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District 833 is in the process of switching all of its computers over from Windows XP to Windows 7 since Microsoft will no longer be supporting the older operating system. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

Time to tweak technologies in 833

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Staying current with the newest and most up-to-date technology can be challenging for anyone, but what about keeping up with it when it’s discontinued?

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District 833 is currently in the process of updating all the district computers from Windows XP to Windows 7, since Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP come April 8.

“Staying current with technology is always an issue,” said Andrew Baldwin, the director of technology for District 833. “Without the support of XP moving forward, we need to update as much of our fleet that will sustain a new operating system.

“We’re calling this our Windows XP mitigation and Windows 7 migration.”

Windows of opportunity

If the computers were to continue operating under Windows XP, the machines would no longer have security walls and would be susceptible to malware and viruses.

“There is always that potential to have malware compromises that could jeopardize an entire network structure,” Baldwin said.

Currently, District 833 will have 4,394 computers running Windows 7, if they are not already, Baldwin said.

“As a district, we had certainly utilized that operating system,” he said.

The district’s newer computers were able to be easily updated to Windows 7 without any issue, Baldwin said.

Updating the machines is a relatively simple process, said Jim Oliver, the technology specialist at Woodbury High School, but it just takes a while to do it.

On average, Oliver said it takes several hours to get through the update process, which means the updates have to occur when the computers are not in use.

However, many of the computers require additional memory in order to support Windows 7, which caused the district to purchase a total of 1,300 sticks of RAM at a cost of $13,300.

Additionally, Baldwin said some software and programs may need to be updated, or alternatives found, since some older programs are not compatible with Windows 7.

District 833 has also had to purchase additional licenses for the use of Windows 7 at a cost of $50 per machine.

Some cannot support Windows 7

District 833 is not able to migrate all of its machines over to Windows 7 however, since some of its computers are so old that they will not support any operating system past Windows XP.

“We have, or have had, a significant number of our machines that are eight to 12 years old that will not run anything beyond Windows XP,” he said.

The district has 568 computers that cannot be switched over to Windows 7.

Many of the machines that cannot support Windows 7 are computers that have been taken out of computer labs, when they were replaced, and moved into classrooms or other areas of the school.

“When we would replace labs in the district, many of those machines were repurposed,” Baldwin said. “We’ve been very frugal and respectful of our community and our taxpayers, so we’ve gotten every last bit of life out of a piece of equipment.

“But, there comes a time to remove it from the network as an obsolete piece of equipment.”

Since the repurposed machines were technically already replaced, Baldwin said the district has no intention of replacing those machines with computers that support Windows 7.

It will be up to the schools to cover the cost if they should want to replace those computers, Baldwin said.

“It’s not a black and white issue,” he said. “Despite dealing with technology, it’s not just a one and a zero.”

In the clear

Some may see the Windows 7 migration as cutting rather close to the upcoming Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment testing, occurring at all district schools starting April 15.

However, Baldwin said testing will not be an issue at all, even if all machines have not switched over at the time, since the online testing programs still support Windows XP.

The risk of malware will still be an issue while Windows XP is used after the April 8 black-out date.

“We’re good for testing,” Baldwin said. “We’re always very mindful of testing, so that’s not a concern.”

Baldwin said the district is about halfway through the Windows 7 migration process and will continue to work on them.

Baldwin said he is expecting to complete the remaining the computers over the summer when they are not in use.

Baldwin said District 833 could potentially be facing the same issue another 10 years from now, depending on what Microsoft does, since Windows 7 is not the most current operating system.

“With technology, it’s always an evolution,” he said. “At certain points you reach limitation of that hardware.

“It’s up to Microsoft when they decide to end the life of any product.”

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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