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Closing Windows XP Opens Door For Much Needed Upgrades

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) quit supporting Windows XP on April 8, meaning the operating system is dead.

Or is it … ?

Just as Latin is still spoken at the Vatican, Windows XP is still spoken at the Pentagon, the Washington Navy Yard and at sea.

“I love XP,” said John Zangardi, a high-ranking civilian executive with the U.S. Navy who spoke April 22 at the San Diego Hall of Champions. The occasion was a three-day tech conference put on by the local chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

There is still a lot of Windows XP left in the fleet and in shore bases, Zangardi said, and one of his jobs is to stamp it out.

I first caught on to the Windows XP issue about a year ago. Daily contract announcements from the Pentagon make pretty dry reading, but one caught my eye. The Navy awarded Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) roughly $15 million to change the software in its Triton surveillance drone from Windows XP to Windows 7, with about a quarter of that work going to San Diego. I followed up with the Naval Air Systems Command, where a spokeswoman told me the drone uses Windows on a half dozen computers and subsystems, adding that it needed the upgrade so it could communicate with military networks.

Windows XP — which made its debut in 2001 — is probably not the detail that conference organizers would want me to seize on, though it points to two big issues at the Pentagon and at Spawar, the Navy’s San Diego-based information technology command. Spawar stands for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

Issue No. 1: Technology evolves much faster than the Defense Department’s acquisition processes. The way the military buys submarines and mines is not well-suited to buying information technology, said Victor Gavin, another civilian Navy executive overseeing IT who spoke at the April 22 conference. Yet another panelist noted that the lifespan of a microchip has steadily shrunk from eight years to 12 months, which also makes the acquisition process difficult.

Issue No. 2: Changing the IT system has a human component. People react very personally to it, Navy leaders said. Gavin alluded to Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard’s book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”, which talks about big changes imposed from without.

“My job,” Gavin said, “is moving people’s cheese.”

It would be interesting to learn how the Defense Department plans to support or provide security for Windows XP if it plans to use it in the years to come.

One other interesting fact I gleaned from Internet news sources: China seems to be a fan of Windows XP. Apparently the cost of upgrading to Windows 8.1 is too expensive.

Who knew Microsoft was such a geopolitical player?

• • •

Visions of Giga: AT&T Inc. said it is considering putting extra-high speed Internet connectivity in San Diego and 20 other metro areas in the U.S.

AT&T (NYSE: T) said the new service — offered on fiber optic lines — would produce speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. Network conditions would have to be just right, but such speeds would enable a person to download 25 songs in one second, a television show in less than three seconds or a high-definition movie in less than 36 seconds.

My sense is that part of the April 21 announcement is political, in that it calls for cities and towns to work with the carrier. Communities with suitable network facilities and that “show the strongest investment cases based on anticipated demand and the most receptive policies will influence these future selections and coverage maps within selected areas,” Dallas-based AT&T said in a statement.

The business is marketing the service under the name AT&T U-verse with GigaPower.

Send San Diego technology news to bradg@sdbj.com.

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