Transcript (lightly edited)
Hi Everyone! I’m Leo Notenboom from askleo.com coming to you today from the palatial travel trailer where I often do many of the AnswerCast recordings. It actually has a nice, not too echo-y feel to it based on the internals. It’s basically a good, portable recording studio. Although today you may hear a little bit of wind in the background since we’re actually in the middle of a little bit of a windstorm.
So, over the past couple of months, I’d say that Windows XP related questions, most boiling down to “What do I do about Windows XP support ending this coming April?”, have been very common. I want to go over what some of my suggestions are; what you need to do depending on your situation to deal with the end of life of Windows XP.
Now, the very first thing I want you to do regardless of your situation is to back up your Windows XP machine. I say that because, well, you should be backing up in general; but some of things I’m going to suggest you move to are going to be trials. They’re going to be changes you might want to give a try, but not necessarily commit to. So by having a complete image backup of your Windows XP system, you’ll be able to restore your machine to the state it was in at the time of that backup, if for whatever reason, one of the things we try doesn’t work out for you.
Upgrade to Windows 8 if you can
So, the first thing that I’m actually going to suggest that most people do is (if your machine is actually capable of supporting Windows 8.1) to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Now I know that’s not necessarily a popular answer because everybody’s all freaked out about Windows 8.1 with the metro interface and the tiles, and all that kind of stuff.
You know what? That’s a red herring. It’s a really bad first impression that Microsoft gives us with Windows 8 but it’s completely irrelevant. All you really need to do with Windows 8 and 8.1 is install some freeware called Classic Shell. There are some alternatives as well, but what Classic Shell will allow you to do is boot directly to a desktop that looks exactly like Windows 7 and in fact, install a Start menu that can be configured to look like the Windows XP Start menu.
If you’ve got a couple gigs of RAM in your machine, and you’ve got a relatively good hard drive with enough space on it; it’s really what I would suggest most people do.
Now, the other gotcha with Windows 8.1 is whether or not your external devices are going to work with it. Things like printers and scanners seem to be the most problematic.
And yes, if Windows 8.1 doesn’t support your printer, your scanner, or some other piece of hardware that you have, then I don’t have an answer for you. The only way to find that out of course is to see if there are Windows 8x drivers for your hardware or as I kind of alluded to before, giving Windows 8 a try and seeing if that hardware can be made to work. If it does, fantastic – you’re done; you’ve got a new working machine with Windows 8.1. If it doesn’t, then yes, you can revert to Windows XP.
Now, the other approach if you find that Windows 8 doesn’t support your hardware, is to consider something like Linux. There are several Linux distributions out there. The one that I happen to use most often these days is Linux Mint. It’s one of those things that can be configured to be relatively Windows-like, but I want to be clear that there will be change when you switch to any of the distributions of Linux. It’s not going to be Windows XP; there are going to be differences. Probably just about as many differences as there would be in moving from XP to Windows 7.
Actually, I’d say that moving from XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 probably has fewer differences than moving to a Linux based system. (But of course, Linux is free.) Between Windows and Linux the concepts are absolutely all the same. None of your Windows programs will run, but depending on how you use your computer, you may be able to find suitable alternatives. For example, if all you do is use the web and email, you’re done. Linux will do that. There are web browsers and even in fact, Thunderbird, the email program that’s available on your PC; it’s available on Linux too. Firefox – same story. In fact, it’s probably the default web browser on most Linux installations.
Linux installations typically require less from your hardware, and even if you have a really marginal machine, there are Linux distributions that are specifically tailored to make less use of your hardware specifically for smaller machines. So that’s an approach that you can look at.
Again, this is one of those scenarios where you might want to give it a try to see whether or not it will work for you, and if it doesn’t then revert to your Windows XP using your backup.
A new machine
Finally, you know, I hate to say it because I know this isn’t for everybody, but you can get a new machine.
I know, new machines depending on what it is you need, can be really expensive or not that expensive. Some new Windows machines aren’t all that expensive. The low end ones aren’t, and the low end ones are probably more capable then the machine you have today if you’ve got an old machine running Windows XP.
They probably already come with Windows 8.1 so you’ve got a working system but again, this depends on, of course, your budget and I understand that many people have no budget. And it depends on how you use your machine; what it is you’re actually going to require that machine to do in the future, but it is one of those options that’s out there.
Staying with XP
Staying with Windows XP is an option and I know that it’s an option that many of you, to be honest, are just faced with either by choice or of necessity due to budgetary or other constraints. I get that, I actually respect that.
But it is one of those things where it’s going to get riskier over time.
I mean there are people that are still running Windows 98 or Windows ME. The problem is of course, they’re not getting any updates; and as they move forward less, and less software is available to actually run on those machines. But they may not care for whatever they’re using that machine for.
The same is going to be true for Windows XP, with one important addition, and that addition is going to be, and you’ve heard it before – malware. Since there are so many machines out there running Windows XP, malware authors are going to continue to target Windows XP with the assumption, with the hope, that whatever they find that might still be vulnerable in Windows XP isn’t going to get fixed.
So what that means to you as a continuing Windows XP user, is that you need to be secure; you need to keep your anti-malware tools current and up to date, and yes if someday your anti-malware tool stops supporting Windows XP, you need to get a new tool; you need to get one that support Windows XP and will continue to support Windows XP for as long as you use it. Make sure that tool is up to date; make sure that it is getting regular anti-malware database updates. And I mean that daily if not more frequently. It’s really important.
Back up (again)
Backing up is going to be even more critical than before. We’ve always referred to backups in terms of saving you from hardware issues but in reality, backups are a wonderful way to save yourself from malware. For example, if you’re backing up nightly, and then today, your machine becomes infected with some kind of malware, all you need to do is restore the backup that you took last night. Then you’re malware-free and you can avoid doing whatever it was that caused that malware to be on your machine in the first place.
So, that’s one thing; start backing up if you’re not already. Make sure you’re backing up religiously, and finally, use common sense.
They are going to be people that are going to try and take advantage of this situation. Be it malware authors, be it less-than-legitimate software vendors, be it just anybody, they’re going to try and leverage the fact that you’re still using Windows XP to take advantage of it; to infect it with malware; to sell you things you don’t need – whatever. Become aware of this.
Be skeptical; always be skeptical when approaching the internet. Don’t run those downloads; don’t run those attachments that are coming to you in email. If you have some way of doing that on a different machine that isn’t a Windows XP, that’s a step in the right direction. In general, staying with Windows XP is an option, but it will only become riskier and riskier over time.
So, to sum up: if you can, upgrade to Windows 8. If you can’t, consider something like Linux. If you can’t do that, stick with Windows XP.
Is it time to consider switching?
And finally, if this whole scenario has you just really pissed off at Microsoft for dropping support of Windows XP, I’m not going to debate you on that, I’m not going to agree or disagree with you in this video. But if you’re going to make that jump to something other than a Microsoft operating system, now is the time.
And that means that yes, Linux becomes a very viable solution for many people, as does Apple. If you’re going to get a new machine, you know Apple’s are going to be a little bit more expensive, but they’re not that much more expensive these days, and they are solid machines. In fact, I’m recording this video using a MacBook Pro. They’re good machines, Apple’s operating system is solid, and many people find it easier to use.
Once again, what it all boils down to is how you use your machine. What software do you need to have running on your machine to make it a useful tool for you? That may be Apple software; that may be software that runs on a Mac. It may be Linux software, or you may be stuck with Windows for what you need. But hopefully now, you at least have some ideas of what the options are, what the choices are and what kinds of things you might consider doing in the future.
Best of luck!
From a trailer back behind the barn, I’m Leo Notenboom for Ask Leo!