Sunday, January 26, 2014

Upgrading From Windows XP Before April 8th 2014

The Threat

Security experts have been predicting that malware creators all over the world are finding exploits [in Windows XP] and holding on to them. They know if they unleash an exploit now, it will be fixed. But if they are patient and wait, and hope Microsoft doesn't find the vulnerability, then they can use it for maximum gain come April 9.
The same holds true for Office 2003. Support for it ends on April 15, one week later.


Upgrade Options: Windows, Mac, Android, or Linux

What kind of computer or operating system you use is determined by what software you need to run.


The first question you should ask yourself is exactly how compatible you need to be with the latest version of Microsoft Office. This is not a yes-or-no question. We are all somewhere on a sliding scale of MS Office compatibility. Very few people require full compatibility with the most obscure features of Microsoft Office. MS Office isn't even compatible with different versions of itself!

100% compatibility with the very latest version of MS Office requires Windows 7 or 8 which probably won't run on your old XP machine. You can purchase the necessary hardware and software from any reputable computer store except a Mac store.

You can run the latest MS Office on Mac, Android, or Linux, but only by installing a virtual machine, then installing Windows, then installing MS Office. This is a pain in the neck, (both the install and the ongoing maintenance) but it can be done and is an expensive but effective way to meet an occasional need for the latest MS Office. If bleeding edge MS Office is the primary reason for having the computer, it's easier and cheaper to buy a Windows computer and be done with it.

Many home users meet their basic office needs with Google Docs which comes free with your home Gmail account. It is compatible only with very basic MS Office documents - no fancy templates, embedded objects, or macros, but it's also much safer from virus threats as a result. It may not be advanced enough for sharing documents with customers and prospects, but for home use it works great with letters, posters, simple spreadsheets, and for sharing them with friends.

LibreOffice is free, runs on any operating system (comes pre-installed on popular Linux flavors), and is roughly equivalent to being one version behind MS Office which is the best you can do natively on the Mac anyway. It's easy to use, powerful, and has Visio-like tools and PDF conversion built-in. This is what I use almost exclusively, even though I have several versions of MS Office installed in virtual Windows machines. Try it out to see if you can use it instead of paying for Microsoft Office:

  • Install LibreOffice
  • Tools -> Options -> Load/Save -> General
    • Unckeck "Warn when not saving in ODF"
    • Document Type: Text, Always Save As: Word 97...2003 (NOT Template)
    • Document Type: Spreadsheet, Always Save As: Word 97...2003 (NOT Template)
  • Tools -> Options -> Load/Save -> General -> Microsoft Office
    • Check all the boxes.

Other Software

GoToMeeting/GotoWebinar works on Windows, Mac, Android, and now Linux. I haven't tried the Linux version yet, but it only allows you to attend meetings - not share your screen or use a web-cam. Screen sharing on Linux also works well using Skype (or TeamViewer).

Photoshop is Windows and Mac only, but I have found that a combination of Darktable and GIMP meets 100% of my needs (though Photoshop is more convenient and user-friendly if you can afford it).


Given the above limitations, Linux is a great way to turbocharge an old computer. I switched to Linux about 5 years ago because of the reliability, ease of use, security, and availability of free software. I hope I never have to go back. The only thing I have used Windows for in the past 6 months is GoToMeeting. I've been using Ubuntu Linux 13.10 which is a more Mac-like experience and a little easier to upgrade. Mint Cinnamon Linux is more like Windows 7.

Try either one out by burning a Live CD and booting from it. That will show you if you need to purchase an nVidia graphics card (on a desktop) or a new wireless card (on a laptop) for compatibility reasons, but these can be acquired very cheaply. If you are buying hardware, a Solid State Drive (SSD) can be a miracle for an aging computer. My 7-year-old Ubuntu laptop with an SSD boots in less than 8 seconds and shuts down in less than 3.

I recommend Mint/Cinnamon Linux or Ubuntu over Xubuntu and Lubuntu. The former are just as lightweight but have more usability features than the latter. Otherwise, this article is pretty good and fills in more details