Why Upgrading a PC to Windows 8 is Not an Option

I saw your notice about Windows XP, both my laptop and my roommate’s desktop are running XP.  Can I buy one operating system with two licenses? Do you know if I can and where AND what will help me decide for Professional or Home Premium?

I wish I could give this client a simple, “Click Here to Buy new Windows” link.

The initial, huge problem is that Microsoft itself writes that, “Very few older computers will be able to run Windows 8.1, which is the latest version of Windows.” (see Microsoft’s page on upgrading from XP).

That Microsoft page gives lots of details and things to check.  One program will test your computers to see if they are beefy enough to run the new operating system.  (Download “Windows Upgrade Assistant” to see if your computer is physically able to be upgraded.)

Slaving over a computer upgradeMaking the upgrade of an existing machine more daunting, Microsoft’s upgrade instructions include buying an external hard drive and backing-up all of your files.  Your installation of the new operating system will be a “clean” one, meaning your current system drive will be wiped out and everything that’s there will be gone.

To upgrade your existing machine, you will have to save your data files to a removable drive, install the new operating system, restore your saved files, and reinstall all the programs you currently have installed on your PC.

But wait!  It gets worse!  Devices and programs you use now may not work under Windows 8.  You can check what Microsoft thinks will, and will not, work under Windows 8.1 by running a compatibility checker.

And, worser! You’ll have to pay a lot to upgrade.  Microsoft is charging $119 per machine to upgrade to Windows 8.1.  It’s $199 if you want Windows 8.1 Professional.  I think most people will need only the base version, but you can decide yourself by checking  this feature comparison chart.

So, to make an older computer safe to use on the Internet after April 8, you will spend money for an external hard drive (maybe $75?) and give Microsoft at least $119 for their latest software.  Your old computer will still be old and probably even slower than it is with XP.  You will also have to spend a lot of time backing up, installing, updating, restoring, and re-installing software.

Family unwrapping a new computerMost people will be better off buying a new computer.  You can find a low-end modern computer that probably will be faster than your old computer for not too much more than the cost of upgrading your old machine. When you start your new computer you can run an included program that will transfer all of your data to the new machine.

I admit there are potential extra costs for going to a new computer. Your existing word processing program, spreadsheet, email, and other productivity programs may not install on your new machine.  You’re especially likely have to buy new software if the old modules were bundled with your XP machine.

OpenOffice LogoBut, you can mitigate the cost of new software by changing to OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.  OpenOffice is free and its word processing program reads and writes documents that are compatible with Microsoft’s Word.

Of course, you can choose to continue to use Microsoft’s Office products (Word, Excel, etc.). If you stick with Microsoft  you can now subscribe to the Office suite for $9.99/month.  A subscription will entitle you to use all the office suite modules.  Or, you can buy  — the one-time payment, traditional method of getting software — the office product you want.  See the purchasing options for Office.

The Bad Bottom Line

The situation Microsoft has created by discontinuing XP support is unlike any other in the scope of people affected and poor alternatives available.  I wish the solution was easier — or cheaper — than buying a new PC.  But, I truly see no better alternatives.

I understand you don’t want to be pushed, forced, or bullied into buying a replacement for your older, Man holding gun on a messengerperfectly functional computer.

But, you have to stop using XP machines online once Microsoft pulls its support.  The upgrade path for your existing hardware is uncertain, expensive, and not cost-effective.

Sorry.  Really.  And, please don’t shoot this messenger!

More on the Death of XP

My opinion posted yesterday that people running Windows XP should either upgrade or unplug from the Internet has resulted in some excellent challenges.  I’ve been told that there is a reputable article published here or there that says that if you take some precautions you can keep running XP.

Windows XP SP3

The most common rebuttal has been that the writer is running an antivirus program and they say that will protect them.  And, the idea that an anti-virus program should keep you safe is very reasonable.

There are steps you can take that a consensus of experts say will give you good protection. However, I have not run across any expert that says simply using an anti-virus program is sufficient. I don’t understand the technical details, but apparently some holes in the operating system allow evil access in places/times  that anti-virus programs cannot guard.

Unfortunately, I think that most people are not tech savvy enough to follow the recommended safety steps.  Therefore, I believe the only solutions for most people are to upgrade or unplug.

The Tech Guy
Leo Laporte, the Tech Guy

If you’re feeling stampeded into upgrading and do not want to, here is a clear description of what you should do to protect your computer from The Tech Guy, Leo Laporte .

I don’t think the recommendations are easy enough for most non-IT folk to follow. I see people having problems running their computer without Administrator privileges which is Laporte’s top safety tip. You need to follow the recommendations to operate without Admin privileges so that any evil program you stumble into does not have the authority to actually plant itself in your PC.  Of course, when YOU want to install a new program or get an update for a program, you will need to re-logon your computer using a privileged account.  While this is not a difficult procedure, I think most non-nerds will find these procedures difficult to comply with.

Many non-geeks also use Internet Explorer (IE) as their browser.  IE is reknown for security problems, and older versions of IE — like those that came with Windows XP — are the worst of the worst. Changing to the more secure Chrome or Firefox can be done by downloading the browser (click on the link in this sentence to get the browser you want), installing it, starting it up, and making it your machine’s default browser (the browsers will ask if you want them to be the default).

I think people can switch browsers, but I worry that some won’t follow all the steps and Internet Explorer will still be used on the Internet some times. And, yes most people I know will run up-to-date antivirus programs.  They also know better than to open attachments in emails or to click on links in those emails.  But, almost everyone, me included, sometimes slips up and lets antivirus subscriptons expire and clicks when they shouldn’t.

You’re going to have to be perfect when you surf with XP after April 8th.  That’s an awful lot to ask!

Even the people who say it’s safe to keep using XP with protection don’t impress me with their confidence. USA Today’s reassurance that XP can be safe starts off in an unsettling way, … their first step in assuring safe operations is to make sure you have a complete backup of all your files.  That tells me that the author is not hugely confident that the recommended steps will actually protect you!

So, as disruptive and costly as it is, my best recommendation for non-techy folks with XP systems remains for them to upgrade or unplug come April 8th.