Microsoft will cease support of the Windows XP operating system and Office 2003 software suite on April 8. No ifs, buts or ‘wait a moments’ – after April 8, any systems you run with these products will no longer receive technical assistance or automatic security updates. Your usual IT provider won’t be able to help much: XP and Office 2003 will be defunct and that is that.

This news seems to have caught the wholesale sector by surprise this year. But the surprise is that so many were caught unawares! It’s not as if Microsoft hadn’t given plenty of notice – and XP is more than 12 years old, Office 2003 more than 10, which is practically an old aged pensioner in the PC world.

Don’t wait – act now. What does end of life mean for wholesalers?  

Now of course your day-to-day work screens won’t suddenly go blank on April 8, and your back office clients will likely still continue to bumble along for a while after this date.

That said, only the foolhardy would ignore this death knell for any tills running on XP-based PCs. For these, immediate action is imperative. No, really.

Not only will XP-based tills no longer receive automatic security updates, Microsoft Security Essentials will no longer be available for download. Without this protection, your XP-reliant PoS system will very quickly become an easy target for malware.

It will also be deemed non-compliant with the latest Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard standards. This will leave you at risk of fines, reputational damage and customer mistrust.

Even putting these risks aside, old point-of-sale systems will still spiral down in a rapid decline after Microsoft pulls the plug on XP. There is no longer any incentive for software and hardware developers to make their new products compatible with XP. This will make it harder and more expensive to keep systems up-to-date, or to add new users or new peripherals.

This will become an issue sooner than you might think. What happens when your cheap printer goes on the blink? So will your PoS system. Want to add a new checkout counter? Sorry, not possible.

This has serious implications for the many UK wholesalers running these systems. And there is no quick fix, no easy upgrade.

Your shortest-term and most cost-effective option is to replace any XP-based tills with dedicated PoS units running the embedded equivalent of XP: Windows POSReady 2009.

The ‘embedded’ aspect is critical here – this version of the operating system was designed specifically to be embedded in purpose-built ‘industrial’ hardware products such as PoS units, rather than installed on PCs. As a result, it comes with extended support until 2024.

Don’t try to cut corners.  The end of PC-based point of sale system?

This whole issue raises a more fundamental question: can consumer PCs continue to perform effectively as PoS systems?

At a time when wholesalers – and their customers, for that matter – are expecting ever-more sophisticated operational software, the average PC is necessarily being stripped of complexity in order to keep it at a consumer-sensitive price point.

Of course, this also means that PCs remain a popular choice for the budget-conscious among you. But they are increasingly proving to be a false economy in this sector.

Few have enough ports to support all the peripherals a wholesaler typically needs to run an effective PoS operation, such as scanners, PIN entry devices and printers. This means that you will have to buy additional port cards – negating some of the up-front cost savings that a PC might seem to offer over a purpose-built PoS unit.

What’s more, it can take up to four days of frustrating tweaking to create a complete PoS solution using inadequate hardware and third-party add-ons. This puts an unsustainable burden on IT providers so we’ll also inevitably start to see professional set-up costs eating into the so-called savings presented by the PC option.

Even if you put purchase cost considerations aside, add-ons are often incompatible with PC motherboards and inevitably work loose over time, causing peripheral failure. Downtime isn’t only frustrating: it will cost a wholesaler directly, especially when that failure affects the PoS operation.

Above all, the XP farewell should serve as a timely reminder that PCs will always have shorter lifespans than PoS units, each time generating all the disruption I’ve described.

You’ve heard the adage ‘less is more’. Well, in this case, clearly ‘more is less’: a little more spent upfront on dedicated PoS hardware instead of cheaper PCs will result in less set-up hassle, less downtime, less IT maintenance, less staff frustration and less customer disenchantment. Oh yes – and a whole lot less surprise.


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