Microsoft is to end extended support for Windows XP in April 2014, but with so many people still hanging on to the decade old OS, what are their options?
Whatever you think of Microsoft, you have to hand it to them. Windows XP may not be perfect, but from an end users point of view it is a dream. It has been around so long that a lot of even hardened Microsoft fans have used nothing prior to it.
Introduced in 2001, Windows XP superseded the rock solid Windows 2000. Both 2000 and XP were based on NT, however 2000 was aimed at the business market and XP aimed at the consumer market. Having an NT base gave it a fairly stable footing, but its graphical overhaul left behind the 9x and 2000 look for a bright – and in my opinion, ugly – blue and bulbous desktop interface.
Windows Vista was released in 2006, but its heavy hardware requirements and poor performance hindered it from taking XP’s crown, and despite two service packs supposedly optimising it, Vista still couldn’t match the behemoth that is Windows XP.
Windows 7 was released in 2009 and built upon the new look from Vista. Microsoft seemed to have learned a lot from the Vista fiasco, making Windows 7 fast and efficient and finally taking a large chunk of the XP market.
With the release of Windows 8 in 2012, Microsoft took a bold step with a whole new look. It was a move in synchronising a new touch/tile interface across their XBox, tablet and mobile range. However, it has become a love/hate affair. Some love it; I personally hate it. I think it works on a touch and tablet device, but not on a mouse-driven desktop.
With Windows 9 reported to be released in 2015, who knows what direction it will take. The coming months should see some beta releases giving us an idea.
XP Still Hanging in There
Fast forward to 2014, and despite the success of Windows 7 and Microsoft pushing Windows 8, Windows XP still has 30% of the Windows share worldwide. But with the imminent cull scheduled for April 2014, what is going to happen to those who haven’t moved on yet.
Will You Upgrade Windows?
The most obvious option is to upgrade your version of Windows. Depending on your hardware will determine whether this is possible or not.
Windows Vista has minimum requirements of 800 MHz and 512 MB RAM for ‘Vista Capable’ or 1 GHz and 1 GB RAM for ‘Vista Ready’, but realistically you need a 2 GHz machine at 2 GB RAM for any type of decent performance. Mainstream support for Vista ended in April 2012, with extended support until April 2017.
Windows 7 was an improvement, performing better on older hardware than Vista did and actually ran okay on its minimum requirements of 1 GHz and 1 GB RAM, but higher would be better. However, mainstream support is due to end for Windows 7 in April 2015, with extended support until April 2020.
Windows 8 is even more streamlined and optimised for speed, claiming it only requires 1 GHz and 1 GB RAM. I can vouch that at 2 GHz with 3 GB of RAM the 64-bit edition runs very fast.
Purchasing a new version of Windows can be expensive. Even picking up a used copy of Windows Vista can be pricey. Which version you look at will depend what hardware you have and whether you want to spend a lot of money updating an older computer.
A copy of Windows could set you back over £100, so is it financially worth it? You could pick up a new computer for £200 with a newer version of Windows installed on it.
If your computer is anything less than a 1.5 GHz machine with 1 GB RAM, I don’t recommend running anything higher than Windows XP, so perhaps it is time to look at alternatives.
Could You Switch to Linux?
When it comes to hardware support, there really is a version of Linux for just about every occasion.
Whether you have a netbook with a 7” screen, a computer with only a 66 MHz processor or a top-end i5 tower crammed with 16 GB of RAM, you can find a distro to suit your needs.
For 486 or early Pentium machines, DamnSmallLinux could be an option. Pentium 2 and Pentium 3 machines could benefit from Puppy Linux, Crunchbang, or LXLE. For 1 GHz machines. Linux Mint LXDE. and Lubuntu – and even Xubuntu – are good options. For netbooks, ElementaryOS or EasyPeasy are good options. Once you start entering the 2 GHz mark, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and most regular distros.
Each of the above would require a good amount of RAM to be installed.
Can It Cope?
Anyone using an older computer won’t be doing anything too heavy on it. With the average user only using it for connecting online rather than heavy video or music editing, you need to weigh up if you need a brand new machine, could purchase a used one, or just stick with what you have and possibly upgrading the RAM?
If your computer still copes with your need, then looking at a Linux distro might be an option for you as long as your hardware is supported and any software you use is available on the Linux platform.
Stick with XP
Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but there is a third option. You could just stick with what you have. If you computer has been working fine until now, chances are it will continue to work fine for many months or years to come.
Okay, so Microsoft might be ending support for Windows XP, but that doesn’t mean it is going to stop functioning. They are still going to offer updates to their Security Essentials suite until April 2015, and even after that I am sure others will continue to support it for a while.
One reason you might need to upgrade is if a piece of software – mainly a browser or Flash plugin – stops new versions running on Windows XP. As Microsoft moves ahead, releasing newer versions, software developers drop older versions. Given the legacy of XP and the number of active users, it is going to be hard to shake off, but it will happen at some point.
The April 2014 cut off date has caused a stir in the media, but all it means really is no more patches. It does mean if a hole is found, Microsoft won’t fix it, so it could potentially be exploited by those that seem intent on infecting people.
It doesn’t however mean your computer will stop working. I know plenty of people who still use Windows 2000.
Mac Users Use Older Versions
It seems this ‘XP will be cut off’ has spooked a lot of people, sending some in to a frenzy. This doesn’t seem to happen in the Mac world. The current version of OS X is 10.9 Mavericks with a lot of people still running 10.6 Snow Leopard from 2009 – and even some running 10.4 Tiger from 2005 without a worry about security.
Okay, so the Mac world doesn’t suffer from the same level of threats that Windows does, but it’s still a strange notion that Apple users will use a 9-year-old OS five revisions back, but the moment XP is abandoned, people panic.
My XP Laptops
I have two Packard Bell laptops that are currently running Windows XP. 1.6 GHz Centrino with 1.25 GB RAM in each. Both would struggle to handle Vista or 7 as well as they do XP. As I have just moved my kids main tower to Ubuntu with relative success, I am considering which distro would run well on the two laptops.
What you do depends on your hardware? Will it take a newer version of Windows and do you want the expense? Could you switch to Linux or will you just keep running XP?
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