Category Archives: Uncategorized

Still using XP? Read this.

The end of support for Windows XP means that computers still using it are more vulnerable than ever to hacking, viruses, and information theft. Even so, many businesses and individuals continue to use it at their risk.

Upgrading to a newer version of Windows can be expensive, especially for businesses that have multiple computers. In addition, a lot of older computers do not meet the hardware requirements for the newer versions, and would have to be replaced.

Depending on how you use your computer, though, you might have another option: Linux.

I use Windows 7 for my main computer, but I have an older notebook computer that I converted from XP to Linux about a year ago. Like a lot of people, I had always assumed that Linux was for people who didn’t mind a more primitive, nuts-and-bolts approach to computing. Even though I was one of those people, I was nervous about trying it. But when I did, I discovered that at least some versions of Linux are not much different from Windows. And they are free, even for business use.

Linux comes in many variations. The two that are most popular replacements for Windows are called Ubuntu and Mint. I chose Ubuntu. The most noticeable difference between it and Windows XP is that the menu to run programs is in the upper left corner instead of the lower left corner. Of course it takes a little effort to learn how to use it, but in my opinion it is no harder than changing from XP to Windows 7 or [shudder] Windows 8. It does help to know someone who is comfortable setting it up and doing a few text-based commands, but that also is true for Windows.

Web browsing and e-mail are essentially the same in Linux as they are in Windows. I use Firefox for web browsing and Thunderbird for e-mail, which are the same programs I use in Windows. A Linux computer can share a network, files, Internet access, and printers with Windows and Apple computers when set up properly.

On the down side, Microsoft Office cannot run in Linux, but Linux has LibreOffice, which can do just about anything Microsoft Office can do. Did I mention that it is free? It has its own file formats, but it can open and save Office documents, although complex documents with graphics do not translate well. In a pinch, there are online (cloud) versions of Office that do not need to run in Windows.

I also use Scribus, a powerful desktop publishing program that produces professional results, and Inkscape, a graphics program that resembles Corel Draw. GIMP is a photo editing program that works a lot like Adobe Photoshop. All are free. Plenty of games are available too, along with educational, scientific, math, software development, and other utilities, most of them free. (I am intrigued by PSPP, a free counterpart to the powerful SPSS statistical analysis program, although I haven’t had a use for it yet.)

Linux will most likely boot up and run faster than your old version of XP. It is regarded to be more secure than Windows, and most people use it without anti-virus or spyware protection. This security is not so much because Linux is superior to Windows, but rather because so many more people use Windows that it is a more attractive target to hackers.

Best of all, you can boot up Ubuntu or Mint from the installation DVD and try it out without installing it or removing your Windows installation. You have nothing to lose by trying it. Ubuntu gets extra points in my mind for offering a clear choice between trying and installing when it boots up. With Mint, I had to intuit that I needed to press ESC during the 10-second period when the screen displayed “Automatic boot starting in … seconds.” After that I had to select the cryptic option to “Start in compatibility mode.”

Just as with Windows, some older systems can have hardware compatibility problems with the latest versions of Linux. My computer was lacking a processor feature called PAE, and Ubuntu informed me of that when I tried to install it. The solution was to use a scaled back variation on Ubuntu called Xubuntu, version 12.04. For Mint, I would have to use version 13 instead of the latest version 16.

I like Linux enough that I would consider throwing out Windows altogether, but I do need Windows for a few applications on my desktop computer. Linux has no equivalent to the ACT customer relationship management program, or the Quickbooks business bookkeeping program. It does have a personal finance program called Gnucash, but I have not compared it with Quicken, and I believe it would be difficult if not impossible to import my years of Quicken data. Finally, I do some things with Microsoft Word mail merge that I have not found ways of doing with LibreOffice. (LibreOffice can do form letters pretty well, but does not have an easy way to create labels, a directory, or a list of names.)

To try Ubuntu or Mint, download the ISO file from the web site. (For older hardware you will almost certainly need the 32-bit version, not 64-bit.) Then create a disk image of the file on a DVD. (Ask a friend with a newer computer to do it if you do not have a DVD burner. Xubuntu is designed to fit on a CD if your system cannot read a DVD. It is also possible to install it from a USB memory card instead of a DVD.)

Give it a try. You have nothing to lose.