Monday, October 07, 2013

A Short History of XP

(Why it’s going away and what to do about it.)

                Windows XP was released to the public in October of 2001.  Being based on NT (New Technology) to replace the Windows 95-98-ME lines, XP has been with us in one form or another for 12 years.  It runs laptops, desktops, and workstations.   It’s used for gaming, word processing, playing movies, browsing the Internet, programming and more.  XP runs on modest hardware, from old Pentium II’s to Core 2 Duo’s.  It brought us some major changes in security and features.  Support for DVDs, high speed Internet connections, wireless connections, memory card readers, USB, high definition video, new hard drive formats.
                However, three more versions of Windows have been released since then.  Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 are those.  Because of these newer versions of Windows, extended support will end on April 8, 2014—after which no more security patches or new support information will be provided.  This means that there will be no more security updates or patches for XP after that date.
                Now that XP is 12 years old, many existing flaws are well-known. Just not all of them are well-known to Microsoft and The Bad Guys aren’t sharing.  They are holding some flaws for when Microsoft stops making patches for XP and will not fix any further existing flaws. 
                XP won’t stop working on April 8.  But it will be extremely vulnerable to being online.
                If you are using Windows, you should have a router between your computer and the Internet no matter what version of Windows your computer is running.  What a router does is act like a traffic cop, determining what information goes to which computer and what information isn’t allowed in to the network.  In addition, a router allows a wireless connection that your devices (such as laptops and tablets) can use to get online.  This is different than the wireless connection a smartphone offers, such as 3G or 4G.
                The router also acts a firewall, keeping unauthorized access out of your network.  Yes, one computer counts as a network.
                XP should be kept fully patched and updated.  Flash and Java (if used) should be kept updated.  Run your anti-virus and anti-malware at least once a week and keep them up to date.

                There are a few options for dealing with XP.
                Most modern hardware can run an alternative OS called “Linux.”  Linux is like a foundation and then people have made their own versions for different uses.  The main distributions (there are hundreds) are a handful.  I’ve been trying Ubuntu, Mint and Descent|OS to see which I think will work out to replace XP.  So far, Mint 15 Cinnamon is a strong contender.  Personally, I’ve been happy with Mint’s performance and selection of software.  Mint includes an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and more), web browser (Firefox), media players (Winamp and VLC) and includes Flash and Java.
                Because Linux is based on Unix (an operating system for multi-user mainframes) it tends to be very secure and difficult to infect with viruses and malware.  To do updates, for example, you’ll need to give Linux a password.  Otherwise, the OS won’t run the updates.  With XP and an Administrator account, XP assumes you are the one asking for the updates and dutifully performs them.

                An example of the Mint 15 desktop.  In the lower left is the Menu button, much like the Start button in XP.  In the lower right are system icons showing volume, network status and other information.

                Ubuntu 13 works well also.  It uses a menu on the left side of the screen to access programs and puts the ‘taskbar’ at the top of the screen.

                This is the desktop from Descent|OS.  The gold star is the Menu button.  Descent uses both a dock on the left and a taskbar along the bottom.

                These all run on rather modest hardware, a Pentium 4 with 1 gigabyte of RAM will run it well enough to perform common tasks, such as email, web browsing, word processing.  All come with Open Office or Libre Office which is very much like Microsoft Office and is compatible with Word’s file formats.  My personal favorite is Mint 15.
                Windows 7 can still be found for sale, about $100 from Newegg.  Running Win7 on older hardware can be iffy.  Lacking driver support for sound cards, video cards, printers and other devices, Win7 can be good if some research is done before hand.
                If the computer is question is older, has minimal mounts of RAM (random access memory, RAM), or is just not up to doing the job anymore, it might be time to look at a new computer.  Some older Pentium4’s use what is called DDR memory.  DDR has been around for a long time, as long as XP, and isn’t being made anymore.  It’s hard to find and expensive.  Other issues with older computers are video (AGP and on-board systems, or VGA only), IDE hard drives and optical drives (read only drives), USB 1.1 ports, and other issues might make a current computer not worth the change of OS.
                In that case, it’s time for a “new” computer.  Windows 8 adds some really good security features (Security Essentials is built-in), ability to track the online activities of Users, Automatic Updates (been around since XP), SmartScreen phishing scam filter, BitLocker to encrypt your files and folders.  Win8 also brings the Start Screen.  Picture below, the Start Screen places “apps” in one place.  If there are more apps, it scrolls off to the right.  You can re-arrange the tiles (the little squares) how you want and with Win8.1, you can change the size of the tile, four choices.  There is a tile that takes you to the Desktop, where non-Metro programs reside.
Admittedly, there is a learning curve involved in going to Windows 8.  Learning where the Control Panel is, places to change settings, how to get back and forth between the Start and Desktop screens. 
One thing I found that I didn’t like is that Windows 8, if connected to the Internet, requires you to use an email and password to log into to your computer.  This can be avoided by not connecting to the Internet until after the initial setup is complete.
Windows 8 is very much designed to be used with a touch screen.  Poking the screen, swiping with your finger, and making gestures run to the computer.  Yes, you can use a mouse to point and click just like always.  It takes a bit of getting used to with aiming correctly. 
Also, a touch screen equipped computer does carry a premium over a non-touch computer.  However, the premium isn’t as large as it used to be, only about $50 to $100 dollars.
You can still find a few Windows 7 computers too.  Win 7 is more like XP in how it looks and feels.  It will need the usual anti-virus and anti-malware installed, such as Microsoft Security Essentials and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.  Most of these computers will be refurbished, meaning they have been bought or leased by people or a business and used for a time.  From a reputable retailer, these can be a good choice to get hardware or software that you want or to get a good deal.  Most companies (Lenovo, Dell, and online retailers like Newegg) have special sections for these.
The biggest downside to a refurbished computer is that they usually only have a 90 day warranty.  Also, if it’s an Open Box, you may be getting problems from the previous owner.  Some have cosmetic blemished, dents and scratches, which don’t affect the performance of the computer but give big discounts.
If a brand new computer is in order, just about anything you buy will be up to the task of daily use.  A new Windows 8 or 8.1 machine will run email and web browsing and photo editing just fine.  It doesn’t even have to be terribly expensive unless you are looking for something that will run programs for a long time.  An Intel Core i3 or AMD A6 has plenty of power with 4 or more GBs of RAM.  You’ll also get a one warranty in most cases.
For more modest computing needs, a tablet might be worth a look.  Light, portable, easy to use, resistant to viruses and malware, capable of taking pictures and movies, running email, chat and games.

There are two options when dealing with an XP computer:  change the OS or replace the computer.  With Linux getting better and the options in computers, now is a good time.  But, you have till April to see how things go.

I did have pictures of the Linux and Win8 desktops, but those have been removed due to formatting issues.

1 comment:

  1. Windows XP is the most compatible operating system ever launched by Microsoft it supports almost all software's that other operating system may fail to be compatible.

    Charlie Electra

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