The Computer Corner Take II (#35) by Bill Kibler
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Windows XP Options List
Microsoft has for years been using FUD(1) to dissuade people from
using alternatives to Windows. The end of XP support has spawned
numerous articles and news reports saying that XP users have no
alternative other than buying a new Windows machine. Those of us in the
Linux community know that such advice is clearly false and
falls into the FUD category. There are options other than
recycling your old XP hardware, especially for businesses that are short
on cash. The Linux operating system powers Androids, makes Chrome books
work, and is why Google is number one in what they do.
Although Linux might be an answer for you, there really are a number of
things an XP user can do, other than replacing XP with Linux. What follows
is my list of "your" options with some advice thrown in. Keep in mind it is
your choice what to do. That choice should be based on real facts that you
have gained on your own. Question all reports you read in magazines and
newspapers as the "FUD" machine is in full swing.
XP Options List
- No Option
- Clearly the first thing you can do is - nothing. If everything seems to work
for you, just keep doing it. You must understand that your hardware is old
and could die any day - so backup your data. Without security updates, you
might get a virus, but if you haven't yet, you must be doing things correctly.
Windows is notorious for corrupting the hard drive and as such your system may
just stop booting at some point. Until something bad happens, continuing to use
XP is not a bad choice and cost nothing. I have several systems that I still use,
which were built in or before the year 2000 and are running Linux just fine,
and as such, your hardware could last for another ten years.
- There are many more alternatives to XP now than were available when XP came out.
You have lots of choices for alternative hardware and software solutions, and
so while your waiting for something to happen to your XP system, you have the time
to explore the other alternatives. This should be your number one option - go out
and learn through trying systems. Go to a large computer store and play with all
the options they have. Get at least a half hour on each option, try all the
different options they have, check price and features of each. You want to see
if one of the new options better fits your style of computer usage.
- Use the Internet
- If your reading this, clearly your doing the next option I would list and that
is doing on-line research. I have a list of links at the bottom of the article
that might help you consider options. There are tons of Linux variations you can use
to keep your XP system running. You should find lots of reviews on tablets and
Chrome books, as well as reliability reports for regular desktops. Read them all
to get a clearer picture of what best fits your usage model.
- Live CD/DVD
- Here is an alternative not likely to be anywhere else, use the "Tails" live
CD to boot your XP hardware and cruise the web anonymously. There are several
live Linux distributions that run in the memory of the machine and do not
touch the hard drive at all. One of those is "Tails", I have a few on my web site,
and several are designed just for very old hardware. These live options can
help you learn about Linux, and get a clearer picture of your computing needs.
- Dual Boot
- After using some live Linux CD's, you might decide to "dual boot" your system.
"dual booting" is where you have more than one operating system and can select
at boot time, which one to use. It requires creating room for alternative
operating systems like Linux, that have all the tools needed to performs setting up
a dual boot system. I have other articles explaining this in more details on this site.
This step cost nothing more than the expense of getting the CD and time of
installing Linux. It allows for a more detailed testing of Linux than you
can get from using live CD's.
- Linux Install
- You might decide from using the live Linux that you simply want to upgrade
the entire system to Linux and thus you can simply replace XP with Linux,
using one of the many Linux distributions. Cost here is mainly your time and the CD.
- Buy New
- You used the live Linux CD's and found they didn't work, you were completely lost
and had no idea what to do, or you just didn't feel it was for you. That
means probably a new or at least different system for you. If you did the
"research" option, you should have some ideas of other hardware systems that
will work for you. If you need a business desktop - I hope you tried the
Apple Macs, as I know lots of users have moved from Windows to Mac and are
very happy. The cost can be a problem, but they generally have very little
support problems and users generally find Mac OS considerably easier to use than
Windows. You can buy Win7 or Win8 machines, and since you have dealt with their
licensing issues before, nothing should surprise you about how they work.
- Cheap Laptops
- If your tasks are somewhat limited as is your pocket book, many have found
the Chrome books both cheaper and easier to use than some of the main line laptops.
The Chrome books are a special version of Linux with a simpler network
oriented desktop and set of applications. To get full use of the "book"
a good LAN or WiFi connection is needed.
- There are plenty of tablets on the market, from under one hundred to well
over $400 in price. Most of the Android models are cheaper for similar abilities
of those from Apple. Android runs on Linux but is designed to hide that fact.
You will find these tablets capable of many tasks from reading books, to browsing
the web, or watching movies. However two negatives, are poor keyboard entry and
typically only WiFi networking is supported. Printing requires WiFi supported
printers. For many tablets, connecting to external devices can be a problem.
Yet many users just love their tablets and are seldom without them.
Pros and Cons
Since I have used all the hardware options, it might help if I do my own version
of pros and cons for each system. You should research all the options however to generate
your own list of "good and bad points".
- PRO - you know the system, been using it for years. Feels like home and
what more would you want. Cost nothing to keep using it.
- CON - could break tomorrow, hard to repair, no longer supported, my personal
keyboard is showing age and needs replacing. Slow!
- Comment - I personally have had one of my licensed copies of XP declared "fake"
and now have black background and other issues - could happen to anyone. Main problem
is just lack of new features and support. Some hardware has lasted for more than 15 years
with nothing more than a few hard drive replacements.
- Dual Boot
- PRO - best of both worlds, get to keep old data and use it with both XP and Linux.
The Linux side is under constant update, new tools and features just a click away.
- CON - have to reboot to go from one to other, some users find Linux hard to learn,
but plenty of help on the web. Hardware could still fail at anytime.
- Comment - easy way to get started, no real cost, if you don't like it, just don't boot it.
Access to XP data can be life saver when XP file system gets corrupted. There are Linux
tools for scanning and finding virus data on XP drives. Use a second drive for Linux, and thus
when XP drive fails, can still use system.
- Win 7
- PRO - Win 7 is newest business systems that some companies are just now switching to. Still under
support and many vendors have drivers for it. Some bargains, as focus is now on Win 8.
- CON - major change from XP, may find it difficult to do previous tasks, many devices
are no longer supported, could have major problems using older programs.
- Comment - I used Win 7 daily at HP and found it awful. I wanted to change one desktop
setting that in XP was one menu down - Win 7, the same setting is now 7 layers of menus down.
It works better than XP but at a big cost both money wise and ability to use - expect lots of
relearning how to do things.
- Win 8
- PRO - latest version, full support, new everything, good hardware
- CON - really designed for touch screen displays - could be very expensive. Not many new
users have found it worth getting, big drop in desktop sales due to it.
- Comments - only played with one in a store, found it worse than Win 7 and some of the ideas
and new features I though were big security issues, a password based on swiping your finger
across some picture seems to me a very bad idea and easy to copy.
- Apple Mac Desktop
- PRO - great system, easy to use, very stable, some features same as Linux, less license
issues, good support from store personnel.
- CON - bit pricey for what you get, big shift from XP usage, have their own way of doing things.
- Comment - my wife had XP and it broke often, switched to Mac and never a problem. Was easy for
her to switch, especially with the free training from the store. She moved her 80 year old mom to it,
and the mother hasn't had any problems. I can even login remotely from Linux and fix things, but
never have had to do that.
- PRO - latest hot item, good features, small, light, portable, and everybody has one.
- CON - quality varies big time, limited features, hard to expand, generally WiFi only.
- Comment - I have two, both bought for under $50, one battery died due to leaving it plugged
in too long - burns up the charger circuit. Running Android with lots of features, but big step
from XP, whole new learning curve, nothing from XP works on these machines. Clearly not for everyone,
but my wife loves her mini-iPad, she reads books on it, plays games, checks her social media often.
- Chrome Book
- PRO - great price point, more features than tablets, some device support and keyboard included.
- CON - some what small, some might find keyboard hard to use, limited device support, relies on Goggle
for many of the features, and may need to be connected to the internet for some features to work properly.
- Comment - used a friends and showed him some things, because it has Linux under neath, some Linux
commands and tools work on it if you know how. My friend uses his more than desktop now and generally is
pretty happy with it. I think he bought it on sale for under $200, which is why schools are buying them
for testing and giving to students.
- PRO - supports old and new hardware, plenty of desktops to choose from, can be customized in many
ways, including usage (command vs graphic desktops), size (45MB to 2GB), supports 11 different CPU types
and 22 CPU subtypes. Can be had for the cost of a download. Lots of tools and help on the web covering
almost any topic you can think of. Powers Android and most of the embedded world.
- CON - lots of options and settings that can confuse new users, some features require better than
average knowledge of computer systems. For XP users, Linux's simpler features may requires some un-learning
before you understand the "how and why" of Linux. Can take months to feel at home with Linux.
- Comment - recently moved a fellow developer from XP to Linux. Took about six months of questions
and him using the internet for answers before he understood what I meant by un-learning XP habits. He is
now a firm convert and his productivity has increased greatly due to better tools under Linux. Biggest
problem for new users is installing Linux, but once it is loaded and users start using the graphic desktop,
they discover a significant boost in performance over XP.
Can I Run....
One question that should be on your research list is, "can I run [insert program] on my new system?"
For lots of businesses and many home owners, there is typically at least one or more programs that are
a must have. In some cases you just need to buy new versions of the program for your new system. However,
there are lots of special programs in which there is no upgrade path for them. These
unique programs only run on Windows XP currently. What can you do?
- It is important to understand that Microsoft is a standard American corporation in the business to
take as much money from customers as possible. That means for you, if some aspect of cutting off your
XP support is needed to get you to buy a new system they will do it. In the same sense, if they can get
a few more sales by some trick, they will. Take this from their web page at:
There are two sections that you must read and understand before knowing if this meets your needs:
As of April 8, 2014, technical support for Windows XP and
Windows XP Mode is no longer available, including updates
that help protect your PC. This means that if you continue
to use Windows XP or use Windows XP Mode on a Windows 7 PC
after support ends, your PC might become more vulnerable to
security risks and viruses. Therefore, to keep your Windows
7 PC secure after support ends, we recommend that you only
use Windows XP Mode if your PC is disconnected from the
Using Windows XP Mode, you can run programs that were designed
for Windows XP on computers running Windows 7 Professional,
Enterprise, or Ultimate editions. Windows XP Mode
isn't supported on Windows 8.
So what are they really saying? This special mode of operation is only available on their high end
systems - no Windows 7 Home Editions, or Windows 8. Expect to pay considerably more for this feature.
This is not like the DOSBOX of long ago, this is a complete PC Emulator with a pre-installed version
of XP and as such is no different from having you continue to use your XP hardware, just that it is inside
your new high end system.
- PC Emulators
- PC emulators, create in software an entire PC system and make the OS running in them think it is
real hardware and not just software tricks. The number one company is VMware and their products run on
Windows and Linux machines. A licensed Workstation package cost about $300. There are several free
PC emulators, one being Virtual Box, which can run on Win/Mac/Linux. "qemu" runs on Linux and both VB and qemu can be
installed on Linux by using the package manager. These are good alternatives for when the hardware
dies or for trying out new versions of Linux. Requires some skill to setup and works best on newer and
more powerful systems.
- Support Programs
- Wine is what I call a support for windows program, it is not a PC emulator. This program adds software
support packages that make Windows programs think they are in a windows program environment. Many Windows
programs that work properly will run under wine. Programs that make system calls that go through
back doors or use special features in Windows will not work properly - think many M/S programs. "wine" is
free and available on most Linux package manager's list. Not all programs work well, and some testing will
be needed to know if your favorite XP program will work. May require some advanced skills or knowledge
to setup and get working properly, although many programs work by simply typing "wine setup.exe"
from the command line.
- New programs
- If your XP program of concern handles just data or word processing, there are many free programs that
will run on both Windows, Mac, and Linux systems that can use the data. You will need to be able to export
the data or convert it from the old format to the new format. Most new systems are supporting the ODF formats
and there are tools to convert the old private formats into ODF. There are some commercial packages to
aid in converting data, while Linux has lots of command line tools for converting between formats. You
may need help doing this, as some skill is required in knowing what works and what does not.
- Network Tweaking
- If you run a small business, with several XP systems on a network, and are behind a good firewall,
one option is simply zeroing out the gateway settings of systems. This disables the XP systems ability
to go to the internet, but continues to allow between system usage within the isolated network. It
doesn't solve any long term problems, but it is one way of making sure systems don't become infected
from on-line access. Some knowledge of networking and XP settings is needed to set this up, but the skill
level is somewhat low - some internet reading might be all you need.
Clearly Linux is capable of being an excellent replacement for XP as
evident by the French Police Force Replacing 37,000 XP systems with Linux.
Many governments, corporations, and businesses have moved to Linux both
for cost savings and lower overall cost of operations. The French said their
costs dropped to less than 40% of previous yearly expenses. Switching an
XP system to Linux is both inexpensive - typically the cost of a CD - and
will improve performance and security, while saving the cost of a new system.
Can any typical home user switch to Linux? For those who can just use
their computer and are lost most of the time, clearly not. For them, using
one of the Android tablets or Chrome Books is probably better than continuing to use a
desktop computer. Sales figures indicate that many users are discovering
that Android systems provide all the computing power they need with added
flexibility and features. However, should you be a user that needs several
business applications, knows how to backup their data, or generally feels
comfortable on their machine, Linux can be an alternative to buying new.
On the topic of "Heartbleed", an opensource - think Linux - software problem
recently featured in the news, several stories and features have pushed
that topic very negatively. The fact really is that users should be very
happy that it was an opensource project. Had it been a program made by
some corporation with shares on the stock market, it is pretty clear we would
still not know about it. We need look back no more than a week or two at
General Motors handling of a 50 cent part that caused fatalities, to understand
why somethings important like SSL security, needs to be done by a group not concerned
about negative publicity. Being a retired programmer, I can say that software
is never free of bugs and what happened with heartbleed could happen
to any organization. By being part of the opensource community however, it meant
that my Linux updates for "Heartbleed" were on my 15 year old machines within 48 hours
of the programmers finding and fixing the problem.
Links of interest...
I might suggest you checkout these web sites to learn more about Linux
and the many variations of Linux that might be right for users, starting with
"https://www.debian.org/intro/about", that explains what Linux is and how
it works. For a good site that lists many of the variations available and links
for downloading install disks, try "distrowatch.com". There are many How-To
sites on the internet, this site has one specifically for XP users,
as it points out problems you might encounter doing an install of Linux.
Remember that many distros have live Linux disks and you can try those on
your machine or in Virtual Box. I often download live images and have Virtual
Box use them from the downloaded file on my system - no disk burning needed.
You can even do this to help you decide which version of Linux to use, as
there is a version of Virtual Box that will run on XP.
 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt
 - http://www.zdnet.com/french-police-move-from-windows-to-ubuntu-linux-7000021479/
The Debian "all about Linux" starting point
Web site that rates and reviews distributions of all types.
The starting point for using and getting TAILS distro.
Puppy Linux, great for very old hardware, runs from RAM only.
RoboLinux - designed for XP users with special XP VM software.
Download The Robolinux Virtual Machine "VM" Software for Ubuntu.
Zorin - a beginner friendly i386 distro..
OpenSUSE distro, has live and special versions, their YAST setup tools are terrific.
Get Virtual Box from here for Windows XP and later, MacOS, and Linux.
Live example of XFCE i386 400MB image - with install.
List of sections in "wheezy" repositories.
Debian's Live CD WIKI page - great place to start!
Debian Live systems main page - docs and image builder.
Debian Live-build manual page - all you need to know about live images!
Kibler Electronics, PO Box 535, Lincoln, CA 95648-0535, USA.
Copyright © 2014, Kibler Electronics
Written in Mar-2014 by Bill Kibler