End-of-life isn't the end of the world

What should you do when support is withdrawn for the operating system on your mobile handheld device? And what does that mean for your business?

Johannesburg, 23 Apr 2019
Read time 3min 20sec
Mark Broude, head of the commercial division at Kemtek Imaging Systems.
Mark Broude, head of the commercial division at Kemtek Imaging Systems.

In this instance, we're talking about handheld automatic identification devices, but the concern is just as valid for pretty much any other handheld computer that businesses routinely use and which are reliant on an operating system with a limited lifespan.

Mark Broude, head of the commercial division at Kemtek Imaging Systems, says: "Businesses such as warehouses, retailers, logistics companies or pharmacies, for example, all rely on handheld computers that provide mobile employees with access to real-time information about inventory, products and/or pricing, and it's imperative that the operating system integrate with the rest of their systems. But when software companies announce that they're ending support for that operating system, it could catch business unawares and leave it unprepared in terms of the way forward."

The issue came to the fore when it was announced that on 9 June this year, Windows would withdraw support for its Embedded 8.1 handheld operating system, with Embedded 6.5 to follow suit on 14 January 2020.

Broude says: "Mobile devices running Windows CE and Windows Embedded handheld operating systems are widely popular in the automatic identification market, particularly at the more rugged end. However, if your business uses such devices, it would be prudent to begin looking to replace these now that Microsoft has begun to phase out support for both operating systems."

But, adds Broude, these 'end of life cycle' announcements need not threaten the business's operations.

"The answer is simple: you plan ahead and ensure that you have timely and smart replacement measures in place ahead of the expiry date, to avoid unnecessary and potentially costly disruptions to your business."

One solution, he says, is to invest in Android devices that offer exactly the same specifications, without the end-of-life cycle conundrum. "Some businesses may be concerned about integration with the rest of their environment, but that is no longer a valid concern with modern Android operating systems. Another advantage of Android is that most users are already familiar with it as an operating system."

What are my options?

How to avoid this problem going forward? Broude recommends that customers invest in handheld computers that aren't tied to a software that might fall obsolete, as a starting point.

"Android operating system-based devices are already well established in the market for a number of reasons," says Broude. "These include their familiar, user-friendly smartphone interfaces, ease of development, stability and flexibility."

Relying on devices that depend on legacy software puts the business at risk. "Old technology just isn't built for the flexibility that today's business demands."

What are the downfalls of using devices that rely on unsupported operating systems?

1. It might keep asking you to update the software and refuse to perform certain tasks until you've done so.
2. The data gets corrupted.
3. The device can't handle large volumes of data; it takes too long to process requests and crashes often.

When operating systems are no longer supported by the vendor, it means that no updates will be issued, which affects functionality, performance and possibly even security of the handheld device. It could also mean that it may no longer be compatible with newer operating systems or hardware that you might want to install, which can prove very limiting for your business.

While the phrase "end of life" may instil panic, most businesses would probably already have been planning to upgrade their older devices anyway. They just need to plan properly so that they don't find themselves in a similar situation a few years down the line.

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