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Sunday, August 4, 2013

What to do with an aging Windows XP computer and their aging owner

Windows XP, the mainstay of many households, loses support from Microsoft in April 2014. No more security upgrades. You are on your own. You have to rely on unofficial support from blogs.

What does this blog recommend you do? Well, our first instinct is to shout at the top of our lungs, “DUMMY, BUY A MAC! A NICE MAC BOOK AIR!”

We’re passionate about our Macs. But we realize that you have relatives in this world who don’t want to get a Mac. They say it’s too expensive or too weird and that it won’t work with their 20 year backlog of Microsoft Word files.

As for expensive, yes, they cost more than some PCs. That’s because Macs use dual-core Core i5 as the minimum processor in their machines. Look at the Fry’s ad on the Web and see what a desktop or notebook PC with an i5 processor costs. They cost about the same or more than a Mac Mini for desktops or a MacBook Air for notebooks.

As for the charge of weirdness, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, HAVE YOU SEEN WINDOWS 8?! Go to BestBuy and try it. Ask the sales clerk how does it work with your older Windows software, such as Office 2010?

As for the charge that it won’t work with a 20 year old Microsoft Word document, I have Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 working with Microsoft 2.0a for Word documents. How far back are you going?

Download LibreOffice if necessary to work with these ancient documents. It’s free.

If they would like a Mac, you may meet other roadblocks:

  • Neither the relative or you has enough money for a brand new Mac. Answer: Head to eBay or PowerMax or Small Dog Electronics and look at a used one. Look at Apple’s deals on refurbished Macs.
  • They only have dial-up Internet. Believe it or not, some people continue to get by on dial-up. Get them on broad-band pronto! Whether they go with Windows 8 or OS X or even Linux, they’ll need broad-band to download the upgrades.
  • They kept all their data on floppy disks. Invest in a USB floppy disk drive. Get the data onto a hard drive as soon as possible!
  • The Old PC must stay for whatever reason
  • If the old PC stays for whatever reason, and I’ll let Shakespeare and O’Neill deal with questions of family interactions, I have some advice for you.
  • First, invest in a backup disk. Hard disks fail, but two usually do not fail at the same time. Go to Costco and pick one up along with the dog food and tilapia filets. If you want to gamble, go to one of those Indian casinos advertising on the radio, not with your 20 years of files.
  • Second, clear off some room on the old hard drive and install a low-impact version of Ubuntu Linux. Right now, the full version of Ubuntu Linux now runs a GUI called Unity which demands as much graphic resources as OS X or Windows 8. If your relative runs a 10 year old PC, it won’t run full-blown LInux unless they installed a separate graphics card.
  • Fortunately, you can get versions of Ubuntu that demand only a fraction of full-blown Ubuntu’s needs. I refer to Lubuntu which uses LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) and Xubuntu which runs the XFCE desktop environment. Underneath their hoods, though, they still run the guts of the latest version of this Linux distribution.
  • This is the Lubuntu desktop. The Applications menu, like Windows, is in the lower left-hand corner.
  • PastedGraphic-2013-08-2-20-00.png

This is the Xubuntu desktop. The application menu, is the upper left-hand corner. You’ll see an icon of a mouse’s head. Just click on it and you’re good to go.


  • Which one to install? How to install it? Well, to the first question, download both distributions and burn them each to a DVD. Now let your relative try them out as a Livd DVD. Make sure the old PC is set up to boot up first from a CD or DVD.
  • Just put the desired DVD into the optical drive and reboot. It takes its time coming up, but they’ll have the chance to play with Linux without wiping out their current Windows XP installation.
  • Give them a week to try them out. Once they’ve made their mind up, you can install either Lubuntu or Xubuntu alongside the Windows XP installation in a dual-boot configuration. When they boot up, they come to a text-based menu for either Windows XP or Ubuntu Linux. Use the arrow keys to select which one they want and press the Enter key.
  • If you run into trouble with the menu for selecting the operating system, such as it doesn’t appear and you end up at a command prompt of some sort; Don’t Panic! Carry a Towel and this CD. The Boot-Rescue-Disk. Burn it beforehand and mark it with a Sharpie pen. If you don’t know what version of LInux you have, go with the 32 bit version.
  • Insert the Boot-Rescue-Disk into the optical drive and reboot the system. Follow the prompts, go with the failsafe session, and your boot menu will be good to go at the end
  • I see I’ve reached the 800 word limit and probably the end of your attention span. If you haven’t experimented with Linux in the past, you’ll find it’s a great complement to Windows. You can use different desktops with it, unlike OS X which restricts you to Aqua. If you want a more full-featured desktop than Lubuntu’s LXDE or Xubuntu’s XFCE, you can try out KDE. KDE runs fine on the internal graphics of my 10 year old PC. It will remind you of Windows’ Start Menu.
  • You can get KDE through Ubuntu’s Synaptic Package Manager, which is their version of Apple’s App Store. You want kde-standard.
  • Last But Not Least!

If they do decide to keep around the old Windows XP in a dual-boot configuration or just skip Linux altogether, remind them that they have to keep their virus software up to date.

If they let the Norton Anti-Virtus trial subscription lapse, install a free anti-virus. I have had good luck with Microsoft’s own Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows XP.

And laugh at me if you want to now, but believe me…you’ll have lots of domestic drama on your hands if a relative turns to you in search of a way to retrieve their wedding photos or baby pictures or love letters from the grips of the FBI virus or another piece of malware.

At least get them to back up their wedding photos to an external hard drive! Now! Why are you sitting there? Costco is open! Get your buns over there!

Tom Briant

Editor, MacValley Blog


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