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US taxman blows Win XP deadline, must now spend millions on custom support

Gov't IT likened to 'a Model T with a lot of things on top of it'

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The April 15 deadline for Americans to pay their federal income taxes is fast approaching, but the US Internal Revenue Service has already missed an important deadline of its own – namely, Microsoft's end-of-support date for Windows XP.

Speaking at a budget meeting before the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on Monday, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen admitted that the agency was only around halfway done with its XP migration effort, and that it will take another $30m to complete.

Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw observed that the IRS had been "struggling" to come up with that extra cash, but that it eventually decided to divert it from "enforcement" – meaning it will spend less of its budget chasing down tax cheats.

According to the federal government's IT Dashboard website, the IRS has earmarked nearly $78m to migrate its roughly 100,000 employees away from XP, which means it has spent around $48m on the effort already.

A budget that size means the agency will spend nearly $800 for each desktop it migrates. By way of comparison, the average price of a brand-new PC was just $544.30 in the third quarter of 2013, the most recent period for which IDC has figures available.

During Monday's budget meeting, Koskinen told Congress that completing the agency-wide migration was no easy task.

"I would refer to it as we're driving a Model T with a lot of things on top of it," he said. "We are the classic 'fix the airplane while you're flying it' attempt."

In a statement to the media, the IRS said that taxpayers needn't worry about the migration, that it won't cost the US public any additional money, and that "none of our filing season systems or other major business operating systems for taxpayers use Windows XP."

There may be other things in the IRS's data centers to worry about, though. According to Koskinen, the agency has around $300m worth of other IT projects on hold while it completes its desktop migration.

Whether it will be finished by next year's tax-filing season, however, is unclear. The project's IT Dashboard page says it initially expected to be finished by the end of September 2014, but the projected completion dates for all of the project milestones have now been pushed to December 31.

Because of its tardiness in completing the project – and recall that Redmond announced Windows XP's end-of-support date in 2008 – the IRS will now have to spend a portion of its budget on a custom support contract with Microsoft to ensure that its XP machines keep getting security patches. Microsoft negotiates the prices of such contracts privately, and neither it nor the IRS will say what the agency is paying.

But it's not an all-out win for Redmond. For one thing, the tax agency's migration effort won't win it any converts to its latest, much-maligned OS. That's right; the IRS is migrating to Windows 7, not Windows 8. ®

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