Microsoft

Who Killed Windows XP?

12 years. To a kid starting the 1st grade, they have 12 more years of school before they put on the cap and gown for high school graduation. To an astrologist, that’s how long Jupiter takes to complete one full cycle. If you’re Windows XP, 12 years is when big daddy Microsoft kicks you out of the house and cuts you off for good. You’re out on your own XP, and the world is a scary, cruel, and dangerous place.

All drama aside, there are very understandable reasons why some people are still running Windows XP. There’s the very legitimate business users who are stuck using the operating system to run some custom or discontinued software or hardware that just won’t work on newer setups. I feel for these people because they have a lot invested in their systems and sometimes it’s not possible to move on without spending a considerable amount of money. Then there are the people who bought a computer 10 years ago and it still works and they like it. Again, it’s hard to tell someone to replace something that works – It’s rare to buy anything that plugs in and will last more than a few years these days, so bravo to the person who’s able to keep their old computer up and running all this time. Regardless, the growth of technology just isn’t forgiving to any of us in these situations.

I wrote an article about kicking the XP habit 4 years ago when Microsoft ended mainstream support for it. It’s hard to believe that we find ourselves in a situation where as of February 2014, Windows XP is still running on 29% of the computers in world!

imgres

So, the big question is, what will happen after April 8th if you continue to run Windows XP? Well, not much immediately will change, so don’t panic – You’ve still got some time to act. The first change is that technical assistance directly from Microsoft will no longer exist for XP. According to Microsoft, your computer will become up to five times more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. The biggest change that will immediately affect consumers is that Microsoft will no longer offer their free anti-virus application Microsoft Security Essentials to Windows XP users. If you already have it, it should keep working, but Microsoft warns that it will only work for a limited time. Because Microsoft is no longer providing any form of support for it, manufacturers of hardware and peripherals will soon abandon writing XP compatible software drivers for newer devices.

Microsoft’s advice for action is to either upgrade to a new PC, or to upgrade your operating system if your current computer can handle it. If you’re planning to upgrade your operating system, you can download and run the Microsoft Upgrade Assistant to find out if your PC can handle the newer software. In addition to providing a full set of upgrade instructions, Microsoft is providing a free version of PCMover Express software to transfer your files and settings for you. If all of this sounds daunting, you can always contact us for help.

In all reality, getting an older machine upgraded to be able to run the latest version of Windows is not only time consuming, it might cost you almost as much as a new PC! Evaluate your needs – You might be better off moving to a tablet, or possibly a Chromebook is enough to meet your needs. Maybe now’s the time to splurge a little on a Mac. For businesses, if you don’t have a plan in place yet to move off of Windows XP, it’s something you really need to consider doing soon. Contact us today and let’s put together an action plan to keep your company up and running as safely and securely as possible.

Windows 8 Is Here

Brace yourself, because Microsoft has released its latest flagship product and this is one that you will not be able to avoid for long. In its newest flavor of the Windows operating system, MS has decided to leap-frog Apple’s gradual convergence with its mobile device operating systems to give you a Frankenstein operating system that is initially just plain shocking.

I don’t plan on doing a comprehensive review of the software, you can find those here or here. I just want to give you my initial thoughts from the perspective of a consumer.

Since I deal with the end user primarily in this business, I decided to start my Windows 8 experience much like an average person. I didn’t test it, read reviews of it, or dig deeply into it at all prior to Friday’s release. I deliberately wanted to understand what you, my customer, may be going through.

I have deployed Windows 8 on a 5 year old Dell Optiplex 740 desktop computer that originally shipped with Windows Vista, was upgraded to Windows 7, and now has been upgraded to Windows 8. Not an ideal setup by any stretch of the imagination for most technical people. The common thought towards upgrades is that it’s better to do a clean installation than to do an upgrade. When I upgraded this PC to Windows 7, I was thoroughly impressed by how well it performed and it continued to run much better than it ran in Vista. Upgrading again to Windows 8 netted similar results. The computer works great. Could it work better if I started from scratch? Most likely, but my interest is in mimicking what a non-technical consumer would do, not what another techie would do.

Because I upgraded a machine with 5 years of history on it, the upgrade process took a while – a little over an hour in total from purchase to seeing the desktop. After answering only a few setup questions, I was ready to start digging in.

My first thought: Oh crap, a lot of my customers are going to be lost. There is no more start menu. Where are my application shortcuts? If I click on any of the default panels in the new interface, it wants me to sign in to a Microsoft account, then link other services to themselves, and then arrange them in ways that are not intuitive with a mouse. And if I click on something like the new Microsoft App Store, I can’t close it. It’s just there in full screen. I can open other stuff on top of it, but they never quit. I have to use the Task Manager to quit these new applications. Oh boy. I thought the operating system was called Windows, not Walls. The name of the operating system has lost all meaning with this new interface since Microsoft wants everything to work in full screen much like a cell phone or tablet. Maybe they should have renamed the operating system completely with Windows 8.

OK, well how to I navigate this thing? Luckily a Windows Explorer shortcut still exists in my task bar if I close the new Start interface by clicking on the Windows button on my keyboard. I notice that it has been re-branded to “File Explorer”, but it looks similar to Windows explorer with a Microsoft Office Ribbon interface at the top. This is a good thing. I’m a fan of the Ribbon.

But what about just starting an application? I’m not a big fan of desktop shortcuts, so I don’t have many. Where are my application shortcuts that were in the old Start Menu? Well, if you hover your mouse on the right corners of the screen with your mouse, a menu slides out. If you click on the Search icon, a full screen interface with all of my application shortcuts pops up. There it is! OK, I can handle that, and I do like using the instantaneous search function to call up applications. But the whole thing seems so counter-intuitive on a desktop PC. I found that using the keyboard shortcut of the Windows Key + F was the fastest way to get things done on Windows 8. Honestly, if you use this shortcut, you may find Windows 8 to be incredibly productive and getting things done will be faster than any other version of Windows for the average multi-tasker. That, plus the use of the Windows Key + Tab, which brings up the new application switcher, will tame the confusing new hybrid interface.

I still use Microsoft Office 2007 on this computer because I don’t see a valid reason for myself to upgrade to 2010. The good news is that it works perfectly fine in Windows 8. In fact, the only applications that were flagged as incompatible were my anti-virus application and my Brother printer software (which only needed to be re-installed). This is when I had the most interesting revelation about Microsoft’s new approach to security. When I went to install Microsoft Security Essentials as a replacement to my old anti-virus program, I was notified of this on the download website for Security Essentials:

Windows Defender for Windows 8 and Windows RT provides the same level of protection against malware as Microsoft Security Essentials. You can’t use Microsoft Security Essentials with Windows 8, but you don’t need to — Windows Defender is already included and ready to go. But if you’re looking to protect a PC with an older version of Windows, you can use Microsoft Security Essentials to help guard against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. It provides free* real-time protection for your home or small business PCs.

So, as I understand this, I don’t need to install anti-virus software on Windows 8. At all. This is a huge deal. I’ve been a big fan of Security Essentials and if what they’re saying is true this is a huge win for consumers. Most average people don’t even know that Microsoft offers a fantastic and free anti-virus solution on Windows XP, Vista, & 7. Now it’s there right out of the box. Does this mean that PC vendors will abandon packaging terrible free trials of security software on PCs? Probably not, but at least when those trials run out, and the average person perpetually neglects to renew or replace it, Windows will still be secured to a certain degree by default.

Another positive change is that Internet Explorer 10 has the Do Not Track setting turned on by default. This pisses off internet marketers, but is a win for privacy. Also, much like Google Chrome, Internet Explorer updates and patches itself automatically without asking, which is a good thing. I’m still sticking with Chrome, but I know so many people still reluctantly use Internet Explorer. Microsoft is taking the browser wars seriously since the playing field has changed so drastically in relatively short period of time. Now they’re in competition with not only Chrome & Firefox, but mobile device browsers as well.

Overall, I do feel l like Microsoft has put a brand new facade over the already spectacular Windows 7. Finding things and getting things done using the previous philosophy of finding an icon and clicking on it will be maddening to most. Searching with the Windows Key + F method will redefine how many people use Windows on a traditional desktop or laptop PC. But underneath that, your old programs, printers, scanners, and such will work as they did before. I have yet to use the new Windows on a touch screen interface, and I imagine it will be a very different animal in that iteration. Will this marriage of old and new work, or will it go the way of Microsoft Bob? I would imagine that since Apple has been slowly migrating to a touch interface for it’s desktop operating system even though there are no touch screen enabled Macs yet, that this is going to stick around. It will be a rough start for Microsoft, who I feel have made a risky leap forward, but soon the traditional PC is going to fade from popular usage and Windows 8 may be the training wheels that get the masses there.

Vista Service Pack 1 Is Out

On March 18th, Microsoft finally released Windows Vista SP1. It took a year to become official, and this is the milestone a lot of corporate users wait for to start migrating their businesses to a new operating system. The question is, does this service pack make up for the shortcomings of the most hated Windows version since the quickly forgotten Windows Millennium Edition? The short easy answer is no.

Here is the issue I still see with Vista for business users. When Vista was being developed years ago it marked a huge change from the Windows NT based systems we have grown to love such as Windows NT, 2000, and XP. It was supposed to have a fancy new file system, and a lot of bells and whistles that never quite panned out. Back in those days, Vista was called Longhorn, and a lot of technical folks were genuinely excited. We love new stuff, to a point. When Longhorn started dropping its promised features and reverted back to the old NTFS file system we have been using for well over a decade, the fear, uncertainty, and doubt started to fester in our geeky bones. After years of delays (yes, YEARS), Vista was a dud. It did the same things that XP did, only slower and with more clicks. To take advantage of the new Aero interface, you needed to have what amounts to a graphics workstation to make it work fluidly. Folders were needlessly moved around and permissions on them changed drastically in the name of security, while a new foe to usability was born by the name of UAC (User Access Control). Gone were the days of clicking on something and it just doing what you intended. Now the whole computing world you live in turns gray and the computer screams at you (also known as the system beep) as you are asked if you are sure you wanted to do what you did in the first place. Remember how you changed your network settings in XP in just a couple of clicks of the mouse? Vista made sure that something that every road warrior must do, even if they are not networking experts, even more confusing and difficult to do. And what about that program that has run on every Windows version since 1995 and has been running your business since you first opened your doors? Well, it might run if you run it in compatibility mode, but most likely it won’t. You might have to disable every singe security feature and log in as the computer administrator, but even then it might not work. At that point you have to download the freely available Virtual PC and run a licensed version of Windows XP in a virtual machine on your Vista computer. Confused yet? No wonder Apple’s market share has grown so much in the last year.

The truth is, Vista is a great OS if you’ve never owned a Windows based computer before. The needless moving around of menus, settings, and folder structures makes it more of a headache for users who have been so comfortable in the XP environment. The other problem is that most of the reported crashes in the first year of Vista’s life were not because of Microsoft errors, but because of third party software and hardware vendor’s issues. For example, I have found in my experience that Dell Vista machines run really well, while HP’s are very unstable. The reason is most likely that Dell favors Intel chipsets, while Nvidia chipsets are common in HP computers. Nvidia has been reported to be responsible for almost 20% of all reported Vista crashes since its release.

I have been running Vista on my PC’s since its release and have struggled through a lot of its issues on a personal level as well as a professional one. What SP1 brings to the table is stability and a bit more zip to the interface. For those of you who have diligently updated your computer with Windows Update, you probably will not notice a huge difference. The update’s size will vary if you download it through Windows Update, but if you download the full update, it comes in at 434.5 whopping megabytes!

Installation can take up to an hour for the full upgrade, which is surprising because Vista itself installs in about 20 minutes on a decent machine. The process is simple, as it does not ask you anything once it gets going, so you can just set it and go out for some coffee while it does its work. The majority of guinea pigs like me have had success with the upgrade, so I am happy to report that the upgrade is safe for everybody to do.

For those of you who remember Windows XP’s Service Pack 1, this is on par with it as far as it makes the OS better, but not different. XP SP2 on the other hand made a lot of changes, so it makes me hopeful that better things are on the horizon for Vista.