Preparing for the End of Windows XP

by Tony Gamble

buggy-xp-desktopIt’s coming. On April 8th, 2014, Windows XP will have at long last reached the end of its life span. There’s even an official Gadget for that, requiring Windows 7, of course. If you’re one of the 29% of computer users out there still on XP, this means that you will no longer receive security updates. And the internet is full of bad stuff.

What are your choices? Microsoft wants you to upgrade to one of their current offerings, of course, preferably Windows 8. Both Windows 7 and 8 are great choices (please step away from the Vista), but they’re certainly not the only game in town. Everyone is quite familiar with the Mac, but what if you’re not ready to make that leap to an almost completely new way of interfacing with your laptop or desktop? Purchasing a Mac means getting a great operating system called OS X (that’s “ten”, not “ex”), and yes I am admittedly biased, but not everyone is ready to change the way they work with their computer. Neither is everyone in a position to shell out for a whole new machine. In fact, chances are if you’re still running Windows XP, you’re also still running the same hardware it came on. In this case, the latest Microsoft offerings might be a bit too feature-packed to run smoothly. You’re not without options, however. Many distributions of Linux offer a streamlined, lightweight operating system at the best price ever: FREE.

Chances are you’ve heard of Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system from Canonical which sought to bridge the differentiating gap between a Windows and Linux desktop experience. Although it’s not one of the most lightweight distributions out there, it can still be run well on a system with only 512 Megabytes of RAM and a paltry 5 Gigabytes of hard drive space. In fact, it will run on a computer with much less than that, depending on your choice of desktop environment. To get all of the modern goodies and ease of use, though, I would recommend a machine with at least 2 Gigabytes of RAM and a fairly modern video card, which can be had for under $50. Given the savings of a using a FREE operating system, your desktop PC can be given a real boost on a budget.ubuntu-screenshot

How does this compare to upgrading your version of Windows? The next consumer version was Vista, which has had a very bumpy ride since its release. Save yourself the agony and look a little further to Windows 7. The lifecycle on this one will keep its security updated until 2020, but what will it cost to leapfrog Vista to this more stable Windows? First, you’ll need to ensure your PC has at least a Gigabyte of RAM and 16 Gigabytes of available hard drive space. On top of bumping the RAM and storage, you’ll also need to purchase that copy of Windows 7, to the tune of over $200 at your local Big Box outlet store. Event Windows 8.1 comes in cheaper at almost half that price, and it has the same system requirements, but be prepared for a whole new desktop experience. Actually, I’ve come to like Windows 8 very much when I have to use it, even choosing to do it by choice occasionally. Startup times are faster, the heart of the OS has been tuned to be more robust and secure, but the new Start Menu (formerly known as the Metro interface) tends to confound, confuse and frustrate most people I know. I still highly recommend Windows 8, but allow yourself a minimum of 21 days to adjust to the new user experience.

These are a few of your choices. Windows XP will not cease to function after April 8th, but it will cease to be a secure option. You may not even need a PC at this point. Depending on your usage, perhaps a tablet such as Apple’s iPad or Microsoft’s Surface could be the right choice for you. Either way, surfing the Web with Windows XP will soon become the unsafest thing you can do with your PC.

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