09 April 2014

XP and from one scary message to another

OK. I admit it. I am still using Windows XP on a desktop. There, it's out now. I am so bad / lazy / unconcerned / old-fashioned / stupid [delete as appropriate to fit whichever news article you read]. Microsoft's support for the operating system stopped yesterday. I now get a warning when it starts and the Microsoft Security Essentials flag icon in my tray has turned red. Add to that a mass of articles and it is difficult to ignore the fact that XP is no longer 'supported'.

So, all credit to Microsoft in a sense for a massive increase in their name being mentioned everywhere. It is quite remarkable just how many people have stuck with Windows XP over the years. Vista really did not appeal and the press were critical at the time, Windows 7 initially seemed like a slightly fresher version of Vista (although it was a considerable improvement) but didn't seem that big a deal when XP was still managing fine and, having used both a lot over the years, I genuinely didn't see much difference in performance and decent protection kept systems running and free from nasty bugs etc. The years passed and Windows 8 definitely didn't appeal visually. I have had lots of clients, friends and colleagues call me up to ask for help with quite simple things with Windows 8 where, basically, they couldn't figure out what to do whereas they had been quite adept in earlier versions. That put me off upgrading too. I would have liked the more efficient system and anything that's faster and more secure is welcome but the interface had no appeal whatsoever and I dreaded the thought of being a beginner again!

So here I am. Still running XP on my desktop, which I use daily for all sorts of stuff. I do have Windows 7 on an ancient laptop but that is so slow and clunky in many ways that it's not a pleasant to use at all and it hasn't moved for many months. The main alternative machine is a Chromebook. That's is brilliant but I still need quite a few bits of software for drawing and web design that I can't do on the Chromebook. There are apps and they're improving all the time but I would struggle without my Serif, Dreamweaver and one or two other bits of software.

I will have to take the plunge into the Windows 8 ocean soon and have been looking at some new kit but, in the meantime, I thought I should do something about the dire warnings of imminent disaster. Microsoft do say that they'll keep updating the virus stuff in Security Essentials for another twelve months but that doesn't stop the flag being red or the warnings bout the 'system' not being updated. I think that means that if there is another hole discovered in the operating system code that allows people to wander around inside your files and steal data then Microsoft will not be fixing it. I understand that. It's fair enough. You buy an old car and accept that it may not do everything it should. Once the guarantee's up, you're on your own, even if they made a mistake when manufacturing it. You do get the feeling though that Microsoft are not so bothered and might not put much of an effort into protecting us old XP folk. They may update virus definitions or they may leave them for a while. Who knows? There may be more income-generating things to do. Now, I'm sure they won't deliberately put my files at risk but I don't feel comfortable and that damned red flag keeps reminding me of the fact.

So, as an interim solution for my nerves if nothing else, I downloaded Avast! a free anti virus programme that I remember using years ago. There are a few alternatives out there. AVG gets good reviews too as do some others. As with many free programmes, though, you need to be alert. Attempting to download from one quite reputable news site, I find a screen where I have to choose some add-on on the way. I cancelled that and went direct to Avast!'s own site. That was better and avoided the extra programmes. On the way you may need to untick some browser extensions or add-ons but there's nothing significant to worry about. I am not at all sure this will give me any more security at all, just more system resources being used up and an occasional scary message from some woman coming through the speakers, but I feel a bit better.

Now, back to deciding between a Shuttle and traditional desktop...