XPocalypse XPlained


If you haven’t yet, take a look at my post #XPocalypseIsNigh for XPocalypse survival tips. And don’t forget to stockpile bottled water. It’s kinda standard procedure for these things.


Today I thought we’d cover the basics before we get into more technical tips and tricks.


Whoa, lot of acronyms there. What is EOL?

EOL is short for “End of Life”, or end of support life. It means your copy of Windows XP* will no longer get critical security patches, and may become increasingly vulnerable to attack.

*XP is short for eXPerience. And nothing is a truer Windows eXPerience than end of support.

Okay, so what does that really mean?

There’s actually a couple of parts to this:

  • XP has been in “Extended Support” mode after the end of mainstream support in 2009. Extended support means they’ll patch critical bugs and prevent against attack, but no more service packs and no more new features.
  • What ends of April 8th is patches to critical bugs and exploits. The malicious software removal tool (designed to help clean an infected computer) will still get monthly updates for at least a year.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials (Microsoft’s free virus scan) will no longer be available for download for XP users after April 8, so get the installer now from here.
  • Windows 7 Pros “XP Mode” will no longer be supported (Win 7’s built in virtual machine of Windows XP using Virtual PC).

That sounds bad, what should I do?

Well, for many people, buying a new computer is going to be the best option. Windows XP machines don’t tend to be up to running newer operating systems like Windows 7 or 8. It might be worth checking though. Microsoft has an upgrade tool to check if your system can run their new operating systems.

But I like XP, can’t I still use it?

Yes, at your own risk. It depends why you want to keep XP. If you use your computer a lot for the internet, which if you’re reading this blog I suspect you do, then you really shouldn’t keep it. If, however, you’re willing to take the bold step of unplugging, of living off the grid, and being content to transfer files on flash drives to keep your cherished programs, then go ahead.

Okay, I get it. XP won’t be that safe on the internet. But I don’t have the money for a new machine.

There are options. Later in the week we’ll be talking about Zorin-Lite, a lightweight linux solution (a flavor of Lubuntu for those of you curious). Zorin is designed with Windows users in mind and is actually surprisingly powerful. Download it here if you’d like to follow along at home.

Alright, you’ve convinced me, but I don’t like the look of 8.1. Can I still buy 7 and should I?

Windows XP was Microsoft’s most successful operating system until Windows 7. Windows 7 is used by 47% of desktop users today. Its EOL is January 14th 2020 (it goes off mainstream support on January 13th 2015). That said, it would kind of surprise me if Microsoft kept to that date, given the number of current users, and the anemic numbers for 8.1 (in the low single digits %). Most businesses passed on Vista, opting to stay with XP or wait till 7. As the XP EOL loomed, most chose to invest in a proven OS which is Windows 7. You can still buy copies at most stores or online, or you can purchase Windows 8 Pro with downgrade rights. And in my experience (if we’re talking laptops for a second) 5-6 years is a long life span for a laptop. Buy one you’re comfortable with and you’ll be happy for a long time.

I like to have the latest version, but I want to see my start menu and my desktop in 8.1.

We’ll cover how to make Windows 8.1 work as much like 7 as possible later in the week.

I have Vista should I be worried?

Vista is the next product to go out of support on April 11th 2017. Vista makes up about 5% of current PC users, and most of them bought their system years ago (the last machines with Vista pre-installed were sold in 2011 and many of these had upgrade rights to Windows 7). I hate to be blunt but, your laptop will probably die before Vista will. Buy an external hard drive, get used to backing things up and start saving. A new computer is in your future in the next 1-3 years. Upgrade to 7 if you can.

Is XP to Windows 7 or 8.1 an upgrade?

No, in the sense that Microsoft maintains all your programs and updates completely smoothly. However, I recently did an XP to Windows 7 install on a machine for my church. I had some documents still on the machine (backed up) but was curious to see if they’d be erased or maintained after the install. To my surprise they (and the whole XP OS) was placed in a folder call Windows.old. I can’t run XP on this machine any more, but at least I have access to everything created with it. I’d assume 8.1 can do something similar, but again it might not run on most XP boxes.

What about the Surface?

Well, there you run into a few problems. For starters the included keyboard is thin and tends to break down after vigorous typing, so you’ll need to buy a better case. And the Surface Pro is pretty expensive (nearly a thousand dollars). Your onboard storage space is smaller (think 16-64 GB). And most importantly, Windows 8 RT is not a proper operating system.

By this mean I mean that it runs apps not programs.

Apps are tiny little program-lettes that do a small segment of what a full featured program can do, and even if they have the whole suite of features, tend to present them in an over-simplified or limited way.

Remember programs, those things with EXE on the end? Can’t install those on a Surface. So your games from Steam, or your favorite open source compiler, or even that copy of Office you own that still has one more activation left in it, can’t install any of them on the Surface.

I heard RT is short for wRong Turn. Sounds about right to me.

If you want a tablet, you’re better off buying an Android with Bluetooth capability and a keyboard. There are way more games and cool apps, and you can keep everything under $300.

I’ve been hearing a lot about Chromebooks, they seem pretty cheap.

There’s a reason, and for the record, they’re not that much cheaper. You can get a full featured laptop with a 500 GB hard drive, 4 GBs of RAM and a dual core processor for around $300. Chromebooks are only about $50 cheaper (if that).

Also, more importantly, they need to be connected to the internet nearly all of the time to be useful. You have very little onboard space, and you can’t install all of your favorite programs. And forget about gaming.

There’s a reason they call it getting Scroogled.

Should I be worried about businesses still using XP?

This is a toughie. My favorite Chinese place down the block uses XP to create receipts and handle credit card transactions. Some of these are a flavor of XP called embedded which will be supported for about another year. But bottom-line, if it’s connected to the internet, it might be able to be compromised, and credit card fraud and identity theft are on the rise. Might be a good time to use cash. Or, if you can have a good relationship with the business, you could always ask their plans, or even offer to upgrade their computers (maybe for some tasty General Tso’s chicken).

What about ATM’s?

Again this is trickier. Most banks are trying to catch up to the end of support, and some are even paying Microsoft to continue to support them while they make the switch. ATMs are typically older and more expensive than your average desktop, and something more painful to replace. And you probably won’t be able to notice which OS your ATM is using as easily as other kinds of business computers. Best bet is to ask a teller, and maybe withdraw or deposit some cash with a real person (though if they use a computer too you might want to ask about it as well). I know this sounds picky, and kind of a pain in the butt. But if you’re friendly, patient, and courteous, most people will respond in kind.

What’s “Zero-Day Forever”?

It’s Microsoft’s designation for end of XP support. “Zero-day” is the day someone discovers a security flaw in Windows (or any Operating System) before Microsoft has a chance to patch it, or the computer conducts a Windows Update. For XP’s which will no longer receive updates, this zero-day will be permanent.

I want to keep using XP despite all the warnings. I’m sure I’ll be okay.

You laugh in the face of danger. I can respect that. Here’s a few suggestions if you’re stubborn brave.

  • Use a limited user account for most activity. Password protect your admin account with a strong password and almost never use it.
  • Use third party virus software that will continue to support XP. Most are pledging they’ll continue to offer support into 2015.
  • Consider using Tor for web browsing. It’s anonymous, a little more paranoid than most browsers, and warns you in many ways if you’re about to do something stupid.
  • Save your money and back up your files.
  • Don’t leave your computer connected to the internet unattended.

Why is Microsoft doing this to me?

Well, to be fair, it’s not just doing it to you. It’s doing it to millions of other computer users, 27% of the desktop market to be exact (though admittedly a lot of those are in China). XP is more than 12 years old and there are better things out there. And it costs a lot of money to support legacy systems (plus you need to have a talent base that even remembers how to work with older code). Working in the software industry, I can understand the need for EOL. Things don’t last forever, even though maybe they should. If you don’t like it, consider linux (though make sure you get an LTS version which is supported for 5 years or be willing to self-perpetually upgrade). It may be free but it still costs something.

Alright, you’ve pretty much ruined my day. Anything else you want to tell me?

Well, I hesitate to mention it but… Office XP and 2003 go out of support as well. Better try a new version of Office, or better yet OpenOffice (if you don’t mind that it likes to count open quotation marks as words).

I’m a Mac user

That’s nice. I say good day to you, sir.



Well that about wraps it up for today’s knowledge dump. If you have any more questions please feel free to leave them in the comments. Tomorrow we’ll have an appreciation of the late great XP that was.


Disclaimer: Any advice or tips given here will not be valid for all users in all circumstances. Do what makes sense to you and don’t do what doesn’t make sense. These posts are for educational, informative purposes only. Show these posts to your computer friends and have them tell you if I’m right on the money or out to lunch. In any case, please realize that anything you do to your computer is your responsibility. If you have a specific problem and need help, shoot me a comment, but if your computer bricks you were warned.

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