March 2014 Windows XP Warning

I’ve got Windows XP! DO I NEED TO PANIC?

Here’s a topic I am increasingly being asked about, and not surprisingly as Microsoft keep telling XP users that the end of the world is nigh come the 8th April 2014! So what does it mean? How does it affect you? What – if anything – should you do?

What is happening?

Microsoft has decided to end support for Windows XP completely. This means that not only do they withdraw technical support services (not too many of you are in regular contact with their support desks anyway so that’s not too much of a problem), but far more importantly to most users, they stop producing updates to the software. So what does that mean then? Well in a nutshell it means that there will be no more patches provided via Windows Update, so when you shut down your PC you won’t find it telling you to wait until it finishes updating before you are allowed go to bed!

Note that this applies only to Windows XP users, which includes XP Home, XP Professional and XP Media Centre edition. So users of Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows Vista can relax – at least for a while. One day this will happen to you, but not for a good while yet. Vista will no doubt be next, support for Vista Service Pack 1 ended way back in July 2011, and I am guessing that Microsoft would be happy to drop support for this much less popular version of Windows as soon as it reasonably can.

There is a bit more information here on the Microsoft web site.

Why is Microsoft doing this?

Microsoft has been providing support for the much-loved Windows XP for almost 13 years! In that time Microsoft have effectively produced a replacement for XP three times! XP has however proved remarkably tenacious. Microsoft really doesn’t want to be maintaining older versions of their operating system when newer versions exist. It ties up resources and man-power that could be better used (in their view) making the newer versions better, or developing the next version. So eventually the oldest one has to go, and that is XP in April. At some point in the future they will provide a date for the same thing to happen to Vista, though that will cause less of an upset as it was never as popular as XP.

What can I do?

There are really 3 things you can do: Nothing, Upgrade, or Replace.
How viable is doing nothing? I suspect that XP will last some considerable time yet. However there are a few things to think about.

  • Sooner or later, anti-virus companies (and other less obviously important software companies) are going to forget about making their products Windows XP compatible.
  • The makers or peripheral devices (like printers and cameras and the likes) are going to stop worrying about drivers for XP, so new devices you buy might not work.
  • As long as there are still lots of XP users out there, you should expect any security vulnerabilities discovered in XP to be targeted (ruthlessly) by malware. Microsoft will not be helping.
  • Those of you using Microsoft Security Essentials will find that, being a Microsoft product, it will cease to be updated for XP at around the same time.

Carrying on with XP is not a hugely appealing prospect, though doubtless many thousands of people will continue to do so. That is OK, but bear in mind that at some point in time you might come to regret it, so even if you do nothing else – consider the other options and make a plan as sooner or hopefully a lot later you will need to do something – and backup your data just in case!

Can I Upgrade? If your system isn’t too old, you can in theory upgrade to a more modern version of Windows and carry on with relatively little disruption. However many Windows XP machines out there won’t meet the core requirements of Windows 8, which Microsoft lists as a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and a 20GB hard disk. In theory all but the oldest XP PCs will therefore run Windows 8 with a RAM upgrade and possibly a hard disk upgrade.

By running Microsoft’s Upgrade Assistant you can in theory check exactly how ready your PC is for Windows 8. This is a free tool which will scan your system and check that it meets the hardware requirements, and it will also scan your peripheral devices for compatibility too. Assuming everything is in order, it will give you the option to purchase and download Windows 8.

My experience of this is that most XP machines won’t hack it. Most modern PC’s that you see running Windows 8, are zipping along nicely with at least 4GB of RAM on a quad core (or more) processor. Your typical XP machine with a dual core processor and 1GB of RAM at best isn’t in the same league as these more modern high tech systems. I think it’s a bit like a three legged dog; I am impressed that they can run at all, not necessarily how fast they do it. What is less obvious is that there is a cost to buy the upgrade of Windows, and a cost to upgrade your RAM and hard disk should you need to do it. The current price of a Windows 8 upgrade from XP (Service Pack 3) at CCL is a tad under £85 (as I type this). Even if you are happy to do this on your own, and don’t need to upgrade the RAM and/or hard disk, I would argue that that money could be better used as a discount against a new PC.

Should I buy second hand?

Funnily enough there aren’t many second hand machines out there running Windows 7 or 8, they are both just a bit new compared with Vista. Most second hand PCs seem to be Windows Vista or Windows XP (funny that!). So obviously you would avoid the XP ones. The majority of Vista PC’s are actually capable of running Windows 7 or 8. In general they are a much higher spec than most XP machines as they were built later), so you could always buy it and upgrade it later to Windows 7 or 8! And why would you do that rather than buy a second hand Windows 7/8 PC? Well I reckon Vista PC’s will be cheaper. Second hand Windows 7/8 PC’s are unlikely to be too much cheaper than a new one. This is something that has long baffled me but I think it has something to do with the fact that the initial cost of a new PC continues to stay low or even fall. So second hand machines tend to cost nearly as much. To me it seems worth paying a wee bit more to get the peace of mind of the warranty that comes with the new system, but if that doesn’t fit your budget then check out any bargain second hand PC’s and don’t rule out Vista, you can always upgrade it later when your budget allows.

Buying new

Buying new is pretty straight forward – just make sure you shop around, and as always check out the Cashback from the various suppliers if buying online. It’s worth making a quick point here that you can buy online from many companies getting cashback, and then go and collect from the same shop you would have bought it from anyway. I recently bought a Hudl from Tesco doing this, and got £6+ back which I prefer in my pocket to someone else’s.

One thing to consider when buying new, is do you go for Windows 7 or Windows 8, always assuming you get the choice. Windows 8 has had a bit of stick in the press, largely because Microsoft redesigned the Start button and what happens when you press it. Whatever their reasons for doing this, they have done it and they are now increasingly giving the option to allow it to run more like Windows 7. Personally I don’t have a problem with Windows 8, once you have right-clicked on a few things on the Start menu, added and removed stuff so you have on it what you want, and if you accept the new Start Screen to be a big fancy Start menu, then you can get on with it. So for me the choice is simple – if you are buying new, then get Windows 8. I am fairly sure that in a while I will be doing a newsletter discussing upgrade paths from Windows 7! Probably not long after the one about Windows Vista! 😉

Something to consider is whether or not to by a system with a monitor. If you have already updated your own monitor and are happy with it, then you can save a bit by just getting a new tower. It’s worth checking the difference in price though, as often the nature of the deal means you don’t save much at all by not having the monitor, so consider having a cheap spare, or selling a monitor on.

And finally…

OK that’s it for now, thanks for your time; I hope some of you found some of it useful. Feel free to forward this on to others if you want to.

As usual if your PC / Network / Internet / Email / Backup or whatever isn’t running smoothly at the moment, my number is below, or if you want to ask the odd question or have any suggestions for a topic for another Newsletter or you are finding something particularly frustrating / problematic on the computer front, why not send me an email.