Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Windows XP Expiration -- What Now?

Microsoft has ended support for Windows XP.  What does that mean?  What does that mean for you?

It does not mean that Windows XP will stop working on your computer because XP has “expired”.  XP has not died and taken your PC and all your data with it.

It means that there will be no further security updates and patches from Microsoft for XP machines.  These are the files that Microsoft pushes out to machines in the middle of the night once a week over the Internet to fix problems with Microsoft products (Office and XP) that come to light and which represent security risks. 

Your actual experience may vary.  It will depend on what software you are running and how it is configured on your machine.  For example, some of you may have Windows Updates disabled.  In that case your machine has been living all along as if XP and Office were expired. 
But, most of you have probably had the Windows default setting, which is to allow updates. 

In that case it means that when you use your machine from now on, you may start seeing a pop-up nagging you to upgrade to Windows 8.

It means that Microsoft Security Essentials, a free anti-virus program that many people use, will no longer get updates to its database of virus-signatures, so Security Essentials may not stop new threats.  That’s going to prompt some more nagging.

So you’ve been getting Microsoft updates and patches automatically over the Internet for 10 years or more.  How many more security holes can there be? you might ask.  It should be perfect by now!

Some say that there is no such thing as a secure operating system.  That security is a cat-and-mouse game where “hackers” find ways to do what they want, and Microsoft/Apple detect the problem and devise a patch to protect you and me. 

But there is one other risk, and it is perhaps the biggest risk of all.  It is correlated with Windows XP, but not caused by Windows XP.  Any machine still running Windows XP is probably 8 - 10 years old now.  Your PC is mortal and near(er) to death.

What are your options?

Microsoft wants you to purchase a new PC running Windows 8 and Office 365.  Office 365 is a subscription-based Office software plus cloud services.

I am an old dog, and I resent having to learn new tricks.  Maybe if there were some treats to be had from Windows 8, but there aren’t any for me.  Touch screen?  OK on a tablet or smartphone, but not on a laptop or desktop PC. 

Windows 7 is a good, stable operating system, and it will seem very familiar to you coming from XP.   Many of you will already have experienced Windows 7 on the job or otherwise out in the world.  It has been around since 2009, and about half the PCs in the world are now running Windows 7.   End-of-life for Windows 7 has been announced as January 19, 2020.  So that gives you about 6 years with it before you’ll have to move on again.  That’s not a bad plan, considering the obsolescence of the hardware it’ll be running on.

A drawback for some of you that’s inherent in any Microsoft Windows upgrade is that at the same time you’ll be upgrading from Office XP or Office 2003 to the current versions of Office 2013 or Office 365.  The current versions of Office are very different from the XP/2003 versions of Office.  Not better, just different.  For many of you, not better, much worse because you have to learn new ways to accomplish what you know how to do in the old version.  Struggling with learning curve on a new version of Office at the same time as you are to learn a new version of Windows…  That is an aggravating experience. 
Let’s touch on some of your alternatives to upgrading from XP to a Windows 7 or 8 PC.
If all you want to do is email and web browsing, a tablet computer [Slide 15] may be a viable option for you.  There are web services from Google, Apple, Microsoft and others that let you create documents and spreadsheets on your tablet.  But doing “work” on a tablet is not very easy.  Apple’s iPad is popular and so are Android tablets from Samsung and many other manufacturers.  Your documents and files are stored in the “Cloud” whatever that means.  So to migrate from your old machine to a tablet, you need to move your files to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox or other cloud storage service.
Smartphones nowadays can do everything a tablet can do.  And you can make phone calls with your smartphone and keep it with you at all times.  But the smaller screen on a smartphone may make them unsuitable as a PC replacement for many people. In my case, I have a smartphone instead of a tablet.  But I don’t consider my smartphone a replacement for a PC.
Linux on a PC or laptop should be on your radar if you are just doing email and web browsing.  It’s free. You can download it and install it on older hardware. 

There are lots of different distributions you can choose from which package different applications and have different interfaces.  Many of them you can run from a CD/DVD or USB stick before you install it to see if you like it.  Or you copy it on a $40 USB-3 memory stick, boot to it on your 10 year old PC (?).  When the PC dies, you just plug your memory stick in a newer PC and go.  The hard disk in this laptop has died.  It is running Ubuntu Linux from the USB stick.
If you go beyond email and web browsing, doing documents, spreadsheets. desktop publishing, graphic design, video editing, video gaming, programming, accounting, taxes, etc.  you need a computer.  You can look at Apple’s MacIntosh PCs and Linux PCs.  A Mac is significantly more expensive than a similar Windows PC.  If you want to get a new Linux PC you’ll have to buy a Windows PC and install Linux.  But the killers for both of these options are
  • The software you need to run is probably not available for Mac or Linux, so you’ll end up having to run Windows in a virtual PC on the Mac or keep windows as a boot option on the Linux PC. 
    • You’ll have to use something called Boot Camp or buy Parallels for your Mac plus a Windows license will cost around $150 more.
  • The learning curve on the Mac and Linux are akin Windows 8.
Beware.  There is another hidden cost for some of you if you have an old printer, scanner or other preripherals.  Drivers and the old LPT port may not be available on your new machine.  New printers and scanners are not expensive, however.
Finally, here are some things you should do as long as you continue to use XP.   
  1. Stop using Microsoft Internet Explorer for and AOL for web browsing.  Get Google Chrome or the latest version of Mozilla Firefox.  Your browser continuously introduces itself to everyone it meets, and the XP version of Internet Explorer and/or AOL Desktop will be like flashing a wad of cash in a bad part of town.
  2. If you are using Microsoft Security Essentials, uninstall it and get Avast! free antivirus.
  3. Don’t use Outlook or Outlook Express for email.  Use webmail and use it with Chrome or Firefox.
  4. Backup all your documents, pictures, music, data and other files on your PC to an external hard disk so when it gets hacked or otherwise dies - when, not if - you won’t lose everything.  If you have XP Pro, you have a utility called Windows Backup that you can use.  If not, get an external hard disk that has backup software included with it.

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