It doesn't seem like all that long ago that Bill Gates was on television touting Windows 98′s "Plug and Play" functionality as the new standard for installing hardware. Unfortunately at the time Windows 98 was feeling a bit grumpy and decided to crash, rather than install the hardware, in front of a live audience and millions of viewers. While this situation may seem amusing on the surface, it is never funny to have your computer crash at a critical moment. This is an important reason why operating systems are constantly updated to fix bugs and security flaws that can lead to crashes.
A brief history of Microsoft Windows XP
Windows XP was released on October 25th, 2001 just a few years after Bill Gates' ill-fated Windows 98 presentation. The new operating system initially arrived with bugs as bad as the aforementioned show stopper, some of which were the inspiration of headaches for users and system administrators alike. But over time, and with three service packs and thousands of patches, Windows XP eventually became a much more stable and usable operating system. Even Plug and Play hardware worked seamlessly, allowing users to introduce new many types of hardware without having to reboot.
As use of Windows XP grew, so too did the demand for applications, hardware and support services. This created new industries and fulfilled the demand of a growing population of computer users. As the era of the Internet began to take a firm grip on America, Windows XP was simultaneously the most widely used desktop operating system in the world. Only in the last few years did Windows 7 eclipse Windows XP as the most widely used desktop operating system, closing the chapter on one of Microsoft's most successful operating system releases.
What options are users left with now that support is ending?
Now, 12 and a half years later, the remaining loyal Windows XP users are confronted with a difficult decision when support ends on April 8th. This question is troubling individuals and organizations alike. Continuing to use an operating system that no longer has security updates, leaving users exposed to malware, is not desirable. Indeed, many know the answer is to upgrade their software if not purchase a newer computer, but the path is not clear. Some applications are not supported on newer versions of Windows. The user interface has changed and that requires time to learn, adapt and refresh workflow. For large networks there are considerations about updating the client workstations, training the users and ensuring a smooth transition.
In essence, there are three options available. Upgrade to a newer version of Windows (Visa, 7, 8.1) on the existing computer or replace it with a computer running a newer version of Windows. Last, but not least, some users may also choose to run different operating systems such as Linux, Mac OS X or move to a different computing device such as a tablet.
What steps should be taken to ensure a smooth upgrade?
The key is to create a plan and try to follow it throughout the process you decide to embark upon. If, for example, you are upgrading the operating system on your current computer, then you need to ensure that it has hardware driver support so that if you install Windows 7 your devices (think sound, networking, etc) will work properly. If instead you are buying a new PC ensure that your system will have the capabilities you need and the software you require.
Backing up all of your important data is always the safest first step to any operating system upgrade. This process isn't as straightforward as it seems so consult a professional if you have any doubts about whether or not all your information has been backed up properly or to perform the backup process on your behalf.
Once your data is backed up it's worth looking over your installed applications to determine what is and is not going to be supported. Some applications may have newer versions that are supported in Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Others may need to run under compatibility mode or a virtual machine. Machines that do not connect with the Internet may be safer and not need to upgrade any time too soon. Other versions of Windows XP (such as embedded) may have a longer support life cycle until 2016.
How can one purchase Windows 7 on a new PC if only Windows 8 is offered?
Fortunately there are options available for users in this position, including new computers from many companies including HP, Lenovo, Dell and others. The options may be more difficult to find on their web sites so you can call their salespeople for a rundown of the laptop and desktops available. Demand for Windows 7 has been steady even after the release of Windows 8, perhaps because the release was bungled and the software still has some issues. One of which that still draws criticism is the lack of a fully functional start menu.
Windows 7 still affords users better compatibility with older applications and a user experience more like that of Windows XP than that of a tablet. And that may be an easier transition than jumping in to Windows 8.1. No matter what path is chosen, take some time to measure the benefits and drawbacks to ensure you don't run in to any unforeseen problems during the transition process.
About the author
Alexander G. Chamandy is a seasoned information technology professional with more than two decades of experience in the industry. He is a managing member of Envescent, LLC, a business IT solutions provider serving the Washington, DC area.