Windows XP expiry in 2014

No more Windows XP? What now?
As Microsoft announced the end of its support for XP products, many may have been left wondering how this affects the operation of their systems and programs. This article is written to help answer some of those questions, and also raise a few other questions, which need to be answered.

The first thing to understand is that after the cut-off date has passed and Microsoft no longer continue their support, nobody’s computer will suddenly refuse to work. Windows XP will not suddenly stop working from one minute to the next. To understand what the end of the support means, we need to look at exactly what Microsoft include in this support. When an operating system is described as ‘supported’, this generally means the supplier is going help its customers/users by fixing any bugs or issues, as well as possibly providing updates to improve the software and/or keep up with market demands or meet standards.

No longer adequately secure
For the average Windows XP home user, the key part of not having support anymore is that Windows Update will no longer be actively working to keep the operating system up to date. Critically, this includes security updates; from an attacker’s point of view, a computer running Windows XP is now no longer a moving target, but a sitting duck. From a user’s point of view, this means things such as internet banking are not advisable on a Windows XP system.

MS Office affected too
What about Office XP? Well, Microsoft Office XP and 2003 will also be affected. This reaches users, who may not have a single XP computer at home at all. Office programs are widely used on systems running Windows Vista and Windows 7. The same applies to the Office programs; they will continue to work, but will no longer receive updates.

The consequences of this change will be varied, with some effects being seen very quickly, while others may come much later and in a more gradual manner. Owners of computers, which are not powerful enough to run any operating systems newer than XP will see the resale or scrap value of those systems drop like a rock in water. Those who are ‘lucky’ enough to own a more powerful system capable of being upgraded to (at least) Windows 7 will not see such a sharp drop (though everything depreciates fast in the world of IT).

What will happen now?
Over the longer term, it is likely that hardware manufacturers will no longer provide XP drivers for new products (why would they invest in an unsupported operating system?). Programs may no longer be available for download on XP systems (at least not in a form that will run). The Internet Explorer browser provided with XP may gradually become unable to display the latest internet content correctly. Alternative browsers will probably not be making efforts to maintain XP versions of their products either.

Can’t I just keep XP?
Ultimately, if someone wants to continue using a computer running Windows XP there is nothing to stop that, but if that computer is intended to be used for the internet and/or contemporary software and documents, then sooner or later the problems and issues arising from that will become so great as to make the computer unusable. Let’s imagine a very simple use case, where XP might survive with no major complications: a warehouse uses a Windows XP computer connected to a printer to print labels for packaging boxes. The computer has no other purpose, so it may continue to do this for a long time to come. Of course, there are a few things, which may prove problematic. If that computer needs to print labels with information drawn from a network, such as new customer addresses, then the XP computer would need to be connected to the company network, and may present a security issue for the rest of the network. Manual file transfer may be an alternative in some cases, using a USB memory stick, for example. Sooner or later, it is likely that the printer will break down or become so old that replacement ink is no longer available. At that point, a new printer may be required. Now, the choice of replacement printers is severely restricted, because only ones still supporting XP will be suitable…

So what next?
A sensible approach is to see this as an opportunity to take a step back and consider what our computers and programs are being used for. What programs or functionality are most important on a daily basis? Common uses will likely fall into the categories of: general internet browsing, writing and printing various office documents, sending and receiving emails, internet-based phone/video calls, viewing/listening to streaming media or DVD content, playing games. Taking this into account, it will be easier to see how to proceed.

Can I just install a newer version of Windows?
If your computer is powerful enough to run Windows 7 or 8.1 then this may be an easy option. Be aware that meeting the minimum requirements, which can be found on Microsoft’s website does not necessarily mean that the computer will perform very well. Those requirements should ideally be exceeded (especially the processor speed) to give a good user experience. Identifying the correct version of Windows to install should also be done carefully.

Can I upgrade my existing computer?
If your computer is almost able to meet Microsoft’s minimum requirements for Windows 7 or 8.1, then it may be worth considering a simple upgrade to the computer’s hardware. Upgrading the computer’s memory or processor may be a viable option and is likely to be far less costly than investing in a completely new system. Similarly, a hard drive with a higher storage capacity is not such a huge expense these days.

It’s no use – my computer is outdated. What now?
Based on the needs (See 3 paragraphs back), some of the functions may be performed by other equipment. DVDs, and popular web apps such as various TV media players can also be accessed from many games consoles (e.g. Wii, Playstation, XBox, …). Also, if your last computer was a tower PC, now may be a good time to consider a laptop. The power consumption alone is a strong argument for making this change. Laptops support a plug-in full size keyboard if needed. They also support external monitors, so the old one may still be perfectly useable.

What about tablets?
Tablet computers are a very popular form of computing, and their functionality is ever-increasing. Users have fallen in love with the ability to pick one up and immediately be able to start using it without waiting for it to start up. The touch screens have also proved very popular as a form of user input – the feeling is much more direct than pointing and clicking with a mouse and does not involve cables. Why doesn’t everyone have a tablet? At present, a lot of internet content is aimed at proper desktop computers, with tablets and mobile devices getting a trimmed down version (partly due to the sheer variety of devices and display sizes, and partly due to the less powerful hardware in a tablet or mobile device). This is changing fast, however, with tablets becoming more powerful, and internet content changing all the time. As a very crude guide, if internet, emails, and some games are all that you require from your device, then a tablet may be worth considering.

What are these ultrabooks?
Ultrabooks are a new design in laptops that aims to bring some of the strengths of tablets to the laptop market. They achieve this by using solid state hard drives (these have no moving parts and operate like a large memory card), which provide very fast boot times or wake-up times. They have a minimal set of components, often only providing a wireless network connection with no wired one; this again saves time, since there is less software and drivers to load. Note that this may mean there is no built-in CD/DVD drive. The minimal design also helps to achieve the portability aspect.

Lots of choice
All these options are good news for the consumer, since it means there is plenty of choice. Making an informed decision is worthwhile before investing in an upgrade or a new system.