Monday, December 16, 2013

Non-Linux Monday: The Coming XPocalypse

The holidays, of course, are that time of year when we geeks provide tech support to family members. And this Christmas is XPecially crucial for those of us with relatives on old machines.

2013 is the last Christmas for Windows XP, which will reach its "end of life" - now THAT'S a scary phrase for a guy on his 50th birthday - on April 8 after 13 years.  So this is the year when we have to pull the plug on Grandma, or at least on Grandma's old computer. You may need to convince your relative to get a new machine - and more than likely pick it out for them.  Which is what I've done.

But even if you're gifting, they may need some convincing. "But my computer still works, why do I need a new one?"

Because of the Coming XPocalypse.

"End of life" means Microsoft will no longer release security patches for XP after April 7. They're calling Zero Day Forever. In techie parlance, "Zero day" is the moment a previously unknown vulnerability is discovered, because programmers have had zero days to fix it. If they're NOT fixing it anymore, it's Zero Day Forever.

That meme is almost as old as... Windows XP.

But a lot of XP code still exists in 7 and 8. So every time Windows patches a hole in 7 or 8, it'll call attention to something which could also be a problem in the no longer protected XP. There's even speculation that the bad guys are holding exploits in reserve now, waiting until after April to drop them on the 500 million remaining XP machines.

So who still runs a 13 year old operating system? ZDNet:
They're the people who don't want to learn an new OS. The people who don't want to buy new machines. The people for whom XP is good enough. The people who aren't technically savvy enough to upgrade their operating system. The people who have some legacy application they must run on an old XP environment and don't know how to make that work on a modern OS. The people who are just simply too lazy to upgrade and those that don't think the security problem is a real enough threat to them to justify doing anything.

In other words, we're looking at a population of defenseless, self-identifying sheep in a world where there are hungry wolves 200 milliseconds away.
This has global economy implications. Roughly 30 percent of the world's computers or devices (ATMs in particular) still run XP. In China that's 70% (more than a few copies pirated) and the government is asking Microsoft to extend support.  And China has nukes and a moonmobile.

But Microsoft is standing firm. They extended XP support far longer than they'd ever intended, after the netbook fad and the release of the godawful Windows Vista, both circa 2007. Since the launch of Windows 7 in 2009, they've been warning that XP will be going to live with a nice farm family.

But that may be short-sighted for Microsoft, says Robert Pogson:
Hundreds of millions of working PCs are not going to be scrapped simply because the OS no longer works on them. China is not going to send $10billion to M$ to get “7″ or “8″ going next year. “8″ won’t even boot on most PCs. “7″ will be a pain for lots of older hardware.

No. The problem is M$’s. Hundreds of millions of Chinese PCs are going to be installed with GNU/Linux next year. China has the software ready. China has the manpower. In Mao’s time, they could have issued an edict and made it happen in a few days. These days, it might take a month, but it will happen. What won’t happen is junking that many PCs in a single year. These are not worn out PCs. It’s the OS that’s worn out.
Paid enterprise support will still be available, at an ever increasing price, for three years, but that won't help you or your Aunt Millie.

Anyone running XP is probably on at least a six year old machine - I had to look hard to get a non-Vista machine in late 2007. (A year before I made the full commitment to Linux; by the time I got my current machine in 2010 I was comfortable enough to buy it with no operating system at all and load Linux myself.) A machine that old, especially the kind of low-end machine that an apathetic user would have bought, almost certainly won't have the oomph to run Win7 or 8.

So you're running out of time to order a machine, get a machine, and get it set up.


If your family member is a browser-only user, you could do this. Take the old machine, wipe the hard drive and thrown on a user-friendly Linux distro like Linux Mint or something else. Most major Linux distributions have lower system requirements than Windows 7 and 8, and most important of all, unlike XP, support will continue. (Linux is generally more secure than Windows anyway but that's another story.) Not to mention the cost is $0.

if you're feeling really sneaky you can doctor it so it looks like XP.

The same site also offers a tool to make Windows 7 or 8 look like XP, if cosmetic change is a source of stress.

Anyone beyond the most minimal user will see that SOMEthing is different, but depending on your ethics you could try explaining that you upgraded and in Windows 7 they renamed Internet Explorer and Outlook Express to Firefox and Thunderbird. And Libre Office is just the new version of Microsoft Office. Yeah. That works.

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