration of XP amongst its million PCs spread across GP surgeries, trusts, hospitals and other organisations. An estimate from healthcare specialists EHI Intelligence back in September 2013 put the penetration of NHS PCs running XP at 85%. Its survey suggests that NHS managers were keeping their fingers crossed that either Microsoft would change its mind or some sort of deal would be done. Fortunately for them, the government was able to finalise a deal with Microsoft for its public sector users – but only for a year, only for security updates for XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 and at a cost of around £5.5m. As people are wont to ask in such situations, how many nurses could that have paid for?

For many bodies such as the Metropolitan Police and HM Revenue and Customs, migrating away from XP will be completed by the end of the year. But it’s all a bit late and reeks of panic. The government’s central purchasing agency, the Crown Commercial Service, is putting on a brave face and claiming that its deal with Microsoft is saving the government £20m by centralising negotiations – but why has it had to happen in the first place?

“We see it as a serious case of hiding behind the sofa and hoping it will all go away,” says Rich. “Windows XP was born 13 years ago – that makes it venerable in technology terms. It can’t last forever.”

Microsoft has been flagging up the end of life for years and offering assistance in moving on. Yet it seems to have come as a surprise to many that’s it’s been true to its word. “Either they thought that the sheer numbers of XP users still out there would be persuasive in getting XP’s life extended or it’s an example of poor management”, says Rich Talbot, Trainer at Best STL. The NHS story suggests the latter. “We can’t even sigh and say that this is what happens in large public bodies, because organisations in every commercial space from small to large have missed the deadline too,” adds Rich.

Best STL hears grumbles about the greedy face of business forcing businesses to spend money when they can least afford it. Is Microsoft being fair in withdrawing support? Let’s look at its arguments.

  • Security issues leading to compliance risks. Security is definitely one of the biggest issues facing organisations today and Microsoft claims that an ageing OS can’t be protected sufficiently well. If that’s true, it’s important. And if organisations continue to use an operating system without updating security they will suffer. It’s quite likely that there’s a huge amount of malware silently sitting on XP systems today waiting to be initiated by attackers to steal data and devastate businesses. Even if the worst doesn’t happen, failing to comply with ever-tightening financial regulations is asking for huge financial penalties and loss of face.
  • Lack of ISV and hardware manufacturers’ support. Microsoft quotes Gartner research on its web site, arguing that a growing number of ISVs won’t support XP with new versions of their software and that manufacturers won’t support XP on their new PCs. On the other hand, one of the reasons that organisations may be holding back from upgrading is that they don’t know if their current legacy applications will work on Windows 7 or 8 or Linux or something else. Where there are specialised applications like the driver for that scanner, this could well be true – but, as Rich says, it’s time that someone found out.
  • Greater productivity with newer versions of Windows and Office. “Yes, it’s possibly true but it’s a very general claim and depends on your needs,” comments Rich. “We can all recognise this as marketing puffery.”

Is there an alternative argument that Microsoft is being harsh on government and businesses in times of economic difficulty? “We don’t think so,” says Rich. “The global financial crisis began over six years ago. How long can we keep claiming poverty? In any case, if the likes of Microsoft stopped driving for profitability, where would be the development that we all really need?”

So here’s the quandary. Microsoft is insisting that there will be no help beyond this final year for anyone. That’s hardly surprising and managers really need to avoid the temptation to sign up for the year and then promptly hide their heads again. So what’s the bottom line? Says Rich “If you’re running any applications on XP that are business-critical you need to take action now because lack of security and compliance are a real threat. If you’re driving important apps – such as that scanner – with XP then while security might not be your priority, lack of day-to-day support that puts the equipment out of action could be.”

Are you concerned about upgrading to a new version of Windows – we can help with migration and training for individuals and organisations contact us for more information.

Spreadsheet Art – 10 of the Best

mona lisa spreadsheet art

Excel pixel art is a global phenomenon, and while it’s as geeky as ASCII art, it somehow feels a little friendlier – perhaps because it brings back happy memories of 8-bit computer games to people of a certain age.

Here are 10 of the best Excel pixel art pictures we were able to find online, although some of them are a little TOO good to have been drawn by hand.

1. Amit Agarwal – Pixelated Mona Lisa (pictured above)

Agarwal freely admits to using an automated spreadsheet art program to create his images, but an Excel pixel Mona Lisa is still worth a look, even if she wasn’t hand-drawn.

2. TormentedShopao – Boredom in the Office

super mario spreadsheet art

If this Mario scene really was hand-drawn on Google Docs (Google’s cloud-based competitor to Microsoft’s Excel) then DeviantArt contributor Shopao may be as tormented as his name suggests.

3. James (Christpunchers) – Donkey Kong in Excel

donkey kong spreadsheet art

Another from DeviantArt, and this time it’s Donkey Kong getting the Excel treatment, proving again the link between spreadsheet art and 8-bit gaming.

4. Stera8 – Trout’s Famous Catch

trouts famous catch spreadsheet arttrouts famous catch pixel art

Not actually anything to do with fishing, but this deserves a place on the list because a) it’s based on a real-life event, not an 8-bit video game, b) it was a first attempt, and c) it only took 90 minutes. Not bad!

5. Sakumoti – Megaman X in Excel

megaman x spreadsheet art

Pew pew! Mega Man X (his friends just call him X) made his first appearance in December 1993 on the SNES, some 14 years before the version of Excel used to create this picture of him.

6. Andrew G – Mario. In Excel

mario spreadsheet art

We’re not 100% sure Andrew G is the original artist of this piece, which appeared on BuzzFeed in March 2011 – not least because he says ‘Excel’ crashed before he could save it (oops), when the screenshot is clearly of OpenOffice (double oops!).

7. Mateus Ziehe – Nelson Muntz

simpsons spreadsheet art

It seems logical to transform a cartoon into pixel art, and it’s nice to see Nelson – complete with catchphrase – take some of the limelight for a change.

8. Jim Silverman – Sonic & Knuckles in Excel

sonic spreadsheet art

Too much Mario on this list and not enough Sonic? Let Jim Silverman’s Excel-based character interpretations fill that void – unless you’re looking for Tails, who didn’t make it into the picture for some reason. Poor Tails…!

9. Joey Garcia – Angry Birds Fan Art

angry birds spreadsheet art

The last videogame-inspired Excel pixel art creation on this list is not from the 8-bit era, but from the modern age of gaming apps, and features a Bad Piggy from Rovio’s Angry Birds – we think this one is a Minion Pig (if he’s a Corporal Pig, he’s lost his helmet!).

10. Google Docs – Holiday


Finally, not one to be left out, Google took to the Google Docs spreadsheet application to send a holiday greeting in 2008, posting a time-lapse video of their hand-drawn effort to YouTube.