For a reported 500 million Windows XP users, April 8th is the end date for all support, including updates that are essential to keeping your computer secure. So, where do half a billion potentially vulnerable users go from here? Upgrading the operating system seems like the natural progression, but what version of Windows do you choose from? If you have XP installed, you are more than likely running it on older hardware (or you have just kept XP around on newer more meaty hardware to optimize performance) and your options as a windows user in terms of upgrading are: Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8. Of those three options, Windows 7 would probably be my best suggestion as a successor to XP. But, it’s still not as good as i would have liked it to be. AVOID Vista at all costs! If you’re looking for confusion and frustration, Windows 8 is the rubix cube for you.
In other words, it’s been a rocky road to stability on Microsoft’s platform since Vista was released. And then there’s been a steady rise in adoption of Mac over Windows OS’s, which is also another valid option for migrating from XP, but there’s one more avenue that i would hope XP users will consider. One that would not involve buying an OS upgrade or an expensive proprietary piece of hardware. It’s Linux.
Linux, if you are blissfully unaware, is free. It’s safe, it’s fast and with a huge variety of OS’s to choose from, you can find one that is tailored to your workflow and to your hardware. For me, as an avid user of Linux, this is what sold me on migrating my Windows usage to an OS like Ubuntu.
I could run down all the different Linux OS’s that I’ve tried, but I’ll stick to what i know best and that is the Ubuntu family of OS’s. I may go and make an entire blog post on my history with Linux, but for now i’ll just give you an overview of what could be a perfect antidote for a fading platform.
Ubuntu is the flagship Linux distribution made by Canonical. It’s graphically sleek, easy to use for newcomers to the platform and is one of the most commonly used Linux distro’s worldwide. For those who know very little about the likes of Ubuntu, software compatibility and availability may sound like a major issue when considering a complete change-over to a new and unfamiliar platform. It’s true that you can’t just pop in your new copy of Microsoft Word and install it just like that! But, if you so desire, there is the option to install Windows programs through Wine. This can be a lifesaver for those who still can’t cut the cord on old habits, but not all emulated software can run as smoothly as hoped. So what do you do then when you need to type up a document, do a spreadsheet or a presentation on Ubuntu? Well, you use the software that is available to you, for free, at installation.
LibreOffice is a suite that has become my complete replacement for Word and any other Office-like applications that Microsoft would gladly charge you for. This is the beauty of Linux. The ideology of free open source operating systems is that you have almost a given right to technology as a human being. It is the idea that we have evolved to have technology, not as a novelty, but as a necessity. Something we use in our daily lives as much as we use air to breath and speech to talk.
Open source OS’s come with a plethora of open source software (naturally) that are there to replace the teat that Microsoft would have you pay to suck. This was my determining factor in making the move to Linux. I did not want to pay for programs that seemed to be a basic tool which should come as standard on your computer. If you take the plunge in to Linux, you may find a learning curve in finding the applications that you need to replace the Window’s equivalent, but you’ll also find a lot of familiarity which is more intuitive with how you interact and use those programs.
I still use Windows (7) for the simple fact that it is what i have been editing on for the last 10 years (since XP), however, this is literally all i use Windows for these days. I have my laptop set up to dual boot between Ubuntu and Windows, but if i am not editing i will boot straight in to Ubuntu. It’s in Ubuntu that i will perform my daily tech tasks E.G. Web browsing, photo editing, documents, etc.
One of the main reasons i just don’t stay in the Windows ecosphere to do my daily web browsing and other tasks, is speed. Windows, as fast as it can be, is just not fast enough. Let me give you an example; I have two operating systems installed on my laptop, they both use the same hardware, same RAM and in some cases the same programs (For this example i will be talking about Chrome in particular) When i do simple tasks like opening an app or using multiple tabbed browsing or having more than 4 windows open, Ubuntu will always open items quicker, perform smoother and multitask much, much better than Windows 7 does with the exact same tasks that i’ve tried and tested. This is mainly due to the low footprint and less taxing architecture of Linux distro’s on your hardware. And this is the root of why moving from XP to Linux on your old computer may extend the life of your device exponentially.
Ubuntu comes in wide range of flavors that aim to suit your core computing needs. Ubuntu, as i mentioned earlier, is the flagship version. But there is also: Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Mythbuntu, Ubuntu Studio (Read about Ubuntu variants) for now i will mainly talk about Xubuntu. The ‘X’ in Xubuntu refers to ‘Xfce’, a different user interface that is used as a replacement to the standard Unity interface of Ubuntu. Xfce is a super lightweight interface that will run amazingly well on older hardware. I have an aging Compaq Presario R4000 (circa 2004) running Xubuntu 12.04 LTS, and it runs with a snappy zest that you would not expect from a ten year old laptop. Lubuntu is also targeted at older devices, but instead of the UI being Xfce it is ‘LXDE’. Regardless of whether you choose either of the lightweight Ubuntu options, you will still have the same Ubuntu engine running underneath it all.
What’s more is you can have these interfaces installed along side Unity, and skip in and out of interfaces through your login screen (Seen in the image to the right>) It’s an easy way of prioritizing what you want from your device; glitz and glamour or speed and functionality.
I’m not going to suggest that all XP users looking to jump ship need to go with Ubuntu or any other of the fantastic Linux distro’s out there, but it is something to keep in mind as the future if Linux has never been brighter. With companies like Valve finally bringing the worlds best PC gaming platform Steam to Linux, and creating their own Linux based ‘Steam OS‘, as well as Canonical gearing up to tackle the mobile and tablet market with new touch-based versions of Ubuntu, It’s a great time to investigate what your post-XP avenues are.
Lastly, timing is everything. XP may be losing support from April 8th, but on April 17th the newest version of Ubuntu, 14.04 LTS (Long Term Support) is being released. These two dates are conveniently close to each other, but it’s not a coup! LTS versions are released every 2 years (5 years of support per LTS), with large updates falling twice a year in April and October. But if you’re new to Ubuntu, i’d recommend sticking with the LTS releases (12.04 LTS, or the forthcoming 14.04 LTS) as they are always a lot more stable to use.
It’s an end of an era to see Windows XP put out across it’s own default pasture wallpaper. It was a perfect example of Microsoft making an outstandingly good operating system, and in many ways their last good operating system too. Why else would half a billion people still be using it? For me, i’ll still keep using Windows 7 in my intermittent way, with the hope of making the full transition to Linux once there is a better variety of stable video editors available.
If you’re panicking about an XP-mageddon of spam and viruses etc. and you don’t have the resources/need to upgrade, try not to stress. Remember: be wary of silly linkbaits and don’t open unknown attachments from unknown emailers. There’s still a little life in the old dog yet, but you don’t want to prematurely brick your box.
At least do a little research in to the world of Linux and keep an open (source) mind.
(Please take this article as an enthusiastic rant from a technophile who cares. No flamebait intended or required)